Flipping idly through my morning newspaper, my eyes fell upon a headline, which, given its significance, should have appeared on the front page, but instead was tucked away at the back, on page A9.
ÂIsrael wonÂt rule out attack on IranÂ. (1)
Now, itÂs true that IsraelÂs threatening to attack Iran is hardly news. Here was Ehud Barak, Israeli defense minister, over two years ago, talking about measures to dissuade Iran from continuing to process uranium: ÂWe clearly believe that no option should be removed from the table. This is our policy. We mean it.Â (2) And here was Barak just the other day: ÂWe strongly believe thatÂ
no option should be removed from the table.Â (3) Same defense minister. Same words. Same threat.
Yet while the threat may be old, its significance remains undiminished. One country is threatening to commit the supreme international crime: to attack another even though it, itself, has not been attacked by the country it rattles its saber at. Were Iran to threaten Israel, the headline ÂIran wonÂt rule out attack on the Jewish stateÂ wouldnÂt be tucked away inconspicuously in the back pages of my newspaper. Instead, it would be shouted in bold letters across the front page. ÂMy God!Â, NATO state officials and editorialists would cry. ÂIran is threatening to attack the Jewish state. Something must be done!Â
But in this case it is IsraelÂwhich the Western media and governments have long embraced and set forth as the land of the good guysÂthat is issuing the threat against a country which has, since its escape from US domination in 1979, been limned as dark and menacing, and so while no one wants war, surely itÂs all perfectly understandable that the plucky Israelis should be declaring their determination to stand against the Judeophobic menace of the Islamic Republic. After all, isnÂt Iran building nuclear weapons to wipe Israel off the map? Well, if you listen to the Israelis and their US protector, the answer is yes.
The Strangelovian Israeli historian Benny Morris declares that Israel is Âthreatened almost daily with destruction by IranÂs leaders.Â To eclipse this threat, Iran must be wiped off the map before Iran does any wiping of its own. ÂIsrael has no option,Â Morris chillingly says, Âbut to use its nuclear arsenal to destroy Iran, unless the US uses its formidable military to destroy IranÂs nuclear facilities first.Â (4)
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns: ÂIran is even arming itself with nuclear weapons to realize that goal (the obliteration of the Jewish state), and until now the world has not stopped it. The threat to our existence, is not theoretical. It cannot be swept under the carpet; it cannot be reduced. It faces us and all humanity, and it must be thwarted.Â (5)
Ominous. But the idea that Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons to obliterate Israel is pure flummery, as real as the threat King Kong poses to Manhattan; a work of fiction, intended to create a frisson of fear.
So, why do I say this? First, we donÂt know whether Iran intends to acquire nuclear weapons, or only the capability of producing them, or even that. An International Atomic Energy Agency report, released yesterday, tables evidence that Iran is secretly working on a nuclear bomb. So letÂs assume for the moment that IranÂs leaders do indeed intend to build nuclear weapons.
ItÂs widely agreed that itÂs highly unlikely that Iran would be able to build nuclear weapons while its nuclear energy program is still under the scrutiny of UN inspectors. A more likely scenario is that Tehran would develop the capability to produce a bomb from within the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and once it had reached the point of being able to do so, would turn its capability into reality by withdrawing from the treaty, ejecting inspectors, and making a mad dash to develop a rudimentary arsenal. ThatÂs what North Korea did, when, following the demise of the Soviet Union, the United States decided to re-target some its nuclear missiles from its old nemesis to the DPRK.
But would Iran ever get as far as being able to make a mad dash to status as the worldÂs newest nuclear-weapons state? The United States and Israel have made plenty of noise about bombing IranÂs nuclear facilities before IranÂs nuclear scientists ever reach the point of having the capability of producing nuclear weapons. Indeed, one of the reasons why the threat to attack IranÂs nuclear facilities has been trotted out anew is because the steps the United States and Israel have taken to sabotage IranÂs nuclear programÂfrom the Stuxnet computer virus to the assassination of IranÂs nuclear scientists to punitive sanctionsÂhavenÂt stopped the programÂs developmentÂalthough they have certainly slowed it.
But letÂs make another assumption. LetÂs assume that despite US and Israeli efforts to cripple IranÂs ability to produce nuclear weapons, that Iran, despite these impediments, brings this capability to fruition, and furthermore, manages against the concerted opposition of the United States and Israel to develop a few nuclear warheads. Does the possession of warheads mean that Iran will use themÂeither to wipe Israel off the map or attack the United States?
No, it does not.
The idea that Iran is an ÂexistentialÂ threat to Israel comes from Iranian president Mahmoud AhmadinejadÂs alleged promise to wipe Israel off the map. US and Israeli political leaders have been invoking this chestnut for years to justify the assassinations, economic warfare, covert destabilization, and threats of military intervention used to undermine IranÂs nuclear energy program. The problem is, the allegation is groundless.
The firestorm started when Nazila Fathi, then the Tehran correspondent of The New York Times, reported a story almost six years ago that was headlined: ÂWipe Israel Âoff the mapÂ Iranian says.Â The article attributed newly elected Iranian President Mahmoud AhmadinejadÂs remarks to a report by the ISNA press agency.
Then, specialists such as Juan Cole of the University of Michigan and Arash Norouzi of the Mossadegh Project pointed out that the original statement in Persian did not say that Israel should be wiped from the map, but instead that it would collapse.
Khamenei stated, ÂIranÂs position, which was first expressed by the Imam [Khomeini] and stated several times by those responsible, is that the cancerous tumor called Israel must be uprooted from the region.Â He went on to say in the same speech that ÂPalestinian refugees should return and Muslims, Christians and Jews could choose a government for themselves, excluding immigrant Jews.Â
Khamenei has been consistent, stating repeatedly that the goal is not the military destruction of the Jewish state but Âthe defeat of Zionist ideology and the dissolution of Israel through a Âpopular referendum.ÂÂ (6)
To be sure, anyone who regards Israel as a Âcancerous tumorÂ that Âmust be uprooted from the regionÂ and replaced by a government freely chosen by the people who lived in Palestine prior to its conquest by Zionist settlers, is an existential threat to Zionism, as a living, breathing idea implanted in the soil of Palestine. But while the designation of Iran as an existential threat to Israel is literally true (in the sense that Iran doesnÂt accept Zionism and therefore works against it by supporting such anti-Zionist groups as Hamas and Hezbollah), the phrase Âexistential threatÂ is twisted to mean something more than intended: military destruction rather than collapse through a referendum.
Political leaders are in the habit of turning non-threats into dire ones in order to manipulate public opinion to clear a path to get what they want. In other words, they manufacture consent for their policies by lying. A not particularly egregious example of this is provided by US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who, needing to defend the PentagonÂs Brobdignagian budget against possible cuts, recently Âcited North Korea and Iran as persistent threats, and said that the military had to maintain Âthe ability to deter and defeat them.ÂÂ (7) North Korea and Iran are not threats to the physical safety and welfare of a single US civilian, and anyone who says they are is using a trowel to liberally spread a thick film of bullshit upon the face of public discourse.
First, it should be noted that IranÂs military is built for self-defense. It doesnÂt have aircraft carriers, a large fleet of warships, strategic bombers or foreign military bases. The United States, by contrast, bases its Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, within shouting distance of Iran, directly across the Persian Gulf. You wonÂt find Iranian warships lingering menacingly in the Gulf of Mexico or patrolling the Atlantic and Pacific on the edges of US territorial waters, but the United States does the equivalent in TehranÂs neighorhood.
Second, a graph nearby shows that IranÂs military spending, at $20B per annum, pales in comparison to the budgets of the United States ($700B) and even that of the United StatesÂ regional allies ($102B). The US military budget is 35 times larger than IranÂs, and the sum of that of the United States, its invariable military side-kick, the United Kingdom, and WashingtonÂs regional allies, is 43 times larger. The gulf in fighting ability supported by these expenditures is as yawning as the one between the New York City Police Department tactical squadron and a troop of Boy Scouts armed with BB guns.
As regards North Korea, the charge that it is a threat to the security of a single US civilian is even more absurd. Like Iran, North KoreaÂs military is built for defense, and it too has no foreign military bases, no aircraft carriers, no nuclear armed submarines and no strategic bombers, and it has neverÂunlike its compatriot neighbor to the southÂsent troops abroad to fight in other countryÂs wars (South Korean troops fought in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan on behalf of its patron, the United States.)
North Korean military expenditures are even more modest than IranÂs. Pyongyang spends an estimated $10B on its military (and thatÂs probably stretching it), many of whose members are engaged in agriculture and other civilian activities. (8) By comparison, South Korea (on whose soil are resident close to 30,000 US troops), spends $39B, while nearby Japan (home to 40,000 US troops) spends $34B. Together, these two US allies outspend Pyongyang on their militaries by a factor of 7 to 1. Add to this US defense expenditures and those of BritainÂa country that can be counted on to docilely follow the United States into any war, no matter whether the Conservatives or Labour are in powerÂand North Korea, surrounded by US troops and warships and whose air borders are incessantly menaced by the US Air Force, is outspent over 80 to 1. A threat? The claim is laughable.
And that understates the imbalance. What military budgets donÂt reveal is the vastly superior destructive power of US military hardware (and that of many of its allies) compared to IranÂs and North KoreaÂs. The kill capacity of US strike aircraft, cruise missiles, and battleships is far in excess of the heavy artillery that figures so prominently in the North Korean armamentarium, for example.
And then thereÂs nuclear weapons. North Korea may (or may not) have an arsenal of a few warheads, and Iran may (or may not) be seeking one, but these rudimentary collections pale in comparison with the US, British, and Israeli arsenals arrayed against them. Would Iran attack Israel, or North Korea attack South Korea, with one or two nuclear missiles, knowing that to do so would invite a retaliatory tsunami of missiles from the target (in the case of an attack on Israel) or its hyper-armed patron, the United States, or both? The outcome of so foolhardy an attack would be game-over for either country.
ÂDuring the Democratic primaries, then candidate Hilary Clinton (now US Secretary of State) warned that if Iran attacked Israel, the United States would Âtotally obliterateÂ Iran.Â (9) Three years ago, Israeli ÂInfrastructure Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer went on record saying, ÂWe must tell them: ÂIf you so much as dream of attacking Israel, before you even finish dreaming there wonÂt be an Iran anymore.ÂÂ (10) ItÂs doubtful that the Iranians and North Koreans failed to get the message.
And then thereÂs the matter of WashingtonÂs 2010 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR). If read superficially, the NPR would lead you to believe that US policy makers have finally figured out that the cardinal rule of nonproliferation is to abjure military aggression against non-nuclear states. Countries that arenÂt threatened by nuclear powers have no need to develop nuclear weapons for self-defense. However, a closer reading of the review shows that nothing has changed. US president Barack Obama has stayed true to form, obscuring his pursuit of his predecessorsÂ policies beneath honeyed phrases that create the impression of change, where no change of substance exists.
The NPR declares Âthat the United States will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons statesÂ, even if they attack the United States, its vital interests or allies and partners with chemical or biological weapons. This differs, but only on the surface, from the policy of preceding administrations which refused to renounce the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. There are a number of reasons why the difference is apparent only.
While nuclear weapons are widely regarded as being unparalleled in their destructive power (and they are), the United States is able to deliver overwhelming destructive force through its conventional military capabilities. A promise not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states is not the same as an assurance not to use or threaten to use devastating military force. Six decades ago it was possible to obliterate a city through conventional means, as the Western Allies demonstrated in the firebombing of Dresden. If a city could be destroyed by conventional means more than half a century ago, imagine what the Pentagon could do today through conventional forces alone.
Indeed, the NPR makes clear that the United States is prepared to shrink its nuclear arsenal partly because Âthe growth of unrivalled U.S. conventional military capabilitiesÂ allows Washington to fulfill its geostrategic goals Âwith significantly lower nuclear force levels and with reduced reliance on nuclear weapons.Â
The NPR also provides a number of escape hatches that allow Washington to continue to dangle a nuclear sword of Damocles over the heads of Iran and North Korea. One is that nuclear weapons can be used, or their used threatened, against a country that is not Âparty to the NPTÂ even if the country doesnÂt yet have nuclear weapons, or it is unclear whether it does. This is the North Korea escape clause. It allows Washington to continue to threaten North Korea with nuclear obliteration, just as it has done since the early 1990s when the US Strategic Command announced it was re-targeting some of its strategic nuclear missiles on the DPRK (the reason why North Korea withdrew from the NPT.)
Another escape clause allows Washington to reach for the nuclear trigger whenever it deems a country to have fallen short of Âcompliance with [its] nuclear non-proliferation obligations,Â even if the country doesnÂt have nuclear weapons and is a party to the NPT. This is the Iran escape hatch, intended to allow Washington to maintain the threat of nuclear annihilation vis-Ã -vis Iran or any other country Washington unilaterally declares to be noncompliant with the treatyÂs obligations.
As for the United StatesÂ commitment to refrain from reaching for its nuclear arsenal in response to a chemical or biological attack on itself, its vital interests (a term that defies geography and democracy, for how is it that the United StatesÂ vital interests extend to other peopleÂs countries?) its allies and its partners, this too is verbal legerdemain.
As a careful reading of the NPR makes clear, the truth of the matter is that the United States will attack any country with nuclear weapons if such an attack is deemed necessary by Washington to protect its interests, which is to say, the interests of the corporations, banks and investors whose senior officials and representatives dominate policy formulation in Washington and provide the major funding, and post-political jobs, to the countryÂs politicians. According to the NPR, Âthe United States reserves the right to make any adjustment in [its commitment] that may be warrantedÂ
Â Translation: We wonÂt attack non-nuclear weapons states with nuclear weapons unless we decide itÂs in our interests to do so.
Finally, we need to ask whether either Iran or North Korea have a motive to attack the United States, and whether Iran has a motive to attack Israel. IranÂs leaders may abhor the Zionist conquest of what they see as territory important to Islam, but that doesnÂt mean theyÂre willing to take on a suicide mission to deal a one- or two-nuclear missile blow to IsraelÂone which, by the way, probably wouldnÂt completely destroy Israel, but would incinerate Iran in the hail of retaliatory blows that followed. As for tangling with the United States, neither country wants that. What they want is peaceful coexistenceÂto be left alone to develop in their own way.
The trouble is, the United States hasnÂt the barest interest in peaceful coexistence, and the reason why is the key, not only to understanding US foreign policy, but to understanding why a US-led NATO spent months bombing Libya to drive the former regime from power.
But first, a digression. As a matter for inquiry, the approaches critics of US foreign policy take to explain their subjectÂif they explain it at all-is as interesting as US foreign policy itself. The usual tack is to expose US hypocrisy. For example, critics might point out that the United States defends Israel, which has nuclear weapons and doesnÂt belong to the NPT, while threatening to attack Iran, which belongs to the NPT, and doesnÂt have nuclear weapons. Or that NATO bombed Libya to prevent the government there from using its military to put down an uprising but allowed Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to use their militaries to put down an uprising in Bahrain.
Some critics stop there, reasoning that if theyÂre going to muster opposition to US foreign policy, itÂs enough to show that itÂs built on hypocrisy. Or they denounce US behavior as immoral, undemocratic or against international law, because it is, and they figure that showing this will rouse the indignation of people of good conscience. Other US foreign policy critics cogently show why US foreign policy couldnÂt possibly be guided by the objectives US leaders say it is guided by. But they stop there, leaving their audiences to scratch their heads, wondering, if not for the reasons stated, then why?
Liberals insist that US foreign policy makes no sense and the reason why is because US leaders are confused, myopic, poorly motivated, or just plain dumb. An example of this point of view is offered by former US president Jimmy Carter, who contends that the conflict with North Korea can be resolved in half a day (11). Apparently US leaders have neither the political will nor smarts to do so.
The truth of the matter is that there is nothing to be gained for the corporations, investors and banks that dominate US foreign policyÂthe one percent who really matter in the United StatesÂfrom peaceful coexistence with North Korea. For one thing, peaceful coexistence implies that each side poses a threat to the other, but North Korea, despite the rhetorical nonsense of political leaders seeking to justify Pentagon budgets, poses no threat to the United States. A $10B defense budget against a $700B one; aging aircraft whose pilots are grounded most of the time due to shortages of fuel; a puny arsenal of nuclear weapons; an army whose training time is partly displaced by engagement in farming; the most sanctioned country on earth, whose economy has been crippled by six decades of US economic warfare; a country of 24 million hemmed in to the south and east by the troops of a country of 300 million; no, North Korea is not a threat.
So how is it that peaceful coexistence would deliver anything in the way of improved security for Americans, which they already have in abundance anyway? It wouldnÂt. The demand for peaceful coexistence is little more than a Quixotic plea from Pyongyang to be left alone to develop in a self-directed manner in exchange for giving up a few nuclear weapons that at best, are, to use an Edward Herman term, a Âthreat of self-defense.Â The benefits of peaceful coexistence are all on the North Korean side.
After all, what does the United States get for promising to leave North Korea to develop in its own way? An open door for exports and investments? Hardly. North KoreaÂs integration into a US-dominated system of global capitalism? No. US troops on North Korean soil? Absolutely not. North KoreaÂs incorporation into a US-led military alliance against China? No possibility. What it gets is North Korea giving up a deterrent to attack in exchange for the United States promising not to attack. This is a one-sided deal. No wonder North Korea wants it, and Washington keeps turning it down. David Straub, director of the US State DepartmentÂs Korea desk from 2002 to 2004 sums up nicely why peaceful coexistence isnÂt on WashingtonÂs Korea agenda. ÂNorth KoreaÂs closed economic and social system means the country has virtually nothing of value to offer the United States.Â (12)
What the United States wants from North Korea (an open door to investment, exports, ownership and political influence) is the opposite of what North Korea offers (a closed door and a prickly sense of independenceÂboth political and economic). Washington abandoned the policy of peaceful coexistence with the USSR, which was militarily strong enough to make the US a miserable place in which to live if the Pentagon ever decided to start a US-Soviet war. So why would it accept peaceful coexistence with a hated closed system that poses a minor threat at best?
Other critics of US foreign policy explain their subject in terms of power. US leaders want to preserve or expand US power (or primacy or hegemony) against such Âpeer competitorsÂ as China or Russia or such regional powers as Iran. Of course, itÂs never said what US leaders (or Chinese or Russian leaders) want power for. To believe these critics, power is what everyone wants, and the quest for it, as an end in itself, is what makes the world go around. But the trick here is to inquire into why power is sought. Washington doesnÂt seek to enlarge its power so that it can strong-arm governments around the world into furnishing their citizens with public healthcare, guaranteed employment and free education. On the contrary, it seeks power to do the very opposite. Power serves some end, and in the case of US state power, it serves the end of protecting and enlarging the big business interests of the big business people who run the state of a big business country; it protects profits and establishes the conditions that allow them to growÂboth at home and overseas.
ItÂs curious that the power-is-the-alpha-and-omega-of-world-politics view should hold such a strong sway among some critics of US foreign policy, when in the internal affairs of capitalist countries the organizing principle is private business, and the alpha and omega of private business, is profits. Sure, itÂs understood that business leaders want power, but not so they can lord it over others, and take pleasure in its trappings, but so they can enlarge their capital. Power is a means to an end.
So why should foreign policy be any different? The moment Gaddafi was toppled by NATO bombs, a stream of NATO foreign ministers traipsed to Benghazi, their countriesÂ corporate CEOs in tow, to line up new business deals. It was clear the National Transitional Council (NTC), whose key membersÂone, an exile who had been teaching economics in the United States for years; another, who earned his PhD in 1985 from the University of Pittsburgh under the late Richard Cottam, a former US intelligence official in Iran; and a third, who had been living within hailing distance of CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, before being spirited back to LibyaÂ would be a good deal more accommodating of US business interests than Gaddafi had ever been.
For all his turning over a new leaf to befriend the West, Gaddafi had irked the US State Department by practicing Âresource nationalismÂ and trying to ÂLibyanizeÂ the economy, (13) which is to say, turn foreign investment to the advantage of Libyans. His threat in 2009 to re-nationalize LibyaÂs oil fields, stirred up old fears. (14) Now, the NTCÂwith its US-friendly principalsÂwas promising juicy plums to the countries whose bombs had ousted Gaddafi.
The US ambassador to Libya, Gene A. Cretz, channeling the ghost of uber-imperialist, Cecil Rhodes, acknowledged that Libyan oil was Âthe jewel in the crownÂ but that there would be broader profit-making opportunities to lay hold of, now that Gaddafi had been bombed from power. Even Âin QaddafiÂs time,Â he observed, the Libyans Âwere starting from A to Z in terms of building infrastructure and other things. If we can get American companies here on a fairly big scale, which we will try to do everything we can to do that, then this will redound to improve the situation in the United States with respect to our own jobs.Â (15) US Senator John McCain, for his part, noted that ÂAmerican investors were watching Libya with keen interest and wanted to do businessÂ in Libya as soon the country was pacified. (16)
The New York TimesÂ Scott Shane summed up the excitement.
"Western security, construction and infrastructure companies that see profit-making opportunities receding in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned their sights on Libya, now free of four decades of dictatorship. Entrepreneurs are abuzz about the business potential of a country with huge needs and the oil to pay for them, plus the competitive advantage of Libyan gratitude toward the United States and its NATO partners."
A week before Colonel QaddafiÂs death on Oct. 20, a delegation from 80 French companies arrived in Tripoli to meet officials of the Transitional National Council, the interim government. Last week, the new British defense minister, Philip Hammond, urged British companies to Âpack their suitcasesÂ and head to Tripoli. (17)
ShaneÂs summing up provides a pretty good account of what the NATO bombing campaign had been all about, with one exception. Western security, construction and infrastructure companies arenÂt turning their sights on Libya, because it is now free of four decades of dictatorship, but because it is now free of four decades of economic nationalismÂan economic nationalism that once privileged Libyans over Western banks, investors and corporations. The country is now open for businessÂ
on the WestÂs terms.
The view that US foreign policy is shaped by considerations related to preserving and enlarging profit-making opportunities for investors, banks and corporations headquartered in the United States is based on two realities.
Â The formulation of US foreign policy is dominated by the CEOÂs, corporate lawyers and major investors who circulate between Wall Street and Washington.
Â The countries that the United States has singled out for regime change, without exception, pursue self-directed economic policies aimed at fostering self-development and therefore deny or limit US investment and export opportunities.
Every rich country, with the exception of Britain, became rich through active state intervention in their economies to create industries, subsidize them and protect them from competition while they grew. The United States, as much as Germany, Japan, and other now rich industrialized countries, followed this path. (18) At one point, the United States had the worldÂs highest tariff barriers, which it used to shelter its nascent manufacturing industries against competition from established British firms. As protected industries matured under the guiding hand of a dirigiste state, they naturally sought to expand beyond their borders, as the possibilities offered by national markets were exhausted. Now, the policies that served their development so ably in the past, became fetters. Rather than protected markets at home, they needed open markets abroad. Poor countries couldnÂt be allowed to emulate the policies that made the rich countries rich, because state-ownership, subsidies and trade barriers would eclipse the further development of the once protected industries of the rich countries. Poor countries would have to open themselves up as fields for exploitation by the banks, investors and corporations of the rich countries that had grown fat on the dirigiste policies some poor countries were now seeking to emulate.
A glance through the US Library of CongressÂs country study on Iran reveals a truth that US officials never mention and that US foreign policy critics seem unaware of. Iran is not the kind of place an enterprising US business can hope to make money in. ÂThe public sector dominates the economic scene, and the subordination of the private sector is observed in all industries and commerce.Â (19) Worse, ÂPublic-sector investments in transportationÂ utilities, telecommunications, and other infrastructure have grown over time.Â (20) ÂThe government plays a significant role in IranÂs economy, either directly through participation in the production and distribution of goods and services, or indirectly through policy intervention.Â (21)
Indeed, IranÂs constitution defines the public sector as primary, and Âthe private sector as the means of furnishing the governmentÂs needs rather than responding to market requirements.Â (22) Democratic socialists will be shocked to discover that this is the very same economic model that such New Left socialists as Ralph Miliband defined as emblematic of what a democratic socialism ought to be (which isnÂt to say that Iran is a democratic socialist state, only that economically it is very close to what many socialist thinkers have envisaged for Western socialism.)
In any event, it will be conceded that any economy that bears even a passing resemblance to that favored by radical democratic socialists is not likely to get a ringing endorsement from the kinds of people who formulate US foreign policy.
Other reasons why IranÂs economic policies are likely to have provoked the animosity of the US State Department: Despite its leaders making noises about going on a privatizing binge, IranÂs public sector has soberly grown rather than shrunk. (23) WhatÂs more, large sectors of IranÂs economy remain off-limits to private ownership. ÂSince the Revolution, the government has retained monopoly rights to the extraction, processing, and sales of minerals from large and strategic mines.Â (24) IranÂs Âagricultural policy is intended to support farmers and encourage production of strategically important cropsÂ (25), not to open doors to US agribusiness. ÂAfter the Revolution, many transportation companies, banks, and insurance companies were nationalizedÂ (26) while price controls and subsidies have been used to make important consumer goods affordable (though many subsidies have been lifted recently.)
Wall Street and the US State Department dislike state-owned enterprises that serve the self-directed development goals of independent foreign countries, because they displace private investment by US capital. They abhor the practice of foreign governments subsidizing and protecting local business enterprises because it makes the task of US firms competing in overseas markets more difficult, and thereby limits the overseas profits of US firms. They revile regulations that protect local populations from pollution, desperation wages and deplorable working conditions, because they cut into profits. Some or all of these practices form significant parts of the economic policies of every country in the cross-hairs of US foreign policy, including Libya under Gaddafi and Iran today.
Washington doesnÂt want to bring about a change of regime in Tehran to install a pliant government that will help expand US power. It wants to bring about a change of regime in Tehran that will cancel economic policies aimed at IranÂs self-development and replace them with policies that will open up the countryÂs resources, markets, labor and land to US banks, corporations and investors. It wants the holy trinity of free-trade, free-enterprise and free-markets at the center of poor countriesÂ economic policies, not protected trade, not state-owned and subsidized enterprises, and not trade barriers. (But while preaching the holy trinity abroad, the United States reserves the right to deploy subsidies, impede imports, and rely on state-intervention to support key industries at home. Consistency doesnÂt matter. Profits do.)
To reach the goal of turning Iran into a country that can disgorge a bonanza of profits to US corporations and investors, Iran must first be denied the capability of mounting an effective defense against military intervention by the United States and its allies. It is for this reason that the United States and its Middle Eastern Doberman, Israel, have embarked upon a program of sabotage, assassinations and threats of aerial bombing aimed at crippling even the possibility of Iran acquiring a nuclear deterrent.
The idea that Tehran is bent on lobbing a few nuclear-tipped missiles toward Israel, to complete what the Fuhrer had left undone, is demagogic nonsense, intended to provide a compelling justification for aggression against Iran. Evoking HitlerÂs campaign of genocide against the Jews to invest contrived existential threats with gravitas has been a standard operating procedure of Zionist leaders dating to 1948. (27) Iran has no intention of attacking Israel, and would commit suicide if it did, a reality we can be certain has not escaped its leadersÂ ken.
All of this to say that in order to understand US foreign policy itÂs necessary to examine who rules in the United States, who formulates its foreign policy, and how the policy the rulers formulate intersects with their economic interests. (28) This is an inquiry into class. For if an economic elite dominates foreign policy, we should expect to find that the outcomes of foreign policy favor elite economic interests, and that foreign countries that pursue economic policies that are not agreeable to those interests will be harassed, sabotaged, sanctioned, destabilized, and possibly bombed or invaded, until the policies are changed.
It may be objected that the cost to the United States of military intervention in Iran would surely exceed any economic gain that would accrue to the country as a whole. For liberals, this would count as evidence that US foreign policy makers had once again made an error. For others, it would stand as a challenge to the idea that a war on Iran would be a war for profits.
But the costs of military intervention are what economists call externalitiesÂcosts created by a firm, an industry or a class, but borne by others. Hydraulic fracturingÂthe high-pressure injection of fluids into rock to release fossil fuelsÂcreates costs in water pollution and wear and tear on roads used by trucks and heavy machinery. If these costs are internalizedÂborne by the oil companies whose activities have created themÂthen hydraulic fracturing makes no sense economicallyÂits costs exceed its returns. But if the costs are externalizedÂleft to society as a whole to absorbÂhydraulic fracturing becomes an attractive way for oil companies to turn a profit. (29)
HereÂs the parallel with military intervention. The giant engineering firm Bechtel would absorb virtually none of the costs of a successful war on Iran, but if one happens, Bechtel is likely to reap enormous profits in contracts to rebuild the infrastructure that the US Air Force would raze to the ground. For Bechtel, then, US military intervention in Iran would be highly profitable, even though it might not make sense economically when viewed from the perspective of the United States as a whole. Lockheed-Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and RaytheonÂthe top five defense contractorsÂdonÂt foot the PentagonÂs massive $700B per annum bill, but large portions of that budget are transferred to them in the form of contracts for military hardware. While bloated military expenditures make no sense from the point of view of the country as a collectivity, major defense contractors reap enormous profits from them.
If I persuade the three other members of my family to kick in $100,000 each to buy a $250,000 house (paying $50,000 over the market price) and I contribute nothing, but claim nine of the 10 rooms for my exclusive use, the transaction makes a lot of sense for me, even though it makes no sense when viewed from the perspective of the four of us together.
The problem, then, of arguing that military intervention in Iran would make no sense because the costs would exceed the economic gains that would accrue to the United States as a whole, is failure to recognize that the country is class-divided, and that the gains of war are internalized within the dominant class while the costs are externalized to the bottom 99 percent.
Hence, war doesnÂt make sense for the bulk of us, but the problem is that decisions about military expenditures, foreign policy and war are in the hands of the top one percent and their loyal servants, who privatize the benefits of these things and socialize the costs. When liberals say US foreign policy makes no sense, theyÂre being misguided by a set of erroneous assumptions: that the United States has only class, the middle-class, that it is not class-divided, that everyone within it has the same middle-class interests, and that the state rules in the interests of all.
Like all US wars, the war on Iran is a class war (and with sanctions, sabotage, assassinations and saber-rattling it is a war in all but name.) It is a war of class in two respects. First, it is waged on behalf of a class of bankers, major investors, and corporate titans, to knock down walls in Iran that deny this elite access to markets and investment opportunities. Second, it is a war carried out on the back of a class of employees, pensioners, unemployed, and armed forces membersÂthe bottom 99 percentÂwho bear the cost, through their taxes (and in the future possibly blood.)
The aim is to install local politicians, most of whom will have been educated at US universities where they will have been instilled with imperialist values, who can, assisted by US advisors, make over Iran into an agricultural, natural resources, low-wage appendage of the US economy in the service of Wall Street and the class of owners and high-level managers who occupy its commanding heights. In short, a war for profits.
November 9, 2011
1. Adam Blomfield, ÂIsrael wonÂt rule out attack on Iran,Â The Ottawa Citizen, November 7, 2011.
2. Associated Press, July 27, 2009.
4. Benny Morris, ÂUsing Bombs to Stave Off War,Â The New York Times, July 18, 2008.
5. Isabel Kershner, ÂIsraeli strike on Iran would be Âstupid,Â ex-spy chief saysÂ, The New York Times, May 8, 2011.
6. Glenn Kessler, ÂDid Ahmadinejad really say Israel should be Âwiped off the mapÂ?Â The Washington Post, October 6, 2011.
7. Thom Shanker and Elisabeth Bumiller, ÂWeighing Pentagon cuts, Panetta faces deep pressuresÂ, The New York Times, November 6, 2011.
8. Bruce Cumings. KoreaÂs Place in the Sun: A Modern History. W.W. Norton & Company. 2005.
9. Mark Landler, ÂIran policy now more in sync with ClintonÂs views,Â The New York Times, February 17, 2010.
10. Mazda Majidi, ÂWhat lies behind US policy toward Iran?Â Liberation, June 12, 2008.
11. Tim Beal. Crisis in Korea: America, China and the Risk of War. Pluto Press.2011. p. 71.
12. Kim Hyun, ÂUS ÂHas No Intention to Build Close Ties with N KoreaÂ: Ex-official,Â Yonhap News, September 2, 2009.
13. Steven Mufson, ÂConflict in Libya: U.S. oil companies sit on sidelines as Gaddafi maintains holdÂ, The Washington Post, June 10, 2011.
14. Thomas Walkom, ÂWhat Harper and co. got from the Libyan warÂ, The Toronto Star, October 21, 2011.
15. David D. Kirkpatrick, ÂU.S. reopens its embassy in LibyaÂ, The New York Times, September 22, 2011.
16. Kareem Fahim and Rick Gladstone, ÂU.S. Senate delegation offers praise and caution to LibyaÂs new leadersÂ, The New York Times, September 29, 2011.
17. Scott Shane, ÂWest sees opportunity in postwar Libya for businessesÂ, The New York Times, October 28, 2011.
18. Erik S. Reinert. How Rich Countries Got Rich and Why Poor Countries Stay Poor. Public Affairs. New York. 2007; Ha-Joon Chang. Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. Bloomsbury Press. 2008.
19. The Library of Congress. Iran: A Country Study. 2008. p. 143. http://lcweb2.loc.gov/frd/cs/irtoc.html
20. Iran: A Country Study, p. 145. 21. Iran: A Country Study, p. 150.
22. Iran: A Country Study, p. 151.
23. Iran: A Country Study, p. 152.
24. Iran: A Country Study, p. 167.
25. Iran: A Country Study, p. 170.
26. Iran: A Country Study, p. 181.
27. Ilan Pappe. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Oneworld Publications. 2006.
28. Albert Szymanski. The Capitalist State and the Politics of Class. Winthrop Publishers. 1978.
29. Paul Krugman, ÂHere comes the sun,Â The New York Times, November 6, 2011.
I recognize that in my views and even use of certain phrases that I have been influenced by Michael Parenti, and that needs to be acknowledged here. Of particular influence is ParentiÂs latest book, The Face of Imperialism, Paradigm Publishers, 2011 and his earlier Against Empire, City Light Books, 1995.