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Sunday, July 27, 2008


Carrots and sticks

In a recent post, I commented on the "sticks" part of Barack Obama's "offer" of "carrots and sticks" to Iran. It's worth also making some observations on the "carrots" part.

Offering someone "incentives" to do something is perfectly normal. Offering "carrots," while it may be a relatively common phrase, is also at its core insulting, because it derives from the classic image at right - holding a carrot in front of the nose of a donkey to entice the donkey to continue to move forward in a vain attempt to reach the carrot.

But saying that brings us to the second point about "offering carrots," namely that the United States has a long history of doing precisely that - "offering" carrots but never actually delivering on them. In 1994, for example, in an extremely close parallel to the situation in Iran, the United States under Bill Clinton promised to build two light-water nuclear reactors in North Korea in return for a North Korean suspension of uranium enrichment. The reactors were promised by 2003, but, needless to say, they never materialized. The U.S. welshed on the deal.

Then there was the U.S. promise in the 1973 Paris Peace Accords to pay $3.5 billion in reparations to Vietnam for all the damage caused to that country by the U.S. war. That too never materialized.

In a different way, not involving actual signed agreements, we can recall the U.S. treatment of Nicaragua under the Sandinistas (the first time they were in power, from 1979-1990). The U.S., just as it does now with Cuba, had an embargo against Nicaragua in an attempt, largely successful, to cripple its economy. And just as the donkey with the carrot, they kept holding out the promise of removing the embargo if only the Sandinistas would make this concession, or that concession. After each concession, the goalposts kept moving - there was always one more concession demanded. The final concession was holding the election of 1990 in which the Sandinistas were voted out of power. There's nothing wrong with elections per se, obviously, although elections under the conditions of civil war are a dubious process to begin with. Let's let Wikipedia tell us something of what happened:

The elections of 1990, which had been mandated by the constitution passed in 1987, saw the Bush administration funnel $49.75 million of ‘non-lethal’ aid to the Contras, as well as $9m to the opposition UNO—equivalent to $2 billion worth of intervention by a foreign power in a US election at the time, and proportionately five times the amount George Bush had spent on his own election campaign.[47][48]. When Violetta Chamorro visited the White House in November 1989, the US pledged to maintain the embargo against Nicaragua unless Violeta Chamorro won. [49].

In August 1989, the month that campaigning began, the Contras redeployed 8,000 troops into Nicaragua, after a funding boost from Washington, becoming in effect the armed wing of the UNO, carrying out a violent campaign of intimidation. No fewer than 50 FSLN candidates were assassinated. The Contras also distributed thousands of UNO leaflets.

Years of conflict had left 50,000 casualties and $12b of damages in a society of 3.5m people and an annual GNP of $2b. The proportionately equivalent figures for the US would have been 5 million casualties and $25 trillion lost. After the war, a survey was taken of voters: 75.6% agreed that if the Sandinistas had won, the war would never have ended. 91.8% of those who voted for the UNO agreed with this.
The Sandinistas lost, and the revolution was overturned. Then, and only then, did the U.S. remove its embargo. All the concessions the Sandinistas had made in the hope of seeing it removed earlier were in vain.

Caveat emptor. Especially if what you're "buying" is a promise from the United States government.

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