By Mark Osborn
John Pilger warns British citizens not to sit by while the government leads us all towards a crisis over Iran (Guardian 13 February also “Iran: a war is coming”, in New Statesman 1 February). In the process he gives us a good example of how the degenerate left gets it all so badly wrong.
His material on Iran has these features:
• The real enemy is the US: “The one piece of ‘solid evidence’ is the threat posed by the United States” with its “facile concerns for democracy.” “Iran possesses not a single nuclear weapon nor has it ever threatened to build one”. Apparently: “In announcing what he called a “surge” of American troops in Iraq, George W Bush identified Iran as his real target.”
• He prettifies and excuses the Iranian regime: “[Iran] has been implacably opposed to al-Qaida, condemning the 9/11 attacks and supporting the United States in Afghanistan.”
• Iran is peaceful: “Unlike its two nemeses, the US and Israel, Iran has attacked no other countries… Iran has a history of obeying international law. The ‘threat’ from Iran is entirely manufactured… Ahmadinejad did not call for Israel to be ‘wiped off the map’. He said, ‘The regime occupying Jerusalem must vanish from the page of time’.” So that’s OK then.
• In the final analysis, it is all the west’s fault: “The fuse of the bombs that killed 52 Londoners was lit by ‘us’,” Why? Because “British intelligence set out to destroy secular Arab nationalism,” and helped the mujadeheen in Afghanistan.
There are other secondary features to Pilger’s writing: the focus on details of weapons systems and sales; conspiracy theories... Then there is the pathological hatred of the western powers which leads to the repeated and idiotic allusion that the US/UK leaders bear a similarity to Nazis: “What are we waiting for?... the declaration of another thousand year Reich?”; or referring to Blair’s “Goebbels-like” accusation that “elements of the Iranian regime” are responsible for aiding attacks in Iraq. (How Blair manages to be Goebbels-like while saying something that is perfectly reasonable and plausible is beyond me).
But more than anything the problem with Pilger’s work is what he chooses not to say. There is no, or almost no, criticism of the Iranian regime or description of its crimes here. No balance whatsoever is offered.
So what is a proper picture of Iran and the Iranian regime, what needs to be said in order to give a proper framework to the unfolding events?
The issue is not just that Iran has a thoroughly reactionary clerical dictatorship that ensures the repression of workers, women and LGBT people inside Iran. That’s true (and almost every issue of Solidarity documents this repression and urges British labour movement solidarity with the oppressed.)
But more than that, Iran is a developed capitalist state, and an imperialist competitor to the US in the region.
True, Iran’s economy is unevenly developed, with backwardness alongside modern industrial production. True, also, that the US is a bigger power. But Iran is a country of 70 million people with GDP per capita at $8,400. Despite sanctions, the economy has been growing at 6-7% per year.
It holds 10% of the world’s proven oil reserves and has the world’s second largest reserves of natural gas, which gives it sizeable revenues and real power.
It has its own multinationals. For example, Iranian car production has passed the one million vehicle per year mark; Iran Khodro is the largest car manufacturer in the Middle-East, employing 37,000 workers, and has joint ventures with foreign partners on four continents.
Iran also has a big defence industry. Iran’s 2005 defence budget was estimated to be $6.3 billion. As of 2006, Iran had exported weapons to 57 countries.
Iran’s standing in the Islamic world is high, especially after the perceived success of its client-ally Hezbollah in 2006, in Lebanon, in the fight with the Israeli military.
Hezbollah was founded in 1982 with Iranian help. It was inspired by the success of the Iranian revolution and has been funded and trained by Iran.
Iran has also been the main beneficiary following the US-led war on Iraq.
Iran has strong links with Iraq’s governing Shi’ite bloc, including its two major parties - the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) and the Dawa Party. SCIRI, Iraq’s largest political party, was formed by Iraqi exiles in Iran in 1982.
SCIRI’s military wing, the Badr Brigades, has received financial and training support from Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Iran also supports Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army.
Tehran also has a commercial stake in Iraq’s future. In addition to building a $25 million airport in Basra, Iranian businessmen are buying up property in southern Iraq. The Iranian ambassador in Baghdad claims that Tehran plans to build three hospitals and set up a $1 billion loan fund for Iraqi businesses.
Beyond Iraq, and according to a report in the Herald Tribune, “When the Taliban were removed in 2001, Iran promised to help stabilise Afghanistan. It was Iranian diplomats who stepped in to save foundering talks to form a new Afghan government, persuading the Northern Alliance to accept the agreement. Soon after, Iran pledged $560 million in aid and loans to Afghanistan over five years, a ‘startling’ amount for a non-industrialised country, according to James Dobbins, the senior American envoy to Afghanistan at the time.
“Iranian officials said they focused on roads and power as a quick way to strengthen Afghanistan’s economy. A major project has involved upgrading roads linking Afghanistan with the Iranian port of Chabahar, on the Gulf of Oman.
“Afghanistan’s economic reliance on Iran has increased as Taliban attacks have slowed the economy…
“Iran has distributed more than $200 million, mostly [in Western Afghanistan] but also in the capital, Kabul…
“The Iranian ambassador, Muhammad Reza Bahrami, portrayed his government’s activities as neighbourly good works…
“Still, there are indications of other motives. Iranian radio stations are broadcasting anti-American propaganda into Afghanistan. Moderate Shiite leaders in Afghanistan say Tehran is funnelling money to conservative Shiite religious schools and former warlords with longstanding ties to Iranian intelligence agencies.
“And as the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program has escalated Iranian intelligence activity has increased across Afghanistan, American and Afghan officials say. This has included not just surveillance and information collection but the recruitment of a network of pro-Iranian operatives who could attack American targets in Afghanistan.
“Western diplomats say that, at the very least, Iran’s goals in Afghanistan are to hasten the withdrawal of American troops, prevent the Taliban from regaining power and keep the Afghan west firmly under Tehran’s sway.”
When not kidnapping British sailors, the Iranian navy is conducting its own war games and is reportedly using “rocket-launching ships, heavy warships, and logistic ships, as well as surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles” along with electronic warfare and simulations of in the northern and middle Gulf. A few weeks ago the Saudis discovered an Iranian submarine near Jubail.
The Iranians also have influence among the Shi’ite minority in Saudi, in the Gulf States and among the Palestinians.
Given this picture, why should we accept Pilger’s assurance that “the ‘threat’ from Iran is entirely manufactured”? Why would we wish to give the Iranian leadership the benefit of the doubt, for example, on the development of nuclear weapons?
The current picture about Iran here is one of a powerful regional imperialist power actively extending its influence. And so the US-Iran conflict is a contest between contending imperialisms (different degrees of power, true, but both Iran and the US are expansionist and aggressive).
Pilger writes, that the “Bush-Cheney-Blair ‘long war’ edges closer to Iran for no reason other than that nation’s independence from rapacious America.” Indeed Iran does have full independence from the US, but it also has a drive to expand the influence and power abroad of the reactionary regime inside Iran. That’s the reason for the Iran-US stand-off: the two powers’ interests conflict. And while we oppose the US, we oppose Iran’s aims too.
Pilger doesn’t use the words, “in the conflict with the US I back Iran.” But what he writes — and what he chooses to omit — means he means just that.
In contrast, third camp Marxism will not side with Iran in its current conflict with the US — either explicitly, or backhandedly with Pilger.