Why aren’t the Left up in arms? Where are those extravagantly costumed protesters with their smart-alecky placards? America et al may not have formally declared war on Iran, but if the present circumstances constitute “peace” then military action could be scarcely much worse. Western drones may not be yet vapourising Iranian soldiers, but the latest sanctions to be implemented by the West are deliberately designed to pauperise the Iranian middle class, starve the poor, and cause incalculable death and destruction by disrupting medical supplies. Usually Western interventions into the affairs of sovereign nations are cloaked in heartfelt humanitarian concern, and so these sanctions constitute a rare display of naked cruelty. In leaders who had previously pledged to “Make Poverty History,” the hypocrisy is magnificent.
This warfare is economic rather than military because Iran is a lot more threatening to Western interests as a prosperous nation than as a tinpot state with weapons of mass destruction. An uncooperative military junta can be always neutralised through bribery and corruption; a wealthy nation may not agree to be told what to do in exchange for “aid.” It may broker trade deals with China or transform itself into a regional shipping and energy hub. It may become sophisticated and credible, instead of serving its designated national purpose of being a mere supply region to the West.
The economic and military responses to Iran are bizarrely conflated in the official justification for the sanctions: Iran’s “nuclear ambitions” and its “nuclear programme.” Even within “sexed up” dossiers, there is presently less solid intelligence that Iran is seeking to obtain nuclear weapons than there was in 2003 that its neighbour was concocting “weapons of mass destruction.” When Leon Panetta, the US secretary of defence, was asked in January whether there was any evidence that Iran was actually making a nuclear bomb, he replied ‘No. But we know that they’re trying to develop a nuclear capability.’ Iran’s energy policy and its investment in its own future are henceforth, in the eyes of the West, indistinguishable from its military ambitions. Iran can only become “peaceful” by agreeing to be poorer.
As always with Western foreign policy, you do not have to look very far to find inconsistency. Argentina – a previous and possibly future opponent of British territorial interests – is openly investing in nuclear submarines and refusing to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to fully inspect its flourishing nuclear facilities. Other developing nations are in various stages of nuclear expansion. Indeed, in an irony in extremis, if our country participates in a war against Iran over its nuclear ambitions, we may be at the same time having nuclear power stations built in Britain by a Chinese government which is simultaneously allied with Iran.
Since Iran is increasingly investing in the infrastructure needed to export natural resources to Pakistan and China, it has to be dealt with quickly, before it is too tied up with the interests of America’s own allies. Forget the nuclear gibberish of the IAEA – in this war, the nuclear bomb is inflation. Following the West’s latest oil embargo against Iran, with tankers left stranded in ports, there has been a mass dumping of the indigenous currency, the rial, which has fallen by forty per cent over the last week. By the close of trading yesterday, a single dollar was worth about 34,800 rials. The sharp-elbowed may purchase black-market currency, but many people will be left with worthless money. The Iranian regime’s bumbling efforts may have hastened a deterioration in confidence, but policies such an oil-for-food programme with India are essentially keeping the country fed.
When it comes to sanctions, one would think that the Iraqi precedent might be mildly off-putting. After the first Gulf war, Saddam Hussein buried himself in his palaces to lick his wounds, leaving the Iraqi people to face a Western sanctions regime so monstrous that by 1996 at least half a million children had died of malnutrition:
Lesley Stahl (CBS’s 60 Minutes): We have heard that half a million children have died in Iraq. I mean, that’s more children than died in Hiroshima. And you know, is the price worth it?
Madeleine Albright (US Secretary of State): I think this is a very hard choice, but the price? We think the price is worth it.
Part of the reason why the Stop-the-War brigade were so angry in 2003 was that Tony Blair was speaking out of both sides of his face: claiming that his military intervention would help the Iraqi people to overthrow a “ruthless dictator,” whilst defending a sanctions regime which had left Saddam Hussein’s government as one of the few remaining sources of capital in Baghdad and entrenched the dictator’s personal power. It would be difficult enough for the Iraqi people to overthrow Saddam even if they were not fighting for daily survival in the teeth of absolute poverty. By 2001, the UN estimated that 60 per cent of the Iraqi population had no regular access to clean water. The FAO calculated that 70 per cent of all women were suffering from anaemia.
Iran may be spared the Iraqi ordeal through its trade with the BRIC nations, who are together dissenting from America’s current policy towards Iran. It is early days for the Iranian sanctions, but they seem to have been applied experimentally, to rock the country and see what happens. As with Iraq, however, the sanctions may represent what the anti-imperialist commentator Eric Draitser has termed, “a necessary prelude to either regime change or war.”
If yet another war will add to the grey hairs of America’s long-suffering bank manager, Iran may conform to a textbook intervention. A second-term Obama would be best insulated against public disapproval and the Israeli government would happily volunteer as a military proxy. Iran’s air defences are apparently ancient and the country is undoubtedly riddled with adventurers and opportunists who would be game for trying to dislodge the present regime. The peril for America is that the Iranian regime may be openly backed by China, which could set the clock back to before Nixon’s diplomacy. In any event, Western military action could not guarantee in the long term that a relaunched Iran would not sue for economic partnership with China: the very autonomy which intervention is designed to thwart in the first place.
You would have to be rather simple to lie awake at night worrying about Iran’s nuclear reactors. The situation may remain uncertain, but several more unstable nations already possess nuclear arsenals. If Iran was allowed to do whatever it wants, I would gamble everything on it growing prosperous and maturing into a modern democracy. At the conclusion of the Cold War and during the “Arab Spring,” developing countries cast off superfluous tyrannies in their quest for a better future. If left to author its own destiny, Iran can and will do the same.