Recent media reports about Iran suggest that President Ahmadinejad has run slightly afoul of the clerics in that country’s Council of Guardians. Most specifically, the Imam Khamenei has publicly criticized the president’s statements about Iran’s nuclear program and his government’s failure to stop inflation in Iran. Khamenei, for those who don’t know, is the Supreme Leader of Iran, which means that, he reviews every political decision made by the Iranian legislature and the president according to the Koran and its interpretations. He has issued a fatwa that states the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons was forbidden under Islam. He has also supported the economic subsidies of basic goods and shelter and free medical care for all Iranians–two programs currently existing in Iran This support stems from the Koran’s teaching that those who can afford it must pay zakat to help the poor, although the institutionalization of it through Tehran could be considered part of the Islamic government’s successful attempts to remove leftists and their thought from the revolutionary regime by renaming their programs and then killing the left.
Like those that exist in any country, there are those in Iran’s ruling elites who would like to see all subsidies ended, with Iran incorporating itself into the neoliberal model of economic Darwinism. In other words, those with the money and connections would reap great profits while the poor and working people would suffer. The former president Rafsanjani is one of these men, so it seems ironic that he would be in favor with Khamenei if Khamenei is to be believed. Rafsanjani, for those who don’t know, was part of the original troika of clerics (along with Ayatollah Khomeini and Mohammed Husseni Buheshi) that forced the left and the moderates out of the revolution and established a dictatorship of the clerics.
According to the revolution’s first president Bani Sadr and the US Ambassador William Sullivan, the dictatorship was, at the very least, encouraged by the US Embassy in Iran, who preferred a military/clerical junta to a left-leaning democratic state. The army’s unpopularity made its participation impossible, so the clerics replaced it with the Revolutionary Guard. That dictatorship exists today, albeit in a different form, with the primary difference being that laws are passed by representatives but are subject to the review of the clerics.
Some of these men were also involved with the Shah’s government and the arms deals made with Ronald Reagan that were the cause of Irangate. Rafsanjani is acknowledged to have hidden away millions of dollars worth of Iran’s monies in bank accounts around the world while the people of Iran dealt with the rationing of their basic goods. His number one motivation seems to be money and the power it provides.
If the government is so bad, one might ask, then what’s wrong with the US trying to overthrow it? Besides the obvious– that preemptive war is both illegal and immoral, there is the example of Iraq. As any informed reader must know, that attempt by Washington to overthrow a strongman and replace it with a different government id a failure. This is due in part because Washington never really planned to allow democracy to flourish there, but it is also related to the refusal of the Iraqi people to accept occupation. No matter what the United States does in that country, it is bound to fail for exactly that reason.
Assuming the Iranian experience to be different is folly. After all, if there is one sentiment that seems prevalent among Iranians it is their determination to refuse foreign domination. It is arguably this determination that created a situation the mullahs could manipulate to take power in the early 1980s when the attack by the Iraqi army of Saddam Hussein diverted monies and attention away from the internal needs of the people. This line of reasoning points to invasions by foreign powers during the French and Russian revolutions as the reason for their fall into dictatorship. Furthermore, some even argue that the mullahs kept the war with Iraq going in order to consolidate their power. At the time Washington was supporting Baghdad while it was also sending illegal arms shipments to Tehran. In short, the war served the interests of Washington more than it served either country.
A recent tactic from Washington as it seeks to motivate the people of the US for another war in the Middle East is its claim that Iran is arming the various insurgent groups fighting US troops in Iraq. The people pushing this story (specifically Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno) have even gone so far as to tell the press that the US military has traced the serial numbers found on some captured weapons back to Iran. Now, even if this were true, there is more than one possible explanation for these serial numbers. The one that springs first to mind is that SCIRI, an Iraqi party supported by the United States since before the invasion with a militia known as the Badr Brigades that was trained in Iran, has many of these such weapons. Consequently, it is quite possible that the weaponry supposedly captured by US troops and traced back to Iran was stolen from the Badr Brigades.
Other possible explanations could be that the rumored weapons don’t even exist, were bought on the black market, or were planted by anti-Iranian forces in Iraq or US intelligence. In short, this claim rings as hollow as the yellow cake uranium claims made by the White House as it lied the US into war with Iraq. On the other hand, if it is true to some degree, that wouldn’t be unusual. After all, even the US insurgency against the British was funded by the French.
As I write, indications are that there are US Special Forces engaged in operations in Iran. Rumors name the province of Khuzestan as the locale for these operations. They are probably being helped by various exiles who are either current or former members of organizations that believe the ends justify the means and are therefore willing to help the enemy in Washington to overthrow the mullahs. A similar scenario existed when the US overthrew the popular Iranian leader Mossadegh in 1953. Various clerics waffled between support of the US coup and the popular government. According to the coup’s architect Kermit Roosevelt, it was the loss of support of Khomeini’s mentor, the cleric Ayatollah Kashani, that created the necessary power shift to allow the US coup to go forward.
Some accounts state that the ayatollah withdrew his support from Mossadegh because of his fear that Mossadegh was a communist (a fear stirred up by CIA personnel) and others allow that a substantial amount of CIA money was provided to the cleric’s accounts for the poor and other social services. Either way, it was US manipulation that precipitated the shift. Another interesting aspect of the 1953 coup was that the US had special forces operatives operating in southern Iran (Khuzestan) at least a year before the actual coup.
It is curious that Washington would want to ramp up the rhetoric against Iran now, when US forces are tired and thin. The only reason that makes sense is that the Cheney-Bush plan to remake the Middle East before they leave office is still in place, and any war on Iran must begin soon. Since Washington’s attempts to scare the world into sanctioning and attacking Iran over its nuclear program seems to be going nowhere, then the news stories concerning Iran’s involvement in Iraq and the arrests of Iranian officials may very well be an alternative attempt to convince Congress that war on Iran is necessary.
One thing is clear–Washington is not interested in a democratic Iran After all, if it were, it would not have made the deals it did with the clerics back in the 1980s and neither would it have supported Iraq in the Iran -Iraq war, since the effect of both of these efforts was the consolidation of the clerical dictatorship’s power. Any US attack on Iran would probably consolidate that power even more or install a US client regime in Tehran, with neither result being very positive for the aspirations of the Iranian people, who have yet to see the democratic hopes of their revolution fulfilled.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is forthcoming from Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: email@example.com