Siege Mentality

On 4th April 1967 Martin Luther King gave a speech at the Riverside Church in New York. It was titled “Beyond Vietnam – A Time to Break Silence.” In that speech he referred to his recent meetings with young gang members in American ghettoes angered by the terminal social injustice that surrounded them every day of their lives. King said the following:

Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.

That was 1967. The Vietnam holocaust had another 8 terrible years to run. The hundreds of thousands became millions. Today, forty five years on, the millions have become tens of millions – maybe even hundreds of millions. The greatest purveyor of violence in the world today is still the US government.

A few days ago, on the 1st July, Jonathan Marcus, the BBC’s diplomatic correspondent produced a report titled “Why US oil sanctions hurt Iran more than EU’s (sic).” The article appeared on the BBC website and possibly on some of its other more obscure news reports. But as far as I know Mr Marcus’ piece never featured on any of the main BBC news bulletins, which is a little unfortunate because this topic is directly related to what will lead, in the not-too-distant-future, to young British people needlessly dying once again and, which is even worse, having young British people cause hundreds of thousands more to tremble under their violence, once again.

The reason for Mr Marcus’ article was that on that day, the 1st July, a new range of sanctions against Iran, imposed by EU countries, came into effect.

Wars between countries have always been about plunder. Wars have usually been the main means by which one set of grasping elites have plundered the wealth of other sets of grasping elites. If that was all there was to it – elites plundering each other – we could shrug our shoulders and let them get on with it, perhaps even enjoy the spectacle from the sidelines; but of course that isn’t all there is to it: we the ordinary people, the 99%, always have to endure 99% of the suffering, whilst the 1% who cause the wars always profit very handsomely.

Trade sanctions are an act of war. The main driver of trade sanctions today, and ever since it assumed its new role as global imperial power, has been the United States. A publication for the US-based Institute for International Economics titled “Economic Sanctions Reconsidered” showed that in 116 cases of trade sanctions, the UN, supposedly the centre of world governance, had imposed them on just 8 occasions. The UK was the second most prolific user of trade sanctions having done so 11 times; but far in front of all the competition, which is where it likes to be, was the United States, our supposed champions of “free trade”, who had enforced trade sanctions a whopping 67 times.

Today we’re encouraged to believe that imposing sanctions against Iran is necessary because Iran might produce nuclear weapons – even though there isn’t a shred of hard evidence to justify that view. So what might the real reasons be?

Back to Mr Marcus.

In his article Mr Marcus notes that:

What makes the reach of the EU sanctions even greater, is that no European company will now be allowed to provide any financial or insurance services to assist in the selling or transportation of Iranian oil and petroleum products.
This means that many shipping lines whose tankers’ insurance is brokered in London will either have to seek alternative arrangements or cease carrying Iranian petroleum exports or crude altogether.
This all comes on the back of a range of US measures [which began in 1980] which have sought to persuade the largest customers for Iranian oil in Asia to reduce their purchases.

Observe the use of that word “persuade”. For Mr Marcus goes on to say that:

The teeth in the US sanctions effort is the threat of measures against the financial institutions of any country perceived by Washington as not to be taking sufficient steps to reduce its dependence on Iranian oil.
This has prompted a rush to find alternative suppliers for at least part of their Iranian imports.
Accordingly the US has issued waivers to some 20 countries who have been reducing their purchases of Iranian crude, absolving them from financial sanctions, including most recently China and Singapore.

There are some who don’t or can’t believe that the United States behaves exactly the same as every other tyrannical empire that has ever existed. You can understand their confusion. After all, the US has always loudly professed itself to be the intrepid enemy of imperial tyranny, the champions of freedom, democracy and free trade; so they couldn’t possibly be something which they continually tell us they hate – could they? But quite apart from the fact that the US has military bases in almost every country on the planet, some of which are larger than most countries’ armies, what further evidence could be required for the existence of yet another plundering empire than this issue of imperial waivers to countries such as China and Singapore, “absolving them from financial sanctions”? Who ever elected the US president to position of global emperor, empowered to start wars wherever he chooses, often against democratic governments; and to “absolve” mighty economies from financial sanctions? Is that not a relevant question to put to our champions of democracy and free trade?

Interestingly, one of the main European countries that has long resisted US pressure to reduce its Iranian oil imports is Greece because, according to professor Paul Stevens, a senior research fellow at Chatham House, Greece receives “very favourable terms on its Iranian crude which no other supplier is likely to match”.

Two years ago the Greek economy was not significantly worse than many other world economies, but curiously enough it was that country that was initially targeted by US credit agencies for the opening salvoes in the imperial war against the Euro, which continues to this day. It’s a lesson that’s unlikely to be lost on any other country that continues to choose Iranian oil in preference to a US proxy supplier (such as Italy, for example, Europe’s second largest importer of Iranian oil after Greece), as the empire “persuades” others to share its views on “free trade”. This “persuasion” of the financial and insurance services is a very convincing argument — in the same way that a gun held to one’s head can be quite persuasive — for it means that shipping companies might not find insurers for cargoes of Iranian oil, and merchants might not find banks prepared to handle trade deals with Teheran.

The EU’s action to support the isolation of a major competitor in the supply of the planet’s primary source of fuel is of course wonderful news for the empire, as it consolidates its position as monopoly supplier. Quite apart from Iran’s vast oil reserves, that country also occupies a very important strategic location in Asia, as a quick glance of a map of the region could quickly verify; and there will be no rest for the Iranian people until our champions of freedom and democracy – and free trade of course – are once again in full control of both – as they were thirty three years ago when Iran was being ruled by the tyrannical US proxy, Shah Reza Pahlavi.

Trade sanctions against Iraq, in which British armed forces were complicit in enforcing, are believed to have killed at least half a million Iraqi children, and who knows how many others – and that was before our armed forces then joined the empire in their illegal military invasion in 2003. If the deliberate killing of half a million children by a foreign country isn’t an act of war, indeed a war crime, then what is? If half a million British children were killed by a foreign country would we not consider it a war crime?

Trade sanctions are simply the modern name of an ancient tactic of war: the siege. Defenceless civilians — the elderly, the sick, women, and kids — have always been the main victims of sieges. So when our government begins once again to actively support and enforce yet another siege against yet another sovereign country that does us no harm, to cause once again hundreds of thousands to tremble under our violence, surely it deserves a little public debate.

John is a writer and political activist based in England. He can be contacted through his website. His main contribution comprises three free-to-use works-in-progress: The People’s Constitution, The School of Kindness, and EnMo Economics . Read other articles by John.