TIPP: A lesson on sanctions from Qatar


At the FIFA World Cup in Doha, Qatar, Team England ran into a rude warning moments before their soccer game with Iran. The English captain Harry Kane was planning to sport the One Love band, designed by the Netherlands, to promote inclusion and equality. Belgium, Denmark, France, Switzerland, and Wales were the other nations that were due to wear the armband.

But there was one problem. The host country, Qatar, a deeply-religious Islamic emirate, does not recognize same-sex unions or transgender rights, holding both as violating the edicts of Islamic law. Qatar had impressed upon the FIFA organizers, having revoked the idea of beer sales in the stadiums earlier this week, not to have the West’s symbolisms counter its laws. Besides, working with Qatar, FIFA had already approved 30 different armband styles with various approved messages but not the one promoted by One Love.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, FIFA yielded to Qatar’s pressures. The soccer organization issued a warning that if players violated the host country’s rules, they would receive a Yellow Flag even before they entered the field. That would amount to a severe sanction because if players attracted another Yellow Flag during the game, they would have to exit the game and be disqualified from playing the next match. The European teams agreed that this sanction was too painful – they didn’t want to risk elimination from the tournament merely for the right to express themselves – and grudgingly went along.

There are several lessons for the West here. While Qatar’s record on human rights is dismal, and the criminalization of gay rights is abhorrent, the country’s position was not fresh news. The West went along with the proposal to grant Doha rights to host the Games because the Arab nation’s wealth swayed the West’s thinking. According to the World Bank, at $61,000, Qatar’s GDP per capita is $10,000 higher than Germany, Europe’s richest country. Europe, struggling under heavy debt, could not fund infrastructure projects to put a show on a grand scale that Doha is currently doing.

Second, imposing the rules of guests on a host is inherently undiplomatic, no matter how lofty the guests’ goals are. As families gather for Thanksgiving dinners this week, it has been a time-honored tradition not to dictate our will on others. Every ethicist’s rule book advises families to avoid delicate and sensitive topics – perhaps even refuse the dinner invitation – but never engage in any action that hurts the host. The West was highly arrogant in promoting a social-media-driven symbolism, which, beyond a gesture, has zero chance of improving the plight of Qatar’s LGBTQ community.

Worse, it showed Qatari LGBTQs that the Western teams’ commitment to One Love is somewhat elastic and only for the T.V. cameras. When faced with the Yellow Flag suspension, the West announced that losing matches was not worth the effort to promote One Love. The message to the Qatari LGBTQ community was simple: we didn’t boycott the World Cup in protest and solidarity with you because the cost was too high. We want to win, and we don’t care if you lose.

Third, the West learned that sanctions could bite and hurt when it, for a change, is at the receiving end.

Each country that America considers unworthy of membership in the global family of nations until they change their behavior – Venezuela, Iran, Russia, North Korea, Iraq, Syria – is a target of American sanctions. Even countries crucial to American long-term geopolitical interests – India, Brazil, South Africa, and China – invite America’s ire if these nations deal with sanctioned countries. In a 2021 paper, the U.S. Treasury reported that an incredible 9,421 sanctions designations were active, a 933% increase since 9/11. American administrations, both Republican and Democratic, have used this weapon as the primary diplomatic tool.

The power to sanction comes from something the West has – the ubiquitous strength of the dollar or access to technology, for example – that other countries do not. The European soccer teams saw firsthand what it means to be forced to do something they don’t like or face severe penalties.

We have been philosophically opposed to the willy-nilly nature of Western sanctions that have proven not to change the behavior of those in power in the target countries but have made lives miserable for the everyday person. As we have often argued in our editorials, Western sanctions designed by National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Russia have failed miserably.

Far from hurting President Putin, the Sullivan-Blinken sanctions have caused global famine, recessions, and an energy shortage threatening to bring misery and death to much of Europe’s masses. The Ruble has strengthened by 28%. Every other global currency, except the dollar, has fallen to historic lows.

Recall that these two officials have committed the United States to war, sending advanced weapons and aid worth over $65 billion, in a theater where the definition of victory has evolved and is still unclear. In late September, Sullivan dangerously declared that the United States would respond decisively to any Russian use of nuclear weapons against Ukraine and spelled out the “catastrophic consequences” Moscow would face.

Credit should go to Kevin McCarthy, the likely incoming House Speaker, for warning a few weeks ago that he would no longer support writing free checks. This reality, combined with the realization that sanctions can hurt the unintended more, is finally dawning on the Biden White House. In a dramatic shift from the war-mongering policies championed by Sullivan and Antony Blinken, the AFP reports that the U.S. is now pressuring Ukraine to weigh talks with Russia.

The administration’s decision to seek peace is a position we have steadfastly promoted in these columns for months. We welcome the move.



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