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Alexander Cockburn
Alexander Cockburn
13 Jul 2012
The End of America's Armies

Retired Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, bounced out of his job for revels in Paris as witnessed by Rolling Stone, … Read More.

5 Jul 2012
Epitaph to a Dead Movement

It was very hard not to be swept away by the Occupy movement, which established itself in New York's Zuccotti … Read More.

29 Jun 2012
The Affordable Care Act: Decision Effects

It's tempting to say the Affordable Care Act decision spells the end of the Romney candidacy. The Mormon … Read More.

War on Iran: It's Not a Matter of “If”


The world's press is choc-a-bloc with “if” questions about Iran and war. Will Israel attack? Is Obama, coerced by domestic politics in an election year, being dragged into war by the Israel lobby? Will he lunch the bombers? Is the strategy to force Iran into a corner, methodically demolishing its economy by embargoes and sanctions, so that in the end a desperate Iran strikes back?

As with sanctions and covert military onslaughts on Iraq in the run up to 2003, the first point to underline is that the U.S. is waging war on Iran. But well aware of the U.S. public's aversion to yet another war in the Middle East, there's no formal declaration of war, merely a relentless onslaught — the price being paid by ordinary Iranians.

The analogy here is the run up to Pearl Harbor. Let me quote from a useful timeline. On Oct. 7, 1940, U.S. Navy IQ analyst Arthur McCollum wrote an 8-point memo on how to force Japan into war with the U.S. Beginning the next day, Franklin D. Roosevelt began to put them into effect and all eight were eventually accomplished.

On Feb. 11, 1941, FDR proposed sacrificing 6 cruisers and 2 carriers at Manila to get into war. Navy Chief Stark objected: "I have previously opposed this and you have concurred as to its unwisdom.”

In March 1941, FDR sold arms and convoyed them to belligerents in Europe — both acts of war and both violations of international law — with the Lend-Lease Act. On June 23, 1941, Advisor Harold Ickes wrote FDR a memo the day after Germany invaded the Soviet Union, "There might develop from the embargoing of oil to Japan such a situation as would make it not only possible but easy to get into this war in an effective way.” FDR was pleased with Admiral Richmond Turner's report read July 22:"It is generally believed that shutting off the American supply of petroleum will lead promptly to the invasion of Netherland East seems certain she would also include military action against the Philippine Islands, which would immediately involve us in a Pacific war."

The next day FDR froze all Japanese assets in the U.S., cutting off their main supply of oil. U.S. Intelligence information was withheld from Hawaii from this point forward. Against protests from U.S. naval commanders, the West Coast fleet was moved to Hawaii.

John Maynard Keynes once said, “The best way to destroy the capitalist system is to debauch the currency. By a continuing process of inflation, governments can confiscate, secretly and unobserved, an important part of the wealth of their citizens.” Ronald Reagan used to attribute this insight to the man he loved to call “Nikolai Lenin,” thundering from podium after podium across America, that Lenin had said, “The best way to destroy the capitalist system is to debauch the currency.”

You want a graphic illustration of what U.S.

embargoes are doing in the way of debauching Iran's currency? Look at any graph of U.S. dollar exchange rates with the Iranian rial, from last week. You'll see a vertical line as the rial implodes in value.

Imagine if the Iranians had done this to the U.S. dollar? Can you imagine any American politician who would have refrained from calling this an act of war?

To further inflame the leadership in Iran, we had, last week, the murder of Iranian nuclear scientist Ahmadi Roshan, which came on the one-year anniversary of the murder of two other Iranian nuclear scientists by similar methods. As Peter Lee writes, “It came at a time of heightened tensions (anyway, tensions higher than the usual heightened tensions), inviting the inference that somebody, probably somebody in the region, wants to goad the Iranian government into a response that could start the military action ball rolling.”

As for the embargoes of Iranian oil, Obama is most certainly doing the oil industry a big favor. There have been industry-wide fears of recession-fueled falling demand and collapse of oil prices. That has led to industry-wide enthusiasm (aided by heavy pressure from the majors) for strongly cutting total world oil production (and enjoying the bonuses flowing from the subsequent world price rise), with all the cuts to be taken out of the hide of the Iranians. The Financial Times made clear the need to shrink world production in the following key paragraph in a report last week: "Oil prices have risen above $110 a barrel since Iran threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, the world's most important oil chokepoint, accounting for about a third of all seaborne traded oil. Oil fell to a low of $99 in October amid global economic growth worries."

As Pierre Sprey, an astute observer of the international scene, remarked to me, “Note also that this is one of those rare but dangerous moments in history when Big Oil and the Israelis are pushing the White House in the same direction. The last such moment was quickly followed by Dubya's invasion of Iraq.”

It's somewhat immaterial to ask whether Obama really wants war with Iran, thus interfering with the “strategic pivot” to Asia. Presidents are creatures of circumstances and lobbies, and Obama is certainly no exception. We have to hope that the traditional prudence of Iran's leadership prompts them not to make some desperate retaliatory lunge, such as mining the Straits of Hormuz, or offering some kindred excuse to the U.S. to up the tempo of the undeclared war it is already waging.

Alexander Cockburn is co-editor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book “Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils;” available through To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



6 Comments | Post Comment
Here's the first of more than one comment I will write on this. I ask you, Cockburn, to tell us what you would do as president to realistically deal with Iran. Get out of the back seat on Monday morning, and tell us what you would do, since you would be, or seem to be, a leader on issues such as this.

Is there any other country in the middle east besides Israel that respects the equality of women? And how does any other country in that part of the world rank in the department of cutting of the hands and other body members, and other punishments, of "criminals", who engage in crimes like adultery and similar offenses against Islamic law?

If you were a citizen of Israel, with all of the political correctness you sport, how would you want to deal with being surrounded by countries who either have expressed a commitment to destroying your country or have chosen to remain comfortably silent on that issue?
Comment: #1
Posted by: Masako
Fri Jan 13, 2012 9:21 PM
Those that were suckered into voting for the 'well marketed' Obama can show that they are now eyes wide open by voting for a REAL DEAL

Ron Paul all the way, Baby
Comment: #2
Posted by: Soothsayer
Sat Jan 14, 2012 11:30 AM
Comment Number two. Yep, Cockburn, war is a bitch. It always punishes those who are most innocent. World War II was no exception and no other war will ever be.

Yet it seems we can't avoid it at times. I sure don't see how we could have avoided World War II absent either a miraculous uptick in the goodness of human nature or a horrible downtick like going down the path of what Joseph Kennedy seemed to think was the world's destiny.

War is lies, trickery, and above all, institutional terrorism, utter destruction of everything humanity holds dear. It does seem like war with Iran is inevitable, and ironically, it is probably our destruction of Hussein's dominance of Iraq that is most responsible for the imbalance of power we have now in the middle east with an unchecked Iran.

I doubt however, that the U.S. is leading the effort. I think Israel is and we can't stop them. If I were living in Israel, I am quite certain I would support my government's effort to slay that beast. I might even lay my life on the line to do it. I think you would too, at least the support part, but you are swimming in too much political vanity to admit it.
Comment: #3
Posted by: Masako
Sun Jan 15, 2012 9:57 PM
If war with Iran is truely inevitable, then lets have congress declare war as required by the US constitution before engaging in hostilities with another country. The last thing we need is another Libya where the president does whatever the heck he wants like a dictator without asking for permission. Lets have clear goals before going in, have them surrender to our terms, then withdraw. We need to learn from our many mistakes in this last decade of war we've been in.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Tue Jan 17, 2012 11:34 AM
Re: Chris McCoy. The problem is, Congress never declares war. Even World War II saw a Congress that would not declare war, until Roosevelt tricked them into it. That required the sacrifice of Pearl Harbor. It's not a matter of the last decade, but of pretty much a century of tradition.

I don't know how to fix that, but if I were president and I saw what I thought needed to be done in that department, I don't think I would wait for Congress to declare war, because absent the most egregious, butt-covering circumstances, those groundhogs who fear their own shadows just won't do it. And that is not because they are principled pacifists.

The trouble is that now we are in a cry-wolf situation. The presidency is in such a knee-jerk mode of using the war option every time the whim occurs that it gets hard to tell when it's really justified.

It was not in the case of Iraq, in my humble opinion. In fact, I believe that war overall was one of the greatest crimes against humanity this country has ever committed.

On the other hand, it seems like war might be justified in the case of Iran, thanks in large part to what the war in Iraq has left us with, but it is hard to tell. We the public only work with two thirds of the deck at best.
Comment: #5
Posted by: Masako
Wed Jan 18, 2012 7:32 PM
So you're saying that one person should have the authority to enter the country into war? Sounds more like a dictatorship to me. We need to enter war with a cool and level head. It should never be one persons call. After all, that one person could be wrong.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Thu Jan 19, 2012 6:55 AM
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