Immense Stakes in Iran Accord, Typhoon Wake-Up Call

Israeli newspaper warns Iran in last stages of developing a bomb – in 1984.
By Sasha Wright
November, 2013

Washington's Wars and Occupations:
 Month in Review #103/November 30, 2013

Sasha Wright reports the historic accord with Iran and highlights the huge stakes in the fight between the Obama administration "realists" and the Neocon/Israeli bloc that wants regime change and war. She contrasts the climate change wake-up call provided by Typhoon Haiyan with Washington's response - inaction on fossil fuel emissions and using the disaster to advance its "Asia pivot' geo-political strategy.

After 34 years of hostility and almost constant threats of war and "regime change," the U.S and the other P5+1 world powers signed an interim accord with Iran this month that freezes Iran's nuclear program in exchange for a modest relaxation of economic sanctions. The agreement calls for reaching a final settlement that would guarantee Iran is not producing a nuclear weapon in exchange for full lifting of sanctions within one year.

The Neocons, Israeli government and Israel Lobby are livid. Having failed to prevent this initial accord (whose groundwork was laid in secret negotiations between the Obama administration and Iran), they are going all-out to sabotage negotiations, strengthen rather than remove sanctions, and put Washington on the road to war. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced the pact as a "historic mistake." Former U.N. Representative under George Bush John Bolton called the accord "abject surrender" and "Obama's Munich moment,” demanding all-out support for an Israeli military strike on Iran.

The stakes in the battle shaping up are immense. Since 9/11 a military strike against Iran aimed at regime change has been a top goal of the Neocon/Israeli agenda. That means a war which would be a worse disaster than the Iraq debacle, resulting in the death of massive numbers of Iranian civilians and young U.S. soldiers, destroying infrastructure in Iran, strip remaining funding for public services in the U.S. and further destabilize the entire Middle East.

While the Iran negotiations were underway, typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda raged across the Philippines, killing at least 10,000 people and leaving thousands more without food, housing or drinking water. One of the strongest storms ever recorded, the typhoon was yet another extreme weather phenomena influenced by climate change. Voices across the world called the storm a wake-up call and demanded action at the global climate talks underway in Warsaw. But the U.S. and other developed countries did nothing to move toward dramatic reductions in carbon emissions or reparations for the countries most affected by the climate disaster. Rather, Washington's main response to the typhoon's devastation has been to push forward its current geo-strategic priority - the Asia-Pacific Pivot, a shifting of military resources from the Middle East to the Asia Pacific region to contain China's influence.


The negotiations between Iran and the P5 +1 countries - the U.S., Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China - were fraught until the last minute. Several key players attempted to derail a deal, including Israel, its supporters in the U.S. Congress, Saudi Arabia and at times France.

The initial accord now faces the tests of surviving the opposition of hardliners in Iran and the powerful Israel Lobby/Neocon alignment in the U.S. Yet with momentum from the initial agreement, a new tone and approach set by new Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, and polls showing large majorities of the U.S. public favoring diplomacy over war, it is a hopeful moment.

Yet there remains a lot of difficult history to overcome. The frigid state of U.S. relations with Iran up to last week stems largely from Washington's long violent history of involvement in the country. In 1953 U.S. and British intelligence forces engineered a coup overthrowing the democratically elected government and installing the Shah to secure their oil interests. When the Iranian people overthrew the Shah's brutal dictatorship in the 1979 revolution, the U.S. took a hostile stance toward a new regime which had eliminated a main regional ally. The U.S. then backed Saddam Hussein with military intelligence and weapons in the brutal eight-year long Iran-Iraq war in which hundreds of thousands of Iranians were killed. In his State of the Union address after 9/11 George W. Bush targeted Iran for regime change by naming the country as part of the “axis of evil.”

Iran showed signs they were willing to come to the table and cut a deal multiple times over the last ten years, but under the Neocons Iran remained high on the hit list. As Noam Chomsky said, “Iran is constantly threatened. The U.S. and Israel, two major nuclear a superpower, the other a regional superpower - are constantly threatening Iran with attack.”


Now, ten years after the failed invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Neocon goal looks more like fantasy than strategy. Regime change – or even eliminating all Iranian nuclear energy facilities via military means – would require invasion and "boots on the ground." Experts almost all agree that an air strike alone could only delay Iranian nuclear advances, while providing incentive for Iran to reverse its current stand against nuclear weaponry and obtain a weapon for self-defense. But the war weary U.S. population overwhelmingly opposes another attack. And the Obama administration believes any such action would also be too costly in terms of resources, the damage to international alliances and potential blowback, further weakening rather than strengthening U.S. global power. Getting bogged down in another Middle East ground war may be a Neocon dream but it is this administration's nightmare.

So the Obama team has turned to diplomacy. The administration wanted an agreement badly enough that they engaged in secret pre-negotiation talks in Oman. Meanwhile they use less costly military means where necessary to protect their regional interests (drone strikes, special ops) while shifting military resources to other regions, including Africa and especially Asia. 

This shift in strategy by the Obama administration does not align with the aims of many of the U.S.'s traditional allies in the region. Netanyahu and his supporters in the U.S. Congress and Senate have been the harshest critics of any agreement with Iran short of the non-starter that Iran completely cease to enrich uranium for any purpose. Israel and the Neocons have formed a strange new alliance with Saudi Arabia and the other Sunni monarchies of the Gulf Cooperation Council. These countries share an interest not only in preventing Iran from gaining nuclear weapons but generally keeping Iran from attaining any regional influence. They thus share the goals of bringing down the Assad regime in Syria and weakening Hezbollah in Lebanon. While Israel and Saudi Arabia give lip service to wanting a negotiated peace with Iran, the reality is that they still aim for war and regime change. But even Israel, the greatest military power of the group has little hope of making headway in an assault on Iran without the backing of the U.S. military, which is why they are so determined to prevent any relaxation of tensions between Washington and Tehran. 


Fueling the anti-agreement hysteria, this initial accord has already had a number of positive effects. The success of round one has built a measure of trust for the tough process of reaching a final agreement. The accord has been applauded by many powers in the region (with different degrees of sincerity), and some leaders have seen this as a step toward the goal of limiting nuclear proliferation in across the Middle East (meaning: force Israel to give up its nuclear arsenal). Many believe the pact will improve the human rights situation within Iran: if Iran is less isolated and under threat, doors open for the growth of progressive forces and weakening of authoritarianism.

Further, if conflict with Iran is de-escalated, it could make it easier for the many parties involved in the Syrian civil war to engage in peace talks and address the humanitarian catastrophe in that country. This could also lower the sectarian conflicts in Lebanon and Iraq that have been stoked by the Syrian civil war and the involvement of the Saudis.

On the other hand, if Israel and U.S. hawks succeed in sabotaging an agreement, political tensions and sectarian divisions throughout the Middle East are likely to intensify. Meanwhile the possibility of unilateral action by Israel is still not off the table, even though they really don't have the capability to go it alone.

These are huge stakes – and every bit a galvanized peace and justice movement can add to the pro-diplomacy, antiwar side of the scales may make a decisive difference in the outcome. 


Meanwhile, it is China's ever expanding economy that now poses the greatest threat to U.S. global dominance. Almost all sections of the elite believe that the best way to counter that threat is to forge alliances with other Asian countries against China, and that a strong U.S. military presence in that part of the world region is vital for accomplishing this. Hence the “Asia-Pacific Pivot,” announced as Obama administration policy at the end of 2011.

The most immediate concern for U.S. interests is control of the South China Sea, where China has been asserting control over important shipping lanes and engaging in a territorial dispute with Japan over a contested string of oil-rich islands. The U.S. Pacific Command has aggressively pursued basing agreements, expanding its operations in countries like Japan, South Korea and Guam where the U.S. military has always had a strong troop presence. Washington has also prioritized rebuilding ties with the Philippines, Singapore and Vietnam. The U.S. has increased troop levels in Australia and seeks to build a drone base on a nearby island. The Pacific Command provides military training to allies and conducts joint military exercises every 2-3 years with 22 nations. The U.S. aims to station 60 percent of the navy in Asia-Pacific region by 2020.


Having a strong U.S. military presence and base access in the Philippines is key for the success of the Asia-Pacific Pivot plan. The U.S. had already upped aid to the Philippines by two-thirds this summer and the countries currently conduct annual joint military exercises. The Aquino government is cooperative with U.S. interests as an increased U.S. presence works in their favor in handling territorial disputes with China over an oil rich shoal in the sea west of the Philippines and south of China, but they have had to tread carefully not to upset public opinion. The U.S. has a long unpopular history in the Philippines, from invading at the end of the Spanish-American war and ruling as a direct colonial power for almost 50 years. The U.S. maintained bases and troops even after independence; the last base was not closed down until 1992. Social movements fought the environmental degradation and the negative social impacts of U.S. bases that included rapes by U.S. military personnel.

When Typhoon Haiyan hit, the U.S. pledged over $50 million in aid and deployed over 50 ships including an aircraft carrier to provide aid. The U.S. is hoping images of soldiers providing assistance will smooth the way to a base access agreement. Figures in the Aquino government have stated that the typhoon shows a need for an increased U.S. presence. 

The Philippines and low lying island nations in the Pacific region will continue to be one of the most vulnerable areas of the globe to climate change as storms intensify and seas rise. The use of the military in aid provision may become a disaster capitalism model for reintroducing the U.S. military in regions that have long fought for sovereignty.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was just beginning in Warsaw when the typhoon wreaked its havoc. The head of the Philippine delegation broke into tears while he described the conditions back home and pled for delegates to make the 2013 talks count. Despite his hunger strike in solidarity with those suffering back home and the inspiring protests by social movements and delegations from developing countries, the developed countries responsible for the emissions causing our climate crisis showed they had no intentions of making the necessary emissions reductions or paying reparations to countries most affected. 

Filipino Advocates for Justice cuts to the heart of the matter: “Rich countries continue to pump pollution into the atmosphere while poor countries like the Philippines pay the price with monster storms, flooding, landslides, and even drought.”

You can donate to grassroots organizations providing disaster relief in the Philippines here, and find out more about how to enlist in ongoing campaigns to fight for climate justice here.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

Sasha Wright lives in Oakland CA where she has been organizing against wars and for economic justice since she was a teenager. She writes fiction and non-fiction. 

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