Revolution #119, February 10, 2008

New Sanctions and More U.S. Threats Against Iran

“We're also standing against the forces of extremism embodied by the regime in Tehran… Our message to the leaders of Iran is also clear… But above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops. We will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf.”

George W. Bush, State of the Union message, January 28, 2008

Bush’s belligerent talk about Iran in his State of the Union message again made clear that Iran remains in U.S. cross-hairs.

In December, the U.S. released a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that reversed the previous 2005 NIE and claimed that Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003. At the time, many hailed this reversal as a return to sanity, an insurmountable obstacle to a Bush-Cheney war, and a new opportunity for negotiating an end to the hostility between Washington and Tehran.

The NIE may have reflected sharp divisions within the U.S. ruling class, including within the Bush team, over the lack of good military options against Iran and the wisdom of military action—at least at the present moment. And it seems to have slowed, at least temporarily, the momentum toward a U.S. attack that was gathering over the summer and fall of 2007. However, the NIE did not signal a lessening of U.S. imperialist hostility toward—and focus on—Iran’s Islamic Republic. Nor has it meant that war, whether sooner or later, is completely off the table. (See “Lies About Nukes...And Bigger Lies” in Revolution #112, online at

Consider what has happened since the NIE was released.

First, at a December 4 press conference on the NIE, Bush declared: “Iran was dangerous, Iran is dangerous, and Iran will be dangerous if they have the knowledge necessary to make a nuclear weapon… My opinion hasn’t changed.” And he repeated his determination to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, emphasizing that “the best diplomacy” is when “all options are on the table.”

Barely a month later, Bush traveled to the Middle East for the first time in seven years as president. The aim of the trip was largely to build a regional alliance against Iran, and perhaps to weigh—and further—U.S. military planning and options. Bush gave a number of speeches targeting Iran, calling Iran “a threat to world peace” and “the world’s leading sponsor of terror.” He received a briefing by Israeli officials on military options for bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities. Canada's National Post reported (Jan. 14) that the main reason for Bush's visit to the region “was to gauge how much diplomatic support and practical help the desert sheikdoms might give if the United States or Israel attacked Iran.”

On the eve of Bush’s trip, U.S. officials charged that five Iranian Revolutionary Guard Navy speedboats approached three U.S. warships in the narrow Straits of Hormuz in a threatening manner. Iran denied U.S. charges and called the incident “routine,” and much of the U.S. account of the incident was quickly discredited. But U.S. officials still seized on the “incident” to emphasize what they claim as the “threat” posed by Iran. Bush himself warned that “there will be serious consequences if they attack our ships, pure and simple.”

New Round of Sanctions

U.S. efforts to encircle, pressure, and strangle Iran—and perhaps pave the way for war—have also taken the form of a push for a new round of UN sanctions on Iran. On January 23, the U.S.—along with Germany, France, Britain, Russia, and China—announced that they had agreed on a draft proposal for a new, third set of sanctions to be taken to the UN Security Council for approval in order to force Iran to halt its nuclear enrichment program. (Iran claims that it is enriching uranium to generate nuclear power, which it has the right to do under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The U.S. is opposed to Iran even having the technical know-how to enrich uranium because it could be used to develop nuclear weapons, which the U.S. claims Iran has tried to do.)

These proposed new sanctions include travel bans and asset freezes against high Iranian officials, increased scrutiny of Iranian banks and international financial transactions, and a ban on supplying Iran with dual-use items—materials and technologies that can have both civilian and military uses. These proposed sanctions also—for the first time—call “upon all States…to inspect the cargoes to and from Iran” if they’re suspected of carrying goods prohibited by UN resolutions. As the recent incident in the Straits of Hormuz makes clear, giving “all states”—including the U.S.—UN authorization for such “inspections” could pave the way for clashes in the Gulf—whether deliberate or accidental—which could trigger war.

The U.S. presents its push for further sanctions as a good-faith effort to pursue a diplomatic resolution of its differences with Iran. But there is nothing reasonable or just about the U.S. imposing its will upon Iran, or any other country—whether through economic and political bullying or outright war—in service of imperialist domination. The U.S. offers to negotiate with Iran, but only if Iran first agrees to U.S. demands to end its nuclear enrichment program—which is the very thing they’re supposedly negotiating about. The U.S. has also refused to discuss “security guarantees”—an agreement not to seek the overthrow of Iran’s Islamic Republic. This refusal is a signal that the U.S. has not taken “regime change” off the table. Bush’s State of the Union message that the U.S. has “no quarrel” with the Iranian people but looks “forward to the day when you have your freedom” is a very thinly veiled call for the replacement of Iran’s current Islamic regime with a regime to the U.S.’s liking.

Sanctions and diplomacy are tools in the imperialist arsenal which can be used to weaken a targeted regime and create fissures among its rulers and unrest among its people, perhaps even triggering internal upheaval. They also serve to politically isolate and vilify an opponent and build an international coalition against it. All this can also be part of preparing for military action.

Former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter argues that the U.S. is attempting to build a case against Iran by passing a string of UN resolutions (“The Sanctions Trap,” At some point in the future, the U.S. could then use this “dossier” to paint Iran as an incorrigible violator of UN resolutions and a threat, and demand the UN take action. Then, as Ritter puts it, “if the international community is unable or unwilling to confront this threat, the United States will have no choice but to take on this task in unilateral fashion”—in other words, through military action.

Imperialist Truth—And Necessity

In his State of the Union speech, Bush said, “And wherever freedom advances in the Middle East, it seems the Iranian regime is there to oppose it. Iran is funding and training militia groups in Iraq, supporting Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon, and backing Hamas' efforts to undermine peace in the Holy Land. Tehran is also developing ballistic missiles of increasing range, and continues to develop its capability to enrich uranium, which could be used to create a nuclear weapon.”

Bush is lying when he claims the U.S. is for “freedom”—a real liberation from imperialist domination—for the masses of people in the Middle East. And the word “hypocrisy” is inadequate to describe the head of a monstrous empire who condemns others as “terrorists,” while the military he commands has killed one million Iraqis by some estimates and forced another four to five million to flee from their homes.

But when Bush points to Iraq, to Palestine, and to Lebanon, and talks about Iran’s military power, he is letting out some truth about the necessities facing the U.S. rulers. He is pointing to the reality that Iran is a big obstacle to U.S. plans for the region—to the efforts to defeat Islamic fundamentalism, to bloodily reorder countries that stand in its way, and to radically transform the whole Middle East in order to strengthen U.S. global hegemony.

This is why the U.S. ruling class is united on the need to “contain” and confront Iran (at the very least), and prevent it from getting nuclear weapons. And why a number of powerful voices within their ranks continue to argue for military action. Former UN Ambassador John Bolton, for example, recently told an Israeli security conference that Israel may have to take military action to prevent Iran from acquiring an atomic bomb. And leading neocon Norman Podhoretz writes that bombing Iran remains the only viable option despite the NIE (“Stopping Iran: Why the Case for Military Action Still Stands,” Commentary, February 2008).

The necessities facing their empire are continuing to drive the U.S. rulers to confront Iran and try to undermine and/or bring down the current Iranian regime, even as there are differences over the best means—including “military options”—to carry out their aims. And these necessities and this basic course of action will still hold, no matter who is in the White House a year from now.

In the meantime, the U.S. currently has an aircraft carrier strike group and two expeditionary strike groups in the Persian Gulf, right near Iran.

Send us your comments.

If you like this article, subscribe, donate to and sustain Revolution newspaper.

What Humanity Needs
From Ike to Mao and Beyond