The destruction factor
Judging by recent events in the Middle East, the US has abandoned all attempts to impose order. Now the world has a nihilist hegemon, argues Yassamine Mather.
Now that the dust has settled on both the assassination of Qassem Soleimani and the tragic downing of the Ukrainian plane by Iran, it is important to look at some of the consequences of the events of early January - for both the Islamic Republic and the region as a whole.
Whenever any of us on the Iranian left criticises the methods used by the United States, the United Kingdom or other western governments on the international scene and in the Middle East, we come under a barrage of attacks - not just from rightwing, royalist ‘regime change’ supporters, but also by their ‘leftwing’ cheerleaders, who accuse us of undermining the battle against the Islamic regime.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The overthrow of Iran’s Islamic Republic will not happen in a vacuum. We must be armed with a clear analysis of the world situation, including the policies of global capitalism, as applied in the region. In addition, as I have said time and time again, when the US administration fails to pay any attention (never mind respect) to what we are constantly told is ‘international law’, ‘human rights’ and the ‘norms of international relations’, and when such behaviour is not seriously challenged, why should anyone in their right mind expect dictatorships such as the Islamic Republic to behave differently?
In the last couple of weeks in order to defend its assassination of Soleimani, the US has been going on about Iran not being a ‘normal state’. It would be more than useful if US officials were to explain to the citizens of the repressive regimes in the third world just what they mean by ‘normal’. Does that apply to states which target individual leaders of their enemies for assassination? What about those where a former head of the security services (in this case the CIA) admits - in fact boasts about - his involvement in the physical and mental torture of prisoners from other countries illegally ‘renditioned’ to US-supervised detention centres, yet is promoted to secretary of state?
Trump, who is supposed to be leader of the ‘free world’, and his officials took an extremely dangerous step on January 3, when they appeared to normalise not only political assassination, but the use of drones to carry them out. Meanwhile, the US brazenly violated the air space of Iraq, a ‘sovereign’ country. Unless this behaviour is challenged, we will soon see an even more chaotic and unpredictable situation in the Middle East. It will, in the main, be the peoples of the region, not the dictatorships or the sectarian states, who will pay the price.
So let me summarise the point: according to Trump and his paid employees (not to mention Iran’s royalists and their leftist allies), the Washington Post, New York Times, New Yorker, CNN, the BBC, together with Justin Trudeau, most of the members of the Democratic Party in the US Congress and Senate, are all apologists for Iran’s Islamic Republic, because they have questioned the contradictory reasons put forward by Trump and Pompeo for the assassination of Soleimani.
The question - was it murder or was it an act of war? - is important, but it is probably not the central issue, which is what all this says about the current world situation. Comrade Mike Macnair has reminded me that ‘murder’ versus ‘act of war’ is merely one or another variety of spin. He believes it is better to call it murder, because the Israeli and US justifications for these killings amount to ‘We are at war with terrorism and these guys are terrorists. Therefore we can kill them.’
According to Gholam Hossein Esmaeili, a spokesman for Iran’s judiciary, his country will pursue war-crimes charges against Trump at the International Criminal Court in the Hague over the killing of Soleimani. Agnes Callamard, the UN’s special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions, claims:
The targeted killings of Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al Muhandis [another victim of the January 3 drone] most likely violate international law [including] human rights law ... Lawful justifications for such killings are very narrowly defined and it is hard to imagine how any of these can apply to these killings.
In the aftermath of the shooting and in order to justify the assassination, Trump claimed Soleimani was planning to take over four US embassy compounds. It is now clear from various leaks that this claim was based on the intelligence pack the US president received before a press conference explaining the potential threat to US embassies after Soleimani was assassinated as part of possible retaliations by Iran.
On January 20 I was at a meeting where a UK military official, who was speaking in a “personal capacity”, talked of Iran’s “malign” intentions in Iraq, plus possible intelligence about an “imminent” threat posed by the demonstrations and the short, limited occupation of the US embassy compound in Baghdad. As all the other speakers at the same event pointed out, the current situation in Iraq should not be taken out of its historic context. By that they meant not just the occupation of the country since 2003, but also the Iran-Iraq war, the conflict with al Qa’eda and Islamic State. Sadly it is not just journalists and the media that have no sense of history: the malaise covers the highest ranks of the government and military - those holding state power. At times they make Tony Blair’s catastrophic ignorance of the situation in the Middle East look like a minor failing.
Recent comments by Boris Johnson and foreign secretary Dominic Raab, putting forward the official position of the UK, are frightening reminders that, like Trump and the US administration, these people have learnt nothing from the fiasco of recent wars in the Middle East. They have no regrets about the ‘failed states’ that followed in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. They even seem to be oblivious to the basic fact that it was these US-UK wars that gave Iran the regional influence it currently holds.
At a seminar in the University of Oxford a colleague commented that in all this discourse about Iran’s ‘malign’ intentions, it is important to ask one thing: what should we make of the US and UK’s own intentions? Can we not say they too were ‘malign’? And here lies the real truth. Ironically the intentions of the United States and its allies - first to ‘avenge’ 9/11 by bombing the wrong country (Afghanistan instead of Saudi Arabia), then to punish Saddam Hussein for disobedience - have not helped their own long-term interests in the region. Unless, that is, we accept the explanation of French philosopher Alain Badiou:
… what is appearing on the horizon is the idea that, rather than taking control of the arduous task of establishing states under the supervision of the metropolis - or, further still, of directly metropolitan states - the possibility is that we simply destroy states. And you can see how consistent this possibility is with the progressive destatisation of globalised capitalism. After all, in certain geographical spaces full of dormant wealth, we can create free, anarchic zones, where there is no longer any state and where, consequently, we no longer have to enter into communication with that redoubtable monster that the state always is, even when it is weak.1
In addition, in the current climate, where anything vaguely anti-Zionist - or even anti-capitalist or anti-imperialist - can be labelled ‘anti Semitic’, what we are witnessing is a blatant attempt to pre-empt any revival of the anti-war movement by casting the next US operation - whether against Iran directly or Syria or Lebanon - as driven by seeking to protect ‘Israel’s right to exist’. It is about time that those on the left who currently ignore the threat posed by such views, or who are apologists for Trump and the Zionists, realise that they could well be victims of consequent witch-hunts as much as the rest of us.
A number of western politicians, including Trudeau, have said that it was the US that created the war-like situation which led to the tragic shooting down of the Ukrainian civilian plane on January 8. Yet the meeting of the leaders of the five countries whose citizens died in the disaster are asking for trial/compensation from Iran.
No doubt the immediate blame must lie with the Islamic Republic and, as I wrote last week, it is very much connected to the regime’s incompetence and disdain for human life (including Iranian life).2 We now know that whoever ordered the shooting has the backing of the supreme leader, ayatollah Ali Khamenei. However, as was pointed out at a seminar I attended in the aftermath of the Soleimani killing, taking military action without a declaration of war and threatening to follow it up with a bombing campaign was sure to produce “retaliation”. In that seminar, the speakers pointed out that in fact Iran’s ‘revenge’ has so far been minimal, and calculated to reduce the chances of further military conflict in the immediate future.
By using repression, as well as bribes to families of the victims, the Iranian state has so far managed to calm the situation. We have not seen major protests in the last week or so. On this level we can say that - at least in medium term - Trump’s assassination of Soleimani has given Iran’s Islamic Republic a valuable gift.
In May 2018 the Trump administration withdrew from what he called “Obama’s terrible deal with Iran”. Since then the United States has imposed new sanctions on the Islamic Republic and in turn Iran has increased the levels to which it enriches uranium. Last week the Trump administration bullied the European powers - in particular the United Kingdom and Germany - threatening them with penalties if they continued to pursue adherence to the nuclear deal.
The response from the European signatories of the deal - known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - was predictable. France, the UK and Germany collapsed into complete obedience and on January 14 a joint meeting of their foreign ministers announced that they are lodging a formal complaint that Iran is not meeting its commitments. This was part of the deal and it means they are triggering a ‘dispute resolution mechanism’, as per the agreement. The three countries claim they want to keep the JCPOA alive, but, in the current climate of threats and retaliation, Iran’s response was predicable. A foreign ministry spokesperson threatened that Tehran would withdraw from the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons if European countries brought alleged violations of the nuclear deal before the United Nations security council.
Johnson then told Iran that it should accept Trump’s proposed deal as a replacement for the JCPOA. Of course, no-one knows what such a deal might involve, but journalists and politicians in Washington were claiming that, if someone merely changed the cover of the current agreement and relabelled it ‘Trump’s Iran deal’, the US president would sign it tomorrow. All leaks from the White House in 2018-19 show that Trump’s opposition to the JCPOA has nothing to do with its content, but the fact that it was Obama’s deal.
What does all this tell us about the world situation? First of all, contrary to what some idiots on the left tell us (eg, the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty3), we do not live in a multipolar world, where Iran’s Islamic Republic is also an “imperialist state”. The United States remains the hegemon and can force European countries to follow its dictates.
In addition, as Mike Macnair has also pointed out to me, it does look like the dominant political forces in the United States have turned towards a project of breaking up the European Union, as could be seen from some of the statements made by the UK’s Brexiteers. However, now we are witnessing a strategy emerging that has the clear aim of forcing more concessions in favour of US control, to deal with continuous European financial crises and in the long term pose the possibility of dismantling the EU as we know it. Comrade Mike Macnair believes that the core EU countries, France and Germany, will be forced to choose in the near future between accepting the collapse of the EU, and ‘Bismarckian measures’ to create a Euro-state capable of pursuing its own geopolitical agenda.
So what is at stake here is not just the JCPOA and Iran’s nuclear future: we are at the onset of major upheavals in terms of global power.
Inside Iran a number of students have refused to walk over the US flags painted by the regime on the footpaths outside the entrance to their campuses, in order to demonstrate their opposition to the government’s slogan of ‘Death to America’. Many of them are opposed to the Tehran regime and do not believe that all the blame should be placed on the US.
In response to this, after last week’s Friday prayers addressed by Khamenei, state TV showed the crowds who were leaving angrily trampling on the Stars and Stripes - apparently these flags had been produced in large numbers for the occasion. A debate has emerged about the significance of the 40-year-old tradition of insulting the US. The problem remains the fact that both Iran’s Islamic Republic and its opponents have no understanding of anti-imperialism. As I keep saying, Iran’s economic integration and total dependence on global capital makes a mockery of the regime’s anti-US rhetoric.
The question we need to deal with concerns the nature of imperialism in the 21st century. Michael Roberts and Guglielmo Carchedi give us some indication of what we should look for. Comrade Roberts say that, when it comes to imperialist states, he and Carchedi “define them as those countries which get a long-term appropriation of value from subaltern countries”. He continues:
And this is achieved by the appropriation of surplus value by high-technology companies (and countries) from low-technology companies (countries). So imperialist countries can be defined as those with a persistently large number of companies, as measured by their high national average organic composition of capital (OCC), and whose average technological development is higher than the national average of other countries …
The G8-plus countries own the vast bulk of all the foreign-owned assets. Even the so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) own little abroad, compared to the imperialist countries. The G8 has six times as much FDI stock as the BRICS.4
In this context Iran’s economy is battered by sanctions precisely because it is identified as a ‘rogue state’. It is deprived of trade relations with major companies, even though in its day-to-day economic policies it follows the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. It does so in terms of privatisation and the abolition of subsidies, while in every labour dispute it takes the side of ‘capital’ against ‘labour’ and because of this loses internal support. Yet its insistence on repeating its meaningless rhetoric regarding the US makes it a ‘rogue state’.
At the seminar discussing the future of the Middle East after Soleimani’s death, lieutenant-general Sir Simon Vincent Mayall - who incidentally made some very important and correct points about the current situation in the Middle East - commented on Iran’s schizophrenic character as a state emerging from a revolution. On the one hand, it still wants to present itself as revolutionary, but, on the other hand, real politics have taught it to act differently in practice.
I would go further and say that, 41 years after the revolution that brought it to power, Iran’s Islamic Republic has nothing left to justify any connection with the revolution of 1979 in terms of its main slogans: freedom, social justice and independence. I do not need to repeat what I have previously written about repression and the growing gap between rich and poor. All the regime can do to claim continued legitimacy is hang on to this pretence of political independence - not least since a number of serious overtures to the US, including offers of military and logistical help to the US before the wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq - backfired.
‘No to war, no to the regime’ Weekly Worker January16.↩︎
See ‘US-Iran: a clash of imperialisms’: www.workersliberty.org/story/2020-01-08/us-iran-clash-imperialisms.↩︎