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A New Cold War?
It is very difficult to get people to see the long-term, the strategic, and those things that fundamentally could change our world for the better; or for the worse if things are left to the vices of the ruling classes. We are constantly pressured by the media image-makers into focusing on only a few centimeters in front of our noses. This arrangement is naturally convenient for the ruling classes. But, for the people? Well, as convenient as it may seem to those living in denial, such is not the best way of avoiding reality. Reality, being what it is, does not stop being so just because we are looking away; it always manages to hit us right in the face.
A case in point is the confrontation between the US’s ruling elites and certain of the Iranian political leaders. Please notice the emphasis on the political leadership in both countries, where a majority of both populations are extremists only in their being peace-loving and liking nothing better than to live a healthy, productive and trouble-free life.
Most people watching the nightly news in countries around the world would certainly share a lot of alarmed feelings over a possible invasion and/or strike carried out against Iran by the US armed forces, or by the Israelis, who will naturally be supported by the US either actively or passively.
Though I certainly share those concerns and would consider any such act by the US, the UK or Israel (or any combination thereof) as a war crime and a crime against humanity, I have nevertheless come to believe that the confrontation between Iran and the US is something of an act, it’s a put-on. In Farsi, we call it an ‘ironsmiths’ war': picture two ironsmiths, banging away on the red-hot iron on the anvil, shouting insults back and forth, yet none intending to stop the banging on the anvil and engaging in a hand-to-hand. The verbal fight is mostly for the gathered onlookers’ entertainment.
I know I am talking out of line, here, and may certainly come to eat these words, but please give it a moment’s thought before dismissing the idea outright.
To begin, in both countries and to both ruling classes, all the saber rattling, the perpetuation of military expenditures and, most importantly, the oppressive yet legal measures put in place to combat internal dissent are far more preferable to the alternatives, which would have to include social justice and real democracy.
Any real military strikes against Iran will actually help ensure a longer-term survival of the mullah’s regime. The theocrats, I believe, would find such a military action even more pleasing that the invasion by Saddam’s armies in September of 1980, an event Ayatollah Khomeini famously celebrated as a divine gift. And rightly so, since the Iran-Iraq war gave the newly formed regime a perfect opportunity not only to bring the iron fist down on anything but unconditional allegiance from the Iranian people, but helped them pursue the internationalization of a peculiar reading of the Koran and the Shari’a.
A second point is that since the beginning of civilization, it has been known to imperial rulers that military hardware alone does not conquer a society. Given the economic, financial, political and military troubles the US is already facing as it is, and given that its imperial powers lack real depth, what can the US realistically gain by taking on an additional hot enemy in the form of the wrath and anger of at least tens of millions of Iranian people?
A third point relates to the US’s real (as opposed to projected) power. The US imperial managers should be well aware of the fact that, besides joining and receiving the major benefits of a collective effort that defeated the Germans (and the Japanese), the US imperial military engagements have been one-on-one’s aimed at either chasing out a colonial power on his way out anyway (the Spanish, starting at the end of the nineteenth century, out of Cuba, Philippines, etc.), or directed at countries with considerably less wealth to spend on military hardware.
As has been illustrated by Immanuel Wallerstein, and as was E. P. Thompson’s belief, the Cold War that followed World War II was a mutually beneficial orchestration for both sides. Within each camp, a particular system of inequalities would be safe from any real attacks from the other side, and convenient systems of inequity could prevail for the benefit of the ruling elites on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
Most of the actual, hot wars during the Cold War period were fought in the former colonies, or other parts of the world capitalist system’s peripheries; in the so-called Third World.
* * *
A decade and a half after the end of the pervious Cold War, consider for just one minute, all subjectivity aside, the case of Afghanistan. In this world of ours, where the United States has succeeded itself up to the title of World’s Sole Superpower, with a military budget surpassing the combined military expenditures of everybody else on the planet, this very superpower cannot fully pacify one of the most economically ‘backward’, ‘primitive’ and truly impoverished societies on earth.
Now add to that very objective picture the case of Iraq and the nightmare that occupation has become for Iraqi people as well as (though far less painfully) for the functionaries in Washington, DC.
Add to the mix now the well documented depletion of the US infrastructure due to the tax breaks for the rich and the corporations since the Reagan days; then throw in the depletion of the manufacturing base thanks to capital’s insatiable drive for those frequent flier miles (see Paul Craig Roberts, The New Face of Class War, CounterPunch, September 30, 2006); and finally figure in the falling value of the dollar with all its financial-political implications on a global scale (CounterPunch, December 16-21, 2006, printed version).
These items taken together, in some quarters, would add up to a paper tiger, one that cannot be too ferocious, no matter how many nukes it possesses.
* * *
Unlike Saddam’s starved and completely demoralized army of conscripts, who were only too happy to drop their guns and run, the Iranian regime’s social support base cannot, and would actually very much rather not, run; oh no, thank you very much. At least a good ten million people’s social privileges and status depends on the specific form of the theocratic ideological state apparatuses set up in Iran. These, then, translate into not an insignificant ‘shock absorber’, if you like. This immediate social support base is not prone to folding easily, though it is not somehow magically unbreakable either. It is, however, a matter of how much resources one is willing and able to spend.
What’s more significant, though, is that a bigger part of the population that actually opposes the current clerical regime will naturally oppose with even stronger vehemence any US military action that will ultimately be an aggression against the Iranian people as a whole.
Let it not be forgotten that one million people were slaughtered during the Iran-Iraq war, yet by the end of the war, the Iranian regime was more secure than it had been going into the war. This was a war which Iran could have ended in 1982, yet became a far more bloody a conflict that dragged on for another six years, since the mullahs soon warmed up to the idea and the practice of running of a war-determined socio-economic set up, seeing how it increasingly secured their hold on power.
Let us also not forget that the horrors occurring daily in Iraq today are displayed daily on Iranian TV sets. So, even if at some point in the past some naive (or collaborator) segments of the Iranian society would openly and happily receive messages of sympathy, or other assorted romantic material, from the likes of Michael Ledeen, you can place a reasonably calculated bet that the same Iranians would shun the open company of such slime balls as fiercely as a vampire would sunlight. Such elements, these days, would instead settle for singing the praises of policies acceptable to the World Trade Organization; a safe enough speech act these days.
So, to repeat, if the United States is already having a hell of a time ‘winning’ in Iraq (whatever that is sold to the American people to mean these days), and if the US is hardly managing even Afghanistan (a ‘sixth rate’ country of the economically poorest people you can imagine), and if Iran’s theocratic regime can be backed and held up by at least a few million willing suicides, do you not think the US imperial planners are well aware of, and can actually add up, these facts?
The US imperial planners are well aware of these facts. As are the Iranians. Which leads me to conclude that both sides are setting themselves up for a convenient new kind of Cold War. Call it a Cold War Pantomime; a make-believe kind of Cold War. Second time around, it seems farcical of course. Yes, the standards are not what they used to be.
The point is not that military actions will or will not be taken against Iran. A Cold War occasionally gets hot, and there are some adversaries who need to be taken out and they are once they outrun their use (or overstay their welcome while acting rudely, as did Saddam).
The point is that such military actions will not, since they cannot, produce any fundamental political changes in the general power equations beyond, at best, precipitating a possible palace coup within the Iranian (or American?) regime; call it ‘regime fine-tuning’.
At worst, of course, there will be non-stop hell for a lot of people if and when all calculations are thrown out when all actors go for broke. And this latter seems to be, at least to me, the only other alternative.
The confrontation between Iran and the US cannot amount to much beyond an overture to an era of a newly invented model of Cold War, which is not totally cold and is less of a war than a negotiating process, implemented by a superpower that has not much depth to its power, is not very super, and cannot and has not fought anybody its own size, since it is too heavy-footed, not nimble enough, nor fast, nor that smart, but unfortunately has tons and tons of very massively destructive weaponry.
It is only right that such a superpower be afraid of, and paranoid about, certain rising powers in the Far East, and consequently making sure to ally itself with one of those powers (Japan) against the other one (China). In the meantime, practicing Kabuki-like shadow dance is all this Yankee Doodle Dee can do while figuring out what to do about the impending and fast-approaching catastrophe.
REZA FIYOUZAT can be reached at email@example.com