Events recently have made John McCain’s boneheaded interpretation of the Beach Boys’ Barbara Ann seem far less inconsequential than he claimed it was, this time last year, while campaigning in South Carolina. His belligerence was, you may recall, prompted by a question from a war veteran on when he thought the US military might “send an air-mail message to Tehran”.
It’s interesting to note, incidentally, that about a month or so before the now Republican presidential candidate’s so-called joke, there were a number of reports about a military build-up in anticipation of an attack planned for this coming spring. The Guardian quoted at the time a Washington-based intelligence analyst who insisted that despite all official claims to the contrary, “we are planning for war”.
Last year, of course, also witnessed the description of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as “specially designated global terrorists” — the first time a branch of a national military has been deemed as such by the White House.
The year also marked the start of a campaign to discredit the optimistic findings of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that stated “with high confidence” that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons programme in 2003. The report — the coordinated judgement of 16 US departments — confirmed earlier findings by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) but was immediately rubbished by George Bush, who insisted upon its release that “Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will continue to be dangerous”.
Jump forward to March 2008 and suddenly — as mind-boggling as it might first appear — we could just be heading for an Iraq redux.
On March 11, Admiral William Fallon — the head of central command — resigned.
His openly stated differences with General David Petraeus — who unequivocally believes “you cannot win in Iraq, solely in Iraq” — and his similarly minded White House bosses were clear long before his recent profile in Esquire magazine. Last year, for instance, he told al-Jazeera: “This constant drumbeat of conflict … is not helpful and not useful. I expect that there will be no war, and that is what we ought to be working for.”
On March 17, Vice-President Dick Cheney began a tour of the Middle East during which a constant refrain was Iran’s “darkening shadow” on the region.
In an extraordinary couple of interviews — the first in Oman — he told ABC both that the NIE couldn’t in effect know what was happening and, its very epistemological opposite, that Iran was “today running centrifuges to enrich uranium to produce a weapon”.
Cheney also said in the second interview in Turkey that “George Bush believes very deeply, and I think absolutely correctly, that he has to do what he thinks is right for the country; that he cannot make judgements based upon what the polls say”.
Although the discussion referred to the fact that two-thirds of Americans regretted the Iraq war (to which Cheney had the temerity to reply: “So?”), the present-tense suggestion is that Bush still might have unpopular decisions to make.
It was left to Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak to be a bit more forthcoming — for when he stepped out from his tête-à-tête with the vice-president, he immediately said: “Israel considers that sanctions [against Iran] are still the order of the day, but no option should be ruled out.”
On March 19, while Cheney was abroad, Bush told the Iranian people on the US government-funded Radio Farda: “I think the people of Iran are going to have to come to the conclusion that a free country is in their interest … [And that] the United States is going to be firm in our desire to prevent the nation from developing a nuclear weapon.”
On March 20, according to a sure-to-be-seminal article in Japan Focus by financial analyst John McGlynn, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) of the US Treasury Department issued an advisory to banks all around the world “to take into account the risk arising from the deficiencies in Iran’s AML/CFT [anti-money laundering and combating the financing of terrorism] regime, as well as all applicable US and international sanctions programmes, with regard to any possible transactions” with any Iranian bank — including the central bank.
In other words, the Treasury, emboldened by certain provisions in the Patriot Act allowing it to argue that the IRGC is a terrorist nexus at the heart of the Iranian economy, has “come up with a way to go beyond governments to use the global banking sector to privatise banking-sector sanctions” against Iran.
The author argues that this act by FinCEN — which effectively cuts the country off from the international finance system — is tantamount to a declaration of war and describes how Treasury officials have criss-crossed the world applying all manner of financial threats to their European counterparts.
But to return to the Ides of March:
Last month also saw — according to US News, the arrival of two warships positioned off the coast of Lebanon and, some would say, the deliberately strategic offensive against the Mahdi Army — the armed wing of the Iraqi political movement lead by Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who has pledged to defend Iran should it be attacked.
Then, on March 22, the German press agency dpa carried a more definitive story — which first appeared in a Saudi newspaper — claiming that the Saudi Shura council had met to discuss “national plans to deal with any sudden nuclear and radioactive hazards that may affect the kingdom following experts’ warnings of possible attacks on Iran’s Bushehr nuclear reactors”.
Of course, if one is to be more analytically rigorous about it, one could retrace a whole series of hawkish sentiments about Iran at least as far back as the proto-neocon Project for the New American Century report, which stated in 2000: “Over the long term Iran may prove as large as threat to US interests in the Gulf as Iraq has.”
Along the way, any future historian will hopefully recall the candid speech of a Texas congressman called Ron Paul who — already two years ago — told the House of Representatives that an attack against Iran was necessary as it had decided (as indeed Iraq had in 2001) to allow oil to be sold in euros, thereby challenging the dollar hegemony implicit in the world’s subsidisation of the American economy.
“There was no public talk of removing Saddam Hussein because of his attack on the integrity of the dollar as a reserve currency by selling oil in euros, [but] many believe this was the real reason for our obsession with Iraq,” said Paul, noting as well that “within a very short period after the military victory, all Iraqi oil sales were carried out [again] in dollars”.
“Iran, especially since she’s made plans for pricing oil in euros,” he went on to say, “has been on the receiving end of a propaganda war not unlike that waged against Iraq before our invasion.”
(That “propaganda war” extends not only, as we have seen, to the NIA but also to the amnesia about a novel proposal by the head of the IAEA that no state should be able to develop potential weapons-grade materials independently but should apply to the agency — for any high enrichment process — instead. As Noam Chomsky points out, the only country to his knowledge that acceded to that proposal was Iran.
Conversely, the only country to reject a similar Fissban treaty whereby there would be a comprehensive ban on the production of all fissile materials — except again under international control — was the United States (147-1) with Britain and Israel abstaining at the 2004 UN Disarmament Commission in the General Assembly.)
Certainly there is reason to be hopeful that Fallon’s resignation demonstrates that powerful establishment figures are tiring of Bush and Cheney’s warmongering, and that may yet still prove decisive. There is also considerable uncertainty over how China and some Europeans will react to being financially blackmailed into isolating an important trading partner.
But there can be no doubt that the fundamentalist rulers of the US — who care very little for the logic of others — have upped the ante.