saturday, june 17, 2006
When US President George W. Bush identified an “axis of evil” whose existence Washington pledged to topple through a program of regime change, Iraq was not the only country the United States threatened with a virtual declaration of war. North Korea and Iran were also singled out. According to former Bush speechwriter, David Frum, who boasts he had a major hand in coining the “axis of evil” phrase, the common characteristic that bound the trio was “resentment of US power,” another way of saying they resented US efforts to encroach upon their sovereignty. (National Post, January 8, 2003.)
The quest by Washington to dominate other countries is ultimately rooted in economic forces, and seeks advantage for the country’s corporations, banks and wealthy families. While many countries have been brought under Washington’s domination, and serve as profitable outposts for US trade and investment, there are others that have broken free of the US orbit, or have always been free and resist subordination to the interests of Wall Street. These countries are variously denounced by US state officials, and in train, the country’s mass media, as outposts of tyranny, countries that have, in the accustomed language, failed to reform their economies (i.e., opened their doors to US exports and investment on terms favorable to US corporations, but injurious to domestic economic development.)
They are, as charged, resentful of the US, not for its wealth and power, but for basing its wealth and power on the exploitation of other countries, and for seeking to do the same to them. Significantly, Iran and North Korea actively work to defend themselves against US economic predation, and Iraq did the same under Saddam Hussein, pursuing state dirigiste economic policies, which, from the perspective of the corporate interests that dominate decision-making in Washington, amount to denial or restriction of the profit-making opportunities of US transnationals.
Of course, the acquiescence of large parts of the population to a program of coercing other countries to submit to exploitation from beyond their borders cannot be obtained by announcing taxes have to be kept high to maintain a military muscular enough to pose a credible threat to renitent regimes, or that members of the armed services, most of whom are driven by absence of economic opportunity into the military, have to kill or be killed, in the interests of improving the investment portfolios of wealthy families and bankers. More congenial to the purpose of manipulating public opinion and exacting public consent for the slaughter is an ever shifting series of justifications designed to prepare the way for war, both military and economic.
At the core of these justifications rests the proposition that North Korea, Iran and Iraq (previously) are presided over by regimes that pose both a serious threat to the United States, either through the sponsorship of terrorist groups or development of weapons of mass destruction, and to their own populations through human rights violations and brutal political repression. The leaders are demonized, their failings portrayed as extensive and incorrigible, their sins against democracy and human rights said to be numerous and repellent. These characterizations guarantee that the sympathies of many liberals and social democrats will be enlisted for imperialist interventions. Even professed anti-imperialists can be drawn in, some actively contributing to the legitimization of US interventions by competing to express outrage over the alleged brutalities of the regimes Washington is intent on toppling. Such statements as “the world is better off without Saddam Hussein,” uttered by one of the most high-profile critics of US foreign policy, act to buttress the view that however base the motivations of the US are, at least something progressive and humanitarian has come of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and may yet come out of the intimidation of North Korea and Iran.
This is not to say that civil and political liberties for political opponents are not abridged in “axis of evil” countries, but if they are, this is not grounds for either intervention or the shunning of these regimes by progressive forces in the West. Rights are not absolute; they are class and nation-specific. The right to a job is inimical to an employer’s right to hire and fire. The right of a Third World country to balanced economic development is inimical to a transnational corporation’s right to invest its capital where it can earn the highest return.
Significantly, the curtailment of liberties is often the direct consequence of threats of intervention, as measures to hamper the freedom of saboteurs, traitors, spies, foreign agents and fifth columnists to weaken or overthrow a government locked in struggle with predatory foreign states or a powerful class seeking to restore itself to its former privileges. The abridgement of some rights as a necessity of securing others (for example, the abridgment of the right to organize openly to bring down a government, as a means of securing the right to be free from foreign domination) is an unavoidable part of the politics of survival for working class and anti-imperialist governments (or, for that matter, capitalist or comprador governments seeking to survive in the face of determined opposition by progressive forces.) Anti-imperialist or working class governments that fail to recognize this are soon overthrown.
There are rights for the owners of capital, and for those who organize to build societies congenial to those rights. There are rights for governments seeking balanced economic development and for those who don’t own capital to be free from exploitation. The exercise of one group’s rights, necessarily implies the denial of another’s. The question, then, isn’t whether this or that country is limiting rights, for the answer is always yes, and the affirmative answer applies as strongly to imperialist as to so-called “rogue” countries. The question is, whose liberties are being vouchsafed, and whose aren’t? In the United States, the right to a job or to health care is negated by the right of an employer to hire and fire employees to make a profit or to a health care provider to restrict access to those who can pay sufficient to allow the provider to earn an attractive rate of profit. Whether you’re opposed or in favor of the curtailment of one right at the expense of another, depends on where your interests lie and what side you’re on. Indeed, even the question of whether a right is called a right (the right to a job isn’t considered a right in capitalist countries) is a contingent matter, conditional on class and interests.
Abridgement of liberties, then, is not justification for intervention, except from the perspective of a particular set of interests. Abridgment of the liberties of capital to operate freely in foreign countries, and of the political freedom of individuals who work to promote these liberties, is justifications for intervention, but only from the perspective of foreign capitalists. Likewise, potential intervention justifies the abridgement of the liberties of political opponents who would facilitate the intervention, but, again, only from the perspective of the interests of anti-imperialist forces. The question isn’t one of absolute rights, but right against right – or, which side are you on?
Once the task of toppling Iraq’s Baathist regime had been achieved, Washington turned its attention to the DPRK, which was accused of secretly pursuing the development of nuclear weapons. No evidence was adduced to support the claim; instead, US officials simply declared that Pyongyang had admitted in bi-lateral talks to a covert nuclear weapons program. The North Koreans vehemently denied this. Even so, Washington unilaterally scrapped an early 1990s agreement to provide North Korea with light-water reactors and fuel oil shipments in return for Pyongyang’s shutting down its nuclear industry. At the same time, a propaganda campaign was launched to build public support for a stepped up confrontation. In response, Pyongyang withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and some time later announced it had developed a deterrent nuclear force. Bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, and facing an implacably anti-imperialist foe determined to defend itself against attack, Washington contented itself with stepping up its program of economic strangulation, slapping sanctions on a Macau bank it accused of laundering money for Pyongyang. There was a ripple effect. Other banks severed their ties with North Korea, afraid of running afoul of the US Treasury Department.
With the campaign against North Korea pushed to the back burner, Washington has turned to building support for a stepped-up confrontation with Iran. North Korea and its leader Kim Jong Il, not long ago presented as a scourge against humanity and an imminent threat, have melted into the background, making way for Iran, a country the Times of London, in a fit of pro-war hyperbole, likened to Nazi Germany. “Bush and Dick Cheney,” explained the newspaper, “regard Mahmoud Ahmadinejad…as a new Hitler who cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons and carry out his fantasy of wiping Israel off the map.” (Times Online, April 9, 2006.)
Ostensible Bases of Conflict
The ostensible conflict with Iran pivots on the allegation that the Islamic republic is seeking to develop technology to enrich uranium for the purpose of building nuclear weapons, which Tehran may provide to Hamas or Islamic Jihad or use itself to destroy Israel or attack the United States.
From the perspective of Washington, Tehran’s resentment of US power, i.e., its refusal to kowtow to US corporate interests and its insistence on pursuing economically nationalist policies, may lead to a situation in which the country uses mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle to build a deterrent weapon to establish a Mexican standoff with the United States, in much the same way North Korea has done. This is why US officials have been adamant in declaring that Iran must never be allowed to be in a position in which it can develop nuclear weapons.
From Tehran’s perspective, mastery of the nuclear fuel cycle is important for two reasons: It allows Iran to develop an independent civilian nuclear energy industry, which is to say, one in which access to fuel is not dependent on the good will of an outside supplier, such as Russia, Western Europe or the United States. Relying on imperialist powers for access to fuel would mean the tap could be turned off at anytime in a bid to bring Iran to its knees and extract concessions. While Iran is well endowed with petroleum, its lack of refining capacity (it’s a net importer of gasoline) and the reality that its petroleum reserves won’t last forever, mean development of a civilian nuclear energy industry makes sense. The country also has vast domestic supplies of uranium. During the Shah’s regime, plans were developed to have a US consortium construct a massive nuclear power industry. Nuclear power was then considered necessary. It hasn’t become otherwise, simply because US corporations won’t turn a handsome profit as chief architects.
Secondly, mastery of the fuel cycle provides Tehran with the capability of developing a nuclear deterrent, as the US fears. US hostility to Iran is not new; it has been ongoing since US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles engineered a 1953 coup to oust the nationalist Mossadegh government on behalf of US oil companies. When the successor regime of the US-installed Shah was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Washington began to prepare for the day Iran would be brought back under its thumb, to be opened once again to US corporations on their terms.
A deterrent nuclear weapons capability would make the United States hesitate about launching a military intervention. Whether Tehran is actively seeking this capability is unclear (though it denies it is), but if pressed too hard, an Iran that had mastered the nuclear fuel cycle could withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to develop nuclear weapons to deter a potential aggressor. This is why Britain, France and Germany appended to a package of “incentives” it offered Iran last summer a provision requiring Tehran to relinquish its right to withdraw from the treaty.
If you had to locate him on a continuum from admirable to reprehensible, you would have to situate Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad closer to the admirable than reprehensible pole, for there is much to admire in Ahmadinejad’s policies. As to his alleged vicious anti-Semitism, this reflects a confusion of vicious Jew-hating with militant anti-Zionism, a confusion sometimes sincerely made, but often demagogically constructed to deter criticism of Israel and discredit anti-Zionists. Whether Ahmadinejad hates Jews as a group is something only he and those close to him know. There’s no question, however, that he’s implacably anti-Zionist, but this is far from being reprehensible.
Ahmadinejad is best described as a populist and economic nationalist whose policies are aimed at improving the living standards of the majority of Iranians, with whom he is popular. His “primary focus is the ordinary people paid little notice by the country’s insular, elitist political culture, except at election time.” (Washington Post, June 4, 2006.) He believes “wealthy people should not have influence over senior officials because of their wealth” and that they “should not impose their demands on the needs of poor people.” (New York Times, May 28, 2006.) He “showcases a relentless preoccupation with the health, housing and most of all money problems” of ordinary Iranians. (Washington Post, June 4, 2006.) His “last budget set out generous spending plans to create jobs and raise salaries.” (New York Times, May 1, 2006.) He has “ordered banks to lower interest rates” and has “offered inexpensive mortgages to the poor.” (New York Times, May 28, 2006.) His “call for justice – primarily economic justice” resonates “with a population angered by a perception that it had been denied the benefit of oil wealth.” (New York Times, December 20, 2005.) “If his image in the West is that of banty radical dangerously out of touch with reality, the prevailing impression in Iran is precisely the opposite.” Ordinary “people marvel at how their president comes across as someone in touch, as a populist candidate turned caring incumbent.” (Washington Post, June 4, 2006.)
While Western officials of state, and in train the Western media, have promoted the view that Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust and has called for a nuclear strike to destroy Israel, his comments do not support these interpretations. Instead, his remarks question the legitimacy of Israel as a majority Jewish state based on the expulsion of Palestinians and of the Holocaust as a justification for this crime.
The Holocaust denial claim is based, not on an outright rejection of the Holocaust, but on the use of the word “if”, as in “if” the Holocaust happened, then A; otherwise, still A — where the central idea is that the Holocaust does not justify a Zionist settler regime.
In an interview with Der Spiegel, Ahmadinejad explained: “We say that if the Holocaust happened, then the Europeans must accept the consequences and the price should not be paid by Palestine. If it did not happen, then the Jews must return to where they came from.” (Reuters, May 29, 2006.) Elsewhere: “If such a disaster is true (i.e., the Holocaust) why should the people of the region pay the price? Why does the Palestinian nation have to be suppressed and have its land occupied?” (Washington Post, April 15, 2006.)
In neither case does Ahmadinejad reject the authenticity of the Holocaust. He simply says it either happened or it didn’t, but that’s only a preamble to his larger point. Journalists keen to be scrupulous in their description of the Iranian president’s views no longer say Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust, but that he fails to accept it as unquestioned. This, however, is a red herring; it draws attention from the principal point: that the Holocaust does not legitimate the Zionist practice of ethnic cleansing as a pre-condition of founding a majority Jewish state.
The pseudo-controversy received added momentum by the decision of an Iranian newspaper to hold a contest to select cartoons that best mocked the Holocaust. At the time, the Danish newspaper, Jyllands-Posten, was running flagrantly racist cartoons mocking bearers of the Islamic faith, and was being defended by Western governments on grounds the newspaper was simply exercising its right to free speech. A fiction was nurtured that the right to free speech is absolute, or nearly so, and that Western governments could not, therefore, intervene. Yet at the time champions of free speech were vigorously defending Jyllands-Posten’s right to mock Islam, British writer David Irving was being sentenced to a jail term in Austria for a speech he had made years earlier questioning the Holocaust. Concurrently, the British parliament was debating a law (since passed) that would deny freedom of speech to anyone who would “glorify terrorism,” that is, anyone who spoke in support of any group that infringed on the state’s self-proclaimed monopoly on the use of violence. Iran’s largest newspaper, Hamshari, cosponsor of the contest, explained: “The serious question for Muslims is whether the West extends freedom of expression to the crimes committed by the United States and Israel, or even such as the Holocaust. Or is it freedom only for insulting religious sanctities?” (New York Times, February 8, 2006.) Added Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, “In this freedom, casting doubt or negating the genocide of the Jews is banned, but insulting the beliefs of 1.5 billion Muslims is allowed.” (New York Times, February 8, 2006.) Jyllands-Posten’s anti-Islamic cartoons did more than mock Islam; they portrayed Muslims uniformly as a threat to the physical safety of Western civilians, reinforcing the imperialist countries’ building case for war against Iran.
In the same vein, US state officials claim Ahmadinejad has pledged to “wipe Israel off the map,” a pledge said to represent a blatant threat of war against Israel (and therefore, another reason Iran must be denied mastery of the fuel cycle.) But according to Juan Cole, a Middle East specialist at the University of Michigan, “Ahmadinejad did not say he was going to wipe Israel off the map, because no such idiom exists in Persian. He did say he hoped its regime, i.e., a Jewish-Zionist state occupying Jerusalem, would collapse.” (New York Times, June 11, 2006.) Guardian newspaper columnist Jonathan Steele added: “The Iranian president was quoting an ancient statement by Iran’s first Islamist leader, the late Ayatollah Khomeini, that ‘this regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time,’ just as the Shah’s regime in Iran had vanished. He was not making a military threat. He was calling for an end to the occupation of Jerusalem at some point in the future.” (New York Times, June 11, 2006.)
Ahmadinejad explained: “The only logical solution to solve the Palestinian issue is to hold free elections with the participation of Palestinians inside and outside the occupied territories. “(IRNA, cited in Workers World, November 6, 2005.) Were this to happen, Israel, as a Jewish state, would be metaphorically wiped off the map, since a Jewish state would be rejected by Palestinians, who comprise the majority. Later Ahmadinejad added: “There is no new policy. They created a lot of hue and cry over that. It is clear what we say. Let the Palestinians participate in free elections and they will say what they want.” (New York Times, January 15, 2006.)
One newspaper (the Ottawa Citizen) went so far as to describe Ahmadinejad’s comments as amounting to a pledge to annihilate Israel by a nuclear strike (rather than to annihilate it by a free vote.) Inasmuch as Iran hasn’t a single nuclear weapon, and would find it difficult to produce even one, while Israel has hundreds and the means to deliver them, the scenario is hardly realistic. It is Iran, not Israel, which is more likely to be incinerated by a nuclear strike – ordered by Tel Aviv. If Iranians needed reminding of this, the commander of Israel’s nuclear missile submarines issued a warning to Iran in late February: “We are able to hit strategic targets in a foreign country.” (Times Online, March 5, 2006.)
It is interesting to note that Israel, which receives $3 billion in aid from the United States annually, refuses to sign on to even the minimal safeguards of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, while Iran had voluntarily complied with the treaty’s more stringent protocols. Israel serves Washington’s imperialist aims in manifold ways. It acts as a nuclear-armed policeman on the block, using its US-provisioned military prowess to intimidate neighboring Arab states on behalf of the US. And its image as a refuge for Jews against the persecutions of the world, a David locked in battle with hostile Goliaths, provides Washington a cover to meddle in the Middle East as a necessity of discharging a humanitarian duty to defend the Zionist state. In the exchange, Washington gets to use Israel as an extension of the Pentagon to enlarge the trade position and investment interests of US corporations in the Middle East and Israel is provided diplomatic and military cover to pursue its nasty, racist program of driving Palestinians off their land.
Is the US Seeking a Negotiated Settlement or Regime Change?
While Washington would certainly welcome Iran voluntarily relinquishing its right to enrich uranium, it is clear Washington’s ultimate goal is regime change, and more specifically, the replacement of an economically nationalist regime with a “pro-Western, reformist” government under US domination.
There are three reasons to believe this.
First, Washington has already made plain it seeks regime change in axis of evil countries, and has already achieved this in one, Iraq.
Second, while Germany, France and Britain have sought a negotiated settlement that would, for the moment, leave the regime in place but situate enrichment activities outside of Iran, Washington has undertaken to finance a fifth column that will work to bring down the government from inside Iran. Washington has escalated its funding of internal opposition. It spent $1.5 million in 2004 to fund exile groups seeking to overthrow the current government and $3 million in 2005. (New York Times, May 29, 2005.) New offices were established at the State Department and Pentagon to oversee subversion and destabilization operations. US Secretary of State Condoleezza “Rice asked Congress in February for $75 million to supplement $10 million already earmarked to finance the activities of Iranian dissidents and expand Voice of America broadcasts into Iran.” (Los Angeles Times, May 19, 2006.) The CIA’s covert anti-Iran budget is likely 10 times larger. Some $25 million will be used to “support networks for Iranian reformers, political dissidents and human rights activists.” (New York Times, February 16, 2006.) The remaining $50 million will be channeled to the Voice of America, to produce and broadcast programming encouraging Iranians to overthrow their government. Prior to April, Voice of America broadcast one hour a day into Iran. In April, the broadcasts were bumped up to four hours a day. The eventual goal is to broadcast around the clock. (Washington Post, March 13, 2006.)
US undersecretary of state for political affairs, R. Nicolas Burns, described the stepped up funding as “taking a page from the playbook” on Ukraine and Georgia. (New York Times, May 29, 2005.) In those countries, Washington gave money to the opposition and pro-US groups which engineered the overthrow of the governments in power. According to Burns, it’s difficult to funnel money to groups in Iran “because we don’t have a platform to do it.” (New York Times, May 29, 2005.) Ukraine, with its multi-party political system and political freedoms provided the United States with the room it needed to install a government favorable to US corporations. Iran, without the same openness, is a harder nut to crack.
The third reason to believe the United States seeks regime change above all else is that it refuses to provide security guarantees as part of a negotiated settlement. At one point, IAEA chief Mohamed El Baradei suggested to reporters that the standoff with Iran could be resolved in a week or so, after the Russians worked out an agreement with Iran that would have Tehran “agree to a moratorium on production of enriched uranium on an industrial scale for between seven to nine years, ratify additional measures that the nuclear agency conduct intensive inspections of its nuclear facilities and create a joint venture with Russia on production of enriched uranium on Russian soil.” (New York Times, March 7, 2006.) In return, Iran would be allowed to do limited research on uranium enrichment. While this would have addressed Washington’s ostensible concerns over Tehran’s nuclear program, when Condoleezza Rice got wind of the agreement she telephoned the IAEA chief to say “the United States cannot support this.” Rice told ElBaradei “that Washington wanted to see Iran’s case before the Security Council.” (New York Times, March 7, 2006.) A Chapter VII resolution from the Security Council would authorize the use of force against Iran, a sure fire way to change the regime in Tehran and install a puppet government.
More telling is Washington’s refusal to pledge not to attack Iran or try to overthrow its government. “One of the diplomats (engaged in putting together a deal with Iran) said…that Washington remained opposed to proposals by some European nations that the Iranians be offered U.S.-backed security guarantees, effectively removing the threat of American-backed attempts at regime change.” (New York Times, May 20, 2006.) If denying Iran mastery over the fuel cycle is the first order of the day, why let security guarantees get in the way?
Threats of War
The advantage of having a large military lies not only in the capability it provides of using force to exact compliance with demands, but in being able to issue credible threats to achieve the same ends without always having to press armed forces into action. Often, the threat of intervention is sufficient to cow opponents and force their capitulation to whatever demands a superior military power makes.
President Bush has often made clear that the use of force to achieve regime change in Iran is being considered. “In a February (2005) news conference in Brussels, the president dismissed speculation that any military action against Iran was planned,” but quickly added, “‘Having said that, all options are on the table.’” (Los Angeles Times Wire Service, August 14, 2005.) In August he allowed that, “The use of force is the last option for any president,” but, “You know, we’ve used force in the recent past to secure our country.” (Associated Press, August 14, 2005.)
Democrats are equally bellicose. Top Democrats in the House and Senate issued a report in July 2005 that called “for the United States to engage in more direct negotiations with Iran and North Korea and for the talks to be reinforced with military pressure, including ‘the possibility of repeated and unwarned strikes.’” (Boston Globe, August 14, 2005.)
US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Republican Senator John McCain have echoed Bush. “There’s only one thing worse than the United States exercising the military option, and that is a nuclear-armed Iran,” said McCain. “Now the military option is the last option but cannot be taken off the table.” (Times Online, January 16, 2006.) Rumsfeld: “All options – including the military one – are on the table.” (Scotsman, February 6, 2006.)
Head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, a putatively impartial observer who does little to veil his role as an instrument of US policy, took pains to establish his own hawkish credentials. “Diplomacy is not just talking,” said the chief nuclear watchdog in January. “Diplomacy has to be backed by pressure, and, in extreme cases, by force. We have rules. We have to do everything possible to uphold the rules through conviction. If not, then you impose them.” (Times Online, January 16, 2006.) Describing ElBaradei as an instrument of US policy isn’t rhetoric. There are indeed rules, but the only country capable of enforcing them through pressure and military intervention is the US. The rules aren’t imposed on the US. They’re selectively applied and enforced, always in the interests of the hegemonic military power, and never against it. ElBaradei facilitates the process.
French president Jacques Chirac jumped into the fray, threatening to use nuclear weapons against Iran if Tehran so much as considered joining the nuclear club. The French nuclear force, pointed out Chirac, is “not aimed at dissuading fanatic terrorists,” but “leaders of states that would use terrorist means against [France], just like anyone would envisage using, in one way or another, arms of mass destruction, must understand that they would expose themselves to a firm and fitting response from us. This response could be conventional. It could also be of another nature.” Chirac went on to warn that there should be no doubt “about [France’s] will and …capacity to use nuclear arms” to defend the French ruling class’s interests. (Times Online, January 20, 2006.)
US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton told British MPs in March that “he wanted a Chapter VII Resolution under which the UN would authorize military action such as air strikes against Iran.” “They must know everything is on the table,” Bolton told the MPs, “and they must understand what that means. We can hit different points along the line. You only have to take out one part of their nuclear operation to take the whole thing down.” (Times Online, March 6, 2006.)
In March, the US National Security Doctrine elevated Iran to enemy #1. “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran,” the doctrine declared. The US reserves the right to deal with threats, even in their infancy. John Negroponte, director of US national intelligence, called the danger that Tehran will acquire a nuclear weapon a cause for “immediate concern.” (New York Times, April 4, 2006.) Put that together with the National Security Strategy warning that the US will act at a time of its own choosing against threats even if they’re not fully developed and you have a virtual declaration of war.
US officials told the Washington Post that the United States had been using aerial drones over Iran since April 2004 as part of an effort to spot weaknesses in Iran’s air defenses and “to pinpoint targets.” (Washington Post, November 8, 2005.) In April, the New Yorker ran a piece by Seymour Hersh claiming that: US troops were carrying out covert missions in Iran to collect targeting data; that US warplanes had been flying simulated nuclear bomb runs on Iran; and that the use of tactical nuclear weapons as a means of taking out suspected uranium enrichment sites in Iran had not been ruled out.
Iran asked the UN on May 1, 2006 to condemn the US threats as “in total contempt of international law.” A letter from Zavd Zarif, Iran’s ambassador to the UN, pointed to the US threatening military strikes, possibly with nuclear weapons.
“Such dangerous statements, particularly those of the (US) president, widely considered in political and media circles as a tacit confirmation of nuclear strikes against certain targets in Iran, defiantly articulate the United States’ policies and intentions on the resort to nuclear weapons.” (New York Times, May 2, 2006.)
US officials played dumb, publicly wondering what Zarif was talking about. Not surprisingly, a condemnation from the UN Secretary General was not forthcoming.
Is an attack imminent? Only those who preside over US military and foreign policy know for sure. What’s clear is that an attack has been threatened, and now that the threat is made it will have to be backed up, in some way, in time, unless Tehran capitulates. A Pentagon adviser remarked, “We will have reached the point of no return in the next couple of years. If diplomacy hasn’t worked by then, Iran will be a long way down the line to acquiring a nuclear weapon. We’re talking about choosing the least bad series of bad options. President Bush will also be nearing the end of his term and have to decide if he trusts this issue to another administration or wants to use the B2s.” (Telegraph, February 12, 2006.)
With its forces bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington may be hoping the problem of regime change can be solved by other means.
Regime change isn’t always or even often an outcome to be achieved by one method alone, but is often pursued in multiple, complementary ways. This is especially true in Iran, where none of the options available to Washington are particularly good. The financing of internal opposition groups, whose goal is to bring down the government, has worked effectively in the former Yugoslavia, Georgia and Ukraine, but is limited in its power in Iran by restrictions within the country on political freedoms. The US ruling class needs the platform of capitalist democracy if its preponderant economic resources are to be translated into political power, and this isn’t available for foreign forces to a sufficient degree in Iran. The military option, while on the table, is limited for the time being to air strikes – hardly sufficient, alone, to force a change in regime, unless Washington does the unthinkable, and uses nuclear strikes to effectively disable Iran’s government and military and clear the way for an easy land invasion. A full scale land invasion is necessary to oust the government and install a puppet regime, but with its infantry resources severely strained by its occupation of Iraq, the US lacks sufficient boots on the ground to contemplate a land invasion, absent a softening nuclear blow. That leaves the option of bringing others on board the economic war the US has waged largely by itself. But this option faces severe challenges, too.
The problem with trying to strangle Iran economically is that only those powers that have few economic ties with Iran are keen to sign on. The US, which cut off dealings with Iran after the 1979 revolution, would not be greatly inconvenienced. Nor would Britain, which gets none of its oil from Iran, or France and Germany, which get very little oil from the Islamic republic and have little trade or investment in the country. Indeed, it should be noted as significant that the ruling classes of the countries that have raised an alarm about Iran have little to lose if sanctions and war are used to change the regime in Tehran and much to gain in new investment and trade opportunities. Conversely, the ordinary people of these countries, who will foot the bill for war and supply the human cannon fodder, have much to lose.
By contrast, the countries that are opposed to these measures have significant trade and investment positions in Iran. Russian companies have contracts to build Iran’s nuclear power industry and to deliver air defense missile systems. China’s Sinopec has massive Iranian petroleum investments. Italy buys nine percent of its oil from Iran, exports $2.7 billion worth of goods to the country, and has $3.2 billion in oil investments in Iran. Japanese energy giant Inpex has a contact for the development of the Azadegan petroleum fields, estimated to contain 26 billion barrels of oil. Japan insists a sanction regime would have to be backed by the full UN Security Council, including Russia and China, otherwise “Japan might end up moving out of Iran only to see someone else’s oil companies rush in.” (Washington Post, June 13, 2006.) That someone else is likely to be Chinese and Russian companies. If their governments refuse to back a sanctions regime – and that seems likely – Russian and Chinese companies “would be spared any financial burden and would be free to pick up lost European business with Iran.” (Washington Post, May 28, 2006.)
This is the front on which inter-imperialist interests collide. China and Russia don’t want punitive sanctions against Iran, and they don’t want war. Either would imperil their investments. So they push for Iran to compromise. Japan resists US pressure to sign on to a sanctions regime, because it doesn’t want China’s Sinopec, or any other country’s oil companies, to swoop in to take Inpex’s place. If forced to capitulate to US demands, Japan will push for war, hoping it will be rewarded for its sacrifice by an US-installed puppet regime in Tehran restoring Inpex’s profit-making position in the Azadegan petroleum fields. But the likelihood of a US land invasion seems slim until Washington resolves its Iraqi debacle, and that doesn’t seem likely to happen any time soon, if ever. So Tokyo finds itself uncertain about the way forward.
For the corporate communities of the US, Britain, France and Germany, the prospects of regime change in Tehran are much more enticing. Not only is the promise of exploiting Iranian petroleum reserves for the greater benefit of the bottom lines of the quartet’s energy giants appealing, Iran could also prove to be a lucrative export market. But that’s not all.
There are six major reasons why US, British, French and German corporations have an interest in replacing the government in Iran with a puppet regime that will cater to their interests:
1. Profits to be made from investment in Iran’s petroleum industry, which are now being monopolized by Chinese, Japanese, Italian and Indian firms.
There are other advantages from Washington’s perspective. Iran is a major source of support for Islamic Jihad and Hamas. A puppet regime in Tehran would renounce support for these organizations, weakening opposition to Washington’s Israeli attack dog in the Middle East. At the same time, a US dominated government would turn its back on the close relationship Iran is cultivating with anti-imperialist governments in Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia.
The “New” Diplomacy
A new package of incentives, said to represent a major diplomatic move by Washington, is simply smoke and mirrors. The package establishes the immediate fulfillment of US, British, French and German demands as a precondition of talks (Iran must cease uranium enrichment immediately) and offers vague promises in return, which almost certainly will never be delivered upon. The offer is almost entirely one-sided. In return for Iran’s abnegating its right to enrich uranium, “the Americans are willing to consider the waiving of some long-standing sanctions on Iran to allow it to eventually buy civilian airplanes and to gain access to modern light-water reactors for civilian nuclear power with Russia and the West controlling access to the fuel.” (New York Times, June 2, 2006.)
The US, then, is willing to think about lifting some sanctions (but not all), allowing Iran to eventually (but not any time soon) have a civilian nuclear power industry whose operation would be completely dependent on the willingness of Washington to continue to supply it with fuel.
“Their opposition to our program,” remarked Ahmadinejad, “is not because of their concern over the spread of nuclear weapons. They are worried that Iran would become a model for other independent countries, especially Islamic countries for access to advanced technology.” (New York Times, June 3, 2006.)
After some politicians criticized the offer as being too liberal, especially in holding out the possibility of Iran being able to enrich its own uranium at some point, upholders of the package pointed out that little, if anything, is being conceded. When “questioned on the terms of the international proposal…officials said it would be years – if ever – before the question of allowing Iran to produce fuel would ever come up.” (New York Times, June 8, 2006.)
The “’package does not say that if the IAEA gives Iran a clear bill of health that it will be the end of the moratorium,’ said one senior European official. ‘It simply means we will re-examine it.’” “’This is a small conceptual step,” the official continued, “’because they accept the notion that someday in some circumstances – maybe in 30 years when the mullahs disappear – there could be an end to the moratorium.’” (New York Times, June 8, 2006.) The package mandates that “’Iran’s program would have to go to the Security Council for a vote before uranium enrichment could continue. That means the United States would have a veto.’” (New York Times, June 8, 2006.)
Clearly, the package is nothing but a public relations maneuver. If Iran accepts the offer, it will relegate itself to dependence on imperialist powers for a strategic resource, and leave itself without recourse to the possibility of building a nuclear deterrent to discourage a future attack. The only way Iran can deter Washington’s aggression is to abandon its economically nationalist policies and throw open its doors to exploitation by US, British, French and German corporations (surrender), or hold in reserve the capability of developing a nuclear deterrent (resist.)
If it rejects the package, officials of the belligerent countries, and ipso facto, the Western media, will portray Tehran as being uninterested in compromise and negotiation. John McCain’s “the only thing worse than war is a nuclear armed Iran” will ring out from a thousand “expert” tongues, and a sanctions regime leading to a possible attack will be pressed forward as the only option remaining. Ahmadinejad, the populist economic nationalist, who champions economic justice at home and political justice for Palestinians, will be denounced with rising alarm by the West’s mass media as a new Hitler who is determined to acquire a nuclear weapon to realize a vicious anti-Semitic fantasy of wiping Israel off the map.
The interlocked network of wealthy families and high-level executives who own and manage large income-producing properties in the US comprise a ruling class that dominates US political life, shaping public policy through its structural economic power and control of the two major political parties, the principal positions in the White House, State Department, Pentagon and Treasury, public policy foundations, think-tanks, and public relations organizations, including the mass media.
There are many reasons why the US ruling class would like to replace the current economic nationalist government in Tehran with one under US influence.
1. The favored policy of forcing a change in regime by imposing US sanctions has failed, because the governments and the wealthy families and high-level executives of many other countries have recognized that by not signing on to the US program, they are in a position to take advantage of profit-making opportunities free from US competition. By moving in when the US moves out, their bottom lines are fattened. At the same time, the US sanctions regime is undermined. Instead of the US oil industry investing in the Azadegan petroleum fields, the Japanese corporation Inpex is. Instead of a consortium of US firms building Iran’s civilian nuclear industry, Russian companies are.
2. Iran has the second largest petroleum reserves of any OPEC country. Only Russia has more natural gas. (Washington Post, April 20, 2006.) A new regime under US control would open these reserves to exploitation on terms favorable to the US oil industry and to that of whatever other country joined a US coalition of the willing.
3. A puppet government under Washington’s thumb would abrogate Tehran’s restrictions on foreign investment in oil and gas, transport, telecommunications, industry, banking and finance. It would also sweep away Article 44 of Iran’s constitution, which mandates state ownership of power generation, postal services, telecommunications, and other large-scale industries. Iran would be transformed from what the Coors family-backed Heritage Foundation describes as “anti-foreign investment,” into a country which zealously panders to US corporations.
4. A US-backed successor government would eliminate tariff and other barriers to trade, expanding export opportunities for US corporations.
5. The growing network of anti-imperialist states, which includes Cuba, Venezuela, North Korea and Bolivia, would lose one of its members and would therefore be weakened.
6. A message would be sent to other countries that pursuing or contemplating economic nationalist or genuinely socialist policies will be met by the intervention of the military or intelligence services of the United States.
Tehran’s nuclear program is not the reason Washington seeks to oust the current government. It is, instead, both a potential impediment to a future military intervention, and a pretext for military intervention.
The goal of opening Iran’s doors to unfettered investment by US corporations can only be achieved by replacing the current economically nationalist government, hostile to the US, with a “reformist, pro-Western” government, i.e., one willing to sacrifice the country’s economic development to the interests of Wall Street. This cannot be achieved simply by arriving at a narrow settlement with Tehran, in which the Islamic republic agrees to relinquish its right to enrich uranium. Instead, the government must be overthrown, in the manner of a color revolution, or by force. This is why Washington refuses to grant security guarantees.
To build public support for regime change, the public relations apparatus of the US ruling class has been pressed into service to demonize Iran’s current president, and the program has followed the well-worn path of depicting the leaders of target regimes as new Hitlers. PR firms, financed and directed by the same ruling class that has an interest in regime change, cobble together ridiculous stories to be broadcast by the mass media. One story, entirely apocryphal, claimed the Ahmadinejad government had prepared legislation along the lines of the Nazi’s Nuremberg laws. The story, accompanied by an arresting photograph of a Jewish businessman wearing a yellow star, culled from an historical archive on Nazi Germany, ran on the front page of Canada’s The National Post. Other media outlets cast all restraint aside, stooping to absurd levels of hyperbole, to calumniate the Iranian president as an anti-Semitic fanatic intent on annihilating Israel by launching a barrage of nuclear missiles. While this carries on the practice, in the extreme, of discrediting opposition to the expulsion of Palestinians and the denial of their right of return by smearing opponents as vicious anti-Semites, it also serves to invest agitation for war against Iran with a certain anti-racist, progressive flavor, allowing the soft left to rationalize its backing of imperialism as inspired by hatred of racism and the misogynistic practices of conservative Islam. It also creates an air of intimidation, discouraging anyone from daring to speaking favorably of Ahmadinejad for fear they’ll be accused of acting as an apologist for whatever heinous crimes he stands accused of at the moment. Those with courage will say, without equivocation, that Ahmadinejad’s championing of economic justice at home and political justice for Palestinians is admirable and that Iran’s struggle against foreign intimidation is progressive in its anti-imperialism and deserves our unqualified support. US-engineered regime change in favor of a pro-imperialist government in Tehran is neither in the interest of Iranians nor of the ordinary people of the countries whose governments seek this outcome.
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posted by stephen gowans at 6:31 pm