There have been many theories of imperial overstretch in the past, but surely none of them would have expected any empire or its allies to be so foolish as to attack three immediately bordering targets in a row. As the sophisticated statesmen and -women of the West once again steer us all towards an unnecessary and artificial conflict, one would do well to reflect on the nature and consequences of a war zone stretching from Iraq through Iran to Afghanistan and the western regions of Pakistan. None of these areas are known for their good governance, their stable political and economic structures, or their previous history of allowing easy conquest and rule. Yet this does not appear to restrain the dogs of war from once again throwing themselves at another country of the greater Middle East, this time under the pretext of the imminent danger of nuclear weapons.
The arguments in favor of war are quickly disposed of. First, it is not clear at all whether Iran is in fact pursuing nuclear weapons. It has consistently denied doing so, and although recent reports are more ambiguous, so far the International Atomic Energy Agency has seen no definite proof to the contrary. Of course, any empire is all too happy to claim “absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”, as the American government did in claiming ‘weapons of mass destruction’ as a casus belli against Iraq. But after having blown up the better part of that already ravaged country, no such weapons were ever found – a small oversight now quickly forgotten by the goldfish-like political memory of the ruling classes on both sides of the Atlantic. Where necessary, evidence can even be entirely fabricated and a casus belli manufactured, if one wants the war badly enough – there are many historical examples of this, from the German invasion of Poland in 1939 to the Tonkin incident leading to the Vietnam War, as well as the plans for fabricating a Cuban act of war (Operation Northwoods). All this notwithstanding, objective observers have no reason yet to assume that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, only that it is pursuing a full nuclear cycle, which under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it has a full right to do. In fact, Iran is heavily dependent on its oil exports, which are both its strength and its weakness, and being aware of this is trying to diversify its energy sources. Since the same is being done by essentially all Western governments, one can hardly fault the Iranian government for doing so. Whether nuclear energy is really a longer-term solution to our energy needs is a technical-empirical question, and the Iranians may well be wrong, but the principle behind diversification is fully legitimate and shows nothing but foresight.
Secondly, even if Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon, the political significance of this is not so clear. For all the brouhaha about it, one would easily forget that its greatest enemies, the United States and Israel, are both armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons (and chemical and biological ones, too, at that). No nation can reasonably be expected not to plan for its survival, and the more it is threatened, the more appealing a nuclear deterrent will be. One need not have any sympathy for the Iranian government as such to recognize that given it has been surrounded by two major American-led occupations, in Iraq and Afghanistan, and given the constant threatening language and behavior from the Western countries and Israel towards it, the prospect of a definitive counter-argument will be an appealing one. Nuclear weapons are an awful invention, and their proliferation the very height of human folly and a sign of the long-term destructive nature of nationalism and national rivalries. Nuclear weapons serve no human purpose, only the ability of larger powers to threaten each other and divide the world between them. They are the very arms of empire. Neither Iran nor any other country should be permitted to have any. But that said, what is good for the goose is good for the gander: a small number of nuclear arms in the hands of Iran, a country which has not attacked any other nation in living memory, does not outweigh the greater crime of a very large number of nuclear arms in the hands of nations with a history of constant warfare and even use of such weapons, like the United States and Israel. The Iranian people must not accept an Iranian nuclear bomb; but nobody in the world can accept the American or Israeli arsenals.
The casus belli itself is also exceedingly weak. In fact, the real casus belli, by any common understanding of the concept, is the other way round. It is a public secret that Israel, and possibly also the United States, has been sponsoring various Islamist and terrorist factions within and without Iran in an attempt to take down its government, including the MEK – an outfit wholly sponsored by Saddam Hussein when he was still America’s best friend and a visionary leader – and Jundullah, an organization of Sunni fanatics operating out of Baluchistan. These operations show a tremendous and breath-taking cynicism given the now familiar history of Western support for the reactionary and obscurantist forces of the Mujahideen in rural Afghanistan; a support intended ‘merely’ to destroy Communism and its prospects of modernity in Afghanistan, but one which promptly backfired on themselves and the entire region.
What’s more, Israel has also been undertaking a campaign of assassinations of nuclear scientists and military staff involved in Iran’s nuclear programme, presumably in an attempt to slow down its operations. Whether or not the Iranian nuclear programme is as peaceful as presented, surely one can hardly claim that if Iran were to undertake assassinations of Mossad officials in Tel Aviv and of members of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the respective countries would not take this as an outright declaration of war. It is then all the more ironic that the United States has attempted to further add insult to injury by conniving with Saudi Arabia to fabricate a story of Iran attempting to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the US, an action which would be as pointless as it is unrealistic! Of course, the Iranian government is not taking all this lying down – it has openly threatened to blockade the Persian Gulf in case of further steps towards war. The United States in turn has declared it is willing to use military means of guaranteeing the so-called ‘freedom of the seas’ – the same freedom that in the 19th century afforded Britain the free trade that benefited it on the high seas, but which equally enabled it to twice punitively invade China when it wanted to run international trade according to its own lights. Similarly, the United States is now apparently fully permitted to enforce with war its freedom to trade in the Persian Gulf (thousands of miles from the nearest American coast), but at the same time it is equally legitimate for the US and the European Union states to blockade Iran’s oil exports, which are one of its main sources of income. Only little Greece, bankrupt and dependent on Iranian oil for its mercantile fleet, has raised a little voice in opposition.
It is clear from all this maneouvering that Washington is trying to make the war inevitable. Israel’s own secret services have stated it is not at all clear whether Iran is actually going to produce nuclear weapons, and there is no reason to believe they would use them if they did – all the ranting and raving about the so-called ‘irrationality’ of the Iranian theocracy is a mere fig-leaf. Every war in history has been preceded by the participants depicting each other of being irrational, dangerous, and less than human. The North Korean government has been accused of dangerous insanity for decades now, and has yet not invaded a single country or fired more than a few warning shots at its neighbours; more than one can say of the United States itself, which invades another country roughly every 4-5 years. But this war is not inevitable, if it can be made clear to the public what is really going on. The Iranian government, mind, is no beacon of freedom and light. It has oppressed its national minorities, such as Kurds and Baluch, for many years now. It hangs homosexuals and its trade unionists languish in its jails. It brutally represses any rebellion, upholds theocratic and obscurantist laws and restrictions, and arrogates great power into the hands of a military-clerical establishment. It is no friend of progressive-minded people.
But this does not mean a foreign invasion by the United States and its vassals is a cure to this disease. Such an invasion will wreck untold havock on the region at large, as it will further inflame the sectarian divisions between the ethnicities and religions of the region. It will cause the entire greater Middle East, from Israel to Pakistan, to be one large war-zone: a frightening and destructive prospect, the impact of which will be felt for decades to come. The continuous wars and occupations in the region pre-empt the development of a healthy political process within Iran and other nations that allows the domestic opposition to play its revolutionary role, as we have seen in Tunisia and Egypt. Instead, such wars only cause the population to band together against the foreign invader, create the prospect of civil war with minorities seen as inherently suspect in wartime, and further encourage the wasteful and oppressive militarism that characterizes virtually every government in the region, as well as the governments of our own Western countries.
The real beneficiaries of such a war are not the local people, who will die in their hundreds of thousands, whether through boycott – as the approximated 500.000 deaths caused by the boycott of Iraq in the 1990s – or by outright war. It will not ‘liberate’ them, as nobody supports the ideas of a foreign occupier, no matter how right they may be in their own eyes, and democratic revolution must be made by the people of the nations themselves. It is no way to help them in this process, it only makes it more difficult for the democratic and progressive forces to free themselves of the accusation of collaboration with foreign enemies. As the example of Iraq showed, it also gives no benefit to the working people of the Western countries, who do not here reap any benefit from their governments’ imperial enterprises. The war against Iraq, insofar as it was intended to secure a cheap oil supply for the United States, has singularly failed to do so. It has cost not only the locals, but also the American and British peoples (and many others) hundreds and thousands of lives and vast sums wasted, which could have been fruitfully invested in their own economies now buckling under capitalist crisis, for example by providing their people with better healthcare and affordable education.
The only people in the region who will benefit are the ruling cliques in Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf emirates; among the most repressive, tyrannical, and militaristic regimes as one will find in the world, and purveyors of religious obscurantism, fascism, and lawlessness abroad as much as they support inequality and sectarianism in their own countries. A war which only benefits them can be no war to liberate any people, no matter the oppressiveness of the Iranian government itself. The Iranian people have already shown they can resist and rebel against their rulers when push comes to shove – they deserve our support, not our bombs. The minorities in Iran – Jews, Kurds, Baluchi, and so forth – too deserve their equal participation if they wish, and self-determination where possible, not the repression of the ayatollahs and the ‘Revolutionary Guards’. But their causes will not be helped by replacing their oppression with a new, American conquest, and it is highly unlikely that anyone in the West can solve these questions in a manner more satisfactory than their own peoples can.
In short, a war with Iran is unjust, costly, has unforseeable consequences, and serves no legitimate purpose but the strengthening of oppressive powers and imperial leaders. We must not accept it as inevitable, and let the millions who marched against war with Iraq be presented with a fait accompli again. Hands off the people of Iran!