27 February 2012, A World to Win News Service.
By N. Peyman
The threats against Iran, the sanctions and other economic pressures and the military movements and manoeuvres all testify to the intensification of the contradictions between the US and Iranian regime, 33 years after its foundation. These contradictions have reached such a critical point that an air strike or other form of military intervention against Iran by the US and some of its allies has become a clear possibility.
Why have relations between Iran and the Western powers, especially the US, been so tense for most of the last three decades, and why are they now fast approaching such a dangerous point? What are the forces driving the imperialist powers to another war in a region that is already overloaded with various wars?
These questions are even more striking if we take into account the fact that both the Western powers and the Iranian regime are undergoing crises internally.
According to the constant barrage from the mainstream media, the main concern of the Western powers is Iran’s nuclear programme. They argue that the Iranian regime intends to build nuclear weapons. So the Western imperialists are pushing harder and harder to force the Iranian regime to stop enriching uranium, while Iran denies this charge and claims its nuclear programme is for purely civilian purposes.
The pressure so far has included UN Security Council approval for several rounds of economic sanctions against Iranian institutions and the personnel involved in its nuclear programme. Now the US and EU have taken it upon themselves to impose further sanctions against Iran’s central bank. On July 1 of this year a ban on the importation of Iranian oil will take effect. These measures are meant to block Iranian exports and make it impossible for the country to import for lack of foreign currency.
But is the US and Western powers’ concern about Iran’s nuclear programme the real driving force behind the current crisis?
Despite the claims of the mainstream media and political officials whose job is to repeat and spread Western imperialist ruling class propaganda, the claims about the Iranian regime’s nuclear programme are highly questionable. In fact their assertions have repeatedly been challenged by genuine experts, investigative reporters and observers familiar with the issue.
First of all, the Western powers and the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have not, so far, been able to provide any credible evidence, let alone proof. Even their intelligence and military officials have not been able to back the claims of their leaders. So they seem to be making so much noise and heading toward war based on a case built on the “suspected intentions” of the Iranian regime that no one has been able to prove.
The US and its allies also claim if Iran succeeds in making nuclear bombs, it would start attacking other countries, especially Israel, and endanger American and Western security.
There seems to be a consensus among experts, however, that even if the US and its allies are right about the Iranian regime’s intentions, it could become capable of making only one or a very few bombs in the near future. There is no way that it could match the nuclear arsenal of Israel, said to include more than 200 warheads, let alone the nuclear capability of the imperialist powers. According to experts, this cannot change the military balance of power in the region.
There is also the argument put forward by some imperialist apologists that if Iran goes nuclear, that would start a nuclear arms race in the region, so that Egypt, Saudi Arabia and other countries would have to compete. First of all, experts familiar with the region’s economic and political situation argue that political problems in some countries such as Egypt and the lack of infrastructure in others such as Saudi Arabia would make it impossible for them to undertake full-scale nuclear programmes. Secondly, this nuclear arms race has already been started with India and Pakistan. Thirdly, countries such as Turkey are not waiting for Iran to go nuclear. They are already working on it.
So not only is there no definitive evidence that Iran is making nuclear bombs, the arguments about the danger that an Iranian nuclear programme would represent for the security of the world and the stability of the region are exaggerated and do not match the reality. In fact, these arguments are little more than justifications for a hidden agenda – the preparations by the US and its allies for a war against Iran.
Also, as everyone now knows, or should know by now, the US and its allies have repeatedly made up various excuses to start wars in different parts of the world. The most memorable example is the 2003 invasion of Iraq under the cover of accusations about the Saddam Hussein regime’s possession of weapons of mass destruction that proved to be a pure invention by George W. Bush and Tony Blair. This has cast even more doubt on the Western powers’ real intentions. Many people all over the world simply don’t trust the US imperialists and their allies on this issue.
Thus it is not difficult to conclude that even if the Iranian regime’s nuclear programme is a concern, it is not the main issue. It cannot, in itself, explain the US’s agenda – why it is intensifying the contradictions with Iran and building a case for and preparing military intervention.
If that is not the real issue, what are the real contradictions that are pressing so hard on both sides, and what are its real sources? Why are the US and its allies unhappy with the Iranian Islamic regime?
Some points on the real contradictions between the US and the Islamic Republic and their sources
Anti-Americanism has been a feature of the Iranian Islamic regime over the last three decades. Its content should be more deeply discussed and understood. Yet no matter how much the US might have had difficulty with this feature, still it has gone along with the regime for most of the last three decades. At the same time the history of the relationship between the Iranian Islamic regime and the US over these three decades has been very complex and full of contradictions and compromises that can hardly be explained by noting one or two simple contradictions.
In fact, over the last three decades the world has been in a state of great turbulence. To be more precise, there have been various factors shaping and effecting the relations between the US and the Iranian regime. Among the most important factors are the history of US interference in Iran and the Iranian clergy’s attitude towards the US during the reign of the Shah. Another very important factor, one that in most cases has been decisive, is that it has been the world situation that has influenced the relationship between the US and the Islamic regime of Iran. Also this relation has been affected by the contradiction between the US and Islamic fundamentalists that was much intensified for a time.
The 1979 Iranian revolution was not the first time that a popular uprising forced the Shah to abandon his throne and flee the country. He was overthrown by another uprising in 1953 under the nationalist prime minister Mohammad Mossadegh, and brought back to power by a CIA-backed coup d’état. The Shah launched a reign of terror, including the imprisonment, torture and murder of leftist and nationalist activists. The coup and the following 25 years of the Shah’s rule, backed and supported by the US, instilled a deep hatred among the Iranian masses for both the Shah and the US. This played a powerful role in the 1979 revolution.
The early 1960s saw a growing contradiction between the clergy and the Shah and the US. This led to the emergence of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and later his exile to Najaf, in Iraq. However, this contradiction was of a very different nature than that between the people and the Shah and the US. The clerics mainly did not support the 1953 uprising of the Iranian people; in fact, they supported the Shah’s coup. (Ayatollah Abolghasem Kashani, the most prominent religious representative of the clergy, supported the coup and became the head of the Shah’s Parliament afterward.) That position was never refuted or countered by Khomeini or any of the leaders of the Islamic regime.
The primary reasons for the clerical establishment’s opposition to the Shah had to do with aspects of the Shah’s 1962 reforms (the so-called “White Revolution”) in the country’s social and economic structure. These US-backed reforms were meant to more fully integrate Iran’s relatively closed economy into the network of world capital. The Islamic forces had a strong connection to the land and feudalism. They particularly did not like the partial land reforms and the rights given to women to vote and hold office, which they saw as a threat to women’s traditional status and traditional society in general. They blamed the Shah and the US for opening the country to Western culture, which they saw as anti-Islamic.
During the 1979 Iranian revolution two different contradictions became entangled: on the one hand the people’s struggle against the monarchy and the US that supported it, and on the other the contradiction between the clerics and the Shah and the West. This interference paved the way for Khomeini and the clerics to steal the leadership of the revolution and abort it. The overthrow of the Shah was a blow to US interests. But the West was also aware that they could better tolerate the Islamist forces than a revolutionary left that could possibly grow through the continuation of the revolution and take the lead. The West was also very concerned about Soviet influence and pro-Soviet forces such as the Tudeh Party, which had also influenced the Fedayeen guerilla organisation. So the US and other Western powers were quick to limit the extent of the Iranian revolution and the blow to their interests by negotiating the Islamists into power before the revolution got deeper and even more out of hand.
Khomeini and his followers claimed to be the manifestation of the people’s revolution, but with their backward ideology they were in fact the thieves of the Iranian revolution and their rise to power was the result of a compromise between backward, reactionary forces and various imperialist powers seeking to put an end to the Iranian revolution.
Clearly one of the main concerns for the US and the West was Soviet influence and the possibility of a Soviet takeover of Iran after the revolution. So they rushed to cut a deal with the Islamists – in other words, the contradiction between the East and West blocs ended up playing a decisive role in this situation. But the East/West conflict over Iran did not end with the bringing of the Islamists to power. In fact, this contradiction continued to colour Iran’s political sky over the next decade.
The Soviets saw that an opportunity had opened for them to influence the political scene in Iran and the Middle East, and they did not want to let it pass. They already had the Tudeh party, with its experienced leaders and cadres whom the USSR had trained for years. Through the Tudeh party they were able to split the Fedayeen and pull the majority section to their side, and retain some influence on the other faction as well. Both through the Tudeh party and other channels the Soviets were also influencing some factions of the Islamic forces in power.
During the first eight months of the Islamic regime, its relationship with the US was not acute. There even seem to have been some diplomatic contacts. The occupation of the US embassy in Tehran by so-called pro-Khomeini students had a dramatic effect on this situation. Khomeini subsequently supported the occupation, leading to the collapse of the first Islamic government, which had been formed by the religious nationalists.
While some observers try to explain the US embassy occupation as a spontaneous move by pro-Khomeini students, others believe hidden forces were also at work, or at least taking advantage. For example, some people interpret this move as part of a power struggle between the clerics and the religious nationalists. Others see it as a result of the influence of the Tudeh Party or Soviet influence through other channels. Whatever the real story behind the occupation, the opening for the Soviet Union to enter Iran’s political sphere had widened. At the same time, some of the most vicious elements of the Islamic regime, such as the ayatollahs Beheshti, Rafsanjani and Khamenei, became stronger and played a bigger role in the regime. Some clerics, especially those in contact with the students, seemed to have adopted a pro-Soviet tone. This is not to say that Beheshti, Rafsanjani or Khamenei were associated with the Soviet bloc, but at that time there was common ground between them and the pro-Soviet elements and others who wanted to oust the religious nationalist government.
After the US embassy occupation, anti-US slogans became a hallmark of the regime. The revolutionary movement came under even more serious attack by the reactionaries in power. They tried to pin the label of pro-US or US spies on the revolutionaries who had been fighting the Shah and the US, even as negotiations between the US and some elements of the Islamic regime regarding the hostages and how to release them continued. While the Islamic regime claimed to be “neither East nor West”, in fact some elements within the regime tended towards the Western bloc and others the Eastern imperialist bloc. In other words, the acute contradiction on the world level had its impact on the Islamic regime.
Ten months after the occupation of the US embassy in Tehran, the Iran-Iraq war started. Again this was the result of a combination of contradictions. This time the US, which encouraged and fuelled this war for eight years, had multiple goals: to eliminate the pro-Soviet elements of the Iraqi regime, to regain the initiative in Iran’s internal affairs, and, most importantly, to attack whatever was left of the revolution’s achievements.
Doubtlessly there was an implicit unity between the US and the Islamic regime on the issue of suppressing the revolution. In fact, from very early on the Islamic regime used the war to suppress the revolutionary movement and unify and consolidate the regime around the Khomeini, Rafsanjani and Khamenei gang. This lead to the coup by Khomeini and the Islamic Republic Party on 20 June 1981, nine months after the start of the war.
Because of the rivalry between the superpowers and their respective attempts to grab Iran, and also the existence of the forces within the Iranian regime who had tendencies towards the West and the East, the Islamic regime was able to swing between the West and East bloc.
During the following years of terror and the suppression of the people and revolutionaries, tens of thousands of communists and other revolutionaries were murdered and many more imprisoned. Tens of thousands were driven into exile. During this period, the silence of the US and the West was deafening. This was an indication that they were satisfied with the brutality they saw the Islamic regime carry out.
The end of the war brought the consolidation of the Islamic Republic. The vast majority of the remaining political prisoners were executed in 1988. Western media and officials began talking about what they saw as the regime’s stability. The end of the war meant an era of reconstruction for the Islamic regime. To accomplish that, it had to more fully integrate the country into the world economy and establish close relations with imperialist financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF. Ali Akbar Rafsanjani became president and his supporters gave him the name of “commander of reconstruction”.
This period coincided with the beginning of the collapse of the Eastern bloc. The closing of the gap between the East and West began to limit the Islamic Republic’s ability to manoeuvre between the two blocs. The elements close to the Soviets became weaker and had to change their position. At the same time the need for capital to build up the war-ravaged infrastructure and economy based on a new imperialist-dependent bourgeoisie exerted a Westward pull on the Islamic regime.
Due to the history of the relations between the West and the traditionalist Islamic clergy and the memory of the American embassy occupation, on the one hand, and on the other the Iranian people’s hatred for US imperialism, it was impossible for the process of normalisation between the Islamic regime and the West to go smoothly. There were many contradictions and obstacles.
In fact, anti-US gestures and slogans had allowed the Islamic regime to gain many things, including stealing and then suppressing the revolution and murdering and imprisoning the revolutionaries, and consolidating its power and achieving a kind of legitimacy both in Iran and in the region. It was not easy for them to abandon such slogans, even though they had already taken up many aspects of imperialist dependency.
During Rafsanjani’s presidency, relations with the West increased mainly through economic and financial cooperation. The export of oil to Western countries returned to its pre-revolution level. Trade with US allies in the region as well as European countries such as Germany and Italy also increased.
In the mid 1990s a regime faction that had helped it consolidate through the years of terror and suppression won the presidential election under the banner of reformism. Mohammad Khatami became the president and subsequently this faction won the majority in parliament.
They started to increase and improve Iran’s relations with Western countries. Aiming to normalize relations with the West and Europe in particular, Khatami visited Germany, France and Italy. Germany and Italy became Iran’s main trade partners. The giant French oil company Total invested a huge amount of capital in Iranian oil fields. The European countries objected to and defied the US law that would punish foreign companies for doing business with Iran.
France, Germany and UK even formed a team to negotiate with Iran on its nuclear programme, mainly to cool down the US approach towards Iran and prevent a possible military intervention.
With the reformist faction running the government, the power struggle within the Islamic regime sharpened. The conservative faction fought with all its might to regain the initiative. During this period the Islamic regime laid the basis to move towards a more defined relationship with the West. However this development was influenced not only by the regime’s internal power struggle, but also, in a different sphere, the 11 September 2011 events in the US, the contradiction between the US and the Al-Qaeda Islamic fundamentalists, and the subsequent American strategy for the region. Along with Iraq and North Korea, Iran was termed part of the “axis of evil”, countries the US accused of supporting terrorism.
After Khatami’s two terms as president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president with the help of the Basij (a paramilitary force) and the Pasdaran (the so-called Revolutionary Guards). He won a second term through a rigged election with the support of Ayatollah Khamenei, the spiritual leader of the Islamic regime after Khomeini. This sparked a massive protest movement that lasted for months and brought millions into the streets of Tehran and other cities. This power struggle within the Islamic regime was resolved violently with the elimination of the reformist faction of the ruling party from the regime and the imprisonment or exile of many of its leaders and members. As the reformists were sidelined, relations with the Western powers, in particular the Europeans, also went into decline.
Since then, Iran has strengthened its economic, political and military relations with China and Russia. During the last three years China became Iran’s leading economic partner by far. China imports 22 percent of Iranian oil exports, whereas before the oil embargo all the EU countries combined were importing 18 percent. Overall, Asian countries, including China, India, Japan and South Korea, account for 60 percent of Iran’s oil exports. Iran has increasingly conducted its currency transactions through Russian and Chinese banks. During the first four months of 2011, 80 percent of the regime’s income from oil and gas exports went through Russian and Chinese banks. Other reports indicate that Iran is calling on Chinese and Russian oil companies to invest in its oil and gas industry.
While the Iranian economy has been increasingly integrated into the world capitalist system and this course has accelerated with today’s globalization, at the same time the world situation has allowed its Islamist rulers to bounce between different imperialist powers. If the bouncing during the 1980s was between the US and Soviet blocs, after the collapse of the Soviet Union it has been first between the US and European countries, and then between the West on the one hand and Russia and China on the other.
This change of direction by the Iranian regime is not unrelated to the orientation of different factions who have benefited from establishing relations with various imperialist powers. At the same time this approach also explains the Europeans’ tougher position on the Iranian nuclear programme in the last few years.
Some points on the recent crisis
Going back to the recent crisis and the intensification of the contradiction, both the West and the Islamic regime are in the middle of economic and political crisis. The question is why both sides are heading towards a confrontation in such a situation.
The US and the West as a whole are pursuing their global interests in terms of control over the world, the new order that the US has been seeking to establish and stabilise for nearly two decades. Control of the Middle East and its oil is crucial and central to this world order. In fact, to secure its long-term position as the chief of the imperialist system in the present world situation, the US needs a regime in Iran that would cooperate with the American regional programme. Because of its nature, its factions and its historical formation, the Islamic regime refuses to play the classical role that the US requires in the region. Moreover, seeking allies it can rely on, it has increasingly distanced itself from the West and become oriented towards Russia and China in recent years. This is something that the US and the West cannot tolerate any longer and why they are running out of patience.
In addition to the crisis in the Islamic regime’s relations with the US and the West, it is facing deeper internal crisis, too.
The regime’s economic, political and ideological policies have reached their limits and put tremendous pressure on the masses. The uprising of the Iranian people after the rigged election showed the depth of discontent with the regime. The Iranian economy, driven by the interests of a narrow section of the ruling class inside the country and the world capitalist system, was in crisis even before the current sanctions. These sanctions imposed by the Western powers, particularly the boycott of Iranian oil and gas, will surely magnify the pressure on the country’s economy, due to Iran’s dependency on world imperialism.
Another crisis the Iranian regime is struggling with is the growing contention among its various factions. The most important aspects of this political crisis are the regime’s chronic inability to unite its various factions and the loss of legitimacy among the masses. Both aspects have intensified in recent years. The ousting of the regime’s reformist faction after the rigged election was considered a coup, but the elimination of the reformists did not result in unity among the other factions. On the contrary, it ignited a factional fight within the conservative sections of the ruling power structure. This has led to the formation of various military and security centres within the same state, leaving it weaker than ever, with no prospect of regaining its lost strength.
While the US is counting on the regime’s weaknesses to make regime change possible now, despite the dangers inherent in an attack from abroad the Iranian regime might also be counting on it as a way to resolve its internal crisis, at least temporarily. It is already using the current threats and sanctions to unite its ranks and the masses, even if temporarily, and justify the economic crisis that is making people’s lives harder and harder. In short, it is trying to use these various contradictions as a way to navigate safely through the current crises.
The people and the threat of a war
In this situation, both the imperialists and the Islamic regime are trying to fool the people and win their support. Some anti-regime forces call on people to support an invasion by the US and other imperialists to get rid of it. There are also those who oppose the US and call on the people to support the regime. Neither stance considers the people as a potentially independent force that can free itself from both the imperialists and the backward, reactionary Islamic regime.
The various contradictions in Iranian-US relations have been complex and involved compromises. But the contradiction between the people of Iran and US imperialism is not the same as the contradiction between the US and the Islamic Republic. At the same time the contradiction between the people and the Islamic regime is not the same as the contradiction between the US and the Islamic regime. If the people tail any of those forces, they will end up oppressed and exploited by one or both of them.
The Islamic religious regime is brutal, ideologically backward and anti-women. It is economically dependent on world imperialism and belongs to the past. The various factions within the regime are seeking to gain the upper hand over one another by relying on different big powers so as to be able to impose their rule over the people for the long term.
The people of Iran and the real anti-imperialists have no interest in siding with any of those forces. Their interests lie in fighting them all.