Opposing US Aggression Against Iran: Analysis and Tasks for US Progressives
The assassination of Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani is a clear violation of international and US law, an act of war against a sovereign country, and the latest in US efforts to disrupt and destabilize the Islamic Republic of Iran. Maybe Trump and the sycophants and hawks around him actually believed that Iran would back down, but common sense told us that Iran had to retaliate in some way.
Anything can happen– mostly because the US regime is not a rational or consistent actor and seems to have no guiding strategy, and even if they did, power rivalries often have unintended consequences.As we write, Iran has launched ballistic missile strikes against two air bases in Iraq housing US forces, and both sides are threatening more retaliation. Trump’s threats to bomb Iranian cultural sites, a clear war crime, were walked back by Secretary of State Pompeo, but still help prepare the ground for demonizing and dehumanizing Iranians as people whose culture is worth nothing and can be erased. (His demands for compensation from Iraq, whose Parliament has asked the US to leave, just sound unhinged.) Pence’s big lie tweet that Iran helped Al Qaeda with the 9-11 attack, works to justify further aggression. People here in the US and around the world are frightened about the possibility of a hot war that may engulf the Mideast region, draw in more countries, and incite asymmetrical attacks in the US.
Whatever happens, great suffering will be inflicted on civilians in Iran, who have endured a year-and-a-half of murderous US sanctions depriving people of essential medicines and food, and in Iraq, who have been devastated by 30 years of violence ordered by the last five US presidents. (Click here for historical background)
There is no evidence that the Iranian regime wants an all-out war, as they have shied away from full confrontation with the USA, regardless of the rhetoric, since coming to power in 1979. They have even publicly committed not to attack civilian targets. They will no longer honor the “limit on the number of centrifuges,” the last component of the nuclear deal, but state that they will continue allowing inspectors into facilities and will return to the conditions of the deal if sanctions are lifted. Iran does have cyber capacity to penetrate and cripple foreign electrical grids, infrastructure, and computer systems, and to influence proxy forces from whose acts they can distance. European foreign ministers are meeting on the Jan. 10, but so far show no inclination to become involved, not wanting to draw Iranian hostilities or US economic repercussions. Without allies, the USA is not positioned for a major war in the region. Unless Trump anticipates an air war—exclusively—there are simply not enough boots on the ground, even with 3000 troops deploying. Perhaps Trump has overplayed his hand?
In this context, what are the key tasks and orientations for US supporters of peace and justice?
Fully oppose the US aggression: Push members of Congress to deny funds for further aggression. Nancy Pelosi’s House resolution and Tim Kaine’s in the Senate are a start. They reassert “Congress’s long-established oversight responsibilities by mandating that if no further Congressional action is taken, the Administration’s military hostilities with regard to Iran cease within 30 days.” Point out that the US escalation against Iran is already being used, cynically, to obscure discussions of impeachment. Unite with the Iraqi Parliament’s call for US out of Iraq. Call for the lifting of all sanctions on Iran.
Mobilize and Organize: Reliance on what may or may not happen in November 2020 is not enough. This is a moment for mass action which needs to aim towards mass civil disobedience or even mass “stay aways” (a term used in Southern Africa for the equivalent of a general strike). It needs to be made more than clear that people in the USA will not remain silent. The 80 demonstrations around the country this past weekend were a start. But in order to help broaden and deepen mass opposition beyond the converted, we on the left need to be grounded in a sober assessment of the IRI.
Offer an honest and balanced analysis of the IRI in our outreach. The tendency to proclaim as progressive any regime or foreign leader that the US state opposes, and the failure to acknowledge a regime’s real character, often turn off people who might otherwise join protests. The Islamic Republic of Iran came to power by out-organizing leftists and democracy-minded people and physically eliminating thousands of them. Internally, it is repressive of national minorities, women and queer people, and its Revolutionary Guard leads a crony capitalist, neoliberal economy. Externally, it is militarily active, often through proxies and militias, only in Mideast countries where there is Shiite presence (Iraq, Syria Lebanon, Yemen). In no way is Iran a “global terror state” as per US propaganda. Iran’s involvement in targeting civilians in Syria is heinous but probably not as far-reaching as the US-allied Saudi Arabia’s crimes against civilians in Yemen. And like Saudi Arabia, its arch-rival in the region, Iran has sought to “sectarianize” all opposition, turning struggles for workers’ rights, wages and working conditions, and rights of national minorities, women and queers, into sectarian religious conflicts and issues.
Spread the word about progressive forces in Iraq and Iran and build solidarity with them: All too often we in the US left frame contradictions one-dimensionally; in this case, between the governments of the USA and Iran. The situation is more complicated. One of the most tragic consequences of US aggression is that the popular movement in Iran, which significantly challenged the regime in November with massive protests against price rises, has receded as people rally against external attacks; and the rebellions of working-class and unemployed youth in Iraq may either vanish or assume a religious-political framework. (See the web site of the Alliance of Middle Eastern and North African Socialists for ongoing info and updates.) US Labor Against the War has done exemplary work in forging bonds with Iraqi worker organizations and supporting and publicizing their demands and struggles.
Build a “Middle East Peace& Justice Campaign”: The time has come to build a broad US-wide united front of forces that will focus on the struggles for peace and justice in the Middle East and North Africa, which are interconnected and often not bounded by the artificial borders that British and French imperialism created in 1917. This means opposition to US aggression and interference in the internal affairs of the various countries, but also speaking out for the demands and the right to organize of indigenous popular movements for progress and justice. It means uniting with the Iraqi Parliament’s call for US out of Iraq; stopping US arms sales and military aid to Israel, Saudi Arabia or any country in the region; and pressuring for the closure of US bases. We should call out Israel for not signing the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and aim for denuclearization and demilitarization of the region. This must include exposing and targeting the multinational, often US-based corporations that profit obscenely from selling weaponry, then from rebuilding the infrastructure their weapons destroy, and from providing mercenaries.
We should learn the lessons from previous anti-war fronts and organizations around Iraq, like United for Peace & Justice. Such projects need a core of devoted activists who will spend the time developing strategy and knitting together the alliances necessary for effective work. They will also have to persevere during moments when the mass action, for any number of reasons, declines. The task of the Middle East Peace & Justice Campaign must be to make US foreign policy in that region an inescapable part of the larger political discourse within the USA—in the Presidential and Congressional election campaigns, in major media, in our communities and workplaces. We must ensure that the struggles for peace and justice in that region are not ignored in favor of one or another form of left neo-isolationism.