June 1995 issue of the Socialist Standard
Back in December 1992, Ronald Reagan gave a speech in which he announced that “the end of the communist tyranny has robbed much of the West of its uplifting common purpose”.
The “common purpose” he had in mind was the US’s old claim to be defenders of democracy and global peace that “communism” had threatened for so long. In a nutshell, Reagan was mourning the end of the Cold War, which had taken away every pretension the US had to play globocop, using its hegemonic passport to interfere everywhere from Grenada to Korea.
For five years the US has tried to sell its old image to the world, looking for bogeymen to defend us from under every rock. First came Saddam, then the warlords of Somalia and later on Kim II Sung in North Korea. Now Iran is being held up as a threat to the interests of “the international community”, and once again the US is inviting the world to listen to its prophecies of impending doom and to swallow its rhetoric of possible salvation beneath the stars and stripes.
Current US hype stems from Russia’s recent agreement to build a nuclear power station for Iran at the Gulf port of Bushehr at the cost of $1 billion (supposedly capable of producing material to equip 23 atomic warheads) and is strengthened by Iran’s annual $2.5 billion spending spree on Chinese and Russian military hardware (inclusive, lately, of two Russian submarines) and the recent Iranian deployment of 6,000 troops on the Gulf islands of Queshm, Sirri and Abu Musa.
More recent US-lsraeli rumours state that Iran, with the help of Libya, has acquired a hefty arsenal of Rodnong ballistic missiles from North Korea, and that the two states are jointly working on a project to increase their range and destructive power. All of which must be set against the backcloth of Iran’s attempt to stop the indefinite and unconditional extension of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, as favoured by the US, Britain, Russia and France.
What commentators found a little more than coincidental was the fact that the cant regarding Iran’s threat to world peace coincided with the Index International Arms Exhibition in the United Arab Emirates in March, at which the US, Britain, France and Germany would compete hard for business.
Dr Rosemary Hallis of the Royal Institute of International Affairs said as much, pointing out that “it has been used as a justification to sell more defence equipment to the Arab peninsular”. Middle East expert Heine Kopietz agreed that it was all “hype” and that “the Pentagon is not at all convinced that Iran is aggressive” (Guardian, 24 April).
Weeks earlier, the Speaker of the Iranian parliament was trying to calm the fears of neighbouring countries, scared silly by US rumours, declaring them that “Iran guarantees your security and stability ... [that neighbouring countries] . .. should not, therefore, provide the excuse for aliens to come to the region and create a market for the sale of their weapons by creating an adverse climate” (Independent, 6 April).
In an attempt to get other nations to fall in line with its get-tough-on-lran policy, the Clinton administration set an example by halting all commerce with Iran, blocking the contracts that Exxon, Texaco, Mobil and Caltex had with Iran, involving up to 650,000 barrels of oil per day, a deal worth $4.25 billion to the Iranian economy.
US attempts to isolate Iran economically were even evident in Azerbaijan where pressure was put on the Azeri government to halt a deal giving Tehran a five-percent share in a $7.4 billion contract to develop three oilfields in the Caspian Sea.
Russia too has been threatened with a withdrawal of nuclear co-operation with the US unless they cancel their $1 billion deal with Iran—a threat that brought a swift response from the Russian ambassador to Iran, who announced that “Moscow will not accept any advice from America about its relations with other countries, in particular with the Islamic Republic of Iran” (Guardian, 18 April).
For once, few countries seem to be taking the US seriously, least of all those in Europe. The Pentagon and the Commerce Department were warning in early March that abandoned US business would only be picked up by other countries.
Indeed, the Times (2 May) would go on to report that “British industry is ready to pick up the Iranian orders made available by the ban”. British capitalists, after all, are Iran’s fifth biggest trading partner, with exports of £289 million and imports of £133 million.
The US would have us believe that they are simply aiming to frustrate Iran’s nuclear ambitions by direct economic action. Iran, however, as the US government is well aware, is facing economic catastrophe already, as well as political crisis. By the end of 1994, Iran had foreign debts totalling $16 billion. The rial is steadily being devalued and January saw the price of foodstuffs rocket by 30 percent and rioting in Tehran.
Iranian street culture, reported the Observer (12 February), “is dominated by petty crime, prostitution and drugs. Police turn a blind eye to most offences”. Such is the situation that government employees are accepting bribes just to supplement their wages and Iranians are reported as having to offer a bribe to get a hospital bed.
When Rafsanjani came to power, the West saw in him a “pragmatist” who would at least restore the US-lran relationship they had enjoyed before the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. After two terms in office, Western hopes have been dashed chiefly because all moves to stabilise relations with the West have been blocked by radical mullahs unable to conceive of coexistence and compromise.
Some commentators believe that Iran’s political and economic situation, aggravated by the US attempt to cast them in the mould of international pariah, together with next year’s contentious parliamentary elections, might foster a regression to a more radical foreign policy and bring about a military showdown with the US.
The US over years has become quite adept at profit-oriented long-term scenarios. So it would come as no surprise to Socialists if, under the guise of wishing to save the world from nuclear terrorism, the US is wittingly sowing the seeds for an Iranian civil war or, worse, a second Gulf War.
By intimidating Iran, manipulating their religious and secular sensitivities, they may force the mullahs to go on the offensive, if only to deflect Iranian attention from domestic ills. Bordering states are even nurturing ideas that they can now challenge Iran over disputed territory, lulled into a false sense of security because of the huge arsenals they have amassed, and more importantly, because a precedent has been set for the West to come to the aid of threatened Gulf states should things get out of hand.
March found Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd in Abu Dhabi openly siding with the United Arab Emirates in its dispute with Iran over strategic Gulf islands. Such shit-stirring is what the Gulf region needs least of all at the moment. It is enough that the people living here have to put up with reactionary regimes without living with the additional threat of war sparked by the hype churned out by the agents of Western capitalism. But, in a world ruled by the laws of capitalism, such is the price that has to be paid for living on a coast along which flows 40 percent of the world’s oil.