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Proletarian issue 20 (October 2007)
US banging the drums of war against Iran
Imperialism cannot keep away from war even when it spells disaster for itself.
The irresistible decline of imperialism is graphically illustrated by the desperate means to which it resorts in its attempts to hinder that decline.

Take, for example, the war in Iraq. Any moderately intelligent schoolchild could have predicted, regardless of the hysterical pro-war fanfare that provided the media soundtrack to the invasion, that Britain and the US would find themselves in an unwinnable war that would bring them nothing but disgrace and bankruptcy. Nonetheless, they pressed ahead, and the results are there for all to see: defeat, quagmire, another Vietnam.

But, for all their expensive degrees in politics and international relations, the top-level state advisers in the US aren’t clever enough to work out that a war with Iran would be another unmitigated disaster. The lure of oil and gas is too powerful, the potential fruits too sweet, for Iran to be left to develop in peace as an independent nation (Iran ranks second in the world in natural gas reserves and third in oil reserves).

In the last few weeks, the open disillusionment with the state of play in Iraq has been accompanied by a flurry of thinly-veiled threats against Iran, indicating that the major imperialist powers with a stake in the Middle East may be planning to shift emphasis from Iraq to Iran.

According to Julian Borger, writing in The Guardian of 18 September: “There has been a string of reports out of Washington that the Bush administration is running out of patience with diplomacy and is intensifying its plans for air strikes as a means of halting Iran’s disputed nuclear programme.” (‘Drift into war with Iran out of control, says UN’)

Pact with the IAEA

The US and its allies have taken particular offence at the deal struck between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 21 August, in which Iran agreed to give full answers to various questions the IAEA has in relation to its nuclear energy programme. The IAEA has stated that the agreement “gives Iran an opportunity to show goodwill in meeting its obligations to the international community” . (‘Iran’s pact threatens to wrongfoot the west’ by Roula Khalaf and James Blitz, Financial Times, 20 September 2007)

On the basis of this agreement, Mohamed El-Baradei, Director General of the IAEA, has gone on record as saying that Iran’s nuclear programme presents “no clear and present danger”. Warning against the use of force, El-Baradei told reporters: “There are rules on how to use force, and I would hope that everybody would have gotten the lesson after the Iraq situation, where 700,000 innocent civilians have lost their lives on the suspicion that a country has nuclear weapons.” (Cited in The Guardian, op cit)

Condoleezza Rice reacted angrily to the sound advice of El-Baradei, saying: “It is not up to anybody to diminish or to begin to cut back on the obligations that the Iranians have been ordered to take.” Rice maintained that “all options” were on the table. (Cited in The Financial Times, op cit)

Gary Samore, of the Council on Foreign Relations, concisely summed up the dilemma as felt by his belligerent paymasters: “If Iran satisfies the IAEA – and the agency says so – then the international consensus for suspension of uranium enrichment will fall apart.”

Essentially, the words of the various supposedly neutral intergovernmental agencies like the IAEA are only to be heeded when they are exactly consistent with the needs of US foreign policy.

France and Israel back drive to war

The US and Britain have been joined in their sabre-rattling campaign by France, whose new government under Nicolas Sarkozy is curiously keen to prove its pro-US credentials.

Sarkozy took it upon himself to share his apparently intimate knowledge of the Iranian nuclear programme, declaring on French television: “Iran is trying to obtain an atomic bomb.” Clearly he is privy to information that the IAEA is unaware of. (‘Powers to discuss Iran sanctions’, BBC News Online, 21 September 2007)

Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, proposed an EU-wide sanctions regime and clearly indicated that France would take part in a military action against Iran, saying: “We have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war.” (‘France moots EU-wide Iran sanctions’, Financial Times, 17 September 2007)

Iran’s Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) aptly commented that “the occupants of the Elysée [the French presidential palace] have become the executors of the will of the White House and have adopted a tone that is ... even more inflammatory and more illogical than that of Washington”. (‘Iran scorns French warning of war’, BBC News Online, 17 September 2007)

Plans are also in place for Israel to bomb Iran at a moment’s notice. Israel has said for years that it is ready and willing to bomb Iran whenever the US asks it to. Indeed, this is precisely the sort of proxy mission that makes Israel so useful to the US that the latter is willing to sponsor it to the tune of several billion dollars a year.

The late and unlamented Ariel Sharon was quoted in December 2005 as saying that “Israel – and not only Israel – cannot accept a nuclear Iran. We have the ability to deal with this and we’re making all the necessary preparations to be ready for such a situation.” (‘Israel readies forces for strike on nuclear Iran’, Sunday Times, 11 December 2005)

There is no doubt that one of the motivators for Israel’s recent aerial raid on Syria, flown through Turkish airspace, was the precautionary message it would send to Iran. Peter Beaumont, writing in The Observer of 16 September, writes: “Whatever the truth of the allegations against Syria – and Israel has a long history of employing complex deceptions in its operations – the message being delivered from Tel Aviv is clear: if Syria’s ally, Iran, comes close to acquiring a nuclear weapon, and the world fails to prevent it, either through diplomatic or military means, then Israel will stop it on its own. So Operation Orchard can be seen as a dry run, a raid using the same heavily modified long-range aircraft, procured specifically from the US with Iran’s nuclear sites in mind.”

British unions add to pressure on Iran

The bid for regime change in Iran is, of course, not restricted to military or diplomatic techniques. One of the US’s favoured practices is economic and political sabotage, and tens of millions of dollars have been poured into the coffers of ‘pro-democracy’ (yes, that means pro-US) groups in Iran in the hope of igniting a ‘people’s power’ revolution.

It’s unfortunate that several major British trade unions (including the more progressive ones such as the RMT) have taken it upon themselves to unwittingly (or dim-wittedly) assist the CIA in its work, by zealously taking up the cause of the ‘pro-democracy’ union movement in Iran and loudly condemning the ‘Tehran secret police’ for its alleged offences.

This is, of course, a tricky issue. We very much favour workers’ rights and the freedom of workers to organise in pursuit of those rights; however, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that this sudden surge of ostensibly ‘pro-worker’ activity is inextricably bound up with the attempts by the US and its allies to destabilise Iran in preparation for an all-out bid to gain economic control over Iran’s natural resources.

At this point in time, the central focus of the Iranian working class must be to participate in the national defence against imperialist aggression – a victory for imperialism in Iran would be a massive step backwards for the workers and peasants of that country (and indeed of the world).

Rights to technology and national defence

Iran has repeatedly rejected UN demands to give up the enrichment of uranium, and it is right to do so. Why should particular technologies be reserved for the richest states?

There is very little evidence to indicate that its motivation in enriching uranium is military. Speaking at the UN General Assembly, Ahmadinejad pointed out: “All our nuclear activities have been completely peaceful and transparent ... Iran has moved forward step by step and now our country is recognised as one with the capacity for industrial-scale fuel cycle production for peaceful purposes.” (‘Key quotes: UN General Assembly’, BBC News Online, 26 September 2007)

That having been said, we should note that Iran has every right to develop nuclear weapons. Indeed, the possession of such weapons is becoming a crucial self-defence measure in these days of uninhibited imperialist bullying, where militarily weak countries are coerced into accepting the diktat of monopoly capital.

Iran is not a ‘dangerous’ nation; it has started no wars; it is simply interested in getting on with life and developing as a sovereign state. It cannot be compared to vile, aggressive, warmongering states such as Britain and the US – states that routinely drop depleted uranium on population centres.

As Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega put it at the recent UN General Assembly: “With what authority does Bush question the right of Iran and the right of North Korea ... to nuclear development for peaceful purposes? And even if they wanted nuclear power for military purposes, with what right can we question this? The US is the only country in the world to have launched nuclear bombs on innocent people – Hiroshima and Nagasaki …” (Ibid)

Military action doomed

The imperialists are incorrigibly stupid and relentlessly reckless. They have even less chance of success in Iran than they had in Iraq (which was military far weaker than Iran is now) or Afghanistan (whose government was far less popular than the Iranian government is), and yet the miniscule chance of success is not enough to deter military action.

Such is the importance of the control of natural resources. The potential gains are so lucrative that the US, Britain, France and Israel may well be willing to risk another total disaster, which is certainly what they would face.

The Iranian armed forces are well trained and well equipped. According to Iranian General Mohammad Hassan Koussechi, US positions in neighbouring Iraq and Afghanistan “are within our range”. Koussechi added that any bombing raid on targets in Iran would provoke a tough response. (‘Iran scorns French warning of war’, op cit)

Meanwhile, a land invasion would be doomed to ignominious failure. Iranians are fiercely protective of their independence and are well acquainted with US-style democracy (having suffered 26 years of it after the CIA-engineered anti-democratic coup against the Mossadeq government in 1953). Furthermore, it may surprise the reader to know that the Iranian government has a very high level of support amongst the Iranian population, which enjoys a high standard of living, funded to a large extent by the oil industry (which was nationalised in 1979).

In her article ‘Why the US is targeting Iran’, Sara Flounders points out:

“It is never mentioned that more than half the university students in Iran are women, or that more than a third of the doctors, 60 percent of civil servants and 80 percent of all teachers in Iran are women. At the time of the 1979 Iranian Revolution, 90 percent of rural women were illiterate; in towns the figure was over 45 percent. Also ignored is the stunning achievement of full literacy for Iranian youth.

“Iran’s comprehensive social protection system includes the highest level of pensions, disability insurance, job training programs, unemployment insurance and disaster-relief programs. National subsidies make basic food, housing and energy affordable to all.”
(, 5 May 2007)

Flanders quotes an unusually candid comment by the bourgeois political economist Francis Fukuyama:

“What is it that leaders like Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez have in common that vastly increases their local appeal? A foreign policy built around anti-Americanism is, of course, a core component. But what has allowed them to win elections and build support in their societies is less their foreign-policy stances than their ability to promise, and to a certain extent deliver on, social policy – things like education, health and other social services, particularly for the poor ...

“The U.S. and the political groups that it tends to support around the world, by contrast, have relatively little to offer in this regard.”

Not only are the US and its allies having difficulty finding a stable set of supporters within Iran, they are also finding themselves isolated on the international stage. France may have thrown its chips in with the US, but Russia, China, Germany, Turkey, Italy, Venezuela, Cuba, India and many other countries have important ties with Iran which they have no intention of severing for the sake of a World Bank bribe.

The era of total US economic and political dominance that characterised the 1990s (in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union) has come to an end, and the US’s ability to apply economic pressure on weaker countries is much diminished. The re-emergence of the non-aligned movement, not to mention the heightened contradictions between the various groups of imperialists, is providing an alternative power base that is starting to make it easier for smaller nations to retain their independence.

The Eternal War

All this sabre-rattling against Iran is starting to sound eerily like the build-up to the war in Iraq. Swap the ‘n’ in Iran with a ‘q’, replace ‘Ahmadinejad’ with ‘Saddam’, substitute ‘uranium enrichment facilities’ with ‘weapons of mass destruction’, and ‘third largest proven oil reserves with ‘second largest proven oil reserves’, and you have essentially the same news item.

George Orwell wrote 1984 as an indictment of Soviet socialism (and he has been rewarded for his anti-communist efforts with a permanent place in the curricula of schools across the capitalist world), but, ironically, his analogy works much better for modern imperialism than it did for socialism. Bin Laden, Ahmadinejad, Mugabe and Chavez are Goldstein; the ‘war on terror’ is the Eternal War.

British workers must resist the imperialist war propaganda; they must learn to recognise the duplicity of the government and the mainstream press; they must support their brothers and sisters in the Middle East fighting for independence and against imperialism; and they must resolve to do everything within their power to prevent a war in Iran.
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