Tom (Yusha) Sager
The Misfit Mathematician

tom (at)

Tuesday, March 4, 2008
Don't be manipulated
into a war against Iran

The price of gasoline has been rising precipitously, amid recent speculations about Iran's alleged nuclear ambitions and a call for a third round of U.N. sanctions.

The last time oil prices spiked was in January during a "naval confrontation" in the Strait of Hormuz. Prices rose along with rampant speculation that war with Iran was imminent. It later turned out that the so-called confrontation was a common occurrence and did not signal an escalation or an increased likelihood of war.

By contrast, when a National Intelligence Estimate stating that Iran has had no nuclear weapons program since 2003 was made public last fall, not surprisingly, gasoline prices stabilized.

One can't help wondering to what extent anti-Iranian rhetoric is simply a cynical attempt to manipulate oil prices.

But, using fear of war to manipulate commodity prices is a dangerous game. Leaders come to believe their own lies, leading us toward a war that no one wants.

To understand the current impasse, a look at U.S.-Iranian relations since World War II is indispensable.

After World War II, Iran looked upon the United States as a role model and a natural ally. We had overthrown British Imperialism on our own shores, gained control of our own resources, and created a democratic republic. This is exactly what the Iranian people wished to do.

But we betrayed them. In 1953, the United States overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohammad Mossadegh and replaced it with the dictatorial Shah.

This was the first of many CIA coups. Theodore Roosevelt's grandson, Kermit Roosevelt, ran the coup from the U.S. embassy, resorting to bribery, secrecy, hiring thugs to undermine public security, and inflicting economic hardship upon the entire country.

While the coup gained us access to cheap Iranian oil and created a client state on the Soviet border, in the long run it was devastating to our interests. The United States became known as an enemy of nascent democracies and a friend of corrupt dictators and European empires.

The Shah ruled in an increasingly bloody corrupt dictatorship until 1979 when he was overthrown, not by pro-American democrats like Mossadegh, but by anti-Western clerics. Iranian concerns that the U.S. embassy might once again be used to bring back the hated Shah were certainly not misplaced.

The definitive book on the coup is Stephen Kinzer's "All the Shah's Men." Anyone concerned about U.S.-Iranian relations ought to read this book.

After the overthrow of the Shah, The United States armed Iran's neighbor, Iraq, and encouraged it to make war against Iran. The war dragged on for eight long years, killing one million people. The United States armed both sides. As Henry Kissinger cynically stated, "the only acceptable outcome is for them both to lose".

Iran's current fear that the United States will use Iraq to launch another war against it is certainly well grounded.

While we are rightly concerned about the threat of nuclear weapons proliferation, we have missed countless opportunities to prevent it.

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which will be 38 years old tomorrow, created two classes of nations: Those that had nuclear weapons agreed to work for verifiable nuclear disarmament. Those who didn't, in exchange for peaceful nuclear technology, agreed not to seek to acquire nuclear weapons. While the non-nuclear signatories, with few
exceptions, fulfilled their treaty obligations, the nuclear powers did not. Had the United States taken the leadership in bringing the world to nuclear disarmament, the world would not be haunted now by four new nuclear powers and the spectre of further proliferation.

Iran's apprehension that the United States or Israel will attack it with nuclear weapons is understandable. The United States has been developing a new generation of nuclear weapons and has threatened to use them against Iran.

Fortunately, it is not too late to avoid another war. We should begin immediately the long-overdue negotiations toward complete and verifiable global nuclear weapons disarmament, bringing Israel, India, Pakistan and North Korea into the framework of the NPT. Serious negotiations can yield the global security that sanctions and military threats can never accomplish.

Tom Sager, the Misfit Mathematician, is a retired professor at Missouri University of Science and Technology (formerly UMR). His column appears weekly. He can be reached at or at his website, The opinions expressed in his column are his and his alone.