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Some people never learn - like those who keep pushing for even tougher economic sanctions on South Africa than the excessively stringent ones the U.S. already imposes.

Never mind that such sanctions haven't worked before against such countries as Cuba, Libya, and Poland and aren't working now against South Africa. Despite such repeated flops, Congress once again is considering further economic sanctions in an effort to get Pretoria to moderate its apartheid racial policies. Legislation being pushed by Rep. Ronald V. Dellums of California would place an almost total embargo on trade between the U.S. and South Africa.Under the Dellums bill, all imports from South Africa would be banned except for a few strategic minerals necessary for U.S. military purposes. All U.S. exports to South Africa would be banned except for very limited food and emergency medical supplies. All U.S. investment in South Africa would be prohibited. Even U.S. government programs that provide assistance to black South Africans would be ended.

Though the desire for racial justice reflected in such legislation is not only understandable but commendable, economic sanctions simply don't work. The target of the sanctions simply tightens its belt and gets by with a lower standard of living. Also, other nations step in and fill the void left by the withdrawal of U.S. money and products.

That's why a book, Economic Sanctions Reconsidered, by Gary Hufbauer and Jeffrey Schott concludes: "Sanctions are a decreasingly useful policy instrument."

Plenty of other observers have arrived at the same conclusion. A typical reaction is that of Forbes business magazine, which surveyed the impact of existing U.S. sanctions on South Africa and concluded they aren't working and tougher sanctions wouldn't help. As Forbes put it:

"Sanctions were important as a threat; as a reality, they are like pushing on a string. Having imposed them, the U.S. no longer has much influence in South Africa."

If the U.S. wants to have even less influence or none whatsoever, all Washington must do is to keep pushing economic sanctions as far as this misguided practice will go.