We've talked so often about the practice of granting anonymity to U.S. officials that it's hard to be surprised by it. Nonetheless, I was surprised to be reassured in the Washington Post (1/20/13) that the U.S.-led sanctions on Iran aren't really harming ordinary Iranians–based on the word of an anonymous U.S. official.
The piece by Joby Warrick is mostly about new efforts to make the sanctions tougher:
The law, part of a package of sanctions approved last year, requires that foreign governments keep any payments for Iranian oil locked up inside bank accounts in their own territory. Iran can use the money only to buy goods from the local economy, such as wheat or medicine or consumer goods.
"Some critics say the sanctions are primarily harming ordinary Iranians while failing to change the behavior of Iran's ruling clerics," Warrick reports. And that's not really true– because an anonymous U.S. officials says so:
While acknowledging that sanctions may have created hardships for some, administration officials and independent analysts say Tehran has exaggerated stories suggesting that Iran's poor are doing without food or medical treatment because of sanctions. They note that Iran produces most of its own pharmaceuticals, and in any case it now has increased incentives to obtain food and medical staples in trades with oil customers.
"We're not targeting medicine or medical devices," said a senior administration official, insisting on anonymity in discussing diplomatically sensitive provisions of the law. "The larger problem Iran is having is the result of mismanagement on its own part."
Well, that's good to know. But if it's true, why wouldn't a U.S. official want to say so with his/her name next to that statement?
There's actually a lot of evidence that Iran is suffering due to medical and pharmaceutical shortages– see Muhammad Sahimi's piece at Antiwar.com (8/9/12). And there's plenty of evidence that Iran's economy–and thus its ordinary people–are bearing the brunt of the sanctions policy (which is, to some, the whole point; Times columnist Nick Kristof supports the sanctions because they cause suffering).
Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald had a piece last October rounding up some of the reporting on the effects of the sanctions on Iranian life; if the Post's new story is correct, the outlets Greenwald cited, such as the Economist, are falling for Tehran's exaggerations.
The anonymous claim seems more a misdirection than anything else; sanctions are intended to create pain in the Iranian economy, which will predictably and inevitably cause health and food concerns, as the AP reported (1/8/13):
While medicine and humanitarian supplies are not blocked by the economic embargoes on Iran, the pressures are clearly evident in nearly every level of Iranian health care. It's a sign of the domino effect of sanctions on everyday life.
Restrictions on Iran's access to international banking networks mean major obstacles to pay for imported medicine and equipment–the same troubles facing many businesses in need of shipments from abroad.
Meanwhile, the nation's slumping currency–seen as collateral damage from sanctions–has driven up prices sharply. An imported wheelchair now costs 10 times more than last fall. A blood-sugar test kit has more than doubled to 540,000 rials, or about $18.
So why is the Post granting anonymity to a U.S. official to tell us that no, this isn't really what's happening in Iran?