What Choices Does the USA Have in Its Iran Policy?

Taylan Bilgiç


The following article was written in the summer of 2005, at a time when the world and Middle East was going through one of its many ‘Iran fits’. The year 2006 began with a similar tone, but by the beginning of the year, the US had managed to persuade other imperialists power to send the ‘Iran dossier’ from the IAEA board to the UN Security Council. Thus, the Iran ‘nuclear problem’ will be in the hands of the council during this year. Meanwhile, the usual threat of military attack has been expressed more openly and frequently, especially through the bourgeois media. As this introduction is written, especially the British dailies The Times and Telegraph were making repeated headlines over the ‘military plans’ to attack Iran.

The sending of the dossier to the UNSC was presented by the US as a diplomatic victory, while the main ‘opposing power’, Russia has declared that ‘nothing will come out of this routine process’. China seems to follow suit. It could be said that the impending UNSC process is, indeed, an important step directed against Iran. But this step alone will not determine what will happen. Sadly, one of the determining factors, Iran’s position has been pretty ‘unwise’.

Iran’s newly elected ‘surprise president’ Mahmud Ahmedinejad started his ‘anti-Israel’ and ‘anti-Semitic’ tirade in October 2005. He declared that ‘Israel should be wiped off the map’ and the Jews should be ‘transferred’ to Europe. According to Ahmedinejad, Muslims were not to blame for the Holocaust – which event having taken place at all was doubtful, anyway! – so they should not have to take the burden by allowing Israel in their midst. This first salvo, though it resulted in a great international upheaval, was considered as the unintended words of an inexperienced leader. But Ahmedinejad continued. Repeatedly, he denounced Israel in a provocative manner and also added that Muslims ‘hated Western civilization’.

These declarations, expectedly, resulted in the intensification of US pressure, and helped Washington to influence ‘undecided governments’ more deeply. The changing position of European leaders towards Iran is a good example of this. There is an internal reason for this ‘unwise’ Iranian position: As a new leader coming from nowhere (he was Mayor of Tehran) Ahmedinejad needs to build his base in the state apparatus, and thus needs to foment enmity towards Israel, which is one of the pillars of the mullah regime.

But as the stakes are so high, the real reason for this position is much more than the internal. In our opinion, the Iranian regime has decided that, whatever concessions they make, an US-Israeli attack on Iran is unavoidable. The regime leaders also think that Russia, China or the European Union, having done nothing to prevent either the attack against Yugoslavia or the invasion of Iran, will prove incompetent again. From that logic emerges the conclusion that the only guarantee against an impending attack is the Muslim world. Thus, Ahmedinejad plays on the general enmity towards Israel, and tries to convince the Arab-Muslim countries that all this is ‘a Jewish plot’. We cannot comment on whether such an attack is ‘inevitable’ at the moment; but this position gives away the main weakness of ‘Islamic ideology’ vis-a-vis anti-imperialist struggle.

The Iranian leader, by his words and deeds, shows that the mullahs accept the idea of a ‘Christian-Muslim clash’, a ‘clash of civilisations’. By doing this, they are playing on the field that the US has set up for the world; and take the position that Washington wants them to take.

It would be a worthy reminder that Saddam Hussein had taken a similar course of action. Before the invasion of Iraq, millions of people of all continents, regardless of religion or race, had taken to the streets against the imperialist aggression. Meanwhile, Saddam was declaring ‘jihad’ in the name of Islam, putting US in the place of the Crusaders and thus, taking over the role of a new Salahaddin Ayyubi.

Meanwhile, the aggressors, whose main aim was to win over the minds of the people in the western world, was trying to make Saddam look like another Osama Bin Laden.

It should be no surprise that what Saddam did played directly into their hands. They needed, and still need the fog of a ‘clash of civilisations’ to cover up the real reasons behind their imperialist aggression. The thicker this fog is, the easier it is to manipulate and win over ‘their’ people, and the easier it is to cover up imperialist rivalry and the imperialist chains of slavery.

Ahmedinejad’s and Saddam’s position show us that the oppressed masses of the world cannot fight effectively against imperialism on a bourgeois or religious platform. The most important duty today is to disperse this ‘clash of civilisations’ fog which is growing thicker with new international crisis such as is  shown in the latest ‘Mohammad cartoons’ episode.

This duty rests on the shoulders of Marxists and all progressives for unless this fog is dispersed, there cannot be any effective struggle against imperialism. New, maybe more violent episodes similar to the latest ‘cartoon crisis’ are being prepared and every new one of them will strengthen the hands of the Bushes and Bin Ladens in every country. Thus, the leaders of the anti-war movement in every country, especially the Western ones, should think of their defective humanitarian/moral opposition against imperialist aggression, try to understand what imperialism is and how it operates, and fight accordingly.

The Iranian elections ended in a way that was not only important for the states in the region and their relations with each other; but also for the big imperialist powers, primarily for the USA regarding its policies and enterprises in the Middle East and Central Asia. Among other things, the presidency of Mahmud Ahmedinejad creates a new situation in terms of the US policies of occupation and assassination towards Iran and also for Iran’s self-defence. Certainly, the US policies towards Iran have not changed. The Bush administration will continue to try in every way to control, paralyse and isolate Iran.

After September 11, 2001 the US administration immediately occupied Afghanistan and started to covet Iraq. In his famous ‘axis of evil’ speech, US President Bush targeted Iran, Iraq and North Korea; and declared that the regimes of those countries would be changed by military attack if necessary. The US, and its ally Britain attacked Iraq in March 2003, approximately one and a half years after Afghanistan's occupation. The US army became responsible for the middle and northern regions of the country, while Britain's occupation army was given the southern region of the country, around Basra.

The occupation of Iraq continues, but not in the way that the US expected. The Iraqi people are having an eye for an eye struggle to force the occupiers out of their territory, at the cost of the death of thousands of their people. Since the beginning of the occupation, the US troops that are ‘bringing freedom’ have killed more than 100 thousand Iraqis. However despite this giant massacre, they cannot make the Iraqis submit. The anti-occupation struggle is continuing and gaining strength despite its weaknesses and it is confining the Americans ‘behind the walls’. As the occupiers have acknowledged, every day more than 30 armed attacks are organised against the US troops and the Iraqi police and military connected to the US.

Under these circumstances, one might think that the US government would ‘hesitate’ and choose to ‘end the Iraq trouble’ first, before starting to implement its ‘Greater Middle East’ plans. In fact, many analysts had that kind of interpretation. However the Bush government and his neo-conservative team, which is the ‘hard core’ of the government, did not think that way. While the new official threats to other Middle East countries were being mentioned every other day, the master's voices close to the Bush government did not stop creating new targets.

Charles Krauthammer, a columnist for The Washington Post, is one of the most effective of those writers. Krauthammer, in his article on July 23, 2004, stated that US imperialism is not satisfied with Iraq: ‘One of the lessons being drawn from the Sept. 11 report is that Iran was the real threat. It had links to al Qaeda, allowed some of the Sept. 11 hijackers to transit and is today harbouring al Qaeda leaders.’ Krauthammer gives a new example of US arrogance here, by repeating the same baseless lies, substituting Iran for the accusations hurled a few months ago against Iraq. He goes on: ‘Two years ago there were five countries supporting terrorism and pursuing these weapons - two junior leaguers, Libya and Syria, and the axis of evil varsity: Iraq, Iran and North Korea. The Bush administration has eliminated two: Iraq, by direct military means, and Libya, by example and intimidation. Syria is weak and deterred by Israel. North Korea, having gone nuclear, is untouchable. That leaves Iran."

The neo-conservative author, acknowledging that Iran would be a hard pill to swallow, is putting the option of military occupation aside ‘for now’, and is suggesting two options to the Bush administration: either Iranians will make a ‘revolution’ and destroy the regime, or air attacks will be organized against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Krauthammer draws attention to the advantages of the occupation of Iraq by claiming that both ways will be easy; because of the 146 thousand US soldiers and its giant attack force, which are situated just a few kilometres away from Iran.

Iran is really a hard pill to swallow for the US for several reasons. First, Iraq was weakened by 10 years of the UN embargo and the 1991 attack. But Iran is only under a US commercial embargo. It has a strong army, a prestigious diplomacy, a rooted state tradition, a young and educated population. Moreover, it has military, commercial and economic relations with the EU, Russia, China and even Japan, which are gradually getting stronger.

The Moves to Put Pressure on Iran

For those reasons, the Bush administration and the neoconservatives did not raise the alternative of a ‘direct military attack’ until now. Instead, they started to implement methods such as isolating Iran in various ways, pushing it into difficult situations, forcing it to draw back from the diplomatic and political positions it had gained in the world since 1979. If we look at the developments of the last few months from Iran's position, it will be easy to understand the situation.

1. As Krauthammer mentions, the occupation of Iraq gives some advantages to the US over Iran. The US and British troops on Iran’s border can easily implement their espionage and nuisance activities. Also, the occupation of Iraq presents the possibility of taking Shi'ite Islam under control. Today Iraqi Ayatollah Ali Sistani, who is known as the leader of all the world’s Shi’ites and of the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq, is giving open or concealed support to the US occupation. Through those organisations, taking Shiism under control becomes possible; moreover, as some Americans point out, there is the possibility of using ‘Najaf against Kum’.

The Iranian city of Kum, in which Khomeini was born and Shi’ite scholars are educated, has been central to the Shi’ites of the world. If the Iraqi city of Najaf, in which Prophet Mohammad's Son-In-Law and ‘Lion of Allah’ Ali was born, can be made an alternative to Kum, the Iranian affect on Shiism can be broken.

In short, the Najaf option can be effective in undercutting the Islamic standpoints that the Iranian regime depends on. Certainly, to implement this scenario, Iraqi Shi'ites must be kept under the control of leaders like Sistani and they must continue to accept the occupation of Iraq. But there is also the possibility that Iraqi nationalist Shi'ite leaders like Muqtada Sadr can gain power and spoil the scenario. Sadr is a young leader who is known as ‘the leader of poor Shi'ites on the street’ and does not follow Iran the way the Ayatollahs do. There are many signs that Muqtada Sadr, who led two large armed rebellions around Najaf and Baghdad, is gaining strength for a new rebellion.

2. The Baghdad government under the control of the US also plays an important role in increasing the pressure on Iran. It was striking that Iraqi Defence Minister Hazim Shalan, who served in the former government, was accusing Iran nearly every week of intervening in the domestic affairs of Iraq and was crying for war. Today Shalan, who has been accused of billions of dollars worth of corruption, has disappeared. However his sharp enmity towards Iran can be defined as one of the main positions of the new government. The Baghdad government has signed agreements and held meetings with its neighbour Iran; but particularly the Americanist Sunni wing of the government still has doubts about its old enemy. What fuels this enmity is the US influence. As recently as the end of July US Defence Minister Donald Rumsfeld, while on a visit to Baghdad, gave advice to not behave softly towards Iran and Syria.

3. To prevent a probable attack on Iran from spreading to the region, it is necessary to put an end to the regional alliances of the Tehran government. In this context it is a very important step to force Syria to withdraw from Lebanon. In this way Syria, which is an important ally of Iran in the region (a while ago, Syria and Iran declared that they would take a common attitude against US pressure), becomes devoid of a shield against the threats of Israel and the US. Without a doubt, Syria still holds the trumps in Lebanon; however, the withdrawal destroyed the sensitive equilibrium in Lebanon and opened the way to a new bloody internal war in this multi-ethnic country.

4. The second part of the US's Lebanon plan directly targets Iran: disarmament of Hezbollah. We see that France, which took a directly ‘anti-US’ attitude during the invasion of Iraq, is attempting to fill the space ‘directly’ in Lebanon after the withdrawal of Syria. In fact, Falangist war bosses like Michel Aun, who had been isolated from political life because of the Syrian army, are returning to political life and they have close connections with France. In the coming period, it can be said that the conflict between the US and France will intensify. However, at this moment France is moving together with the US and is giving support to its policies of pressure against Syria. The disarmament of Hezbollah, if it can be managed, will deprive Iran of another one of its most important allies.

5. The peace process in Palestine is also under pressure of demands from the US and Israel to disarm organisations like Hamas and Islamic Jihad. ‘Islamic Jihad’, like Hezbollah, is one of Iran’s most important trumps in the Palestine issue. Essentially Hamas is an organisation supported by the Wahhabi-Saudis and is a Sunni organization. But Islamic Jihad is a Shiite organization, which turns its face towards Iran. The possibility of a civil war in Palestine is greater now than before Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip, leaving it in chaos. A civil war like this could easily turn into a Sunni-Shiite conflict if Hamas refuses to cooperate with the Palestine government and the Palestine government follows a diplomatic path disconnected from the people.

6. The invasion of Afghanistan is also an important blow to Iran’s Central Asian policies. The breaking-off of Iran’s traditional relations with Shiite Afghans by the US leaves Iran devoid of an important ally to the north.

7. The US still has close ally relations with Pakistan, which is to the east of Iran. Pakistan has nuclear weapons and is an important ally for Washington against Iran. In recent months, coup general Pervez Musharraf accused Iran of ‘trying to make nuclear weapons’.

8. Israel, which is approximately 1,000 kilometres to the west of Iran, is the most important tool of the US in the Middle East. With chemical and biological weapons, the Israeli army would be the first armed force to be used against Iran in case of a military attack. Also Israel’s official doctrine defines Iran as the most important threat in the region. It should be remembered that in the last months, the US sold Israel many long-range F-16 planes, 4,500 laser-guided ‘smart bombs’ and 500 ‘bunker buster’ bombs, with a high level of destructive power. A statement by US Vice-President Dick Cheney explains how they can use Israel: (implying a possible attack on Iran) ‘Israel can decide to take action earlier. In this case the rest of the world has the burden of stopping the probable diplomatic chaos in the world.’

9. Finally, the US administration is trying its best to destroy the centuries-old peaceful relations between Turkey and Iran. Regarding Turkish-Israeli relations directed by the US, Turkey condones Israel’s spying on Iran and the ‘light Islamist’ AKP [Justice and Development Party, led by Tayyip Erdogan] government is fuelling enmity against Iran. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan during his visits to Tel Aviv and Washington evaluated Iran’s nuclear energy programme as ‘a threat not only for the region but for the whole world.

Time will show whether those steps, designed to ingratiate itself with the US and Israel, will lead to new bloody assassinations (Turkey has had to go through a series of bloody assassinations in the nineties, in which nearly all the targets were secular-democrats) which are imputed to Iran. What is certain is that the AKP government is following an increasingly unfriendly path towards Iran

The Iranian government, on the other hand, has not given sharp replies to Turkey’s provocative and insolent statements and is trying to keep the relations as good as possible. If we take the ‘isolation’ described above into account, Iran surely has to act this way.

Iran's Response

A country which is under pressure, as explained above, can defend itself in either of two ways: It can stop relying on ‘vulnerable’ regional alliances and can create shields based on long-term, powerful diplomatic and political international alliances; or it can increase its own deterrence. Today Iran is taking important steps in both areas.

The most important step to increase its deterrence is certainly the production of nuclear energy. Until now, there is no evidence that those activities are being used for producing nuclear weapons. On the contrary, official institutions like the International Atomic Energy Agency have published many reports declaring that Iran's activities are only for producing peaceful nuclear energy. However, under the circumstances summarised above, Iran's demand to produce nuclear weapons to defend itself is understandable. While states like the US, Israel and Pakistan have nuclear weapons that can destroy the whole world many times over, it shows bad intentions to define Iran as a threat.

Seeing that Iran is boxed into a nuclear corner, Brian Cloughley justifies Tehran’s attempts with empathy:

‘Imagine you are leader of a nation with a population of 69 million, and one fifth the size of the US. You have massive oil and gas deposits but your country is otherwise appallingly poor, being over 70 per cent desert that cannot be irrigated because there are few water sources. Your armed forces are equipped with antique tanks and airplanes that would be suitable as memorials to your dead after your country has been invaded, which you have reason to believe may be its fate.

The reason for your belief is that you are surrounded by ten countries that host enormous military bases occupied by hundreds of thousands of troops and hundreds of strike aircraft belonging to a power whose leader calls you ‘evil’ and wants to overthrow you. The countries with which you trade have been warned of punishment for doing so, and the leader of the power that threatens you has twenty major warships, including aircraft carriers, aggressively patrolling your shores and daring you to react to their coat-trailing forays at the edge of your territorial waters. Each of his carriers holds between 10 and 30 nuclear bombs and their scores of strike aircraft are at a moment's notice to bombard your country with them or with ‘conventional’ ordnance, which no doubt takes some weight off your mind. Further, other surface ships and three of that power's submarines in your region can at a moment's notice rain hundreds of cruise missiles upon you, as can its dozens of strategic nuclear bombers based thousands of miles away. Your entire country is subject to the most sophisticated electronic spying operations ever conceived and operated by mankind.... The country whose leader has threatened you has 7,088 nuclear weapons, an unknown number of which are poised to wipe out your cities, and has a paid ally which also has a substantial nuclear arsenal. This ally is prepared and indeed most anxious to attack you….  What would you do?’ (May 28, 2005; Counterpunch)

Iran is doing what is reasonable and so continues its nuclear activities. In this process Iran is cooperating with Russia and is trying its best not to break off relations with the EU. It has also opened its doors to international control to prove that its nuclear activities are peaceful. At the same time Iran is one of the signers of the NPT (the non-proliferation treaty to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons).

What the media does not tell us is that the USA has rejected Iran's proposals for peace in the region. Since 2003, the Tehran government has made many calls to declare the whole Middle East a ‘region without nuclear weapons’. What is meant by all those calls is the destruction of all nuclear weapons by the states of the region and opening the nuclear programmes to international control. Many countries including Syria, Egypt and Jordan have supported the call. But the USA, which is aware that this call is aimed at Israel, has rejected it. By this way, this makes clear once again that the threat of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ is determined by the interests of the USA.

Let us remember that Israel is the main country that has refused to sign the NPT and refused to open its doors to international control. Silvan Shalom, the foreign minister of that country stated in the UN General Assembly on September 23, 2004: ‘The international community now realises that Iran - with missiles that can reach London, Paris, Berlin and southern Russia - does not only pose a threat to the security of Israel, but to the security and stability of the whole world. Indeed, Iran has replaced Saddam Hussein as the world’s number one exporter of terror, hate and instability."

But we cannot say that London, Paris, Berlin and Russia are impressed by those cries. The three main EU countries, Germany, France and Great Britain, have been negotiating with Iran for more than two years. Those countries are refusing to break off all their relations with Iran and to isolate it despite all the insistences from the US. Moreover, from time to time, they have stated that Iran has the right to ‘produce nuclear energy for peaceful purposes’. We should remember that all those three countries have economic interests in Iran: the steps taken by the Iranian government to attract foreign capital to the country and for privatisation generally satisfy those three countries. Also Iran’s efficient resources are stimulating the appetites of those countries.

Meanwhile, the US’s embargo policies are preventing US firms from investing in Iran, and this is similar to the situation in Iraq before the invasion. The US has chosen to solve Iraq dilemma with one blow and prevented its rivals from benefiting from the resources in Iraq.

Its ‘intention’ is the same in Iran, but the scenario there is difficult to implement.

However the policies of cooperation of the three European powers toward Iran are not leading in a straight line. One can also hear sharp attacks on Iran from the three capitals for various reasons. Time will show if the already colicky EU can stand up to the pressure from the US. But if Europe remains silent in the case of an attack on Iran, as it did during the invasion of Iraq by its ‘great rival’, the existence of the union with its current status will be controversial.

So the struggle on both sides of the Atlantic for Iran is also important to determine the fate of Europe.

The China-Russia-Iran Triangle

If Iran had relied only on a turbulent EU, that would be naive. Thus, we see alliances that would not have been possible ten years ago. Jephraim P. Gundzik explains the latest developments of the US pressure: ‘The military implementation of the George W. Bush administration’s unilateralist foreign policy is creating monumental changes in the world’s geostrategic alliances. The most significant of these changes is the formation of a new triangle comprised of China, Iran and Russia.’ (Asia Times; June 4, 2005) .

In March 2004, ZZC, one of China’s state firms, signed an agreement to export 110 million tons of liquid natural gas from Iran over 25 years. In October 2005, another Chinese state firm, Sinopec, and Iran signed a huge agreement worth $100 billion. With this agreement, 250 million tons of liquid natural gas will be exported from the Yadavaran region in Iran. China will buy 150 thousand barrels of crude oil from the same region each year for 25 years. Those agreements are the largest ones and it would be correct to say that Chinese-Iran cooperation on energy has become more comprehensive. Chinese investments in Iran's energy sector can reach $100 billion in 25 years. China is so hungry for energy that it is undermining the US embargo and risking worsening its relations with Washington.

China together with Russia has been selling improved missiles and missile technology to Iran since the 1980s. The weapons sold include anti-ship missiles like the Silkworm and land-to-land cruise missiles. Moreover China along with Russia is helping Iran to develop its own long-range ballistic missiles. With this help Iran can develop its own Shahab-3 and Shahab-4 missiles which have a range of 2,000 kilometres. It should also be mentioned that new Shahabs with ranges of 3,000 and 5,000 kilometres are being developed.

As with China, Iran’s relations with Russia have also improved in the last two years. Besides the great investments by Russian firms in Iran, Russia sold billions of dollars of improved weapons to Iran. What distinguishes Russia from China is its contributions to Iran's nuclear energy activities. The two countries signed an agreement last February which makes possible Russian delivery of nuclear fuel to the Bushehr energy station.

Furthermore, the Iranian government has declared that it is planning to build 20 more nuclear energy reactors. The active role of Russia in those projects cannot be denied. However Iran, by encouraging European firms to enter bids, is presenting another ‘economic carrot’ to counter US pressure and is trying to disrupt the relations between the US and Europe.

Iran, Russia and China also have similar political attitudes in their alliances in every area. Those attitudes show that there are no taboos in international politics. For example Muslim Iran and China are giving absolute support to Russia in its war against separatist pro-Sharia groups. Again Russia and Iran are giving support to Peking’s Taiwan policies and have declared that they see Taiwan as a part of China.  Naturally Russia and China have declared that they will use their veto powers in the UN Security Council in favour of Iran. This means that an attempt by the US to attack Iran or place Iran under an international embargo would not have UN approval. The two rising powers are once again forcing the US to search for solutions outside the UN and in this way they are attempting to isolate the biggest world power by international diplomacy.

The newly forming China-Russia-Iran axis is also threatening the authority of the US in Asia, Central Asia and the Middle East. Thus Iran entered the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) directed by those two imperialist powers as an observer country. In this way, one of the most important moves in the ‘Greater Middle East’ is being realised. The SCO at its last meeting officially demanded that the US put an end to its military bases in Central Asia, which may be the most important decision in its short history.  The ‘Iranian problem’ is a conflict that not only can shake the power equilibrium in the Middle East and Central Asia to its roots; but it can also shake the relations between the imperialists. If the US neo-conservatives continue to behave as if there is no problem, this would make the relations between Iran and the rival imperialists ‘strategic’ and would accelerate the move by the EU away from the US. Meanwhile one of the aims of the invasion of Iraq, to prevent the US’s rivals from gaining energy resources, will be damaged.

On the other hand, in the case of an attack by using Israel or a direct attack by the US against Iran, the worldwide hatred against the US will increase greatly, the disposal process of the UN and the creation of a bloc against the US will accelerate.

On a chessboard in which both alternatives are disastrous for the US, a third choice comes on the scene: that the US would use ‘client regimes’ in the region against Iran to keep its own hands clean. If we focus on this choice, the possibility of using Turkey as another power in the region against Iran becomes more probable. That is why the working class and all labourers in Turkey should be prepared for provocations against their Iranian brothers and sisters; and they should stand firm against the instigations justified by secular anti-Sharia propaganda of the General Staff and the lackey AKP government itself.

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