A War Plan Scuttled?

Against the Current, No. 133, March/April 2008

Allen Ruff

Targeting Iran
By David Barsamian
San Francisco: City Lights, Open Media Series
2007, 206pages, $13.95.

AS THE BUSH era draws to a close, there been increasing speculation on whether or not the United States will attack Iran. Spurred by the posturing and rhetoric coming from the White House and a subservient media, much of that discussion has narrowly focused on Iran  potential nuclear  threat and the character of the current administrations in Washington and Tehran.

Much of what passes for mainstream analysis, myopically fixated on the present and largely conjectural, has merely served to heighten fears and prepare public opinion for the likelihood of a U.S. strike. A number of voices outside the mainstream, informed about the region and the longer history, have struggled in the meantime to inject a note of critical sanity.

Targeting Iran, the small primer edited by David Barsamian, goes a long way in deflating the current rhetoric while providing some context and understanding for the current spiral of antagonism and drift toward confrontation. A compilation of three separate interviews done in 2006 with foreign policy critic Noam Chomsky, and Iran historians Ervand Abrahamian and Nahid Mozaffari, the book offers some important perspectives on the renewed threats emanating from Washington and the realities of present day Iran.

Both the brief introduction by Barsamian and the leadoff discussion with Chomsky tell us that the targeting of Iran is not new. The longer context referenced by the two reminds us that U.S. ruling circles have had Iran in their sights for decades, extending back to World War II and before.

This is an important point to make at this time, when many have come to view the Bush administration as some sort of rogue regime, an aberrational departure from the main currents of U.S. imperial policy. In reality, successive U.S. administrations of both parties have left an indelible scar on modern Iranian history, a fact usually forgotten here but seared into the fabric of Iranian popular memory.

Seeking to supplant both British and Russian influence in the country in the post-war period, Washington played the key role in the overthrow of the secular nationalist Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953. That CIA coup installed the repression-propped terror of uneven and sustained development that was modernization under Shah Reza Pahlavi and in so doing assured the victory of the Islamic revolution in 1979.

The humiliating U.S. defeat in the Iranian revolution dramatically altered the correlation of forces in the oil rich and strategically valuable Persian Gulf region. U.S. administrations ever since have shared an imperial consensus, bipartisan in nature, in their desire to retake what still is considered an absolutely invaluable piece of real estate.

Double Standards on Terror

The Chomsky interview is vintage fare. Doing what he consistently does so well, the dean of U.S. dissidents highlights the hypocrisy, double standards and downright perfidy of current arguments aimed at justifying and readying public opinion for a possible escalation of the U.S. campaign for Middle East hegemony.

He reminds us, of course, of U.S. backing of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in its eight-year war of aggression against Iran, beginning in September 1980. Chomsky notes that in 1982 Ronald Reagan took Hussein’s Iraq off the list of states supporting terror so as to provide it with aid, including the means to develop weapons of mass destruction — nuclear weapons, biotoxins, chemical weapons and so on.

That war exacted an immense toll on Iran, a fact that Iranian society has not lost sight of. Chomsky tells us that the punishment of Iran continues to this day. Simply for the reason of overthrowing a U.S.-backed tyrant, the country has been placed under sanctions and more recently threats of attack not just threats, but preparations for attack. (34)

Chomsky does his usual masterful job in placing the current disputes with Iran in a geo-strategic global context. He warns that Washington threats and missteps might just succeed in driving Iran into an Asian energy security system headed by China. (38)

A Shia International?

The most interesting section of the book is the interview with Ervand Abrahamian, professor of Middle Eastern history at Baruch College and author of one of the essential texts for our understanding, Iran Between Two Revolutions (1982). As part of its campaign to win support for assaulting Iran, the current U.S. administration has claimed that Iran has become the organizational center of an ascendant Shia international capable of controlling all the Shias across the region extending from western Afghanistan to Lebanon and Palestine and into the Arabian Peninsula, and is thereby responsible for much of the increasing instability across the so-called Shia Crescent.

Abrahamian debunks Washington’s claim by reminding us that the various resistance groups, whether Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas in Palestine, the several Islamist parties in Iraq, or the various dissident formations in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf  all have their own interests and are not instruments of some agenda directed from Teheran.

A close observer of the current disputes regarding Iran’s nuclear program, Abrahamian points to repeated attempts at compromise and mediation by Teheran and hypocritical U.S. refusals to negotiate and resolve differences. He also notes what may tragically come of any open attack on Iran by suggesting that the United States will pay an incredibly high price in Iraq and Afghanistan.  

Abrahamian reminds us that Bush’s inclusion of Iran as part of the axis of Evil put an end to a growing movement for reform and moderation within Iran, as conservatives utilized the threat of increasing US hostility to repress various reform initiatives coming from various sectors within Iranian society.

Barsamian’s third interview, with Nahid Mozaffari, is an important contribution. An Iran-born Harvard-educated professor of Middle Eastern History at the New School, Mozaffari gives us some informed, intimate sense of some of the internal social, cultural and political dynamics within Iran. At a time when those eager to attack the country readily portray it as a monolithic theocracy peopled by nothing but religious fanatics, her descriptions give us a sense of internal fissures and dissenting threads of resistance against the ruling theocracy.

She discusses the struggles of youth and women, of writers and poets and political activists hungry for change and opposed to the current regime who concurrently want nothing, absolutely nothing to do with Washington’s agenda at regime change and see it as nothing but a kiss of death for their often hard-won gains.

What Comes Next?

Will Bush & Co. launch an attack on Iran in the closing months of the administration?

Made public in early December, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) concluded that Iran had halted its covert nuclear weapons program in 2003 (not really surprising, as Iran’s most threatening enemy — Saddam Hussein’s regime — was gone).

The NIE disclosure upended a long-running rhetorical campaign by the President and Vice President. Just six weeks prior, Bush had speculated out loud about a nuclear-armed Iran setting off “World War III,” while Cheney was warning that the United States “cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions” to acquire nuclear weapons and lord over the Middle East. It suddenly seemed as if their plans for an all-out offensive against Tehran had stalled.

But with Bush’s visit to the Middle East a month later, it appeared as if the administration had decided to continue its campaign to isolate Iran, dubbing it “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror.” As of this writing (mid-January), it appears that the White House has not been able to and will not win the support of key allies in the region, Israel aside, for a revamped “coalition of the willing” ready to join in a more aggressive campaign against Tehran.

The European powers, Russia and China have likewise have long voiced their skepticism. That may not prevent some adventurous act of aggression, of course.

Most revealing, however, has been the failure of the leading Democratic presidential contenders to assail and criticize Bush and his supporters’ rhetorical offensive. Sharing that long-term consensus on the need to “take back” and hold Iran within the U.S. strategic orbit, it just might be a Democratic heir to the White House, a Clinton or an Obama, for example who will carry out the kind of hostile action, most likely from the air, that the current Washington administration may now be too hampered to carry off.

from ATC 133 (March/April 2008)


  1. Dear Sirs

    I would like to congratulate David Barsamian and all other contributors for their accurate & insightful analysis in covering the facts.

    It is refreshing that in this day & age of epidemic public apathy & amnesia, there are still honest and sane commentators who can apply their personal integrity to public affairs discussion & analysis.

    A big thank you for the thorough research.

    Kind Rgds


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