Revolution #82, March 18, 2007


“The Silence of the Dems”

U.S. Threats Against Iran & the Imperialist Logic of Escalation

Every day, there is more talk and mounting evidence that the United States is getting ready to launch a war against Iran.

Journalist Seymour Hersh recently revealed that the “Pentagon is continuing intensive planning for a possible bombing attack on Iran,” and that in recent months “a special planning group has been established in the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, charged with creating a contingency bombing plan for Iran that can be implemented, upon orders from the President, within twenty-four hours.” ("The Redirection,” New Yorker, 3/5/07)

How soon could such an attack happen? Hersh says one former top official told him “that the current contingency plans allow for an attack order this spring.”

A Deafening—and Deadly Silence

Support for the war in Iraq is at an all-time low in the United States, and many people say they can't believe Bush would do something “so crazy” as to launch another war when things are going so badly for the U.S. in Iraq. But the thinking, plans and preparations for attacking Iran are not about a “mad man in the White House.” They are driven by the real and continuing imperialist interests, necessities, and logic that drove the Bush regime to invade Iraq. Some people think the U.S. is so bogged down in Iraq it can’t open up a whole new front of war in Iran. But in reality, the U.S.’s deep difficulties in Iraq have actually increased their necessity to attack Iran.

Some people may also have been lulled by the Bush administration’s recent moves to “engage” Iran diplomatically. But such moves—as we saw with the run-up to the war on Iraq, are often designed to make the case that the U.S. has “gone the extra mile” and that it is supposedly the fault of the other country for being unwilling to settle disputes “reasonably.” Such “diplomacy” is a necessary component of war preparations, including building up public opinion in favor of military action.

For the U.S. imperialists, domination in the Middle East and Central Asian regions isn’t capricious, or optional. It has been, and continues to be, foundational to their global power and sole superpower status. And this is critical to the very functioning of their system—at home and abroad. The U.S. is an empire rooted in the exigencies of global capitalism or imperialism — a system which demands the worldwide exploitation of markets, resources, and labor and the domination of vast stretches of the globe; a system which gives rise to bitter global rivalries between major powers. Imperialism divides the world between a relative handful of oppressor states—the U.S., Japan, the main powers in Europe, etc.—and the vast majority of nations in Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East. The imperialist powers both dominate the economies and politics of these countries, and they also contend and collude with one another over the relative share of the “spoils.”

This is why dominating the Middle East has been a pillar of U.S. global strategy since World War 2—under Democrats and Republicans. This region is both the geopolitical nexus linking Europe, Asia and Africa, and home to 60 percent of the world’s oil and natural gas. Control of global energy is not only a profitable bonanza but also, and much more importantly,  a strategic necessity for the U.S.: it means exercising leverage over those who depend on oil and in particular its imperialist rivals.

In the eyes of U.S. imperial strategists, these necessities increased following the geopolitical earthquake of the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991. On one hand, this suddenly removed the U.S.’s main imperialist rival and biggest impediment to many of its larger ambitions, opening up new opportunities for further and deeper U.S. economic and political domination. But the shattering of the Cold War order also brought a host of new problems, including rapidly shifting global political and economic trends, rising economic competition, and new challenges to U.S. control of the oppressed countries. And in particular, in the Middle East/Central Asia, where instability was growing, the old status quo was increasingly less viable and the U.S. faced a rapidly spreading and potentially destabilizing pole of opposition to its unfettered hegemony: Islamic fundamentalism. (For more, see "The Crossroads in Iraq: Why the U.S. Went to War," Revolution #70).

These fundamentalist Islamic trends were given powerful impetus by their seizure of power in the 1979 Iranian revolution, and then later the defeat of the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, followed by the Taliban ascendancy. These forces—which are reactionary representatives of the old order, both feudal and bourgeois—don’t fundamentally oppose foreign capital, but their interests clash in various ways, and often sharply, with the U.S. and its regional clients.

Imperial Calculations

The U.S.'s necessity in the face of the growth of Islamic fundamentalism further intensified following the attacks of September 11, 2001. And this included what the U.S. saw as a growing need on their part to confront both Iraq and Iran. This was reflected in the decisions taken at secret, high-level meetings that took place shortly after Sept. 11, as documented by Bob Woodward in his new book State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III.

According to Woodward, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, Paul Wolfowitz, then Deputy Secretary of Defense, felt that the U.S. faced a “crisis” and that it needed a deeper understanding of its adversaries—“Who are the terrorists? Where did this come from? How does it relate to Islamic history, the history of the Middle East, and contemporary Middle East tensions? What are we up against here?” Wolfowitz worried the existing bureaucracies were incapable of fully addressing these issues so he turned to the American Enterprise Institute, a right-wing think tank that had helped spearhead the neo-conservative global agenda of creating an unchallenged American empire, to pull together a secret meeting to devise a broad, aggressive U.S. response.

In late November 2001, a dozen imperialist strategists and former officials began a secret seminar to discuss these issues. The results, Woodward reports, were a “seven-page, single-spaced document, called ‘Delta of Terrorism.’ ‘Delta’ was used in the sense of the mouth of a river from which everything flowed.” The analysis and vision contained in this still-secret memo seems to have guided much of the Bush regime’s thinking ever since.

For one, the meeting concluded that September 11 wasn’t an isolated incident, but part of a much broader, deeper issue confronting the U.S. in the Middle East and globally. “It was a deep problem,” Christopher DeMuth, the president of the American Enterprise Institute and the convener of the meeting told Woodward, “and 9/11 was not an isolated action that called for policing and crime fighting." Instead, he concluded, "a war was going on within Islam—across the region,” and the U.S. imperialists faced a “two-generation battle with radical Islam ” to maintain their control of the Middle East/Central Asian regions. Neoconservatives view this war (which some call World War IV) as essential to maintaining and solidifying the U.S.’s sole superpower status, and envision both crushing radical Islam and undercutting its hold by restructuring governments and societies throughout the region. Israel is seen as a crucial weapon in carrying out this brutal agenda, and both the neocons and the Israeli rulers share the goal of crushing the Palestinian people and preventing the emergence of a viable Palestinian state. These cold-blooded calculations of how to maintain domination of entire peoples and regions of the world—calculations which, without batting an eye, not only take into account but require the deaths of the hundreds of thousands and the ruined lives of millions, in the service of those aims—are what lie behind all the talk of “freedom and safety.”

The meeting concluded that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Iran were the most important sources of the radical Islamic trend the U.S. confronted, but they were difficult to deal with. Iraq, however, was another matter, “weaker, more vulnerable,” Woodward summed up. DeMuth told Woodward, “We concluded that a confrontation with Saddam was inevitable. He was a gathering threat—the most menacing, active and unavoidable threat. We agreed that Saddam would have to leave the scene before the problem would be addressed."

Another participant told Woodward that the plan was to start with Iraq, and success there would lead to “Iranian overthrow.”

Woodward notes that copies of the memo “straight from the neo-conservative playbook,” were hand-delivered to Bush’s war cabinet and embraced by Cheney, Rice, and Bush, who began to “focus on the ‘malignancy’ of the Middle East."

Recently, retired General Wesley Clark told Democracy Now (3/2) that 10 days after Sept 11 he was in the Pentagon and was told by a top official, “We’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” and that a few weeks later the same official told him a memo was circulating “that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years, starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and, finishing off, Iran.”

Iraq Quagmire Creates More—Not Less—Need to Attack Iran

The invasion of Iraq was designed—in part—to pave the way for weakening, and perhaps toppling, Iran’s government. And as things have gone, instead, it has weakened the U.S. hand and strengthened Iran’s in important ways.

For one, it removed one of Iran’s main enemies in Saddam Hussein (after another of Iran’s adversaries, the Taliban in Afghanistan, was also driven from power by the U.S.). The U.S. has been forced to rely on Iraq’s pro-Iranian Shia parties to try to rule and stabilize the country.

Overall, the U.S.’s quagmire in Iraq has weakened U.S. influence, fueled the spread of Islamist trends, and bolstered Iran’s regional influence.

All this has made the situation in the Middle East even more unacceptable to the U.S. imperialists, and the Bush regime has resolved on a course to become even more aggressive in reversing all this—with the escalation of the war in Iraq and now the serious threats against Iran. And meanwhile, the Democrats have proved incapable and unwilling to stop Bush’s troop “surge” to Iraq and have mounted no significant opposition at all—and in some cases significant support—to the real threats to launch a U.S. attack against Iran (other than to call for Congressional approval for any military action).

The Democrats’ paralysis and the looming horror of an escalation against Iran highlight the urgency of broadening and deepening opposition to the war in Iraq and any attack on Iran. Such an attack, which would reportedly include hundreds of targets and could include tactical nuclear weapons, would lead to thousands and thousands of casualties, perhaps many more. And it could well strengthen the grip of the Islamic theocrats now in power in Iran. This would further accelerate the very negative dyanamic in which the assaults on the region fuel the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, while the reactionary program of the fundamentalists causes many in this country to either support Bush or be passive in the face of U.S. aggression and war crimes. A very different program and vision, neither McWorld/McCrusade nor Jihad, is urgently called for. And an essential element of that is driving out the Bush regime and repudiating its entire agenda and opposing now its war moves against Iran .

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