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." Why?

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. 

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
• Sabotage
• Assassinations
• 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 difficulties of North Korea’s healthcare system—can have more devastating consequences than the hot wars anti-war movements have traditionally opposed.

June 20, 2012