The recent conflict between the U.S. and Iranian regimes brings to mind that hilariously famous scene from Stanley Kubrick’s classic, Dr. Strangelove, with the U.S. president calling the Soviet leader to warn him about a foolish mistake that had led to a hydrogen bomb heading their way from an American base. The President is amiable, polite and concerned-sounding, patient and contrite, approaching the situation with the goal of cooperative damage control.
This latest round of Iran-U.S. flareup, though, has a warped twist: the message conveyed to Iran was a message delivered after the bombs had done their intended damage, begging for an under-measured response instead of providing a warning and feigned empathy.
According to reports from various news sources, “The US reportedly sent secret messages to Iran via Swiss intermediaries, urging them not to retaliate too strongly and further provoke Trump”. Knowing that the Iranians had to retaliate in revenge for having their number two head of the state taken out, the Americans were sending messages through Swiss Embassy in Tehran, asking the Iranians not to retaliate proportionately, for who knows what more insane things Trump would do next, and clearly both sides did not wish to talk war. Or even think it.
Now … a little levity, before the heavyweight of history.
In case you don’t remember the scene from that famous movie, a little snippet of the phone conversation between the U.S. president (played by Peter Sellers) and the Soviet Leader (by the fictional name, Dimitri, on the other end of the phone line):
“Now then Dimitri. You know how we’ve always talked about the possibility of something going wrong with the bomb. The bomb, Dimitri. The hydrogen bomb!
“Well, now what happened is, one of our base commanders, he had a sort of, well he went a little funny in the head. You know. Just a little … funny. And uh, he went and did a silly thing. (listens)
“Well, I’ll tell you what he did, he ordered his planes … to attack your country. (listens)
“Well, let me finish, Dimitri. Let me finish, Dimitri. (listens) Well, listen, how do you think I feel about it? Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dimitri?”
Now … I wonder how the awkward call from Trump’s people to Khamenei’s handlers might have gone, asking for as mild a retaliation as possible:
“Hello Ali? Yes … I know, I know. (listens)
“Well, you know how we’ve talked about the President here maybe losing it and, you know, doing something crazy? Well, as you know by now … well he … yeah, he went a little … you know … a little funny in the head and … (listens)
“But it was Haspel! It was all her … President was up too long, Sudafed wearing off … and that Haspel, she really pushed for it, you know … So he, uh … he was just beaten down … he OK’d the go-ahead … and well, there it is … (listens)
“Well, how do you think we feel about it, Ali? Can you even imagine what it’s like for us? We really feel terrible about this whole mess! (listens)
“Of course, Ali. Yes. You have to do something. Yes. But, think about this, Ali … don’t do too much. You don’t know what he’ll do next. We’ll then have a bigger mess.”
And of course, the Iranian side obliged. They gave the Iraqi state, and by proxy the U.S. military command, an eight-hour heads-up (see: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iraq-security-early-warning/hours-of-forewarning-saved-us-iraqi-lives-from-irans-missile-attack-idUSKBN1ZC218).
They even had the curtsy to make a follow-up call. After their attacks on some tarmac, some just-in-time-evacuated structures and parked equipment, the Iranians sent messages confirming the end of the operations. No more rockets headed your way. Roger that: All’s good. Commence cleanup. We abide! Heart emoji’s! (see: https://us.cnn.com/2020/01/08/politics/iran-messages-us-response/index.html)
What a farce!
I don’t recall any reports of calls exchanged between George W Bush and Saddam’s handlers; do you? The Yanks just fabricated phony ‘evidence’ of weapons of mass destruction, a shameless lie that the world mourns to this day, steamrolled the U.N., and invaded Iraq before anybody could say, “No EVIDENCE of Nothing!”
We didn’t witness months, even years, of hand wringing by talking heads, military experts, journalists and opinion writers worried about an ‘accidental’ war breaking out between the U.S. and Saddam’s regime. The Americans couldn’t wait to get the war rolling, and if it had come by accident, so much the better! But they didn’t need any. They just invaded the country.
If the U.S. wanted a war with Iran, they would have started one a long time ago. There would not be any backchannel calls asking them to take it easy on their retaliatory measures, or for the other side giving eight-hour heads-up before a phony attack meant purely for internal consumption, so they can claim, ‘We delivered a slap to their face’.
Some slap! The only real casualties ended up in a Nervous-Nelly-criminally-incompetent shooting down of a civilian Ukrainian airliner by Iran’s military, killing 176 people: 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, and the crew.
The Iranian security forces did not scratch a single American military personnel’s skin, the very military force that had just taken out their Number Two Head of State! Their Hero General!
Whose lives do they value more?
No War on Iran!
As in, there will not be an all-out war between Iran and the U.S.
Both sides just want to make deals and secure more lucrative turf.
Many have been deceived for the past forty years into believing that the U.S. is seeking a war on Iran. A lot of people in the western left believe that the Iranian state and the U.S. elite have a fundamentally permanent antagonistic position vis-a-vis each other. The actual historical record of the complex relationship between these two state entities suggests otherwise.
In the meantime, be assured that nobody is going to start a war on Iran. The assassination of Soleimani was akin to a top dog marking his turf. And the other side understood this.
Here is another angle to the Soleimani assassination. Some reports indicate the intelligence for the whereabouts of Soleimani came from Syrian security officials (see: https://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Syrian-official-gave-US-intel-on-Soleimani-whereabouts-report-614143). It seems that having used Iranian foot soldiers (and their associated militias) to defeat the revolution that was snuffed out by an international alliance of counterrevolutionary forces, Syrian regime leaders and their Russian backers have been keen on pushing out the Iranians from Syria. And to have the chief strategist of those forces out of the way is a logical step in that effort.
Before he passed away, I had a short email exchange with Franklin Lamb about Iran’s involvement in Syria. This is partly what he wrote, back in May 2018:
“With respect to the Russian and Syrian government views of Iran increasingly occupying Syria and much of the region. It’s the same as what the Syrian people have concluded. Many high-ranking Assad officials as well. Some while back I was sitting among the ruins of Palmyra late one night with some Russian officials and Syrian Military Security fellows, sipping a bit of Vodka from Odessa. One Syrian General said to me: “Mr. Lamb, my grandchildren are going to be fighting in this war which is not going to end for several years.” I looked up and he added, “But they will not be fighting so-called Syrian “terrorists”, they will be fighting the Iranian terrorists. Iran is not going to leave Syria and everyone over here knows that.”
For a larger frame of what he stated to me, see also, Franklin Lamb’s Counterpunch article of June 8, 2018, titled: Putin Gives Israel the Green Light, Iran the Red Light and Assad/Trump the Yellow Light in Syria (https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/06/08/putin-gives-israel-the-green-light-iran-the-red-light-and-assad-trump-the-yellow-light-in-syria/).
Now, why does the U.S. not want an all-out war with Iran? Because starting an actual all-out war with Iran will set in motion a chain of events that nobody can totally control.
In the event of a major military escalation by the U.S., in the short term at least, the chain of events would only consolidate Iranian state’s position more firmly. Iranian regime doesn’t mind sacrificing a few millions of ‘its own’ people, if that’s what it takes to create a living hell on earth for the American forces and their allies in the region. If pushed for real, they are capable and (though reluctantly) are willing to set the entire Middle East on fire.
There will not be any war started by the U.S. against the Iranian state as a whole. They may have small-scale, controlled skirmishes, like the one we just witnessed. But there will not be an all-out war.
These controlled conflict-moments, with a whole workday’s worth of notices, will also help both sides to keep their respective populations engrossed in nationalistic propaganda that benefits both sides.
However, the real war is taking place elsewhere: together with the U.S. government’s inadvertent assistance, the Iranian state has been fighting a ferocious and mostly successful class war against our people for forty years. The economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. are not an instrument of war against the Iranian state. They are directed at our people (more on that, below).
Shah was Horrible, Mullahs are Worse
I grew up under Shah’s dictatorship, and like millions of people my age, and along with my high school classmates, I participated in the overthrow of that dictatorship.
However, this theocratic dictatorship is far more violent and totalitarian than anything the Shah had to unleash on us. Just in the last round of our people taking to the streets, our government murdered well over a thousand people in two weeks and has taken eight thousand or more people into custody, after hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of tens of towns and cities, to scream their frustrations against suffocating social conditions imposed by a system that spends hundreds of billions of dollars on its regional expansionist schemes of dominance, while at home it forces more than half of the population into abject poverty, while providing them with absolutely no legal means of petitioning their government with their grievances. What are our people supposed to do? Commit mass suicide so as to not inconvenience the state?
A lot of our western comrades, when writing about Iran, remind us that the U.S. committed the original sin of overthrowing Mossadegh in 1953, so any Iranian regime wishing to stay independent of imperialist designs should be suspicious of American intentions.
Thank you, comrades, for stating the obvious. But, you either do not know, or forget, or prefer not to be reminded that back in 1953, the Iranian clerics, led by Ayatollah Kashani, mentor to Ayatollah Khomeini (the founder of the Islamic Republic), participated in the coup against Mossadegh and in favor of overthrowing him, in cooperation with the CIA.
For a thousand years, until 1979, much like in the European countries, our ruling classes had consisted of the alliance between the monarchy and the clerical hierarchy. In 1953, in the aftermath of the successful efforts by Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh to nationalize oil and exercise democratic rule in the interest of the people, that historical alliance came under an existential threat. So, the traditionally allied ruling classes came together to defeat democracy.
For a larger historical context, Iranian people’s anti-systemic movements against dictatorial governance started in 1905, with the Constitutional Revolution that established the first parliament on the Asian continent. However, through the machinations of imperialist powers including England and Russia, and in cooperation with local reactionary classes — absolutist monarchists and their allies as well as the clergy — dictatorship was reinstituted by installing the Pahlavi Dynasty, officially declared in 1925, lasting until 1979.
So, when our people’s voices for self-determination against imperialist intervention and for control over our own natural resources gained a major victory in 1953, the clergy and their goon squads led by Kashani came to the aid of the CIA to re-install the absolutist monarchy and put it back in control of our society. Documents released by the U.S. back in July 2017 revealed what we had known for decades: that Kashani had been in contact with the U.S. embassy in Tehran, starting moths before the coup (see: https://www.bbc.com/persian/amp/iran-features-40662795 — link in Persian).
Another point to be highlighted is about the suffocating economic sanctions that the U.S. has imposed on Iranian society on and off since the 1979 overthrow of the monarchy. While many necessities of life are denied our people, the state and the people associated with the security apparatuses get everything they need. Externally and internally, the state support for tens of thousands of militia members across the region has been steady and delivered on time. Regime functionaries’ and top mullahs’ bank accounts in Swiss banks or other offshore accounts are getting fatter by the day. Their military industry has grown exponentially, no shortcomings experienced there. Their surveillance apparatuses have grown astronomically. Their ability to spy on, detain, imprison, and torture dissidents and activists, their ability to spy on and harass the families of the detained, or even harass them at the funerals of their loved ones killed by the regime, their ability to kill our citizens by the hundreds, their ability to train Iraqi militias to disappear people protesting in Baghdad, Najaf, Basra and Karbala, when Iraqi citizens dare to protest Iranian domination of their corrupt government … all that, which costs billions of dollars, none of that has diminished an iota.
It’s only the Iranian civilians who have been starved. All that the economic sanctions have done has been to weaken our people and reduce their ability to put up a spirited struggle to achieve their most basic of human rights and to reclaim their dignity.
Historical Record of US and Iranian Mullahs Cooperation
Socialists with whom I am in agreement have consistently characterized the rivalry and animosities between the Iranian regime and successive U.S. administrative regimes as exactly that, a rivalry. Not a fundamental antagonism. We have explained their maneuverings as one best characterized as that between different-level bullies seeking more turf, while cooperating fully and willingly whenever a regional joint venture begets mutual rewards for both.
As exemplified above, in the case of the coup against Mossadegh, the Iranian clergy’s collusion with imperialist powers comes from their reactionary and counterrevolutionary nature. Here are some highlights of other instances of Iranian mullahs’ cooperation with the Yankee imperialists, a short list of their most infamous joint ventures:
1) Even before the official formation of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Khomeini was sending assurance letters from his exile in Paris to the U.S. officials, indicating that the regime he intended to establish would not be fundamentally opposed to the U.S., and would secure the interests of the U.S. in the region, should the Carter administration help with getting the Shah out of Iran. And Carter administration did help to send the Shah out of Iran. (see: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36431160)
2) The October Surprise of 1980. “In 1980, Reagan-Bush campaign bargained secretly with Iranian radicals for the postponement of the liberation of 52 Americans that they were holding as hostages … This secret deal, known as the October Surprise, frustrated the attempts of US president Jimmy Carter to obtain the hostages’ release in time for the elections in November. This failure cost Carter his reelection, and swept Republican candidate Ronald Reagan into the presidency,” (see: https://www.counterpunch.org/2014/07/11/the-october-surprise-was-real/).
As part of this secret deal, if the Iranians held the hostages until after the November elections of 1980, the Americans promised to allow Iran to have access to weapons they sought at the time, through Israel. The whole scheme would further develop into what the world came to know later as the Iran-Contra Affair. Beneficial to both.
3) In 2001 Iran helped to bring online Afghan Northern Alliance forces to participate in the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in October of that year.
Further, Iran played a key intelligence role in coordination with the American invasion. From Wikipedia’s page for Northern Alliance: “After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, United Front troops [which included Northern Alliance forces] ousted the Taliban from power in Kabul with American air support in Operation Enduring Freedom, using intelligence reports offered by Iran during the Six plus Two Group meetings at the United Nations Headquarters,” (see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_Alliance).
4) In 2003, through its proxy forces, Iran participated in the invasion of Iraq, alongside the American military forces.
Iran had long wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussain, and had hosted, among tens of thousands of Iraqi Shiite exiles, the Badr Brigades, a Shiite militia force, who participated in the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.
From the Wikipedia page for Badr Organization:
“The organization was formed in Iran in 1982 as the military wing of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq. It was based in Iran for two decades during the rule of Saddam Hussein and led by Iranian officers. It consisted of several thousand Iraqi exiles, refugees, and defectors who fought alongside Iranian troops in the Iran–Iraq War. The group was armed and directed by Iran.”
Further, and more to the point: “Because of their opposition to Saddam Hussein, the Badr Brigade was seen as a U.S. asset in the fight against Baathist partisans. After the fall of Baghdad, Badr forces reportedly joined the newly reconstituted army, police and Interior Ministry in significant numbers. The Interior Ministry was controlled by SCIRI and many Badr members became part of the Interior Ministry … The Iraqi Interior Minister, Bayan Jabr, was a former leader of Badr Brigade militia.”
There is an irony to the long arc of the tangled fates here, starting with the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. By the summer of 1982, two years after the start of the war, Iraqi forces were exhausted, in retreat, and eventually driven out of Iranian soil. At that point, Saddam threw up the white flag and proposed peace. War could have ended then. Peace overtures, however, were rejected by Iran, who then invaded Iraq, under the justifying slogan, “The road to Jerusalem (Quds) runs through Najaf and Karbala!”
By August 1988, however, and after the needless slaughter of hundreds of thousands more, Iran finally relented and accepted a ceasefire, and the war ended.
What they could not achieve in the 1980s, the Iranian state achieved in the first decade of this century, thanks to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. As revealed in great detail in the secret Iranian intelligence cables leaked to the Intercept and published jointly with The New York Times, in November of 2019, Iranian Quds commanders pretty much run Iraq (see: https://theintercept.com/2019/11/18/iran-iraq-spy-cables/).
So, the Iraq we have today is a co-production of the U.S. and Iran. Which is why in the latest protest waves in Iraq, alongside calls for an end to endemic corruption and for basic services, protestors consistently called for purging of the Iranian influence in their country and for disarming sectarian Shiite militias backed by Iran.
Iraqi and other Arab nations must have hated the Persian Empire of the old, the first time around, but they most likely have less favorable sentiments toward its reincarnation in new garbs.
To close, if you want something to worry about, be worried about the people of the region: show solidarity with our struggling people, and stand against all state formations in the region, and against all the interventions by all foreign and regional players. Have principles. Have a heart.