By Karyn Pomerantz, January 10, 2020
The US assassination of Iranian General Soleimani, leader of the paramilitary wing of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, puts millions of people at risk from violence, either retaliatory or from wider war. It represents an escalation and expansion of US aggression in the Middle East. On January 3, Trump’s forces used a drone to target and kill Soleimani as he rode in a car at the Iraqi airport, generating a vow of revenge from Iranian leaders. The US rationalized this killing as payback for Iranian attacks on US interests and as prevention of future attacks. Trump cited unproven accounts of impending Iranian actions to justify his decision. This certainly sounds like other US lies to sanction the invasion of Iraq because of their non-existent “weapons of mass destruction” and of Afghanistan because they allegedly tolerated Al Qaedas plotting of the 2001 crash into the World Trade Center towers. These are only two recent examples of US pretenses to wage wars, which are really designed to control resources.
US INTERFERENCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST
The tactics of assassination and war to control economic resources, such as oil and minerals, are not new. They are NOT an aberration of US foreign policy carried out by a right wing president. The murder of Soleimani is NOT an attempt by Trump to avoid impeachment. It is business as usual–with a high cost to pay by destabilizing power in the Middle East.
Brief History of Iran
Iran has been an independent state uncolonized by other powers for centuries. It has a long history marked by numerous invasions and conflicts, often with Russia over control of its territories. British interests and interference in Iran began in the early 20th Century before WWI. In 1908, British mining tycoon William d’Arcy discovered oil in Iran, establishing the oil company that became British Petroleum (BP). In a deal with Iran, the British allowed it to own only 16% of the reserves. After WWII, the US became an increasingly important ally of Iran.
In 1953, the liberal reformer Mohammed Mossaddeq became Prime Minister of Iran. He created social programs and nationalized the oil industry, provoking a furious response from British and US oil companies under Eisenhower. The US and Britain engineered a coup to overthrow Mossadeq and installed the dictatorial Shah Revi Pahlavi as Supreme Leader. Students and workers rebelled, suffering extreme retaliation and torture. Finally in 1979, a mass movement overthrew the Shah, and an extremely religious Sharia based Shiite government under Ayatollah Khomeini took power until he died in the late 1980s, and the current ruler Ayatollah Ali Khamenei became Supreme Leader.
Oil and geo-strategic considerations are the main drivers of today’s imperialism. Today, Iran has the world’s fourth largest oil reserves, and a large land mass and population. It has a substantial, well equipped military, and nuclear weapons. China relies on Iranian oil exports, and European nations depend on oil carried through the Straits of Hormuz, a strategic passage bordering Iran. A wider war will destabilize these routes and draw China into the conflict.
Politically, Iran has influence over many Shia organizations in the region, such as in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, and Yemen, and threatens US and Israeli efforts to increase their power. The US has imposed a harsh embargo on Iran that has seriously weakened its economy, driving up prices and unemployment. While many Iranians oppose Sharia law and the Iranian leaders, the US attacks on its economy and the assassination have currently increased support for its rulers.
US Propaganda Machine: Building Support for War
While 75% of US residents disapproved of war with Iran according to an October 2019 poll (https://foreignpolicy.com/2020/01/03/killing-suleimani-iran-tension-trump-fault/), the government will work very hard to win our support. It will appeal to our fear of bombings and cyber attacks and spread disinformation in order to increase patriotism. We have experienced this before. During the invasion of Iraq in the 1990s, Congress approved the Patriot Act that called for the collection of data to identify threats. For example, it required libraries to submit people’s information searches to the FBI and prohibited people from speaking about this interference. A group of librarians in New England refused to submit to this demand and revealed it to the public, earning jail time and acclaim for their principles and action. Other aspects of the Patriot Act eased the government’s ability to arrest anyone deemed to threaten US policies and practices.
The ruling class also uses racism to dehumanize and other the “enemy” in order to galvanize public support for war. It demeans immigrants as criminals, job stealers, and moochers; Muslims as foreigners and fanatics; Jewish people as unpatriotic and Zionists. Iranians are portrayed as dangerous. Over the weekend of January 4th, border patrol agents detained 200 Iranians who were American citizens for hours at the Canadian-US border.
The military teaches troops to perceive “enemy” fighters as subhuman who deserve torture, repression, and death. Propagandists labeled Vietnamese people “gooks” during the Vietnam War and Muslim Iraqis “ragheads.” During WWII, the US government incarcerated 127,000 Japanese-American citizens in concentration camps, destroying their property and lives. These deadly attacks began early in US history with the extermination of Native Americans and the enslavement of African people in order to create wealth for the colonialists. Meanwhile, the government applauds soldiers’ “service” to the country while cutting their benefits and trying to privatize the Veterans Administration.
Politicians also justify wars and occupations as humanitarian aid for the country under attack: to improve women’s lives in Afghanistan, eliminate dictatorships in Syria and Iraq, and provide “peacekeepers” in Haiti. These are merely excuses to control the resources of targeted countries (oil in Iraq), counter competitors (Russian influence in Syria) and establish military bases in areas with geopolitical significance, such as countries bordering shipping channels for oil transport (Somalia).
Nationalism vs Internationalism
Nationalism, or patriotism, unites people in one country to follow the rulers’ imperialist goals. Nationalism convinces workers in one country to support the rulers of their country of birth and oppose workers in other countries. It promotes loyalty to the ruling class whose interests are contradictory to those of the 99%.
Media outlets work to persuade people to support and join the military, view oil company profits as their gains, and believe that war will improve their standard of living. They rarely discuss the underlying reasons for war, such as seizing oil fields, controlling pipelines, or maintaining the dollar as the world’s currency. They rarely reveal the horrid cost of war: 31,000 civilians dead and 29,000 wounded in Afghanistan, and 200,000 to 400,000 dead in Iraq from violence and lack of medical care, water, energy, food and increased anxiety and stress. Over 4500 US soldiers died and over 32,000 suffered injuries in Iraq since 2003, leaving many traumatized and exhausted from multiple deployments.
The antidote to nationalism and racism is international solidarity among the ordinary people of all countries. This is especially critical as the risk of war grows. The Iranian people are not our enemies. The Iranian and American governments are not any workers’ friends. Working class people face similar risks of climate change, unstable employment and housing, displacement, police brutality, poor education, and unlivable wages. While black, brown, and indigenous people suffer much more exploitation than others, we all need and want the best lives for our families.
What Can We Do To Stop War and Imperialism?
Ultimately, we need to destroy capitalism that prioritizes profits gained through exploitation, racism, and war. It concentrates power among a small group of corporate owners, financiers, and their lackeys, the government. Elections only allow us to choose between various members of the ruling elite.
Along the way to revolution, we can:
- Use direct action, disrupt business as usual with strikes and work actions. This week (January 5th) longshoremen on the East Coast refused to handle a shipment headed to Iraq.
For over a month, French workers have shut down transportation, factories, communication, and other essentials to protest changes to their pensions.
Thousands of people in the US hit the streets the day after the assassination protesting the build up to war and attacks on cultural sites threatened by Trump. Hundreds of thousands marched in 2003 against troop deployments to Iraq.
- Refuse to fight as GIs did in the Vietnam War, sab0taging equipment, attacking officers, getting high, and sitting down in the field. By the end of the war, 25% of the troops refused to fight, which was a major factor in ending the war.
- Build unity among people of different “racial” categories and national origins. Support immigrant rights, criminal justice, and health equity.
- Reject and speak out against racist depictions of Iraqis, Iranians, and Muslims as terrorists and enemies.
- Read or listen to many alternative sources of news, such as Democracy Now, Portside, Counterpunch, the Guardian. Become more cynical about mainstream newspapers and broadcasts.
- Forget about electoral politics and voting for the Democrats. The Democrats, including the Black Congressional Caucus, voted to expand the military budget and allowed the President to declare war without congressional approval, although Congress passed legislation January 9th to limit Trump’s power to wage war.
Remember that Clinton continued bombing Iraq, and Obama never kept his campaign promise to withdraw the troops or close Guantanamo. Capitalism under any politician requires war to divvy up resources and determine what nation will dominate the world’s economy.
Removing Trump will not stop war. Trump is very inconsistent and hard to control, but mostly he represents that faction of the US ruling class, like the Koch brothers, who prefers an isolationist foreign policy. The so-called liberals are aligned with multinationals, like Exxon, who strive for world domination and are more likely to embroil the US in large scale wars.
Abolishing capitalism and its requirements to increase profit and control of resources can end war.