On Attacking Iran

This was forwarded from a friend in New York.

What would be the repercussions of a U.S. attack against Iran? If the Middle East has been in turmoil since the invasion of Iraq, an attack against Iran will be even worse. Even though the Saudis hate the Iranians, the Iranian ruling class does have a lot of friends in other imperialists (China and Russia). Will they stand still while the U.S. attacks Iran? Where will the U.S. get the troops to occupy Iran, which is much bigger and more populated than Iraq? A draft will have to be imposed in the U.S., sharpening the struggle here even more. (I hope this is not wishful thinking.)

A friend recently attended the Left Forum conference in NYC and listened to a panel entitled “U.S., Iran and Israel: What’s Ahead?” He writes as follows:

Two of the panelists were forgettable but one, Tom O’Donnell, who teaches at the University of Michigan and studies the global oil system, was very informative. He began by saying that the anti-war movement was often weak on analysis and harbored illusions about U.S. withdrawal from the Persian Gulf region and the prospects for peace. Below is a summary of his presentation, which I found useful and I hope others will as well:

(1) There is broad consensus within the U.S. ruling class that the Iranian Islamic regime needs to be overthrown — and sooner rather than later. O’Donnell read statements by Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton agreeing with the Bush administration that Iran had to be stopped from joining the nuclear club, and that all military options had to be “kept on the table.” [Recently, Clinton said she supported keeping a substantial force of troops in Iraq in order to contain Iran, among other goals.]

(2) The basis for this consensus is that world capitalism will be reliant upon oil for the foreseeable future. For instance, 90% of all transportation depends on oil, with automobile ownership increasing worldwide. Five countries in the Persian Gulf region have 60% of the world’s oil reserves, with three of those countries (Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Kuwait) being American protectorates, whose ruling families are entirely dependent on the U.S. for survival. The other two (which together control 20% of the world’s reserves), are Iraq (3rd largest reserves in the world) and Iran (4th largest). Iraq is currently occupied by more than a quarter million U.S. troops and mercenaries, leaving Iran as the only country independent of U.S. dictates.

(3) Just as control over energy resources gave a huge advantage to the eventual victors during World Wars I and II, U.S. control of the global oil spigot will be a determining factor in future world conflicts.

(4) Besides having ultimate control (through its protectorates and dependencies) over the flow of oil, the other U.S. ruling class interest is guaranteeing sufficient oil production to keep prices relatively stable and low, since high and volatile prices produce recessions, threaten profitability and undermine the viability of world capitalism. However, production has not kept up with rising demand, so the U.S. has been pushing countries with nationalized oil industries to accept foreign investments in order to modernize their old technology, upgrade old fields and develop new ones. Ironically, in 1996, when the U.S. oil companies Conoco Phillips had a deal with Iran to invest $600 million to develop an offshore field, it was at that point that Clinton imposed an executive order prohibiting U.S. firms from doing business in Iran and U.S. banks from financing oil and gas projects. This was a classic example of the U.S. state ignoring the interests of a particular company while acting in the long-range interests of U.S. capital as a whole.

(5) To clarify, U.S. motives with regard to oil are to (a) be able to control its flow in future conflicts with rivals such as China, and (b) guarantee increased production to meet growing demand and prevent destabilizing spikes in oil prices. Toward that end, it encourages oil-rich countries to accept foreign investment (particularly that of its own oil giants!). However, when it comes to countries like Iran and Cuba, it vigorously opposes foreign investment, even punishing foreign companies that ignore the U.S.-imposed economic embargo.

(6) Iran’s huge oil and gas reserves give it the potential to be a major regional power, providing the wealth for a strong military and economy. It has not reached this potential largely because of crippling U.S. and UN sanctions that have stifled the development of its oil and gas industry and imposed banking and other restrictions that have had a punishing effect on the Iranian economy. In order to modernize its oil and gas industry and to develop new fields, Iran needs billions in foreign investment, which is precisely what the sanctions prevent. Iran currently produces considerably less oil than it did under the Shah, and in contrast to other oil-rich nations that are now enjoying an economic bonanza due to high oil prices, the Iranian government has big budget deficits.

(7) There has been bipartisan support for these sanctions, initiated by the Democrats under Clinton. The leadership of both the Democratic and Republican parties are committed to a policy of preventing Iran from becoming prosperous through rapid growth in its oil and gas production, since that wealth would be used to make Iran a major player in the region, having the capacity to threaten U.S. protectorates Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, which in turn would threaten U.S. hegemony.

(8) The Iranian mullahs are currently engaged in a provocative and futile game of exaggerating its nuclear bomb capabilities (it is years away from producing the necessary enriched uranium) and emphasizing its hostility to Israel (hence its reactionary Holocaust- denial conference and anti-semitic comments by Ahmadinejad). By posing as a dangerous threat, the Iranian leadership is hoping to achieve a settlement similar to that of North Korea, in which the U.S. promises not to attack Iran and lifts economic sanctions (thereby permitting the foreign investment necessary for upgrading its oil production capacity). In return, the mullahs would agree to abandon its nuclear program and cut off assistance to Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah.

(9) O’Donnell predicts the Iranian negotiating ploy will fail, for one simple reason: the U.S. ruling class decided a while ago that it cannot trust the Tehran regime. There is no way it is going to lift sanctions and permit the foreign investment that would provide the material basis for Iran becoming strong enough to interfere with U.S. domination in the Persian Gulf.

(10) The U.S. ruling class is determined to move against the Iranian leadership now because (a) it needs increased oil production from Iran in the near future — but not for the benefit of the current regime, (b) Iran is interfering with its attempt to install a compliant pro-U.S. government in Iraq, (c) Iran’s provocative statements and nuclear program can and have been used to stir up public opinion in favor of military action, and (d) as the U.S. learned in Iraq, economic sanctions can’t continue indefinitely, and even now some countries (like China) ignore them.

(11) There are some on the left who say that the U.S. is too bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan to invade another country. O’Donnell argues that this fails to recognize two vital points: (a) Packing up and leaving the Middle East is not an option. No matter how many mistakes in execution it makes, no matter what the obstacles, there is bipartisan ruling class consensus that the area is too important to leave to others to control, and (b) a land invasion of Iran is not necessary at this point in time.

(12) The likely scenario is that the U.S. will launch a massive air strike against Iran, targeting some 10, 000 military, political and economic sites. The strikes would aim to incapacitate all or most of the Iranian air force, allowing the U.S. to impose no-flight zones, permitting pro-U.S. opposition groups to operate without fear of air attack. U.S. Special Forces, already conducting operations within the country, will arm and train national groups such as the Kurds and Azerbaijanis, as well as opposition groups such as the Mujahadeen-e-Khalq (MEK), which has thousands of guerilla fighters under U.S. watch in Iraq. The continued economic sanctions, the toll from U.S air strikes, and the harassment by opposition forces, will weaken the Iranian regime militarily, cause deprivation for its people and set the ground for a U.S. land invasion – the same method by which the U.S. weakened the Iraqi Baathists during the 1990’s.

(13) Finally, O’Donnell points out that the U.S. has one other factor in its favor – the unpopularity of the mullahs, who many Iranians perceive as corrupt, incompetent, repressive, protective of the wealthy and dismissive of the poor (of which there are many). Although he didn’t go into detail, O’Donnell stated that Iran is a very stratified society, with both wealthy private capitalists and affluent state capitalists. Meanwhile, the monthly minimum wage in Iran is set at $185, while the official poverty level is $341 a month. Strikes by public employees are prohibited and the government cracks down hard on leaders of unions (like the recent Tehran bus drivers) who strike anyway. It’s questionable how many will be willing to lay down their lives to protect such a government.


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