Workers Vanguard No. 1065
3 April 2015
Imperialists Stoke Religious Fires
U.S. Out of the Near East Now!
Down With Sanctions Against Iran!
MARCH 30—The blood of tens of thousands who have been slaughtered in communalist violence throughout the Near East is on the hands of the U.S. imperialist rulers, who continue to stoke religious and ethnic hatred throughout the region. To undermine the Iran-allied regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the U.S. incited and armed sectarian Sunni forces, plunging that country into civil war. In Iraq, the U.S. is relying on militias controlled by longtime pariah, Shi’ite Iran, as ground troops against ISIS, which itself arose out of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and now controls a wide swath of the country. In Yemen, where for years the Obama administration has been launching drone strikes against the population in the name of targeting Sunni Al Qaeda forces, the U.S. is backing the Saudi-led attack against the Zaidi Shi’ite Houthis, who are viewed as an Iranian proxy.
At the same time, the White House has taken a spin at diplomacy with Iran, much to the alarm of Israel and the U.S.’s Sunni Muslim allies in the Persian Gulf. The Obama administration’s latest round of negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program—with the participation of Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China—has also worked leading Republicans into a frenzy. In January, without informing the White House, Republican House Speaker John Boehner invited Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu to rail against Iran at a joint meeting of Congress. The head of the Near East’s only nuclear-armed state, Netanyahu was enthusiastically applauded throughout his March 3 speech in which he ominously declared that the terms the White House was offering Iran “will inevitably lead to nuclear war.”
A week later, 47 Republican members of Congress sent an open letter to the Iranian government declaring that any agreement it negotiated with the Obama administration could be revoked by the next president “with the stroke of a pen and future Congresses could modify the terms of the agreement at any time.” Although the Israeli government has denied it, U.S. officials report that Israel has been spying on the nuclear negotiations and—what has really got the White House worked up—leaking the information to Congress. The Obama administration has tried to rein in the rabid Netanyahu as it continues its nuclear negotiations with Iran.
On March 25, the Sunni monarchy of Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen. With the support of a coalition including other Gulf states and Egypt, the Saudis aim to restore the government of Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who resigned the presidency in January in the face of attack by the Houthi rebels. The air campaign, for which the U.S. says it is providing “logistical and intelligence support,” was announced in Washington by the Saudi ambassador. The Iranian government has denounced the U.S.-backed assault in Yemen.
Those who run U.S. imperialism add a twist to the expression that today’s ally is tomorrow’s enemy. For them, today’s ally is today’s enemy. The only constant is that imperialist domination breeds misery and war. Notwithstanding their bickering and conflicting policies, the Republicans and Democrats share a common class interest: maintaining U.S. supremacy in the oil-rich Near East. The imperialist system is based on war and plunder, and as the world’s “superpower,” U.S. imperialism is the greatest enemy of the world’s workers and oppressed.
Down With U.S. Imperialism!
It is the duty of class-conscious workers everywhere, particularly in the U.S., to oppose all wars and occupations carried out by the imperialists. When the U.S. began air strikes against ISIS last year, we explained that “any force, however unsavory, that attacks, repels or otherwise impedes U.S. forces strikes a blow in the interests of the exploited and the oppressed” (“U.S. Out of Iraq! No Intervention in Syria!” WV No. 1051, 5 September 2014). We take a military side with ISIS when it targets the imperialists and forces acting as their proxies, including the Baghdad government and the Shi’ite militias as well as the Kurdish pesh merga forces in Northern Iraq and the Syrian Kurdish nationalists. This does not mean we give the slightest political support to the reactionary ISIS butchers.
Since early March, a coalition dominated by Iranian-backed Shi’ite militias has been waging an offensive to recapture the Sunni city of Tikrit from ISIS control. Tehran has for some time used the sectarian bloodbath in Iraq to increase its influence in the region. When the U.S. began intensive bombing of Tikrit on March 25, several Shi’ite militias announced they would not collaborate with the U.S. and would pull out from the assault, a move the Pentagon claimed to “welcome.” In fact, the militias remain part of the offensive in Tikrit. And, according to the New York Times (27 March), American officials have acknowledged that Shi’ite militias would “play a crucial part in subduing Tikrit.”
For Marxists, what is decisive is the fact that in Tikrit the Shi’ite militias are acting as surrogates for U.S. imperialism, as they were even before the open involvement of U.S. forces. A victory for the Shi’ite militias and the Iraqi army would directly benefit the aims of U.S. imperialism, which is leading the regional war against ISIS. Likewise, if the militias were driven back by ISIS and other Sunni forces, this would be a blow against U.S. imperialism. The brutality of ISIS forces is widely broadcast in the Western media, but the Shi’ite militias and Iraqi government forces are cut of the same cloth. Whole Sunni villages have been wiped out after having been “liberated” from ISIS.
This is not the first time the clerical regime in Iran has served the interests of the U.S. The Iranian regime supported the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, engaging in extensive intelligence and military coordination and supporting the U.S.-installed government. Not that this collaboration did the Iranian government any good—in January 2002, Iran became part of George W. Bush’s “axis of evil” and subsequently the target of rounds of crippling sanctions under both the Bush and Obama administrations.
In the past, Israel attempted to bolster Persian-dominated Iran, even under the mullahs, as a bulwark against the regional Arab regimes. Israel played a key role in assisting the U.S. in the sale of weapons to Iran, as revealed when the Iran/contra scandal broke in 1986. At the time, U.S. military officials were shipping guns to the Iranian government in violation of Congressional bans, in order to fund right-wing contra death squads in Nicaragua. This was despite the U.S.’s strong tilt toward Iraq in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War.
Although today the U.S. and Iran are effectively cooperating on the ground in Iraq and nuclear talks are ongoing with a March 31 deadline, the U.S. has not let up on the punishing economic sanctions against Iran. The sanctions are an act of war, hitting Iran’s poor and working population the hardest. The White House’s professed purpose is to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. The Iranian government has always denied seeking to develop nuclear weapons, and even pro-imperialist analysts and U.S. intelligence agencies have admitted there is no evidence of such a program. The 20 percent uranium enrichment level cited by the imperialists as the level that can be quickly converted to weapons-grade is the same needed for medical isotopes for cancer treatment.
The possession of nukes is no guarantee of security from attack by U.S. imperialism, with its massive nuclear arsenal and overwhelming military power. Nevertheless, nuclear weapons are an important deterrent against military attack and can provide a measure of independence from imperialist diktat. This was demonstrated in the negative in Libya. In 2003, in addition to signing on to the imperialists’ war on terror, Muammar el-Qaddafi renounced Libya’s nuclear weapons program and welcomed imperialist inspectors. Eight years later, he was overthrown by the U.S. and allied imperialist powers, setting the stage for the current bloody chaos in Libya. Despite the fact that we give no political support to the reactionary mullah regime in Tehran, we Marxists recognize that Iran needs nuclear weapons as well as effective delivery systems to deter attack, not least from Israel.
For Proletarian Internationalism!
March marked the 12th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which toppled Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-dominated government and plunged the country into communalist slaughter. To buttress their occupation, the U.S. imperialists systematically played off sectors of the Iraqi population against each other, fueling the communalist bloodshed. The U.S. and allied powers committed and unleashed mass murder, indiscriminate terror and torture on a scale far exceeding that of the brutal Iraqi strongman they replaced. A recent report by Physicians for Social Responsibility found that some one million Iraqis died as a result of the U.S. invasion and occupation.
ISIS, an offshoot of Al Qaeda, is itself a product of U.S. interventions. The founding elements of Al Qaeda, including the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, leader of its Iraqi affiliate, were trained and funded by the CIA as it assembled a reactionary horde to oppose the Soviet Union’s intervention in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In Iraq, ISIS was able to garner support among even some secular Sunni Arabs as a result of the repression they suffered at the hands of the overwhelmingly Shi’ite government installed by the U.S.
Iraq today is a shattered society, with its industry and infrastructure in ruins. To be an Iraqi is to live under the constant threat of sectarian murder: Sunni vs. Shi’ite, Arab vs. Kurd. And if you are from a small community—e.g., the Christians or Yazidis—with no militias to back you, you live or die at the sufferance of others. This is the “liberation” that U.S. imperialism brought to the peoples of Iraq.
The social emancipation of the Iraqi masses is dependent on working-class struggle in nearby countries where there are strategic concentrations of the industrial working class, centrally Iran, Turkey and Egypt. We have no illusions that it will be an easy task to break workers of the Near East, including in Zionist Israel, from nationalism and religious reaction and win them to the Marxist program of proletarian revolution. But there will be no end to ethnic and national oppression, no liberation of women, no end to the exploitation of working people short of shattering the capitalist order and laying the basis for a socialist federation of the Near East.
What is needed is the construction of Marxist workers parties, sections of a reforged Fourth International, to unite the working classes of the region around a program of revolutionary internationalism and class independence from the imperialists, the local bourgeoisies and forces of religious reaction. This perspective crucially hinges on linking up with the multiracial working class in the U.S. in a fight against capitalist rule here in the belly of the imperialist beast.
If our readers can make no sense of what is happening in Iraq, Yemen or anywhere else the U.S. is intervening, there is a reason: this ruling class is crazed. Jon Stewart gave it his twist on the Daily Show: “It took decades of destabilizing conflict, but we finally figured out how to wage a proxy war against ourselves.” Not only is Washington promising even more years of war in the Near East—whatever happened to pulling out from Iraq and Afghanistan?—it is also simultaneously provoking capitalist Russia, a major nuclear power, over Ukraine while constantly menacing the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state through spy flights and military encirclement.
The American ruling class flaunts its barbarity, openly debating the virtues of torture, riding roughshod over nations around the world and leading the planet in the incarceration of its own population while carrying out grisly executions at home. As the U.S. imperialists sow death and destruction across the Near East, working people in the U.S. have seen their wages driven down, social services gutted and legal rights whittled away. While U.S. drones blow away schoolchildren and wedding parties in Muslim countries, the cops gun down black and Latino men on American streets.
Since the destruction of the Soviet degenerated workers state in 1991-92, the arrogant, power-mad U.S. rulers have seen no significant obstacle to their global designs. Self-designated cops of the world, they believe they can do anything to anybody and get away with it. But the U.S. bourgeoisie’s status as supreme world power is beset by contradictions. They can direct killer drones to take out today’s “enemy” from thousands of miles away, but at home bridges are near collapsing, public education is starved of funds (except in wealthy suburbs) and much of industry is hollowed out. One bit of infrastructure they have built up is super-high-speed data networks for Wall Street, where “economic growth” spells only the latest speculative investment craze. Meanwhile in New York City’s East Village, people are killed and buildings leveled by an exploding gas line.
This decrepit, depraved profit system has got to go! The struggle of the working class in this country to liberate itself from exploitation is also the struggle that can liberate all those ground under the heel of the imperialist colossus. The American proletariat, currently demoralized by decades of defeats, must be imbued with the consciousness of its revolutionary potential to sweep away the capitalist system and create a new society organized to serve human need. In “Imperialist Rape of Iraq” (WV No. 800, 28 March 2003), written at the time of the U.S. invasion, we argued:
“Mass slaughter is the concentrated expression and ultimate logic of the ‘normal’ brutal workings of the capitalist system, which daily condemns countless numbers around the world to death by malnutrition, lack of medical care and industrial murder.
“If there is to be a choice for coming generations of working-class and minority youth other than one of grinding exploitation, joblessness, mass imprisonment or military servitude, if the impoverished masses of the world are to have a future other than starvation and slaughter, this whole system must be torn up by its roots through a socialist revolution and replaced by a rational, planned economy internationally.”
The Spartacist League is the U.S. section of the International Communist League, which is dedicated to building the parties that can bring this perspective to the working class in the U.S. and internationally.