The Obama Sanction

I read this headline –”US ‘Tightening the Noose’ on Khaddafy, Obama Says”–and I wondered: Are the rebels advancing?  I thought I just read that Khaddafy’s forces were advancing, so that can’t be it.  Are the Marines returning to the Shores of Tripoli, 206 years after their previous visit?  I knew that wasn’t happening.  So just how is the noose tightening, exactly?

So I read further.  The “noose” is–wait for it–sanctions.  Really:

“Across the board we are slowly tightening the noose on Khadafy,” Obama told reporters at a White House press conference Friday. “He is more and more isolated internationally both through sanctions as well as an arms embargo.”

Because, of course, sanctions have a proven track record of causing murderous, lunatic, dictators fighting for survival to stop in their tracks, quaking in fear.


How many years were sanctions in place against Saddam?  How many against the mullahs in Iraq?  North Korea?  Sudan?  Please, don’t insult us all–and especially, don’t insult those fighting against Khadafy–with high sounding but empty phrases about “the international community” and quack nostrums like sanctions–the last refuge of the policy coward.  If you’re going to do something, do something.  Otherwise, STHU.

There’s more:

Obama stressed that the US and its allies were moving with unprecedented determination to isolate the Libyan leader and invoked the massacres in Rwanda and the Balkans, saying that the international community has an obligation to prevent a “repeat” of those tragedies in Libya.

Obama said the ultimate goal is for Khadafy to step down.

As usual, the gap between words and deeds is vast.  Yammering about sanctions gives the impression of doing something, while actually doing absolutely nothing; that’s actually worse than saying nothing at all, because it would actually take some courage to say that he doesn’t believe that what could be gained by an intervention that could actually achieve something is worth the cost and risk to the US.  That would be cold, but it would have the virtue of honesty.

I’m not saying the choices are easy; it will take military force to stop Khadafy, and the amount of force and the consequences of its use are very difficult to predict.  What and who follows Khadafy are unlikely to be any prizes.  So the case for military involvement is hardly clear-cut.

But I can say with near metaphysical certainty that sanctions will have no effect whatsoever, and that even to suggest that they would have the slightest possibility of forcing Khadafy’s ouster, or preventing a bloodbath is either a lie or a delusion, and a mockery of the people who will be on the receiving end of Khadafy’s wrath.  This is just more moral preening intended to disguise a complete abdication of leadership.  It would be leadership to send in the Marines.  It would be leadership to say, frankly, it’s not in America’s interest.  It’s the inversion of leadership to pretend you’re taking strong action when you are in fact doing nothing that will have the slightest impact.

I’ll bet Khadafy and his thuggish sons are having a great big laugh right now.  ”Sanctions!  Stop it Barry, you’re killing me!  No, actually, we’re doing the killing here–but still, you’re a riot, kid!  Keep it up!”

Outside of the Khadafy compound, though, it’s not funny.  It’s sad and pathetic.

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About Craig Pirrong 238 Articles

Affiliation: University of Houston

Dr Pirrong is Professor of Finance, and Energy Markets Director for the Global Energy Management Institute at the Bauer College of Business of the University of Houston. He was previously Watson Family Professor of Commodity and Financial Risk Management at Oklahoma State University, and a faculty member at the University of Michigan, the University of Chicago, and Washington University.

Professor Pirrong's research focuses on the organization of financial exchanges, derivatives clearing, competition between exchanges, commodity markets, derivatives market manipulation, the relation between market fundamentals and commodity price dynamics, and the implications of this relation for the pricing of commodity derivatives. He has published 30 articles in professional publications, is the author of three books, and has consulted widely, primarily on commodity and market manipulation-related issues.

He holds a Ph.D. in business economics from the University of Chicago.

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