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Saturday, 7 April 2018

Iran vs. America: Today's State of Play

There's a new term for some of the new faces in Donald Trump's administration: “super-hawks”. In fact another term has also been coined for Trump's cabinet: the “war cabinet”... Actually, when you look into it, you'll quickly find (or remember) that the term “super-hawks” has been used a fair few times before! Remember the “neo-conservatives”? The term was used about them just before – and after - the Iraq War of 2003. And if you go back a little further in history than that you'll also find that some of those in Ronald Reagan's administration (as well as Reagan himself) were classed as “super-hawks”. In fact the term goes back to the Vietnam War and even well before that.

So, yes, the term “super-hawks” is little more than political rhetoric.

The other point is that if we now have super-hawks, then their predecessors must have been plain old hawks. This means that those on the Left will always see right-wing (or conservative) governments has being made up of hawks (of some description). Indeed the very act of engaging in any war/intervention at any time over any issue is “hawkish” to those who're already against “capitalist democracies”.


Perhaps the trick is to take a middle-way between knee-jerk interventionism and claiming that whatever happens in foreign countries has no effect at all on what happens in the United States. That is, perhaps it's best to intervene only when there's a direct impact on - or threat to - the US. That, of course, leaves the big problem as to what's actually meant by the words “direct” and “threat” here. And these words can be debated until the cows come home.

The extreme interventionist position can be summed up in the often-quoted (i.e., by radical-left sources) pre-Iraq War phrase, “Baghdad today, Tehran and Damascus tomorrow.” (Did any “neo-Conservative” ever actually say this or is it simply an Internet meme?) Nonetheless, at the other end of the scale you have the non-interventionist or “isolationist” (which can be said to be the logical conclusion of non-interventionism) view that that the United States should never intervene anywhere outside of the US itself. However, is this position actually held by many on the Right? When it comes to the Left, on the other hand, many do indeed believe that no US intervention at any time and for any reason can ever be acceptable. That's because it will be a “capitalist state” which will be doing the intervening. In other words, any intervention by a capitalist state will be - by definition - wrong. So such an intervention will be “all about oil” or at least all about something not stated by the interveners.

It's also very odd that many of those who speak out against any military intervention also say that “sanctions against Iran don't work”. That seems to be a roundabout way of saying (as Britain's Stop the War Coalition has said): “Hands off Iran!” Basically, there are many on the Left who ideologically and politically support Iran. Indeed many leftwing leaders have also worked for Press TV: Iran's state-run news outlet. For example, the leader of the British Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, is one such “radical socialist” who's worked for Iran's Press TV. (He can also be found speaking at a demo in the “Hands off Iran” video just linked.)

And what's true of “radical socialists” like Jeremy Corbyn is (slightly less) true of the Democratic Party as a whole. Nonetheless, much has been made, for example, of Barack Obama's weakness on Iran and even of his sympathy for this state and some of the regimes, groups and individuals strongly connected to it.

The Threat From Iran

So what about Iran's threat to “US interests” (as it's often put)? That's hard to quantify. Indeed the words “US interests” can be stretched so widely that anything that happens in Iran and its satellites can be seen as being a threat to US interests.

Nonetheless, what we have here is the historical threat of what has often been called the “Shia crescent”.

Iran is a Shia state. So now (i.e., after the Iraq war) is Iraq. Syria is also led by a Shia minority. If we move further afield, we also have a large and powerful Shia population in Lebanon. There are also relatively large numbers of Shia Muslims in Pakistan, India, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Kuwait, Bahrain, Tajikistan, the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Qatar

Iran is the “spiritual home” of most Shia. Iran also arms, funds and trains militia in many counties which have Shia populations. It's also on very good terms with the political leaders of some of these countries. Thus, in theory at least, we could have a Iranian-led political block of immense power in the region.

Of course it's not quite that simple.

There are so many Islamic sects in this part of the world (as well as many non-Muslim minorities) that total Shia power is perhaps unlikely. And even among Shia there are rivalries. Nonetheless, those with minor differences often unite together against those they see as being greater mutual enemies.

For example, Syria's Bashar al-Assad has little in common with Iran's theocrats – except, of course, that he's of the Alawite branch of the Shia religion. In addition, many Shia in Iraq don't like kowtowing to Iran either. This basically means that no matter how close these religious or ideological groupings are, the very fact that they're separate political power-blocks means that total Shia unification will prove to be almost impossible.

Invade Iran?

It can be said that whatever action the United States takes against Iran, many will compare it to the situation which occurred just before the intervention in Iraq in 2003. In other words, they'll say that the US “doesn't know what it's getting into”. This is odd really because that's almost true by definition. That is, there's never been a single war (or intervention) in which those involved could have forecasted every detail of the future and therefore known beforehand what they were getting into. Indeed wars, interventions or even economic changes involve so many variables that no one can ever know - in complete detail - what they're getting into.

All this was of course true of Iraq in 2003.

Post-2003, the omniscient retrospecters condemned George W. Bush and the US government for failing to be excellent futurologists. Nonetheless, it can indeed be said that the Bush government underestimated the danger of tribal Islamic loyalties in the Iraq case. Then again, many on the Left also entirely factored out Islam because leftwingers saw this religion – and still see it - as a mere “epiphenomenon of material and political conditions” (i.e., Marx's “sigh of the oppressed creature” and all that). So Islam and Islamic rivalries were - and still are - played down by all sides.

Nonetheless, Iran is both directly and indirectly involved in nearly all the wars and conflicts in the Middle East and just beyond.

Of course the main conflict is in Syria. And Syria is closely allied to Iran.

In more concrete terms, in January this year the former US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said that the US should keep its forces in Syria after the defeat of Isis in order to go on to then defeat Bashar al-Assad. This, he believed, would limit Iranian influence in that part of the world.

Opposed to the Syrian part of the (Iranian-led) “Shia crescent” is Sunni Turkey. Perhaps Sunni Turkey itself wants to resurrect something like its own historic Sunni crescent – i.e., the Ottoman Empire. Thus the Turkish army has been pouring into northern Syria over the last few months (specifically after the Kurds suffered a major defeat in Afrin in January). Not surprisingly, Hassan Rouhani, the President of Iran, demanded that Turkey immediately pull out. (The US is allied to the largely secular – i.e., politically secular! - Kurds.)

There's also the Sunni-Shia war as it's played out in the Saudi Arabia-Iran war.

This has been recently and graphically shown with what's happening in Sunni-majority Yemen. In this case, there's been Iranian intervention on the Shia side. (Iran provides funding and weapons to the Zaydi Shi'ite Houthi rebels.) And the Sunni states of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Qatar have intervened on the Sunni side.

More clearly of all, a military intervention in Iran would of course impact on neighboring Shia-led Iraq. So it's not a surprise that Iraq's Prime Minister, Haider al-Abadi, believes that a US-Iran war would actually be fought out in Iraq, not Iran.

There are also tactical (i.e., not political or moral) reasons for not intervening in Iran and elsewhere.

Take the destruction of Iran's “nuclear capacity”.

The new US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, suggested that it would take “under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity”. Mr Pompeo believes this to be an acceptable figure (hence the word “under”). Then again, whether or not 2,000 sorties is regarded as a little or a lot, if Iran really is an “existential threat” to the United States and to countries in the Middle East, then if it takes 2,000 sorties to quell that threat – then, surely, so be it!


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