Trump, US capitalism and militarism, and Iran

Trump, US capitalism and militarism, and Iran

Bob Sheak, June 25, 2019

There is now a convergence of forces that increase the chances of war against Iran or, for that matter, any nation identified by the Trump administration as a threat to US national security or its designated allies. While Trump is impulsive and seems often poorly informed on foreign policy, US policy and history is riddled with reckless and counterproductive military wars and interventions based on lies and nationalistic propaganda. And, as a rule in US foreign relations, geopolitical considerations overshadow democratic values, human rights, or humanitarian assistance.

One glaring contradiction is that the Trump administration, following previous ones, has close and supportive relations with the authoritarian state of Saudi Arabia, an “absolute monarchy” based on an extreme fundamentalist form of Islam, that is engaged in the extensive bombing and devastation of Yemen, and that has been the home to or influencing the most radical “terrorists” on the planet. There is little or no political freedom here.

Reese Erlich describes Iran’s political system as follows:

“Iran is neither a secular state nor a theocracy, neither a totalitarian dictatorship nor a representative democracy. Conservative, religious, military, and business leaders have institutional control over major government decisions, but they are constrained by elections and sometimes raucous political debate.” (The Iran Agenda Today, p. 90).

Trump inherited the largest armed forces in the world, he loves the media attention he gets when he threatens countries he doesn’t like with even veiled threats of nuclear war – “fire and fury.” In this context, Trump and his key advisers have a hatred for Iran’s government and are trying to find ways to destroy the government, disregarding the harm the policies have on the Iranian people or the potential effects it will have on an already destabilized Middle East.

Framework for this post

I’ll assemble evidence for this post around 8 contentions on not only the US anti-Iranian policies but also how they reflect the large role played by the military in foreign policy. My overall view is twofold. One, the US should reduce its continuing build-up and deployment around the world of its already vast military forces and prioritize diplomacy and finding creative ways for peaceful collaboration with other countries. Two, regarding Iran, the US should reenter the nuclear agreement, end sanctions, stop the provocations and the advances toward war, and enter negotiations on other issues of concern, especially without pre-conditions. Seyed Hossein Mousavian offers “A Roadmap to Peace” in his informative book, Iran and the United States: An Insider’s View on the Failed Past and the Road to Peace (2014).

My arguments

 We are at a point in US history where (1) the drivers of an imperialistic US foreign policy are gaining momentum, (2) the US has massive military forces that extend around the globe and are being used to advance US interests but at great costs and based on misguided premises, (3) the state is gripped by what one analysts calls a “superpower syndrome,” and (4) the country is led by an unstable president.

With respect to Iran, (5) Trump’s foreign policy advisers favor using any means to topple the Iranian government. (6) They have applied a policy of “extreme pressure” on that nation through severe sanctions that have severely disrupted Iran’s economy and created widespread human suffering and even death. (7) The president’s advisers are looking for pretexts to justify a military attack on the country, while (8) there is seemingly no one in the administration and few if any in Republican Party taking seriously the potentially catastrophic consequences of attacking Iran.

Number 1: The outside and inside drivers of foreign policy now

The need for resources

Fundamentally, there are economic as well as political drivers of America’s foreign policy. We have a capitalist economy that must grow and expand or fall into recession or worse. And lacking many of the resources that the economy requires, and at a time when there is international competition and wars over who will control the increasingly scarce resources (e.g., oil, minerals, rare earths, timber, fertile land, fresh water), US leaders of just about all stripes support the need for maintaining a strong military force, the use of sanctions, and other means to intimidate and disrupt governments who oppose US exploitation of their resources.

Michael T. Klare has analyzed this situation in great depth in his publications; for example, in his books Resources Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict (2001) and The Race for What’s Left: The Global Scramble for the World’s Last Resources (2012). Andrew J. Bacevich makes this point his book, America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History (2016). One of Bacevich’s central points is that the vast oil deposits in the Middle East have always been a definitive motivator in US Middle East strategy (p. 1). Indeed, he reminds us that a Democratic President, Jimmy Carter, formalized US strategy around oil when he said:

“Let our position be absolutely clear…. An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force” (p. 28).

Profits – the mega defense contractors, the revolving door and foreign arms sales

The U.S. military is the largest in the world. The military budgets of the US represent have steadily increased. When all military-related expenditures are included, the US is spending over a trillion dollars in recent years. And the US leads by far in the sale of weapons abroad. The large share of the military budget goes to mega-weapons producers. Samuel Stebbens and Evan Comen document that 12 of the largest 20 companies “profiting from war” are in the U.S. including, for example, Lockheed Martin Corp (#1), Boeing (#2), Ratheon (#3), Northrup Grumman Corp (#5), Benval Dynamics Corp (#6) (

American companies account for 57% of total arms sales by the world’s largest defense contractors. At the top is Maryland-based Lockheed Martin, with an estimated $44.9 billion in arms sales in 2017, including deals with governments all over the world. It’s share of the US budget is “more than the total annual budgets of the IRS and the Environmental Protection Agency, combined.”

Peter Castagno identifies some of the connections between the mega “defense” companies and foreign policy, involving (1) a circulation of people between the mega-defense contractors and high positions in government, (2) how presidents, continuing under Trump promote foreign military weapons sales by the mega-defense contractors, and (3) how Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Deal, The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, generated a demand from other countries for American-made weapons (

First, on the revolving door, Castagno posits that it “has long distorted US foreign policy to serve war profiteers at the expense of the public interest and basic humanitarian norms,” and that now “global arms trade is experiencing its greatest boom since the Cold War,” because of the assumption that the private sector should be little regulated and allowed to follow the profits.

Before entering the White House but after winning the presidential election, Trump said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday” in December 2016: “You, know, they make a deal like that and then a year later, or two years later, or three years later, you see them working for these big companies that made the deal.” The implication is that he did not approve of the revolving door. He is also is reported to have asserted his belief in a “lifetime restriction” on top defense officials working for private defense contractors after their public service.”

However, what transpired in his first two years in the White House belie his statements. Castagno gives examples of the revolving door under trump. Patrick Shanahan, the current interim head of the Defense Department “spent three decades working for Boeing. Heather Wilson, “who has been secretary of the Air Force since 2017,” had been a lobbyist for Lockheed Martin. Mark T. Esper, the secretary of the Army, previously “worked as vice president of government relations for Raytheon before joining the Trump administration in 2017.” Castagno adds: “The Hill recognized Esper as one of Washington’s most powerful corporate lobbyists in 2015 and 2016, where he fought to influence acquisition policy and other areas of defense bills.”

Second, Castagno examines the “armament industry’s influence on foreign policy” during Trump’s presidency “through directives in official arms export policy.” He offers two examples. On November 2018, the State Department’s updated the Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) Policy Implementation Plan. It promotes the weapons sales for the mega-defense companies by loosening restrictions on the sale of drones and other weapons and providing new financing options for countries who can’t afford U.S. weaponry. Castagno says there are plans by the administration “to put pressure on diplomats to put arms deals at the forefront of their mission.”

Third, when Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, “defense companies enjoyed an immediate boost to their stock, Castagno reports. “This is because demand in the arms trade surges alongside geopolitical instability.” And the intensifying on Iran since then, have motivated countries in the Middle East to buy more armaments in the face of anticipated conflict and possibly a new war involving the US and Iran.

To exploit cheap, foreign cheap labor

John Smith summarizes this point in his book, Imperialism In the Twenty-First Century: Globalization, Super-Exploitation, and Capitalism’s Final Crisis (2016). He writes:

“The vast wave of outsourcing of production processes to low-wage countries, enabled by the fortuitous arrival of ICT [information and communication technologies] and rapid advances in transportation technology, was a strategic response to the twin crises of declining profitability and overproduction that resurfaced in the 1970s in the form of stagflation and synchronized global recession.

“Outsourcing has boosted profits of firms across the imperialist world and helped to sustain the living standards of its inhabitants, but this has led to deindustrialization, has intensified capitalism’s imperialistic and parasitic tendencies, and has piled up global imbalances that threaten to plunge the world into destructive trade wars” (p. 313).

To maintain a certain standard of living in America

Additionally, US elites and many if not most US citizens want a good, it not affluent, material standard of living and believe that the nation is “exceptional” and, without often giving it much thought, entitled to continue claiming a disproportionate share of the earth’s bounty and economic wealth.

Historian Andrew J. Bacevich makes the point that our economic system is built on the imperative of ever-increasing economic growth and consumption, which require access to foreign resources, commodities, and markets. He writes: “The collective capacity of our domestic political economy to satisfy these appetites has not kept pace with demand.” He continues: “As a result, sustaining our pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness at home requires increasingly that Americans look beyond the borders to accommodate the American way of life” (The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, p. 9).

Number 2: The US has massive and increasing military forces are located around the world, and being used for all sorts of purposes, few if any of which have anything to do with support for “development” projects.

Tom Engelhardt offers an informative “six-category rundown” of what he calls “American extremity on a global scale,” or the extreme size and deployment of the US military (

The point of going into this is that it is further validation of the view that we have a foreign policy that rests increasingly on an enormous military establishment. And, to underline a point, there are powerful arms producers and contractors (the military-industrial complex) and huge intelligence and surveillance networks that all depend on taxpayer money. And the more war or threat of war, the more they benefit.

#1 – Garrisoning the globe – Engelhardt writes, “The US has an estimated 800 or so military bases or garrisons, ranging from the size of small towns to tiny outposts, across the planet.” They are “everywhere” – “Europe, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America,” and the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba. There are 450,000 military personnel stationed outside US borders. And there are six military commands which organize all this around plans and priorities emanating from the Pentagon and White House.

#2 – Funding the military – “The US puts approximately a trillion dollars [annually] in taxpayer funds into its military, its 17 intelligence agencies, and what’s now called ‘homeland security.’” As widely reported, the national security budget far exceeds those of other countries and continue to rise, year in and year out. There is so much money flowing to and through the Pentagon that there is no record of a significant portion of the funds that have been spent. For example, in an article published by Truthdig, Lee Camp reports, “The Pentagon’s own numbers show that it can’t account for $21 trillion. Yes, I mean trillion with a ‘T’ (

#3 – Fighting Wars – In Engelhardt’s words: “The US has been fighting wars nonstop since the US invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. That’s almost 17 years [now 18] of invasions, occupations, air campaigns, drone strikes, special operations raids, naval and missile attacks, and so much more, from the Philippines to Pakistan, Afghanistan to Syria, Libya to Niger. And in none of those places is such war making truly over.” None of this is considered extreme, or thought bout at all, by the US government, media, or probably most citizens. This “American-style war, despite invasions of countries thousands of miles away and the presidentially directed targeting of individuals across the globe for assassination by drone with next to no regard for national sovereignty is not considered extreme.”

#4 – Destroying cities – Since the destruction of the World Trade towers on September 11, 2001, “the US has had a major hand in destroying not just tower after tower, but city after city – Fallujah, Ramadi, and Mosul in Iraq, Raqqa in Syria, Sirte in Libya – as “parts or all of them were turned into literal rubble.”

#5 – Displacing people – The US wars have “helped to displace a record number of human beings since the last days of World War II.” Experts at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, provides some numbers of the number of refugees created by the US initiative and led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (

“Over 8.4 million people in these war zones have been displaced, either abroad or within their own countries, and are living in grossly inadequate conditions. An additional 12.6 million people in Syria have been displaced by the fighting, many as a result of the US fight against the Islamic State in that country.

“Refugees also face difficulties in renewing visas, the denial of civil rights and services, the fear of deportation, and anxiety about the future.

“Many displaced persons, usually poorer migrants who lack the finances necessary to travel abroad, have had to relocate within their countries. For example, in Baghdad, internally displaced persons (IDPs) often squat in bombed-out buildings with no water, electricity, sewage, or garbage disposal. Precarious living conditions are further heightened by unemployment.

“Those who have managed to escape the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have fled to nearby states including Pakistan, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, and Iran. The refugee influx into these countries has strained their resources and the livelihoods of their urban working classes. Given the continued reluctance of Western states to resettle Iraqi and Afghan refugees, the limited international assistance received by host states, and the uncertainty as to time of return, the refugee situation continues to worsen.”

#6 – Arming the planet (and its own citizens as well) – With the support of the government, US weapons makers “have outpaced all possible competitors in global arms sales.” Peter Castagno compiles recent numbers in his article entitled “The Arms Trade is Intensifying Under Trump” ( Here’s some of what he writes.

“The global arms trade is experiencing its greatest boom since the Cold War, fueled by horrific wars in the Middle East and revitalized power rivalries among China, Russia and the United States. In their most recent report, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute revealed a 44 percent increase in arms sales from 2002 to 2017. The United States is the world’s biggest arms exporter by far, holding 34 percent of total market share — a 58 percent lead on Russia, its closest competitor. From 2017 to 2018, U.S. arms sales to foreign governments increased 33 percent, in part due to the Trump administration’s diminished legal restraints on supplying foreign militias.”

Number 3: The state is gripped by a “superpower syndrome”

 The US appears to be caught in the grip, and has been, of what Robert Jay Lifton defines as “a superpower syndrome,” referring to “a national mindset – put forward by a tight-knit leadership group – that takes on a sense of omnipotence, of unique standing in the world that grants it the right to hold sway over all other nations. See his book SuperPower Syndrome: America’s Apocalyptic Confrontation with the World, published in 2003. This syndrome increases the chances that the US will use all its power to get its way in international relations and, as it turns out, with special reliance on military power.

Number 4: An unstable president

In addition to the forces driving foreign policy already examined, America has a president who is mercurial, maliciously narcissistic, a chronic liar (11,000 or so according to a count by the Washington Post), who has surrounded himself with war mongers. As one example of Trump’s key advisers, see John Feffer’s article, “Bolton in Wonderland” ( Feffer’s main point is that Bolton would like to see many of the hotspots around the world settled by war. Here’s some of what Feffer writes.

“The Trump administration is currently facing the consequences of its erratic foreign policy. Put a pin in the map of the world and you’ll either hit an example of U.S. foreign policy failure or, at best, another part of the globe that the administration is studiously ignoring. Conflicts are escalating with Iran and Venezuela. U.S. support of Saudi Arabia and Israel is producing enormous backlash in the region. The trade war with China is back on after the failure of the latest round of negotiations. Talks with North Korea have stalled, and Pyongyang is losing patience.

“John Bolton has a rather consistent answer to all of these foreign policy challenges: maximum pressure. He’d like to see regime change in Venezuela, Iran, and North Korea. He’d risk war to achieve these ends.”

But we must not forget that Trump is at the center of power, with awesome power, including the power to launch nuclear weapons virtually uncontested. The erratic behavior of Trump himself has been considered by experts in such books as Rocket Man: Nuclear Madness and the Mind of Donald Trump, edited by John Gartner, Steven Buser & Leonard Cruz, or The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President, edited by Bandy Lee, the organizer of the “Yale ‘Duty to Warn’ Conference.

The point: Trump and advisers like Bolton add volatile ingredients to an already dangerous situation.

Number 5: Hawkish views prevail in foreign policy and justify imposing maximum pressure on Iran, with the military option in the offing

Trump did not originate the hostility toward Iran but has intensified it. Helene Cooper and Edward Wong offer a summary of Trump’s policies, between May 2018 and May 2019.

“Since May 2018, the Trump administration has withdrawn from the major powers agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program, reimposed punishing sanctions on Tehran, demanded that allies choose between Iranian oil and doing business in the American market, and <ahref="; declared "the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organization” (

In 2015, as reported by BBC, “Iran agreed to a long-term deal on its nuclear program with a group of world leaders known as the P5+1 – the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany” ( The plan, as noted, is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

“Negotiated over several years with European allies, China, and Russia, the agreement was a triumph of international diplomacy. It successfully blocked each of Iran’s pathways to the bomb, without provoking a military conflict. The deal worked. Iran ended its dangerous nuclear activities and submitted to the most intrusive inspections and monitoring regime in existence today

Cirincioni and Kaszynski point out that subsequent reports by the US intelligence community, the Israeli intelligence community, and the quarterly reports of the International Atomic Energy Agency have confirmed that Iran remains in full compliance (

The agreement was undermined by the US in May 2018 when Trump abandoned the landmark deal and in November of that year “reinstated sanctions targeting both Iran and the states that trade with it.” Trump’s withdrawal from the nuclear deal with Iran, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was done unilaterally. Joe Cirincioni and Mary Kaszynski write the other signatories to the agreement, and US allies generally, along with “the vast majority of national security experts and former officials support the Iran anti-nuclear accord”

Following Trump’s action, the UK, Germany and France, all opposed to the US sanctions, “set up an alternative payment mechanism aimed at helping international companies trade with Iran without facing US penalties. The effects of the alternative mechanism have been ineffective. So, in May 2019, “Iran suspended commitments under the agreement and gave the other signatories a 60 day deadline [until July 2019] to protect it from US sanctions, otherwise it would resume production of highly enriched uranium.”

Further actions against Iran

 The administration is doing its deviously best to undermine the Iranian economy, imposing more and more severe sanctions, intimidating US allies to go along with the sanctions, and in the process generating untold suffering on the Iranian people. The policies also encourage terrorist groups, like MEK (People’s Mujahideen of Iran), to continue their mayhem within Iran. In his book, Iran and the United States, Seyed Hossein Mousavian earlier, writes:

“Terrorism in Iran has claimed the lives of thousands of civilians and more than 200 members of government, including a former president and prime minister, members of parliament, and military officials. Others such as the current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei and former President and Majlis Speaker Hashemi Rafsanjani, have suffered injury at the hands of terrorists. Iranians therefore know all too well the meaning and impact of terrorism. And it is widely known, the Iranian government was the first in the Islamic world to extend its condolences to the U.S. following the 9/11 attacks….” (p. 239).

Trump has closed US embassies in the country, increased US naval and combat forces in the region, while the military sends drones that are flown very close to or over Iran airspace to collect information on potential military targets. All the while, key players in the White House, National Security Adviser Bolton and Secretary of State Pompeo, continuously concoct and look for opportunities to justify military attacks on Iran.

Aside from Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Arab Emirates, all of whom urge military action against Iran, there is little or no support from other countries for a war with Iran because of the anticipated additional chaos, death, and destruction it would bring to a region already in shatters, if not to the whole world.

Cirincione and Kaszynski inform us to how the momentum for war is building in the Trump-led US government.

“U.S. intelligence officials have said that recent military posturing from Iran ‘is in response to the administration’s aggressive steps over the last two months.’ But as in other conflict spirals, U.S. actions are ignored in the official statements. ‘The National Security Strategy lists Iran as one of the four top threats, and we just need to be sure we’ve got the capability to deter them from these kinds of activities, threatening American lives and facilities, threatening the international oil market,’ National Security Advisor John Bolton said of the new deployment of 1,000 U.S. troops to the Gulf, adding that ‘they would be making a big mistake if they doubted the president’s resolve on this.’

“Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, is working full-time to lay the groundwork for military strikes. In a recent closed-door briefing with members of Congress, Pompeo suggested that the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force—the legal authority for the war in Afghanistan—allows the administration to launch military strikes against Iran. He visited the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Florida on Tuesday and is coordinating with Iran’s regional and religious rivals.”

At the same time, despite the horrors a war with Iran can unleash, Trump can count for support on the Republicans in Congress, the military-industrial complex and other parts of the corporate community, his hard-core base of 60million+ Americans, and Fox News and the right-wing media for virtually anything he wants to do. With respect to Iran, the Trump White House appears convinced that severe economic sanctions and various subversive actions, along with the threat of military intervention, will eventually bring Iran to its knees.

Such policies, so Trump and his advisers rosily imagine, will all have positive effects, will eventually bring democracy to its citizens, end what it identifies as Iranian-sponsored terrorism, eliminate all of Iran’s nuclear capacity for nuclear power as well as for nuclear weapons, eliminate Iran’s threat to Israel, help consolidate the power of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Israel and other American allies in the Middle East, while at the same time reducing the influence of Russia and China in the region. They seem to utterly fail to understand that the full costs and consequences of such an unnecessary war.

Number 6: Trump’s policy of applying extreme pressure to Iran through sanctions has led to extreme difficulties in Iran but have not toppled the regime

 BBC News reports that the additional US sanctions imposed under Trump have caused the economy in Iran to fall into recession, with the GDP contracting 3.9% in 2018 and expected to shrink by 6% in 2019 (

Additionally, “oil exports have more than halved,” oil production has precipitously fallen off and estimates are that Iran’s government has lost more than $10bn ($7.7bn) in revenue as a result.” The value of the Iranian currency, the rial, has plummeted and has “lost almost 60% of its value against the US dollar on the unofficial market since the US sanctions were reinstated….” The costs of living for Iranians has risen dramatically. BBC reports, “In the past 12 months, the cost of red meat and poultry has increased by 57%, milk, cheese and eggs by 37%, and vegetables by 47%.” And, finally, the incomes of Iranians are falling in real terms.”

Sanctions as “economic terrorism”

Medea Benjamin and Nicolas J.S. Davies argue that sanctions represent a kind of “economic terrorism” that disproportionately harms civilians in the targeted nation – in this case Iran (

US officials say that sanctions will benefit the people of Iran “by pushing them to rise up and overthrow” the government. But the evidence is not persuasive – perhaps at some deepening level of misery. Benjamin and Davies point to how the “use of military force, coups, and covert operations to overthrow governments have proven catastrophic in Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Somalia, Honduras, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen.”

Compounding the economic impacts of the US sanctions on Iran is that the sanctions prohibit and international transactions using the dollar. This means, for example, “China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Turkey, all nations that purchase Iranian oil… now face US threats if they continue to do so.”

What does the historical evidence say about the effects of sanctions? Benjamin and Davies refer to a comprehensive study published in 1997 by Robert Pape, then a professor at Dartmouth College, who collected and analyzed “the historical data on 115 cases where [economic sanctions were] tried between 1914 and 1990. Pape concluded “that sanctions had only been successful in 5 out of 115 cases.” He suggested that states keep using them because they “overestimate the prospects of the coercive success of sanctions,” they “expect imposing sanctions first will enhance the credibility of subsequent military threats,” and because they yield “leaders greater domestic benefits.”

Number 7: Looking for pretexts to justify a military attack on the country

 Trump and his advisers appear to be convinced that the economic and subversive policies they advance, along with the threat of military intervention, will eventually drive Iran to submit to their demands. In the meantime, Trump has ordered the closing of the American embassies in Iran, sent an additional 1,500 US troops to the region, along with the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and additional US naval power into the Persian Gulf. It has floated a plan to send 120,000 troops into the region if the US goes to war, though Trump also said that if a war erupts more troops than that would have to go.

In the meantime, Bolton and Pompeo and their group are looking for a pretext to use US military forces against Iran. They seem to irrationally assume, like the Bush administration and the generals did in 2003 regarding Iraq, that the US will win any war with Iran easily, quickly, with few casualties, and with limited destruction and death in Iran.

On Thursday, June 13, two oil tankers were attacked in the Gulf of Oman, and within hours Pompeo had blamed Iran for the attacks, based on a video described by Juan Cole, expert on the Middle East, as follows:

“Pompeo’s people put out grainy video of some sort of small ship coming alongside one of the tankers and then leaving peacefully. Since this doesn’t look very much like an attack, they are alleging that the Iranians were taking away an unexploded mine. That doesn’t make any sense at all, and the video again needs to be carefully analyzed” (

Iran denied involvement in the attack and the Japanese owner of one of the tankers said that damage had been caused by flying projectiles, not mines attached to the tanker. Multiple news accounts said that Iranian ships did approach the oil tankers after the attack, but not to plant mines but to help rescue dozens of crew members from the tankers. Interviewed on Democracy Now, Vijay Prashad, questions the administration’s account of the episode.

“People who look closely at the oil business understand that 50% of the world’s oil goes through the Gulf of Hormuz. They understand that, you know, carrying oil is a dangerous activity. All kinds of things happen. There are accidents. There’s piracy. There are a series of quite common risks faced by oil tankers. Iran is not one of those high on the list as far as risk assessors are concerned. And yet, of course, this is the first thing the United States government has said… without any evidence. So, within a few hours and without any evidence, the United States government once more provoking some sort of response from Iran, perhaps, or at least to try to galvanize public opinion to believe that Iran is a threat to the world.

Nonetheless, the Administration acted on their assumption that Iran was the culprit.

Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan subsequently announced that the US is sending an additional 1,000 troops to the region. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US is considering a full range of options in response to the attacks. Democracy Now summarizes some of the other mixed responses.

“Republican Senator Tom Cotton, a member of the Armed Services Committee and a Trump ally, called Sunday for a ‘retaliatory strike’ on Iran, saying on CBS’s ‘Face the Nation,’ ‘The president has the authorization to act to defend American interests.’ Neither of the tankers were U.S.-owned; one belonged to a Norwegian company and the other to a Japanese company. The European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called for ‘maximum restraint’ as she heads to D.C. for talks today with U.S. officials. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned last week that the world ‘cannot afford’ a confrontation in the region and that ‘facts must be established, and responsibilities clarified.’”

Juan Cole offers some thoughtful responses to the tanker episode, as follows.

“It could also be by Iran, of course. I disapprove of violence and denounce the attack on civilian tankers. But any reporter who reports that Iran might be the culprit is dishonest to Trumpan depths if they neglect to mention that that the US is stopping 100% of Iran’s oil exports with no warrant of international law, no resolution from the UN Security Council, and in direct contradiction of US obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, which Trump breached. A physical blockade of Iran would be an act of war. I don’t see why a financial blockade should be looked at as any different. Trump has committed numerous acts of naked aggression on the Iranian people. I don’t condone a violent response, but anyone should be able to understand it.

Number 8: The illusion of an easy war with Iran

 This illusion is challenged by Mohammad Marandi, a professor of English literature and Orientalism at the Tehran University and who was part of the negotiations leading to the nuclear deal in 2015. He was interviewed on Democracy Now on June 21, 2019. His view is that any significant attack by the US on Iran will lead to catastrophic consequence for Iran, US troops, the region, and the global economy. He elaborates as follows.

“… if indeed a military conflict is inevitable between the United States and Iran, I think there are two important things that have to be kept in mind. First, if there is a war, then, in my opinion, all of the oil and gas facilities, as well as the tankers in the Persian Gulf region, will be destroyed. This will not be just the issue of closing the Strait of Hormuz. This will be something very long-term. And that will lead to a global economic catastrophe unlike anything we’ve seen in contemporary history. In addition to that, Iranian allies across the region will engage U.S. forces and U.S. allies militarily, in Iraq, in Afghanistan and elsewhere. And then you would have the Saudi and Emirati regimes collapse immediately, because they’re completely dependent on oil. And millions of people will be on the move. So, that’s a scenario that is just something that people should not even contemplate.

“The second is that the United States may carry out a small strike. Here, I think, is almost equally dangerous, because I think that there are some so-called Iran experts in the United States that are telling the U.S. government that if you carry out a limited strike, Iran will do nothing in response, or there will be just some token response. That is a major miscalculation. The Iranians will be relentless in their response. They will probably be very disproportionate, as well. And they will also strike those regional countries that are allowing—that would allow the Americans to attack. And the reason why the Iranians would respond so severely is that they want to make sure that the United States does not come to any conclusion that they could repeatedly attack Iran. And this, of course, could lead to further and further escalation. So, it would be against the interests of the whole of the international community, as well as the people of the United States, to even contemplate any strike, even limited.”

With all of its assets and illusions, the US military is not prepared for to fight an effective war with Iran

 This is the view of Scott Ritter, who, according to Wikipedia,“was a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, and later a critic of United States foreign policy in the Middle East. Prior to the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Ritter stated that Iraq possessed no significant weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities, becoming according to The New York Times ‘the loudest and most credible skeptic of the Bush administration’s contention that Hussein was hiding weapons of mass destruction.’ He received harsh criticism from the political establishment and became an antiwar figure.”

In an article published on Truthdig, “The U.S. Stands to Lose Much More Than a War with Iran,” Ritter agrees that the US has the capability to cause great destruction and death in Iran. He writes: “Iran’s civil and industrial infrastructure will be devastated, and tens of thousands of Iranian civilians would be killed.” But the US will not be able to conclude the war.” And, “Any U.S. victory would be pyrrhic in nature, crippling the U.S. and global economies while further diminishing America’s already diminished position in the world.”

Ritter makes the following points in explaining his view that a US war on Iran will be long-lasting and have numerous and counterproductive consequences that will stretch across the region and the entire world.

One, “the US marines are not able to conduct brigade-sized forcible entry operations except under ad hoc conditions, and even then, only against a lightly held objective. Any notion of landing Marines on a contested shore in Iran is suicidal. And yet any plan to secure the Strait of Hormuz would require the seizure of Iranian-held islands located in the strait, the port city of Bandar Abbas, and the entire Iranian coastline along the strait inland to depths of 50 kilometers. This mission far exceeds the operational capacity and capability of the Marine Corps.”

Two, “Airpower alone cannot accomplish this objective… the U.S. aircraft carriers will be operating under duress, reducing effectiveness, and U.S. air bases in the region will be under near continuous Iranian ballistic missile attacks, resulting in their closure or reduced effectiveness.” Ritter adds: “It will take the U.S. weeks, if not months, to deploy enough air power into the region to sustain a meaningful air campaign against Iran. During this time, Iran will disperse its forces to remote sites, many of which are underground and impervious to attack.”

Three, “While the U.S. can launch several hundred cruise missiles a day against Iranian targets, this number is virtually meaningless. Iran has spent decades preparing for a war with the U.S. and has studied American weaponry to a degree that is perhaps unappreciated in the West.” And: “U.S. cruise missiles, costing some $1.4 million each, will be destroying empty buildings, while US aircraft will have to fly in contested air space for the first time this century, decreasing operational efficiency while suffering casualties in terms of downed aircraft and aircrew that could very well prove to be unsustainable.”

Four, The Iranian military “will not only defend Iranian territory but also strike out against U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf region, as well as military and industrial targets, including oil and gas infrastructures, of any nation providing assistance to the American war effort.”

Five, “Iran has the capability to sink U.S. naval vessels, shoot down U.S. aircraft and destroy airbases supporting U.S. air operations. Iranian-backed militias in Syria and Iraq could very easily overrun U.S. military bases in those two countries, annihilating the garrisons based there. U.S. airpower that would normally be employed to defend these garrisons would be tied down in supporting operations over Iran.”

Six, a US war on Iran would “effectively denude U.S. forces worldwide, meaning the U.S. would lack any meaningful military capacity to respond to crises in Europe or the Pacific.”

Seven, such a war would “require significant regional support from Turkey, Georgia, and Azerbaijan, which is highly problematic.”

Concluding thoughts

 In the meantime, Trump is putting more sanctions on Iran, threatening retaliation on Iran for any harm it may do to US assets or interests in the region, or perceived to have done. Iran’s downing of a US drone near or over Iranian airspace almost became the pretext for a US air attack, but Trump was not yet ready to approve a military retaliatory strike. He may have some vague notion that a war with Iran would ruin his chances for a second-term in the White House, though the cult-like following of his core constituencies, would cheer him on. On thing is clear, he and his advisers don’t care a whit about the effects of US sanctions on Iranians. Nor, it seems, do most Americans.

Outside of the progressive media, most media seem to accept the view that Iran is a terrorist state and is responsible for all sorts of barbaric acts in the region, disregarding the fact that Iran’s military forces in Iraq and Syria were fighting against ISIS and Al-Qaeda, Mousavian reminds us of this fact and others, namely, that Iran has cooperated with the United States to oust the Taliban from Afghanistan and subsequent assistance with the overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein,” and joined the later battle against ISIS in Syria and Iraq, that it accepts a two-state solution in Israel, that it doesn’t want to build nuclear weapons but rather wants to have the capability to enrich uranium enough to fuel nuclear power plants, not nuclear bombs, that it supports groups like Hamas in Gaza because it was elected and represents the Palestinians there and Hezbollah in Lebanon because it had defended that country against Israeli invasions and it is a popular political force in the country, winning seats in the government.

Nevertheless, it is like beating a dead horse. Trump, his administration, the Republican Party, some Democrats, much of the news media, Trump’s core coalition, and the ill-informed pubic go along with the assumptions of the administration and Pentagon that Iran a terrorist state, that it wants to see an end to Israel, that it has advanced ballistic missiles and other armaments that threaten other countries in the region, that it wants to build nuclear bombs, that it represses its own people, and that, for all these reasons, it must be crippled or destroyed. It sounds like the same old double-standard war-mongering rhetoric we’ve heard before.

And what are we left with: a bloated military and a militarized foreign policy. Our wars in the Middle East have cost the US thousands of American casualties and trillions of dollars, devastated whole countries, spawned the growth of terrorist groups, created millions of refugees, killed millions more, and left the region more unstable than ever. Current policies emanating from the White House and Pentagon toward Iran will only produce more of this.

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