Nuclear Agreement with Iran:

U.S. Empire Makes Move to Meet Rising Challenges

by Larry Everest | April 6, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper |


On Thursday, April 2, President Obama, Iran’s Foreign Minister, and a representative of the European Union announced that after 18 months of negotiations they had agreed on an overall framework for a major agreement on Iran’s nuclear program and sanctions. In return for the Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) cutting back, restricting and allowing extensive inspections of its nuclear enrichment program, the U.S. and other world powers would begin to lift the punishing economic sanctions they had imposed on Iran. The final deal between the U.S. and other world powers (Russia, China, Britain, Germany and France) on one side, and Iran on the other is scheduled to be worked out and signed by the end of June.

Many in the U.S. and in Iran are celebrating the agreement as a triumph of peace over war. The deal represents no such thing.

This deal (and the arguments over it) is not about eliminating the underlying causes of suffering, deprivation, conflict and wars in the region. It’s not even about eliminating nukes in the region—the U.S. still has thousands, and Israel has hundreds that it has refused to even acknowledge, much less submit to international inspection and control. The deal is about maintaining those underlying social and economic relations as well as the political order that is responsible for the horrendous tidal wave of death and suffering that is cascading over North Africa and the Middle East and is at the root of the rise and spread of Islamic fundamentalism.

Opening of a Big Strategic Move

Iran’s nuclear program is an issue for the U.S. in its own right. But for the U.S., the nuclear agreement appears to be the opening act of a much bigger strategic move—and gamble—by the Obama administration aimed at dealing with enormous contradictions and challenges the U.S. imperialists face globally as well as in the Middle East region. In a nutshell, the Obama team hopes that this nuclear deal can be a bridge toward Iran rejoining “the community of nations,” as Obama put it. This means Iran would become more integrated in the U.S.-dominated global and regional orders after 36 years of isolation and increasingly sharp conflict between the two countries. If this works out as planned, and that’s a big if, Iran could go from one of U.S. imperialism’s biggest problems to a globally important country more helping than harming the U.S. agenda

Such a shift, if successful, could have profound reverberations globally and regionally. It could strengthen the U.S. in its clash with Russia and growing rivalry with China, while making it more difficult for them to pull Iran into their orbits. In the Middle East, the U.S. is beset with explosive and intractable contradictions, and Obama’s team hopes that a rapprochement with Iran could be key to dealing with them. As the New York Times put it, reconciliation with Iran could be “the key to a broader reordering of a region that has bedeviled American presidents for generations.”

Iran’s rulers also have their own pressing reasons for agreeing to the nuclear deal under which they agreed to cut its centrifuges by two-thirds, enrich only to 3.67 percent (a nuclear weapon requires over 90 percent enriched uranium), undertake big changes to various nuclear reactors and facilities, and permit intrusive inspections, all of which will last at least 10 years.

This deal will lessen the threat of a U.S. military attack. The Iranian regime urgently needs the lifting of sanctions. Its economy remains dependent on foreign technology, imports, and capital, so cutting Iran off from international banking and credit has crippled their economy, including by hindering its expansion and modernization. Reviving Iran’s economy would help prevent another eruption of internal discontent, like the one which took place following the 2009 presidential elections.

The IRI also has broader objectives than the recognition of its right to enrich uranium and sanctions relief. Sunni jihadism and regional turmoil threaten its interests as well. And Iran’s rulers seek to build Iran into a powerful country, one with global ties, and legitimize its role as a major player in the Middle East. All of these could be served by easing U.S.-Iran tensions and regaining access to global trade and financial markets.

There is no guarantee, however, that this deal will be consummated or succeed in the ways the Obama team is betting on. There is vehement opposition to the deal and Obama’s strategic move by powerful forces in the U.S. ruling class and from key U.S. allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia. Former Gen. David Petraeus, for example, argues that Iran is the problem—not the solution. In the past, Israel has threatened to unilaterally attack Iran’s nuclear facilities if any deal allowed them to continue to enrich uranium.

Even if the deal does go through and the U.S. and Iran attempt a broader rapprochement, there is no guarantee it will play out as planned. Iran has its own ambitions, which aren’t identical to the U.S.’s. The deal could lead to unanticipated Israeli and Saudi moves against Iran and splits with the U.S. And many other contradictions, global or regional, could intervene.

An About-Face Driven by Big Changes and Extreme Necessity

The U.S. imperialists have been deeply hostile to the Islamic Republic of Iran for some 36 years, starting shortly after it came to power following the 1979 Iranian revolution and growing over time. Why? Not because Iran’s rulers are despotic theocrats, who oppress and suffocate Iran’s people, women especially. But because their agenda and ambitions have conflicted in many ways with U.S. global and regional interests. While remaining firmly within the global capitalist order, Iran’s new rulers were not outright U.S. lackeys, like the Shah. They expanded Iran’s ties internationally and its influence regionally, in Syria for instance. They advocated Islamic rule and supported anti-U.S. Islamist forces, including in Palestine, Lebanon and Iraq. The 2002 revelation that Iran had a secret nuclear enrichment program added to these tensions. Whether or not Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons, it would be destabilizing if it even had the technical capacity to build a bomb.

So the normalization of U.S.-Iran relations would represent a radical about-face. Why is it taking place now?

The U.S. has been the world’s dominant imperialist power for 70 years, since the end of World War 2, and the world’s only imperialist superpower for the last 25, since the collapse of the former Soviet Union. But the global playing field is rapidly changing, and the U.S. is facing new challenges. China is rapidly becoming a world economic power and expanding its economic, political and military influence, including in the Middle East. Meanwhile, Russia has been attempting to reassert its influence, including in Eastern Europe, where the U.S. and Russia are dangerously clashing over Ukraine, as well as Central Asia, and the Middle East. The U.S. has sought to counter the rise of both China and Russia.

Iran is not a global power, but it occupies a globally strategic geographic position and has enormous energy reserves. So it’s a state whose alignment can impact the global balance of power. In recent years, both Russia and China have worked to expand their ties with Iran, at a time when U.S.-Iranian relations have been locked in antagonism. To take one dimension, China is now one of the main investors in the oil sectors in Iran (and Iraq). So one element of Obama’s Iran gambit is to pull Iran toward the U.S. orbit and to head off the deepening of an alliance between China, Russia, and Iran (as well as other countries).

Developments in the Middle East are closely linked to the global picture in other ways. This region is a military and trade crossroads between Africa, Europe and Asia and a crucial spigot of global oil and natural gas, and controlling it has been key to U.S. global domination since the end of World War 2. But now the regional order is under duress and threatening to come apart. Upheaval, turmoil, and civil wars are spreading across the region, engulfing Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq. Recent uprisings have rocked Egypt, Bahrain, and Tunisia. These developments threaten the stability of crucial U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia—the country with the world’s largest oil reserves. And they threaten to further enmesh U.S. forces in the region, hindering the Obama team’s declared policy of shifting U.S. focus and resources to the Asian-Pacific region, increasingly the center of gravity of the world economy.

The Obama administration calculates that on both fronts a deal with Iran could be crucial. Lessening tensions with Iran could lower the likelihood the U.S. would get embroiled in another war in the region. It could pave the way toward cooperation where the U.S. and Iran have common interests—for instance in containing Sunni jihadist forces, as is now already taking place in fighting ISIS in Iraq. (This may be a test run for a more ongoing partnership.) Iran could potentially help facilitate political settlements in Syria and Yemen. All this, if it actually took place, could give the U.S. more freedom to focus on Europe and the Asian-Pacific.

This is the situation and these are the great necessities the U.S. faces that led it to shift course and cut this deal with Iran. This is why for the first time, the U.S. and its allies have effectively recognized Iran’s right to enrich uranium, and the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic, something the U.S. had not done explicitly before. And all this is why, as the New York Times sums up, Obama “has been willing to gamble America’s relationship with Israel and his own presidency on that premise” that Iran can be brought in from the cold and that this could head off disaster and become a major strategic gain for the U.S. imperialists.

The Backlash

Again, it’s by no means certain that this deal will be implemented, or work out as planned. There are real arguments within the U.S. ruling class over its wisdom—including whether it could end up strengthening Iran even more, to the detriment of the U.S. and Israel. There are divisions over whether the U.S. is acting forcefully enough in the Middle East, and more fundamentally over how to cohere the country and lead the empire during a period of upheaval and unpredictability. The approval of this deal could become a vehicle through which these larger intra-ruling class differences are fought out.

Whichever side in this ruling class debate wins out, the U.S. rulers could turn on Iran once again if they sees it’s in their interest to do so. This agreement does not mean that the IRI will stop pursuing its own ambitions, agenda, and necessities.

Israel’s newly re-elected Prime Minister Netanyahu has lashed out at the deal and repeatedly stated that no one will tell Israel how to protect its “security.” And Saudi Arabia fears the agreement will legitimize and increase Iran’s regional influence—undercutting and threatening Saudi Arabia’s own influence, perhaps even the legitimacy of the kingdom as Islam’s true guardian. Saudi Arabia may launch its own nuclear enrichment program, and it recently organized a regional Arab armed force to combat Iran and its allies—which is now being battle- tested in Yemen. So this deal, instead of tamping down contradictions, could escalate the tensions between Israel, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, and Egypt on one side, and Iran and its allies on the other—with unpredictable consequences.

The Imperialists’ Interests Are Not Our Interests

In his announcement of the deal, Obama repeatedly emphasized that this was an agreement designed to further U.S. “interests.” What he means by U.S. interests is maintaining U.S. imperialist dominance over Iran, the Middle East region and the world, including by war if that is deemed the best option. As he talks of peace with Iran, he’s presiding over the bombing of the Iraqi city of Tikrit, supporting the Saudi bombing of Yemen, waging war in Afghanistan, and carrying out drone strikes and other war crimes throughout the region.

But many people—including those genuinely opposed to the crimes of U.S. imperialism and its enforcer, Israel—are being pulled into getting behind Obama and the position he represents, in conflict with Israel’s genocidal Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Republicans. As Alan Goodman wrote in a recent Revolution/ article (“Missing from the ‘Debate’ over Iran: the Interests of Humanity!”):

There’s one basic problem with that framework and that position: It utterly leaves out and goes completely against the interests and best aspirations of hundreds of millions of people from North Africa to Central Asia.

The people in this region are trapped in a cauldron of reactionary wars and brutal oppression defined by the clash of reactionary forces—Western imperialists who brand themselves “democracies,” and reactionary Islamic fundamentalists offer “alternative” forms of exploitation and oppression. The masses of people in this region have been demonized and dehumanized by the Western media. But the hundreds of millions of people in this region are our people. Their interests—and those of the people of the world—lie in ending all oppression. There is a basis for that in the world today, and there is a way out. It is a torturous journey, but it’s a real alternative to the hell people are living in—as real as real gets.

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