The War on Iran
The War on Iran
Thursday, 01 February 2007
By Stephen Gowans
The war has already begun and it has nothing to do with nuclear weapons and threats against Israel and everything to do with who rules America.
According to US economist Jeffrey Sachs, “Bush recently invited journalists to imagine the world in 50 years…he wanted to know whether Islamic radicals would control the world’s oil.” Sachs pointed out that stoking fears over who will control the world’s petroleum reserves is not new to the Bush administration.
In the lead up to the Anglo-American war on Iraq, US vice president Dick Cheney made the ridiculous claim that Saddam Hussein was assembling a massive arsenal of WMD “to take control of a great portion of the world’s energy supplies.” “Perhaps though, Saddam was too eager to sell oil concessions to French, Russian and Italian companies rather than British and US companies,” Sachs observed. (“Fighting the wrong war,” The Guardian, September 25, 2006) Strip away the fear-mongering, and what Bush and Cheney are really saying is that a resource as lucrative as petroleum won’t be allowed to remain in the hands of its true owners. It will be stripped from them, by force if necessary.
In the Bush administration’s assessment “Iran sees itself at the head of an alliance to drive the United States out of Iraq and ultimately out of the Middle East,” (New York Times, January 28, 2007) forcing the US hand from the world’s oil spigot. Like Iraq, which was said to be a WMD threat, Iran is portrayed as being on the verge of making a nuclear breakthrough. But the fears over Iran’s nuclear program are contrived. “Despite being presented as an urgent threat to nuclear non-proliferation and regional and world power…a number of Western diplomats and technical experts close to the Iranian program (say) it is archaic, prone to breakdown and lacks the material for industrial scale production.” (Observer, January 28, 2007)
The mistake is often made of assuming the absence of overt hostilities amounts to peace. War, however, can have various faces. It’s not only missiles crashing into buildings, tanks advancing across international borders, and troops smashing down doors. It can be economic strangulation (blockades and sanctions); funding and training dissidents; military threats, to cow an enemy into submission or bankrupt its economy (as it tries to keep pace.) By these criteria, the US is at war with Cuba, north Korea, Zimbabwe, Belarus and Iran. War need not be Sturm und Drang. Diplomacy, in the age of imperialism, remarked R. Palme Dutt, is simply war by other means. Sanctions, the funding of civil society to bring about color revolutions, war games along an enemy’s borders -- are as much manifestations of war, as overt military intervention. And sometimes, they’re just as devastating. The sanctions on Iraq in the 90s – what some regarded as a pacific alternative to war -- killed hundreds of thousands.
The US has established new offices in the State Department and Pentagon to build an opposition movement in Iran to topple the government. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice asked the US Congress a year ago for $75 million to supplement $10 million already allocated to underwriting the activities of dissidents in Iran and to expand Voice of American broadcasts. (Los Angeles Times, May 19, 2006) The CIA’s budget for programs aimed at bringing about regime change in Iran is probably many times larger.
Last September, the new US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson (as chairman of the New York investment firm Goldman Sachs he amassed a personal fortune of $700 million in a career than has seen him move between the Nixon administration, the Pentagon and the world of high finance) announced that Iran needed to be isolated financially, in the manner of north Korea. North Korea’s foreign trade was disrupted when the US sanctioned a Macau bank. Wary of being cut-off from the US financial system, other banks, seeking to avoid the example of Banco Delta Asia, have steered clear of transactions with north Korean enterprises. As a result, the DPRK finds it difficult to export to other countries to earn the foreign exchange it needs to import vital goods.
In Paulson’s view, Iran is still a major player globally, and needs to suffer the same pariah treatment. (New York Times, September 17, 2006) In October, US Treasury Department officials banned US banks from facilitating transactions involving Iran’s state-owned Bank Saderat. In January, the ban was widened to include another Iranian bank, Bank Sepah.
When Iran sells oil to a customer in Germany, the German customer asks a European bank to deposit US dollars into an Iranian bank account. The European bank then arranges for the transfer of US dollars from a US bank to an Iranian bank account in Europe. Paulson’s ban prohibits US banks from transferring funds if Bank Saderat and Bank Sepah are involved. (New York Times, October 16, 2006) With oil sales denominated in US dollars, the aim is to impede Iran’s ability to sell oil. The way around the US manoeuvre is to sell oil in Euros, something Iran has already begun to do. (New York Times, January 10, 2007)
This would seem to be a simple enough way of beating the US at its own game. It also raises questions about the prudence of compelling Iran to switch to Euros, since a change to Euros, if adopted by a number of oil-exporting countries, would push down the value of the US greenback. US investment banker John Hermann, a comptroller of currency in the Carter administration, wonders whether the US is shooting itself in the foot. (New York Times, October 16, 2006)
On the surface, these are valid concerns. But Paulson’s aims are broader. In September he let the world banking community know that it should stop doing business with more than 30 named Iranian enterprises. Behind the request lay a veiled threat. Banks that deal with Iranian businesses run the risk of jeopardizing their future access to the US financial system. Already, a number of European banks have taken heed, scaling back their dealings with Iranian banks and businesses. Credit Suisse and UBS in Switzerland, ABN Amro in the Netherlands and HSBC in Britain are starting to steer a wide berth around Iran.
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