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The Evil of U.S. Sanctions on Iran

First written October 25, 2012; broken links updated November 17, 2020

Except for some 2012 names that need replacing with 2020 names, this article remains perfectly up to date.


During the last debate between Obama and Romney both men tried to outdo each other in stressing how crippling they wanted American sanctions on Iran to be. In doing so, both men embraced a policy that can truly be characterized as evil.

The sanctions are cruelly attacking perfectly innocent people for no justifiable purpose.

The Sanctions Have an Evil Purpose

Let's start by examining the purpose of the sanctions. According to U.S. Ambassador William B. Wood, Envoy for International Sanctions Implementation, the official aim of the sanctions is to force the Iranian government to assure other governments of the world that Iran has no intention of possessing nuclear weapons. As is well known, Israel has nuclear weapons while denying the fact, and the United States government has never asked Israel for assurance that Israel doesn't have such weapons. The U.S. government is, therefore, clearly not motivated by any desire to keep the Middle East a nuclear weapons-free zone.

Might the actual U.S. motivation be to ensure that Israel is the only nation in the Middle East with nuclear weapons? If so, this is not a justifiable objective. It certainly cannot be justified as a means of reducing the risk of nuclear weapons being used in the Middle East because when, as today, it is a case of oppressive anti-egalitarian governments in the region of question, it is precisely the possession of nuclear weapons by only one nation in the region that increases this risk. What reduces the risk in this case is a nuclear weapons balance of power, a standoff of mutual fear of nuclear destruction by enemy nations.* This is exactly the point made by Kenneth Waltz in his article, "Why Iran Should Get the Bomb" published in--of all places!--Foreign Affairs, the Journal of the Council on Foreign Relations, the notorious think tank that for decades has crafted American foreign policy (and whose exclusive elite membership includes Democrats such as former president Bill Clinton, and Republicans such as former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice.)

To see how dangerous it is when only one nation has nuclear weapons, one has only to recall that when, at the close of World War II, the United States government was the only nation in the world with nuclear weapons, it used those weapons, twice, to commit mass murder. The pretext was to save American lives by making the Japanese surrender, but President Truman knew the Japanese had already agreed to surrender on the one condition that the Emperor be allowed to remain on the throne, and Truman did in fact allow the Emperor to remain on the throne. The real objective of dropping the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was to terrorize everybody in the world who had any thoughts of opposing American ruling class domination of the world.

American intelligence agencies, however, say that they see no move by Iran to build a nuclear bomb. There is no evidence-based reason to disbelieve this assessment. Therefore we need to ask, if the U.S. government's motivation for the sanctions on Iran is not about preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons, what then is the actual motivation?

The sanctions on Iran are intended to strengthen the effectiveness of the Orwellian "War on Terror" as a strategy of social control of the American public. It adds yet another frightening boogeyman--anti-Semitic Iranian mullahs with nuclear weapons who want to destroy the state of Israel--to all of the other Muslims and Arabs that are portrayed similarly as hate-filled anti-Semitic terrorists out to kill peace-loving and democracy-loving Israelis and Americans.

Creating these boogeymen to scare the living daylights out of ordinary Americans is what it takes for America's rulers--who are increasingly exposed as a venal rich upper class driving the rest of the population down into unemployment, low-paying jobs, economic insecurity and poverty--to make people obey them with the mantra that "We're protecting you from the terrorists."

To understand why the U.S. is imposing sanctions on Iran requires, therefore, understanding the Big Lie on which the larger "War on Terror" is based, and this in turn requires understanding why Muslims and Arabs are so angry at Israel and its American ally and why the United States government supports Israel virtually unconditionally.


The Israel Connection

The Israeli government is based on the ideology of Zionism, which says (quite falsely!) that Jewish people cannot be truly safe living amongst non-Jews (Gentiles), even as equals, because Gentiles are, if not overtly then latently, anti-Semitic**, and eventually they will carry out another Holocaust against Jews. Therefore, Zionists assert that Jews can only be safe in a Jewish state, meaning a state that has a large Jewish majority population (Israel's first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion said, "Only a state with at least 80% Jews is a viable and stable state,"***) and which is officially a state of "The Jewish People" and not a state of all its citizens.

To achieve the required 80% Jewish majority when, in 1948, Jews were a minority of what became Israel, the Zionists carried out ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian non-Jews. The pro-Zionist Israeli historian, Benny Morris, in a famous interview with Ha’aretz newspaper, discusses how David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, deliberately "transferred" the Arab population out of Israel's new borders:

BM: "Of course. Ben-Gurion was a transferist. He understood that there could be no Jewish state with a large and hostile Arab minority in its midst. There would be no such state. It would not be able to exist."

Ha'aretz: "I don't hear you condemning him."

BM: "Ben-Gurion was right. If he had not done what he did, a state would not have come into being. That has to be clear. It is impossible to evade it. Without the uprooting of the Palestinians, a Jewish state would not have arisen here."

This uprooting of the Palestinians is a crime against humanity under international law.

Israel is a nation that is based on ethnic cleansing, on a crime against humanity. This inexcusable crime of ethnic cleansing continues today, as Israeli leaders continue to refuse to let the more than four million Palestinian refugees return to their homes inside what is now called Israel. There would be no "Israel/Palestine" conflict if Israeli leaders allowed the original non-Jewish inhabitants to return and live as equals with Jews inside of the 78% of Palestine that is now Israel. UN resolutions have called for this. And the UN's Universal Declaration of Human Rights asserts that "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country." But for Zionists, this peaceful solution is unimaginable: it is referred to by them as "the destruction of Israel." (Just as American slave-owners in 1863 referred to the abolition of slavery as "the destruction of the Confederacy.") The "Jewish state of Israel" is no more a state of ordinary Jews than the United States is a state of the ordinary people who live there; the Israeli government oppresses ordinary Jews as well as Palestinians, as I show in detail here.

The Zionist ethnic cleansing project, otherwise known as "the State of Israel," is seen by the American ruling class as strategically crucial for strengthening its power over people in the United States and the Middle East. How so? The ethnic cleansing of Palestinians creates great anger among Palestinians and the other Muslims and Arabs of the world who sympathize with them. This anger naturally leads to occasional violent resistance against Israel and its staunch American ally. This is exactly what the Orwellian "War against Terrorism" needs--a very visible and credible boogeyman to frighten the American public, whose mass media tell them the Big Lie that the anger is simply irrational anti-Semitic hatred of Jews and democracy. Orwellian wars of social control have been the key strategy of the American ruling class for maintaining its grip over the American public, with the enemy now shifted from "Communism" to "Terrorism."


Useful Enemies

The U.S. sanctions on Iran have an additional purpose: to strengthen the power of the Iranian theocratic regime over its own people and to strengthen the reputation of Islamic Fundamentalism throughout the world as the enemy of the United States and the champion of people oppressed by the anti-democratic regimes supported by the United States.

It is well known that sanctions on a nation increase the power of that nation's rulers over its own people. This was widely acknowledged in the case of sanctions against Iraq strengthening Saddam Hussein's power over Iraqis. The scarcity caused by sanctions forces people to depend even more on staying on good terms with their government, which controls access to scarce items. Here is how an Atlantic Magazine article puts it:

It’s worth remembering these precedents as the Trump administration prepares to reimpose sanctions on Iran as part of its withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal. American politicians and pundits have spent the last month debating whether those sanctions will make Iran more or less likely to build nuclear weapons. What they’re largely overlooking is what impact years of additional sanctions will have on the country Iran becomes.

The academic literature is clear: Far from promoting liberal democracy, sanctions tend to make the countries subject to them more authoritarian and repressive. In 2009, University of Memphis political scientist Dursen Peksen found that, between 1981 and 2000, sanctions contributed to a significant erosion of human rights in the countries on which they were imposed. The following year, in a study co-authored with the University of Missouri’s Cooper Drury, he found that sanctioned countries grew less democratic too.

The reason is that sanctions shift the balance of power in a society in the regime’s favor. As sanctions make resources harder to find, authoritarian regimes hoard them. They make the population more dependent on their largesse, and withhold resources from those who might threaten their rule. “Because the regime can intervene in the market to control the flow of goods and services made scarce by foreign economic pressure,” Peksen and Drury write, “the leadership will redirect wealth toward its ruling coalition and away from its opponents to minimize the cost of sanctions on its capacity to rule.”


​People also tend to "rally around the flag" when their government is under attack by a foreign nation, no matter how much they may dislike their government otherwise.

Why would the United States want to strengthen the power of Iran's theocratic regime? This is the subject of Dave Stratman's insightful article, "Inventing the Enemy," written back in 2004, in which he writes:

It used to be said during the Cold War that, "If the Communist threat did not exist, the US would have to invent it." The threat of nuclear war and the notion of a Communist (or capitalist) under every bed provided American and Soviet ruling elites excellent means to frighten and control their own citizens, justify enormous arms expenditures, and legitimize power projection abroad in the name of saving the world from Communism (or capitalism).

The same thing can be said now with a good deal more accuracy of political Islam, which the US ruling class has been courting and nurturing since it first allied in 1947 with the House of Saud. The line of strategic relationships between the US and political Islam runs through Saudi Arabia, Iran, Pakistan, Bosnia, Afghanistan, and now Iraq. If the US did not actually invent modern political Islam, for over half a century it has encouraged it, promoted it, funded it, trained it, armed it, and furnished it with a political rationale for its existence.

US ruling circles and reactionary forces acting in the name of Islam are in a co-dependent relationship: they need each other and work together covertly, even while they publicly attack each other in word and deed (just as the US armed the Soviet Union all during the Cold War). This relationship is part of grand strategy, in which US rulers are playing for the highest of stakes: their continued control over the American people, as well as elite domination of the world. Ruling elites in Muslim nations use political Islam and the threat from the US to control their own people with an iron fist concealed in a glove of religious fervor.

It might seem paradoxical for the United States to support Israel if it intends to strengthen the rulers of nations such as Saudi Arabia and Iran. But these regimes, as discussed here and here, are in fact strengthened in their ability to keep their own working class people subjugated by having a strong Israel. These anti-democratic regimes would have far less legitimacy if they couldn't pose as champions of the Palestinian people against Israel. And as long as Israel has overwhelming military superiority, these regimes can use that as an excuse for not doing anything that actually helps the Palestinian people. It's a win-win for all of the anti-working class regimes of the region, and for their partner in exploitation--the United States ruling class. The enmity between the Iranian Islamic regime and the American ruling class is more public relations than real. Recall that the Reagan Administration worked secretly through the Islamic fundamentalist government of Iran to illegally arm the Contras (the U.S. government's favorite terrorists at the time) in Nicaragua in the "Iran/Contra Affair." Islamic fundamentalists are, for American rulers, useful enemies.

In light of the above, we can now see why the United States ruling class dismisses its own intelligence agencies telling them that Iran has no intentions of developing nuclear weapons, and pretends that it is so afraid of Iran getting a nuclear weapon that it must impose cruel sanctions on the Iranian people.


The Sanctions Are Cruel

Both presidential candidates insist that the sanctions on Iranians should be "crippling." The sanctions are terribly cruel.

"Sanctions are designed to cause privation, to deny a population necessities, food and medicine, and by doing so cause serious harm. Sanctions are calculated to deliberately result in conditions of life that threaten the population’s very existence which ensures either a violent regime change or extinction." [Source is here.]

"Millions of lives are at risk in Iran because western economic sanctions are hitting the importing of medicines and hospital equipment, the country's top medical charity has warned."

"More than anything else, we have a lack of medicines for patients suffering from cancer and multiple sclerosis," Hashemi told the conservative website Tabnak. "Those with thalassaemia or in need of dialysis are facing difficulties too – all because of sanctions against banks or problems with transferring foreign currency."


The Sanctions are Meant to Attack International Working Class Solidarity

The American ruling class knows that its number one enemy is international working class solidarity against all those who aim to make the world unequal and undemocratic. As I discuss in my book on World War II, President Truman dropped nuclear bombs on Japanese civilians as part of a war one of the chief purposes of which was to persuade the American public that it was necessary to commit mass murder of ordinary Japanese people. The use of sanctions against the civilian population of Iraq (of which Clinton's Secretary of State famously said that the killing of 500,000 Iraqi children was "worth it") and now of Iran is a continuation of the American government's use of nuclear bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki: it is intended to enlist the American public behind a brutal and cruel attack on innocent people whose only crime is to live in another country. It is intended to destroy the natural sympathy and solidarity that ordinary people, if not lied to, have for people like themselves in other lands, because of their innate decency and humanity. This is why the sanctions on Iran are a crime against our very humanity.

THESE ARE THE IRANIANS WE (the have-nots, not the US government) SHOULD SUPPORT

The Iranians whom we should support are the working class Iranians whom the Iranian government attacks. Please read the articles linked to below. You will then see that there is a profound conflict within Iran. On one side are the ordinary working class people whom we should support. On the other side is the anti-democratic Iranian ruling class, which routinely uses great violence against its own people when they struggle to make Iran a more equal and democratic society.

Iran: Bloody Crackdown on Dissent

Arbitrary Arrests, Use of Lethal force against Protests

Iranian protesters strike at the heart of the regime’s revolutionary legitimacy

ICEM Protests Iran’s Brutal Use of Force to Break Up Tyre Strike

Iranian Petrochemical Workers Strike, Demanding Elimination of Subcontractors

Iranian Oil Workers Strike After Arrests?

In ICEM Update, No. 9/1997. 17 February, 1997

Workers launched strikes yesterday in Iran's four oil refining centres, according to Iranian emigre organisations. The groups said the strikes in Shiraz, Isfahan, Tabriz and Tehran are in protest at the arrest of hundreds of oil workers and their elected representatives in Tehran yesterday, during a picket of the oil ministry. Workers in the Tehran oil distribution department, on the oil pipelines and in the national gas company have also joined the strike, the groups claim.

Iran has now outlawed all oil workers' organisations and refused the workers' demand for collective bargaining, the exile groups report.



* The use of nuclear weapons (i.e., on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) ended when the United States lost its monopoly on them, which suggests that the risk decreases when no nation with an anti-egalitarian government has such a monopoly. But the risk remains greater than sane people should tolerate. The American Joint Chiefs of Staff kept trying to persuade President Kennedy to launch a first nuclear strike against the Soviet Union when they estimated that it would result in approximately 140 million Soviet fatalities and only --only!!-- 12 million dead Americans (as recounted in JFK and the Unspeakable, by James Douglass, who makes a persuasive case that the powerful people in the military-industrial complex used the CIA to assassinate Kennedy because he and Nikita Khrushchev were trying to end the Cold War to avert a thermonuclear war.) What the people of the world need is the abolition of these insane weapons that can only murder millions of ordinary people if they are used. Read here why an egalitarian government should unilaterally destroy its nuclear weapons and why this would reduce the risk of nuclear war.

** Theodor Herzl, the founder of modern Zionism wrote, in 1897, "The nations in whose midst Jews live are all either covertly or openly Anti-Semitic" and "Anti-Semitism increases day by day and hour by hour among the nations; indeed, it is bound to increase, because the causes of its growth continue to exist and cannot be removed" in The Jewish State, Dover Publications, Inc., New York, 1988, pgs 11, 90-91 This is a patently bigoted lie.

*** The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, by Ilan Pappe, p.48

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