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Curbing Sanctions Tantrums

We've said before that America can't afford to have 535 secretaries of state waving a big stick in all directions.

Now there's a way to curb the urge of many lawmakers to run the world. Indiana's Sen. Richard Lugar (R) and Rep. Lee Hamilton (D), foreign policy sages, are spearheading a bipartisan effort to bring the current wild array of sanctions against more than half the people on Earth under control.

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They are proposing legislation that would require any law mandating sanctions to: (1) Include authority for the president to waive a sanction he determines is not in the national interest. (2) Terminate in two years unless there is a vote to extend. (3) State the precise policy objective sought. (4) Analyze its economic effects at home and abroad. The Clinton administration agrees, but would like even more leeway for a president.

The reason for this attempt to curb the appetite for sanctions is simple. Imposing a boycott may be an understandable reaction to actions of some nations that concoct dastardly weapons or abuse their people. But, of the 115 sanctions voted since World War I, more than half (61) have been launched in the past five years.

And, as often noted, few sanctions have succeeded. (South Africa is one notable exception.) To create the maximum impact, the US needs to negotiate a widespread effort involving scores of nations. Congress can't do that. The president and state department can. Congress can nudge. But it should leave the job to the president.

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