With one foot out the door, Trump raises heat on Iran


Over two years of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign against the Iranian people have seen sanctions, cyber-attacks, bombings, and multiple targeted assasinations. On Nov. 27, top Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was killed on the streets of Iran, and all signs point to the Israeli Mossad as the perpetrator. That killing follows the Aug. 7 U.S.-Israeli murder of Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah/Abu Muhammad al-Masri, reportedly second-in-command of Al Qaeda, in Tehran.

Ending the Iran Deal and accelerating isolation

In spring of 2018, Israeli spies violated all norms of national sovereignty by breaking into an Iranian warehouse to steal classified government documents. News reports on the contents of those documents, refracted through the Israeli state’s cherry-picking, indicate that they showed what everyone already knew: Iran had a short-lived nuclear weapons program in the early 2000s, which ended in 2003. That raid and uncovered reports were used as a very transparent pretext for the ending of formal diplomacy between the United States and Iran. The U.S. unilaterally withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA/Iran Deal) on May 8, 2018.

Since the withdrawal, the United States and Israel have been waging increasing aggression against Iran while also working to isolate it politically. Led by the far-right sector of the capitalist class in both countries, the last two years have seen a ratcheting up of political and economic violence against Iran. At the same time, Israel has ended its previous policy of non-diplomacy with Arab countries and normalized relations with multiple countries in the Gulf region. This change indicates that nominal pan-Arab and pro-Palestinian solidarity within the Arab states will soon be dead. Similarly, it gives Israel more political leverage to use against the Islamic Republic, whose largest trading partner after China is the United Arab Emirates.

Shifting approaches to Iran

The purpose of the physical aggression, economic sanctions, and political maneuvers is to reestablish the long-lost semi-colonial clientele relationship epitomized by the government of Shah Pahlavi, which ended with the Iranian Revolution of 1979. The post-revolution Islamic Republic, itself a product of work by counter-revolutionary petit bourgeois elements in the 1979 uprising, has served as a vacillating counter-pole to U.S. dominance of the region for 40 years. While never breaking all the way from imperialist dependence or carrying out the basic anti-imperialist task of enforcing a state monopoly on foreign trade, Iran has maneuvered between allies and enemies to oppose the United States in various capacities.

The Trump administration epitomizes a “hawkish” approach to these problems, while demonstrated that there is a divide in the US ruling class with regards to Iran. While Yankee imperialism has no moral qualms about occupying by force or carrying out anti-democratic coups, such tactics involve more than simple morality. On the one hand, Trump’s term has utilized some vehemently anti-Islamic Republic military personnel, including subsequent National Security Advisers John Bolton and Mike Pompeo. On the other, the administration has held back from falling into all-out war at key moments. The best example of this dynamic was when Trump withdrew authorization for a missile strike on the country minutes before its planned execution in January.

The vacillation between “hard” and “soft” approaches reflects in part the quickly changing balance of geopolitical forces in the world. As U.S. and Israeli politicians attempt to squeeze Iran into an ever more thorough subjugation, China is using the political crisis of Trump’s departure from the JCPoA to further strengthen its relations with Iran. In a period in which the number one “security” concern of American capital is rising Chinese competition, a section of the U.S. ruling class certainly sees Trump’s bluster as a blunder. Writing in a CNN op-ed in September, Biden said that “Trump’s Iran policy is a dangerous failure … America stands alone. Trump’s policies have pushed Russia and China closer to Iran, while reducing transatlantic relations to their lowest point in decades.”

Crisis will deepen under Biden

While President-elect Joe Biden has voiced intentions to return the U.S to the JCPoA, that in itself will not end the desire of U.S. capital to a relationship of complete dominance over Iran. Biden has been explicit that he intends to strengthen “Israel to ensure it can defend itself against Iran and its proxies … [and] continue to use targeted sanctions against Iran’s human rights abuses, its support for terrorism and ballistic missile program.”

In a best-case scenario for the Iranian economy, Biden will “allow” it to function at a fraction of its pre-2018 capacity. The reality of Obama’s presidency is that his administration, alongside that of Benjamin Netanyahu, were constantly threatening to attack Iran. These moments had the blessing, of course, of Joe Biden.

The legacy of the JCPoA itself is a testament to the Democratic Party’s so-called diplomats’ use of economic and military coercion. In 2010, amid increasing political assassinations by Israeli agents within Iran, Obama sent an ultimatum to Ali Ayatollah Khomeini stating that he “was prepared to take military action if Iran rejected diplomacy.” As the influence of competitor imperialists increases in the region, U.S. capital will feel increasing pressure to bring the Iranian economy to heel.

Every effort in the United States must be made to end the war drive against Iran. Hardening sanctions from the U.S. government have wreaked havoc on Iranian living standards, making it more difficult for millions of Iranian workers and farmers to access necessary medical supplies during the global pandemic. Despite the inhospitable conditions, trade unionists have continued to fight for democratic rights, economic demands, and renationalizing production. These actions, including the ongoing strike at Haft Tapeh sugar syndicate, show elemental mobilizations of the working class—the only social force that can end imperialist domination of Iran once and for all.

Photo: Nov. 28 protest in Tehran. (Wana / Reuters)

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