Tensions are rising in the Gulf, with a belligerent wing of the Trump administration set on sabre-rattling with the Iranian regime. We must oppose this imperialist warmongering.
Sparks have been flying recently between the US government and the Iranian regime. Last week, US president Trump ordered missile strikes on Iran, but then abruptly cancelled them. The incident was the peak (to this point) of weeks of tensions between the two governments. The aborted strike came after Iran shot down a US military drone somewhere near the Strait of Hormuz. The US claims the drone was in international airspace. Iranian authorities, however, claim the drone was inside Iranian airspace when it was shot down.
Wherever the drone was, the main question is what is a US military drone doing close to Iranian borders at all? Regardless of whether it actually crossed into Iranian airspace, it is clear that the drone is a part of a completely unprovoked military mission, aimed against Iran.
In fact, what are US warships, aircraft carriers, bomber planes and thousands of troops doing in the Gulf and throughout the Middle East, thousands of miles from US borders? The areas around Iran are littered with US military bases and naval units. In the past months, several thousand new troops and pieces of new equipment have been added to these forces; and surveillance and patrolling missions have been stepped up in a blatant attempt at threatening Iran. What would the response of the US government be if Iran, or any other outside power, began building military bases in Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean?
Trump confirms he called off attack on Iran, says it wasn’t ‘proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone’ https://t.co/OwVZa1HhaE
— The Washington Post (@washingtonpost) June 21, 2019
The ramping up of the rhetoric follows weeks of rising tensions. In the past weeks, four oil tankers in the area have been hit by explosions, all of which have been blamed on Iran by the US officials.
Beside some grainy videos, which don’t show anything, the evidence for Iranian involvement is very thin. Furthermore, one of the ships hit was a Japanese tanker. The tanker was hit during the visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe to Tehran, a visit that US allies in the Middle East and many in Washington were opposed to, because Abe was attempting to mediate between Iran and the US.
Another of the oil tankers that was hit was staffed partially with Russians. Jeopardizing Russian sailors’ lives would be a serious blow to the carefully constructed alliance that Iran has struck with the country. What interest would the Iranian regime have in risking its precious and rare international relationships, when all of its efforts are aimed at breaking its decades-long political and economic isolation?
Who is the aggressor?
While the Iranian regime has railed against the west in public, its real aim has always been to be accepted within the so-called international community. That is, to be given a seat at the table with the big boys of world capitalism. In this respect, in past years, the regime has done its utmost to appear reliable and dependable. It has taken no unprovoked actions and has shown restraint in the face of US, Israeli and European provocations. In fact, while the US and the EU never fully implemented the nuclear deal agreed with Iran in 2015, Iran has stuck to every dot and comma of that deal until now, something that has been confirmed repeatedly by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It is only in recent weeks, after four years of stalemate, that the Iranians have threatened to increase their enrichment beyond what is stated in the nuclear deal.
Meanwhile, the US never fully lived up to the terms of the deal. On the contrary, Trump tore it up and reimposed one of the harshest sanction regimes in history on Iran. The sanctions, which are nothing short of economic warfare, are already having a disastrous effect on the economy. The Rial is down more than 60 percent compared to last year. Several imported goods are drying up and inflation is shooting up. According to official figures, which heavily underestimate real inflation, prices on meat are up by around 60 percent, eggs and dairy products by around 40 percent, vegetables by 50 percent and housing and medicine by around 20 percent. This comes on top of years and years of inflation and corrosion of the buying power of the working masses, caused to a large extent by the decades-long sanctions regime imposed on the country by the US.
Looking at western media reports, you would think that the Iranian regime has set the whole region on fire. The US and its allies are trying to portray Iran as the aggressor in the region, but the facts reveal another picture. However you want to twist and turn it, Iran has not attacked any other country in modern times.
But aside from the economic siege against Iran, the US has carried out two disastrous wars against two of Iran’s neighbours – Iraq and Afghanistan – leading to the deaths of more than one million people and destroying the lives of millions more for generations to come. In Syria too, it was the US, along with its Western allies, Gulf monarchies, Turkey and Jordan who hijacked the Syrian revolution and whipped up a sectarian war in order to topple Bashar Al-Assad. The destruction in Syria will stain the lives of the Syrian people for decades.
At the same time, the US and Britain have been backing the barbaric Saudi war on the people of Yemen, which has killed tens of thousands and left millions in starvation. As they did in Yemen, the Saudis are now supporting the same Sudanese mercenary forces – mainly child soldiers – to rape and murder revolutionaries in Sudan.
Of course, then there is the Israeli regime, which has been violently oppressing Palestinians for generations, bombing and killing them at will. It has also attacked Lebanon on several occasions and has recently been carrying out attacks on targets in Syria.
The aim of the Iranian regime is to prove that it can be a reliable partner of the west in the Middle East – as long as the west accepts Iranian influence in the region and does not try to undermine its rule at home. The Iranian regime is looking for a deal with the West, in particular in order to attract investments. A military escalation at this stage would only serve to increase the isolation of Iran and further drive down its battered economy. Why would they risk all of this by carrying out reckless attacks on oil tankers and ramping up tensions in the Gulf?
At this stage, the Iranian regime has no interest in carrying out this type of aggression. But there are others who do. It is no secret that for years, the regimes in Saudi Arabia and Israel have been calling for attacks on Iran, which they consider to be an existential threat.
By destroying the Iraqi state and army, the US invasion of Iraq destroyed the balance of forces throughout the Middle East. Not only did it remove the biggest check on Iran’s military, it also increased Iran’s influence in Iraq dramatically. In Syria as well, the influence of Iran and its allies has only increased, while Western and Saudi-backed forces such as al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, and the Islamic State have been defeated – and the Americans only have themselves to blame.
In fact, in regards to the Islamic State (IS) – a spawn of the CIA and Gulf monarchies – the US was forced to do a u-turn after the group became a threat to the stability of the whole region. In doing this it had to lean on Iranian and Kurdish forces, bringing it into conflict with its traditional Saudi and Turkish allies.
The Saudis were in turn demanding the US intervene directly, with troops on the ground. But the disastrous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, costing trillions of dollars, as well as huge political capital, only to end up in defeat, had blocked that path. Obama could not even pass the bombing of Syria through Congress. The American people are not interested in wars and any adventure would lead to massive anti-war movements, which would destabilise the whole political system in the US. Trump himself recognised this fact, making a retreat from the Middle East a key campaign promise.
The rise of Iran represents an existential threat to Saudi Arabia, not only to its imperialist ambitions in the region, but also militarily and internally as a potential patron of a rising Shia movement in the oil-rich eastern regions of the Kingdom. To up the ante, the Saudis responded by starting a war in Yemen, but while they are not advancing much against Houthi forces, the Houthis are increasingly successful in striking targets inside the Kingdom. On 12 June, Houthi missiles hit Abha airport in southwestern Saudi Arabia, and yesterday missiles hit important targets in the Jizan province. While not directly controlled by Iran, the Houthis are supported by Iran against Saudi Arabia. Their ongoing, successful defence against Saudi aggression is a huge source of instability in the Kingdom, which is undergoing the deepest crisis in its history.
For the Israeli regime as well, the rise of Iran represents a critical threat. The predatory imperialist regime has used its military superiority to constantly expand and grab new areas throughout its history. But with Iranian influence rising in Lebanon and Syria, those conditions are under threat. Furthermore, a potentially nuclear-armed Iran would be a critical threat to the Israelis who have become accustomed to having a monopoly on nuclear arms in the Middle East.
In these conditions, the de facto detente between Iran and the US during the Obama administration, which was then formalised through the Iran nuclear deal, became the source of deep tensions between Saudi Arabia, Israel and the US. In an unprecedented move, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu went as far as to campaign openly for the Republicans in the elections. Meanwhile, the Obama administration supported the Israeli opposition in Israel.
The Trump doctrine
For Donald Trump, foreign policy, like most other things, revolves around himself. He is opposed to a new military adventure in the Middle East, but besides that, he doesn’t really care much about the region. His interests mainly focus on the effects of foreign policy in the US, and on him personally.
He has formed a close alliance with the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, as well as Benjamin Netanyahu, both of whom support him politically and with funding. All three men have, in fact, taken on different forms of pariah status within the ruling classes of their respective countries and are relying on each other’s support. Trump heavily intervened in the Israeli elections behind Netanyahu, going as far as to recognise the Golan Heights as part of Israel, even after having already taken the provocative step of recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
In Saudi Arabia as well, Trump and his son in law, Jared Kushner played a decisive role in Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman’s recent power grab. In return, Bin Salman has been pouring money into Trump and his projects.
Furthermore, Trump is forced to lean on the caucus of warmongering hawks in the Republican party, whose endorsement he needs in the upcoming presidential elections, as well as to carry out his policies. Among these are his National Security Advisor, John Bolton: a proven warmongering madman, who has been arguing for strikes on Iran for years. In 2015, Bolton, who was also central in pushing the US to invade Iraq, wrote an article called “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”, in which he called on the US and/or Israel to bomb Iran to stop it from acquiring nuclear bombs. He recently ordered the Pentagon to draw up a plan for sending up to 120,000 troops into the Middle East to fight Iran. Cherry picking and manipulating intelligence information to justify military adventures, such as the one in Iraq, is an old method of Bolton’s, who has been trying to push Trump towards an attack on Iran for months.
Meanwhile, other top Trump officials, in particular coming from the Pentagon, have been warning of the consequences of a war on Iran. The Iranian military is not like that of Iraq. It is a powerful force with hundreds of thousands of troops, many of whom have experienced combat recently in Syria and Iraq. Additionally, it has the capacity to mobilise hundreds of thousands, if not millions, more. For this reason, along with the natural defences of the country, an invasion of Iran is ruled out. Any US attempt at sending ground troops to Iran would make the defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan look like victories. That leaves aerial attacks, which would solve nothing in the long run, and which could easily escalate and draw the US into a ground operation. Furthermore, Iran could easily block the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world’s oil passes, driving up oil prices and causing catastrophic damage to the fragile world economy. US troops stationed throughout the region, in particular in Iraq, would also be in danger from the hundreds of thousands of highly motivated local militiamen, who are loyal to Iran, from Iraq through Syria and Lebanon.
Trump does not want to go down this path. Even last week, after the Iranians shot down the US drone, he was playing down the episode, saying “I think probably Iran made a mistake – I would imagine it was a general or somebody that made a mistake in shooting that drone down (…) It could have been somebody who was loose and stupid.” After the aborted mission, Trump said that he was “in no hurry” to confront Iran, saying that a strike wouldn’t have been “proportionate to shooting down an unmanned drone.”
It is clear that Trump is not interested in a costly and potentially ruinous military adventure in Iran, such as the one his allies are pushing him towards. As a partial concession to Bolton and co., he agreed to tear up the Iran nuclear deal and to impose sanctions. From Trump’s point of view, sanctions on Iran are fine if it keeps his allies somewhat happy: supporting his politics, donating to his campaign and making deals with his companies. Now these same people are pushing him to go further. Seeing his desire to be seen as the strong man and bully, never to back down, they are trying to shame him into starting what could be a domino line of events, which could lead to a military confrontation.
Trump’s method in politics is very simple: make a big show, appear reckless and uncontrollable, then sit down and make a deal. In Syria, he bombed empty airfields on two occasions, after which he entered into negotiations with Russia. In North Korea, he made a big song and dance about raining “fire and fury” over the country, after which he started negotiations. However, in Iran’s case, he has already shown his hand by hesitating. While US imperialism is still the most powerful force on the planet, it is not omnipotent, and it is not able to intervene militarily in Iran. It is the same problem faced by the Obama administration, which Trump saw as weak.
Unlike Obama, Trump thinks that he can keep sanctions on Iran, bleeding the country dry, indefinitely. But, along with the constant threats made by Israel, Saudi Arabia and the hawks in Washington, Iran might realise that a nuclear bomb would not be a bad idea after all. Seeing how a small poor country like North Korea has forced Trump to sit and negotiate on equal terms with mighty US imperialism, the mullahs might see that as a safer path than their present attempts to come to terms with the West. If Iran chooses to go down that path, there is little its foes can do to stop it. This could lead to a catastrophic arms race in the region, with Saudi Arabia and Turkey next in line to acquire nuclear arms, adding to the instability.
If anything, far from weakening the regime, Trump has handed it a political lifeline. Last year saw one of the most turbulent years in the history of the Islamic Republic, with widespread mass protests at the beginning of the year, and dozens of daily protests and strikes by workers, peasants and youth throughout the country. But as the sanctions begin to bite and war drums beat harder, the masses are rallying behind the regime against US imperialism: an enemy they hate far more than the mullahs.
Symptomatic of the general, senile decay of US capitalism, foreign policy has become extremely short sighted. In this, Trump is not much different than others at the top of US politics. One only has to look at the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. US imperialism used to plan decades ahead, but now it is caught in a web of contradictions stemming from the crisis of capitalism, from which it cannot escape. The US ruling class used to agree on foreign policy behind the scenes and show a united front in public. But today, Democrats, Republicans and factions within those two parties are openly sabotaging each other’s plans, leading to crisis after crisis. The intervention by the Saudis and the Israelis in US politics only adds fuel to the fire.
All of this provokes further instability throughout the world. As their system sinks deeper and deeper into crisis, the capitalists and their political representatives are showing that they are willing to drag down the whole of society into barbarism to appease their own narrow, individual interests. The only solution is to fight for the overthrow of the whole rotten system on an international scale.
- No to war with Iran!
- Down with US imperialism!
- Down with capitalism!
Originally published on In Defence of Marxism on 21st June 2019