Following the election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as President in July 2005, there was a decisive shift in Iranian foreign policy to a more strident and defiant attitude towards the USA. Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric of ‘wiping Israel off the map’, Iran’s increasing covert meddling in the fractious politics of Iraq and, most importantly, his decision to recommence Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, all caused increasing alarm in Washington. The issue of Iran, which had become overshadowed by the problems arising from the prolonged occupation of Iraq, re-emerged on America’s foreign policy agenda. There arose an increasing clamour, from both inside and outside the Bush regime, for a more robust and confrontational attitude towards Iran’s defiance of the ‘rules of the game’ of the international bourgeois community, which by the beginning of 2006 had reached a crescendo.
Drawing together the increasingly bellicose statements coming from the more hawkish elements of the neoconservative circles in and around the Bush administration, with the shifts in both military doctrines and plans that have emanated in recent years from the Pentagon, many in the anti-war movement, on both sides of the Atlantic, jumped to the conclusion that Bush was already gearing up for a pre-emptive air strike against Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, which, it was insisted, could well involve the use of bunker busting tactical nuclear weapons. Feeding the febrile atmosphere that such conclusions were creating within the anti-war movement, John Pilger went further. In an article in the New Statesman, Pilger revealed that the US had plans to invade the Iranian province of Bushehr on the coast of the Persian Gulf and thereby seize the bulk of Iran’s oil fields. By the Spring, many antiwar activists had convinced themselves that once the diplomatic formalities were disposed of, Bush was hellbent on launching some form of devastating attack on Iran. War, it was asserted, was merely a matter of months away.
These fears seemed to be given further credence by Seymour Hersh’s interviews with a wide range of leading figures in the Bush administration. However, although these interviews showed that a more bellicose attitude towards Iran was gaining ground in Washington, it also showed that many in and around the Bush administration were not only alarmed by the advance of such attitudes, but, by agreeing to be interviewed by Hersh, wanted their alarm to be known. Therefore a more subtle reading of Hersh’s report on these interviews indicated that there were important divisions within the Bush administration concerning the direction of foreign policy towards Iran.
Furthermore, on closer inspection, the military plans that were cited to support the contention that Bush was planning an imminent attack on Iran turned out to be either shifts in broad long-term military doctrines or else detailed contingency plans. The fact that the Pentagon had accepted that under certain circumstances the US army might use tactical nuclear weapons, or that plans existed for the invasion of Iran did not mean that Bush was intending to implement such plans. This was clearly the case with Pilger’s revelation that the US had plans to invade the province of Bushehr. These versions of such plans dated back more than twenty years!
The Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), through the Stop the War Coalition (StWC), were quick to jump on the ‘Don’t Attack Iran’ bandwagon in their typically opportunistic manner. Following the success of the StWC in mobilising mass national anti-war demonstrations in the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2002, the SWP promptly ditched their erstwhile Trotskyist allies in the Socialist Alliance and attempted to build on the links they had established through the StWC with various political Islamic groups such as the Muslim Association of Britain (MAB) to form a broad anti-war electoral front. Yet, despite being prepared to jettison, or at least play down, certain left-wing ‘shibboleths’ - such as gay rights, abortion and so forth - in order not to offend the conservative sensitivities of their prospective political allies, the SWP was rebuffed by MAB and the other main Muslim organisations. Although still attempting to appeal to anti-war Muslim opinion, the SWP was obliged to be content with a more restricted (un)Popular Front with the maverick ex-Labour MP George Galloway and various small Troskyist groups, which was to result in the formation of Respect.
However, any hopes the leadership of the SWP may have had that Respect would provide the vehicle through which they could ride the wave of anti-war/anti-Blair sentiment in order to break into the big time of bourgeois electoral politics have been all but shattered. The electoral success of Respect has been mainly confined to Tower Hamlets in east London, where George Galloway was able to capture the Parliamentary seat, and where Respect is represented on the local council by a number of opportunistic local Asian politicians - whose loyalty is rather suspect to say the least. Outside Tower Hamlets, Respect’s share of the vote, - in either the General Election of 2005, or in local elections - has for the most part been derisory.
Yet the reality facing the leadership of the SWP in the winter of 2006 was not merely that their Respect project had stalled, but that it was close to becoming a laughing stock following George Galloway’s surprise, but ill-advised, attempt at self-promotion by participating in the ‘Big Brother’ reality TV show. At the same time, the StWC’s uncritical support for the Iraqi resistance was becoming increasingly problematic as Iraq teetered on the verge of civil war. As the StWC welcomed prominent supporters of Sadr on its platforms, Sadrist death squads were pursuing a policy of sectarian murder in Baghdad, making the StWC an easy target for Blairites and pro-war liberals.
It is perhaps of little surprise then that the leadership of the SWP jumped at the chance of reviving the anti-war movement under the slogan ‘Don’t Attack Iran’, which could then serve to kick start Respect. By stressing the imminence of the feared attack on Iran, the SWP leadership could hope, at least in the short-term, to throw the foot soldiers of Respect and the SWP into a frenzy of activity in which they could forget their recent electoral disappointments and humiliation at the hands of George Galloway.
As we pointed out at the time, during the run up to the invasion of Iraq in 2002 the StWC had been merely one element in a broad and multifaceted anti-war movement. Its main function had been to organise national demonstrations and in doing so reflect the lowest common denominator of the anti-war movement – a function it must be conceded it did quite ably. The sheer size and enthusiasm of the anti-war movement meant that the ability of the StWC to corral it in any particular direction had been limited. However, in the past three years the movement has subsided and become dissipated. Now, as many local groups have shrunk to a hardcore of activists a large proportion of which being SWP/Respect members, the StWC is in a much stronger position to dictate the politics and activity of a much smaller anti-war movement. A position that the SWP has sought to exploit to the full.
In pushing the line that the US was gearing up to attack Iran in the next few months, the StWC coalition adopted the rather crass and disingenuous argument that simply inverted the Manichean rhetoric of Bush. The response to anyone questioning why the US should take such a big gamble in attacking Iran in the present circumstances was to simply assert that the Bush administration was dominated by neoconservatives who were so mad and evil that they were hell-bent on war. Not only this, through Action for Iran – a group closely linked to the StWC – an argument began to be propagated that the viciously anti-working class and brutally repressive Iranian regime was somehow ‘progressive’ and had the ‘right’ to obtain nuclear weapons and as such ought to be defended by the anti-war movement. While the arguments of Action for Iran were aimed at the liberal elements in the anti-war movement, the SWP itself, attempting to retain some vestige of its Trotskyist past, began to stress the ‘anti-imperialism’ of the Iranian regime in order to defend its move towards critical support for Iran.
The SWP’s opportunism has not only led them to peddle rather crass and disingenuous arguments, but has also led to certain inconsistencies between these arguments and their more serious writings. While through the StWC the SWP pushes the line that Bush is simply mad and evil, the SWP’s theoreticians still see that US foreign policy in the Middle East is driven by its rational and material interest in securing oil and the profits from oil. However, following their theoretical mentor Hillel Ticktin, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) has put forward a more consistent and sophisticated, indeed ‘Marxist’, version of the argument that Bush’s foreign policy is irrational. Like Ticktin, the CPGB dismiss the argument that the fundamental cause of the Iraq war was oil (or more strictly speaking oil rents). 6 Drawing on Ticktin’s theory of decadence, the CPGB argue that the ‘real cause’ arises from the fact that capitalism, or at least American capitalism’, has entered into the terminal stage of its decline. 7 As a result US foreign policy is becoming increasingly irrational as it adopts evermore desperate short-term and short sighted policies to ward off the inevitability of its demise. On this basis the CPGB loudly echoed the predictions made by the StWC last March that the Bush regime was preparing an imminent attack on Iran.
Yet, as American policy appears to have taken a more decisively diplomatic tack, the alarm over an imminent attack on Iran has abated. Indeed, as it turned out, the Summer saw not a US attack on Iran but an Israeli attack on Lebanon. Indeed, with Iran backing Hizballah and the US backing Israel, it must be asked if Bush had been planning an imminent attack on Iran why did he not take the opportunity of escalating the conflict in Lebanon?
In this article we shall seek to understand the current relations between the US and Iran in the context of long-term and rational plans put forward by the neoconservatives to re-order the oil rich regions of what has become known as the wider Middle East – and how these plans are conditioned by the class struggle in both the USA and Iran. We shall conclude that, although a major US attack on Iran cannot be ruled out in the medium- and l0ng-term, it is unlikely any time soon.
continued here: http://libcom.org/library/aufheben/aufheben-15-2007/lebanon-iran-and-the-long-war-in-the-wider-middle-east