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War on Iran: It’s Not A Matter of “If”


The world’s press is choc-a-bloc with “if” questions about Iran and war. Will Israel attack? Is Obama, coerced by domestic politics  in an election year, being dragged into war by the Israel lobby? Will he lunch the bombers?  Is the strategy to force Iran into a corner, methodically demolishing its economy by embargoes and sanctions so that in the end a desperate Iran strikes back.

As with sanctions and covert military onslaughts on Iraq in the run up to 2003, the first point to underline is that the US is waging war on Iran. But well aware of the US public’s aversion to yet another war in the Middle East, the onslaught is an undeclared one.

The analogy here is the run up to Pearl Harbor. Let me quote from a useful timeline. On October 7, 1940,   a US Navy IQ analyst Arthur McCollum wrote an 8 point memo on how to force Japan into war with US. Beginning the next day FDR began to put them into effect and all 8 were eventually accomplished.

On February 11, 1941 FDR proposed sacrificing 6 cruisers and 2 carriers at Manila to get into war. Navy Chief Stark objected: “I have previously opposed this and you have concurred as to its unwisdom.

In  March 1941 FDR sold arms  and convoyed them to belligerents in Europe — both acts of war and both violations of international law — the Lend-Lease Act.  On June 23, 1941 Advisor Harold Ickes wrote FDR a memo the day after Germany invaded the Soviet Union, “There might develop from the embargoing of oil to Japan such a situation as would make it not only possible but easy to get into this war in an effective way. FDR was pleased with Admiral Richmond Turner’s report read July 22: “It is generally believed that shutting off the American supply of petroleum will lead promptly to the invasion of Netherland East Indies…it seems certain she would also include military action against the Philippine Islands, which would immediately involve us in a Pacific war.”

The next day FDR froze all Japanese assets in US cutting off their main supply of oil. US. Intelligence information was withheld from Hawaii from this point forward. Against protests from US naval commanders the West Coast fleet was moved to Hawai’i.

John Maynard Keynes once said, “The best way to destroy the capitalist system is to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens.” Ronald Reagan used to attribute this insight to the man he loved to call “Nikolai Lenin”, thundering from podium after podium across America, that Lenin had said “The best way to destroy the capitalist system is to debauch the currency.”

You want a graphic illustration of what US embargoes are doing in the way of debauching Iran’s currency? Here’s a graph of US dollar exchange rates with the Iran rial, from last week:

Imagine if the Iranians had done this to the US dollar? Can you imagine any American politician who would have refrained from calling this an act of war?

To further inflame the leadership in Iran we had last week the murder of Iran nuclear scientist Ahmadi Roshan  which came on the one-year anniversary of the murder of two other Iranian nuclear scientists by similar methods. As CounterPuncher Peter Lee writes, “It  came at a time of heightened tensions (anyway, tensions higher than the usual heightened tensions), inviting the inference that somebody, probably somebody in the region, wants to goad the Iranian government into a response that could start the military action ball rolling.”

As for the embargoes of Iranian oil, Obama is most certainly doing the oil industry a big favor. There have been  industry-wide fears of recession-fueled falling demand and collapse of oil prices. That has led to industry-wide enthusiasm (aided by heavy pressure from the majors) for  strongly cutting total world oil production (and enjoying the bonuses flowing from the subsequent world price rise), with all the cuts to be taken out of the hide of the Iranians. The Financial Times made  clear the need to shrink world production in the following key paragraph in a report last week: “Oil prices have risen above $110 a barrel since Iran threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, the world’s most important oil chokepoint, accounting for about a third of all seaborne traded oil. Oil fell to a low of $99 in October amid global economic growth worries.”

As Pierre Sprey remarked to me, “Note also that this is one of those rare but dangerous moments in history when Big Oil and the Israelis are pushing the White House in the same direction. The last such moment was quickly followed by Dubya’s invasion of Iraq.”

It’s somewhat immaterial to ask whether Obama really wants war with Iran, thus interfering with the “strategic pivot” to Asia. Presidents are creatures of circumstances and lobbies, and Obama is certainly no exception. We have to hope that the traditional prudence of  Iran’s leadership prompts them not to make some desperate retaliatory lunge, such as mining the Straits of  Hormuz, or offering some kindred excuse to the US to up the tempo of the undeclared war it is already waging.

To the Tumbrils! 

Some readers of my consignment last week of certain words to the tumbrils expressed curiosity about the word. A  tumbril  was  a farm cart . They were used to carry prisoners to the guillotine during the French Revolution.

Some more candidates. Fred Gardner writes: “Add ‘Gamechanger’ to the mis- and over-used words of 2011.  For years I’ve winced as lawyers and businessmen and  reporters casually used ‘game’ in reference to the legal system, finance, war itself…  You sometimes see a bumper sticker on a sports car that says ‘the one with the most toys wins.’It makes me want to give them a little nudge with the old Volvo…”

Jon Swift: “Also the drug-treatment shibboleth: ‘The user’s always chasing that first high.’ As though they couldn’t POSSIBLY enjoy it the 875th time. You never hear ‘Religious worshippers are always chasing that first feeling of being at one with God’ or ‘Voters are always chasing that first  thrill they got on entering the booth at 18….’”

Wat Stearns: “I nominate ‘expensed’  and ‘leveraged’ for the tumbrils as well.”

Let me toss in the odious “project,”  initially  favored by the left but now in general currency, attached to almost every human endeavor. Also “conversation” – a way of taming all debate and doctrinal struggle into demure prattle.  And let us note the meteoric rise  of “existential.”

Tumbril time! And if you want a vivid sense of what it was like for  French aristos condemned to death to hear the rattle of the tumbril as it arrived to take him to the guillotines, I advise a trip to the Conciergerie in Paris. Very creepy.

Our Latest Newsletter

This year it’s London’s turn., facing the social disaster of the Olympic Games. Every four years a city gets trashed, and the poor evicted; read  Michael Volpe’s report on what’s already happening in Rio. PLUS The Arab Spring started there, but why’s a huge US embassy going up in Tunis? Rob Prince, gives us the answer, from Tunisia. PLUS  Terror, domination and meat – factory farms and the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act.  Read Rob Urie: “Those familiar with the practices of meat production in America could be forgiven for assuming that any law relating animal enterprises to terrorism was intended to keep factory farmers from terrorizing animals. But, in fact, the law takes the side of the factory farmers’ right to terrorize animals as they see fit and redefines terrorism as nonviolent protest against this system of terrorizing animals. And for readers who are thinking that they are on the safe side in this legal reasoning because they are human, the line is more ethereal than you imagine.” PLUS  The rise and fall of Cesar Chavez and the UFW.  Bill Hatch reviews Frank Bardacke’s Trampling Out the Vintage.


Alexander Cockburn can be reached at



Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

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