by Will


This has been a huge couple of weeks for developments regarding Iran.  While Gathering Forces has not had a chance to discuss the massive protests which erupted in Iran over the summer, the urgency of what has taken place with Iran declaring basic civilian nuclear capabilities, Israel hawkish stance towards Iran, and Obama’s multi-lateralism put on trial raises important questions of where US Empire is headed and the general fate of the Middle East.

I will lay out a few concerns or points which I think every anti-imperialist has to take up.

1. What is Israel’s role in all of this? Netanyahu’s government is hawkish as ever, begging for an airstrike on Iran.  Only the US could give the green light for Israeli jets to fly over Iraqi airspace so this could happen. How does Israel’s foreign policy interests relate to US Empire in this case? What discussions happened between Obama and Netanyahu when the latter visited the White House?

2. It looks like Obama has won an important tactical victory. His multi-lateralist imperialism is in the driver’s seat.  But what will happen if it fails in a few months. Could his tactical victory be turned into a defeat by the Neo-cons and hawks in the US foreign policy establishment.  Could they turn around and say “See you negotiated with a terrorist, fascist etc and now that has failed leaving only one option: airstrikes on Iran.” Also, how serious are Russia and China in putting serious sanctions on Iran considering their economic ties?

3. I do not believe an attack on Iran is good for US Empire at this point. US Empire does not have the international political chips. The US Imperialists also have to be worried about how this situation could effect Iraq and Afghanistan as well leading to serious destabilization of both considering Iran’s role in the two countries. This leads to the US arguably does not have the dollars or boots to sustain a third front if things spiral out of control. So a rational and realist approach to Iran, in my take, has to lead to excluding an airstrike from Iran.

At the same time, Empire is not run just on rational policy choices. The policy which stems from the US government is a reflection of competing interests as we see with the build up of the Iraq war in 2003. Could we see a similar scenario with Iran where sectional interests over-ride the realist/ rational prerogatives of American Empire?

4. I definitely do not want to be an alarmist about all of this. The best way I think one can think about this situation is to put it in historical contexts. The threat of attacking Iran has been put on the plate before when Israel asked Bush in 2008 if they could get fly over rights over Iraq. The current situation in my mind, is comparable to that moment, although there certainly different subjective factors which are different such as Obama being in the White House, Netanyahu for another to name some of the most critical.

5. The bourgeois press is running the full offensive against Iran reminding me of the Iraq war buildup. Everyday the NYTimes is running articles referencing anonymous sources, classified documents etc claiming the danger of Iran’s nuclear threat. It is almost as if they learned nothing from a disaster just a few years ago. But the subtle drum beat is definitely there, although not yet comparable to what it was with Iraq.

6. My last and final point for now is what relationship does Ahmadinejad’s foreign policy have to do with demonstrations like this? Also, are there tensions in the Iranian state over this issue as there was over the protests and elections over the summer? You can also check out the developing movement to free political prisoners in Iran here.

4 thoughts on “Iran: Charting Unknown Territory

  1. When i was talking with someone about the relationship that Israel and US empire have in regards to Iran, we brought up the following idea: While, in the media, Netanyahu and Obama seem to be pushing different approaches, a split in the lovefest between the two racist states is unlikely. It’s almost as if the US and Israel are playing “good cop, bad cop” with Iran. While Obama tries his hand at “multilateral imperialism,” the Israeli government aggressively postures with threats of airstrikes. i don’t know how this soft/hard strategy will play out, but i do think there is another reason that influences the different approaches that the US and Israel are taking. In short, they have different stakes in the rest of the world. Unlike the US, Israel doesn’t have to carefully manage imperial domination around the world. Therefore, they can afford to use a more heavy-handed, physically dominant approach towards Iran.

    The other thought i had was in response to the 2nd point in the post: [It looks like Obama has won an important tactical victory. His multi-lateralist imperialism is in the driver’s seat. But what will happen if it fails in a few months? Could his tactical victory be turned into a defeat by the Neo-cons and hawks in the US foreign policy establishment. Could they turn around and say “See you negotiated with a terrorist, fascist etc and now that has failed leaving only one option: airstrikes on Iran.”]

    While the neo-cons will probably say this, i’m not convinced they will have enough of a supportive base amongst the public to initiate yet another war in the Middle East. i’m thinking about this in the context of the current economic recession. It is true that amongst the working class and disillusioned middle class, there are expanding right-wing (sometime even fascist) tendencies. However, the ruling class neo-cons are too out of touch with the immediate concerns of this growing right-wing populism. Many of the people in these circles distrust the government already, and so they have no desire to see the US get mired in another war. For this reason, the neo-cons who want to displace Obama and his “multilateral imperialism” may be unsuccessful.

  2. Agreed on your first point Gila. That is definitely one dimension of the sectional interests in terms of what Israel is concerned about in contrast to a larger imperial vision of the United States.

    I generally agree with your second point as well. I see a lot of currents running against the favor of neo-cons in particular and hawks in general in terms of an immediate war. The neo-cons rarely focus on domestic concerns the way the populist-right does which you mention. Foreign policy is the lynchpin for the former. There is also the Neo-con blunders in Iraq and in terms of foreign policy in general which is fresh in the ruling class’s memory– at least for now. While there have been isolationist tendencies in the US rulers and at the grassroots level for generations, they have also lost out at times with WW 1 and 2 in mind. It seems greater economic and strategic imperatives have dragged the U.S. into the world theatre again and again leaving isolationist perspectives sidelined.

    A friend was mentioning to me that Ron Paul supporters have also been involved in the healthcare protests and the tea parties–gotta verify that but it shows the multi-current movement developing on the right.

    I suppose the game changer would be if deeper economic crisis and tensions between states can be the reason for war down the road. Perhaps the US would not directly start the whole affair like in WW1 and WW2, but it would be dragged in.

  3. I think there’s a related point to what Gila raises about thinking about what shapes Obama’s strategy moves with Iran vs. the strategy of other states. That is the question of sanctions that is coming up in all the news around Iran’s nuclear facilities. The stampede for sanctions continues, with a looming December deadline to end “talks” with Iran, and it seems Obama is willing to enforce sanctions with or without the UN. The WSJ provides some important details here:

    From what’s reported, there was a meeting this past week called by the US with “the coalition of the like-minded nations” (remind anyone of the “coalition of the willing”?) that included the G7 countries plus South Korea, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Australia. They supposedly discussed areas of weakness for Iran that they could pressure with sanctions. Meanwhile, US congress is preparing legislation to push thru that would include sanctions affecting Iran (since the US have much in the way of direct economic ties, they seem aimed at targeting other countries or corporations that do business with Iran).

    My question is, what is the goal of sanctions against Iran? On the one hand, it seems unlikely that they will pass in the UN, given the economic interests of Russia and China, as Will points to in his post. Some of the US’ closest allies may not even agree to sanctions.

    Aside from that, Iran is technically already complying with international laws regarding nuclear facilities. Iran announced the building of this second facility ahead of the 6 month deadline set by international law; they don’t have the capacity to enrich uranium beyond the 5% deadline set by international law (and it takes something around 80% or 90% enrichment in order for uranium to be used in weaponry); and Iran has even agreed to send its uranium to Russia to be enriched. So sanctions don’t seem like they will gain concessions out of Iran or prevent nuclear development beyond what is already on the table.

    Given that, the point of sanctions, or at least the threat of sanctions, seems more like a strategy to domestically give Obama cover that he is being tough on Iran, and internationally to undermine Ahmadinejad and give support to opposition forces within Iran that will be friendly to the US, as well as act as an economic punch against Russia & China since both countries are major trading partners with and investors in Iran.

    This has been a remarkable development these past few weeks. Especially because, as Iraq has so tragically shown, sanctions do the most harm to working class and oppressed people within the targeted country. The objective circumstances don’t seem to lend towards sanctions or a more aggressive strategy being used by the US, as Gila and Will point out, but if they do go thru with it we know Obama & co. won’t be the ones that ultimately pay the costs (in lives lost or ruined) of these imperial strategies.

  4. Gila, while the neo-cons by themselves are not in a position to “sell” another war, let alone an Israeli one, I think many of their core ideas remain viable in Washington. These ideas have already altered the ideological terrain in the political establishment. In other words they don’t need institutional access to get a war on Iran.

    This fits into the bigger picture of right-wing ideas continuing their power even after the actual Republican party got rolled in the election because these ideas transcend party affiliation. For example, I think you could argue that there are continuities between neo-conservative ideas and the current counter-insurgency doctrine Obama endorsed by hiring McCrystal to run the Afghanistan occupation. But in general I think its difficult to completely separate neo-conservativism from the wider reactionary social ideology that characterizes the political class and official society as a whole.

    Lauren, you make a good point that the threat of sanctions is a domestic issue for the Obama administration. Of course as he gives to the Right on this he legitimizes and becomes enmeshed in their logic. To add to what you are saying, I think on this point we can’t separate, as usual, domestic imperatives with the need to balance the aims of Israeli foreign policy. Obama is dealing with a Right wing government with far-right coalition partners, which continues to have weight in the both parties, no matter how much the fascist Avigdor Lieberman goes on about turning to Russia and China.

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