While the United States and its allies warn that a military attack on Iran is an option they won’t rule out, this doesn’t mean that a war on Iran is only a future possibility, not a present reality. The war is underway, and has been for years. “I often get asked when Israel might attack Iran,” says Patrick Clawson, director of the Iran Security Initiative at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “I say, ‘Two years ago.’”
Clawson has a point, but two years is too short. A case can be made that the war has been going on since 1979, when Iranians booted out the US-backed dictator, the Shah, and set out on a path of independent development.
It’s just that in the last decade, the intensity of the war has been ratcheted up.
True, cruise missiles haven’t smashed into downtown Tehran. And Israeli bombers haven’t flown missions to reduce Iranian nuclear sites to rubble, despite Tel Aviv’s incessant threats to do so. But the United States and its allies have:
• Imposed crippling sanctions
• Kept up threats of military intervention
• Used cyber-warfare to cripple Iran’s uranium enrichment program
• Assassinated Iran’s nuclear scientists
• Met with Iranian dissidents to plan covert actions to destabilize the government
• Funded opposition groups
• Financed anti-government media
• Worked to foment a popular revolution under the guise of democracy-promotion
• Created Farsi language satellite television programming to broadcast anti-government propaganda into Iran.
A US military attack on Iran would be “a last option” explained the former US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton. But for the moment, the United States is relying on “economic sanctions and attempts to foment a popular revolution.”
One view is that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons, and so must be stopped. Of course, we might question whether it’s legitimate for countries that have nuclear weapons aplenty, Israel included, to demand that no other country challenge their monopoly.
And since many of these countries have threatened Iran militarily on numerous occasions, we might wonder whether Iran should indeed have nuclear weapons to deter the threats.
But lay these considerations aside, for Iran’s leaders say they’re not developing nuclear weapons, and the 16 intelligence agencies that make up the US intelligence community say they believe them. It’s not only the absence of evidence, but also the evidence of absence, that leads the intelligence agencies to this conclusion. There are certain things the Iranians aren’t doing that you would expect them to do if they were developing warheads.
We can also quickly dispense with the canard that Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threatened to wipe Israel off the map. While war-mongering Machiavellis trot out this myth whenever they wanted to whip up fear of Iran, it has long been disproved. See here.
The likely reasons for the war can be separated into an immediate one and a strategic one. The immediate reason is to prevent Iran from acquiring the capability of building nuclear weapons. The strategic reason is to recover Iran as a US sphere of influence. The latter means replacing the current regime, committed to Iran’s independent development, with a government amenable to Iran’s economic domination by the United States and integration into the US military machine. Since a nuclear-armed Iran would be better able to resist US pressure to kow-tow to Washington and Wall Street, it must be denied even the threat of (nuclear) self-defence.
The recent talks between Iran and the P5+1 group (US, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany) on Iran’s nuclear program broke down because the two sides are completely at odds. Iran wants the big powers to acknowledge its right to enrich uranium. The big powers want to deny Iran the right. And so economic sanctions—which have already driven consumer prices up by 40 percent, cut the value of Iran’s currency in half, and led to the lay-off of 100,000 factory workers this year—will be ratcheted up.
The style of war the US and its allies is waging against Iran is hardly new. The United States has conducted “low-intensity” warfare against other countries outside its sphere of domination before. North Korea and Cuba have been the targets of this style of warfare for decades. Low-intensity wars mobilize:
• Economic sanctions
• Funding and support for a political opposition and overthrow movements
• Broadcasting anti-government propaganda
• Threats of military intervention
Here’s how it works: Economic sanctions cripple the economy. Standards of living plummet. To counter threats of military intervention, the besieged country spends more on defence. This, in turn, exacerbates the country’s economic troubles.
Economic difficulties create popular discontent. The West’s anti-government propaganda, which blames the slumping economy on the government’s “mismanagement”, inflames discontent and strengthens opposition. The Western-aided political opposition channels the discontent into demands for the government to step down.
To survive, the government curtails civil and political liberties. And this, plus the sanctions-induced economic crisis, provides the West with pretexts for continued low-intensity warfare.
Low-intensity warfare doesn’t inspire anti-war movements. Hot wars do. This is a shame, because politically their effects are the same. And sanctions—as should now be evident from the hundreds of thousands, if not more than one million sanctions-related deaths in Iraq, and the sanctions-driven collapse of North Korea’s healthcare system—can have more devastating consequences than the hot wars anti-war movements have traditionally opposed.
By Stephen Gowans
New York Times reporter William J. Broad wrote today about the apocalyptic vision of fiction-writer and Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich.  Gingrich warns that U.S. bêtes noire Iran or North Korea could send the United States back to the Middle Ages, detonating a nuclear missile high above the United States, which would create an electromagnetic pulse that knocks out anything that runs on electricity.
“Millions would die in the first week alone,” Gingrich cautions in the foreword to “One Second After,” a novel written by William R. Forstchen, a Gingrich friend and co-writer with Gingrich of historical novels. The novel describes a calamitous scenario in which an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack cripples the United States.
Gingrich announced before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual policy conference in May 2009 that he favored “taking out Iranian and North Korean missiles on their sites” to prevent either country from delivering an EMP Armageddon to the United States.
Gingrich is not alone in calling for strikes on Iran and North Korea.
In a March 30, 2010 piece, Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus wrote that the then head of the US strategic nuclear command, former astronaut General Kevin P. Chilton, had told US senators that “no nuclear power has been conquered or even put at risk of conquest.” Chillingly, Pincus added that Chilton’s observation is something that “others in government ought to ponder as they watch Iran and North Korea seek to develop nuclear capability”…a not so veiled call for wars to prevent North Korea and Iran from eliminating the risk of their being conquered. 
Equally chillingly, in a July 18, 2008 New York Times op-ed, Israeli historian Benny Morris urged the United States “to use bombs to stave off war”…that is, for “the US to use its formidable military to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities”. (Using bombs to stave off war is like using famine to stave off hunger.) To make his case, Morris constructed a fantasy about Israel being “threatened almost daily with destruction by Iran’s leaders,” adding bizarrely that they “are likely to use any bomb they build…because of fear of Israeli nuclear pre-emption.”  In other words, because Israel threatens to pre-empt Iran, Iran must be pre-empted, otherwise it might pre-empt Israel’s pre-emption.
As the Cold War drew to a close, Colin Powell, at the time the top US solider, warned: “I’m running out of demons, I’m running out of villains. I’m down to Castro and (then North Korean leader) Kim Il Sung.”  On the eve of the Soviet Union’s demise, cold warriors Robert McNamara, Carl Kaysen and George W. Rathjens echoed Powell’s warning in an autumn 1991 Foreign Policy piece: “With the end of the Cold War,” they wrote, “it is hard to construct even a semi-plausible military threat to the United States.” 
Keen to keep US taxes flowing to the Pentagon and straight to the bottom lines of Lockheed-Martin, Northrop Grumman, Boeing, and other profit-soaked US defense contractors, US officials took on what the cold warriors envisaged as a difficult task. They puffed up military midgets into military Gargantua, and found dire threats—an alleged genocide in Kosovo and WMDs in Iraq—where none existed. 9/11 sealed the deal.
Today Pentagon chief Leon Panetta can cite “North Korea and Iran as persistent threats” which the US military must remain bulked up to “to deter and defeat,”  with few people batting an eye. At $700 billion per year , US military spending is greater than that of the next 19 biggest spending countries combined,  many of which are US allies, and none of which are North Korea or Iran. And the New York Times turn over its pages to the Benny Morrises of the world as a platform to urge the United States to prevent wars by waging more of them. It turns out that Powell’s and McNamara’s fears that the United States had run out of demons to justify the pumping of billions in profits into defense contractors were based on a misjudgment of the prowess of the propaganda system to crank out compelling fiction.
Maybe it was a desire to discredit Gingrich, a Republican whose hand on the tiller of the ship of state may be too frightening for the liberal New York Times to contemplate that led Broad to puncture some of the myths that have been carefully constructed about Iran and North Korea as nuclear menaces–myths the Times itself has been no stranger to lending credence to. Whatever the case, the Broad article ran against form, challenging Gingrich’s fear-mongering.
Broad cited Philip E. Coyle III, a former head of Pentagon arms testing, who has complained that Gingrich and his fellow fear-mongers are puffing up Iran and North Korea “with the capabilities of giants.” Broad then pointed to other military experts who say that North Korea and Iran “are at the kindergarten stage of developing nuclear arms.” To this might be added that it’s far from certain that Iran is even at the kindergarten stage, while North Korea, the most sanctioned country on earth , will find its US-imposed poverty keeps it at the kindergarten stage well into the future.
“To even begin to attempt to do what Mr. Gingrich fears,” Broad writes, Iran and North Korea “would have to perfect big rockets, powerful bombs and surreptitious ways to loft them high above America.” Yet “Iran is having trouble keeping its missile bases from blowing up and North Korea cannot seem to get a big rocket off the ground without it tumbling out of control.”
Broad’s reporting deflates myths about an EMP attack, but it is just as damning to the more widely-circulated myths about North Korea and Iran threatening the United States and its allies with a garden variety nuclear strike.
The Real Threat
Still, it’s true that both countries pose a threat—though not a military one and not to the bulk of US citizens. Iran and North Korea, like Gaddafi’s Libya, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Milosevic’s Yugoslavia, and Mugabe’s Zimbabwe, defy a US-favored regime of free-trade, free-markets and free-enterprise–one that opens doors to US enterprises and keeps foreign profits pouring into Wall Street.
According to the US Congressional Research Service, numerous US sanctions have been imposed on North Korea for reasons listed as either “communism”, “non-market economy” or “communism and market disruption.”  Iran, as the US Congress of Library’s country study documents , favors a host of state-led economic development measures that, like North Korea’s publically-owned and planned economy, walls off large parts of the country’s markets, resources and labor from foreign corporations, banks and investors.
It is the limitations on US elite economic interests, and the threat of their becoming a model for other developing countries, that drives Gingrich, Pincus and others to puff up military pipsqueaks into giants and to elevate kindergarten students into MIT graduates. Transformed into threats, they become seemingly legitimate targets for all manner of aggressions—sabotage, economic warfare, funding of overthrow movements, military harassment, and, at times, overt war. The aim is replace leaders who favor independent, self-directed economic development, with puppets who will throw open the country’s doors to US exports and investment and co-operate with the United States militarily.
Burhan Ghalioun is a fine example of an aspiring puppet. He is the president of the Syrian National Council, an exile group linked to the Movement for Justice and Development . The latter has received $6 million in US government funding to organize opposition to the Assad government, according to a WikiLeaks cable . The supplicant marionette, who has met with Hilary Clinton and has already persuaded French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and British Foreign Secretary William Hague to declare his organization “a legitimate representative of the Syrian people”  is promising US officials that if they bring him to power he will “cut Damascus’s military relationship to Iran and end arms supplies to Middle East militant groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas” while integrating Syria with “the region’s major Arab powers”,  a reference to the Gulf Cooperation Council, the club of US-allied oil tyrannies which recently used military force to crack down on a democratic uprising in Bahrain, a member country, and home to the US 5th Fleet, the main military threat against Iran. (Bahrain, for the record, is a foreign investor’s paradise, ranking number 10 on the Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation Index of Economic Freedom). Ghalioun’s eagerness to become entangled with a conspiracy of democracy-abominating absolute monarchies speaks volumes about his commitment to democracy and the direction of a possible Syrian National Council-led revolution in Syria.
1. William J. Broad, “Among Gingrich’s passions, a doomsday vision”, The New York Times, December 11, 2011.
2. Walter Pincus, “As missions are added, Stratcom commander keeps focus on deterrence”, The Washington Post, March 30, 2010.
3. Benny Morris, “Using Bombs to Stave Off War,” New York Times, July 18, 2008.
4. Carl Kaysen, Robert S. McNamara and George W. Rathjens, “Nuclear Weapons After the Cold War”, Foreign Affairs, Fall 1991.
6. Thom Shanker and Elisabeth Bumiller, “Weighing Pentagon cuts, Panetta faces deep pressures”, The New York Times, November 6, 2011.
8. “Defence spending: The world’s biggest armies in stats,” The Daily Telegraph, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/defence/8002911/Defence-spending-the-worlds-biggest-armies-in-stats.html
9. Then US President George W. Bush had called North Korea “the most sanctioned nation in the world”. U.S. News & World Report, June 26, 2008; The New York Times, July 6, 2008.
10. Dianne E. Rennack, “North Korea: Economic sanctions”, Congressional Research Service, October 17, 2006. http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/crs/rl31696.pdf
11. The Library of Congress. Iran: A Country Study. 2008. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/irtoc.html
12. The leader of the Movement for Justice and Democracy is Anas Al-Abdah. He is a member of the SNC.
13. James Rosen, “U.S. Fears Syrian Reprisals After WikiLeaks Disclosure,” FoxNew.com, April 18, 2011.
14. Jay Solomon, “Clinton Meets With Syrian Opposition”, The Wall Street Journal, December 6, 2011.
15. Jay Solomon and Nour Malas, “Syria would cut Iran military tie, opposition head says”, The Wall Street Journal, December 2, 2011
In an Unusual Sources radio program, Brendan Stone and Stephen Gowans discuss three myths about Iran: (1) That there’s compelling evidence that Iran is building nuclear arms; (2) that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad governs without popular support; and (3) that the Green movement represents a majority of Iranians. Click here to listen.