U.S. Imposes Crippling Sanctions on Iran:
A Major, Dangerous and Utterly Illegitimate Escalation

| Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Editors’ note, November 22, 2020: This article was originally posted when the Trump/Pence regime began reimposing harsh economic sanctions on Iran. Since then, Trump has carried out a number of completely illegitimate armed attacks against Iran—including the assassination of one of its top leaders while that leader was in Iraq—and ratcheted up the sanctions, causing great suffering for the people of Iran.

The re-imposition of U.S. sanctions against Iran is very threatening, dangerous, and an utterly illegitimate escalation of U.S. imperialist aggression against Iran. This is taking place in the context of sharpening contradictions and broader developments in the Middle East, including the growing danger of an attack—or war—by the U.S., Israel, and/or Saudi Arabia on Iran. For further background and analysis, go to “Some Basic Points of Orientation on the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the Heightened Dangers Internationally,” October 29, 2018.


At 12:01 Monday morning, November 5, the U.S. government will re-impose harsh economic sanctions on Iran. These sanctions are aimed at blocking companies anywhere in the world from doing business with Iran and severely punish those who do.

They target more than 700 businesses, individuals, and other organizations engaged in Iran’s oil, banking, shipping, shipbuilding, and insurance industries. This is an attempt to enforce an economic blockade on Iran and prevent it from selling any oil at all, to anyone, anywhere on Earth.

The U.S. is trying to enforce this economic blockade by threatening to severely punish any companies or countries who continue to trade with or invest in Iran. If they do so, the U.S. is threatening to block them from doing any business in the U.S. or with U.S. companies. Because the U.S. is the world’s dominant imperialist power, with the world’s largest economy and a globally dominant financial system and currency (the dollar is used in most world transactions), blocking access to the U.S. market or financial system would be severely damaging to most countries around the world.

U.S. Sanctions: Imperialist Bullying and Collective Punishment of 80 Million Iranians

Iran, with 80 million people and extensive oil and natural gas resources, is one of the largest and most strategically important countries in the Middle East. But it remains a Third World country oppressed by and dependent on imperialism for technology and other goods, and especially for markets for its oil. Because of this dependency, these sanctions could strangle and devastate Iran’s economy.

Crippling U.S. sanctions will hurt and impoverish ordinary Iranians, especially those in need of medical treatment. (Many imported drugs and medical equipment will now be blocked or become too expensive for most people.) One Iranian writer described the impact when similar sanctions were imposed by the U.S. under Obama, along with other world powers, between 2010 and 2015:

Our cities, villages, and hospitals have become embargoed regions.... By adopting the seemingly neutral language of economics and law, sanctions legitimize dehumanization. It becomes acceptable to deny a people technology, medicine and aid.... Nurses and hospital staff [would] send out parents of cancer stricken children to purchase medicine, knowing full well that they would return empty-handed.... Drugs were only available on the black market at skyhigh prices.

The Trump/Pence regime has been targeting and threatening Iran since it took power. This past May, it announced it was pulling out of the 2015 nuclear agreement the U.S. and other global powers negotiated with Iran and re-imposing sanctions. Just since then, the value of Iran’s currency has plunged by two-thirds and its oil exports have fallen 40 percent or one million barrels a day. Since oil accounts for 70 percent of Iran’s export earnings, these new sanctions could prevent Iran from buying needed imports and lead to a severe, even devastating, economic crisis which would lead to widespread suffering and impoverishment in Iran.

These U.S. sanctions are an act of imperialist bullying against an oppressed, Third World country. They’re an effort to dictate Iran’s future, as the U.S. has done many times in the past 1, and trample over its sovereignty. This is collective punishment of a whole population. And it is an ugly demonstration of the vampire-like nature of U.S. imperialism: It’s using its position as the world’s dominant exploiter of global labor and plunderer of global resources to squeeze yet more blood from the Iranian people. And its actions threaten even greater bloodshed, potentially endangering millions.

As if to underscore this barbaric reality, Trump tweeted a meme—his picture with the words “Sanctions Are Coming—November 5” written with the font used by the show Game of Thrones and emblazoned across his chest. “The words are a play on the show’s well-known phrase, ‘winter is coming,’” the New York Times reported, “which refers to an impending deep freeze when an army of the magical warriors descend from the north to wipe out all kingdoms.”

Background: What’s Behind This Dangerous, Illegitimate U.S. Escalation?

This U.S. aggression is NOT driven by America’s concern for the Iranian people. It’s driven in the most basic sense by U.S. imperialism’s need to ruthlessly compete with other powers for cheap labor, resources, markets, and control of key regions like the Middle East.

Controlling the Middle East, with its massive oil reserves and location at strategic and trade crossroads between Europe, Africa, and Asia, has been crucial to the power, dominance, and functioning of the U.S. empire for some 70 years. But over the past two decades, U.S. dominance has been shaken. Its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan failed to solidify America’s grip on the region and instead helped fuel more crisis, upheaval, and the spread of reactionary Islamic jihadism. In 2011, mass upheavals deposed pro-U.S. tyrants in Tunisia and Egypt, and led to a savage seven-year-long proxy war in Syria. Today, the U.S.-backed Saudi war has created the worst humanitarian crisis in the world in Yemen.

In the face of U.S. aggression, including its 2003 invasion of Iraq and support for Saudi Arabia, and these changes and upheavals, the oppressive, theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI), has been driven by its own perceived needs—and its ambitions—to expand its reactionary reach and influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and now potentially Yemen. In the eyes of the U.S. rulers, Iran’s growing influence is the main regional threat to their stranglehold on the Middle East and to their barbaric allies, especially Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The Obama administration thought the best way to deal with Iran and maintain U.S. dominance was through the 2015 nuclear deal it and other world powers signed with Iran. Under this accord, Iran agreed to greatly restrict its nuclear enrichment program (which it has done) and in return the U.S., France, Germany, Britain, China, Russia, and the European Union agreed to end the punishing sanctions they had imposed. Obama’s goals were to prevent Iran from developing the capacity to build nuclear weapons, head off another potential war (which Obama felt would hurt the U.S. more than it would help), and attempt to draw Iran into the web of U.S. domination.

However, this agreement was vehemently opposed by other factions of the ruling class as well as Israel and Saudi Arabia. They felt the agreement failed to deal with—in fact legitimized—Iran’s growing power in the region. These forces are now grouped around the Trump/Pence regime and this is why they unilaterally pulled out of the Iran agreement this past May and announced the re-imposition of sanctions.2

The Trump/Pence Regime’s Utterly Illegitimate, Threatening Escalation

Trump and other imperialists condemn Iran’s Islamic Republic as a “corrupt dictatorship” which has spread “chaos, death and destruction.” The reactionary Islamic Republic has spread its reactionary ideology, program, and agenda, which have caused death and destruction.

But IRI’s actions can’t hold a candle to what the U.S. has done in the Middle East for more than 70 years! No one has backed more bloodthirsty torturers and spread more death and destruction across the Middle East than America. It has orchestrated coups, threatened countries with nuclear weapons, and attacked or invaded one country after another. U.S. sanctions murdered 500,000 Iraqi children during the 1990s. Its 2003 invasion of Iraq led to over a million deaths. Today the U.S. supports Israel as it massacres unarmed Palestinian protesters in Gaza, and supports Saudi Arabia as it uses mass starvation and famine as weapons in a barbaric war in Yemen.

And now the U.S. rulers are threatening to cause even more suffering and shed more blood. The goal of their sanctions is to weaken and destabilize Iran’s Islamic Republic by deepening divisions within its ruling circles. This could trigger mass upheaval inside Iran that threatens the regime, or provoke it into resuming its nuclear development program. This in turn could isolate Iran internationally and provide the U.S. with a justification or pretext for an attack. As we wrote last week, “The resumption of such a [nuclear program by Iran] is only one of the trip wires that significantly heighten the danger of war, with some combination of the U.S., Israel, and Saudi Arabia either potentially using this as pretext to militarily attack Iran, or leading to circumstances that could set a course to further heightened aggression and open hostilities, with danger of a greater war in the region.”

These U.S. sanctions also represent a big power move against other world powers that trade with Iran: they could be blocked from any trade or financial dealings with the U.S. which could be severely damaging to them economically.3

China, Russia, Britain, France, Germany (which signed the 2015 nuclear deal), and other powers see these U.S. sanctions as a major threat to their global interests and have announced efforts to get around or defy this U.S. blockade. At this writing it is unclear whether or not these counter-measures will be effective, including because a number of major European corporations have already pulled out of Iran. Meanwhile, the U.S. has given some countries which depend on Iranian oil temporary waivers from sanctions. So for these and other reasons the situation remains very tense and in flux.

Where do the Interests of the People Lie?

As we wrote in “Some Basic Points of Orientation on the Murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the Heightened Dangers Internationally,” (October 29):

Where do the interests of the masses lie? Definitely NOT with the U.S.—both the sanctions set to go into effect and any other aggressive moves against Iran are and would be an assertion of imperialist domination and must not only be opposed by people in this country, but a spirit of welcoming the defeat of these moves must be fostered. At the same time, the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) is a reactionary theocracy in which people have revolted several times in the past few years and in which there is a communist party adhering to the new communism brought forward by Bob Avakian. So in addition to standing firm against and welcoming the defeat of any U.S. imperialist moves in the region, if there should be uprisings in Iran brought on by the increased suffering and chaos imposed by the U.S., people within the U.S. should also oppose all attempts by the U.S. to maneuver and support reactionary forces within those uprisings and should themselves support the genuine revolutionary forces within Iran in their attempts to apply the new communism to the situation, whether it be through participating in the defense of the nation against U.S.-Israeli-Saudi aggression and/or supporting those uprisings of the masses whose main aspect is a just struggle against oppression.


1. See “American Crime Case #98: 1953 CIA Coup in Iran: Torture and Repression—Made in the U.S.A.,” revcom.us [back]

2. See “U.S.-Iran Nuclear Deal: 6 Points of Orientation,” revcom.us, July 20, 2015; “The U.S.—Iran Nuclear Deal & the Imperialists’ Dilemma,” revcom.us, August 10, 2015 [back]

3. The sharpening rivalry between the U.S. and other world powers like Russia and China is also putting strains on the U.S. military at the very moment it is moving aggressively against Iran, underscoring the reality that these imperialists face a host of intractable contradictions around the world and are not “all powerful.” See “Citing Iran, military officials are alarmed by shrinking U.S. footprint in Middle East,” Washington Post, November 3, 2018. [back]



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