Hurting, Hanging, Suffocating & Starving: The Inhumanity of Iran Threat Rhetoric
“You can’t kill and talk at the same time.” – William Luers, former U.S. Ambassador & senior State Dept. official
In 2006, after Palestinians democratically elected Hamas to the shock and chagrin of both Israel and the United States (who had insisted on the elections in the first place), a devastating economic siege was imposed on the 1.5 million residents of Gaza by Israel as punishment for the crime of Palestinian self-determination. As Dov Weisglass, adviser to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, said with a chuckle, “It’s like an appointment with a dietitian. The Palestinians in Gaza will get a lot thinner, but won’t die.”
What’s so obviously funny about Weisglass’ statement is that, due to the brutal blockade that has deliberately strangled Gaza for six years, at least 61% of Palestinians in the territory are “food insecure,” of which “65% are children under 18 years;” the level of anemia in infants is as high as 65.5%, about 70% of Palestinians in Gaza live on less than $1 a day, over 80% rely on food aid, and 60% have no daily access to water, 95% of which is undrinkable anyway.
And now, apparently, Israeli officials are hoping the West will duplicate this hilarity by similarly depriving Iranians of their own means to survive.
An article published this week in Yediot Ahronot was headlined, “Israeli officials: Starve Iranians to stop nukes,” reported, “Iran’s citizens should be starved in order to curb Tehran’s nuclear program, officials in Jerusalem said Wednesday ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s upcoming trip to Washington.” The article quoted an unnamed official as saying, “Suffocating sanctions could lead to a grave economic situation in Iran and to a shortage of food. This would force the regime to consider whether the nuclear adventure is worthwhile, while the Persian people have nothing to eat and may rise up as was the case in Syria, Tunisia and other Arab states.”
The official urged, “The Western world led by the United States must implement stifling sanctions at this time…[i]n order to suffocate Iran economically and diplomatically and lead the regime there to a hopeless situation, this must be done now, without delay.”
Encouraging the willful, foreign creation of a humanitarian crisis upon a nation of 74 million human beings in the form of collective punishment with the intention of fomenting regime change is not only appalling, its prescription is criminal under international law. It goes without saying that, were anyone to suggest that Israel itself be targeted with such destructive tactics for any reason whatsoever, the mere idea would elicit accusations of utterly insane, genocidal anti-Semitism. But, of course, to Israeli officials pushing the starvation of a mostly Muslim civilian population, Iranian lives are as expendable as Palestinian lives.
How can such talk be discussed so flippantly? The answer, sadly, is obvious.
Iranians, over the past three decades, have been so dehumanized by Western politicians and media that talk of economic “strangulation” and “crippling” sanctions are not only routine but, at this point, mundane. Just last week, conservative pundit Tucker Carlson stated on Fox News that “Iran should be annihilated.” Rhetoric like this is nothing new.
On April 18, 2007, John McCain, that mavericky steward of the self-described “Straight Talk Express”, held a campaign event at Murrells Inlet VFW Hall in South Carolina, where he was asked when he thought the United States might “send an air mail message to Tehran.” His reply began with him singing “Bomb bomb bomb, bomb bomb Iran” to the tune of The Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann.”
Shortly thereafter, ABC news reported, “McCain campaign spokesman Kevin McLaughlin points out that the Senator’s song was not serious and the people in the room were laughing” and quotes McLaughlin as saying, “He was just trying to add a little humor to the event.” In response to critics who suggested McCain’s little ditty might be insensitive, the Arizona Senator said, “Insensitive to what? The Iranians?” and proposed his detractors “lighten up and get a life.”
McCain did this because, obviously, bombing thousands of people to death for no reason is funny, especially to a septuagenarian war veteran who was tortured in captivity for years. He was running for President after all.
A year later on April 22, 2008, while on the campaign trail, presidential-aspirant Hillary Clinton declared her intention to “totally obliterate” Iran if Iran ever launched a first-strike on Israel, despite the fact that Iran has never threatened to do so and has expressly denied any intention to ever do so.
In July 2008, on a campaign stop in Pittsburgh, John McCain reacted to a recent report that U.S. cigarette exports to Iran were increasing by cheerfully suggesting, “Maybe that’s a way of killing ‘em,” before adding, “I meant that as a joke.” Again, because that’s hilarious.
On April 27, 2009, the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute held an event dedicated to discussing “the implications of the upcoming Iranian elections for the Obama administration’s policy toward Iran.” Speaking at the conference, alongside such Iran hawks as Joe Lieberman, Michael Rubin, Kenneth Pollack and Danielle Pletka, AEI resident scholar Fred Kagan addressed recently introduced legislation (by Lieberman) to impose more sanctions in order to “cripple” Iran, saying, “Look, we need to be honest about this, Iranians are going to die if we impose additional sanctions.” Later on in the discussion, Kagan insisted that, despite their inevitable “human cost”, he was in favor of such sanctions.
Clifford May, president of Likudnik think tank Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, wrote on May 6, 2010 in National Review that “[t]here is no greater threat to national and international security than the possibility that Iran’s current rulers – militant Islamists, terrorist masters, and sworn enemies of both the Great Satan and the Little Satan – may acquire nuclear weapons” and wondered if “crippling sanctions and their impact on an already ailing Iranian economy” could “change the behavior of the Iranian regime – or cause a change of regime?” His titillating answer: “There’s only one way to find out.”
The next month, Ambassador to the United Nations, Susan Rice introduced a new – and thoroughly macabre – phrase to official U.S. government discourse. Appearing on the June 9, 2010 edition of PBS Newshour, Rice told host Ray Suarez that the then-latest round of U.N. Security Council sanctions on Iran would “tighten the noose with a new inspections regime [and] new restrictions on its financing and commercial activities.”
In August 2010, California congressman Brad Sherman wrote an article for The Hill promoting even more devastating sanctions on Iran for asserting its inalienable national rights and not kowtowing to American and Israeli diktat. He wrote, “The goal of the bill is to drive Iran’s economy into a crisis and force its leaders to the negotiating table…Critics also argued that these measures will hurt the Iranian people. Quite frankly, we need to do just that.”
On November 16, 2011, when he was still in the GOP race, John Huntsman told CNN‘s Piers Morgan that sanctions alone won’t force Iran to abandon its nuclear program, explaining, “You can tighten the noose in ways that will make life a lot more difficult from an economic standpoint. But my sense is that their ultimate aspiration is to become a nuclear power, in which case sanctions probably aren’t going to get you there.”
On January 5, 2012, State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland told press at the daily briefing that an internationally-imposed oil embargo on Iran is supported by the Obama administration because “we believe that if we work together and if we also work to increase global supply generally that this will be an important next step in the global effort to tighten the noose on their regime.”
The very next day, January 6, 2012, Maria Otero, Undersecretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, concluded an appearance at the Council on Foreign Relations with these remarks:
“We do see Iran as a — as a threat, as a threat with — because they support destabilization and because they have — they have really supported things that are threatening not only the region, but the world overall. So this is going to be moving forward, and we will continue to be supporting an embargo that will tighten the noose around them.”
By now, the lynching analogy has become so prevalent in the political lexicon that it’s even made its way into Congressional statements. On February 2, 2012, New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez posted a press release on his website that “hailed the Senate Banking committee’s approval and bipartisan support for the Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Human Rights Act,” which, according to Menendez, is designed to “further enhance pressure on the Iranian regime to halt its illicit nuclear weapons program.” The statement quotes Mendez as declaring,
“This legislation will thwart the work-arounds that Iran has devised to circumvent the U.S., EU and UN sanctions regimes, tighten the noose on the Iranian government, and send a message to the world that there is a choice – you can either do business with Iran or the United States, but not both.”
The clear fact that all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Brigadier General Martin Dempsey, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Ronald Burgess and current Israel intelligence estimates have unanimously concluded that Iran doesn’t even have a nuclear weapons program -”illicit” or otherwise – seems not to phase Menendez.
The following day, on February 3, 2012, Asia Times columnist David P. Goldman lamented that an illegal and unprovoked military attack (i.e. a war crime) had not been carried out on Iran by the United States back in 2005 when “surgical strikes to destroy Iran’s nuclear capacity would have been comparatively easy.” Now, however,
Senior planners at the Pentagon say privately that it would be very difficult to destroy centrifuges in bunkers, and that aerial attacks would concentrate on killing the political and military leadership as well as destroying command and control…It seems likely, however, that stopping Iran from getting nuclear weapons would be a messy and bloody business rather than a well-defined surgical operation. It is too bad the West did not have the good sense to correct the problem in 2005. However much it costs in Iranian blood and well-being, it’s still worth it.”
Yes, a human person actually wrote this. And another human person published it.
As Marsha Cohen points out in a phenomenal new piece for LobeLog, a 2009 study produced for the Center for International and Strategic Studies briefly addressed “the human and environmental human catastrophe that would result just from an attack on the Iranian nuclear power plant in Bushehr,” and determined:
Any strike on the Bushehr Nuclear Reactor will cause the immediate death of thousands of people living in or adjacent to the site, and thousands of subsequent cancer deaths or even up to hundreds of thousands depending on the population density along the contamination plume.
That these casualty figures are “worth it” for Goldman puts him in a special class of despicable along with Madeleine Albright, who determined that the deaths of over half a million Iraqi children due to Western sanctions were also “worth it.”
On February 15, 2012, Bob Menendez was back with a new statement praising Joe Lieberman and Lindsay Graham’s so-called “Non-Containment Resolution” which dangerously “rejects any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran.” Menendez stated, “At this moment, Iran is the greatest threat; the great challenge to peace and security in the world,” warned of “the unquestioned military intent of Iran’s nuclear program,” and again commended the imposition of more sanctions in order to “further tighten the noose” on Iran.
It is instructive to note that Menendez, a Democrat, voted against giving George W. Bush congressional approval to attack and invade Iraq. He has proudly stood behind this decision, declaring during his successful 2006 Senate run,
“I’m proud to have voted against Bush’s war in Iraq right from the start, even when it was unpopular to do so. The Bush administration failed to make the case that Iraq was an imminent threat to our national security. Moreover, there was no conclusive evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. This was a war of choice, not a war of necessity. The Bush administration misled the American people with faulty premises and false promises.”
This time around, however, one has to wonder what “imminent threat” Bob Menendez believes Iran actually poses to the United States, what “conclusive evidence” of Iranian weapons of mass destruction he is privy to and what “premises” and “promises” he thinks are right and true.
On December 9, 2005, Menendez told his constituents, “I pledge to you that I will never send New Jerseyans into a war that I would be unwilling to send my own son or daughter to fight,” adding, “I’m proud of my vote [against authorizing the war in Iraq], because despite the administration’s efforts to manipulate the justifications for war, I did my due diligence. We now know that the war in Iraq has overstretched our military, drained our treasury and cost far too many of our bravest Americans.”
Considering that the Lieberman-Graham resolution, which Menendez so adamantly supports and has co-sponsored, essentially calls for war against Iran to prevent it from reaching what is now termed “nuclear weapons capacity,” it can be assumed Menendez is currently filling out recruitment papers for his children.
This new, so-called “red line” of “nuclear weapons capability” – the ability, after having mastered the nuclear fuel cycle and reached sufficient levels of nuclear expertise and scientific development, to manufacture atomic weapons if such a decision is made – makes no sense. Iran, which already has operational enrichment facilities and a functioning power plant, already has such “capability,” which is often dubbed the “Japan option” or “breakout option.” And it’s not alone. In fact, at least 140 countries “currently have the basic technical capacity to produce nuclear weapons.” Additionally, according to Green Peace, “[o]ver 40 countries have the materials and know-how to build nuclear weapons quickly, a capacity that is referred to as ‘rapid break-out.’”
Nevertheless, Senator Lindsey Graham – who clearly knows better than the U.S. intelligence community and the IAEA – decided to tell reporters that Iran is “not building a nuclear power plant for peaceful purposes. They’re marching towards nuclear weapons capability,” adding, “The end game is, sanctions can work and will work if properly applied, but in case they fail… the Iran regime will not be allowed to possess nuclear capability. And if that means military actions, so be it.”
Bloomberg News now reports that “the Joint Chiefs of Staff have prepared military options to strike Iranian nuclear sites in the event of a conflict” and quotes Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz as telling reporters “What we can do, you wouldn’t want to be in the area.” Obviously, millions of Iranians don’t have the option of not being “in the area” considering they live there.
In an extensive interview focused primarily on Iran, conducted by Jeffrey Goldberg in the Oval Office and published in The Atlantic today, President Barack Obama defined what the constant threat that “all options are on the table” with regard to U.S. policy toward Iran:
“I think the Israeli people understand it, I think the American people understand it, and I think the Iranians understand it. It means a political component that involves isolating Iran; it means an economic component that involves unprecedented and crippling sanctions; it means a diplomatic component in which we have been able to strengthen the coalition that presents Iran with various options through the P-5 plus 1 and ensures that the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] is robust in evaluating Iran’s military program; and it includes a military component. And I think people understand that.”
Despite admitting that “Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon and is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making that attempt,” Obama nevertheless was proud of inflicting such economic, diplomatic and political hardship on Iran that, in his words, have put the Iranian government in “a world of hurt.”
Such nonchalant talk and campaign trail knee-slappers about the “annihilation” and “obliteration,” of murder and war crimes, of tightened nooses – the execution of a death sentence – and of deliberately hurting a nation of 74 million human beings, along with chest-thumping boasts about destroying the internationally safeguarded nuclear facilities of a sovereign country, would be unequivocally condemned were it directed toward the United States or its allies.
After thirty years of warmongering, threats, and propaganda, it’s clear that American and Israeli discourse about Iran is starving for humanity.