The US and Iran: moving closer to war
17 September 2007. A World to Win News Service. The shadow of a possible US attack on Iran is looming over world politics.
This was made as plain as day 16 September, when France’s Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner declared on French television, “We have to get prepared for the worst, and the worst is war.” He hastened to add that war is not imminent, nor is it the only possibility, and that diplomacy should continue “right to the end”. But this statement represented a turnaround from France’s previous opposition to an American attack. Until now, France has held that “the worst” is something that must be prevented, not “prepared for”.
France could conceivably send its warships and aircraft to take part in such an attack. But that is not even the most dangerous aspect of this policy shift. France’s new position will make it harder for other European countries to oppose an attack. Kouchner pointedly remarked that if the UN Security Council doesn’t move more heavily against Iran, the European Union may do so on its own – a not so subtle warning to Security Council member Russia (and perhaps China) to get behind the US or risk being reduced to irrelevancy.
Most importantly, as other commentators have pointed out, the reversal came within days of French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s lunch with US President George W. Bush in August. Earlier this year, outgoing French president Jacques Chirac commented that the prospect of Iran acquiring a few nuclear weapons was not something he lost sleep worrying about. After meeting with Bush, Sarkozy said that while war would be a catastrophe, the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iranian regime is “unacceptable”. This may indicate a belief – or even inside knowledge – by French ruling class circles that at this point a US attack cannot be prevented, and thus that France has no choice but to seek to advance its imperialist interests within this situation. ……………..
Talk, however, no matter how threatening, is not the only thing going on. Many observers have said that a mysterious early September Israeli air mission into Syria could have been a dress rehearsal for an attack on Iran. The Syrian government says its air force intercepted and forced back intruding Israeli stealth aircraft, which dropped their munitions and fuel in the desert to speed their escape. Israeli sources imply that the raid was a success, without saying what its purpose was. Neither government is giving any details. The silence from the usually boastful Israeli sources is particularly unusual. The only thing that is clear is that Israeli war craft violated the airspace of Iran’s only state ally – and that no Arab, European or any other government, not even Russia, let alone the US, indicated any discomfort with this fact.
Even before this particular alarm bell began clanging, the war drums began beating loudly in mid August when a senior US army commander, Major General Rick Lynch, claimed to have information that 50 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (Pasdaran) foreign task force (al-Quds) are working inside Iraq training Shia fundamentalists to attack occupation troops. This is not the first time US officials have made such claims, but bringing back that accusation now, especially in such harsh terms, indicates that the US is trying hard to build another case against Iran, in addition to the issue of Iran’s nuclear fuel enrichment scheme, a dossier that is also reaching a boiling point.
Right on the heels of this, the US media reported that the Bush administration is preparing to declare the 125,000-strong Revolutionary Guards a “terrorist organisation”. Pinning the “terrorist” label on an official state military service would be an extremely unusual move, a provocation not very far removed from labelling the regime itself a target of the US “war on terror” that has already led to the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
“World War IV”
On 28 August, US President George W. Bush, speaking at a veterans’ convention, escalated the accusations, claiming that the Quds unit is behind the use of “explosively formed penetrators”, the sophisticated shaped-charge roadside bombs the US holds responsible for the deaths of most of its soldiers in Iraq recently. This could possibly be the same kind of “causus belli” (reason for war) that Bush claimed to have found with Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction.” Even if the US does not intend to go any farther right now, the mere act of making this allegation is meant to inflame a certain section of the American population, including among the ranks of the military itself. Such passions cannot be turned on and off. To hear Bush and other American officials and their media talk about it, you’d think the US and Iran were already at war in Iraq.
Bush announced that he had authorised US military commanders in Iraq to “confront Tehran’s murderous activities”. He continued, “Our strategy is this: Every day we work to protect the American people. We will fight them over there so that we don’t have to fight them in the United States of America.” Once again, as in the invasion of Iraq, an attack on Iran is being painted as an act of “self-defence”. Bush warned, “I will take all actions necessary to protect our troops.”
He also once again referred to Iran’s nuclear activity, accusing the Iranian regime of threatening the Middle East with the “shadow of nuclear holocaust”, in an attempt to create a parallel between Iran’s supposed threat to the existence of Israel and the Nazi extermination of the Jews. The subtext here – no mystery to Bush’s audience – is that preventing another “holocaust” would morally justify the most violent means the US might resort to. Bush was echoing the argument put forward by the patriarch of the American neo-cons, Norman Podhoretz, that the US is on the eve of “World War IV” against “Islamofascism”, and that unlike the European countries that supposedly “appeased” the Nazis by putting off a “noble” war, this time the US must attack its enemies with everything it has without delay. “We will confront this danger before it is too late,” Bush declared.
Only hours after the Bush speech, US troops arrested seven Iranian citizens in Baghdad. Although they were released a day later, American authorities did not apologize or explain the reason for the detentions. Other Iranians previously snatched by American troops in Iraq remain in US custody. This makes it all the more remarkable that the US has not come up with any specifics about its charges, let alone evidence.
UN a “rogue” organization?
The timing of these deliberate provocations and undisguised threats of military action is worth noting. They came right after Iran had agreed to increase its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency. According to the agency, Iran, for the first time, had allowed the agency’s inspectors to visit the site of the heavy water reactor now under construction. The IAEA reported that Iran was being “unusually cooperative”. The agency’s director, Mohamed ElBaradei, said in an interview, “This is the first time Iran is ready to discuss all the outstanding issues… It’s a significant step.”
However, the US authorities dismissed this “significant step” as insufficient. A US State Department spokesman said, “Iran has refused to comply with its international obligations, and as a result of that the international community is going to continue to ratchet up the pressure.” The day after ElBaradei released a secret plan to defuse the nuclear standoff he had secretly negotiated with Iran, diplomats from the US, UK, France and Germany “marched into his office” to “protest” his “irresponsible meddling” (The New York Times 17 September).
The nuclear issue is just a stand-in for more fundamental questions. The US is posing demands that it knows the Islamic Republic cannot agree to without undermining its own power and perhaps opening the door to its own demise: a public and humiliating surrender to the US’s illegal and unreasonable demands that Iran drop all nuclear research. Both sides know that the real issue is the survival of the Iranian regime. It could be that the US stepped up it pressure on Iran (and the UN Atomic Energy Agency) just because Washington’s worst fear is of something less than a decisive showdown. In this situation, the Iranian regime has come to the conclusion that it cannot satisfy the US imperialists no matter what they do. They are ready to make concessions to save their regime, but the US is looking for something much more than concessions. They want to topple the Islamic Republic, or at least force such a major change in its structure that it would become unrecognisable. So the mullahs feel they have no choice but to prepare for a war, and sometimes they even take provocative actions in a desperate effort to gain the political initiative.
Prominent American mainstream media outlets have followed the administration line and stepped up their propaganda for bombing Iran. A signed editorial in the Washington Post, a liberal icon of the strain of the politics once associated with the Kennedy family, attacked ElBaradei as a “rogue regulator, “behav[ing] as if he were independent of [the UN Security Council], free to ignore their decisions and to use his agency to thwart their leading members – above all the United States.” The writer, Fred Hiatt, wrote a similar editorial in the run-up to the US invasion of Iraq, condemning ElBaradei for refusing to endorse the US’s lies about Saddam’s WMD. Now he concedes that the UN official was right in “debunking Bush administration charges that Saddam Hussein had restarted his nuclear program before the 2003 invasion,” but whines that he has no right to use the “capital” of the Nobel Peace Prize he won for that stand to oppose American claims this time. Instead of apologizing for its jingoistic warmongering journalism at that time, the Post seems determined to do it all over again.
Similarly, the US magazine Newsweek on 3 September published a piece by Reuel Marc Gerecht, a fellow at the leading neo-con American Enterprise Institute and a former Middle East specialist at the CIA. The article repeats US government allegations against the Iranian regime and its Revolutionary Guards, and takes them for established facts. Gerecht even pumps them up further, saying that it is “quite possible” that the Iranian regime is aiding Al-Qaeda. The article continues to say that such a situation is likely to continue, “unless the United States finds more effective ways to counter Tehran.” He concludes, “Washington can try to exercise soft power – through sanctions, resolutions, diplomatic isolation and rougher rhetoric. But the Islamic Republic, especially its radical president and praetorian guard, are accomplished practitioners of hard power. They are unlikely to be overwhelmed by moderate tactics. Instead, they seem set to continue killing Americans in Iraq, waiting to see if and when the United States gives up and runs for the exits.” Once again, the publication that carried this article is one long identified with the Democratic Party.
Various prominent figures in this ruling class party have publicly closed ranks with Bush around this issue. One of the leading Democratic presidential candidates, Barak Obama, has declared that a nuclear Iran would be worse than a war with Iran. The other, Hillary Clinton, criticizes the Bush administration for not dealing enough with Iran and putting too much emphasis on Iraq. These examples show that despite the differences within the US ruling class, and even despite some opposition to the Iraq war, many leading figures feel that they can live with another war if it is started during Bush’s administration.
Some observers believe the Bush White House is so seriously considering military plans that it will launch the attack before it leaves office and let the following president deal with the aftermath.
“The rollout will start in September”
Barnett R Rubin, an expert on Afghanistan and the region who teaches at New York University, wrote in the Informed Comments on Global Affairs blog 29 August:
“Today I received a message from a friend who has excellent connections in Washington and whose information has often been prescient. According to this report, as in 2002, the rollout will start after Labour Day, with a big kick-off on September 11. My friend had spoken to someone in one of the leading neo-conservative institutions. He summarized what he was told this way:
“They [the source’s institution] have ‘instructions’ (yes, that was the word used) from the Office of the Vice-President to roll out a campaign for war with Iran in the week after Labour Day; it will be coordinated with the American Enterprise Institute, the Wall Street Journal, the Weekly Standard, Commentary, Fox [television], and the usual suspects. It will be a heavy sustained assault on the airwaves, designed to knock public sentiment into a position from which a war can be maintained. Evidently they don’t think they’ll ever get majority support for this – they want something like 35-40 percent support, which in their book is ‘plenty.’”
Strikingly, this predicted development of events in September has at least partly come to pass, including the articles in the Washington Post and Newsweek and the attack on IAEA director ElBaradei. Rubin later wrote (5 September): “As I and many others have noted, there are increasing signs that the administration has decided or has nearly decided to launch an air and sea attack on Iran, which will include but not be limited to all installations connected to the country’s nuclear programme. All military equipment is in place for such an attack (three carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf).”
In an earlier article in the Guardian, John Pilger had reported, “The Bush administration, in secret connivance with Blair, has spent four years preparing for ‘Operation Iranian Freedom’. Forty-five cruise missiles are primed to strike. According to General Leonid Ivashov, Russia’s leading strategic thinker: ‘Nuclear facilities will be secondary targets, and there are 20 such facilities. Combat nuclear weapons may be used, and this will result in the radioactive contamination of all the Iranian territory, and beyond.’” (13 April)
Many observant journalists have shared the following observations: “Silently, stealthily, unseen by cameras, the war on Iran has begun. Many sources confirm that the US has increased its aid to armed movements among the ethnic minorities that make up about 40% of Iran’s population. ABC News reported in April that the US had secretly assisted the Baluchi group Jund al-Islam (Soldiers of Islam), responsible for a recent attack that killed 20 Revolutionary Guards. According to an American Foundation report, US commandos have operated inside Iran since 2004.” (Alain Gresh, Le Monde Diplomatique, reprinted in the Guardian, 15 May)
The importance of these new developments
Some people may think that these recent developments simply represent more threats that will not be realized. There have been so many other threats and so much speculation about military action against Iran, but it hasn’t happened, they argue, and besides that, given the quagmire in Iraq, the US does not have the capacity to launch another war.
This way of thinking doesn’t really reflect the reality of the situation, with all the dynamic forces in play. American imperialism’s analysts are well aware of the difficulties and the possible consequences of such a war, but they are also very aware that the consequences of not attacking Iran might be even worse for the empire’s strategic interests.
Bush made this clear in his major 13 September speech arguing for continuing the Iraq war, where he mentioned Iran many times and linked the US’s goals for both countries. A “free Iraq would counter Iran”, he asserted, implying that this was a major goal of the invasion from the very start – which it might well have been.
He listed the US’s goals: “defeat al-Qaeda, counter Iran, help the Afghan government, work for peace in the Holy Land, and strengthen our military so that we can prevail in our struggle against terrorists and extremists.” This statement is full of significance on different levels, including an appeal to Christian fundamentalists in referring not to Palestine or even Israel but “the Holy Land”. There is also the extremely dangerous and equally mendacious attempt to link the attack on the World Trade Center with Iraq, and now Iran as well. But at least on one level, Bush can be taken at his word: for the US imperialists, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and armed Islamic fundamentalism are all part of a package, battles to be fought in what they conceive of as a single war. The invasion of Iraq was not a mistake carried out for no real reason. The US is still pursuing the goals behind it, and for the most part there is unity in the American ruling class about that.
Iraq and Iran
The US has not set out to conquer the world country by country. The Bush strategists saw the invasion of Iraq as a cornerstone in recasting the political configuration of the oil-rich Middle East, and with that the world, to grab and ensure global hegemony. Bush’s renewed core emphasis on the importance of a “free” Iraq is a way of insisting that there be no retreat from the goal of not only conquering Middle Eastern countries to that end, but also, to the same end, setting up sustainable regimes and reforming societies so as to draw these countries even more tightly into the empire, economically and socially as well as politically, “draining the swamp” breeding Islamic fundamentalism, even in countries with US-dependent regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. (See Ian Buruma on Podhoretz in The New York review of Books, 27 September)
No matter how badly the war in Iraq may be going for them, they have not renounced that goal, and regime change in Iran is at least as key to that as Iraq, if not more so, especially because of, and not despite, the possibility of an intolerable defeat they face in Iraq and the catastrophe that would represent for their political, economic and ideological programme, including their global conflict with armed Islamic fundamentalism. They may not be eager for another war while they’re still sinking into the dust in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the desperation of the situation imposes desperate solutions and time is running out.
In short, the difficulties the US has faced in occupying Iraq have increased its necessity to go after the Iranian regime.
If we underestimate the degree to which the US is faced with real necessity in today’s world, then we would underestimate the danger of a US attack on Iran. It must grab the opportunity for global hegemony handed to it by the unexpected collapse of the other superpower before other rival configurations take hold. At the same time, as we have seen so dramatically in Iraq, this would be, at very best, a desperate gamble, and there is a very real possibility of things spinning even further out of their control – in the Middle East, elsewhere and conceivably even at home.
Despite unity on the goals, one reason why, there is still controversy about how to deal with Iran apparently even within the White House itself, between Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney, is that all the options are dangerous for the American empire and no one can predict the outcome.
Iraq is a great source of fear for these imperialists, not only because of the quagmire, but maybe even more as an example of how invasions do not necessarily turn out like some people were sure they would. The irony is that US intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq has greatly strengthened the position of the Iranian regime in the region. After all, it was the US that encouraged Saddam Hussein to attack the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1980. The downfall of Saddam and the (also initially US-backed) Taleban removed die-hard enemy regimes from Iran’s borders. But even more than that, the debacle of the occupation of the two countries brought political power for pro-Iranian forces (especially the Shia establishment in Iraq, as well as Karzai in Iran), even as the US witnessed the crumbling of the myth of its military invincibility. The US is particularly uncomfortable with this, but it seems it can do little to reverse that – short of regime change in Iran.
The degree to which the two countries are intertwined in terms of the strategic interests of the US empire, and not just in the minds of its political leaders, manifests itself, in the ways in which US strategy in Iraq is influenced by the looming war with Iran. Now we see the US preparing to dump the same Iranian-bred Shia leaders it once embraced, and re-embrace the same Baathist forces and the Sunni tribal leaders on which Saddam’s rule partially rested – not because the US just suddenly discovered Shia death squads (which they encouraged from the start), but for the sake of the anti-Shia world united front the US is trying to cobble together, however temporarily, to bring to bear against the Iranian regime.
The situation in Iran
The continued pressure on the Iranian regime by the US and other Western imperialists has given the mullahs an excuse to sharpen their blade against the people and suppress any dissident voice under the pretext of fighting subversion by foreign elements. To keep control over the people, they hide and deny the possibility of a US attack. What the regime is most concerned about is a “velvet revolution”, a non-violent regime change on the model of those engineered by the US in Ukraine and other former Soviet bloc countries. Partly out of real fear of that and partly using that as an excuse, it has escalated its repression of the people, taking actions over the last few months unprecedented in the last ten years. Every day there are more public hangings. TV shows of prisoner “confessions” are once again widely broadcast. Several women have been publicly condemned to death by stoning recently, and there are rumours that this is happening in villages without being publicized. Police and other regime bullies threaten women and youth in the street. Every day the Ministry of Virtue accuses some newspaper of being involved in plotting a creeping coup. It is fair to say that the recent repression has affected all the various aspects of people’s lives. Socially, the youth are the main target. Students are under close surveillance and political pressure. Worker activists have been arrested and imprisoned, and youth in poor neighbourhoods are executed as “thugs”. All this is meant to sow fear among the rebellious youth who grew up during the years of suppression and deprivation.
The reality is that the spectre of mass rebellion is threatening the Islamic regime. For the regime, just as much as for the imperialists, the future is unpredictable and full of menace from below.
The interest of the people is to reject both imperialist and reactionary fundamentalist forces. Untold lives and suffering are at stake. It is important to support the Iranian people in their fight against a brutal and reactionary regime, and at the same time build a strong movement to oppose and resist further US aggression, and in this way promote revolution aimed against all the reactionaries and imperialists. This is the most potentially powerful factor that could sabotage the plans of all the reactionaries involved