Ron Paul's Texas Straight Talk - A weekly Column
June 22, 1998
Trade, not aid or isolation, should be US foreign policy
Experience shows that embargoes only hurt Americans, help dictators
Even actions taken with the best-motivated of intentions can go astray, and what seems politically pragmatic can often have dire, unintended economic consequences.

Nowhere is that more evident than in our nation's trade policy. All who embrace the philosophy of liberty and have a love for freedom have a strong desire for others to break free from the shackles of oppressive regimes. And while we want to see dictators and tyrants fall, we hate to see innocents injured by our action - or our inaction.

There has been a growing recognition that oppressive sanctions do not work, that engagement is the best policy, as it allows the people living under oppressive regimes to see the fruits of freedom and develop meaningful relationships with outsiders.

But there has been an entire level of victims to our nation's policy of economic sanctions who have been completely ignored: Americans.

Recently, the American Farm Bureau Federation's publication, Farm Bureau News, did a remarkable job of highlighting how trade sanctions on foreign countries actually do a great deal of damage to Americans without effectively changing the status quo in the country we are ostensibly trying to "help."

Illinois Farm Bureau president Ron Warfield is quoted as saying that he and the Farm Bureau "strongly opposes all artificial trade constraints such as embargoes or sanctions except in the case of armed conflicts. We believe that opening trade systems around the world and engagement through trade are the most effective means of reaching international economic stability."

He is entirely correct. If we cut off contact with people in oppressive regimes, two things happen. First, they are not exposed to different ideas and beliefs, leaving only the nonsense being touted by their government. And second, it allows a carte blanche power for the oppressive government to blame any problems in his country (real or imagined) on Americans, rather than his own failed programs and ideology.

In fact, as we have seen with embargoes on Iraq and Cuba, the dictator grows stronger when there are heavy sanctions, not weaker. But in our country, those sanctions are devastating. Mr. Warfield told a congressional panel recently that when the United States placed an embargo on US grain against the Soviet Union in the 1980s, $2.3 billion was lost in farm exports.

Again quoting Mr. Warfield from the American Farm Bureau publication, "The United States, as the leader in world trade, has an unprecedented opportunity to promote its values throughout the world by peaceful engagement through trade. Reaching out through engagement and trade, not withdrawing behind embargoes, is the best way to achieve positive change--not by denying ourselves access to the markets and creating opportunities for our competitors."

And that is a position supported by many in the Christian community as well. Father Paul Sirico, a Catholic priest, has written in the Wall Street Journal that sanctions hurt only the people we are trying to help, not the leaders of evil governments.

And there is another dynamic in place as we look toward engagement rather than isolation, and that is the issue of aid. For years the American taxpayer has been forced to subsidize hundreds of governments around the world, including those of some of the most vicious dictators in history, in the name of either "promoting human rights" in that country, or in the interest of "national security." Often times, tax dollars are being used to prop up these dictators, while at the same time trade sanctions prevent US farmers and small businessmen from selling their products in that market.

So while the farmer or small businessman is losing money by being forbidden to enter a potentially lucrative market, he is being taxed at higher rates to pay for subsidies to those same foreign governments.

A more sensible - constitutionally, morally and economically - alternative to our current foreign policy is one of engagement by individuals in trade, and an end to the imperious system of foreign aid. Unless a nation represents a clear and present danger to our national security, we should allow, even encourage, our best ambassadors - who are our businessmen, our farmers, our ranchers - to engage in mutually beneficial trade with people of all nations and regions. As goods are traded, so are ideas. And just as American products are the finest in the world, so too is the philosophy of liberty.

Of course, this policy still leaves open the chance for Americans of conscience to boycott products made in other nations, or to choose not to do business with Americans who enter into trade with countries of which they disapprove.

Our nation should adopt a policy of free and open trade, not immoral and forced aid, in our relations with foreign countries, to the benefit of their people and ours.