Is the White House Right that More Iran Sanctions put US on “Path to War?”

White House spokesman Jay Carney on Tuesday warned the US Congress that imposing further sanctions on Iran at this juncture, just when negotiations have begun with Tehran, would be tantamount to a “march to war.”

Carney’s reasoning is that further sanctions now would strengthen the hard liners in the Revolutionary Guards and around Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei who are opposed to negotiating at all. If the current round of talks fails, in turn, Carney suggested, President Obama would have no tool to stop Iran’s nuclear enrichment activities save military intervention, i.e. the US would be forced to go to war with Iran.

It is an outrageous and bizarre argument, which could only make sense through the looking glass inside the Beltway.

Even Israeli cabinet members have admitted that Iran has no active nuclear weapons program. There is no casus belli or legitimate cause for war between the United States and Iran. Not to mention how invidious the Washington rhetoric is. Israel, Pakistan and India all refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and went for broke to construct nuclear warheads. The US backs Israel’s bomb-making to the hilt. It never sanctioned India. And it has long since made peace with Pakistan’s, recently renewing billions in foreign aid to that country. So why is Iran different? Because it talks dirty about the US?

Carney may be right, but the logic is the logic of military aggression.

Carney’s warning that derailing the negotiations might lead to war is, however, true in another sense. The US has gone beyond mere sanctions on Iran to waging financial war on that country, interfering in Iran’s export of petroleum by making it dangerous and difficult or impossible for other countries to pay Iran for the oil they purchase from it. The effect is a virtual blockade, not different in effect from drawing up warships and preventing tankers from leaving the harbor (the latter is recognized in international law as an act of war).

Even just the techniques being used by the US against Iran now, much less more severe ones, have created a powder keg that could easily blow up into war. All you’d need to spark a war is a rogue attack on a US facility by a hothead Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander whose child died from lack of medicine as a result of US sanctions. Iran proxies operate in Afghanistan, where there are still thousands of US troops, in Iraq, where there are thousands of personnel at the gargantuan US embassy in Baghdad, and in Kuwait and Qatar and Bahrain where there are US bases.

There is another path to war, which is the Iraq path. US sanctions on Iraq destroyed its middle class and strengthened the Baath government. In the end, international consensus on Iraq began collapsing and hawks like Paul Wolfowitz were afraid the international sanctions would fall. He also argued that it was expensive to keep a no-fly zone over Iraqi Kurdistan. So the very fact of the sanctions and the difficulty of maintaining them were deployed by hawks as a reason for which a war would be better.

There should be no mistake. There are hawks in the US Congress like John McCain and Lindsay Graham (Linjohn) who would gladly just fall on Iran with US military might the way they fell on Iraq. But the sanctions hard liners, such as Bob Menendez (D-NJ), backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its hundreds of Israel lobbies, are no less de facto set on a course toward war with Iran.

Since Iran is three times as populous as Iraq and several times larger geographically, occupying it would certainly be in the nail in the coffin for the US. The national debt, now equal to the GDP at $16 trillion, would balloon on up from there. And Iranians would deal the US an even more deadly blow through national liberation guerrilla movements (there are hundreds of thousands of Basiji militiamen) than did the Iraqis, since they will be more united.

Congressmen are all kinds of people, but many of them have led relatively sheltered lives in small constituencies and are fairly ignorant of the realities of the world. It is easy for them to parrot jingoistic slogans against the serial demonized villains thought up on K Street, and to take money for their small town campaigns from rich and powerful lobbies like AIPAC. They mostly don’t have the slightest idea what they are getting us all into.

42 Responses

  1. It’s weird that you denounce Carney’s comments, and then agree with them.

    Carney was accurately describing the political reality that you, over the next couple of paragraphs, explain quite well.

    The Obama administration and Rouhani administration are pursuing an agreement through a narrow window, trying to seize the moment and create some progress to celebrate before their respective hardliners have the chance to declare the effort a failure and pursue confrontation, a confrontation that could very well lead to actual (not “virtual”) hostilities. The passage of additional sanctions through Congress would, as Carney said, give Rouhani’s domestic opponents their excuse to declare his effort a failure and demand a change of course.

  2. “Carney may be right, but the logic is the logic of military aggression.”

    Perhaps that should be, “The Obama Administration may be right, but the logic is the logic of military aggression.” Carney is just the administration’s mouthpiece.

  3. “… hawks like Paul Wolfowitz were afraid the international sanctions would fall. He also argued that it was expensive to keep a no-fly zone over Iraqi Kurdistan.”

    And Wolfowitz argued the war on Iraq would only cost a few billion dollars, much less than the reality of two to three TRILLION dollars estimated by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes. In one sense, it is fortunate we as a nation don’t see a moral obligation to pay reparations to Iraq; otherwise, we would be in debt for another two, three or more TRILLION dollars.

    And Wolfowitz was made president of the World Bank!!!!

  4. I am somewhat surprised that a new counterweight to OPEC has not yet emerged. Between them, Russia, Iran, Iraq and Venezuela control 25% of the world oil production. I think that if they worked together, they could act as a counterweight to the Saudi controlled OPEC. When that happened, it would become a priority of both Europe and China to insure that Iran was treated with a bit more respect.

    • “they could act as a counterweight to the Saudi controlled OPEC”

      Well, it may be the Saudi King’s lips that are moving, but w.r.t. OPEC the strings are very tightly held in Obama’s hands.

      OPEC caused trouble in the 1970s. It was brought to heel in the 1980s, and brought totally under US control in the 1990s.

  5. I don’t understand. Are you saying that Carney’s desire not to impose further sanctions is “outrageous” or that war is a possibility if they fail? The wording is very unclear. I also don’t understand if you believe Iran should just be able to do whatever they want with their weapons. Sanctions are the only tool we have to get them to negotiate outside the threat of military force? Am I wrong?

    • I am saying that his premises ( that like Dr Strangelove we eon’t be able to restrain our aggression) are outrageous and also that in Washington they may work.

    • ” I also don’t understand if you believe Iran should just be able to do whatever they want with their weapons.”

      What weapons? U.S. intelligence agencies have stated that Iran does not have nuclear weapons or plans to build them. There apparently were some rogue Iranian scientists who began work towards nukes, but now-President Rouhani reportedly squashed that activity. The only existing “Iranian nuclear weapons” are those created by the propaganda issuing forth from Netanyahu and his puppets in Congress.

    • “I don’t understand.”

      Carney’s comments are disingenuous.

      The power to wage war (as opposed to declaring war) lies with the Executive, not with the Congress.

      No matter how much the hawks push and push and push, if the President won’t go to war then the USA can’t “march to war”.

  6. There should be no mistake. There are hawks in the US Congress like John McCain and Lindsay Graham (Linjohn) who would gladly just fall on Iran with US military might the way they fell on Iraq. But the sanctions hard liners, such as Bob Menendez (D-NJ), backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and its hundreds of Israel lobbies, are no less de facto set on a course toward war with Iran.

    Yes, they are – and they make up perhaps a majority of the United States Congress.

    Which is precisely why the White House has to package its efforts to advance the talks, and forestall the threat of increased sanctions, in a manner designed to appeal to them.

  7. Perhaps I should just ask you more clearly (and this is not rhetorical I value your opinion). If we remove the threat and reality of sanctions what negotiating chips do we have to make sure Iran only enriches fuel for civilian purposes and has only a breakout capacity. You said before that a “comprehensive security agreement” would be something that could be offered. Could you elaborate further, perhaps in another post?

    • As stated, even the Israelis don’t believe Iran is working on a bomb, nor do they believe Iran would use one on Israel. The sanctions are in place because they keep Iran’s economy behind the 8-ball.

      And it’s Iran’s economic potential that bothers Israel, because a strong Iranian economy would allow Iran to become strong enough militarily to to oppose Israeli designs in the region.

      Surely we don’t think Israel has been cozying up to the Kurds, the Georgians, and now the Azeris just for the benefits of trade, do we?

    • “If we remove the threat and reality of sanctions what negotiating chips do we have to make sure Iran only enriches fuel for civilian purposes and has only a breakout capacity.”

      The offer to remove the sanctions is the only bargaining chip you need and – let’s face it – the whole point of that chip is to play it.

      If the USA puts that offer on the table in return for the Iranians signing the Additional Protocols and agreeing with the much, much stricter inspection regime that goes with that AP, then the Iranians will agree to it in a second.

      Heck, they’d knock Kerry over in their rush to sign it.

      • That is what I’m getting at. Juan seems to be implying that the sanctions shouldn’t be used to extract concessions (because they are ineffective (?)” but he does seem to have another bargaining chip in mind to get the Iranians to submit to inspections…I just wanted a post saying what it was.

        • No, I’m saying that a financial blockade that prevents oil sales goes beyond being sanctions and is dangerous because blockades are acts of war.

  8. Thank you for this clear and important column that shows the dangers of a possible war, much worse than the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. It is true that some of those who are opposing a US-Iranian deal are unaware of the consequences, but there are some who know the alternative and are deliberately pushing for it.

    It is now clear that those who celebrated the demise of the neocons did so prematurely. The inconclusive talks in Geneva prove the power of the Israeli lobby not only in the United States but also in many European countries, especially France. It is now clear where Fabius received his orders from as Gareth Porter explains link to truth-out.org The fact that Secretary Kerry found it fit to blame Iran for the breakdown of the talks erodes Iranian and international confidence in US good faith. Instead of misdirecting the blame, Secretary Kerry could have been more forthright with Fabius, but he too refused to confirm Iran’s right to enrichment link to goingtotehran.com

    However, it is not the end of the road and the failure of talks in Geneva should not be allowed to derail the constructive talks and provide an excuse for the warmongers. link to google.com

    The best solution is to convene another meeting at the ministerial level and this time push for an “end game” agreement and bring the protracted nuclear talks with Iran that have lasted for over ten years to a satisfactory conclusion. Otherwise, it is certain that the warmongers will not sit still and will find excuses to get the United States involved in another disastrous war.

  9. It’s so nice to know, from our window into the White House, cracked occasionally by Presidential apologists to give a peek inside but only when the Emperor happens to be fully clothed, so nice to know that dissembling and dysfunction are to be relied on to produce, in one little corner of the powder magazine we have built as the playing field for the Great Game, that maybe in this corner, this time, the dis-dys will not result in some idiocy striking a match or a spark.

    So comforting, to anyone who puzzles over possible pathways to human survival in a time of universal re-re-re-re-armament and terminal consumption for the benefit of ever fewer, that the future is in such capable hands, ones that but for another idiot fortuity were ready to start flinging Tomahawks at “carefully selected targets” in Syria while adding fuel to the bonfire of horror burning there right now. All while juggling full-bore chain saws, as Really Smart Geopoliticians pull-start ever more saws into motion and toss them into the delicate “balance” that our brilliant President and his men are maintaining to “protect us” and “advance the national interests.”

    Might I encourage one and all, once again, to drop in at syriavideo.net for more REALITY, and go over to youtube and enjoy what you find by calling up the videos cataloged under “Syria sniper head shot”?

  10. The United States definitely should give these negotiations with Iran, under the Rouhani presidency, an honest chance to succeed. Nevertheless, we should be prepared to recognize that, as it has done in the past, particularly with the earlier EU negotiations,Iran may use the negotiations as a stalling tactic with no intention of making major compromises on its nuclear program. This could happen under Rouhani, as he is not the ultimate authority. We need to engage Iran with eyes wide open.

    Regarding sanctions, any attempt to clap additional sanctions on Iran while we are engaged in negotiations should be vigorously opposed by the Obama Administration. But we should not lift sanctions, even partially, as a compromise to assuage Iran. Once lifted, it would be very difficult to get the UNSC and the EU to reinstate sanctions, should Iran not follow through with meaningful steps regarding its nuclear program.

    Instead, we should suspend the sanctions that are in place. By suspending sanctions, rather than lifting them, we could reimpose them easily without UNSC or other approval, as a suspension means they remain in place but in a state of suspense for a period of time, as opposed to lifting or doing away with them. Thus, if Iran balks at any real progress, the sanctions could be easily reimposed. That would have the benefit of giving Iran an incentive to negotiate responsibly, while giving the P5 plus 1 the ability to reimpose sanctions if they don’t.

    • I really see no reason for Iran to make major compromise to their nuclear program. Notice, over time how our demands have changed…first it was no weapon, then weapons production capability and now anything that has the potential to enable a weapons capability. Eventually we will be asking Iranians can not study nuclear energy et al.

      So far nothing Iran has done is contrary to NPT; the security council resolutions are un-democratic and irrelevant as they over-ride a treaty.

      We are doing this because we can….we will eventually turn the non western world against us and when it is strong enough, we will see good bye to dollar as a reserve currency.

      If we are serious about solving problems, address the elephant in the room, namely Israel.

      • We will never address the elephant in the room, but a stronger Iran along with stronger trade relations between other nations is doing that for us. Sanctions on Iran only slow the development of this other trade, but it makes it more important for those nations to develop a reserve currency. When that happens, Israel will need to find a new puppet.

      • “I really see no reason for Iran to make major compromise to their nuclear program.”

        They, of course, do not have to compromise. And if they choose not to compromise, they can live with the consequences of that choice, i.e., the application of even greater sanctions. It is Iran’s choice.

      • I really see no reason for Iran to make major compromise to their nuclear program.

        President Rouhani does.

        Perhaps that’s because he prioritized the Iranian people’s well-being more highly than making a point about Israel.

  11. You are right about the Congress persons. If they really represent the people and not corporations and lobbies, it says a lot about the lamentable state of knowledge and intelligence (brains!) of the USA as an advanced country.
    Most, however, including nearly 100% of the Senate, seem completely under the thrall of AIPAC, regardless of the needs of the USA.
    Iran has threatened nobody (except to retaliate for attacks ie defend themselves) yet proven criminal régimes like Israel and Saudi Arabia can sway the “international community” against the wishes of the populations in most countries and even the survival of us all.

  12. ” So why is Iran different? ”

    I’d opine it’s “different” for a couple of reasons:

    1. It has the 3rd or 4th largest oil reserves in the world. An oil producer of that magnitude cannot be allowed to be an independent minded country. For instance, India defies us all the time…most recently on the oil sanctions.That’s tolerable for India which is seen as just a market for our goods or a source of cheap labor, but not for an oil producer. Controlling oil as leverage over other nations, making sure it’s traded in dollars and “encouraging” oil profits to be recycled into our own economy through weapons, bond and stock purchases are all national interests we’ve long maintained.

    2. You can be a dictator, authoritarian or an oil sheikh that butchers half the country…but don’t deviate from the neo-liberal economic model.

    3. As Noam Chomsky has said, the Godfather cannot tolerate dissent because of the message it sends. Our establishment is still smarting over the revolution and they won’t be happy till they reverse it. ..

  13. I agree. Our fearless leaders in the Congress are civilians. And civilians are clueless when it comes to unforeseen things that can happen when we go to war.

    • “civilians are clueless”

      Oh come on, Mr Hoffman. I think you mean “chickenhawks are clueless” – plenty of “civilians” have made a point of studying history and news and educating themselves as regards war and its “unforeseen” turns.

      Moreover, there are lots of your “brave Warriors®” in the Pentagon who champ at the bit for the chance to try out their new toys in the field, exercise command and get promoted, and win public glory with an eventual path to wealth or political power.

    • I think that for our fearless leaders, including the brass, “unforeseen things” have been so common since Vietnam (or maybe Korea) that there is little expectation of positive results by way of our military violence.

      On the other hand, the use of military violence seems to provide a rush, initially at least. Put a USA boot on the ground somewhere and it’s instant us-against-them, kill-or-be-killed, cost-no-object. When all the dust settles and we find few positives to justify the carnage, we shrug and start looking for a new enemy ws

  14. War can only happen when the US appears warming to Iran and logically must not be subject to the Iranian retaliation.

  15. “And civilians are clueless when it comes to unforeseen things that can happen when we go to war.”

    If they are clueless then that is a choice they have made. The slightest research and a few recent memories can reveal what horrors can happen in wars and how quickly rosy scenarios are shredded. There are other reasons people in Washington choose to go to war: Doing the bidding of others for whom the disastrous consequences of war for others are of no concern – military-industrial-security complex, the Israel Lobby and both of their puppets in Congress. Being of an authoritarian disposition and perhaps being psychopathic or sociopathic should be added to the rap sheet.

  16. “Since Iran is three times as populous than Iraq and several times larger geographically, occupying it would certainly be the nail in the coffin for the U.S.”

    It will never happen.

    During the Carter administration as the hostage crisis raged, 95% of Americans were opposed to military action against Iran. America was five years out of the Vietnam conflict and no one wanted to see another divisive controversy, especially with inflation rates then at an all time high.

    America is now emerging from the Great Recession and Obama won his second term largely by refraining from embroiling the U.S. in another war. The Democrats will lose the support of the left-wing elements of the Democratic Party if a war is initiated in Iran – 2014 elections are on the horizon and they cannot afford to lose such public support.

  17. These personal comments reveal how cruel and pervasive the sanctions against Iran are:

    “Iran Diary: Four Iranians on life in the time of sanctions: For the third time, SPIEGEL asked residents of Tehran to compile a diary about everyday life in Iran. In this installment, some 100 days after President Hassan Rohani took office, four Iranians share their hopes, fears and daily woes.” by Nasrin Bassiri and Dieter Bednarz – link to spiegel.de

    They also reveal how inhumane some people can be.

  18. I have found it somewhat odd that so many people over look “Why would Iran want Nukes?” Perhaps this is glossed over because the answer is uncomfortably obvious: Nuclear Weapons are the only way to assure that the USA won’t invade. We invaded the countries on either side of them already.
    Pakistan is the case in point. Pak has nukes and so it gets hundreds of millions a year in bribes I mean aid. Afghanistan had no nukes so they get invaded for a decade or two.

  19. Carney might be trying to stir up U.S. the public against sanctions the way they eventually opposed attacking Syria. Still, its alarming rhetoric all the same.

  20. Israel, Pakistan and India all refused to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and went for broke to construct nuclear warheads. The US backs Israel’s bomb-making to the hilt. It never sanctioned India. And it has long since made peace with Pakistan’s, recently renewing billions in foreign aid to that country. So why is Iran different?

    First of all, those other countries developed their nuclear programs in secret – Mark Koroi posted a fascinating history of Israel’s in the comments yesterday – and presented the US with a fait accompli. Iran hasn’t – which is highly unusual, and raises the possibility that bargaining their program away was the plan all along.

    Second, this President takes non-proliferation a great deal more seriously than his predecessors.

    Third, there is a significant segment of American politics for whom the Iranian nuclear program is, like the alleged Iraqi WMD programs and the Syrian chemical war crime, merely a pretext for a confrontation they want for other reasons. They are the same people who treated the deal to eliminate Syria’s chemical arsenal a defeat for the US, and who didn’t change their minds about the Iraq War in the slightest once the WMDs failed to turn up.

    • Incredible. You really maintain that the separate huge developments of nuclear weapons by India and Pakistan were conducted “in secret and presented the US with a fait accompli”? That our vaunted sneaky-petes were caught flat-footed after all the crap that guys like A.Q. Khan pulled? Even the Israeli program — no one in the burgeoning oligosecuritomilitarindustrial kleptocracy was aware of their “motions,” even from the stuff Mr. Koroi referenced? link to fas.org I like the way “the US” “suspended sanctions” on those programs “in the national interest.”

      Extra points for your plug for “this President,” which of course is in every place you can insert one, from wherever you so furiously post. Really? Obama is more serious than all his predecessors on non-proliferation?

      It appears that “Iran-Contra” is still alive, maybe as just “Contra Iran,” as a tenet of National Interest Politics among those rulers of ours who appear to be confused and dopey and lost, in the complexity and personal profit-seeking opportunism and ego- and career-building, about all the weird and wonderful and uncontrollably horrible stuff that they and their predecessors have set in motion by all that “grasping” and “pivoting…”

      And I see that opium production from Afghanistan reached another record high this last twelvemonth… Way to go, all you Policymakers!

    • The US knew all about the Pakistani program in detail. I asked a USG person at the Lahore embassy about this in the 1980s & he said we told Islamabad not to assemble the bomb. We needed Pakistan in 1980s versus Soviets in Afghanistan.

      • Is it impolite to ask, “Did ‘WE’ really NEED Pakistan?” Which ones of “us,” what “elements” of “Pakistan,” for what purpose(s) again, and how has that all worked out? So far?

        I know, it’s just the diction of Grand Geopolitics that “we” are all so used to and apparently comfortable with and, maybe even for some of us, smug in the illusion that using the form puts us in the “inside group,” no matter how “it” misleads away from maybe a healthier understanding of the inescapable truth, with the gravity well and our frail physiologies and limbic systems and apparently inexhaustible “consumer demand” and “Call of Duty: End of the World” being what they are, that WE ARE ALL STUCK IN THIS SAME HOLE TOGETHER????

        I hear there are actually ways to get out of holes and pits, but they usually involve some kind of altruism and cooperation. Of course, our myths and fables and epics tell a lot about the chances of that working out well… link to aesopfables.com

  21. What has being at war with North Korea since the Truman administration gotten us: Troops in South Korea.

    What came of talking to North Korea: Years of sliding sideway.

    What came of bellicose language towards North Korea: North Korea becoming a nuclear state.

    What conflicts past and future pushed India to become a nuclear state: China?

    What conflicts past, present, and future pushed Pakistan to become a nuclear state: India.

    How can these non-proliferation failures inform current circumstances between the US and Iran?

    Many hail the G H W Bush administration’s efforts to build a multinational force to drive Iraq out of Kuwait and impose sanctions on Iraq. What were the results of those actions: Thousands of Iraqi infants and children died unnecessarily because the government misallocated its remaining wealth and G W Bush went to war with Iraq.

    How should we apply the history of past sanctions to the current situation with Iran?

    Iraq was our joker card against expanding Iranian power in the region and we misplayed it repeatedly.

    We need to talk to the Iranians until we are blue in the face, pause momentarily to catch our collective breaths, and talk some more.

    And while we are at it, we should dismantle half of our nuclear arsenal repeatedly.

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