I can’t help wondering what Americans would do if Alabama decided to reinstate black slavery.
People who are about to do something the international community is bound to regard as beyond the rights of sovereignty – the military coup in Myanmar, the hijacking of that Ryanair flight to Minsk, Uighur slave labour in Xinjiang – are savvy enough not to leave their foreign assets vulnerable to being seized or frozen. Nor, I suspect, are they planning a family holiday in Disney World. So these kinds of sanctions are, and are only intended to be, symbolic.
Well then, if not these feckless sanctions, what’s the right thing to do? Some would argue that we should break off all relations, demand unconditional surrender, and then wait. Just wait.
Yes, China and Russia would no doubt continue to buttress the regimes in Myanmar and Belarus respectively, and so any bans on trade would be sure to spread. Well, what of it? Suppose the Phoney War (1939-40) had remained phoney. Were England and America brought to their knees because they could no longer trade with Germany and Japan? Nor with occupied Poland or Korea?
What this shows is that our solidarity with brutalised people exacts a price, and that price has clearly being judged too much to pay for Myanmar and Belarus and Xinjiang, just as it was for Rwanda, and just as it was for Afghanistan until 9/11 forced our hand. So though of course we have to talk the talk of high dudgeon, and though of course we can’t be explicit that we’re not prepared to walk the walk of it, couldn’t we at least acknowledge all this sotto voce?
Still, I can’t help wondering, sotto voce, what Americans would do if Alabama decided to reinstate black slavery.