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2 THE ROVING
EYE The myth of an "isolated'
Iran By Pepe Escobar
Introduction by Tom
Engelhardt These days, with a crisis
atmosphere growing in the Persian Gulf, a little
history lesson about the United States and Iran
might be just what the doctor ordered. Here, then,
are a few high- (or low-) lights from their
relationship over the last half-century-plus:
Summer 1953: The Central Intelligence
Agency and British intelligence hatch a plot for a
coup that overthrows a democratically elected
government in Iran intent on nationalizing that
country's oil industry. In its place, they put an
autocrat, the young Shah of Iran, and his
soon-to-be feared secret police.
the country as his repressive fiefdom for a
quarter-century, becoming Washington's "bulwark"
in the Persian Gulf -
until overthrown in 1979
by a home-grown revolutionary movement, which
ushers in the rule of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
and the mullahs. While Khomeini & Co were
hardly Washington's men, thanks to that 1953 coup
they were, in a sense, its own political
In other words, the fatal
decision to overthrow a popular democratic
government shaped the Iranian world Washington now
loathes, and even then oil was at the bottom of
1967: Under the US "Atoms for
Peace" program, started in the 1950s by president
Dwight D Eisenhower, the shah is allowed to buy a
five-megawatt, light-water type research reactor
for Tehran (which - call it irony - is still
playing a role in the dispute over the Iranian
officials did worry at the time that the shah
might use the "peaceful atom" as a basis for a
future weapons program or that nuclear materials
might fall into the wrong hands. "An aggressive
successor to the shah," went a 1974 Pentagon memo,
"might consider nuclear weapons the final item
needed to establish Iran's complete military
dominance of the region." But that didn't stop
them from aiding and abetting the creation of an
Iranian nuclear program.
The shah, like
his Islamic successors, argued that such a program
was Iran's national "right" and dreamed of a
country that would get significant portions of its
electricity from a string of nuclear plants. As a
1970s ad by a group of American power companies
put the matter: "The Shah of Iran is sitting on
top of one of the largest reservoirs of oil in the
world. Yet he's building two nuclear plants and
planning two more to provide electricity for his
country. He knows the oil is running out - and
time with it." In other words, the US nuclear
program was the genesis for the Iranian one that
Washington now so despises.
1980: Iraqi ruler Saddam Hussein launches a war of
aggression against Khomeini's Iran. In the early
1980s, he becomes Washington's man, our "bulwark"
in the Persian Gulf, and we offer him our hand -
and also "detailed information" on Iranian
deployments and tactical planning that help him
use his chemical weapons more effectively against
the Iranian military.
Oh, and just to make
sure things turn out really, really well, the
Ronald Reagan administration also decides to sell
missiles and other arms to Khomeini's Iran on the
sly, part of what became known as the "Iran-Contra
Affair" and which almost brings down the president
and his men. Success!
March 2003: Saddam
Hussein is, by now, no longer our man in Baghdad
but a new "Hitler" who, top Washington officials
claim, undoubtedly has a nuclear weapons program
that could someday leave mushroom clouds rising
over US cities. So the George W Bush
administration launches a war of aggression
against Iraq, which like Iran just happens to - in
the words of deputy secretary of defense Paul
Wolfowitz - "float on a sea of oil".
officials hope, in the wake of a "cakewalk" of a
war to revive that country's oil industry, to
privatize it, and use it to destroy the
Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries,
driving down the price of oil on world markets.)
Nine years later, a Shi'ite government is in power
in Baghdad closely allied with Tehran, which has
gained regional strength and influence thanks to
the disastrous US occupation.
So call it
an unblemished record of a kind not easy to find.
In more than 50 years, America's leaders have
never made a move in Iran (or near it) that didn't
lead to unexpected and unpleasant blowback. Now,
another administration in Washington, after years
of what can only be called a covert war against
Iran, is preparing yet another set of clever
maneuvers - this time sanctions against Iran's
central bank meant to cripple the country's oil
industry and crack open the economy followed by no
one knows what.
And honestly, I mean, really,
given past history, what could possibly go wrong?
Regime change in Iran? It's bound to be a slam
dunk and if you don't believe it, check out Pepe
Escobar below, that fabulous peripatetic reporter
for Asia Times Online and TomDispatch regular.
Let's start with red lines.
Here it is, Washington's ultimate red line,
straight from the lion's mouth. Only last week
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said of the
Iranians, "Are they trying to develop a nuclear
weapon? No. But we know that they're trying to
develop a nuclear capability. And that's what
concerns us. And our red line to Iran is do not
develop a nuclear weapon. That's a red line for
How strange, the way those red lines
continue to retreat. Once upon a time, the red
line for Washington was "enrichment" of uranium.
Now, it's evidently an actual nuclear weapon that
can be brandished. Keep in mind that, since 2005,
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has
stressed that his country is not seeking to build
a nuclear weapon.
The most recent National
Intelligence Estimate on Iran from the US
Intelligence Community has similarly stressed that
Iran is not, in fact, developing a nuclear weapon
(as opposed to the breakout capacity to build one
What if, however, there is no
"red line", but something completely different?
Call it the petrodollar line.
on sanctions? Let's start here: In
December 2011, impervious to dire consequences for
the global economy, the US Congress - under all
the usual pressures from the Israel lobby (not
that it needs them) - foisted a mandatory
sanctions package on the Barack Obama
administration (100 to 0 in the Senate and with
only 12 "no" votes in the House). Starting in
June, the US will have to sanction any
third-country banks and companies dealing with
Iran's central bank, which is meant to cripple
that country's oil sales. (Congress did allow for
The ultimate target?
Regime change - what else? - in Tehran. The
proverbial anonymous US official admitted as much
in the Washington Post, and that paper printed the
comment. ("The goal of the US and other sanctions
against Iran is regime collapse, a senior US
intelligence official said, offering the clearest
indication yet that the Obama administration is at
least as intent on unseating Iran's government as
it is on engaging with it.") But oops! The
newspaper then had to revise the passage to
eliminate that embarrassingly on-target quote.
Undoubtedly, this "red line" came too close to the
truth for comfort.
Former chairman of the
Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen believed
that only a monster shock-and-awe-style event,
totally humiliating the leadership in Tehran,
would lead to genuine regime change - and he was
hardly alone. Advocates of actions ranging from
air strikes to invasion (whether by the US,
Israel, or some combination of the two) have been
legion in neo-con Washington.
remotely familiar with Iran knows that such an
attack would rally the population behind Khamenei
and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. In
those circumstances, the deep aversion of many
Iranians to the military dictatorship of the
mullahtariat would matter little.
even the Iranian opposition supports a peaceful
nuclear program. It's a matter of national pride.
Iranian intellectuals, far more familiar
with Persian smoke and mirrors than ideologues in
Washington, totally debunk any war scenarios. They
stress that the Tehran regime, adept in the arts
of Persian shadow play, has no intention of
provoking an attack that could lead to its
On their part, whether
correctly or not, Tehran strategists assume that
Washington will prove unable to launch yet one
more war in the Greater Middle East, especially
one that could lead to staggering collateral
damage for the world economy.
meantime, Washington's expectations that a harsh
sanctions regime might make the Iranians give
ground, if not go down, may prove to be a chimera.
Washington spin has been focused on the supposedly
disastrous mega-devaluation of the Iranian
currency, the rial, in the face of the new
Unfortunately for the fans of
Iranian economic collapse, Professor Djavad
Salehi-Isfahani has laid out in elaborate detail
the long-term nature of this process, which
Iranian economists have more than welcomed. After
all, it will boost Iran's non-oil exports and help
local industry in competition with cheap Chinese
imports. In sum: a devalued rial stands a
reasonable chance of actually reducing
unemployment in Iran.
than Google Though few in the US have
noticed, Iran is not exactly "isolated", though
Washington might wish it. Prime Minister Yousaf
Raza Gilani has become a frequent flyer to Tehran.
And he's a Johnny-come-lately compared to Russia's
national security chief Nikolai Patrushev, who
only recently warned the Israelis not to push the
US to attack Iran.
Add in as well US ally
and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. At a loya
jirga (grand council) in late 2011, in front
of 2,000 tribal leaders, he stressed that Kabul
was planning to get even closer to Tehran.
On that crucial Eurasian chessboard,
Pipelineistan, the Iran-Pakistan (IP) natural gas
pipeline - much to Washington's distress - is now
a go. Pakistan badly needs energy and its
leadership has clearly decided that it's unwilling
to wait forever and a day for Washington's eternal
pet project - the
pipeline - to traverse Talibanistan.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu recently
visited Tehran, though his country's relationship
with Iran has grown ever edgier. After all, energy
overrules threats in the region. North Atlantic
Treaty Organization (NATO) member Turkey is
already involved in covert ops in Syria, allied
with hardcore fundamentalist Sunnis in Iraq, and -
in a remarkable volte-face in the wake of the Arab
Spring(s) - has traded in an
Ankara-Tehran-Damascus axis for an
It is even
planning on hosting components of Washington's
long-planned missile defense system, targeted at
All this from a country with a
Davutoglu-coined foreign policy of "zero problems
with our neighbors". Still, the needs of
Pipelineistan do set the heart racing. Turkey is
desperate for access to Iran's energy resources,
and if Iranian natural gas ever reaches Western
Europe - something the Europeans are desperately
eager for - Turkey will be the privileged transit
country. Turkey's leaders have already signaled
their rejection of further US sanctions against
And speaking of connections,
last week there was that spectacular diplomatic
coup de th้โtre, Iranian President Mahmud
Ahmadinejad's Latin American tour. US
right-wingers may harp on a Tehran-Caracas axis of
evil - supposedly promoting "terror" across Latin
America as a springboard for future attacks on the
northern superpower - but back in real life,
another kind of truth lurks.
years later, Washington is still unable to digest
the idea that it has lost control over, or even
influence in, those two regional powers over which
it once exercised unmitigated imperial hegemony.
Add to this the wall of mistrust that has
only solidified since the 1979 Islamic revolution
in Iran. Mix in a new, mostly sovereign Latin
America pushing for integration not only via
left-wing governments in Venezuela, Bolivia, and
Ecuador but through regional powers Brazil and
Argentina. Stir and you get photo ops like
Ahmadinejad and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
saluting Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega.