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New U.S. Maneuvers on Iran: Tactical Shifts, Escalating Threats, & Continued Danger of War

by Larry Everest Sunday, Jun. 11, 2006 at 6:01 PM

For the first time in over 25 years the U.S. government has agreed to negotiate directly with the Islamic Republic of Iran. The talks would also include Britain, France, and Germany and would focus on Iran’s purported nuclear weapons program; the U.S. will participate only if Iran first halts its uranium enrichment program.

The move, announced by Secretary of State Rice on May 31, is being praised in much of the mainstream imperialist press as a bold reversal of Bush administration policy and a triumph for “realism” and diplomacy, one which could head off a U.S. war on Iran.

However, a close look at U.S. demands, motives, and the evolution of this tactical adjustment, reveals:

• this latest move was undertaken to put the U.S. in a stronger position to confront Iran, including militarily, and represents an acceleration of that confrontation;

• while the intensification of contradictions in the region and globally in the wake of its invasion and occupation of Iraq have driven the Bush regime to adjust its tactics, its strategic objective of deeper U.S. imperialist domination and transformation of the Middle East as part of a broader global agenda remains firmly in place;

• the Bush administration’s claims that Iran is violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT, which gives Iran the right to develop nuclear power) and that its goal is simply preventing Iran from building nuclear weapons are lies; the Bush regime’s fundamental objective remains “regime change” in service of the U.S. imperialist “transformation” of the Persian Gulf region, and the development of contradictions in the region has in significant ways increased their compulsion to do so;

• the grave danger of U.S. intervention, bullying, military attacks and/or war against Iran (see Revolution No. 44 continues to loom large, with the potential to suddenly sharpen deep faultline contradictions and unleash unprecedented turmoil — in the Persian Gulf, the broader region, and globally — including in the U.S. itself;

• any U.S. attack on Iran — whatever the state of its nuclear program — would represent reactionary and criminal aggression that is against the interests of the Iranian people as well as people around the world including those living in the U.S., and people must urgently and immediately expose and oppose all U.S. bullying and war preparations.


The current tensions between the U.S. imperialists and Iran have been building since the Shah of Iran, a hated U.S.-installed tyrant, was overthrown in 1979 and Islamic clerics led by the Ayatollah Khomeini came to power. Their program represented a melding of feudal and comprador bourgeois interests, and while brutally suppressing progressive, revolutionary and communist forces they established a new repressive theocracy: the Islamic Republic of Iran. Suffocating feudal and partriarchal relations were imposed and/or heightened on the people, especially women. Dissent and protest was ruthlessly suppressed. Intellectual life was tightly controlled and the domination of foreign capital preserved.

Despite their demogogic anti-U.S. posturing, Iran’s ruling ayatollahs never aimed to break Iran from the stranglehold of imperialist dominance. Instead, they sought to “renegotiate” their place within the U.S.-dominated order in the region, no longer simply being the loyal regional cop for the U.S. that the Shah had been, no longer dealing only with the U.S. imperialists, and no longer giving foreign capital and culture totally unfettered access to Iran (something they felt undermined the social relations and ideology their rule depends on). They courted other imperialist powers, tried to harness the revolutionary and anti-imperialist sentiments of the Iranian masses, supported certain Palestinian organizations and Lebanon’s Hezbollah (which the U.S. and Israel view as enemies), and have secretly pursued nuclear energy and perhaps weapons (Iran’s program was revealed in 2003) to try to achieve these objectives. All this has put them in conflict with the U.S. goals in the region on a number of fronts.

The U.S. has not had diplomatic relations with Iran since 1979 and instead attempted to isolate and contain the Islamic Republic through covert action, military threats and economic sanctions. All the while, Iran has remained outside the U.S. orbit. Its size, large population, vast oil and natural gas reserves, and strategic location (astride the Persian Gulf and on Russia’s southern flank) have made this situation very worrisome for the U.S. rulers.

Condoleezza Rice stated recently “We may face no greater challenge from a single country than from Iran, whose policies are directed at developing a Middle East that would be 180 degrees different than the Middle East that we would like to see develop.” In reality, the Middle East the U.S. envisions is not 180 degrees apart from that envisioned by Iran’s clerical rulers; both envision a Middle East where global imperialism still sets the overall terms (and both also see plenty of room for obscurantist, fundamentalist religion — both in the region and in the U.S.!). What Rice IS saying is that the U.S. will not tolerate a Middle East that contains any regimes that are not absolutely subservient to it, or that even attempt to bargain with rival powers.


Upon coming to power the Bush administration aimed to forcibly cut through the knot of Middle East (and global) contradictions it faced and transform the situation to advance U.S. imperialism’s strategic needs and interests.

Given that its agenda was no longer maintaining the U.S.-dominated regional status quo, but radically restructuring the whole region in the Middle East and globally, things that were previously seen as difficult problems, like the Islamic Republic, were now viewed as intolerable obstacles. So regime change in Tehran, a charter member of Bush’s so-called “axis-of-evil,” was put on the table.

The U.S. rulers struck Iraq — a far weaker target — first. But they hoped that conquering Iraq would send shockwaves through the region, intimidating unfriendly regimes and (in conjunction with further U.S. actions) triggering their capitulation or collapse. As the initial invasion of Iraq was concluding, then Undersecretary of State (now UN Ambassador) John Bolton warned, “We are hopeful that a number of regimes will draw the appropriate lesson from Iraq that the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction is not in their national interest.” Zalmay Khalilzad, now US Ambassador in Baghdad, called conquering Iraq “a key element in a long-term strategy for the transformation of this region as a whole.”

This is why the U.S. rejected overtures by Iran to negotiate on a variety of issues including its nuclear program and come to an understanding. (For instance, Gareth Porter writes ( that in 2003 the Iranian government secretly offered, among other things, to “accept peace with Israel and cut off material assistance to Palestinian armed groups” in return for a “halt in U.S. hostile behavior and rectification of status of Iran in the U.S.,” the “abolishment of all sanctions,” and “recognition of Iran’s legitimate security interests in the region with according defense capacity.”)

The goal for the U.S. rulers has never been simply changing Iranian behavior or preventing it from having a nuclear program, but overthrowing the regime itself. Negotiations would have implied recognition of the legitimacy of Iran’s Islamic Republic; the U.S. has sought to delegitimize the regime. Resolving issues with Iran would have stabilized the status quo; the U.S. aims to transform it.


The recent shift in U.S. policy must also be seen against the backdrop of the unintended course and consequences of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, and Iran’s shifting tactics. The Iraq war has not gone as planned, but instead given rise to new problems and contradictions for the Bush regime. Hatred of the U.S. government has skyrocketed around the world, including in the U.S., support for the war has plummeted, the U.S. has been unable to stabilize Iraq, and tensions have increased between the U.S. and other powers, particularly Russia and China.

One of the main problems the Bush administration faces is that the Iraq war has not led to the weakening of Iran. Instead it and other developments (the rise in oil prices for instance) have in some ways strengthened the Iranian government’s position. For one, Iran has gained leverage in Iraq (and thus potentially against U.S. forces there) through its proximity to and ties with Shi’ite groups that are now the dominant force in Iraq’s new government. Pro-Iranian forces have growing power and influence in Palestine, Afghanistan and Lebanon. And Iran’s clerics, deeply hated by the Iranian people, have been able to posture as defenders of the nation in the face of U.S. aggression in the region.

Iran’s Islamic Republic has its own compulsions and ambitions, domestically and regionally, and its frustration that two years of negotiations with France, Britain and other powers (during which it suspended its nuclear enrichment program) went nowhere, coupled with its sense that its leverage had increased, that Russia in particular was increasingly at odds with the U.S., and that they couldn’t stand pat in the face of growing U.S. threats, led it to shift tactics. Following his election, new President Ahmadinejad “embraced a decision already made by the top leadership to move toward confrontation with the West about the nuclear program,” the New York Times reports. In August 2005, Iran announced it was going to end its voluntary halt and go forward with uranium enrichment, a necessary step for either nuclear power generation or for making nuclear weapons.

A full assessment of the motivations and goals of Iran’s rulers is beyond the scope of this article, but in brief they face their own necessities — including defending against the U.S. and maintaining their hold over their population — as well as their own ambitions to be a major player in the Middle East/Central Asian region. Its more confrontational stance is an effort to play to anti-US hatred among Iranians and others in the region, as well as increase their leverage to strike a deal with the U.S. — a deal that would NOT include rupturing with the imperialist framework or fundamentally challenging U.S. domination. According to various reports, the Iranian leadership has been actively trying to open channels of communication with Washington since 2005 to discuss their nuclear program and other issues, and see their uranium enrichment program as well as their influence in Iraq as major “bargaining chips” to force the U.S. to negotiate. So far Iran’s actions have mainly escalated U.S. threats and military planning.


As Iran has gone forward with nuclear enrichment, including claiming it has been making significant advances in its program (although to be clear, there is still no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, it insists its enrichment program is for peaceful use, and all experts acknowledge Iran is at least a decade from being able to build a nuclear bomb), and as the situation continues to deteriorate in Iraq, the U.S. has largely stood aside from negotiations with Iran, which have been carried out by the European powers.

In the face of this drift, the U.S. rulers felt they had to decisively act to regain the initiative in order to forge an alliance to strangle Iran and to create the necessary political and diplomatic conditions for regime change — including war — if necessary.

The reasoning of top U.S. officials also made clear that these negotiations were viewed as essential for the U.S. to push forward its agenda. The New York Times (June 1) reported that if the U.S. didn’t take part, “the administration would be blamed for failing to do its utmost to defuse the crisis, making it harder to rally world opinion against Iran,” and one former official told the Times: “It came down to convincing Cheney and others that if we are going to confront Iran, we first have to ‘check off the box’ of trying talks.”

In an interview on the PBS NewsHour, Secretary of State Rice made clear that negotiations were aimed at rapidly pushing the U.S. agenda forward: “What we hope this move will do is to accelerate the moment at which Iran’s choice is clear to everyone, because we can’t let this continue to drag out with the Iranians ...We need to know, and we need to know now.” She also made clear they would not take war off the table: “We’ve been very clear that the president reserves his option for military force...We are talking, not about a grand bargain here, not about the normalization of relations, not about something that somehow legitimizes activities of the Iranian regime that we find abhorrent and dangerous.”

U.S. political and military preparations against Iran continued as this diplomatic initiative was unveiled. The Wall Street Journal (June 1) reports that the U.S. diplomacy “could be part of stepped-up action against Iran that will increase in the coming months, regardless of events at the UN,” including wide-ranging financial and other sanctions against Iran, and that “U.S. officials have been seeking to cobble a united front among Middle East countries to pressure Iran,” including through increased military cooperation. “U.S. officials are particularly seeking to build a stronger security presence in the Middle East through the Gulf Cooperation Council, a regional body comprising Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.... They see the GCC as a buttress against Iran’s influence in countries such as Syria, Lebanon and Iraq.”

On May 22, the New York Times reported that the U.S. was holding joint military exercises with Turkey aimed at interdicting nuclear materials and supplies headed for Iran. Even more ominously, in mid-May, Britain’s Herald reported, “The US is updating contingency plans for a non-nuclear strike to cripple Iran’s atomic weapon programme if international diplomacy fails, Pentagon sources have confirmed. Strategists are understood to have presented two options for pinpoint strikes using B2 bombers flying directly from bases in Missouri, Guam in the Pacific and Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. RAF Fairford in Gloucester also has facilities for B2s but this has been ruled out because of the UK’s opposition to military action against Tehran. The main plan calls for a rolling, five-day bombing campaign against 400 key targets in Iran, including 24 nuclear-related sites, 14 military airfields and radar installations, and Revolutionary Guard headquarters.” (


The Wall Street Journal calls this latest U.S. move a “gambit” which could fail, and how it will play out is unclear. Will Iran accept the terms demanded by the U.S.? Will China and Russia go along with more hostile moves against Iran? In any case, the contradictions in the region are intensifying, and the clouds of war loom darkly on the horizon — war that could come about either through U.S. judgment that such a war would be in its interests or even through miscalculations on either or both sides.

The point here is not that the U.S. rulers are unaware of the difficulties they would face in launching war on Iran or the potential for unintended consequences. The point is that those currently running the U.S. empire have grand ambitions of seizing deeper control of the whole planet, and gaining a stranglehold on the Middle East and Central Asia is key. They feel this agenda is crucial to strengthening and perpetuating their entire system of global exploitation and power, and that if they don’t pursue it ruthlessly and decisively, all could be lost.

It was very telling, for instance, that in mid-May the Bush administration reversed itself and decided not to hold talks with Iran on the situation in Iraq, even though Iran has considerable leverage to bring to bear there. The point: despite their profound difficulties in stabilizing Iraq and realizing their objectives there, their larger agenda remains paramount.

A recent Wall Street Journal editorial by Robert Blackwill, Bush’s former deputy national security adviser and presidential envoy to Iraq (June 1), spelled out an imperial understanding of the necessities facing the empire in Iran: “The case against using U.S. military force to set back Iran’s nuclear weapons program is impressive,” he begins. “Iran would retaliate strongly in Iraq, in Afghanistan and perhaps against the U.S. homeland. The effect in the Muslim world could be volcanic. Terror against America would increase. Islam could be further radicalized. Oil prices would skyrocket with damaging effects on the international economy, even if Iran did not interrupt its supply. The people of Iran would probably fall in behind the mullahs. Global public opinion would further shift against the U.S.”

But then he makes what he sees as a more compelling case for action from the imperialist standpoint: “The use of American military force against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would obviously carry great risk. But acquiescing in an Iranian nuclear weapons capability would be deeply dangerous for the U.S. and likeminded democracies for decades to come. It would be regarded by the entire world, friend and foe alike, as a strategic defeat for the U.S., and produce a major shift toward Iran in the balance of power in the Greater Middle East... John McCain sums it up: ‘In the end, there is only one thing worse than military action, and that is a nuclear-armed Iran.’” People should consider this analysis by a former major figure in the Bush regime very seriously and very soberly.


Bush, Rice and company are carrying out their predatory aggression in the name of “liberating” people from the grip of oppressive regimes like Iran’s and building good relations with the Iranian people. “The president has spoken clearly that people all over the world,” Rice told the Newshour, “no matter who they are, in what corner, deserve basic freedoms, what he calls the non-negotiable demands of human dignity.”

But one only needs to look next door in Iraq to see what this imperialist “liberation” means: an oppressive regime was overthrown there only to be followed by even deeper horrors for the Iraqi people on all fronts — in their daily life, in the degree of imperialist control of their country, in the escalation of reactionary sectarian conflict, in the stripping of women’s rights, and in the increased power of suffocating and sectarian religious fundamentalism.

The horrors and war crimes now being committed in Iraq, and the Bush regime’s determination to press ahead with its nightmarish agenda of unbounded war for greater empire — including in the face of setbacks and difficulties and no matter the cost in the people’s blood — makes clear the urgency of driving out the Bush regime and repudiating its entire program, and beyond that intensifying struggle against this whole imperialist system. The urgency for the people to take responsibility for embarking on this mission is underscored by the Democratic Party leadership’s unity with the core of this agenda, and their support for strangling Iran and waging war if necessary. As Seymour Hersh reported, there is no pressure from Congress to stop an attack on Iran, only pressure from the right to get on with it.

Beyond this, any U.S. attack on Iran would certainly have enormous consequences and greatly sharpen contradictions in Iran, the region, the world and in the U.S. in many different ways. In these circumstances, it is very positive that genuine revolutionary forces in Iran represented by the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist) — who oppose both U.S. aggression and their own brutal oppressors — could emerge as a significant force, offering a powerful alternative to the MacCrusade or Jihad choices the U.S. rulers claim are our only ones. They must be politically supported. And people within the U.S., now, must be mobilized to oppose yet another war — to bring the truth to people and intensify their resistance.

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