Iran Under Siege

The European Union is imposing more severe sanctions on Iran, while U.S. leaders debate whether they should officially support an Israeli military attack.  The cavalier nature of “debates” concerning Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons development assume that it is the right of the U.S. and its allies to do whatever they want to Iran, whenever they want, however they want.  This is a recipe not only for criminal aggression, but devastation and imperial terror on a massive scale.

European sanctions against Iran seek to target the country’s energy, trade, and banking industries by blocking dozens of individuals and companies from doing any business with the country.  The sanctions are described by the BBC as some of “the most far reaching sanctions adopted by the EU against any country.”  The export of equipment and technology needed for refining and producing natural gas are prohibited, while money transfers from European countries to Iran (of more than 10,000 Euros) will be subject to the approval of national officials.

Republicans in the House of Representatives have introduced a new bill that would grant “support for the State of Israel’s right to defend Israeli sovereignty, to protect the lives and safety of the Israeli people, and to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within reasonable time.”  Those who are unsure about a looming attack will no doubt remind Americans that speculation over U.S. or Israeli attacks on Iran have been commonplace for years.  This is no doubt true, although it ignores the fact that a Congressional bill represents a new precedent – it’s a radical, yet formal step, toward making war with Iran a reality.  Also, war may be one step closer in light of comments from Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, who announced this month that “Israel won’t attack Iran before sanctions [are] allowed to work.”

As Haaretz reports, the former CIA chief, Michael Hayden, is also now warning that “military action against Iran now seems more likely because no matter what the U.S. does diplomatically, Tehran keeps pushing ahead with its suspected nuclear program.” In his own words, Hayden explained that during the Bush years, “a strike was way down on the list of options,” but now such an attack “seems inexorable….In my personal thinking, I have begun to consider that that [a military strike] may not be the worst of all possible outcomes.”

The “soft” approach to dealing with Iran – as represented by the EU sanctions – is likely to further worsen relations with the country, preventing any effective future negotiations.  Suzanne Maloney, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution warns that “It’s almost impossible to find anyone here in Washington who believes sanctions will make any difference…the Iranian leadership has demonstrated that under pressure they are most averse to compromise.”    Of course, “compromise” through “negotiations” has never been the U.S. goal, either under Bush or Obama.

The Bush administration long maintained that negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program would not move forward unless Iran agreed in advance to end its enrichment of uranium (currently being developed to power its first nuclear power plant, which is still in development).   Obama also initially made the suspension of enrichment a precondition for negotiations once assuming office.  These expectations on the part of Bush and Obama were always unrealistic and appear designed to derail negotiations.  As former UN weapons inspector Hans Blix argued, Iran was faced with a “neocolonial attitude” on the part of U.S. officials: “Iranians have resisted all the time saying, no, we are willing to talk about the suspension of enrichment, but we are not for suspension before talks.  I would be surprised if a poker player would toss away his trump card before he sits down at the table.  Who does that?”

The “halting uranium enrichment in advance of talks” precondition was dropped in April 2009, and by late in the year Obama was pushing a new round of “negotiations” in which U.S. officials demanded that Iran ship its uranium to Russia and France for enrichment prior to returning it for use in Iran’s civilian program.  Of course, these “negotiations” were disingenuous in that at no point did the U.S. promise that the shipping of Iran’s uranium would be accompanied by a reduction or end to sanctions.  Quite the contrary, the talk in late 2009 was always geared toward promoting stronger sanctions.  As the Washington Post reported in October, preliminary talks between Iranian and American officials were seen merely as “reduc[ing] for now the threat of additional sanctions, which has been made repeatedly by the United States and others over the past weeks.”

Further obstacles to negotiations should be obvious enough, although they’ve been ignored by U.S. officials and journalists.  The continued U.S. and Israeli threats to bomb Iran were never removed during the “negotiations,” meaning that Iran was essentially being forced into concessions at the point of a gun.  Additionally, the U.S. talk of intensifying sanctions shortly before the meeting, and subsequent support for additional sanctions leveled this year by the EU, are hardly signs that it is serious about pushing for reconciliation or a meeting of the minds.

U.S. assumptions that Iran should concede on major points of negotiation prior to an agreement, in order to remove the threat of regime change and escalating sanctions, are nonsensical at a time when Iran’s only bargaining chip is its continued enrichment of uranium.  Why would Iranian leaders give up their only leverage point without an explicit promise to end the sanctions?  Why end the enrichment of uranium if U.S. officials aren’t willing to concurrently end threats of a military strike?  These questions should be addressed by anyone who wants to have a serious discussion about U.S.-Iranian relations.  That these questions are ignored in U.S. discourse is a sign of how far our intellectual culture has deteriorated under the umbrella of U.S. nationalism and imperial expansion.

ANTHONY DiMAGGIO is the editor of media-ocracy (, a daily online magazine devoted to the study of media, public opinion, and current events.   He is the author of When Media Goes to War (2010) and Mass Media, Mass Propaganda (2008). He can be reached at:





Anthony DiMaggio is Associate Professor of Political Science at Lehigh University. He is the author of Rising Fascism in America: It Can Happen Here (Routledge, 2022), in addition to Rebellion in America (Routledge, 2020), and Unequal America (Routledge, 2021). He can be reached at: A digital copy of Rebellion in America can be read for free here.