Iran Teaches Empire That ‘Maximum Pressure’ Goes Both Ways

This isn't how Trump’s war on Persia was supposed to go

“It turns out that there may be some street cred to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s assertion that if Iran isn’t allowed to export oil, others will face obstacles too….The funny thing is that any significant threat to Saudi capacity creates a pressing need to get Iran’s spare capacity onto the world market”

The Saturday attack on Saudi oil facilities, which took 5.7 million barrels of oil per day offline, is the escalation that wasn’t supposed to happen. Now that it has happened, we enter perilous new terrain.

America has blamed Iran and hinted at some sort of retaliation. Iran has denied responsibility, while the Houthis gladly take it. There are conflicting reports of where the missiles or drones were launched from, which we will learn more about in the coming days.

In the meantime, Trump is in a tight spot of his own making, with neither escalation nor retrenchment looking to be attractive options.

It is still uncertain when Saudi Aramco can get everything back on line. The attack showed sophistication. Critical nodes were hit. If the facilities are quickly repaired, that lessens the gravity of this event. The Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s showed the resiliency of oil installations, as Iraqi bombers pounded Kharg Island, where Iran exported much of its oil, yet the Iranians managed to keep the exports flowing. This suggests that a war of attrition today would be possible without major disruptions, though the impact of new technologies of attack and resistance makes any guess hazardous.

If past crises are any indication, a sustained loss of 5.7 million barrels per day, over five percent of world oil consumption, would likely quadruple oil prices. Strategic petroleum reserves can cover this to a certain extent: the U.S. system can pump 4.4 million barrels per day. But it would exhaust its reserves in 150 days at that pace. We do not know whether more strikes will be forthcoming or whether such efforts can be successfully suppressed with airpower or invigorated defenses. All we can say is that the great game has advanced to a new stage. 

From the beginning, escalation has seemed the likely consequence of the Trump administration’s decision to asphyxiate the Iranian regime by cutting off its ability to export oil. This was a declaration of economic war. That is the polite term, as it is an action every international lawyer on the planet, back in the day when these things mattered, would have called an act of war without any precious qualifiers.

It turns out that there may be some street cred to Iranian President Hassan Rouhani’s assertion that if Iran isn’t allowed to export oil, others will face obstacles too. Tit for tat. Got a quid? Here’s a quo. The funny thing is that any significant threat to Saudi capacity creates a pressing need to get Iran’s spare capacity onto the world market. As to which side now has more leverage, in a position to squeeze harder, that’s a tough question. Putting it nicely, the Iranians can, if their will is stout, impose huge costs on the United States and the world economy. They would only consider that if pressed extremely hard, yet the United States has been pressing them extremely hard for over a year now.

Remember that the purpose of America’s economic war on Iran was to force Iran to submit to 12 demands issued by Pharaoh Mike Pompeo in his edict delivered on May 21, 2018. It was really disappointing that Pompeo didn’t raise the obvious thirteenth demand and insist that the embargo would not be lifted until an American regent was appointed in Tehran, taking the Islamic Revolution under neoliberal guidance until circumstances changed, after which Iranian democracy would be restored to its former lack of glory. That was implied, to be sure, but we didn’t get much straight talk from Mr. Pompeo on that point.

This ultimatum was reminiscent of the demands that the Austro-Hungarians made on the Serbs on a certain date in 1914. Make them as extreme as you can, said the inspired diplomatists looking for war. World reaction was then unfavorable. Winston Churchill, in charge of Britain’s navy, called it “the most insolent document of its kind ever devised.” The resemblance to Pompeo’s ultimatums hardly shows the imminence of a 1914-like crisis today, but there is a certain arrogance to both the U.S. warmongers and Austro-Hungarians. The Austrians got the war they were looking for; the neocons may yet get theirs.

Trump’s renunciation of the Iran nuclear deal is mostly about Israel and its perceived security requirements. Not only must Iran not have a single nuclear weapon, it must not have the theoretical capability to produce a weapon, were the Iranians to break from their pledges under the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the JCPOA. This imposes a requirement on the Islamic Republic that no other medium-sized power has had to endure. That the Iranians are bearers of an ancient civilization makes the humiliation all the more painful.

Those 12 demands were not designed to produce a settlement; they were designed to produce a crisis, as they now have done. Regime change lies back of them—that or simply the immiseration of another Muslim country.

American policy toward Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, has recently been mostly about arms sales. People say all the time that the oil companies are the heavyweights in this drama. In fact, they are secondary. What has driven events in the recent past is the military-industrial complex salivating over the sales of high-priced and high-tech U.S. armaments to sheikdoms with money to burn. The MIC plunderers, like the Hollywood moguls, understand that you simply must have the foreign market to make the big profits. Politicians see such sales as a way of making our own arms purchases remotely affordable and thereby politically palatable. For these reasons, foreign arms sales to reprehensible characters is Washington’s go-to move, a win-win for the plutocrats and the praetorians.

The United States acted under no prompting of national interest in so aiding and abetting the Saudi war in Yemen, but its hankering after all those lucrative contracts was just too much temptation. When the flesh is weak, as it seems to be in Washington, burning flesh is not a problem. Trump saw it as a great business deal and had no compunctions about the human fallout in Yemen. The Democrats—a certain Democrat, especially—did what was once said of Austrian Queen Maria Theresa after the Partition of Poland in 1772: “She wept, but she took.”

The president may have outsmarted himself this time. He got rid of National Security Adviser John Bolton because he didn’t like Bolton’s across-the-board hawkish recommendations, but he signed on to the very big change in U.S. policy towards Iran that Bolton had recommended. Trump thought he was in control of the escalation. But when you declare your intention to asphyxiate another country, you’ve committed an act of war. Retaliation from the other side usually follows in some form or fashion. You can then advance to your ruin or retreat in ignominy.

Trump has threatened retaliation, but he surely does not want a big war with Iran. His supporters definitely do not want a war with Iran. Americans in general are opposed to a war with Iran. Mysteriously, however, the U.S. declaration of war on Iran in fact—though not, of course, in name, heaven forbid—escaped notice by the commentariat this past year. The swamp’s seismograph doesn’t record a reading when we violate the rules, but when the other guy does, it’s 7.8 on the Richter Scale.

The whole drama, in a nutshell, is just the old-fashioned hubris of the imperial power, issuing its edicts, and genuinely surprised when it encounters resistance, even though such resistance confirms for the wunderkinds their view of the enemy’s malevolence.

Is Trump trapped? That is the question of the hour. He faces strong pressure to do something in retaliation, but that something may aggravate the oil shock and imperil his re-election. As he dwells on that possibility, he will probably look for ways to back down. He will try to get out of the trap set by the U.S. economic war on Iran without abandoning the economic war on Iran. But that probably won’t work; that was Iran’s message over the weekend. Were he to abandon the economic war, however, he would get a ton of flak from both sides of the aisle in Congress. The commentators would scream “appeasement!” In Washington lobby-land, we’d be back to 1938 in a flash.

Does the president have the gumption to resist that tired line? I hope so.

Source: The American Conservative

  1. Inferior says

    Honestly nobody cares who is behind the attack on Saudi oil installation. In fact the sane world could care less. The main point what i think and which Dr. Marandi of Tehran pointed out is, if the attack was indeed coming from Iran it would render US military/weapons which Saudis have acquired over a long period of time useless. This is a huge disaster for US arm industry on one hand and on the other a great message that Iran will hinder any or all oil shipment if its not allowed to sell its own. A promise Iran’s president made not long ago. Houtis have claimed the responsibility for the attack which Ziobia won’t accept because how can the poorest nation in the entire ME attack the richest? It is a hard pill to swallow for the Ziobia. And that brings me to that Dotard of a president who suffers from small penis syndrome. If anybody says Trump and Smart in one sentence should be checked in in a mental institution. Even before he open his piggy mouth it starts to smell real foul, so foul that the world feels disgusted.

  2. John C Carleton says

    Who cares who hit them.
    God Bless who ever it was.

    Fighting evil is what good humans are supposed to do.

    The evil of the fake royals of Saudi, have been slaughtering for five years, with the encouragement and help of Israhell and their bits# USA.

    Bomb the Black Rock!
    Bomb Tel Aviv!

  3. CHUCKMAN says

    Just an excellent piece, bringing together the many threads of this event.

    I will only disagree on Israel’s motives.

    The fear of Iran has been largely manufactured. Of course, when a government chooses to terrify its own citizens, as Netanyahu’s government has, there will be some people who are genuinely afraid.

    But when we talk of the attitudes and demands of a state, we talk about its government, not a group of people reading newspapers. Israel for many years has had a totally irresponsible government. No wonder it works so well with the irresponsible and confused Donald Trump.

    Nuclear powers, and one moreover further backed up by a superpower, are not afraid of being attacked by a non-nuclear state.

    I’m sure Israeli intelligence has a good grasp of the facts around Iran’s nuclear work. Netanyahu has just lied about it for years, as he lies about just about everything.

    We have a very sick man leading a state which is in a peculiar situation.

    And we have another sick man, perhaps only slightly less so, leading the superpower supporting Israel.

    Israel’s real motives – those of its leaders – are about Iran’s size and influence in the region. Israel wants no competitor for influence. The states with which it shares some closeness are run by tyrants who toe the American imperial line.

    And that’s something Iran most certainly does not do, toe the American imperial line. That was true for other states in the region too, but Israel’s influence in Washington got them all attacked and dismembered or destroyed.

    Its been a huge price in decency and barbarism and ‘Western” values that Washington has paid for its relationship with Israel. That secret list, seen and discussed some years back, by General Wesley Clark, of Middle Eastern countries to be toppled over a period of years included Iran as well as the others that have been since incinerated by America’s Neocon Wars.

    It is interesting to note while Pompeo rants on and on about Iran’s responsibility, America just killed about thirty civilians in a misdirected drone attack in Afghanistan. The deaths are nothing new, America having killed many thousands there needlessly, but the method of misdirected drones has a huge irony.

    Iran’s hard work on developing technology for drones and missiles, work undertaken under the tremendous duress of American sanctions and of America’s flagrant support for Saddam Hussein in starting a years-long, vicious war against Iran, just maybe has effectively removed Iran’s name from the list Wesley Clark saw and talked about.

    It has truly made a contribution to the struggles of others, like Yemen, against imperial bullying.

    Saudi statements that the oil-facility attacks were “unquestionably sponsored by Iran” are literally meaningless. As are statements about there being “no way the attacks were launched from Yemen,” while Yemen openly and repeatedly claims responsibility.

    Statements from Saudi Arabia are proof of absolutely nothing, in this or any other matter. We must remember the recent record of the very state making the claims.

    Its launching the bloody war on Yemen, including the incompetent killing of more civilians than soldiers. Its long covert support for the terror in Syria which has killed half a million. Its bloody suppression of the Shia minority at home. Its record level of executions, including the execution of teen-agers. And most relevant of all, perhaps, its Crown Prince’s clear guilt in having a man, a journalist, dismembered alive. Does anyone in his or her right mind take anything the Saudi government says seriously?

  4. Séamus Ó Néill says

    This is the classical brawn versus brain. Iran has been preparing for this for a long time, many tens of centuries living and learning, and quite a few decades observing the bullying mistakes of the simpleminded fools. America hasn’t yet clocked up 250 years and as with all vulgarian upstarts, is under the illusion that might must surely win. Trump has backed himself into a very tight corner and how he now extricates himself may well determine his…..and America’s future. He could, with the wrong decision, cause a worldwide recession, oil at $400 dollars a barrel or the annihilation of the land of the anti-Christ, Israel……it’s a lot for a small brain to comprehend !

  5. John Rourke says

    Big difference between Serbia of 1914 and Iran of 2019.

    1. Marko Marjanović says

      Serbia fought back three successive Austrian offensives. In the end it took calling for German and Bulgarian help to successfully defeat it. In the third Austrian offensive an invading army of 450,000 was defeated by inflicting 270,000 casualties on it, including 70,000 captured.

      1. John Rourke says

        What I meant was ..Serbia was attacked in 1914 which has been to attributed to starting WW1..
        No one is going to attack Iran in 2019.

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