Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category
By Stephen Gowans
David Cohen, a US Treasury Department undersecretary, took pains in The Wall Street Journal (December 10) to point out that despite the sanctions relief provided for in the November interim nuclear agreement between Tehran and the P5+1 , that the US-led economic war on Iran continues largely unabated. Cohen’s message is that the relief package “is economically insignificant to Iran,” while US-led oil sanctions, trade disruptions, and efforts to isolate Iran from the US banking system—which remain in place despite the deal—continue to hobble Iran’s economy.
I warned in an October article that no matter how it looked on the surface, an accord with Iran would represent an insignificant concession by Washington, a point Cohen confirms. The reality, however, has not been widely grasped, and the deal has been misconstrued in many quarters as a possible precursor to a detente and normalization of relations between the West and Iran. Cohen dashes this illusion.
Washington estimates that Iran “will stand to receive $6 billion to $7 billion in relief” over the agreement’s six-month term but lose “about $30 billion in oil revenue” as a result of continued “oil, financial and banking sanctions.” In other words, the relief package will mitigate the impact of sanctions, but only mildly—and the remaining sanctions will continue to bite deeply.
What’s more, the insignificant level of sanctions relief comes on top “of the roughly $80 billion Iran has lost since early 2012 because of US and European Union oil sanctions, and of the nearly $100 billion in Iran’s foreign exchange holdings that are mostly restricted or inaccessible due to U.S. financial and banking sanctions.”
Cohen reminds us that the US economic war has badly battered Iran’s economy. GDP contracted by five percent last year. Inflation is running at about 40 percent. And Iran’s currency, the rial, has lost 60 percent of its value against the US dollar in the last two years. For Tehran, the prognosis is grim. And sanctions relief—what little there is—is insufficient to brighten the outlook. The economy continues to shrink.
Cohen says Washington will continue to make Iran’s economy “suffer,” maintain the “pressure,” keep “Iran’s oil revenues depressed,” and ensure that “latent interest in trade” with Iran will be held back by bullying anyone “who thinks now might be a good time to test the waters.”
No matter how far Tehran goes in the final negotiations in limiting its nuclear program, it’s unlikely the West will abandon its efforts to bring about regime change in Tehran, or relinquish economic warfare as a regime change tool. Sanctions are likely to be a permanent feature of US policy on Iran, ending only when, and if, US foreign policy goals are brought to fruition and a Western oriented, pro-foreign investment regime comes to power in Tehran.
That’s because Washington’s ambitions go beyond depriving Iran of an independent means of producing nuclear fuel and preventing it from securing the theoretical capability of mounting a nuclear self-defense, to changing its economic and foreign policies. This can be seen in the reality that the US-led economic war didn’t begin in response to Iran enriching uranium. It began when Iran extricated itself from the US orbit by overthrowing Washington’s puppet, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, in 1979. Ever since, Washington has deployed sanctions to prevent Iran from:
• Building ballistic missiles;
• Supporting Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad;
• Exercising influence in the Middle East;
• Exporting arms;
• Dealing with unrest and subversion at home (stoked by the misery created by Western sanctions);
• Monitoring and censoring domestic internet communications. 
So, even if Iran agreed to give up uranium enrichment altogether and to permanently shut-down its Arak heavy-water reactor, Tehran’s support for Palestinian and Lebanese resistance organizations, its backing of Syria, and its predilection for promoting local enterprise and maintaining state-owned enterprises at the expense of foreign investors, would continue to evoke US hostility.
As Cohen points out, the idea that Washington has suspended its punishing economic war on Iran is an illusion. Until Iran’s independence from US domination is brought to an end, Washington’s war on Iran’s economy—and its people—will continue.
1. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council (the United States, Britain, Russia, China and France) plus Germany, also known as the E3/EU+3, E3 referring to the United States, Russia and China and the EU3 denoting the three largest countries of the EU: Germany, France, and Britain.
2. Kenneth Katzman, “Iran Sanctions”, Congressional Research Service, July 26, 2013.
By Stephen Gowans
US hostility to Iran didn’t begin with the latter enriching uranium. It began in 1979, when Iran extricated itself from US domination by overthrowing the US-backed Shah, who had been installed after the United States and Britain engineered the overthrow of Iran’s democratically-elected, and economically nationalist, prime minister, Mohammad Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh irked the British and Americans by nationalizing his country’s oil industry. Ever since the Shah’s overthrow, Washington has been waging war on Iran, through a proxy (Saddam Hussein’s Iraq), by sanctions, assassinations, cyber-warfare and threats of military intervention. The goal is to bring Iran back under US domination. Ending Iran’s nuclear program—or more specifically, its domestic production of nuclear fuel—is only part of the larger goal.
Recently, there has been talk of relaxing” or “easing” (though not ending) sanctions and of a possible “thaw” in US-Iranian relations. Washington sees, in the new Iranian president, the possibility of concessions, and wants to facilitate Iran’s partial capitulation. Israel fears that Iran is sending false signals, and is playing for time.
Iran is seeking an end to sanctions and recognition of its right to enrich uranium.  This conflicts with Washington’s view that Iran has the right to nuclear energy, but not to domestic production of nuclear fuel. Washington wants Iran to:
• Halt work on a heavy water reactor at Arak (which could produce plutonium);
• Destroy the subterranean Fordo uranium enrichment facility (which is invulnerable to air attack);
• Suspend production of uranium enriched to 20 percent purity (deemed dangerously close to weapons grade);
• Relinquish its existing stockpile of nuclear fuel;
• Allow international inspectors to talk to Iran’s top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh (who has been hidden away, out of reach of Israeli assassins. 
Even if Iran acceded to all of Washington’s demands, a number of US sanctions would remain. These include sanctions intended to stop Iran from:
• Developing other weapons of mass destruction;
• Building ballistic missiles;
• Supporting Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad;
• Exercising influence in the Middle East;
• Exporting arms;
• Dealing with unrest and subversion at home (stoked by the misery created by Western sanctions);
• Monitoring and censoring domestic internet communications. 
In previous talks with Iran, US and European negotiators have offered to relax some sanctions. For example, they proposed to end trade sanctions banning exports of airplane parts to Iran, in return for Iran suspending domestic production of nuclear fuel. This is a mild trade sanction, hardly punitive in comparison to the ban on Iranian oil exports and isolation of Iranian banks that have taken a heavy toll on Iran’s economy and the lives of its people.
In return for forswearing the development of nuclear weapons, the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) grants to non-nuclear weapons states the right to develop and use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Iran is a member of the treaty, and its nuclear facilities are monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). IAEA monitors have never reported that Iran has diverted nuclear material to military use.
Whether the right to develop and use nuclear technology for peaceful purposes includes the right to enrich uranium is disputed, but some NPT members, including Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands, have domestic uranium enrichment programs which operate without sanction or threat. Only Iran is denied this right.
Israel refused to become a member of the NPT, presumably to allow itself the option to develop nuclear weapons. The country has an estimated 400 nuclear warheads, and the aircraft, ballistic missiles and submarine-launched cruise missiles to deliver them anywhere in the Middle East. In contrast, even if Iran did have nuclear warheads, it hasn’t anywhere near the range of delivery options Israel has, and would struggle to develop them.
This raises an embarrassing question for the United States. Why is Iran the object of sanctions, bombing threats, cyber-warfare, and an assassination campaign targeting its nuclear scientist, despite its forswearing the development of nuclear weapons and opening its nuclear facilities to the IAEA, when Israel, which actually has nuclear weapons and refuses to join the NPT, faces no similar pressure? The answer, according to John Bolton, who was deputy secretary of arms control under George W. Bush, is that “The issue for us is what poses a threat to the United States.”  In other words, the key here is not a nuclear weapons capability but whether the country that possesses it is under US domination.
The United States supplied the Shah’s Iran with the Tehran research reactor, which began operations in 1967, and is still used to produce medical isotopes. It is this reactor which requires uranium enriched to 20 percent purity. In 1974, with Washington’s approval, the Shah announced plans to build two reactors at Bushehr. At the time of the 1979 revolution, the reactors were nearing completion. After the revolution, the United States tore up its nuclear agreements with Iran and pressured other countries to treat the country as a pariah.
The history of Iran’s nuclear program can be divided into two periods: Before the revolution, and after. Before the revolution, the United States and other Western countries helped Iran acquire nuclear technology. After the revolution, they did their best to freeze Iran out.
In the mid-1980s, Iran asked the IAEA for assistance in enriching uranium. The NPT directs nuclear powers to furnish non-nuclear member states with information, equipment and materials for the peaceful use of nuclear energy. The idea is that there’s a quid-pro-quo: non-nuclear states agree to foreswear nuclear weapons in return for the nuclear weapons states helping them develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Under US pressure, Iran’s request for assistance was rejected. With this avenue blocked, Iran turned to AQ Khan, the father of the Pakistan bomb. The AQ Khan network provided Iran with design information and equipment for uranium enrichment facilities, enabling Iran to build an enrichment plant at Natanz.
US, Israeli and other US-ally intelligence agencies, western politicians, and the western media, have cried wolf about Iran developing nuclear arms since the early 1980s. In 1984, Jane’s Defence Quarterly reported that Iran was “entering the final stage of the production of a bomb.”  In 1995, The New York Times reported that US and Israel officials believed that Iran would have nuclear weapons by the year 2000.  Thirteen years later, Iran still doesn’t have a bomb. “It’s 1938 and Iran is Germany, and it’s racing to arm itself with atomic bombs,” warned Israel’s current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu in 2006.  Netanyahu has been raising the same alarm for years. In 1992, he predicted that Iran was three to five years away from producing a warhead.  Today, he says Iran is only a few months away from developing a nuclear bomb.
No intelligence agency has ever produced hard evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. The IAEA has never found that Iran has diverted nuclear material to military use. The US intelligence community’s Intelligence Estimate says that Iran abandoned a nuclear weapons program in 2003. The opinion that Iran had a nuclear weapons program to abandon in the first place is probably based on Iran acquiring information and equipment from AQ Khan.  Whatever the case, the US intelligence community doesn’t believe that Iran is developing nuclear weapons today, and has said so repeatedly. Even so, major US news media regularly assert that the West believes Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons. If so, who in any official capacity in the West truly believes this?
In 2006, the United Nations Security Council passed six resolutions on Iran’s nuclear energy program, demanding that Iran suspend its uranium enrichment program. But the Security Council had no legal basis to claim that Iran’s nuclear energy program is a threat to international peace and security, and therefore, no basis to pass its resolutions. To repeat:
• There is no evidence Iran has nuclear weapons.
• The country’s nuclear facilities are monitored by the IAEA.
• The IAEA hasn’t uncovered any diversion of nuclear material for military use. 
What’s more, Iran hasn’t attacked another country in 200 years. And if Iran’s enriching uranium is a threat to international peace and security, why isn’t Argentina’s, Brazil’s, Germany’s, Japan’s and the Netherland’s? The answer is plain from Bolton: They’re US satellites; Iran isn’t.
Washington Post columnist Walter Pincus argues that the Israelis insist Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons despite Tehran’s assurances they are not, because that’s what the Israelis themselves did. Pincus wrote that:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders continue to accuse Tehran of deceit in describing its nuclear program as peaceful.
Perhaps Netanyahu sees Iran following the path Israel took 50 years ago when it’s known that his country joined the relatively small nuclear weapons club.
Back in the 1960s, Israel apparently hid the nuclear weapons program being carried on at its Negev Nuclear Research Center (NNRC) at Dimona. It deceived not only the international community but also its close U.S. ally. It repeatedly pledged “it would not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the area.”
In early 1966, at the time of a U.S. sale of F-4 fighter-bombers to Israel, the Johnson administration insisted that Israel reaffirm that pledge. “Foreign Minister Abba Eban told Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara that Israel did not intend to build nuclear weapons, ‘so we will not use your aircraft to carry weapons we haven’t got and hope we will never have,’” according to the State Department’s Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964–1968, Volume XVIII.
Sound familiar? Maybe that’s why Netanyahu was so tough Tuesday during his U.N. General Assembly speech when attacking Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s statements that Tehran’s nuclear program is peaceful. When the Israeli prime minister asked, “Why would a country that claims to only want peaceful nuclear energy, why would such a country build hidden underground enrichment facilities?” I thought Dimona.
According to the bipartisan, Washington-based, Nuclear Threat Initiative, the Machon 2 facility at Dimona “is reportedly the most sensitive building in the NNRC, with six floors underground dedicated to activities identified as plutonium extraction, production of tritium and lithium-6,” for use in nuclear weapons. 
The answer to Netanyahu’s question about why Iran would bury its enrichment facilities deep underground is obvious: to protect them from an Israeli air attack. Israel destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear facility in 1981 and bombed a suspected nuclear facility in Syria in 2007, and has repeatedly threatened to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities. It would be criminally stupid not to hide enrichment facilities underground with Mars-worshiping Israel in the neighbourhood, since the Zionist settlers are bent on denying any country in the Middle East that is not under the sway of its patron, the United States, access to nuclear technology, whether for peaceful or military purposes.
The important point that Pincus misses is that Israel never joined the NPT, thereby giving itself the legal latitude to pursue nuclear weapons, but more importantly, remaining free from IAEA monitoring, which would have made keeping the development of nuclear weapons under wraps inordinately difficult, and more likely, impossible. A country that intends to develop nuclear weapons on the sly doesn’t want international inspectors poking around its nuclear installations. That’s why non-nuclear countries that have gone on to develop nuclear weapons have either not joined the NPT, or have withdrawn from it before embarking on nuclear weapons development. The fact that Iran continues to belong to the NPT and therefore submits to ongoing monitoring, even though its treaty rights have been abridged and nuclear member states have failed to live up to their treaty obligations to share nuclear technology and know-how with Iran, is a compelling reason to doubt the country is trying to follow the path Israel did of developing nuclear arms covertly.
What Washington ultimately wants is the replacement of Iran’s independent government with a pliable regime, that is, regime change in Tehran—a return to the time before the 1979 revolution. A recent US Congressional Research Service report notes that “observers believe that the international community should offer incentives—such as promises of aid, investment, trade preferences, and other benefits—if Iran were to completely abandon uranium enrichment in Iran or were there to be a new regime formed in Iran (emphasis added.)”  If the goal of sanctions is to deter Iran from enriching uranium, why offer to lift sanctions were there to be a new regime formed in Tehran? In this can be glimpsed the ultimate aim of anti-Iran economic warfare: Not to force Tehran to relinquish its right to enrich uranium, but to install a new regime. The United States already allows its satellites Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Japan, and the Netherlands to enrich uranium, and doubtlessly would allow Iran to do the same were the regime in Tehran as committed to acquiescing to Washington’s leadership as US satellites are.
As it manoeuvres to bring about regime change in Tehran, the United States pursues its intermediate goal of containing Iran, to limit its influence. Crippling Iran’s economy through sanctions serves two goals: weakening Iran and warning other countries of what happens to those who do not submit to US hegemony. The prospect of Washington even relaxing some sanctions has agitated Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates who fear that, with some of the fetters on Iran’s economy removed, the country will be better able to challenge them economically. 
Many US sanctions against Iran and those of US satellites are rooted in the pretext that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program, or at the very least is developing a nuclear weapons capability, that must be stopped because it is a threat to Israel. Attributing a covert nuclear weapons program to Iran while propagating a farrago of nonsense about Iran seeking to annihilate Israel militarily, allows Israel to remain militarily bulked up and immune from calls to relinquish its weapons of mass destruction, ostensibly in order to defend itself, but actually to be intimidating enough to act as Washington’s policeman on the beat. How, it is asked, can Israel disarm when its security is under unceasing threat from hostile neighbors? The necessity of guarding against a wide array of vastly exaggerated threats is a pretext all aggressive powers use, including the United States and Britain, to justify the maintenance of vast and multifariously dangerous arsenals, less for self-defense and more for aggression and to cow other countries into submission. Britain, for example, says it needs its nuclear arsenal for self-defense, but denies that North Korea needs nuclear weapons for the same purpose. However, of the pair, North Korea is the most likely to come under attack. Indeed, it has been the object of unceasing hostility from the world’s greatest military power for over six decades. The chances of Britain being attacked, even absent its nuclear weapons, are about as great as the chances that nuclear-weapons-free Canada will be—approximately zero.
Iran’s military capabilities pale in comparison with those of Israel, which are subsidized by the United States. Moreover, Israel’s security is vouchsafed by US military power. Iran poses no military threat to Israel of consequence, and, even in possession of a few warheads, would be greatly outclassed by Israel, both in the size and sophistication of its nuclear arsenal, and in the means of delivery. As a supporter of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, Iran is more of a nuisance to Israel than a direct threat. The idea that a nuclear-weapons-equipped Iran would pose an existential threat to Israel is a canard, of no more substance than Netanyahu’s frequent warnings, dating back to the early 1990s, that Iran is on the threshold of going nuclear.
Sanctions are a pathway to regime change. Their purpose is to create enough suffering that Iranians will rise in revolt and open the gate from within. That economic warfare has created suffering is not in doubt. Oil sales, which account for 80 percent of the country’s revenue, have been halved. Iran’s foreign exchange reserves have dwindled. Financing business deals has become terribly complicated. 
Bahman Eshghi, who owns a bus manufacturing company, told The New York Times that “he ‘nearly had a heart attack’ when he found out that President Obama had imposed sanctions against any company working with Iran’s automotive industry. ‘That’s me,’ he said. ‘I feed 100 families in a city where nobody has work. Is Mr. Obama waging economic war on our leaders or on us?’ 
The answer is “us.” When the hardships the US government imposes become unendurable, it’s hoped that ordinary Iraninas will rise in revolt and topple their government, allowing Obama or his successors to install a US puppet, to return Iran to its status before the 1979 revolution. At that point, if it is ever reached, US foreign policy goals for Iran will have come to fruition.
There’s little chance of Washington significantly relieving its pressure on Iran. The United States may make insignificant concessions in return for Iran curtailing its production of nuclear fuel. This would leave Iran dependent on the West for fuel to power its reactors, and therefore more pliant, and more apt to make concessions on other matters, from reducing support to its Axis of Resistance partners to “reforming” its economy to accommodate Wall Street. Apart from making these minor concessions, it’s difficult to see Washington lifting sanctions en masse or normalizing relations with Iran until a pliant puppet regime has taken up residence in Tehran. For Washington, the name of the game is regime change. Arms control alone falls well short of the goal-line.
1. Michael Schwirtz and David E. Sanger, “Dueling narratives in Iran over U.S. relations”, The New York Times, September 29, 2013.
2. David E. Sanger, “Big challenges remain despite progress on Iran”, The New York Times, September 28, 2013; Jodi Rudoren, “Israel and others in Mideast view overtures of U.S. and Iran with suspicion”, The New York Times, September 28, 2013.
3. Kenneth Katzman, “Iran Sanctions”, Congressional Research Service, July 26, 2013.
4. This section based on Peter Oborne and David Morrison, A Dangerous Delusion: Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran, Elliot and Thompson, London, 2013.
5. Oborne and Morrison.
6. Oborne and Morrison.
7. Joel Greenberg, “Benjamin Netanyahu invokes Holocaust in push against Iran”, The Washington Post, February 29, 2012.
8. Oborne and Morrison.
9. Oborne and Morrison.
10. Oborne and Morrison.
11. Walter Pincus, “Fineprint: A new approach for Israel?” The Washington Post, October 2, 2013.
13. Sanger; Jay Solomon and Carol E. Lee, “Netanyahu, in U.N. speech, assails Iran’s new president”, The Wall Street Journal, October 1, 2013.
14. Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran staggers as sanctions hit economy”, The New York Times, September 30, 2013.
By Stephen Gowans
Who says you can’t form accurate judgments of people on the basis of first impressions? Long before he was Canada’s foreign minister, before he was even elected to public office, John Baird knocked at my door and introduced himself as a candidate in my riding for an election that had yet to be called. From the moment he spoke, I took a visceral dislike to him and pegged him for what he is: a demagogic creep whose life mission is pandering to the powerful.
His actions since have done nothing to soften my view. Consider, for example, his recent announcement that Canada will impose a total trade ban on Iran. Canada exports a few bushels of wheat to Iran in return for a truckload of Persian rugs. The ban means little sacrifice at home—and little pain for Iranians. In other words, it’s symbolic.
But it gives Baird a platform from which to demonize Iran and, in doing so, to ingratiate himself with Washington and Tel Aviv. Baird says the ban is necessary to punish Iran’s “reckless and irresponsible” behaviour in increasing its uranium enrichment activities. Problem is, there’s nothing reckless or irresponsible about Iran enriching uranium. Indeed, if anyone is reckless and irresponsible, it’s Canada.
As a non-nuclear weapons party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran has a right to enrich uranium, as long as it refrains from diverting fissile material to military use. The International Atomic Energy Agency—which monitors Iran’s enrichment activities—has never reported a single instance of Iran diverting fissile material. What’s more, Argentina, Brazil, Germany and Japan also enrich uranium on their own soil. When last I checked, Baird wasn’t denouncing these countries’ enrichment activities as reckless and irresponsible.
Iran has no nuclear weapons. And the US intelligence community says that, in its view, the Iranians aren’t developing them. As to the charge that Iran is just a few years away from a bomb, that canard has been around since the mid-1980s. And still Iran hasn’t a single nuclear weapon.
There’s nothing about Iran’s enrichment activities that are worthy of a trade ban. Except pandering to Israel. Which is kind of tricky considering that unlike Iran, Israel actually does have nuclear weapons—an estimated 400, and the means to deliver them by missiles, aircraft and submarines. Even if it did have nuclear weapons, Iran would—without long range bombers and submarines, and with missiles of limited range—struggle to deliver them.
Moreover, unlike Iran, Israel bars IAEA inspectors from monitoring its nuclear facilities. It won’t join the Non-Proliferation Treaty, despite UN resolutions directing it to do so. If any country were deserving of a total trade ban, Israel would seem to fit the bill, not only for its nuclear activities, but for its ongoing oppression of Palestinians and habit of attacking its neighbors.
Baird, then, can’t possibly be concerned about the presence of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
Or anywhere else, for that matter.
In 2010—and here’s where Canadian recklessness and irresponsibility come in–Canada signed off on a deal to export uranium to India, despite concerns that the south Asian country would use the uranium to free up its domestic supply for military use. It’s widely believed that India used a research reactor sold to it by Canada to obtain weapons-grade plutonium to develop its first nuclear weapons. Because India, like Israel, is not a party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, there are no international inspectors in India to ensure that uranium is used for peaceful purposes alone, as there are in Iran.
All of which means that Canada is about to sell uranium to a south Asian proliferator for commercial gain while imposing a symbolic trade ban on a non-proliferator to curry favour with a west Asian proliferator. And the west Asian proliferator is the regional attack dog of a country loaded to the gunwales with nuclear weapons, and no intention of relinquishing the political utility they provide in bullying other countries.
As I said: pandering to the powerful.
Finally, let’s be clear. As Peter Oborne and David Morrison point out in their excellent book, A Dangerous Delusion: Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran, the West never had a problem with Iran’s nuclear program when Washington’s marionette, Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, ruled with an iron fist in Tehran. It was only when the Iranians sent Pahlavi packing and asserted their independence that the United States turned sour on Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program—and much else about the country too.
By Stephen Gowans
In his 2011 book Crisis in Korea: America, China and the Risk of War, Tim Beal writes,
The Americans, and their friends and allies, tend to have a disengaged attitude toward sanctions—disengaged both ethically and in terms of causality. Sanctions are, after all, but the modern version of the age-old military tactic of the siege. The aim of the siege is to reduce the enemy to such a state of starvation and deprivation that they open the gates, perhaps killing their leaders in the process, and throw themselves on the mercy of the besiegers.”
Later, Beal adds, “There are strong parallels between sanctions/sieges and terrorism: both inflict pain on ordinary, vulnerable people in order to turn them against their leaders…”
While Beal writes in connection with North Korea, Washington’s use of the modern-day siege extends to other countries, as well. Like North Korea, Iran is despised by Washington for its insistence on using its labor, markets and natural resources, not for Wall Street’s profits, but for self-directed development. And like North Korea, Iran is menaced by a campaign of sanctions. These sanctions, too, aim, as terrorism does, to make ordinary people suffer so they’ll pressure their government to change its policies to accommodate the interests of the besieger/terrorist (in this case, to replace the current economically nationalist government with one that will open the Iranian economy to ownership by foreigners and create business conditions favorable to foreign investors reaping handsome returns, albeit under the guise of building “democracy” and relinquishing an independent nuclear energy industry.)
The accustomed practice in mainstream journalism is to gloss over the effects of sanctions on besieged countries, or to insist that they’re targeted at a country’s leadership and therefore do no harm to ordinary people.
But in a March 17 Washington Post article, reporters Joby Warrick and Anne Gearan acknowledge that the sanctions on Iran are aimed at hurting ordinary people.
Warrick and Gearan write,
Harsh economic sanctions have taken a serious toll on Iran’s economy, but U.S. and European officials acknowledge that the measures have not yet produced the kind of public unrest that could force Iranian leaders to change their nuclear policies.
Nine months after Iran was hit with the toughest restrictions in its history, the nation’s economy appears to have settled into a slow, downward glide, hemorrhaging jobs and hard currency but appearing to be in no immediate danger of collapse, Western diplomats and analysts say.
At the same time, the hardships have not triggered significant domestic protests or produced a single concession by Iran on its nuclear program.
The impact has been hardest on the middle and working classes, which have seen savings evaporate and purchasing power dry up. Yet, in recent months, Iran’s fiscal crisis appears to have eased, and economists say neither complete collapse nor widespread rioting appears likely in the near term.
So, sanctions aren’t working because they haven’t inflicted enough suffering to engender widespread unrest and rioting.
If sanctions do produce their desired effect, and wide-spread rioting does break out, the public unrest most assuredly will not be blamed by Western reporters on the suffering produced by sanctions, but dishonestly on Tehran’s “economic mismanagement.” And aid will continue to flow to opposition forces in Iran, who will be presented as “thirsting for democracy” (rather than relief from the suffering inflicted by the United States and European Union) to help them topple their government (which is to say, open the gate to let the besiegers in.)
The Warrick and Gearan article’s emphasis on the sanctions’ failure to promote rioting, may signal that policy-makers are coming to the conclusion that Washington’s goals for Iran cannot be achieved by sanctions alone, and that military intervention is also required.
Military intervention, however, may not be an alternative to the siege, but its complement. US Air Force Lt. General Michael Short’s explanation of the objectives of the 1999 US-led NATO air war on the former Yugoslavia resonates with the aim of the besieger/terrorist. Explained Short,
“If you wake up in the morning and you have no power to your house and no gas to your stove and the bridge you take to work is down and will be lying in the Danube for the next 20 years, I think you begin to ask, ‘Hey, Slobo, what’s this all about? How much more of this do we have to withstand?'” (“What this war is really about,” The Globe and Mail (Toronto), May 26, 1999.)
The modus operandi, then, of US foreign policy is to inflict pain on ordinary people who live in countries whose governments resist integration into the US-superintended system of global capitalist exploitation, in order to create public unrest that will either force the country’s leaders to change their policies, or step down and yield power to local representatives of global capitalist interests (deceptively labeled by Western state officials and establishment journalists as “pro-democracy” or “democratic” forces.)
The only thing “democratic” about US foreign policy is its insistence on democratizing suffering.
By Stephen Gowans
“There have been,” write Julian E. Barnes and Jay Solomon in the Wall Street Journal (November 8, 2012), “a series of provocations by Iran in recent years. US officials say Iran has been responsible for a series of cyberattacks this year on US banks. There have also been incidents in the Persian Gulf, where Iranian fast boats have threatened US and British warships.”
Barnes and Solomon make no mention of the more frequent and menacing provocations aimed at Iran by the United States and its Middle East partner in aggression, Israel:
• Washington virtually declaring war on Iran when it designated the country a member of an “axis of evil.”
• Cyberattacks on Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities.
• Assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists.
• Penetration of Iranian airspace by US drones.
• Massing of US and British warships in the Persian Gulf.
• US deployment of anti-missile systems to its Gulf allies (what an aggressor preparing for an attack does to protect its allies from retaliation.)
• Innumerable threats to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities.
• Economic warfare of crippling trade sanctions and financial isolation which is destroying Iran’s economy and its ability to provide medical care to its population.
The United States bases its Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, only 150 miles from Iran. It has an aircraft carrier-led battle group in the Persian Gulf. Its warplanes and thousands of US troops are stationed in Kuwait and Qatar. In terms of provocation, this is roughly equivalent to the Chinese basing a naval fleet in Havana, a battle group in the Caribbean, warplanes in Venezuela and Nicaragua, and troops in Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. We needn’t ask whether Washington would denounce China’s massive deployment of military force close to US borders as provocative, doubly so were this accompanied by Beijing branding the United States part of an axis of evil and declaring that in its dealings with Washington all options are on the table.
And this tells only part of the story. China is no match militarily for the United States, but US military capabilities overwhelmingly outclass Iran’s. The hypothetical aggressive deployment of Chinese military force to US borders isn’t a tenth as provocative as Washington’s actual deployment of massive military force to the Persian Gulf.
So it is that no one with a rudimentary grasp of current international relations could possibly conceive of the relationship between the United States and Iran as one of Iran provoking the former, rather than the other way around. Since it’s fair to assume that the journalists Barnes and Solomon are not without a rudimentary grasp of the subject, it can only be concluded that they write propaganda for the US state despite working for a private organization—and that the propaganda is every bit as much chauvinist and congenial to US foreign policy goals as the bilge pumped out of Washington’s official propaganda agency, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
So how does the Journal reporters’ selective-references to provocation aid US foreign policy? In this way: There is a pattern of aggressive powers—from imperial Britain to Nazi Germany to the United States—justifying their military interventions as necessary responses to “provocation.” If cruise missiles are to smash into Iran, it will be helpful to justify Washington’s unleashing of its military force as a response to Iranian provocations, since a legitimate casus belli doesn’t exist. Even a case for war that public relations specialists could falsely invest with the appearance of legitimacy—namely, eliminating an Iranian nuclear weapons program—has become impossible ever since the US intelligence community declared that there is no credible evidence Iran has one. This led George W. Bush to lament in his memoirs, “How could I possibly explain using the military to destroy the nuclear facilities of a country the intelligence community said had no active nuclear weapons?”(1)—a question that doubtlessly troubles his successor. Iranian “provocations,” then, become a useful pretext for the use of military force in the absence of a legitimate case for war.
That Barnes and Solomon should act as imperialist-friendly propagandists is hardly surprising, since any dispassionate analysis of the mass media’s multiple linkages to the state through the corporate ruling class inevitably leads to the conclusion that the mainstream media’s take on foreign affairs will portray US foreign policy as admirable, virtuous and right, while the intended victims of the profit-driven quest to extend US hegemony will be depicted as democracy-hating, terrorist-promoting, economy-mismanaging, human rights-abusing, provocateurs (which, come to think of it, is a fairly apt description of the US government itself.)
(1) David Morrison, “George Bush was ‘angry’ when US intelligence said Iran hadn’t got an active nuclear weapons programme,” http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/iran/iran-bush-on-nie.htm . Morrison has written a number of trenchant and beautifully crafted analyses, available on his website http://www.david-morrison.org.uk/.
“Economic sanctions are, at their core, a war against public health.”
–The New England Journal of Medicine 
By Stephen Gowans
While campaigns are organized to deter the United States and Israel from acting on threats to launch an air war against Iran, both countries, in league with the European Union (winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize) carry on a low-intensity war against Iran that is likely to be causing more human suffering and death than strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities would. This is a war against public health, aimed at the most vulnerable: cancer patients, hemophiliacs, kidney dialysis patients, and those awaiting transplants. Its victims are unseen, dying anonymously in hospitals, not incinerated in spectacular explosions touched off by cruise missiles and bunker buster bombs. But ordinary Iranians who can’t get needed medications are every bit as much victims of war as those blown apart by bombs. And yet, we think, that as long as the bombs don’t rain down, that peace has been preserved. Perhaps it has, in formal terms, but bleeding to death in the crater of a bomb, or bleeding to death because you can’t get hemophilia drugs, is, in either case, death.
In Iran today there is an acute shortage of pharmaceuticals for kidney dialysis and transplants and for treating cancer, hemophilia, thalessemia, multiple sclerosis, and other disorders. Hospital equipment is breaking down for want of spare parts. And raw materials used by domestic pharmaceutical manufacturers—blocked by Western sanctions—are in short supply. It adds up to a healthcare crisis. The United States and European Union say their sanctions don’t apply to drugs and medical equipment, but US and European banks are unwilling to handle financial transactions with Iran. If they do, the US Treasury Department will deny them access to the US banking system. Since isolation from the world’s largest economy would guarantee their demise, banks comply and shun Iran. As a consequence, few goods from the West make their way into the country, the exemptions for drugs and medical equipment being nothing more than a public relations ruse to disguise the barbarity of the sanctions. Not that Washington is denying that its sanctions are hurting ordinary Iranians. It’s just that responsibility for their consequences is denied. US president Barak Obama “has said the Iranian people should blame their own leaders.”  For what—failing to knuckle under?
“In contrast to war’s easily observable casualties, the apparently nonviolent consequences of economic intervention seem like an acceptable alternative. However…economic sanctions can seriously harm the health of persons who live in targeted nations.”  This has been well established and widely accepted in the cases of Iraq in the 1990s and the ongoing US blockade of Cuba. Political scientists John Mueller and Karl Mueller wrote an important paper in Foreign Affairs, in which they showed that economic sanctions “may have contributed to more deaths during the post-Cold War era than all weapons of mass destruction throughout history.” 
“The dangers posed today by such enfeebled, impoverished, and friendless states as Iraq and North Korea are minor indeed”, they wrote in 1999. It might be added that the dangers posed by Iran to the physical safety of US citizens are not only minor but infinitesimally small. Notwithstanding the fevered fantasies of rightwing commentators, Iran has neither the means, nor the required death wish, to strike the United States. Nor Israel, which has the means—an arsenal of 200 nuclear weapons—to wipe Iran off the face of the earth. However, the danger the country poses to the idea of US domination – and hence, to the banks, corporations, and major investors who dominate US policy-making – are admittedly somewhat greater.
“Severe economic sanctions”, the Muellers contend, ought to be “designated by the older label of ‘economic warfare’”. “In past wars economic embargoes caused huge numbers of deaths. Some 750,000 German civilians may have died because of the Allied naval blockade during World War I.” 
“So long as they can coordinate their efforts,” the two political scientists continue, “the big countries have at their disposal a credible, inexpensive and potent weapon for use against small and medium-sized foes. The dominant powers have shown that they can inflict enormous pain at remarkably little cost to themselves or the global economy. Indeed, in a matter of months or years whole economies can be devastated…”  And with devastated economies, come crumbling healthcare systems and failure to provide for the basic healthcare rights of the population.
We might ask, then, why the United States and European Union, practitioners of economic warfare against Iran, are bent on destroying Iran’s economy, along with its public health system. “Sanctions,” New York Times’ reporter Rick Gladstone writes, have subjected “ordinary Iranians” to “increased deprivations” in order to “punish Iran for enriching uranium that the West suspects is a cover for developing the ability to make nuclear weapons.”  In other words, Iran is suspected of having a secret nuclear weapons program, and so must be sanctioned to force it to abandon it.
Contrary to Gladstone, the West doesn’t really believe that Tehran has a secret nuclear weapons program, yet even if we accept it does believe this, the position is indefensible. Why should Iranians be punished for developing a capability that the countries that have imposed sanctions already have?
The reason why, it will be said, is because Iranians are bent on developing nuclear weapons to destroy Israel. Didn’t Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad threaten to “wipe Israel off the map”?
Regurgitated regularly by US hawks and Israeli politicians to mobilize support for the bombing of Iran, the claim is demagogic rubbish. Ahmadinejad predicted that Israel as a Zionist state would someday disappear much as South Africa as an apartheid state did. He didn’t threaten the physical destruction of Israel and expressed only the wish that historic Palestine would become a multinational democratic state of Arabs and the Jews whose ancestors arrived in Palestine before Zionist settlers. 
No less damaging to the argument that Iranians aspire to take Israel out in a hail of nuclear missiles is the reality that it would take decades for Iran to match Israel’s already formidable nuclear arsenal, if indeed it aspires to. For the foreseeable future, Israel is in a far better position to wipe Iran off the map. And given Israel’s penchant for flexing its US-built military muscle, is far more likely to be the wiper than wipee. Already it has almost wiped an entire people from the map of historic Palestine.
But this is irrelevant, for the premise that the West suspects Iran of developing a nuclear weapons capability is false. To be sure, the mass media endlessly recycle the fiction that the West suspects Iran’s uranium enrichment program is a cover for a nuclear weapons program, but who in the West suspects this? Not high officials of the US state, for they have repeatedly said that there’s no evidence that Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program.
The consensus view of the United States’ 16 intelligence agencies is that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons program years ago. Director of US intelligence James Clapper “said there was no evidence that (Iran) had made a decision on making a concerted push to build a weapon. David H. Petraeus, the C.I.A. director, concurred with that view…. Other senior United States officials, including Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta and Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, have made similar statements.” 
Rather than weakening this conclusion, stepped up US espionage has buttressed it. Iran’s leaders “have opted for now against…designing a nuclear warhead,” said one former intelligence official briefed on US intelligence findings. “It isn’t the absence of evidence, it’s the evidence of an absence. Certain things are not being done”  that would indicate that Iran is working on nuclear weapons. Even Mossad, Israeli’s intelligence agency “does not disagree with the US on the weapons program,” according to a former senior US intelligence official. 
So, contrary to the claim that the West “suspects” Iran of concealing a nuclear weapons program, no one in a position of authority in the US state believes this to be true. Neither does Israeli intelligence. Why, then, is the United States and its allies subjecting ordinary Iranians to increased deprivations through sanctions?
The answer, according to Henry Kissinger, is because US policy in the Middle East for the last half century has been aimed at “preventing any power in the region from emerging as a hegemon.” This is another way of saying that the aim of US Middle East policy is to stop any Middle Eastern country from challenging its domination by the United States. Iran, Kissinger points out, has emerged as the principal challenger. 
Indeed, it did so as long ago as 1979, when the local extension of US power in Iran, the Shah, was overthrown, and the country set out on a path of independent economic and political development. For the revolutionaries’ boldness in asserting their sovereignty, Washington pressed Saddam Hussein’s Iraq into a war with Iran. This served the same purpose as today’s economic warfare, sabotage, threats of military intervention, and assassinations of Iran’s nuclear scientists: to weaken the country and stifle its development; to prevent it from thriving and thereby becoming an example to other countries of development possibilities outside US domination.
Uranium enrichment has emerged as point of conflict for two reasons.
First, a civilian nuclear power industry strengthens Iran economically and domestic uranium enrichment provides the country with an independent source of nuclear fuel. Were Iran to depend on the West for enriched uranium to power its reactors, it would be forever at the mercy of a hostile US state. Likewise, concern over energy security being in the hands of an outside power has led Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam and South Korea to insist over US objections that they be allowed to produce nuclear fuel domestically, without sanction. With US nuclear reactor sales hanging in the balance, it appears that their wishes will be respected.  Iran will be uniquely denied.
Secondly, uranium enrichment provides Tehran with the capability of developing nuclear weapons quickly, if it should ever feel compelled to. Given Washington’s longstanding hostility to an independent Iran, there are good reasons why the country may want to strengthen its means of self-defense. The hypocrisy of the United States championing counter-proliferation—and only selectively since no one is asking Israel to give up its nuclear weapons, and the United States hasn’t the slightest intention of ever relinquishing its own—reveals the illegitimacy of the exercise.
The reason, then, for waging war on Iran’s public health, a war that intensifies the suffering of the sick and kills cancer, kidney dialysis and other patients, is not because their government has a secret nuclear weapons program —which no one in the US intelligence community believes anyway—but because a developing Iran with independent energy, economic and foreign policies threatens Washington’s preferred world political order—one in which the United States has unchallenged primacy. Primacy is sought, not to satisfy ambitions for power for power’s sake, or to provide ordinary US citizens with economic opportunities at home, or to protect them from dangers that originate abroad, but to secure benefits for the plutocrats who dominate US public policy. The benefits uniquely accrue to plutocrats: opportunities to squeeze more for themselves from our labor, our land, and our resources and from those of our brethren abroad—the 99% in other lands, with whom we’re linked by a common economic position and interests. If the plutocrats and their loyal political servants in Washington and Brussels have to kill numberless Iranians to secure these benefits, they will. And are.
1. Eisenberg L, “The sleep of reason produces monsters—human costs of economic sanctions,” New England Journal of Medicine, 1997; 336:1248-50.
2. Thomas Erdbrink, “Iran sanctions take unexpected toll on medical imports”, The New York times, November 2, 2012; Najmeh Bozorgmehr, “In Iran, sanctions take toll on the sick”, The Washington Post, September 4, 2012
3. Karine Morin and Steven H. Miles, “Position paper: The health effects of economic sanctions and embargoes: The role of health professionals”, Annals of Internal Medicine, Volume 132, Number 2, 18 January 2000.
4. John Mueller and Karl Mueller, “Sanctions of mass destruction”, Foreign Affairs, Volume 78, Number 3, May/June 1999.
7. Rick Gladstone, “Iranian President Says Oil Embargo Won’t Hurt”, The New York Times, April 10, 2012.
8. Glenn Kessler, “Did Ahmadinejad really say Israel should be ‘wiped off the map’?” The Washington Post, October 6, 2011.
9. James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, “U.S. agencies see no move by Iran to build a bomb”, The New York Times, February 24, 2012.
10. Joby Warrick and Greg Miller, “U.S. intelligence gains in Iran seen as boost to confidence”, The Washington Post, April 7, 2012.
11. James Risen, “U.S. faces a tricky task in assessment of data on Iran”, The New York Times, March 17, 2012.
12. Henry A. Kissinger, “A new doctrine of intervention?” The Washington Post, March 30, 2012.
13. Carol E. Lee and Jay Solomon, “Obama to discuss North Korea, Iran”, The Wall Street Journal, March 21, 2012.