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Target: Iran


A U.S. military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities would be used to repackage the occupation of Iraq as part of Washington’s “long war” on “radical Islam,” give Israel a blank check to crush the Palestinians and justify further U.S. imperial aggression in the Middle East.

That’s the logic of the growing U.S. efforts to force Iran to abandon its plan to enrich uranium–a process that is allowed under international treaties, but portrayed by the U.S. and its European sidekicks as a pretext for a nuclear weapons program.

The pressure is rising as Iran vows to begin enriching nuclear fuel and the United Nations Security Council prepares to discuss sanctions and other action against Iran.

The U.S. mainstream media–having swallowed the White House’s fabricated evidence of weapons of mass destruction to invade Iraq–is playing along once more. But one major difference this time is that the U.S. has all three main European Union (EU) governments–France, Britain and Germany–on board in a multilateral process.

Like the U.S., the EU doesn’t want Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, which would alter the balance of power in the Middle East and provide a deterrent to outside (i.e., imperialist) intervention. Thus, the main West European powers and Russia backed U.S. efforts to have the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions.

The Europeans, taking stock of Iran’s factionalized ruling government, are banking that the pressure will force Iran to make a deal and safeguard considerable European investments there–mainly in the oil and gas industry, but including auto assembly plants and more.

For his part, Iran’s new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is trying to use the showdown to enforce unity in Iran’s divided ruling class. Elected last year after a populist campaign that promised to assist the poor left behind by the free-market policies of his predecessor, Mohammad Khatami, Ahmadinejad has lost the political initiative.

His election promises have given way to repression against a bus drivers’ strike in Tehran. State-imposed religious law has antagonized middle-class liberals and students. And the business establishment, determined to hold on to Khatami’s free-market reforms, maneuvered in parliament to block Ahmadinejad’s nominee to head the all-important oil ministry.

By defending Iran’s nuclear program–which has broad support across Iranian society on a nationalist basis–Ahmadinejad hopes to regain support domestically.

Yet even if Iran is out to develop nuclear weapons, the government is years away from achieving such a goal.

* * *

WASHINGTON’S near-term aim isn’t to pre-empt Iranian nukes, but something far more immediate: downgrade the occupation of Iraq to a low-intensity conflict by using troops from the Iraqi puppet regime, while at the same time preserving the core of the occupation force to consolidate U.S. control over Persian Gulf oil.

The White House would retool the occupation of Iraq (and, for that matter, Afghanistan) by providing a new justification for the presence of U.S. troops–preventing Ahmadinejad from acquiring nuclear weapons and curbing Iran’s influence on the Shiite Muslim parties that rule Iraq.

A full-scale invasion of Iran isn’t on the agenda for the overstretched U.S. military, and key players in Washington would rather have the Iranian government capitulate without having to use force. Marine Corps Gen. Peter Pace, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has downplayed the possibility of a military strike, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is pushing $75 million to fund Iranian opposition groups to try to achieve “regime change” from within.

Nevertheless, Dick Cheney himself last year ordered a study of a plan for an attack on Iran–and leading politicians are beating the war drums, including Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.).

Alternatively, the job could also be subcontracted to Israel, where an election campaign has seen politicians promising to take a hard line with both the new Hamas administration of the Palestinian Authority and Ahmadinejad, who has said that Israel should be “wiped off the map.”

The U.S. is already preparing to back Israel in a program of economic sanctions against Hamas, and Ahmadinejad’s rhetoric–including denial of the Holocaust–is being used by the Bush administration as a pretext for a tougher line. If Hamas makes good on its plan to get financial aid from Iran to bypass U.S.-Israeli sanctions, the two crises could quickly fuse.

What’s driving this confrontation isn’t Hamas or the Iranian government, however, but the U.S. occupation of Iraq and Israel’s attempts to strengthen its hold on Palestine. Both efforts are increasingly portrayed as a struggle against “radical Islam”–and the crisis over the anti-Muslim Danish cartoon has been used to further this agenda.

Confronting Islam, in fact, is precisely the perspective put forward in the new the Quadrennial Defense Review–the Pentagon’s strategic document that comes out for a “long war” against terrorism.

“The enemies in this war are not traditional conventional military forces, but rather dispersed, global terrorist networks that exploit Islam to advance radical political aims,” the document declares. “These enemies have the avowed aim of acquiring and using nuclear and biological weapons to murder hundreds of thousands of Americans and others around the world…Currently, Iraq and Afghanistan are crucial battlegrounds, but the struggle extends far beyond their borders. With its allies and partners, the United States must be prepared to wage this war in many locations simultaneously, and for some years to come.”

* * *

SOME YEARS to come. That phrase should dispel any illusion that the U.S. occupation of Iraq will come to an end without much more pressure from the antiwar movement in the U.S., as well as the Iraqi resistance.

The drawdown of U.S. troops and plans for the “Iraqification” of the occupation is aimed at keeping Iraq under Washington’s control–at a more acceptable military, political and economic cost.

That’s the argument of Edward Luttwak, a veteran player in the U.S. foreign policy establishment and a cheerleader for the U.S.-NATO war over Kosovo in 1999. Luttwak caused a stir among his peers with his article last autumn in Foreign Affairs, entitled, “Iraq: The Logic of Disengagement”–a play on Howard Zinn’s famous book Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal.

“U.S. military operations in Iraq could…be reduced without adverse consequence,” Luttwak wrote. “The most prudent option would be an orderly disengagement of U.S. troops carefully coordinated with all forces, both official and militia. Some U.S. forces might remain indefinitely, as long as both the United States and the Iraqi government desired, to stabilize the country and dissuade foreign intrusions.”

To Luttwak, reducing troop levels in Iraq doesn’t mean a U.S. retreat from the Middle East, but a consolidation of Washington’s domination of the region as a whole. That’s why he argued in a recent opinion piece that in the event of a U.S. attack on Iran, ethnic minorities in that country “might welcome the humiliation of their oppressors” in the Persian ruling class.

This is a replay of the prediction that U.S. troops would be greeted as “liberators” in Iraq, updated for Iran–and is just as nonsensical.

If the same lies used to justify the Iraq war are being recycled to prepare for military strikes on Iran, it’s because the entire aim of U.S. imperialism since the September 11, 2001 attacks has been to lock in Washington’s dominance of the Middle East, Central Asia and the oil resources to be found there.

The U.S. simply can’t admit defeat and pull out of Iraq. If it is losing its grip, it must try to get a better hold–and widening the war under the banner of stopping “radical Islam” is as good excuse as any.

There is a precedent for the U.S. widening a losing war: the “secret” U.S. invasion and bombings of Cambodia and Laos in 1970 to try to turn the tide in Vietnam.

As Noam Chomsky wrote then, “[T]he American policy of ‘anti-Communism’–to be more precise, the effort to prevent the development of indigenous movements that might extricate their societies from the integrated world system dominated by American capital–draws the American government, step by fateful step, into an endless war against the people of Asia, and, as an inevitable concomitant, toward harsh repression and defiance of law at home.”

Substitute “radical Islam” for “communism” and “Middle East” for “Asia,” and the analysis applies just as well today.

Washington’s war drums over Iran aren’t merely an election-year distraction or diplomatic maneuver. They’re an urgent warning that the antiwar movement in the U.S. needs to broaden its perspective to include opposition to the entire U.S. imperialist project in the Middle East.

LEE SUSTAR is a regular contributor to CounterPunch and the Socialist Worker. He can be reached at:




LEE SUSTAR is the labor editor of Socialist Worker

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