Why the War Party Needed To Demonize Iran

When the 77-Years War ended in 1991, the Shiite theocracy ensconced in Tehran was an unfortunate albatross on the Persian people. But it was no threat to America’s homeland safety and security, either.

The very idea that Tehran is an expansionist power bent on exporting terrorism to the rest of the world is a giant fiction and tissue of lies invented by the Washington War Party and its Bibi Netanyahu branch in order to win political support for their confrontationist policies.

Indeed, the three-decades-long demonization of Iran has served one overarching purpose. Namely, it has enabled both branches of the War Party to conjure up a fearsome enemy. In turn, this threat is used to justify aggressive policies that call for a constant state of military mobilization and maintenance of a vast armada of expeditionary forces – forces which bleed that nation’s fiscal resources but do nothing at all for the security and safety of the American homeland.

Indeed, Iran has not been demonized by happenstance. When the Cold War officially ended in 1991, the Cheney/neocon cabal  then domiciled in the Pentagon deeply feared the kind of drastic demobilization of the U.S. military-industrial complex that was warranted by the suddenly more pacific strategic environment. That is to say, the kind of drastic reduction in military spending which occurred after both WWI and WWII, and appropriately so.

After years of Forever Wars, of course, there is no present day knowledge of what the neocons feared at the time of the Soviet collapse. So it is useful to recall what actually happened after the great wars of the first half of the twentieth century.

  • WWI: From a peak of $181 billion (2021$) in 1919, US defense spending shrunk to just $11 billion by 1924. That was a –94% plunge.
  • WWII: From a 1945 peak of $1.25 trillion (2021$), US dense spending plunged by the astounding sum of $1.14 trillion by 1948. That too was a -92% decline and meant that the military industrial complex of the time was put out of business, with war factories and assets converted back to civilian production.

To avert a similar 90% shrinkage or even 50% cutback at the Cold War’s end, the incipient neocon War Party developed an anti-Iranian doctrine that was explicitly described as a way of keeping defense spending at high Cold War levels. If the fearsome Soviet Union was gone, a vastly inflated threat emanating from Iran’s minuscule GDP of $450 billion and tiny defense budget of $17 billion would needs be invented and hyperbolized to a fare-thee-well.

Needless to say, the narrative they developed to this end is one of the more egregious Big Lies ever to come out of the Beltway. It puts you in mind of the young boy who killed his parents, and then threw himself on the mercy of the courts on the grounds that he was an orphan!

To wit, during the 1980s it was actually the neocons in the Reagan Administration who issued the original fatwa – one against the Islamic Republic of Iran based on its rhetorical hostility to America. Yet that enmity was grounded in Washington’s 25-year support for the tyrannical and illegitimate regime of the Shah, and constituted a founding narrative of the Islamic Republic that was not much different than America’s revolutionary castigation of King George.

That the Iranians had a case is beyond doubt. The open US archives now prove that the CIA overthrew Iran’s democratically elected government in 1953 and put the utterly unsuited and megalomaniacal Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi on the Peacock Throne to rule as a puppet on behalf of US security and oil interests.

During the subsequent decades the Shah not only massively and baldly plundered the wealth of the Persian nation; with the help of the CIA and US military, he also created a brutal secret police force known as SAVAK. The latter made the East German Stasi look civilized by comparison.

Ironically, among his many grandiose follies, the Shah had embarked on a massive civilian nuclear-power campaign in the 1970s, which envisioned literally paving the Iranian landscape with dozens of nuclear power plants.

He would use Iran’s surging oil revenues after 1973 to buy all the equipment required from Western companies – and also fuel-cycle support services such as uranium enrichment – in order to provide his kingdom with cheap power for centuries.

At the time of the revolution, the first of these plants at Bushehr was nearly complete, but the whole grandiose project was put on hold amidst the turmoil of the new regime and the onset of Saddam Hussein’s war against Iran in September 1980. As a consequence, a $2 billion deposit languished at the French nuclear agency that had originally obtained it from the Shah to fund a ramp-up of its enrichment capacity to supply his planned battery of reactors.

Indeed, in this very context the new Iranian regime proved quite dramatically that it was not hell-bent on obtaining nuclear bombs or any other weapons of mass destruction. In the midst of Iraq’s unprovoked invasion of Iran in the early 1980s, Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against biological and chemical weapons.

Yet at that very time, Saddam was dropping his own horrific chemical weapons on Iranian battle forces – some of them barely armed teenage boys – with the spotting help of CIA tracking satellites and the concurrence of Washington. So from the very beginning, the Iranian posture was wholly contrary to the War Party’s endless blizzard of false charges about its quest for nukes.

However benighted and medieval its religious views, the theocracy that ruled Iran did not consist of demented warmongers. In the heat of battle for national survival they were willing to sacrifice their own forces rather than violate their religious scruples to counter Saddam’s chemical weapons.


Then in 1983 the new Iranian regime decided to complete the Bushehr power plant and some additional elements of the Shah’s grand civilian nuclear plan. But when they attempted to reactivate the French enrichment-services contract and buy necessary power plant equipment from the original German suppliers they were stopped cold by Washington. And when they tried to get their $2 billion deposit back, they were curtly denied that, too.

To make a long story short, the entire subsequent history of off-again, on-again efforts by the Iranians to purchase dual-use equipment and components on the international market, often from black market sources like Pakistan, was in response to Washington’s relentless efforts to block its legitimate rights as a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to complete some parts of the Shah’s civilian nuclear project.

Likewise, Iran’s inability to reactivate the enriched uranium supply contract with France is the reason it eventually attempted to develop its own enrichment capacity.

Needless to say, it did not take much effort by the neocon "regime change" fanatics that inhabited Washington’s national-security machinery, especially after the 2000 election, to spin these incipient enrichment facilities and every attempt by Iran to purchase even a lowly pump or pipe fitting as evidence of a secret campaign to get "the bomb".

The exaggerations, lies, distortions and fear mongering that came out of this neocon campaign are truly deplorable. Yet they incepted way back in the early 1990s when George H. W. Bush actually did reach out to the newly elected government of Hashemi Rafsanjani to bury the hatchet after Iran had cooperated in obtaining the release of American prisoners being held in Lebanon in 1989.

Rafsanjani was self-evidently a pragmatist who did not want conflict with the United States and the West; and after the devastation of the eight-year war with Iraq, he was wholly focused on economic reconstruction and even free market reforms of Iran’s faltering economy.

It is one of the great tragedies of history that the neocons managed to squelch even Bush the Elder’s better instincts with respect to rapprochement with Tehran.

So the prisoner-release opening was short-lived – especially after the top post at the CIA was assumed in 1991 by the despicable Robert Gates.

He was one of the very worst of the unreconstructed Cold War apparatchiks who looked peace in the eye, and elected, instead, to pervert John Quincy Adams’ wise maxim. That is, Gates spent the rest of his career searching the globe for monsters to fabricate.

In this case the motivation was especially loathsome. Gates had been Bill Casey’s right-hand man during the latter’s rogue tenure at the CIA in the Reagan Administration. Among the many untoward projects that Gates shepherded was the Iran-Contra affair that nearly destroyed his career when it blew up, and for which he blamed the Iranians for its public disclosure.

From his post as deputy national-security director in 1989 (and then as CIA head shortly thereafter), Gates pulled out all the stops to get even. Almost single-handedly he killed off the White House goodwill from the prisoner release, and launched the blatant myth that Iran was both sponsoring terrorism and seeking to obtain nuclear weapons.

Indeed, it was Gates who was the architect of the demonization of Iran that became a staple of War Party propaganda after 1991. In time that morphed into the utterly false claim that Iran is an aggressive would-be hegemon and a fount of terrorism dedicated to the destruction of the state of Israel, among other treacherous purposes.

The latter giant lie was almost single-handedly fashioned by the neocons and Bibi Netanyahu’s coterie of power-hungry henchman after the mid-1990s. Indeed, the false claim that Iran posed an "existential threat" to Israel is a product of the pure red meat domestic Israeli politics that kept Bibi in power for much of the last two decades – a plague on mankind that has still not ended.

But the truth is Iran has only a tiny fraction of Israel’s conventional military capability. And compared to the latter’s 100-odd nukes, Iran never even had a nuclear weaponization program after a small-scale research program was abandoned in 2003.

And that is not our opinion. It was the sober assessment of the nation’s top 17 intelligence agencies in the official National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs) for 2007, and has been confirmed ever since.

It’s the reason that the neocon plan to bomb Iran at the end of George W. Bush’s term didn’t happen. As Dubya confessed in his memoirs even he couldn’t figure out how he could explain to the American public why he was bombing facilities that all his intelligence agencies had said did not exist. That is, he would have been impaled on WMD 2.0 on his way out of the White House.

Moreover, now via a further study arising from the 2015 international nuclear accord – which would have straitjacketed even Iran’s civilian program and eliminated most of its enriched-uranium stockpiles and spinning capacity had not the Donald foolishly ash-canned it – the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has also confirmed that Iran had no secret nuclear-weapons program after 2003.

The whole scary bedtime story was false War Party propaganda manufactured from whole cloth.


In this context, the War Party’s bloviating about Iran’s leadership of the so-called Shiite Crescent is another component of Imperial Washington’s 30-year-long roadblock to peace. Iran wasn’t a threat to American security in 1991, and since then it has never organized a hostile coalition of terrorists that requires Washington’s intervention.

Start with Iran’s long-standing support of Bashir Assad’s government in Syria. That alliance goes back to his father’s era and is rooted in the historic confessional politics of the Islamic world.

The Assad regime is Alawite, a branch of the Shiites, and despite the regime’s brutality, it has been a bulwark of protection for all of Syria’s minority sects, including Christians, against a potential majority-Sunni ethnic cleansing. The latter would surely occur if US and Saudi-supported rebels, led by the Nusra Front and ISIS, had been permitted to take full power.

Likewise, the fact that the Baghdad government of the broken state of Iraq – that is, the artificial 1916 concoction of two striped-pants European diplomats (Messrs. Sykes and Picot of the British and French foreign offices, respectively) – is now aligned with Iran is also a result of confessional politics and geo-economic propinquity.

For all practical purposes, Iraq has been partitioned. The Kurds of the northeast have declared semi-independence and have been collecting their own oil revenue for the past few years and operating their own security forces.

And the western Sunni lands of the upper Euphrates, of course, were first conquered by ISIS with American weapons dropped in place by the hapless $25 billion Iraqi army minted by Washington’s departing proconsuls; and then obliterated during Obama’s (and the Trump’s) vicious bombing and droning campaign designed to uproot the terrorist evil that Washington itself had spawned.

Accordingly, what is left of the rump state of Iraq is a population that is overwhelmingly Shiite and nurses bitter resentments after two decades of violent conflict with the Sunni forces. Why in the world, therefore, wouldn’t they ally with their Shiite neighbor?

Likewise, the claim that Iran is now trying to annex Yemen, thereby justifying the mayhem wreaked upon it by the Saudi air war, is pure claptrap. The ancient territory of Yemen had been racked by civil war off and on since the early 1970s. And a major driving force of that conflict has been confessional differences between the Sunni South and the Houthi (Shiite) North.

In more recent times, Washington’s blatant drone war inside Yemen against alleged terrorists and its domination and financing of Yemen’s government eventually produced the same old outcome. That is, another failed state and an illegitimate government that fled at the 11th hour, leaving another vast cache of American arms and equipment behind.

Accordingly, the Houthis forces now in control of substantial parts of the country are not some kind of advanced guard sent in by Tehran. They are indigenous partisans who share a confessional tie with Iran, but who have actually been armed, if inadvertently, by Washington.

Finally, there is the fourth element of the purported Iranian axis – the Hezbollah-controlled Shiite communities of southern Lebanon and the Beqaa Valley in the northeast. Like everything else in the Middle East, Hezbollah is a product of historical European imperialism, Islamic confessional politics and the frequently misguided and counterproductive security policies of Israel.

In the first place, Lebanon was not any more a real country than Iraq was when Sykes and Picot laid their straight-edged rulers on a map. The result was a stew of religious and ethnic divisions – Maronite Catholics, Greek Orthodox, Copts, Druse, Sunnis, Shiites, Alawites, Kurds, Armenians, Jews and countless more – that made the fashioning of a viable state virtually impossible.

At length, an alliance of Christians and Sunnis gained control of the country, leaving the 40% Shiite population disenfranchised and economically disadvantaged, as well. But it was the inflow of Palestinian refugees in the 1960s and 1970s that eventually upset the balance of sectarian forces and triggered a civil war that essentially lasted from 1975 until the turn of the century.

It also triggered a catastrophically wrong-headed Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon in 1982, and a subsequent repressive occupation of mostly Shiite territories for the next 18 years. The alleged purpose of this invasion was to chase the PLO and Yasser Arafat out of the enclave in southern Lebanon that they had established after being driven from Jordan in 1970.

Eventually Israel succeeded in sending Arafat packing to North Africa, but in the process created a militant, Shiite-based resistance movement in southern Lebanon that did not even exist in 1982 and that in due course became the strongest single force in Lebanon’s fractured domestic political arrangements.

After Israel withdrew in 2000, the then-Christian president of the country made abundantly clear that Hezbollah had become a legitimate and respected force within the Lebanese polity, not merely some subversive agent of Tehran:

"For us Lebanese, and I can tell you the majority of Lebanese, Hezbollah is a national resistance movement. If it wasn’t for them, we couldn’t have liberated our land. And because of that, we have big esteem for the Hezbollah movement."

So, yes, Hezbollah is an integral component of the so-called Shiite Crescent, and its confessional and political alignment with Tehran is entirely plausible. But that arrangement – however uncomfortable for Israel – does not represent unprovoked Iranian aggression on Israel’s northern border.

Instead, it’s actually the blow-back from the stubborn refusal of Israeli governments – especially the right-wing Likud governments of modern times – to deal constructively with the Palestinian question.

In lieu of a two-state solution in the territory of Palestine, therefore, Israeli policy has produced a chronic state of confrontation and war with the huge share of the Lebanese population represented by Hezbollah.

The latter is surely no agency of peaceful governance and has committed its share of atrocities. But the point at hand is that given the last 35 years of history and Israeli policy, Hezbollah would exist as a menacing force on its northern border even if the Iranian theocracy didn’t exist and the shah or his heir was still on the Peacock Throne.

In short, there is no alliance of terrorism in the Shiite Crescent that threatens American security. That proposition is simply one of the big lies that was promulgated by the War Party after 1991 and that has been happily embraced by Imperial Washington since then in order to keep the military-industrial-security complex alive, and justify its self-appointed role as policeman of the world.

And in terms of its true purpose of keeping war spending high, it has succeeded remarkably. After some minor defense cutbacks in real terms during the 1990’s under Bill Clinton, the return of the full swarm of neocons to the national security apparatus under Bush the Younger removed ever trace of post-Cold War demobilization. The defense budget of $632 billion (2021$) at the end of the 77-Years War in 1991 was back up to $650 billion by 2004; and after Bush’s misbegotten invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq under the guise of the "war on terror", defense spending reach $821 billion in Dubya’s final budget.

That is to say, the Bush War Party fostered enough global military action to raise the defense budget by +30% in real terms from where it stood when the Soviet Union disappeared form the pages of history in 1991,


The actual terrorist threat has arisen from the Sunni, not the Shiite, side of the Islamic divide. But that, in turn, was largely of Washington’s own making after 1990. It was nurtured by endless US meddling in the region’s politics and by the bombing and droning campaigns against Washington’s self-created enemies.

At the root of Sunni-based terrorism is the long-standing Washington error that America’s security and economic well-being depend upon keeping an armada in the Persian Gulf in order to protect the surrounding oil fields and the flow of tankers through the straits of Hormuz.

That doctrine has been wrong from the day it was officially enunciated by one of America’s great economic ignoramuses, Henry Kissinger, at the time of the original oil crisis in 1973. The 48 years since then have proven in spades that it doesn’t matter who controls the oil fields, and that the only effective cure for high oil prices is the free market.

Every tin pot dictatorship from Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, to Saddam Hussein, to the bloody-minded chieftains of Nigeria, to the purportedly medieval mullahs and fanatical revolutionary guards of Iran has produced oil – and all they could because they desperately needed the revenue.

For crying out loud, even while the barbaric thugs of ISIS were briefly in power in eastern Syria, they milked every possible drop of petroleum from the tiny, wheezing oil fields scattered around their backwater domain. So there is no economic case whatsoever for Imperial Washington’s massive military presence in the Middle East.

The truth is, there is no such thing as an OPEC cartel – virtually every member produces all they can and cheats whenever possible. The only thing that resembles production control in the global oil market is the fact that the Saudi princes treat their vast oil reserves not much differently than Exxon.

That is, they attempt to maximize the present value of their 270 billion barrels of reserves, but ultimately are no more clairvoyant at calibrating the best oil price to accomplish that at any given moment than are the economists at Exxon or the International Energy Agency.

During the last decade, for example, the Saudis have repeatedly underestimated how rapidly and extensively the $100-per-barrel marker reached in early 2008 and again in 2014 would trigger a flow of investment, technology and cheap debt into the US shale patch, the Canadian tar sands, the tired petroleum provinces of Russia, the deep waters offshore Brazil and the like. And that’s to say nothing of solar, wind and all the other government-subsidized alternative sources of BTUs.

Way back when Jimmy Carter was telling us to turn down the thermostats and put on our cardigan sweaters, those of us in Congress on the free market side of the so-called energy-shortage debate said that high oil prices would bring about their own cure. Now we know – they most surely do.

So the Fifth Fleet and its overt and covert auxiliaries should never have been there – going all the way back to the CIA’s coup against Iranian democracy in 1953.

But having turned Iran into an enemy, Imperial Washington was just getting started when 1990 rolled around. Once again in the name of "oil security" it plunged the American war machine into the politics and religious fissures of the Persian Gulf, and did so on account of the above referenced small-potatoes conflict that had no bearing whatsoever on the safety and security of American citizens.

As US Ambassador Glaspie rightly told Saddam Hussein on the eve of Hussein’s Kuwait invasion, America had no dog in that hunt.

Kuwait wasn’t even a country; it was a bank account sitting on a swath of oil fields surrounding an ancient trading city that had been abandoned by Ibn Saud in the early 20th century. That’s because Saud didn’t know what oil was or that it was there; and in any event, it had been made a separate protectorate by the British in 1913 for reasons that are lost in the fog of diplomatic history.

Likewise, Iraq’s contentious dispute with Kuwait had been over its claim that the emir of Kuwait was "slant drilling" across his border into Iraq’s Rumaila field. Yet it was a wholly elastic boundary of no significance whatsoever.

In fact, the dispute over the Rumaila field started in 1960 when an Arab League declaration arbitrarily marked the Iraq – Kuwait border two miles north of the southernmost tip of the Rumaila field.

And that newly defined boundary, in turn, had come only 44 years after the aforementioned pair of English and French diplomats had carved up their winnings from the Ottoman Empire’s demise by laying a straight-edged ruler on the map. In so doing, they thereby confected the artificial country of "Iraq" from the historically independent and hostile Mesopotamian provinces of the Shiites in the South, the Sunnis in the West and the Kurds in the North.

In short, it did not matter who controlled the southern tip of the Rumaila field – the brutal dictator of Baghdad or the opulent emir of Kuwait. Neither the price of oil, nor the peace of America, nor the security of Europe nor the future of Asia depended upon it.

David Stockman was a two-term Congressman from Michigan. He was also the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Ronald Reagan. After leaving the White House, Stockman had a 20-year career on Wall Street. He’s the author of three books, The Triumph of Politics: Why the Reagan Revolution Failed, The Great Deformation: The Corruption of Capitalism in America and TRUMPED! A Nation on the Brink of Ruin… And How to Bring It Back. He also is founder of David Stockman’s Contra Corner and David Stockman’s Bubble Finance Trader.