Although far from certain, it is increasingly difficult to see how a Trump war against Iran can be avoided. Trump might not want it, because he knows such a war is likely to split his base, but his top two advisors – Secretary of State
Pompeo and National Security Advisor Bolton – do. They are both unreconstructed neoconservatives who believe that military might is all that’s needed and that allies don’t matter. Bolton, in particular, is on record as advocating for a military assault and “regime change” in Iran. Trump’s acting “Defense” Secretary, Patrick Shanahan, is something of an unknown quantity, but he comes straight out of the military-industrial complex (Boeing), which stands to make a lot of money from such a war.
Trump’s demagogic attacks
Ever the blusterer, Trump made demagogic attacks on the Iran nuclear deal to get himself elected. Once in office, he had to follow through by withdrawing from the deal. That started the ball rolling. Along with that, Trump clashed with and eventually forced out those in his administration who were the real representatives of the mainstream of the US capitalist class. The main ones were former Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, former National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster, and former Chief of Staff John Kelley – all of who are also retired generals. Once Trump ended the nuclear agreement, he had to impose economic sanctions against Iran, especially against their export of oil.
These sanctions were tightened in April of this year, when Pompeo announced that no exceptions would be granted. That meant that any company violating the sanctions would also face similar sanctions. Given the economic and financial importance of US capitalism, few companies anywhere are willing to violate those sanctions. (So much for the capitalists ever considering “right” and “wrong”!)
On Sunday, May 5, Trump announced that he was sending an aircraft carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf.
Then, on May 13, the NY Times reported that at a meeting of Trump’s “top national security aides” several plans were discussed for sending additional troops to the region. Among those plans was one to send 120,000 such troops. (The fact of Trump’s subsequent denial of this shows that he knows how unpopular a war against Iran would be.)
Ten days later (May 23), however, the Wall St. Journal reported that Trump is planning to send up to 3,000 additional troops to the region. (Trump subsequently announced that he was sending 1500.)
Nor can the Iranian regime retreat. President Rouhani’s nuclear deal (the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPA) with the US, Britain, Russia, France, China, and Germany, met an opposition in Iran similar to that in the US – from ultra reactionary and ultra nationalist “hard liners”. Once Trump reimposed sanctions, it was inevitable that Iranian President Rouhani would restart that country’s nuclear program. And when the sanctions really started to bite, stepping up that program was also inevitable. Now, if the other signatories to the agreement help enforce the sanctions, these same dynamics mean that Rouhani will withdraw from the deal entirely and start enriching nuclear fuel beyond what was called for in the deal. This will start happening soon.
The trajectory towards war is strengthened by the regional situation. There are three main regional competitors. On one side are the Saudi and Israeli regimes, led by bin Salman and Netanyahu respectively. Both of these leaders are at least as unhinged as is Trump. On the other is the Iranian regime. None of them can or will back off from their regional ambitions as sub-imperialist powers. (None of them have anything to recommend themselves to working class people, either!)
The Real New World Order
This increase in regional competitors – what may be called a rise in sub-imperialist powers – is made possible, and therefore inevitable, by the end of the Cold War and following that by the end of the US as the world’s only world imperialist power, with the rise of Chinese and Russian imperialism. This situation was recognized by, for example, the 2018 report of the National
Defense Strategy Commission (mandated by congress). That report explains the situation: “The security and wellbeing of the United States are at greater risk than at any time in decades…. The NDS (National Defense Strategy) rightly stresses competition with China and Russia as the central dynamic in sizing, shaping, and employing U.S. forces.”
The other main capitalist powers are seeking to avoid a shooting war. On May 22, the German government announced it was sending a senior diplomat to Iran to try to convince that regime not to withdraw from the nuclear agreement. But if the other countries participate in the sanctions, how can Rouhani possibly justify continuing with Iran’s compliance? And once Iran steps up its processing of nuclear fuel, the Trump administration will almost certainly step up its aggression.
Meanwhile, the tensions between the regional competitors continue to increase, especially in Yemen, where the Iranian backed Houthis are fighting Saudi backed forces. In an attempt to disentangle US imperialism from that nightmare, the US congress voted to prohibit further arms sales to Saudi Arabia. This vote even passed the Republican controlled Senate. It was promptly vetoed by Trump. However, the Arms Control Act empowers the senate to prohibit arms sales to any country. Recently, Trump informally informed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that he plans to declare an emergency regarding Saudi Arabia, thus enabling him to sidestep this Act.
There are several different ways in which a shooting war could start: One is hinted at above. Once Iran starts increasing its enriching of uranium, it seems very possible that Trump could start bombing Iranian nuclear facilities. Or, if they don’t do that, they could launch a cyber attack. In either case, the Rouhani regime is almost certain to respond in kind.
Another possible scenario would be an attack by the Houthis or another Iranian semi-proxy. We say “semi” because while they depend on the Rouhani regime for support, they also have their own interests and for some of them, a shooting war could well serve their interests even if they don’t serve the interests of the Iranian regime.
Another possibility would be a provocation by any of Iran’s regional rivals – Israel, Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates.
Devastation in Iran
An idea of how a shooting war against Iran would devastate the Iranian people is seen from a tweet of Trump. On Sunday, May 12, he tweeted “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran….” All the sadism and callousness he has displayed towards the Latin American immigrants, all the war crimes he committed in the US bombing of Raqqa, Syria – these would pale in comparison.
War and Movement in Iran
Over the last year there has been a marked increase in protests of workers, women and others inside Iran. Workers, such as the Haft Tapeh sugar cane workers have gone on strike. Women have started to publicly refuse to wear the veil. There have also been protests of ethnic minorities. All of these protests would tend to be crushed in the wreckage of US bombing attacks.
War and US working class
Such a war would also further destabilize the world economy. Among other things, it would drive up the price of oil, putting increased pressure on US workers. If for no other reason than that, such a war would very quickly become unpopular in the US. That, plus the mere fact of war itself, would tend to strengthen Trump’s already-strong tendencies towards repression and bonapartism.
War and Democrats
As for the Democrats, in general, whenever US capitalism gets itself into a war, all representatives of that class tend to rally round the flag. They feel obliged to support their class as opposed to rival capitalist classes. So, it seems that the mainstream wing – Pelosi, Biden, etc. – would at best be muted in their criticism. The Sanders wing would be under greater pressure to oppose such a war, but they would also be under pressure to hold the party together.
Therefore, the only force that could prevent such a war, or minimize the damage if it starts, is an independent, working class force. The “peace” groups as they stand are impotent at best. Their approach – when they are not supporting the butcher Assad – is typified by Code Pink, which recently sent a delegation to Iran to pump up support for that repressive and anti-worker regime. (See this open letter to Code Pink, and this reply, which includes a link to their “report” on their visit.) This sort of approach will have no appeal to US workers and, therefore, will never develop into any sort of real force in US politics.
For Direct Links!
What is needed as a first step is to build direct links between US and Iranian workers and our sisters and brothers in Iran. This could be part of a truly international working class movement. It could include links with the struggle in such countries as Algeria and Sudan. It could include messages of support for those brave Italian dock workers who refused to load arms onto a ship headed for Saudi Arabia. (Dock workers in the US and elsewhere should call for their union to send messages of support!)
End Sanctions; build working class independence!
Such a movement should have as its first objective to end all US sanctions against Iran. It should also use the Italian dock workers example and call for refusal to load arms onto US ships. Given that the Democratic Party would be totally unreliable, at best, it could not rely on any wing of that party; it would have to start to raise the necessity of the US working class becoming its own independent force in the country through the formation of its own party, a mass working class party.