(1) Whether Trump wants a war with Iran is secondary to the fact that this administration has been on a collision course with Iran.
National Security Advisor Bolton and Secretary of State Pompeo have stated the objective of regime change through a war. However, given the opposition of the US military high command to what they recognize would turn into a quagmire, and the lack of enthusiasm within the Republican base for another war, the overall US orientation seems to be one of bullying.
The hope is that this bullying will result in regime collapse or intimidation. Thus the US has imposed extreme economic sanctions that are depriving the Iranian people of needed medication and basic goods made from imported raw materials, driving up the cost of living.
The US’s European allies, who were major buyers of Iran’s oil, fall into line because they fear losing business with US-based companies and see the sanctions as an alternative to a US-initiated war. Still, there is a grave and growing danger that another incident in the shipping lanes of the Strait of Hormuz may escalate into a major military conflict.
(2) There is a long history of US intervention in Iran. In 1953, US and British intelligence agencies participated in the coup that overthrew the left-populist Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeq and installed Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah.
The so-called Islamic Revolution overthrew the Shah in 1979. US-Iranian relations have been consistently conflictual since then. This revolution, which began as a broad-based anti-imperialist/anti-tyrannical national democratic revolution, was hijacked by reactionary clerics who went about repressing the Left and other democratic forces and instituting a theocratic authoritarian state.
That said, the theocratic regime wanted to break with US domination (which led many leftists to the unfortunate conclusion that the Iranian theocracy was somehow progressive) and, eventually, expand the Iranian sphere of influence in Central Asia and the Middle East. This placed them, from the inception, on a collision course with the other major theocratic authoritarian state, Saudi Arabia (and its allies).
(3) The USA came to the defense of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the latter’s invasion of Iran (to recover disputed land) in 1980. Though the USA played both Iraq and Iran, at the end of the day, the USA sided with Iraq. Ironically, Israel, deeply fearful of Iraq, sided with Iran and provided substantial assistance.
(4) The end of Saddam Hussein left a significant power vacuum that Iran moved to fill, resisted by states that were allied with Saudi Arabia, as well as various social movements. With the defeat of Hussein, Israel turned its attention to Iran and has been attempting to provoke a crisis so that it can be the hegemonic force in the region. This effort has morphed into the surprising de facto alliance between Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), an alliance that is fraught with dangers and represents a blatant betrayal of the Palestinian people.
(5) The Iranian regime has joined its enemy Saudi Arabia in a sectarianization of the otherwise political conflicts in the region. What appears, at least in the bourgeois media, as a conflict between Shia and Sunni is more a regional power conflict between these two authoritarian states.
Though the USA accuses Iran of terrorism, its rulers are doing nothing particularly different from the other players in the region in advancing what they see as national interests. In mid-July, the US Defense Dept. announced deployment of 500 more troops to its ally Saudi Arabia, escalating the tensions with Iran.
(6) Our opposition to US aggression against Iran should be unconditional but should not lead us to support the Iranian theocracy. Though there are contested elections for some positions, the highest state officials in Iran are appointed by clerics who claim legitimacy as interpreters of Allah’s will, not subject to popular will.
The Iranian theocracy murdered thousands of leftists, crushed minority nationality movements, and consistently represses any dissent. Its tampering with the 2009 elections spawned the what became known as the Green Movement, a multi-class outpouring for democratic rights, not for restoration of monarchy or a neo-colonial relationship with the US. It was repressed, along with more recent working class revolts.
(7) The Iran/USA crisis illustrates the void that exists in the USA with the absence of a mass movement for peace and justice—one that could prevent aggression against Iran, Venezuela, North Korea or any other country.
Despite the dedicated work of activists from many social movements, sustaining an anti-empire movement for peace and justice has not been successful. Efforts have tended to be very reactive and focused on weekend protests that don’t affect the functioning of imperialist institutions, and get little notice. Sustained efforts in the electoral arena have been limited and uneven.
Additionally, very little has been done to build a core in the student movement to take on US foreign policy, with the notable exception of the Students for Justice in Palestine.
(8) What can we, on the Left, do?
- Educational programs: The Left needs to not assume that our constituencies have a clue about the situation in and around Iran. There are, however, Iranian leftists in exile in the USA who are more than willing to address the situation and speak with US audiences. We should reach out to them.
- We must use social media to advance exposures of US bullying.
- We should develop popular materials, e.g., political comic books, to provide the necessary background to the history of the region and the role of the USA (going back to the 1953 coup).
- Reach out to students: We need a student movement that pays greater attention to US foreign policy. Organizations that have a base among students, such as Young Democratic Socialists, could work together to sponsor events on campuses that call attention to the situation. This could be a means of promoting local organizations that are anti-war and are focused on the Iran/US conflict. There may be some overlap with the Students for Justice in Palestine.
- Press candidates for office on foreign relations: Particularly in light of the upcoming 2020 elections, we need to make this an election issue. It is already the case that members of the House and Senate have been crafting legislation to stop the drift towards war. We need to create 501(c)(4) organizations and PACs that can make the threat of war a major, mass electoral issue.
- Prepare for civil disobedience in the event of war: Protests in the event of war are critical but we cannot wait for Saturday morning rallies. There will need to be various forms of mass civil disobedience that are carefully prepared and not necessarily aimed at getting masses of people arrested. Instead, the objective should be bringing matters to a halt.
- Get resolutions passed in mass organizations: At a minimum, in every mass organization in which there is a Left presence, resolutions need to be raised and adopted in opposition to US aggression against Iran. These resolutions should be tied to the creation of forms of organization that engage the members of these mass organizations in peace and justice work.
- Work towards building another grand coalition of peace & justice forces: All of our work should be aimed towards the eventual rebuilding of a cohesive force along the lines of the original United for Peace & Justice (created immediately prior to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003) that can bring together a diverse collection of forces committed to preventing/stopping war between the USA and Iran.