Iran-US tensions: capitalism is chaos and barbarism

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Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen… the infernal spiral of imperialist conflict continues to plunge the Middle East into the depths of barbarism. This region is a concentration of everything that is most disgusting about decadent capitalism. After decades of instability, invasions, “civil” wars and all kinds of murderous conflicts, Iran is now in the eye of the storm.

In 2015, during the Obama years, Iran signed, together with the members of the UN Security Council and Germany, an agreement aimed at controlling its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of the economic sanctions which had been crippling the country for decades. But since he came to power, supported by the American hawks, the Israeli prime minister and the Saudi monarchy, Donald Trump has been denouncing the “worst deal in history” prior to announcing, in May 2018, that the US would be pulling out of the deal for good[1].

Since then we have seen a sharpening of provocations and tensions on both sides. The US opened the dance by re-establishing a ferocious embargo. A year later, Iran threatened to suspend its commitments by increasing its levels of enriched uranium, unleashing a new salvo of sanctions. A few days before that, invoking obscure “indications of a credible threat”, the US dispatched the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and a number of bombers to the Persian Gulf. According to The New York Times, the Pentagon has envisaged deploying no less than 120,000 extra soldiers in the Middle East. The USS Arlington and the Patriot air defence missile system have already been sent to the Straits of Hormuz, a transit route for an important part of world oil production.

On 13 June, a month after the sabotage of four naval vessels in the same waters, pressure mounted again following an attack on two tankers, Norwegian and Japanese. Trump blamed Iran despite the denials of both Iran and Norwegian and Japanese spokesmen[2]. A week later Iran shot down an American drone accused of flying over Iranian territory. This time it was Trump who issued a denial and mobilised his bombers, only to cancel the strike at the last minute. And all this stoked up by a surge of warlike invective, rhetoric and threats[3]

It would seem that Trump, who hardly bothers any more with mystifications about “clean” and “humanitarian” wars, is again using the strategy he calls “maximum pressure”. The American army is not in a position to invade Iran. But it has to be said that the conditions for a spiral into war are coming together: a strategy whose ineffectiveness was proved in the case of North Korea, troops ready for combat on both sides of the frontier, cynical war-mongers at the head of both the American and Iran regimes…The strategy of “maximum pressure” above all contains the maximum risk of war!

The weakening of American leadership

Trump can play the tough guy all he wants, but these tensions are really a clear expression of the historic weakening of American leadership. In the military adventures in Iraq (1990 and 2003) and Afghanistan (2001), the US showed its incontestable military superiority, but it also showed its growing powerlessness to maintain a minimum of stability in the region and to oblige its allies in the former Western bloc to close ranks behind it. This weakening would end up with the incapacity of the US to engage its land forces in Syria, giving a free hand to its regional rivals, in the first place Russia but also Iran.

Tehran was thus able to open up a military corridor via Iraq and Syria to its historic ally, Hezbollah in Lebanon, provoking the anger of its main Arab rival in the region, Saudi Arabia, and of Israel which has already carried out air raids against Iranian positions in Syria. Similarly, in Yemen, the theatre of a truly atrocious war, Iran is seriously denting the credibility of Saudi Arabia, the main military power in the region and the American pivot in the Middle East.

In this context, former president Obama had to resign himself to negotiating a deal with Tehran: the US would allow Iran to find a place in the world economy if Tehran agreed to rein in its imperialist ambitions, in particular by giving up its nuclear programme. Obama had in mind the old strategy of destabilizing an enemy state through opening up its economy, thus weakening the local bourgeoisie’s grip over the population and then encouraging revolts to unseat the existing regime.

Still bogged down in Afghanistan, facing European allies that were breathing down its neck, the US was forced to count more and more on its regional allies to push through its policy of isolating Iran. This is why Trump has recently multiplied his commitment to supporting Israel and Saudi Arabia: massive arms supplies to Saudi Arabia for its war in Yemen, recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish state, Trump’s continuing support for the Saudi crown prince after the assassination of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi…if the muscle-bound and spectacular gestures by Trump are in line with immediate tactical considerations, this strategy will only end up further accelerating the weakening of the US leadership in general and the chaos in the Middle East in particular.

“Populist” or “progressive”, the bourgeoisie sews chaos

While it’s clear that the American bourgeoisie is aiming at the downfall of the ayatollahs’ regime, it remains divided on the way to proceed. Trump’s entourage is partly made up of notorious warmongers like the National Security Advisor, John Bolton, cowboys who want to shoot first and ask questions later. Bolton has already shown this with his ardent advocacy of the invasion of Iraq under the presidency of Bush junior. Iran and its imperialist ambitions are now his target. This is what the man responsible for US foreign policy was already writing in 2015 in The New York Times: “The inconvenient truth is that only military action… can accomplish what is required….. The United States could do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what’s necessary. Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.[4]. You can’t reproach Bolton with not following through with his ideas, or of being a hypocrite! Not one word, not an ounce of compassion for those who would fall under American or Iranian bombs.

But the ambiguities and contradictory decisions of Trump, leaving aside his tendency to act without thinking, can also be explained by the fact that part of the American bourgeoisie, more conscious of the weakening of the US, is still attached to the more skillful methods of Obama. Three Republican congressmen, led by Kevin McCarthy, have signed a communique, in harmony with the Democratic Party, calling on the government to act in a more “measured” way towards Iran. But the “measure” these bourgeois politicians are talking about is just another word for contortion, because the US is faced with an insoluble dilemma: either they encourage the offensive of their rivals by not intervening directly, or they fuel the slide into chaos by deploying their troops. Whatever they do, the US cannot, any more than the other imperialist powers, escape the logic and contradictions of militarism.

From the great powers to fanatical gangs, from regional powers to the wealthiest oil kingdoms, the vultures are thirsty for blood. Concerned only for the defence of their sordid imperialist interests, they care nothing about the corpses, the countless refugees, the ruined cities, the lives wrecked by bombs, the misery and the desolation. All these war-makers vomit words about peace, negotiation and stability but the barbaric reality that results from their actions bears witness to the utter putrefaction of the capitalist system they all serve.

EG, 1.7.19


[1] Lured by the prospect of a new market to conquer, the other countries who signed the treaty, including the Europeans, have tried to maintain the agreement with Iran. In revenge, Trump has threatened to sanction enterprises which don’t stick to the new American embargo, which has clearly put a damper on European ambitions.

[2] At the time of writing, it’s necessary to be cautious about who carried out this attack. While it’s perfectly possible that Iran wanted to send a message to Trump, given the tradition of manipulation by the great democracies (witness the invention of Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction”), it can’t be excluded that the US or one of its allies organised a coup aimed at raising tensions.

[3] At the time of writing, tensions continue to mount: Tehran has just announced passing the levels of enriched uranium allowed by the 2015 agreement and Israel has again bombed Iranian positions in Syria.

[4] “To stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran” The New York Times, 26 March 2015


Middle East