Wednesday, March 26, 2008

You are at war with Iran and didn't even know it

First, let's check this article found via The Angry Indian:
This comes in from our UK correspondent CEM: The March 20, 2008 US Declaration of War on Iran By John McGlynn

March 20, 2008, destined to be another day of infamy. On this date the US officially declared war on Iran. But it’s not going to be the kind of war many have been expecting.

No, there was no dramatic televised announcement by President George W. Bush from the White House oval office. In fact on this day, reports the Washington Post, Bush spent some time communicating directly with Iranians, telling them via Radio Farda (the US-financed broadcaster that transmits to Iran in Farsi, Iran’s native language) that their government has "declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people." But not to worry, he told his listeners in Farsi-translated Bushspeak: Tehran would not get the bomb because the US would be “firm.”

Over at the US Congress, no war resolution was passed, no debate transpired, no last-minute hearing on the Iran “threat” was held. The Pentagon did not put its forces on red alert and cancel all leave. The top story on the Pentagon’s website (on March 20) was: “Bush Lauds Military’s Performance in Terror War,” a feel-good piece about the president’s appearance on the US military’s TV channel to praise “the performance and courage of U.S. troops engaged in the global war on terrorism.” Bush discussed Iraq, Afghanistan and Africa but not Iran.

But make no mistake. As of Thursday, March 20 the US is at war with Iran.

So who made it official?

A unit within the US Treasury Department, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), which issued a March 20 advisory to the world's financial institutions under the title: “Guidance to Financial Institutions on the Continuing Money Laundering Threat Involving Illicit Iranian Activity.”

FinCEN, though part of the chain of command, is better known to bankers and lawyers than to students of US foreign policy. Nevertheless, when the history of this newly declared war is someday written (assuming the war is allowed to proceed) FinCEN’s role will be as important as that played by US Central Command (Centcom) in directing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
My emphasis added. Next, Chris Floyd discusses what this all means:
McGlynn's article, in Japan Focus, is long and complex – necessarily so, in order to detail the intricate punitive mechanisms involved, and their earlier test run against North Korea in 2005. You should read the article in full, but to put it briefly, last week the U.S. Treasury Department's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN), set in motion a process that could make any bank or financial institution in the world that does business with Iran subject to an economic death sentence: complete exclusion from the U.S. financial system. McGlynn, speaking plainly and with no addition, calls the move "a declaration of war on Iran."

The move is part of a steady escalation that has seen Washington move from urging sanctions against any firm or bank connected to Iran's nuclear program to its current, highly belligerent stance: seeking to strangle all financial investment or dealing with Iran, nuclear-related or not. As McGlynn notes:
During a daily press meeting with reporters on March 19, the State Department’s spokesperson was asked about a deal recently signed between Switzerland and Iran to supply Iranian natural gas to Europe. After condemning the deal, the spokesperson explained that the US is opposed to any “investing in Iran, not only in its petroleum or natural gas area but in any sector of its economy.”
All of this, McGlynn says, is an extension of the "Shock and Awe" doctrine formulated by Harlan Ullman and James Wade for the National Defense University in 1995. The strategy became famous after the Pentagon adopted it for the military invasion of Iraq – but as McGlynn points out, the doctrine has always had an economic side too. In fact, the authors believed that the economic ruin visited upon a target nation might be more effective than bombs and bullets – largely because they are more invisible, more politically palatable than big-bang extravaganzas. McGlynn notes:
But Shock and Awe’s authors (apparently with something like Vietnam or the 1993-1994 Somalia fiasco in mind) also envisioned that “[i]n certain circumstances, the costs of having to resort to lethal force may be too politically expensive in terms of local support as well as support in the U.S. and internationally." Consequently, they wrote:
"Economic sanctions are likely to continue to be a preferable political alternative or a necessary political prelude to an offensive military step… In a world in which nonlethal sanctions are a political imperative, we will continue to need the ability to shut down all commerce into and out of any country from shipping, air, rail, and roads. We ought to be able to do this in a much more thorough, decisive, and shocking way than we have in the past… Weapons that shock and awe, stun and paralyze, but do not kill in significant numbers may be the only ones that are politically acceptable in the future."
It was only a matter of finding a sanctions strategy systematic enough to make this more obscure portion of the Shock and Awe doctrine operational. What Ullman and Wade could not have imagined was that Washington's global planners would use extraterritorial legal powers and its financial clout to coerce the global banking industry into accepting US foreign policy diktat.
McGlynn notes that even the Chinese – Iran's biggest trading partner – is feeling the heat from the Patriot Act's "nuclear option" of banishment from the U.S. financial system:
In December 2007 ArabianBusiness.com reported that Chinese banks were starting to decline to open letters of credit for Iranian traders. Asadollah Asgaroladi, head of the Iran-China chamber of commerce, was quoted as saying that China’s banks did not explain the refusal but “if this trend continues it will harm the two countries' economic cooperation and trade exchange." In February, ArabianBusiness.com found that China's cutbacks in its banking business with Iran was affecting a joint automobile production arrangement.
Now the screws are growing even tighter. And the effects will be devastating – not to the leaders of Iran, of course, but, as with the genocidal sanctions against Iraq, to Iran's general population – a population, as we noted recently, made up overwhelmingly of young people and children: almost 70 percent of Iranians are under 30. As McGlynn puts it:
If the US succeeds, an international quarantine on Iran's banks would disrupt Iran’s financial linkages with the world by blocking its ability to process cross-border payments for goods and services exported and imported. Without those linkages, Iran is unlikely to be able to engage in global trade and commerce. As 30% of Iran’s GDP in 2005 was imports of goods and services and 20% was non-oil exports, a large chunk of Iran's economy would shrivel up. The repercussions will be painful and extend well beyond lost business and profits. For example, treating curable illnesses will become difficult. According to an Iranian health ministry official, Iran produces 95% of its own medicines but most pharmaceutical-related raw materials are imported.
The American people are told nothing about this, of course. The presidential candidates will say nothing about it – or about any of the other flashing danger signals as we careen toward another murderous catastrophe. The "progressive" movement, now consumed with the minutiae of the squabble between Clinton and Obama – both of whom have repeatedly declared their bellicosity toward Iran, and their fierce insistence that all options, including the use of nuclear weapons, remain "on the table" – will no doubt continue its long inaction and avoidance of the subject, as Arthur Silber notes so powerfully here, while also providing active, practical steps that could be taken to head off another war -- something no one else is bothering to do.
The groundwork for an Iran war has been laid. The use of ever-more draconian economic sanctions (which will never be enough to satisfy the Empire's lust for blood - as we learned all-too-well during the 1990s as such an approach was beta-tested on the Iraqis) will, contra the assertions of the authors of Shock and Awe, lead to large-scale casualties for reasons that should be duly noted above in Floyd's essay. Lest we forget, the organizational violence and structural violence inherent in the US-imposed sanctions against Iraq during the 1990s through the start of the current sorry decade was quite deadly:
Structural violence refers to physical harm (including death) suffered by a particular group of people who do not have access to the same services and benefits as the rest of society. Internally displaced Iraqis would be considered victims of structural violence - in this case due to the collapse of their baseline socio-economic situation as a result of the US invasion. Structural violence is often the most deadly and insidious forms of violence. To take a few words from the book, Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression by Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan (1985):
Structural violence is a feature of social structures. This form of violence is inherent in the established modes of social relations, distribution of goods and services, and legal practices of dispensing justice. Structural violence involves more than the violation of fairness and justice. [p. 136]

Structural violence is the most lethal form of violence because it is the least discernible; it causes premature deaths in the largest number of persons; and it presents itself as the natural order of things. A situation of oppression rests primarily on structural violence which in turn fosters institutional, interpersonal, and intrapersonal violence. Structural violence pervades the prevailing values, the environment, social relations, and individual psyches. The most visible indicators of structural violence are differential rates of mortality, morbidity, and incarceration among groups in the same society. In particular, a situation of oppression increases the infant mortality rate and lowers the life expectancy for the oppressed. [p. 155]
The displaced are systematically deprived of the basics for survival, resulting in poverty, malnutrition, premature death. That's what structural violence is. The physical harm suffered in this case usually falls underneath the mass-media radar because it is less salient, less spectacular than deaths due to IEDs or aerial bombing raids. The structural violence in this case (as is true of various colonial genocides of the past) will also fall underneath the radar because it is built into the very fabric of the oppressors' worldview. Starvation and malnutrition for example are simply written off as "those savages cannot take care of themselves." The more liberal of the oppressors might even acknowledge such phenomena as partially their responsibility, but cheerfully contend that in the end "it was worth it" as Madeleine Albright said of the half million Iraqi children under five who had died as a result of economic sanctions during the 1990s.
The large-scale casualties caused by the Iraq sanction regime were massive, and the sanctions exacted their lethal toll much more slowly, painfully, cruelly than even the abominable military "shock and awe" that the US inflicted upon the Iraqis on a fateful night in Iraq. Whereas deaths due to gunfire tend to draw attention, the deaths caused by sanctions are considerably less visible. To characterize the financial version of "shock and awe" as non-lethal is, to say the least, dead wrong. To characterize the sort of financial warfare as "preferable" when it causes massive loss of life due to malnutrition, disease, lack of sanitation, etc. is nothing short of evil.

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