Revolution#129, May 18, 2008

From A World to Win News Service

Is It Acceptable for the U.S. to “Totally Obliterate” Iran?

May 5, 2008. A World to Win News Service. U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s recent threat to “totally obliterate” Iran was truly alarming, not just for what she said, but for what didn’t happen: for the firestorm of condemnation and repudiation that didn’t take place, either in Washington or any other Western capital. Even her rival for the Democratic Party nomination, Barack Obama, confined himself to gently chiding her for a poor choice of words—“It’s not the language we need right now.” What he didn’t say, and what no American politician likely to have a voice in the matter did not say either, is that what she is threatening is genocide, that genocide is a crime, and that even threats of genocide are unacceptable.

Clinton’s shocking threat revealed a great deal more than her own ambitions. It brought to light a certain mood in Washington as a whole, a consensus that Iran is a threat to American interests and that the U.S. should plan for and carry out whatever it takes to achieve political goals they all agree on.

So much for the idea that Bush’s impending exit from the White House might lessen the danger of an attack on Iran, before or after he leaves office.

Last November, a U.S. National Intelligence Estimate concluded that Iran was probably no longer engaging in a nuclear weapons program. The public release of that document indicated unease about the advisability of attacking Iran and contention within the ranks of those who make such decisions. But the situation has evolved somewhat since then. Ironically, as the stated end of Bush’s term in office appears on the horizon, it seems that the strategic assessment he made, in, for instance, his April 10 speech, has been broadly accepted among those who make such decisions. “Iraq is the convergence point of the two greatest threats to America in this century: Al Qaeda and Iran.”

Contrary to what he and others repeatedly imply or claim, the two are different in many basic ways. They are enemies, with no connection between them that anyone has ever provided the slightest evidence for. But you only have to rearrange these words a little to decode what Bush really meant, and what really is the truth: the Shia Islamic Republic of Iran and armed Sunni anti-U.S. Islamic fundamentalism are the sharpest threats to the locking in of the global “American century” the U.S. is seeking. Both reflect an Islamic fundamentalist tide, and the success of any of the diverse and mutually opposed components of this trend in confronting the U.S. emboldens and spurs on the others.

Even more ironically, if irony is appropriate when discussing calls for mass murder, Bush’s statement is far more true now than when he launched the “war on terror” and put Iran alongside Iraq on the “axis of evil.” What has made it truer is the U.S.’s whole international rampage since the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center. The American-led invasion of Afghanistan brought back to life a Taliban that had made itself hated and discredited among many Afghans. American attempts to keep hold of Pakistan have pushed armed Islamic fundamentalism there out of control. Looking to the other side of the horizon, the U.S.-backed Israeli invasion of Lebanon resulted in an unprecedented stalemate for the Israeli army and encouraged the growth of Hezbollah as one of Iran’s most militarily and politically potent allies, with a real army and modern weapons under its command and probably more sympathy throughout the Middle East than any of the American-dependent rulers.

In the eye of this hurricane sits Iraq. Of course Bush is lying when he blames Iran for the war against the U.S. occupation in Iraq. But there is no denying that that war is the best thing for Iran’s mullahs since they came to power. If they are overconfident that the U.S. will not dare attack or that such a war would end in an American defeat, perhaps it is because if there is a god, he has certainly been munificent to them in this regard. He gave them an American occupation in Iraq that, as concluded in a recent paper by U.S. Department of Defense analyst Joseph Collins, the U.S. can’t win and can’t afford to lose. (“Choosing War: The Decision to Invade Iraq and Its Aftermath,” Institute for Strategic Studies, National Defense University) Yet there is little hope for a political solution that would enable the U.S. to continue to rule Iraq without the help of forces tied to Islamic fundamentalism in general and especially to the Islamic Republic of Iran, the sister regime to the Islamic government the U.S. ended up installing in Iraq.

If American authorities are increasingly casting the Iraq war as about Iran, a “proxy war,” as U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker recently said, it is because the invasion of Iraq was never just about the Saddam Hussein regime, or just Iraq itself, but a U.S. bid for regional control which made a collision with Iran inevitable. While the ruling mullahs in Tehran are carefully calibrating their moves (for instance, supporting Shia forces both inside and opposed to the U.S.-installed Iraqi government), and trying to avoid or postpone a direct collision with the U.S. over Iraq, they are certainly seeking to advance their interests in what is, for them, an advantageous situation.

There is another side of the picture for the Iranian regime: It is completely surrounded on all sides by the American military, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the states of the Persian Gulf and Central Asia. Near the southeastern Iraq town of Kut, about 58 kilometers from the Iranian border and near a main border crossing between the two countries, American contractors are busily expanding barracks to comfortably house 6,000 U.S. troops. Until now, the installation has been a main base for spying on Iran. The U.S. sent first one and recently a second aircraft carrier strike group to the Gulf, and another one to the eastern Mediterranean off Lebanon. Few times in history has so much firepower been concentrated. On several occasions now, the U.S. and the UK have provoked naval clashes close to the Iranian shoreline. The additional amount of weapons of mass destruction the U.S. could quickly deploy from the Indian Ocean, Europe and the imperialist “homeland” itself is horrendous.

Further, after long efforts, the U.S. has had some success in cajoling and bullying the other imperialist powers to impose a business blockade. Much of the financing for Iranian imports and exports has been cut off in the last few months. In May, Yahoo and Microsoft enlisted in this campaign, deleting Iran from the list of countries where people who want to use their e-mail services can register. This sets a serious example for lesser companies everywhere who support the U.S. government or fear its threats to punish them. Obviously, millions of Iranians face becoming “collateral damage” of sanctions that initially were said to narrowly target the regime leadership.

Put simply, the Iranian regime is threatening to get in the way of the geopolitical goals the U.S. has set itself so it can continue to be the world’s top exploiter. The U.S. is threatening to “totally obliterate” Iran—which means not just the regime but many, maybe a very great many, of the country’s people.

How the hell can the U.S. imperialists justify this, at least to some of the people in the U.S., if not the world? (Vice President Dick Cheney is on record as saying that the support of a third of the U.S. population would be enough to make a war politically feasible.) In his April speech, Bush, like his generals and ambassadors speaking since then, accused Iran of killing Americans in Iraq. There has been a crescendo of this kind of talk in the last month. Among Americans who don’t ask themselves what those soldiers were doing in Iraq in the first place, that may be a gripping argument.

There is another moral justification being deployed, and it, too, is potentially very serious: the “defense” of the U.S.’s only truly reliable outpost in the Middle East, Israel.

The threats by Clinton (and Obama) echoed Bush’s April speech, where he covered genocidal threats with saving Israeli lives: “They’ve [Iran] declared they want to have a nuclear weapon to destroy people—some in the Middle East. And that’s unacceptable to the United States, and it’s unacceptable to the world,” he told U.S.-funded radio Farda, broadcasting into Iran in Farsi.

This is how the consensus among the U.S. ruling class is put: Iran must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons.

Once again, Bush’s statement needs decoding, but it has real meaning. The IRI has said that they do not seek nuclear weapons, and that Islam prohibits the use of nuclear weapons by anyone. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not, in fact, call for wiping out Israel, as is so often claimed. But if the Islamic Republic were to build a few nuclear weapons, their most logical use would be to deter an Israeli nuclear attack through the same kind of “balance of terror” the U.S. and the Soviet Union engaged in. This could shift the balance of power—or better said, the lack of any balance of power or terror—in the Middle East.

At the same time, it seems, as far as we know, at least until now, that there is an opposite consensus among the Iranian ruling class: that they will not give up their nuclear program. Instead, they have tremendously accelerated it. In real life, and not just in anyone’s rhetoric, Iraq, Iran, Israel and nuclear weapons are all part of a single package.

Defending an illegal settler state would be illegitimate in itself, but the “defense” of Israel is not the real question. As a U.S. regional garrison and gendarme, Israel would almost certainly play a key role in the actual war fighting. It could serve as the trigger for a war in which the U.S. would intervene. There is a mood among a significant section of the Israeli masses, as well as the ruling circles, for a desperate, final solution to an unsustainable status quo. During a five-day civil defense drill in April, a senior Israeli cabinet official warned that Iran is “provoking us” by backing Hezbollah and blustered, “An Iranian attack will lead to a harsh retaliation by Israel, which will lead to the destruction of the Iranian nation.” (CNN, April 7) The implication is that even supplying weapons to Hezbollah, as Iran is already doing, could be considered an attack. Note, as with Clinton, the threat is not “proportional retaliation” but genocide. He also warned that Israelis should get prepared—which was the point of the drill—for rockets raining down on every corner of the country.

In Israel, as in Iran and most certainly in the White House of today and tomorrow, there are people who do have a very clear idea of what war could mean, and, trusting in their god and their mission in his name, are not about to turn back at the prospect of seas of blood.

The Bush government’s decision to release video footage and other information about the mysterious Israeli air strike on a building in Syria late last year has added another disturbing element of concrete preparations in this regard. For some civilian nuclear experts, the “evidence” purporting to show that what the Israel air force hit was an uncompleted nuclear weapons facility seemed to show exactly the opposite. A Syrian government spokesman made a plausible argument when he asked why they would build a strategic weapons site out in the open, in plain view of U.S. spy satellites, with no anti-aircraft or any other military protection. Further, since Syria is a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the International Atomic Energy Agency could have demanded that it submit to a snap inspection.

The timing and approach behind these charges suggest that Washington has decided to step up pressure against Iran’s only state ally, in an attempt to further isolate Tehran. But their specious character also gives more weight to the widely held idea that Israel sent its warplanes into Syria to locate Syria’s radar facilities and test its ability to react. Any Israeli air attack on Iran is considered likely to fly over Syrian airspace. This makes even more ominous the deployment to the eastern Mediterranean of U.S. warships specializing in aerial support. An Israeli attack, an Iranian response, an American president, Republican or Democrat, who announces on television that as much as it wants peace the U.S. has no choice but to “protect” Israeli lives—isn’t that very easy to imagine?

That, of course, is far from the only possible scenario. But others are no better.

Some people hope that war can be avoided by the Islamic Republic flinching. That could happen, but it might not, and no one can count on it. Just like the U.S. imperialists, the Iranian regime is facing its own powerful necessity. An article in the November 2007 issue of Haghighat, the organ of the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist), analyzes that “Like the U.S. imperialists, these reactionaries don’t have any ‘good’ choices available to them. As a result of confrontation with the U.S., the internal contradictions in Iran have intensified: the contradiction between the regime and the people of Iran, and the internal contradictions within the Islamic republic ruling class. But if the Islamic Republic regime retreats in the face of U.S. demands, it would be committing suicide.” ( Despite deadly infighting among the regime’s factions, at this time all of them seem bent on preserving the Islamic Republic.

Many in the Islamic regime hope that the U.S. will not dare attack Iran because Russia would not tolerate it. It is true that an American attack on Iran would be aimed, among other things, at bringing Middle Eastern oil more firmly under its direct control and cutting down Russia’s ability to use its own oil and gas to project political power. (Another purpose would be to further rein in China and India, two countries Iran has looked to for economic ties to replace those with the West.) But in the face of an American nuclear threat, Russia’s role is very difficult to predict. Again, it would be madness to count on Russia, because of its attempts to reclaim a leading role on the imperialist stage, to play a positive role in the unfolding of this situation.

Also, while there are forces within the Islamic Republic who would want to strike a “big compromise” with the U.S., “this does not exclude a ‘big attack’ to make sure the compromise happens on American terms,” as the Haghighat article says. “Another faction of the IRI,” it continues, “believes that a war with the U.S. is the only chance this regime has for survival, because as a result of war the IRI can delay or put a lid on boiling internal contractions that threaten to overthrow it.”

This was dramatically demonstrated at the Islamic Republic’s annual Army Day parade April 17. Ahmadinejad boasted that no power would dare attack Iran as tanks and missile launchers rolled behind him and almost 200 aircraft flew overhead in what regime officials said was the largest ever show of aerial strength.

There has been a progression in the debate among the American ruling class that should be noted. More than two years ago, journalist Seymour Hersh revealed the outline of U.S. plans for “surgical strikes,” commando operations and other means to attack Iran and provoke the downfall of the Islamic Republic. At that time many commentators questioned whether the U.S. could accomplish its goals short of more fully unleashing its military power. Some warned that the U.S. might find itself with more war than it could handle. Now, in a more “by any means necessary” mode, we are hearing threats to “totally obliterate” Iran.

The point here is not to predict what cannot be predicted by ordinary people, and probably not even by those who make the decisions in the countries involved, including the U.S. The contradictions at work are complex and can interact in an unexpected manner. But one thing is as clear as day, and not really disputed by anyone in the know: one way or another, the U.S. is out to seize political and economic control of Iran. In fact, it has little choice but to do so. Otherwise, its whole drive to achieve uncontested and unprecedented control over the Middle East, and on that basis the globe, could unravel. Its success would be a very bad thing for humanity, whether it comes by war or the threat of war—and the decision as to whether threats of war turn into real war, and what kind of war, may not be in anybody’s hands to make.   

A World to Win News Service is put out by A World to Win magazine (, a political and theoretical review inspired by the formation of the Revolutionary Internationalist Movement, the embryonic center of the world’s Marxist-Leninist-Maoist parties and organizations.

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