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Let's start with red lines. Here it is, Washington’s ultimate red line, straight from the lion’s mouth. Only last week Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said of the Iranians, “Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No. But we know that they're trying to develop a nuclear capability. And that's what concerns us. And our red line to Iran is do not develop a nuclear weapon. That's a red line for us.”
How strange, the way those red lines continue to retreat. Once upon a time, the red line for Washington was “enrichment” of uranium. Now, it’s evidently an actual nuclear weapon that can be brandished. Keep in mind that, since 2005, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has stressed that his country is not seeking to build a nuclear weapon. The most recent National Intelligence Estimate on Iran from the US intelligence community has similarly stressed that Iran is not, in fact, developing a nuclear weapon (as opposed to the breakout capacity to build one someday).
What if, however, there is no “red line,” but something completely different? Call it the petrodollar line.
Banking on Sanctions?
Let’s start here: In December 2011, impervious to dire consequences for the global economy, the US Congress—under all the usual pressures from the Israel lobby (not that it needs them)—foisted a mandatory sanctions package on the Obama administration (100 to zero in the Senate and with only twelve “no” votes in the House). Starting in June, the United States will have to sanction any third-country banks and companies dealing with Iran’s Central Bank, which is meant to cripple that country’s oil sales. (Congress did allow for some “exemptions.”)
The ultimate target? Regime change—what else?—in Tehran. The proverbial anonymous US official admitted as much in the Washington Post, and that paper printed the comment. (“The goal of the US and other sanctions against Iran is regime collapse, a senior US intelligence official said, offering the clearest indication yet that the Obama administration is at least as intent on unseating Iran’s government as it is on engaging with it.”) But oops! The newspaper then had to revise the passage to eliminate that embarrassingly on-target quote. Undoubtedly, this “red line” came too close to the truth for comfort.
Former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen believed that only a monster shock-and-awe-style event, totally humiliating the leadership in Tehran, would lead to genuine regime change—and he was hardly alone. Advocates of actions ranging from airstrikes to invasion (whether by the United States, Israel or some combination of the two) have been legion in neocon Washington. (See, for instance, the Brookings Institution’s 2009 report “Which Path to Persia.”)