Thursday, August 6, 2009

Iran: Beware Neocons Bearing Boycotts

Iran: Beware Neocons Bearing Boycotts

Juan Cole

Informed Comment

August 06, 2009


Hamid Dabashi at CNN points out that the US executive's

(the Obama administration's) plans to engage Iran may

come up against Congress's desire to act aggressively

toward the country, either through crippling sanctions

or covert operations. A recent congressional hearing on

Iran chaired by Howard Berman stacked the decks in favor

of the Neoconservatives, 4 to 2 (with discredited

outfits such as the Washington Institute for Near East

Policy and the American Enterprise Institute, which were

big players in bringing us the Iraq War and are key

components of the Israel lobbies). Why were the real

Iran experts, such as Gary Sick and others prevented

from testifying? Why is it that the ideological points

of view were so narrow?


It should be admitted that the Obama administration

itself may be considering attempting to choke off

Iranian gasoline imports. Iran presumably would respond

by building a couple refineries, which it probably needs

to do anyway. But it takes 5 years and billions of

dollars to build a refinery. As Press TV notes, however,

the scheme would need Russian and Chinese cooperation,

which is a little unlikely to be forthcoming.


Robert Naiman at the Huffington Post reviews all the

reasons for which the idea of blockading Iranian

gasoline imports is a stupid one.


Dabashi makes the excellent point that the sort of

severe sanctions being dreamed up for Iran by the hawks

in Congress resemble what was done to Iraq. Sanctions on

Iraq just weakened civil society and cast down the

country to fourth world status, killing some 500,000

innocent infants and toddlers, while signally failing to

remove the regime. In fact, destroying civil society has

the effect of bolstering the state, especially when it

is an oil state.


Saddam Hussein's regime under sanctions stashed away

tens of billions of dollars from smuggling, and

established and implemented massive domestic

surveillance, to the point that weeks after the fall of

Baghdad, I remember seeing Iraqis being interviewed by

American television correspondents asking them if they

were happy Saddam was gone, and the Iraqis were too

afraid to say anything (they kept looking over their

shoulders.) What they knew and the clueless Americans

did not was that the Fidai Saddam (those who sacrifice

themselves for Saddam) paramilitary was still around,

watching, and ready to assassinate open collaborators.


That public fear, which persisted like a phantom limb

even after the fall of the Baath, was instilled during

the UN/US sanctions regime.


So no, Congress, you and the Neocon think tanks cannot

overthrow the government in Iran with economic sanctions.


Let me just add to Naiman's list of Reasons for Which

this is Another Brain-Dead Neocon Idea.


You may have noticed that just last week, and despite

Iran's political crisis, Russia and Iran conducted joint

naval exercises in the Caspian Sea. You really think

Russia is going to vote at the UN for crippling

sanctions on Iran? What would happen to the value of

Russian (and Chinese) investments in Iran?


Even a US ally such as the UK, which is seeing depletion

of the North Sea fields, is increasingly interested in

Iran as a source of natural gas. In part, this interest

derives from a desire to avoid being hostage to Russia.

Draconian sanctions on Iran would have the effect of

actually strengthening Russia's near-monopoly position

with regard to supplying natural gas to Western Europe.


Moreover, the Iranians can play spoiler for the US

withdrawal from Iraq, both in the Shiite south and in

Kurdistan. They helped rein in Muqtada al-Sadr, they can

unleash the special groups of the Mahdi Army. As the US

military draws down over the next year, it becomes more

and more vulnerable in Iraq. Moreover, Iran has plenty

of clients in Afghanistan and can make lots of trouble

for US and NATO troops there. Obama could go into the

2012 election season with two quagmires on his hands if

he provokes Iran too much.


And, Shiite-dominated Iraq would not go along with a

gasoline embargo on Iran. In fact, Iraqis would line up

to smuggle gasoline into their neighbor, both on

economic and ideological grounds. And Venezuela among

other potential exporters would not cooperate. Since

gasoline is easily transported and transformed into cash

(what the economists call 'fungible'), a gasoline

embargo would be among the more difficult policies to

implement that you could imagine, especially if much of

the world is against it.


As Naiman notes, if the US Navy stopped third parties

from delivering gasoline to Iran, that would be an act

of war in international law. We've got two or three too

many wars going on as it is.


The Neoconservatives, as with any cult, work by

gradually drawing their victims into an unrealistic

world view with assertions that in their own right seem

reasonable. The regime in Tehran is horrible. It would

do the Iranians themselves a favor to get rid of it. It

is vulnerable on gasoline imports. The regime is a

threat to world peace (even though it has not launched

any wars of aggression), just Because It Is. It is

trying to get nukes (even though all the evidence points

to the opposite conclusion). There is therefore a window

within which the West must move. Now, now, strike now!

And then the victims drink the cool-aid.


But in fact, the Iranian opposition inside the country

universally opposes forceful Western intervention in

Iran. The regime is not militarily aggressive. It

doesn't have any near-term capacity to produce nukes.

There is no crisis, and what problems exist cannot be

resolved militarily.


The Neoconservatives promised Bush that the route to

peace in Israel/Palestine lay through Baghdad. They

promised him inexpensive gasoline. They promised him

spreading democracy. In fact, they were in part

responsible for the killing over 4,000 American soldiers

and the maiming of over 30,000, the killing hundreds of

thousands of Iraqis, the displacing of 4 million of

them, and they helped provoke two civil wars. Make no

mistake. They would gladly do exactly the same thing to

Iran. Because Neoconservatives, whether Christian or

Jewish, whether Bolton or Rubin or Clawson, are

sociopaths who lack the basic ability to empathize with

people not exactly like themselves, and who exalt

instrumental goals over basic human welfare.


Of course Bush did not need any pretty promises to impel

him to launch desperate adventures. As the Arab Times

reported, a bewildered French President Jacques Chirac

told a journalist in a book published this spring that

Bush had tried to enlist him in the Iraq invasion one

last time in February, 2003, by emphasizing that the

threat of Gog and Magog had gathered in the Middle East

against the West and only overthrowing Saddam would

forestall a catastrophe of biblical proportions. (See

also Clive Hamilton, and James Haught, and Jacques Sterchi.


Chirac called a Swiss theologian to have him explain

what this Gog and Magog was whereof Bush spoke. Chirac

complained that the problem with people in the Bush

administration was that none of them knew anything about

the really existing Arabs. Chirac reads Arabic, and he

used to ask the Bush people he dealt with to name one

Arab poet. None could. France has been directly involved

in the Arab world since Bonaparte invaded Egypt in 1798,

so French political leaders could only lament the

earnest evangelical nonsense spewed by crazies who had

taken over Washington.


A lot of the crazies who insist on stealing Palestinian

land and resources in the West Bank also depend on weird

interpretations of Bible verses. Our world is being

poisoned by irrationality in the service of narrow self-interest.


With regard to the 2003 Iraq invasion, Chirac expected a

quick US victory, then a vacuum of which al-Qaeda would

take advantage in Iraq. That is, he expected Bush's Iraq

War, fought ostensibly as a part of the 'war on terror,'

to produce exactly the opposite result of the one



So too would aggressive US action against Iran,

including any attempt at a gasoline boycott.



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