Why They Really Think They Must Defeat Iran

“The problem of the Iranian regime has become entrenched over the course of an entire generation,” Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns told the House International Relations Committee March 8. “It may require a generational struggle to address it, but we have no choice but to do so.” As the International Atomic Energy Agency—heavily pressured by the U.S. to condemn Iran—was meeting to finalize a report to the UN Security Council about the country’s nuclear program, Burns (the number three man in the State Department) left little doubt as to Washington’s ultimate intentions. “We must defeat Iran in its pursuit of nuclear weapons and its sponsorship of terrorism and its subjugation of the people of Iran.”

He might as well have just said, “We must defeat Iran” and left it at that. The nuclear weapons, terrorism and repression issues are all pretexts for regime change, just as they were with Iraq. If Burns were more candid, less Straussian, he might say something like the following:

“The Iranian regime, which emerged after a popular uprising toppled our puppet the Shah in 1979, has been able to survive these many years. That’s a damned shame, because from 1953 to 1979 the U.S. called the shots in that populous, petroleum-rich, strategically located country which we’d placed on a par with NATO allies by the 1970s. It was an incalculable loss—we’re still not reconciled to it—made all the worse because we couldn’t just dismiss it as an anti-American plot by anyone in particular. The uprising was so huge and inclusive, involving the revolutionary left, progressive democrats, various Islamists and pretty much everybody. The fact is, it happened because our Shah had subjugated the people of Iran, just as we accuse the present government of doing, and the people rebelled as subjugated people tend to do.

“What we could do was use the ‘hostage crisis’ (that occurred after we refused to hand over the Shah for trial) to encourage anti-Iranian feeling and aggressive nationalism here in the U.S. back in the Carter and Reagan years. In a country burned by the Vietnam War and beset by the pacifistic “Vietnam Syndrome,” the outpouring of bloodlust was a comforting sign that Americans might once again unite behind a ‘good war’ against dehumanized others. But the regime became entrenched, despite the Iraqi war of aggression against it in the 1980s—which we supported, of course—and our tireless efforts to undermine it.

“But since 9-11 we’ve found that we can manipulate public opinion against any Muslim target, by raising fears of terrorist attacks and mushroom clouds over New York. Fortunately, Iran supports Palestinian and Lebanese organizations that we, for our own and Israel’s reasons, list as ‘terrorist.’ Fortunately, many Americans are willing to believe that all the Muslim ‘terrorist’ groups are somehow linked to those who attacked the U.S. four and a half years ago. They’re altogether willing to believe they’re all linked—if only through the presence of Evil in the cosmos—to al-Qaeda. So we can tell them that Iran is trying to build nukes, and repeat that again and again. Inclined to believe the worst about Muslims they’ll buy our claims. Of course we don’t really know what Iran’s up to, and the scientists tell us that Iran’s years away from the ability to produce nukes. We just assume, anyway, that any government leading a big self-respecting country like Iran—which is surrounded by nuclear China, India, Pakistan, Russia and Israel and targeted for overthrow by our nuclear selves—probably does want to have nuclear weapons someday. So what we need to say is, they’re definitely working on nukes, right now, and even though of course an Iran with nukes would no more threaten the U.S. than (say) Pakistan, we can throw down the gauntlet on this issue.

“So when we say ‘we have no choice’ but to ‘address’ the ‘Iranian problem’ and ‘defeat it,’ we don’t really mean we feel any actual necessity to smash Iran to defend the U.S. (We don’t even think we need to do it to defend Israel, although of course Iran’s a much bigger threat to Israel than to us, and we need to emphasize that issue—as the president has—before some audiences more than others. It gets a bit tricky, because on the one hand you want to gather support from AIPAC and other groups who’ve been calling the Iranian government an “existential threat” to Israel and desperately promoting a U.S. attack on Iran as the preferred alternative to an Israeli one. On the other, you don’t want people saying, ‘Bush wants to attack Iran just to help Israel.’ You want to kind of downplay that aspect, and if people start playing it up in the wrong way, you need to accuse them of anti-Semitism and make them shut up.)

“The real necessity we feel here, ladies and gentlemen, is the need to compete with other imperialist countries for geopolitical position in this post-Cold War era, especially in this region overflowing with oil. Used to be that if we wanted to attack one of these countries we’d have to deal with the Soviet Union! But here nowadays we have this huge chunk of real estate stretching from Central Asia to the Mediterranean, this slough of nasty Muslim states that’s up for grabs. If we control it, through puppet regimes, dot it with military bases, capitalize its development, control the flow of petroleum products from it—well, then, we’ll be well-positioned to take on any emerging rivals. We’ll have Europe and Japan and China over a barrel. We have no choice but to seize the opportunity to build empire—or risk decline vis-à-vis our friendly and less friendly contenders in what we intend to make the “New American Century.”

“Now, we can’t put it in those terms for public consumption, because normal Americans don’t think empire-building’s worth the lives of their kids. But just between you and me, Congressmen and Congresswomen, if we’re going to pull this off we have to use ‘noble lies’ to scare the masses and make them think we must defeat Iran. Any attack on Iran in the near future will be entirely a war of choice. But we must say in public the exact opposite to obtain our goals. We really have no choice but to say we have no choice in order to take advantage of the opportunities.”

GARY LEUPP is Professor of History at Tufts University, and Adjunct Professor of Comparative Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa Japan; Male Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is also a contributor to CounterPunch’s merciless chronicle of the wars on Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia, Imperial Crusades.

He can be reached at: gleupp@granite.tufts.edu




Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu