Dat ole debbil Iran

By Michael J. Smith on Friday December 9, 2011 09:00 PM

(Editor's note: Contributed by one of our readers, Heron Smith, who blogs at trenditionist.com/.)

Engaging Iran

Quite on trend, Western tensions with Iran have been escalating. Israeli politicians- buoyed by recent IAEA reports- have increasingly derided the effectiveness of sanctions, whilst aggression directed toward the British embassy in Tehran has inevitably led to a media fixation regarding to prospects of eventual military conflict. With American presidential elections next year, and leading candidate Newt Gingrich having already paid lip-service to the prospect of regime change, we in the West ought to be extremely concerned. Conflict with Iran is beyond undesirable. The justifications are steeped in hypocrisy, the objective is extremely short-sighted, and the consequences will stretch beyond our generation.

Setting aside the inevitable link between Western prejudice and base philosophical questions- such as how we could ever justify preventing a sovereign state from following our own nuclear example- the argument that we are entitled or obliged to hinder Iran’s nuclear ambitions by force is incredibly short-sighted. Not only is the concept of pre-emption a recipe for perpetual war, but it also lends credence to Israel’s false sense of insecurity, which in turn has proven a momentous obstacle to regional peace, particularly with the Palestinians.

Firstly, we ought not to assume that Iran’s leadership is fundamentally irrational. The propagated myth that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian President, seeks to wipe Israel from the face of the map has proven to be little more than a mistranslation. Moreover, Iranian elites will harbour no doubts regarding Israel and the United State’s ability to annihilate the country should it ever contemplate striking an ally. Indeed, Western military supremacy is beyond question, as are the consequences should Iran break from tradition and cast the first stone. As Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum put it to CNN- "What can Iran do with a nuclear weapon? Will they hit Israel? How many Palestinians will die? And if you think Iran hits Israel, their cities will be safe? They will be gone the next day."

Despite this, and presuming sincerity underpins the Western rationale, any strike on Iran would have the ultimate objective of preventing the Islamic Republic from acquiring nuclear weapons. Now, just for a moment, let’s assume Iranians are in fact rational individuals. Let’s imagine how they would perceive a comprehensive attack on their infrastructure. Let’s consider how large numbers of civilian casualties inflicted by a foreign military campaign would affect their sense victimhood and their desire to obtain some form of substantial military deterrent. It’s not requiring of an over-active imagination to see that it would certainly solidify their resolve whilst driving their nuclear research and projects deeper underground. Indeed, without a full-scale ground invasion- an operation Western forces can ill-afford in the present economic climate- Iran’s accumulated knowledge regarding progress toward a nuclear arsenal would remain intact. Conclusion: a military strike would postpone and not prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons.

The consequences of a military strike on Iran would be prolonged and multi-faceted; it would affect both our security and our economic stability. Firstly, and most trivially, the price of oil would skyrocket. Iran has an even greater amount of proven oil reserves than Iraq, and the escalation of oil prices triggered by the Iraq invasion is well-documented. Once again, in times of economic austerity when the global economy remains so precariously balanced, the last thing Western nations need now is further price hikes at the pumps. Secondly, any act of aggression toward Iran would endanger the lives of Western troops throughout the region, and almost certainly become a further source of friction between Israel and its neighbours. Allies of Iran such as Hezbollah and Hamas would make the Jewish state the subject of retaliation, which in turn would provoke counter-retaliation and heavy losses of Lebanese and Palestinian civilians.

However, the financial and short-term impact of a pre-emptive conflict with Iran ought to be the least of our concerns. Of considerably greater importance is how an attack on Iran would be detrimental to our long-term security and the way in which Western intervention is perceived. Indeed, Obama’s Cairo speech would seem but a distant memory; and the changes we hoped would be made to Western foreign policy- where diplomacy and engagement were to replace threats of force- would be remembered throughout the Middle East as hollow rhetoric. Even so, and regardless of the sincerity underpinning Western intervention, we ought not to underestimate how Iran’s oil reserves would prove a valuable propaganda tool for those seeking to discredit our motives. Indeed, anti-Western sentiment has already been flourishing in the Middle East for quite some time, and as the doctrine of a preventative war has already been widely discredited outside of Israel and the US, any semblance of history repeating itself would be seized upon by nationalist and Islamic movements hostile to Western influence.

As a supposed bastion of neutrality, the West would find it impossible to justify such an attack on Iran in the minds of many Muslims. Equally so, it would also find it impossible to contain the fallout. In consideration of the West’s reluctance to intervene in Syria, for example, where there continues to be an existential threat to civilian life and regional stability, launching such a costly offensive in the name of Israel’s questionable security needs would prove deeply unpopular throughout the region. Iranians would eventually rebuild, but the strikes on their nuclear facilities would not be without legacy; a new generation of Middle East inhabitants hostile to perceived Western values will be born, and history will remember the bombing of Iran as a grave exercise in political short-termism.

Comments (14)


I disagree with a few things here.

1. The USA (with the usual "coalition") can actually defeat Iran outright in a war. The forces are available since the Iraq War has been won. A new war will turn recent lessons to advantage, and prevent deterioration of the war machine. It will keep those assets gainfully employed.

The money to pay for it can simply be printed up--a trillion here, a trillion there. The "bond vigilantes" are from the imperial class and won't interfere, even if many of them will bellyache. There is little risk of popular revolution in the USA to stop the affair. Relatively few Americans or other Westerners will be killed or injured. The vast majority of the human suffering will be Iranians suffering inside Iran, and Westerners simply do not care what happens to non-Westerners.

2. Neither Russia nor China has the military power-projection capability to intervene. Even their ancestral UNSC vetoes will prove of no use. If the USA wants to make war, the war will be made, and that's that. The USA did not need the UNSC to rape Iraq. The UNSC approval for Libya was nice, but not necessary. At any rate, the USA and its allies got an inch, and took a parsec. How many times do we have to see this happen, to recognize the pattern? A mid-20th cent. kind of institution only matters if it's backed up by a mid-20th cent. kind of power-balance. That balance is gone, and even the strides made by China in the past few years go nowhere near to restoring it.

3. The disruption of Iranian and Gulf oil markets hurts the USA and Europe, but it hurts China even more, at a time when the Chinese are not yet developed enough to mount a meaningful military response. In a way it is better to fight this war when Western economies suck, since the domestic political price would be higher if this war were attempted during good times.

4. The value from crushing the Iranians is the value denied to the emerging industrial powers who are disproportionately dependent on imported raw materials. The West says "ouch," while China screams.

In other words, a war on Iran is not a pre-emptive strike on a possible regional nuclear power--a few Iranian-made nuclear weapons are almost irrelevant. The real story is a pre-emptive strike on China.

5. Better yet, minor powers around the world will witness the impotence of China in the face of naked American aggression. This will hurt China in the hunt for future allies. Who wants to be a client of a hegemon who can't protect its own? Better to seek what terms you can from the West, and hope to undersell the other weaklings who are trying to do the same. Sirleaf multiplied by a 100.

6. It also serves as a further reminder that minor powers have no sovereignty, and will never, ever, be permitted to acquire any real means to achieve or protect sovereignty. There will be no alternative permitted to a Western-dominated global order.

7. Russia won't meaningfully help China or Iran. The high energy prices which will result from Iran's devastation are effectively a bribe to make the Russian ruling class sit down, shut up, and count their money. They can buy a few more soccer teams. Or maybe the USA will offer up a Baltic or Caucasian republic to help the Russian oligarchs save face.

8. Saudia Arabia and the Gulf States will support the war against Iran. The Saudi aristocracy does not seem able to understand that once Iran and the old guard Arab "resistance" states have been crushed, that the USA will no longer have much need for such aristocracies in the Gulf, and therefore will be free to carry out a series of live experiments in Saudi internal politics. But who will cry over the fate of Saudi aristocrats?

9. The critical blunder by the Chinese has been their failure to form explicit military alliances with minor powers, and to directly equip Iran with their own nuclear warheads and appropriate mobile delivery systems. The current Chinese establishment's inherent foreign policy conservatism has had many praiseworthy results, but it is not serving them well in our current period of history. The Chinese elites do not seem to adequately realize the sheer nerve, vaunting ambition, deep experience and limitless violence of their American counterparts. Chinese elites underestimate both the subtlety and the ruthlessness of Anglo elites.


"We" won the Iraq war? I woulda said 'we' lost it, and Iran won.

Al Schumann:

It's a strange standard of victory. A typical client state could have been achieved within a few months of the invasion. The viceroy at the time, Garner, had it all set up: Iraq internally broken along ethnic lines, pseudo-democratic elections, a dependent neoliberal comprador regime, state assets sold off to enrich a new local elite, militias securing a playground for carpetbaggers. But Garner was sacked. Iraq was handed over to the idiot camp followers of big league campaign donors.

The Cheneyites, followed by murderous milquetoast pwogs, have created an enduring open wound, with a stooge government that can't be propped up and can't be abandoned.

The net result is a regional catastrophe, with any advantages going to regional actors that can provide a bit of bread and steady supplies of small arms. If this is Anglo elite subtlety, I'd have to see their blundering, violent stupidity.


"we in the West ought to be extremely concerned"

i'll make sure foggy y doesn't read this post

i need my sleep


garner was indeed an old school nation builder
--cactus atch division --

that's how the west was won they say
the trail of tears was a nasty after thought

today its all about nasty after thoughts

that bobby kennedy freak alike type
that "replaced "garner ...
ah well
my pal foggy y prolly has a nice squint eye on this

sympathetic scandel

petty thieving

whale bone wide ignorance

hapless tyranny

behind the curtain small minded pathos

these are the final drafts of history

thanx Al
for mentioning that
not so brief spirit
dick chenney

the man's a burning egg burp
among incarnate after thoughts


"the real story is a pre-emptive strike on China "

oh god now this comment stream
has really split its pants


i really hesitate to engage here

but what the fuck ....

"The critical blunder by the Chinese has been their failure to form explicit military alliances with minor powers, and to directly equip Iran with their own nuclear warheads and appropriate mobile delivery systems"

rolo :

are you trying to re create kold war conditions ??
is it because that's all your old mind can play well under ??

china won't lay that game
why should it


Put it this way: the American elites want to establish themselves as the capitalist world's sole provider of "global administration and enforcement services." This is an important and highly lucrative sector of the global capitalist economy--one in which the USA has a wide, longstanding competitive advantage.

To maintain and consolidate their advantage in the global enforcement services marketplace, two things are necessary: first to make sure that local providers are no longer permitted to offer their own in-house brands of these services. i.e. minor sovereign states must either become like the minor members of the Delian League, or get attacked as a "rogue."

Second, potential alternative global enforcement services providers must be driven out of that market, and obliged to accept US elites as the permanent ultimate administrators of the global marketplace, with a permanent right to accrue current account deficits denominated in their own fiat currency.

What this means for a country such as Iran is that they will be forced to sell their real goods (in the case of petroleum, a non-renewable good) in exchange for Bernanke's idle fancies. If the Iranians try to draw a line on the extent of exorbitant privilege, then the world's premier brand of enforcement services will arrive in order to maintain world market integrity and reserve currency stability.

If the Iranians try to develop their own in-house enforcement services (e.g. building their own nuclear deterrent) in order to avoid getting stuck in a bad contract, then they will be declared rogue, get sanctioned, raided, blockaded, and eventually invaded.

What all this means for China is that the Chinese will always to provide more value than they get in return. Their earnest production of real goods will never be able to compete equally with the abundant production of fiat currency backed by the world's exclusive enforcement services provider. The Americans can buy vital resources at will, and kill anyone who refuses. The Chinese will be forced to work hard for their oil. Oil exporters would rather do business with the Chinese than with the Americans, but they'll get killed if they try to switch. Can the Chinese protect oil exporters freedom to contract? Would Chinese promises be credible?

The lesser bourgeoisies around the world will choose the stability of a known brand, even if that brand is overrated and overpriced.

Without developing their own brand of world-class enforcement services, and unless they develop the reputation and credibility of their brand, and establish branch outlets through which it is made available, China will find itself in a disadvantaged position. After so much work to overcome the "unequal treaties" of the past, they'll find themselves once more denied the peer relationship they sought.

So that's why I think even granted a worldwide capitalist system, power-politics still matters. The Chinese elites would be naive to think otherwise. If they don't play the game, they'll lose by default.

What, again?

Jeezus... how many years, now, have we been on the verge of war with Iran? For the past eight or nine years I've been hearing every other week that the USA was going to attack Iran any day now, really honestly, really they were, no kidding, we mean it.

Sometimes I wish to hell they'd go the fuck ahead and do it, already... just so I can see how the Liberals will react.



you write like the iraq sand trap never happened
and georgia doesn't define a limit
and and

but put that aside
this incessant
here comes the war with iran

have you never studied the rules and reasons behind a containment strategy ???

and as to this global sheriff role

china has no interest
russia has no interest
in such a role

reserve currency and out sourcing the cost
of armada maintenence are synergistic


1. The Georgia affair is a good example of one thing that I mentioned above--the USA offering up some Baltic or Caucasian republic as a consolation for the Russian oligarchs.

That we're even mentioning Georgia, of all places, is a good indication of how badly the world power-balance has gotten tilted.

2. Re: Containment. Sure, the USA could contain Iran. The USA could have contained Iraq, too. That doesn't mean the USA will settle for containment. What makes containment seem attractive as a policy is a fear of what war might bring. Iran certainly has that fear, but the USA does not. Many of the arguments used against the Macarthur types in the late 1940's no longer apply.

Now if Iran had a credible, survivable, nuclear deterrent, or if Iran received explicit, credible guarantees from another major power, then perhaps the USA could be made to settle for containment. But that's not what I see happening.

3. Mike, you might be getting your wish. While news reports seem more preoccupied with the lost drone, there was actually a missile base in Iran that was virtually destroyed.

4. It's always possible that the Iranians will cave before the Americans launch a major attack. But if the Iranians give in a bit, why would the Americans stop pushing?


From an imperialist perspective the Iraq War wasn't all that bad for the USA. Granted, the war took longer and cost more than expected, and the regime installed was not of the invaders' first choice.

Even the set of second-best achievements were pretty good, again speaking from the imperialists' point of view. Iraq's future oil revenues will accrue to a friendly regime (note that Iraq's production will start mounting just as the crisis with Iran is mounting, which is quite convenient). Iraq is no longer much of a regional power, one less opponent to US interference in the region, and its government will be consumed with internal affairs for another generation at least. While the USA might have preferred a less bloody affair, the extent of slaughter and devastation in Iraq was a splendid illustration to the inhabitants of minor powers around the world of the price of defiance.

The Iraq War did not cost the invaders much at all. The invaders' casualty toll, even adjusted for the absurd degree of under-reportage, was nevertheless rather low given the size and population of the country that was invaded and occupied.

The Iraqi resistance factions fought with much more tenacity, courage, ingenuity, and self-sacrifice than the invaders anticipated, but without any meaningful outside support or succour, the guerrillas were eventually overwhelmed. Those in the world who would have liked to have seen American pretensions curbed missed a great opportunity in Iraq. If the Chinese, say, had only shipped a lousy few hundred million dollars' worth of halfway modern anti-aircraft or anti-tank missiles to the guerrillas, the Americans could have made to suffer much heavier losses. But I guess the Chinese elites were too busy shopping.

As for the financial expense of the Iraq War, the answer is: what financial expense? Assume a full-factor cost figure of three trillion over 30 years (I think those were Stiglitz' numbers). That's squat-all. Less than 1% of the USA's GDP over the amortization period.

I mean, a mere three trill, spread over 30 years, to decide who governs 10% of the world's proven oil reserves? A fine bargain, at least if you're an imperialist. To put it in perspective, Bernanke's beloved helicopters flew in with more than that much money in the space of a few months back in '08-09.

It's not like the Americans had to like, you know, produce real goods or services to finance that Iraq expedition. The Americans actually cut tax revenues while they were overrunning 10% of the world's oil. They just issued bonds, all denominated in their own currency, which they can print at will. Friendly bourgeois investors around the world not only subscribed to those bond issues, they actually drove the bond yields down, such that the same adventurous, bloody-handed imperialist government in the USA can now borrow for 10 years at less than 3%. Oh, the cost of war!

The Americans took their invasion of Iraq, and successfully distributed the cost of it upon most of the workers and taxpayers on the planet. And then OP lightly dismisses the implications of currency hegemony? In a worldwide soft-money system, I think that imperial finance capital is able to exploit by means of current account deficits and monetized sovereign debts, rather than through surpluses.

It is possible, financially speaking, that the USA's next war could be even cheaper than the last. Really, why should they stop trying? Who's going to stop them? Bond ratings agencies? Frodo Baggins? I would love to say, "OWS," but I just don't think so.

Why would anyone on SMBIVA accept standard Dem factional whingeing as any sort of good-faith critique of the imperial policies, or frank assessment of world power politics? This Heron Smith piece on a possible Iran war shows such a tendency.


read more carefully and think your positions thru more completely
and you can avoid wasting your time
i got nothing useful out of your huge outpouring

its all strictly straight off the shelf stuff


the military needs some R and R
that is sufficient motivation
for uncle
to kool it in the middle east ...for a spell

and this was all about the possible invasion of iran right ????

i note a shift in focus toward the pacific rim these days
that seems more the fashion in great gaming

your references to china indicate the infection has even spread to you !!!!


you might try thinking thru
the han politbureau's strategic position
suggesting a forward interfering
illicit arms flow type policy
for china in the middle east
suggests you think
challenging uncle makes sense for them

it doesn't

not with the huge commercial interweavings

one thinks of germany and britain....
around 1875

serious great power type collisions
bewtween china and uncle
are far out there ahead
over the horizon in fact

20 years out is a long long time
--think of china in uncle's view screen
in 1991 versus today --
but even twenty years seems too soon to me


OP, I've been pretty clear that it's not China that would seek confrontation with the USA. Rather, the USA is going to seek confrontation with China.

In our times, due to the path of modernization chosen by China, we witness a historically unusual case in which the emerging power wishes to preserve a stable world-system, while the incumbent hegemon is becoming revisionist.

Again: Chinese elites don't want to challenge the USA. But it might not matter what Chinese elites want. The US elites are willing to use hard power to make forcible changes in a world system of which they are the ostensible guarantors (with several recent examples to prove it).

The Iran situation connects to this because China's modernization has rapidly made it dependent on large energy imports. China's future growth, and perhaps even its internal social stability, are therefore highly vulnerable to external shocks. I claim that the USA is both able and willing to administer such a shock, e.g. by attacking Iran.

The political domination of major oil supplying countries is useful because it can prevent those countries from seeking payment in an alternative to US dollars. That means the USA can "print oil," whereas the Chinese must offer real goods. This is a mechanism by which Chinese labour is partly expropriated by US elites.

If the Chinese elites continue on their conservative, complacent foreign policy path, they will in effect be settling for a long-term role as latter day compradores.

Post a comment

Note also that comments with three or more links may be held for "moderation" -- a strange term to apply to the ghost in this blog's machine. Seems to be a hard-coded limitation of the blog software, unfortunately.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on Friday December 9, 2011 09:00 PM.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

Creative Commons License

This weblog is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Powered by
Movable Type 3.31