On the 17th October President Bush insisted that he "had told people that if you're interested in avoiding World War III, it seems like you ought to be interested in preventing them [Iran] from having the knowledge necessary to make nuclear weapons". This could be dismissed as another example of Bush's exaggerated rhetoric, but underlying this statement is the real threat that the wounded bear that is US imperialism will strike out at imperialist rivals that are constantly baiting it.
World War III is not around the corner. The conditions do not exist for it: the world is not divided into military blocs, and the working class is not defeated and ready to march off to war for its ruling class. Nevertheless, the Bush regime is stepping up military and economic pressure on Iran with the declaration that the Revolutionary Guards are a terrorist organisation, the build up of US armed forces in the Gulf and the growing propaganda campaign aimed at preparing the population for the possibility US military action against Iran (in the name of stopping it gaining nuclear weapons) holding out the perspective of a qualitative worsening of military barbarism in the Middle East and internationally.
This threat of military action against Iran, while it is still up to its neck in the disaster of Iraq and with Afghanistan heading in the same direction, appears crazy, courting even greater disaster. Nevertheless, American imperialism is tightly bound by the insane logic of imperialism. As the world's only superpower it has to force every other imperialist power to accept its domination, whilst all its rivals are forced by the same insane reasoning not only to resist this domination but to do all they can to undermine US imperialism. It is this logic that has reduced Iraq to chaos, and which threatens to engulf the whole region (the cradle of human civilisation) into such terror.
Iran is seen as a pivotal country in the Middle East by US imperialism. The old warhorse of US imperialism Zbigniew Brzezinski defines pivotal countries as "Active geo-strategic players are the states that have the capacity and the national will to exercise power or influence beyond their borders in order to alter -to a degree that affects America's interests- the existing geopolitical state of affairs....Turkey, and Iran play the role of critically important pivots" (The Grand Chess Board, 1997). Iran sits astride the Middle East and Central Asia, and is thus important to the US's plans to dominate this region and Western Europe and Russia beyond. The US would also like to control its oil supplies.
This pivotal position cost the populations of Iran and Iraq over one million dead during the war in the 1980s when the US backed Iraq. The reason for this war was Iran's break with the US bloc, through the overthrow of the US backed Shah and the imposition of a theocracy. The sheer barbarity of this war: chemical weapons, the mass slaughter of wave upon wave of soldiers from both sides, including children, rocket attacks on cities, all of this done with the direct cooperation of the Western Bloc (the Iran/Contra scandal demonstrated that the US was arming both sides) in order to bring Iran to heel, demonstrated that something had changed in imperialist relations. Previously in the post WW2 period wars had been proxy ones between the two blocs. Iran was something new, an imperialist power that defended its own interests in open defiance of both East and West. It was a foretaste of the spirit of ‘every man for himself' that let rip after the collapse of the old bloc system.
In the first Gulf War the Iranian bourgeoisie had supported the US, as it attacked its old rival, but any ambitions it may have had to take advantage of the weakening Iraq were stopped when the US left Saddam in power. The disaster of the Second Gulf War for the US has allowed Iran to feed its imperialist appetite. The destruction of Saddam and the following chaos has allowed Iran to use its influence with the Shia bourgeoisie to full effect. The ‘government' of Iraq is dominated by Shia parties with links to Iran, but who also want to keep it at arms length, whilst in the South the Iran backed Shia militia have routed the British and gained control of the region. At the same time the Iranian bourgeoisie has made every effort to develop the means to produce nuclear weapons in order to better challenge its main imperialist rival in the region, Israel, and to give it a bargaining card with US imperialism in the same way as North Korea.
The Iranian bourgeoisie is also trying to take full advantage of the weakening of US imperialism and its major rivals' willingness to try and thwart its plans. Thus, its willingness to go along with diplomatic solution proposed by the EU above all Germany and Italy who have close ties with Tehran and thus can further their own imperialist ambitions.
Europe is not a homogenous whole. Each country has it own interests to defend. Thus French imperialism, that has historical ties with Lebanon and Syria, has taken a hard line. A line which also aims to worsen the situation of British imperialism which has suffered a mauling in the South of Iraq (see ‘No way out for British imperialism' WR 308) and through being too closely tied to the US in Iraq. It does not want to be pulled into another conflict, hence Brown's more subtle support for sanctions. Nevertheless, the SAS has been engaged with US and Austrian special forces in operations along the Iraq/Iranian boarder and within Iran (Sunday Times 22.10.07). This expresses the difficulty facing Britain, since it needs to take part in such operations in order to protect the beleaguered troops at Basra Airport, and not to appear to abandon the US, but at the same time such operations risk dragging it into military escalation beyond its control.
This explosive situation is made even more threatening by the increasing involvement of Russian imperialism. In October there was a summit of Caspian Sea countries: Iran, Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan in Tehran. The summit cemented a growing relationship between Russia and Iran: "Indeed, it is as much shared interests as common worries and concerns, eg, the US's unbounded interventionist policies, that have now brought Iran and Russia closer together and to the verge of a new strategic relationship. After all, both Iran and Russia are today objects of American coercion, their national security interests and objectives imperilled by the US's post-9/11 militarism" (Asia Times on-line, 18.10.07). It is reported that President Putin told Ayatollah Ali Khamenei that "An American attack on Iran will be viewed by Moscow as an attack on Russia" (Asia Times On-line 26.10.07), during an unprecedented meeting with the ‘supreme leader'.
Iranian imperialism is also making eyes at Chinese imperialism. It wants to join China and Russia in a ‘counter-weight to US hegemony', the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. China is more circumspect in its support for Iran than Russia, but does see its interests served by appearing to oppose the US's belligerent attitude to Iran.
To this mix has to be added growing destabilisation of the region marked by Turkey's threats against Northern Iraq, and Israeli imperialism's determination to show that its defeat in Lebanon last year was a one off. Israel has always said it will try to stop Iran developing nuclear weapons and in a situation where it appears to be weakened such an action appears all the more likely. At the same time Saudi Arabia cannot allow its regional position to be weakened by a resurgent Iran.
What the outcome of this boiling cauldron of tensions will be we cannot predict. What we can say though is that US imperialism is caught in a vicious vice: if it does not make a display of its military might its rivals will seek to take full advantage of its weakness, whilst if it does take military action against Iran it will push the whole region deeper into chaos. Whether or not the US decides to take military action this time, the working class and humanity will still be subjected to the chaos in Iraq, the whipping up of nationalist hysteria in Iran, the constant threat of military action by Turkey or Israel and all the misery that this will lead to. Phil 2.11.07