'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Iran: An Archeological Exercise 

Yet again, rumors are rife that Bush is about to order military action against Iran. Carrier groups are sent to the Gulf, along with an escalation of rhetoric and a seemingly unending series of unsubstantiated claims that the Iranians are responsible for the deaths of Americans in Iraq. Apparently, the administration has seized upon this new approach as a means of persuading Americans to support an attack.

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidates insist, in near unison, that "all options remain on the table", including, presumably even the use of tactical nuclear weapons against the perceived facilities of the Iranian nuclear program. Blatant appeals to the worst instincts of the Israeli lobby have made it nearly impossible for anyone to deny its role in shaping American attitudes about the Middle East, but paradoxically, as noted by As'ad Abukhalil, an overemphasis upon the importance of the lobby only serves to obscure underlying American motivations for dominating the region. American foreign policy, it seems, can now only be discussed in conditions of hysteria.

If one accepts the philosophical premise that we live in postmodernist times, a period in which grand narratives are no longer plausible, then Iran suggests that a revision is required. Iran, as described by the American government and media, stands for the proposition that grand narratives, at least when it comes to the American Empire, can be worn and discarded seasonally like old clothes. In the fall, Iran is a threat because of its nuclear research program; in the winter, Iran is dangerous because it is arming and training the Iraqi resistance; in the spring, Iran is cause for alarm because it is instigating sectarian violence between Shia and Sunni.

There is a thread that ties all of themes together, and that is the necessity to conceal the fact that a US attack upon Iran will be unprovoked and unjustified. A frightening corollary is the recognition that Iran may therefore legitimately target any country, any institution and any people around the world that facilitate this attack. Concealment of these extremely unpleasant insights requires something more, however, the burial of the history of the US, and the West generally, in regard to Iran for the last 100 years.

Let's summarize the salient aspects of it. Starting just after the beginning of the 20th Century, the British ruled Iran for nearly 50 years as a corporate asset of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, later renamed the Anglo-British Oil Company, and then, more simply, British Petroleum, with the government of Iran, much like the Iraqi government today, only allowed to exercise a limited, illusory sovereignty. Oil profits were directed, quite predictably, overwhelmingly into the hands of the investors in the oil company.

In 1951, the British were still taking 85% of Iranian oil profits, and the Iranians moved to nationalize BP. Of course, we know what happened next. The British persuaded the CIA, after some hesitancy on the part of President Truman, to bring down the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh.

The Shah, placed on throne by the US, governed Iran over the next quarter century or so for the benefit of Western bankers, contractors and weapons manufacturers, while attempting half-hearted reforms that merely served to antagonize religious fundamentalists. His security services were known for their brutality and international reach. His government fell, and he was forced to flee, in 1979 after the Iranian revolution.

The hostage crisis of 1979-1980 soured US/Iranian relations to such an extent that they have never been repaired, but the underlying source of enmity has been the unwillingness of Iran to return to a subordinate position in relationship to the dominant imperial power of the region (first, Britain, now, the US) that it occupied from about 1909 through 1979.

In response, the US, along with Saudi Arabia, encouraged Saddam Hussein to invade Iran in 1980. During the course of this war, the US was largely mute about the use of poison gas by Iraq to avoid an embarrassing defeat. Iraqi attacks upon US and international shipping in the Straits of Hormuz were, rather bizarrely, cause for blaming the Iranians. In 1988, the US Navy shot down an Iranian airliner, killing nearly all 300 passengers. During the course of the 1990s, the US expanded the application of economic sanctions against Iran, sanctions that were first imposed in response to the hostage crisis.

Hence, we are now living through the endgame by which the US, with its faithful ally, the British, seeks to reestablish Western control over Iran and its resources. It is a sign of receding US power that direct airstrikes, potentially ones involving tactical nuclear weapons, may be required, and even then, success is not assured. A coup is out of the question, Iranians are much too wise for that, and, with neighboring Iraq ruled by Shia, an Iraqi invasion is an absurdity, even if one blissfully forgets Saddam's failure.

The erasure of this history by the mainstream media here in the US, the lack of any rational discussion of it in the context of current events, and the expedient manufacture of new, alternative fictional histories for the benefit of finance capital and credulous consumers, is yet another postmodern manifestation. If the attack goes forward, however, we may find ourselves face to face with a newly emergent grand narrative that cannot be evaded: the collapse of the empire itself.

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