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Why Washington’s Iran Policy Could Lead to Global Disaster

Posted on Apr 14, 2012
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A bas-relief in the ruins of Persepolis, Iran.

By Juan Cole, TomDispatch

This piece originally appeared at TomDispatch.

It’s a policy fierce enough to cause great suffering among Iranians—and possibly in the long run among Americans, too.  It might, in the end, even deeply harm the global economy and yet, history tells us, it will fail on its own.  Economic war led by Washington (and encouraged by Israel) will not take down the Iranian government or bring it to the bargaining table on its knees ready to surrender its nuclear program.  It might, however, lead to actual armed conflict with incalculable consequences. 

The United States is already effectively embroiled in an economic war against Iran.  The Obama administration has subjected the Islamic Republic to the most crippling economic sanctions applied to any country since Iraq was reduced to fourth-world status in the 1990s.  And worse is on the horizon.  A financial blockade is being imposed that seeks to prevent Tehran from selling petroleum, its most valuable commodity, as a way of dissuading the regime from pursuing its nuclear enrichment program.

Historical memory has never been an American strong point and so few today remember that a global embargo on Iranian petroleum is hardly a new tactic in Western geopolitics; nor do many recall that the last time it was applied with such stringency, in the 1950s, it led to the overthrow of the government with disastrous long-term blowback on the United States.  The tactic is just as dangerous today.

Iran’s supreme theocrat, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has repeatedly condemned the atom bomb and nuclear weapons of all sorts as tools of the devil, weaponry that cannot be used without killing massive numbers of civilian noncombatants.  In the most emphatic terms, he has, in fact, pronounced them forbidden according to Islamic law.  Based on the latest U.S. intelligence, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has affirmed that Iran has not made a decision to pursue a nuclear warhead.  In contrast, hawks in Israel and the United States insist that Tehran’s civilian nuclear enrichment program is aimed ultimately at making a bomb, that the Iranians are pursuing such a path in a determined fashion, and that they must be stopped now—by military means if necessary.


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Putting the Squeeze on Iran

At the moment, the Obama administration and the Congress seem intent on making it impossible for Iran to sell its petroleum at all on the world market.  As 2011 ended, Congress passed an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that mandates sanctions on firms and countries that deal with Iran’s Central Bank or buy Iranian petroleum (though hardship cases can apply to the U.S. government for exemptions).  This escalation from sanctions to something like a full-scale financial blockade holds extreme dangers of spiraling into military confrontation.  The Islamic Republic tried to make this point, indicating that it would not allow itself to be strangled without response, by conducting naval exercises at the mouth of the Persian Gulf this winter.  The threat involved was clear enough: about one-fifth of the world’s petroleum flows through the Gulf, and even a temporary and partial cut-off might prove catastrophic for the world economy.

In part, President Obama is clearly attempting by his sanctions-cum-blockade policy to dissuade the government of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu from launching a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.  He argues that severe economic measures will be enough to bring Iran to the negotiating table ready to bargain, or even simply give in.

In part, Obama is attempting to please America’s other Middle East ally, Saudi Arabia, which also wants Iran’s nuclear program mothballed.  In the process, the U.S. government and its allies have even had Iran’s banks kicked off international exchange networks, making it difficult for that country’s major energy customers like South Korea and India to pay for the Iranian petroleum they import.  And don’t forget the administration’s most powerful weapon: most governments and corporations do not want to be cut off from the U.S. economy with a GDP of more than $15 trillion—still the largest and most dynamic in the world.

Typically, the European Union, fearing Congressional sanctions, has agreed to cease taking new contracts on Iranian oil by July 1st, a decision that has placed special burdens on struggling countries in its southern tier like Greece and Italy.  With European buyers boycotting, Iran will depend for customers on Asian countries, which jointly purchase some 64% of its petroleum, and those of the global South.  Of these, China and India have declined to join the boycott.  South Korea, which buys $14 billion worth of Iranian petroleum a year, accounting for some 10% of its oil imports, has pleaded with Washington for an exemption, as has Japan which got 8.8% of its petroleum imports from Iran last year, more than 300,000 barrels a day—and more in absolute terms than South Korea.  Japan, which is planning to cut its Iranian imports by 12% this year, has already won an exemption.

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By heterochromatic, April 15, 2012 at 8:38 am Link to this comment

vec, here’s how to tell that I’m faking…..

oh oh oh vec, yes yes yes that’s perfect yes oh yes vec yes.

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By Inherit The Wind, April 15, 2012 at 6:57 am Link to this comment

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IMax's avatar

By IMax, April 15, 2012 at 6:53 am Link to this comment


Are you here displaying your “neutrality”? LOL

China has made its position toward Iran processioning uranium out of sight of the IAEA fairly clear.  My question to you is, what is the position of the Chinese government? 


P.S. Before you answer, allow me to simply remind you that I haven’t just asked you what you think.  I asked if you are aware of the Chinese position.

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By balkas, April 15, 2012 at 6:13 am Link to this comment

if US cld not defeat to a necessary degree vietnam via a long war, i suppose, it [and the west] is not going to bring
iranians to their knees by any sanctions.
the main problem appears to be that most americans; and especially the 20% of its pop, cannot assuage their anger and
hatred towards peoples, like korean, vietnam, apache, sioux, iraqi, nicaraguan, cuban, palestinian, afghan, pakistani,
somalian, libyan, syrian, lebanese, et al, when they disobey US and or US/europe.
most americans see their ideology as infallible; their country blessed by god; being the greatest, fairest, most
helpful/peaceful ever; thus, when others do not see it that way and go own ways, americans go ballistic.
so once again we come to the root of all of it: THE THOUGHT, roughly described as: me-better-than-you-etc.
germans and japanese also entertained exact same THOUGHT. and i think they still do, but even they r now bossed or
trumped by US and much of europe.
so, even if america wld become 10 or 20 weaker econo-miltarily, it may not result in planetary change for better as
germany and japan may try to dominate some countries in ways US had.
in short, as long as the THOUGHT remains, we can expect no changes for better.  bozhidar b. planet moon [well, i’d like
to be there]

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By vector56, April 15, 2012 at 5:18 am Link to this comment

IMax. how can one so obviously be useful as a “tool”?

At least your counterpart heterochromatic fakes neutrality every now and then, but you; lets just say you insult our intelligence pretending to have an opinion other than the ones they feed you.

Again, you remind me of the Cuban exiles in Florida; supporting every unprovoked attack by the US, while claiming to care about the people of the country America brutalizes.

The 50 year sanctions (embargo)against Cuba are still in place; Iraq suffered 12 sanctions that ended the lives of countless sick people, women and children; now we turn our attention to Iran.

I see you still push that same manufactured argument that Iran’s neighbors (our puppet states) have an opinion other then the ones we give them.

Comparing Iran’s track record to ours this statement make no sense;

“These would be the same reasons the global community doesn’t trust that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program. “

We have killed “millions” just in my life time alone! The only country in human history that has delivered Atomic death to humanity should not even have a seat at the table that decides who should develop nuclear energy, let alone “run the show”! After Hiroshima and Nagasaki our credibility on this issue should be Zero. 

Iran should be allowed to create their own nuclear fuel for their reactors; that is really this is all about.

Lastly, this “global community you speak of is as phony as your attempts to fake neutrality. They are a gang of Corporate thugs and the mob bosses these global CEO’s (with the help of America’s military) put in charge of these countries. Europe, they are like Jackals following America (the lion) hoping to regain a few “scrapes” of their old colonies.

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By IMax, April 15, 2012 at 4:29 am Link to this comment

There are several solid reasons why Iran is not trusted by the global community.  These would be the same reasons the global community doesn’t trust that Iran is not pursuing a nuclear weapons program.  And why Iran’s closest neighbors are among those shouting the loudest to prevent Iran from obtaining such weapons.  All issues worth discussing.

While this is a global issue, I think it’s imperative to discuss Iran in a global context.  Talking only about the United States does nothing to aid in understanding why Russian troops are massing at Iran’s border.  Or that Russian troops are even massing at Iran’s border.  Talking only about the United States does nothing to address Iran’s incursions into East Saudi Arabia.  Or addressing Iran’s meddling in Lebanon and Central & Eastern Caucasus.  Talking only about the United States does little to promote peace, growth, or combating hunger or illness.  In fact, talking only about the United States seems wholly useless to understanding or solving even a single real global issue.

I’m sorry to be so terse.  It just seems to me that, at some point, someone on these boards needs to talk about something other than the United States.

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By prisnersdilema, April 14, 2012 at 11:12 pm Link to this comment

You mean Obama’s policy….our nobel peace prize winning president, his policy….

The elite who he represents don’t really care about suffering people, ours theirs or
anyone else’s..That’s why they crashed the economy so people can cover Goldman
Sachs Derivates.

They know they will be well protected, what do they care if a few hundred million
peasants die horribly, they will remain, in charge and wealthy.

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By rtb61, April 14, 2012 at 9:31 pm Link to this comment

As the amount of Iranian Oil reaching US allied markets drop and the price rises as a result, Iran wont have to sell oil at reduced prices it simply wont raise the price.
Watch US corporations use US dollars secreted in offshore tax havens buy Iranian oil for cash and pretend it’s from else where and then import it.
Money laundering combined with oil washing to inflate profits all with fraudulent tax claimed losses.
The whole scam run lobbyists and controlled by those paying those lobbyists.

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By heterochromatic, April 14, 2012 at 8:55 pm Link to this comment

gerard—- you would have loved Woodrow Wilson. He was able to prove that a
truly moral policy would convince world opinion to adopt Christian morality as the
basis for all world diplomacy.
THe way he persuaded the victorious powers to arrange the world order following
the great War and his plan for “peace without victory” was superb and led to the
end of the resort to military force for the remainder of the 20th century.

some people told Wilson that the world was not going to instantly re-arrange itself
to suit his vision, but he knew better.

you would have loved Woodrow Wilson.

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By gerard, April 14, 2012 at 8:48 pm Link to this comment

P.S.This is precisely what the release of the State Department cables might have accomplished, given some honest intentions from power centers in the U.S. and a government that did not always have to be top dog at any price.  We have missed a golden opportunity so far, and are trying to squeeze some petty satisfaction out of holding Bradley Manning and Julian Assange hostage for having opened up a can of ugly facts and let the media in on some denigrating diplomatic games. If diplomacy could, by concerted effort, be lifted above the level of “dirty pool”, everybody in the world would be better off.
  The U.S. is completely capable of under-taking this venture, and has a good chance of succeeding.  If our leadership passes up the chance, it may not come to them again.
  Free Bradley Manning.  Free Julian Assange.  And go back to square one and change the whole picture to one of honesty,fairness and determination leadng toward a gradually expanding warless world and human preservation.
  At this point in human history it’s the only civil and civilizing thing to do. The age calls upon courageous, generous and intelligent heroes and heroines.  Probably nothing less will suffice.

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By heterochromatic, April 14, 2012 at 4:46 pm Link to this comment

perhaps that was merely a poor word selection and I shouldn’t be sitting here
wondering how you could be so silly.

don’t confuse these sanctions with the Iraqi sanctions and don’t expect anything
even remotely similar to happen.

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By heterochromatic, April 14, 2012 at 4:41 pm Link to this comment

vec——what “brutalizing” of iranians have I endorsed, you silly thang?

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By vector56, April 14, 2012 at 4:06 pm Link to this comment

Well said gerard; I like the way you compare our empire to a kind of “Global Mafia” where those who refuse to “pay protection” get “Bombed and starved”.

heterochromatic; I am not surprised by your response; as a “thug” , naturally you would see nothing wrong with brutalizing Iran as we have done to Iraq because they can’t prove to us that they don’t have WMD’s our CIA has already told us they don’t have. Personally, I think you are not as dumb as you pretend to be and you understand that this is more about “crippling” Iran (not allowing them to produce their own nuclear fuel) to bring their oil back under the control of our US-Euro empire like Iraq and Libya.

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By gerard, April 14, 2012 at 3:11 pm Link to this comment

“For some reason the Iranians do not trust the West and want to avoid being put in a position of being held hostage by their American or European suppliers of fuel rods. Any one who knows anything about US-Euro-Iranian history would understand why Iran feels this way”,  Vector56 points out.
  The “reason” is not obscure, since half the world or more harbors the same ‘reason”, which is mainly fear, mixed with various amounts of “obligation”. They manage to deal with us by giving over to us some independence and living under the “protection” of American or European supplies of this or that commodity or privilege which they hold valuable, s “protection” by “the nuclear umbrella” or military supplies or some such. North Korea has the affrontery to try to escape from this subservience! And quite possibly Iran the same. 
  And what does this mean to us?  Starve them!  Bomb them!  Threaten them into submission.  This, too, is a part of “empire building.”
  Sadlly, it is too often what “being friends” with the U.S means,  to put it bluntly. It definitely does not mean real “friendship”—just a sort of buying time by placating the boss. So sad! So utterly futile! So denigrating for all sides! Yet under present methods of international operation there is little hope for change where international relations comes to mean something more and less childish than what they can get out of us, or we can get out of them, or who gored whose ox fifty years ago.

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By heterochromatic, April 14, 2012 at 2:26 pm Link to this comment

Lousy analysis that manages to overlook the obvious,
which is that the sanctions and economic isolation of
Iran has been a long time coming and will end when
Iranian regime behavior changes.

If Iran was sincere about not building weapons, and
wishes to engage in peaceful trade with the Western
world and its allies, the regime need do no more than
give evidence of sincerity and amity.

The sanctions would be lifted

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By vector56, April 14, 2012 at 11:04 am Link to this comment

“dissuading the regime from pursuing its nuclear enrichment program. “

It would seem that Juan Cole, like most have stepped right over the 54 billion dollar question without ever asking the obvious; “Other then creating nuclear weapons, why would Iran want to enrich uranium?”

The corporate media dare not ask this question for fear of changing the narrative.

Iran’s enrichment program has more to do with creating their own nuclear fuel for their reactors than making WMD’s. For some reason the Iranians do not trust the West and want to avoid being put in a position of being held hostage by their American or European suppliers of fuel rods. Any one who knows anything about US-Euro-Iraian history would understand why Iran feels this way.

The 12 year sanctions in Iraq brought about the death of about a million people; many were the sick, women and children. To do this again to appease two “Religious” states (Saudi Arabia and Israel) when the blood is not yet dry on the ground in Iraq would be “evil” incarnate.

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By jr., April 14, 2012 at 10:53 am Link to this comment

Though this article be very long winded, there is one fact that seems is being neglected here:  that with just the hostile takeovers of libya and iraq, america and it’s european union now have an oil glut. 

And, one way to drive their own prices up, is by demonizing, and perhaps, increasing hostilities with other suppiers.

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By PatrickHenry, April 14, 2012 at 10:51 am Link to this comment

America’s Iran policy has successfully raised gas prices and given the militarists an excuse for more weapons.

It hasn’t raised American prestige in the world one bit.

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