Iran: Beware Neocons Bearing Boycotts

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 sought.

So too would aggressive US action against Iran, including any attempt at a gasoline boycott.

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