Muslim Press has conducted an interview with Daniel N. White to discuss Iran-US relations and the probability of a war between the two countries.

Below is the full text of the interview:

Muslim Press: Mr. White, how do you see the future of Iran-United States relations?

Daniel White: This is best looked at by looking at the rationale behind current and long-standing US-Iran enmity. The US in international relations has a long history of being a sore loser with a long memory, and the US lost badly in the late ‘70’s, both by the collapse of the Nixon-Kissenger/US foreign policy establishment construct of the Shah—a dreadfully failed investment that reflects most badly on their own competence--and the hostages in the embassy contretemps. The US, largely on account of deficient US statesmanship and the hijacking of the issue by domestic reactionary political elements for their own advancement, was badly humiliated by the hostage situation and hasn’t forgotten or forgiven Iran for it. This is true for the general mass of the American people, who, generally ignorant of history, culture, and geography all three, know this fact and little else about Iran, its history, and its peoples. This state of ignorance is compounded by the US newsmedia’s decades-long animus towards Iran in news reportage of the country and its actions, which have been generally presented as unprovoked malevolence towards the US and its allies.

But even more than the sore-loser aspect of things is the nature of the US towards smaller countries that reject its leadership/running things. Cuba is the best example. The US has just now started to normalize relations with Cuba after more than 50 years of unrelenting hostility and freeze-out. Cuba, and Fidel, have been as upfront as can be about telling Uncle Sam to stick it, and that’s the lion’s share of why the US and Cuba were enemies for five decades. Official DC says that nobody tells Uncle to stick it and gets away with it. Iran has done so, for a long time now, and is suffering similarly.

So as far as the future of US/Iran relations, I must stress that I can speak only on the US side of things, as I lack competence to discuss how Iran and Iranians see things. I don’t see any sign of any rapprochement any time soon. The US foreign policy establishment is the hostage of neocons at the top and the general illiteracy and conformity in both politics and the news media. I ought to kick the US academy while I’m at it too. Additionally, Iran serves the US ruling elites as a convenient enemy to justify whatever policies in the region it wishes to pursue—we have to do X because otherwise the Iranians will succeed at Y. Iran is a larger version of North Korea in that regards. Too much institutional inertia, too much bad blood, too many decades of propaganda, too few clear and independent-thinking US political leaders with enough guts to act on the issue. Too much pressure from Israel, via their longstanding and most successful hasbara in media and intellectual (sic) elites, that our country has shown for six decades now to be most vulnerable to.

Venturing an opinion, if Iran wants to improve its relations with the US, its best avenue is via the Iranian diaspora. More Iranian-Americans need to travel back to Iran and reconnect, favorably, with their relatives and their family’s homeland. More Iranians need to travel to the US and show Americans that they don’t have long pointed tails etc. Iranian-Americans, particularly the younger generation, must take up the issue of restoring and normalizing relations between the two countries. They need to realize that it is in their and their own new homeland’s best interest that that occurs. There is an immense amount that the Iranian government and people can do to make this happen. The situation with the Iranian diaspora is most analogous to how US/Cuban relations could finally change when a large and increasing percentage of the guisanos* finally died off this past decade. Their offspring just don’t have the animus towards the Castro regime that their parents had and are not willing to be a loud and monied one-issue pressure group on the issue—something the US political system is vulnerable to—like their parents were. Same true with the Iranian diaspora. They can be a very strong force in domestic US politics to change things, and can and should in my estimation do so.

But I stressed favorable. There is no way on earth any of this is possible should Iranian-Americans, particularly women, come back from visiting Iran and their families and tell stories of harassment or worse from the religious police for things like wearing lipstick. I suspect that the conservative sections of the Iranian government/political/religious leadership knows this and understands that their own retaining power is by keeping the extreme social conservatism policies fully in place. It is much like the Cold War, which froze things as they were in so many important domestic issues on both sides—the postwar US radical left was neutralized and economic justice issues were off the table here, and the nomenklatura remained in power unchanged and unchallenged there, as long as both sides maintained the status quo of the Cold War. Winners in the maintenance of current broken US/Iran relations:1) The US political and foreign policy establishment, which thereby saves itself the embarrassment of having to admit it might have been wrong about things you know, and 2) Israel, at least the ruling politico-military elites running things there recently, and 3) The conservative politico-religious establishment in Iran, which would also face similar we wuz wrong embarrassment to ours’. It is a most unsavory combination, n’est-ce pas?

MP: How likely do you think a war between the two countries is?

Daniel White: I would say that the likelihood is fairly low from intent, somewhat possible from misadventure. Iran is more useful to the US as an enemy-in-being rather than an actual enemy on the battlefield. Since the end of the Cold War, I’ve always wondered what would happen here in the US if the rest of the grab-bag of small tertiary or worse states our ruling elites have set up as mortal enemies - North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Cuba - all managed to become our friends tomorrow or somehow all of a sudden evaporated away off the face of the earth or something. What would this country do without an external threat ginned up all the time? Well, we’d have to face at least some of the domestic issues and failings of this country, for starters, and that is something that nobody in power or authority wants to do. Maybe the answer is right now staring us all in the face—Why I know, let’s start up the Cold War with Russia again!!!

Misadventure is always a possibility. Just look at the First World War—nobody intended that one to start.(Except the damned Austrians, who don’t get blamed enough for it.)I still don’t know about the recent war scare of the past couple of years that seems to have died with the nuclear agreement. I wish I could say with certainty that the neocons and their ilk promoting it were actually serious about having it, and weren’t acting as witting or less-than-witting agents of Israel, or that Israel was actually wanting us to bomb-solve the Iranian nuclear ‘problem’ away for them on account of their being unable to do so, and why should they pay for it anyway when we could do it for them?—but I can’t. I just don’t know.

MP: How do you think the hypothetical war between Iran and the U.S. would be, in comparison with the 2003 war waged on Iraq?

Daniel White: Military general staffs write up such studies and they are more qualified than I am to and their work necessarily runs to volumes and volumes. I’ll say what I know about the matter and I’ll stand by it. There is always room for a talented amateur, which is what I am on the matter at best, on a professional question—see the case of Jan Bloch 1899 book on the upcoming World War, the only accurate prediction of same**.

I wrote some on this earlier, when that brain-damaged embarrassment*** John McCain called for it on the floor of the US Senate.( Any war would be a catastrophe and the Iranian nation and people would suffer severely from it because the US would be dropping an awful lot of bombs on Iran. We would be mostly careless about civilian casualties and there would be many. We would destroy all sorts of Iranian infrastructure, like electric and water plants, whose loss would cost Iran large financial damage and great civilian injury and hardship. It would be very ugly and any decent person would do any and everything in their power to prevent it from happening. Iran has no way to take the war to the US national territory the way we can do it to them. But then, the US doesn’t have any way to prosecute the war, except for aerial bombardment and naval blockade, to Iran. We don’t have the army to invade Iran and if we tried to we’d fail quickly, as our own army’s weaknesses and the logistical problems and the stupendous economic costs of doing so to the US domestic economy make a ground war with Iran an impossibility.

So the inevitable course of any US-Iran war would be one of air bombardment and naval blockade. If Iran’s air defenses are capable of shooting down airplanes at a decent percentage, it wouldn’t take many shot down for the US to suffer serious economic loss, perhaps greater ones than they could inflict on the Iranian economy.****The US Navy would be well advised to stay out of the enclosed waters of the Persian Gulf, as they would be smart not to test how good anti-ship technology has become lately. Cost factors there as well on ship losses.****The US could put a very successful distant blockade on Iran which would over time cause great economic hardship. I suspect strongly that Iran could put sufficient hurt on the US Navy to keep it from operating in the Persian Gulf.

This naturally enough leads to what next, assuming such a war were to occur. The US is unable to militarily force a change in the Iranian government, which is the only reasonable objective it could have for a war. Iran could not ever militarily defeat the US, nor realistically inflict a defeat of any real size on the US armed forces, like putting a couple of divisions in the bag, which the Chinese almost managed in ’50.The general fear in the US is that Iran would extend the war to US allies (Saudi Arabia); this probably more than anything else indicates an unstated understanding in US elite circles about what a weak reed the Saudi nation is and how its armed forces are for parade-ground use only. If the US wants to turn Iran into a Libya through its military efforts, a collapsed state and economy, I doubt it could, as Iran is a big country with resources and has cooperative neighboring countries and that would defeat the import part of the blockade. Things would wind down into some sort of stasis, neither side being able to force the issue militarily. At that point, both sides would have to turn to their diplomats to resolve matters. Good luck there. Things get even more complicated should Iran, as it probably would try to and probably succeed at, block oil transit through the Gulf. How the US could manage to keep the rest of the world from disowning it after the worldwide economic depression that would happen from that is beyond me. There has to my knowledge never been any sort of war between two countries where a military decision was an impossibility the way it would be here. It is complete terra nova.

Additional comment is necessary about what any US war objective would be. You are supposed to have a rationale for a war before you start it and we haven’t in our recent wars and that fact explains most of all why we lost in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Anyone militarily knowledgeable understands this, but that quality is rare these days, in uniform or not. I like to think that the US political and military elites are smart enough to realize the impossibility—the absolutely ridiculously fatuous infantile impossibility--of the US military forcing a regime change in Iran to a pro-US regime via a war. That’s the only halfway sensible rationale for a war we would have. The other possible rationale is to turn Iran into some sort of giant Libya-like failed state, to teach it a lesson I guess. If that is the objective, then we here are, to use the famous description, wolves in the guise of men. The grotesque immorality of our making a war for this reason demands that any just God punish us all severely for it. I don’t know if my fellow countrymen understand this, and the fact that nobody in the God-business in this country has said anything about it makes me doubt that they do.

MP: You have said that Iranians are much more willing to fight against a U.S. invader than Iraqis were. Could you explain this?

Daniel White: If the US were fool enough to try and invade Iran with ground forces, it would be beaten because the Iranians would fight in a way the Iraqis never did. Napoleon said that the moral is to the physical in war as three is to one, and any Iranian military leader, from sergeant to general, worth his salt has the material at hand to motivate his forces to fight on the battlefield. There is the example in front of anyone of how Iraq and Afghanistan stymied the US army; I’m sure the Iranian military has studied it a good deal and made plans accordingly. Iran isn’t the near failed state that Iraq was, and the Iranians have a great deal more national consciousness than the Iraqis ever did. The past history of US meddling and injury to Iran is well known and would motivate any patriotic Iranian to fight.

As far as what I think of Iranians, the only ones I knew personally were students in college nearly three decades ago now. The men had a good bit higher percentage of princes among them than average, I’d say, but there was also a good percentage of jerks. Fewer average in the middle ones. The few Iranian women I knew all were cute and were not drama queens—level-headed down to earth types. That was a long time ago and I just haven’t run across hardly any Iranians since in my circles in Austin or Portland.

MP: How do you view the consequences of American misadventures in the Middle East?

Daniel White: The consequences of America’s military misadventures in the Middle East in the past two decades—well, two obvious things. First is the immense injury to the US economy and the US future well-being from all the monies squandered on these evil and pointless wars. We have papered over the effects for the time being but they will hit us, hard, soon. The second is what the effects of us accepting permanent war are on us as a people. I’ve got Indian and Pakistani friends who all say that the US is a whole lot less friendly place than when they came here to go to college in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, and they don’t know if they’d want to go to the US for college nowadays if they were 19.They are certainly right about the friendly part. We are here now finding out, whether we are aware of it or not, the truth of Abraham Lincoln’s words about the Mexican War, that he said in 1846 in a speech to Congress opposing that war of aggression:“You cannot have oppression abroad without having repression at home.”Plenty enough signs of that going around here in the US, if anyone is paying attention, at all levels. It isn’t just the trigger happy cops. But that’s another story for another day.

MP: Is America’s presence in the Persian Gulf justifiable?

Daniel White: Well, the foreign policy establishment got it in its head during the Nixon years that the USSR was scheming on seizing the oil in the region and thereby defeating the west. That was the ostensible justification for our military involvement, and our anointing the Shah as our regional agent. Seeing as there hasn’t been any USSR for better than two decades, the question needs asking as to why we are there now. Nobody in the US asks that question, which says something about how well trained to not think most everyone here is.*****The counterargument back in the ‘70’s by various other oil consuming nations was that if there was some sort of local blowup in the Gulf, well, all they really had to do to manage it would be to write bigger checks to Lloyds to cover the increased ship insurance costs. That was true then and is equally true now. Is the real reason for our military presence there the price we pay to ensure that the Gulf oil producing states stay on the dollar system? Can’t say, but if that isn’t the real reason, then we don’t have one other than institutional inertia/the dead hand of the past. And I doubt that any economist would think that a good way of running an economy, the US’ or the world’s, no matter what you think of the moral aspects of the strange mixture of intimidation and reassurance our military presence is to the nations in the region.

MP: What's your take on the U.S. support for Saddam in Iran-Iraq War? How do you relate it to the widespread anti-American sentiments among Iranian people?

Daniel White: As far as the US’ support for Saddam in the first Gulf war, well, it wasn’t that simple. We played both sides and helped both sides during the war. Israel from the git-go was selling US weapons to Iran in that war, in full violation of US laws. We never said boo about that, much less enforced the law which would have required us to slap Israel off the US arms aid tit for good for doing that. I’d say that something that cynical, playing both sides in a war off against each other, would be regarded, rightly, by most everyone as more morally reprehensible than just backing Saddam.

For what it’s worth, there are several more morally offensive things we did in those days that don’t get discussed either. First one would be our supporting Pol Pot after the Vietnamese invaded and threw him out. Arguably the most evil mass-murderer in world history ever. But hey, the Chinese were our partners in that endeavor. Then there was our supporting Jonas Savimbi in Angola—supporting him and the South Africans both. Savimbi—check out the stories of his rallies in the bush and his witch accusations at them. What an evil person. Our undeclared war on Nicaragua, too—terrible percentage of the population there killed in that war we gave them. I don’t know how much Iranians have figured this out; you tell me. Certainly almost no American has. Are Iranians more historically illiterate than Americans about recent history? Hope not, can’t imagine how anyone could be that way. I’ve always thought that Iranian accusations blaming us for the Shah were all wide of the mark. We were the bartender who kept selling that (power)-drunk liquor. We didn’t make him a power-drunk; he was born that way. That’s the extent of most of our responsibility for what transpired in Iran under the Shah. It isn’t small but it isn’t that all-encompassing big, either. The Shah didn’t lack for company in Iran, company and partners, Iranian company and partners, for everything ugly he did there, and it is a mistake, a childish mistake, to blame the US for everything he did. Iranians would be wise to look at the Shah and his regime again, without the blame-the-US glasses on, and see what it shows about Iran and its peoples that this man ran Iran the way he did for as long as he did.

There’s no shortage of good reason for Iranians to be anti-American. Or anyone else in this world to be, either. The real injury we did to Iran, aside from our evil cynical behavior during the Iran/Iraq war with its millions of deaths on both sides, (and we could have stopped that war pretty early on if we were willing to throw our weight around with our military and financial muscle) was with Mossadegh. We set back any real political progress in Iran, any chance of Iran dealing fairly with the terribly disruptive modernization it had to go through, and working through towards a decent answer to the social problems that inevitably ensued from it, for decades when we deposed him, for no good reason. What I fear is that Iranians are as brainwashed by the official anti-American drumbeat—most of which I gather is Shah-related—which is put out from your political leaders the same way and for the same reasons our political leaders put out a similar anti-Iran drumbeat here. That makes the necessary Iran/US rapprochement that much harder to achieve.

Reminds me of the great cartoon of a group of cavemen being addressed by a caveman politician, who tells them all that their problem is the enemy. Caveman group all cheers. Caveman politician then asks the group what must we do about the enemy? Group yells out “Kill the enemy!”Next panel has one caveman talking to another one as they walk past the dead body of the caveman politican, and the caveman says:“For a politician, his advice was unusually good.”



*I use the insulting Castro term for the Cuban-Americans deliberately here.I heard entirely too many stories as a kid from my fellow students, whose dads had been stationed in Florida, about how every November 22nd{date of JFK assassination} there were big parties in the Miami Cuban-American community. I believe them.


***The army view of many Air Force senior leaders is that they spent too much time at altitude without enough oxygen in their masks. Might be true of McCain, who knows?

****B-1 ran around $100 million each when new, B-2 somewhere around a half-billion each.B-52’s apt to be a little long in tooth to be used much in a war where the enemy can shoot back, although they cost only a few million dollars each, or did when they were new in the early ‘60’s at any rate. The new generation of fighter-bomberscost real stupid, but the accounting for the F-22 and F-35 is so bad that there is no real telling, but more than $100 million each, probably twice that sum told. The latest costs I’ve heard for the latest aircraft carrier coming down the skids is around $13 billion, exclusive of fitting out and aircraft costs, couple of billion each for those.

*****Same question about NATO needs asking. Nobody asking that one either.


Daniel N. White has lived in Austin, Texas, for a lot longer than he originally planned to.  He reads a lot more than we are supposed to, particularly about topics that we really aren’t supposed to worry about.  He works blue-collar for a living–you can be honest doing that–but is somewhat fed up with it right now.