Iran UK relations

William Hague has said plans to re-open the British Embassy in Tehran are an “important step forward” in relations with Iran. HOPI chair Yassamine Mather spoke to Mark Fischer on today’s developments


Iraq – No to Military Intervention by the United States and Iran

Iraq totters on the edge of social meltdown and western imperialist powers and their allies flounder for a half rational response. What’s going on and what are the implications for the wider region? Yassamine Mather of Hands Off the People of Iran spoke to Mark Fischer


MF: In contradiction to some of the commentary that has appeared in western media and political sources, this situation has clearly not simply appeared from thin air. What is the background to it?


YM: The background is really the Iraq war of 2003. This fundamentally altered the balance of forces in the region. It surgically removed the reactionary, but more or less secular rule of Saddam Hussein and put in power a Shia government, albeit under the auspices of the US occupation.


That government was very close to Iran. It was strongly opposed by Saudi Arabia and most of the Sunni states and manoeuvres against it started from the very beginning. There is also no doubt that the Iraqi government followed sectarian policies from the very start. So the present situation is not at all surprising – there has always been opposition to that discriminatory practice. That opposition was being used by forces of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS), loosely associated with Al Qaida.


So there is nothing surprising about it at all. The same jihadists fighting in Syria were very clear – they were fighting for the liberation of Syria and Iraq. So, in some ways, it was a question of when, not if they would intervene in Iraq.


MF: What has been Iran’s attitude to this?


YM: The Iranian regime is clearly very concerned, unsurprisingly. Not simply about its own security – after all, they are more powerful than Iraq and unlike Maleki’s regime, their army will not simply drop their guns and run away! Iran is intimately involved in the whole drama in Iraq: a senior member of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards has been in the country for the past three weeks. I assume he’s not there on a holiday. The Iraqi government was well aware that its forces were very shaky and he must be there to advise and put some backbone into the army. On Friday June 13 there was confirmation of Iranian Revolutionary guards fighting in Iraq and of course today we heard the Iranian president saying Iran is ready to intervene if the Iraqis ask for help!


As you know, some of these insurgent forces are now less than 40 kilometres from the Iranian border and that must be very frightening for Tehran – to have the enemy so close. And it is an enemy – some of the statements of these forces are basically saying ‘Iraq, Syria – this is nothing. We are going to fight Iran’. They were recently in Mosul and Tikrit and one of the main commanders has been very clear – ‘Our main enemy is Iran’, he has stated bluntly.


That said, it would be wrong to see this as a Shia/Sunni conflict pure and simple. It’s really about the balance of geo-political forces in the region, the instability the war has created and also – we have to remember – created to a certain extent the Arab spring. The Syrian upsurge started as part of the Arab spring before jihadists got involved.


Ironically, therefore, Iran and the US are supporting the same government and indeed might be on the same side of a war?


MF: The whole recent history of the region is full of these ironies. The US-intervention ended up creating a government aligned with Iran. The general process, however, seems to be one characterised by fragmentation.


YM: We can’t be sure that it will simply be fragmentation. The situation is certainly chaotic, but will not necessarily produce disintegration. It won’t be a straightforward civil war if the Sunnis are moving out of towns such as Mosul, fearful of possible Iraq military retaliation if/when they recapture these towns. It is also true that the jihadists have found allies amongst former Baathists and tribal forces opposed to the Iraqi state, which they consider sectarian. But if these forces are alienated by the extremism of the jihadists – and it is difficult to judge this right now – then we will not see a straight forward partition along sectarian lines. Of course, that would mean more than fragmentation. It would mean constant civil war.


The situation is a very complex one. For example, the jihadists have largely left the Kurds alone and the Kurds have taken the opportunity, for example, to move on Kirkuk, in the oil rich part of Iraqi Kurdistan. But don’t be fooled by this. The jihadists have an absolute programme of imposing sharia everywhere.


From that point of view, they actually have more in common with Maleki – as the head of Shia state – than with the Kurdish government. If they would be able to consolidate their power, they would go for the Kurdish region and I don’t believe they will face a successful Kurdish resistance. Kurdish fighters are tired, war-weary, they have fought in many conflicts over the years – it would not be any more of a ‘cake walk’ for them than it was for the US.


MF: What about the response of the Obama administration? It seems at a loss at the moment. What can it do next?


YM: Obama has said that no option is off the table. Included in that are military air strikes, of course. Let’s remember here that the reason we are confronted with this situation is not unrelated to the crime perpetrated by the US air force in carpet-bombing Fallujah. It doesn’t explain the whole mess, but that act was the beginning of the Sunni opposition – it came post the collapse of the Saddam regime, remember. And some of that opposition was not jihadist, some of it not even religious – it was simply against the occupation.


Of course, in the absence of the left and secular forces, the jihadists gained momentum. So the concrete actions of the US in carpet-bombing Fallujah made things worse, was an important contributory factor to the situation that confronts Obama today.


I have seen an interview with Clinton in which she rules out military strikes, but suggests the US works with the Maleki government to get its army retrained and fit for purpose. She claims the Iraqi army must become more disciplined, less corrupt. Clearly, she is delusional. Especially when she talks about corruption and low morale in the army – it’s far too late to deal with this. First of all, corruption – what the army currently knows about corruption, it learnt from the likes of Rumsfeld and other representatives of the US-led occupation. The Iraqi army is proving spectacularly useless in fighting the jihadists, but it still has time to suppress and execute people from its own civilian population. The idea of anti-corruption ‘retraining’ of a force like this is akin to the notion of retraining the mafia.


Ironically, ayatollah Sistani has now called on the Shia people to take up arms to defend themselves. Without some sort of movement from below to defend, say, urban areas, then we are looking at barbarism. And the barbarism won’t just blight Iraq; it will spill over into Syria, it will affect Lebanon and in the long run, Iran also.


I think the situation in Iraq has changed the whole context of negotiations that were going to take place soon on Iran’s uranium enrichment activities, as a culmination of six months of negotiations with the west. The United States is now in a far more precarious situation – the Republicans have been pointing this out very forcefully. I think the key for us is to keep reminding people that we are in this terrible situation not because Sunnis don’t like Shias, or vice versa; not because Arabs simply enjoying fighting each other. We are here because of western politicians such as Bush and Blair who were clueless about what was going on in the Middle East. We face this situation because of the carpet bombing of Fallujah. Because of US support for a sectarian Shia government in Baghdad, anyone but Saddam was good enough at the time.


None of this excuses the barbaric acts of the jihadists – they are from another era. But it does underline the correctness of the position that we took in Hands Off the People of Iran on the nature of imperialism and on opposition to theocracy, not just in Iran but also in Iraq. The Maleki government is widely hated because it is seen as an ally of the clerics in Tehran. It is more complex than that, but there is a strong element of truth in this.


The lesson that this terrible situation underlines again is the need to be implacably opposed to imperialism’s military adventures, but also very wary of political Islam, in all its shades from moderate, through radical to jihadist. The solution can’t be more intervention so we must say no to US intervention, no to Iranian intervention. If the United States and western government wanted to deal with these jihadists, logically they should deal with their pay masters in Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf emirates. The problem was that when they were fighting Assad, the west more or less unconcerned with their ‘extremism’ and adherence to jihadist political Islam.


It now may be too late.




Half-Marathon for Workers Fund Iran

Sarah McDonald is running a half-marathon to raise money for Workers Fund Iran
Sarah McDonald is running a half-marathon to raise money for Workers Fund Iran

Workers Fund Iran does excellent work raising practical solidarity with working class people (employed and unemployed) in Iran. Iranians suffer both from the effects of US-led sanctions and the neoliberal and repressive policies of their own regime. These factors combined with the global economic crisis have resulted in intolerable conditions for the mass of people in Iran. Inflation has skyrocketed, unemployment is rife, and even amongst those who have jobs many have to go months without receiving wages. Worker activists who seek to organise to improve their conditions are regularly arrested, imprisoned, tortured and even killed. They deserve our solidarity. Please give generously to Workers Fund Iran.

This will be my first major running undertaking since running Vienna marathon for WFI, 2012… and I have no illusions about the pain in store for me and for the many friends and colleagues who will suffer my endless moaning about it (if not for me, at least make a donation so they don’t suffer in vain!). I have talked a few colleagues into running this new half marathon route round LB Hackney for their charities of choice. If you’re in London on June 22, why not come along and support us? Make a last minute solidarity donation and take us out for a pint!
Link to Charity Choice page and sponsor form here.


صندوقکارگرانایرانتاکنوندرجلبحمایتهایکاربردیبرایهمبستگیباکارگران(وکارگرانبیکار) ایرانیبسیارموفقعملکردهاست. درحالحاضرمردمایرانهمتحتفشارتحریمهایاعمالشدهبهرهبریآمریکاهستندوهمازسیاستهایاقتصادیسرکوبگرانهینئولیبرالیحکومتخودرنجمیبرند. اینعواملبههمراهبحراناقتصادیبینالمللیبهشرایطیغیرقابلتحملبرایاکثریتمردمایرانانجامیدهاست. تورمسربهفلککشیده،بیکاریمتداولاستوحتیبعضیازافرادیکهسرکارمیروندماههایمتمادیحقوقخودرادریافتنمیکنند. فعالینکارگریکهسعیدرسازماندهیخوددارندتابتوانندشرایطکاریبهتریبهدستبیاورند،بهصورتمداومدستگیرمیشوند،بهزندانمیافتندوشکنجهمیشوند. آنهاسز

اوارهمبستگیماهستند. سخاوتمندانهبهصندوقکارگرانایرانکمککنید!

من(سارامکدونالد) وچندیننفردیگردرحمایتوبرایجمعآوریکمکبرایکارگرانایرانیخواهیمدوید.

اگرروزبیستودومژوئندرلندنهستیددرماراتنمحلهیهکنیبهمابپیوندید! اگردرلندننیستیدمیتوانیدازطریقاینشمارهحساببهصندوقکارگرانایرانکمککنید. حمایتشمابهبهبودوضعیتمعیشتکارگرانایرانوخانوادههایآنهاکمکخواهدکرد.

Shahrokh Zamani returned to Gohardasht prison

zamaniShahrokh Zamani, labour  activist and a member of  the Council of Representatives of Labour Organizations and member of the Painters Union spent over 30 days in  hunger strike. Zamani has been in prison since June 2011   charged with participating in the organisation of an illegal group against the regime,  the Democratic Workers Movement with the intention of endangering national security through activism.
While in prison he has been physically and psychologically abused, denied medication and denied access to visitors. Following his recent transfer to the notorious Ghezel Hesar prison he started a hunger strike. In the last few weeks the  campaign organised by many left wing Iranian organisations, including  Left Unity Iran  called for his return to Gohardast prison.



Half-Marathon for Workers Fund Iran

Sarah McDonald is running a half-marathon to raise money for Workers Fund Iran

Politics is not a sprint


Workers Fund Iran do excellent work raising practical solidarity with working class people (employed and unemployed) in Iran. Iranians suffer both from the effects of US-led sanctions and the neoliberal and repressive policies of their own regime. These factors combined with the global economic crisis have resulted in intolerable conditions for the mass of people in Iran. Inflation has skyrocketed, unemployment is rife, and even amongst those who have jobs many have to go months without receiving wages. Worker activists who seek to organise to improve their conditions are regularly arrested, imprisoned, tortured and even killed. They deserve our solidarity. Please give generously to Workers Fund Iran.

This will be my first major running undertaking since running Vienna marathon for WFI, 2012… and I have no illusions about the pain in store for me and for the many friends and colleagues who will suffer my endless moaning about it (if not for me, at least make a donation so they don’t suffer in vain!). I have talked a few colleagues into running this new half marathon route round LB Hackney for their charities of choice. If you’re in London on June 22, why not come along and support us? Make a last minute solidarity donation and take us out for a pint!

Link to Charity Choice page and sponsor form here.






تغییر سیاست یا تداوم؟ مذاکرت ایالات متحده با ایران نشانه‌ ای از تغییر و تحولات در سیاست خارجی امریکا -مایک مکنر

John Kerry: Behind the scenes maneuvering
John Kerry: Behind the scenes maneuvering




ترجمه آناهیتا حسینی

در پایان به این نتیجه می‌رسیم که خطری واقعی و مداوم مبتنی بر بازگشت به سیاست تغییر رژیم در ایران و جنگ گرم وجود دارد. بیشتر تحریم‌ها، یا به عبارت روشن‌تر محاصره‌ی ایران به رهبری آمریکا ادامه پیدا خواهند کرد، حتی اگر تمام این تحریم‌ها هم لغو شوند باز هم تحمیل سیاست‌های نئو‌لیبرال، به رهبری آمریکا، که البته دولت روحانی هم مشخصا پشتیبان آن است، به کارگران و فقرای ایران ادامه خواهد داشت. بنابرین تصور نکنید که مذاکرات یا معاملات احتمالی دیگر تهدیدهای مداوم علیه مردم ایران را از میان برخواهند داشت



10k run at Milton Keynes Festival of Running- For Workers Fund Iran




I’ve decided to enter the 10k race at Milton Keynes Festival of Running on March 9 and use it to try and raise some money for WFI from friends, family and contacts. I am going to prioritise approaching local contacts who have shown support for HOPI’s activities in the past (one of whom also came to yesterday’s dayschool) and those around my Left Unity branch. As well as raising a bit of money it should strengthen the prospect of organising further political work around Iran in the future in MK.


I’ve set up a charity choice event page, so feel free to share it:


Two marathons were mentioned yesterday that WFI comrades are gearing up for. Oslo and ???? I ask not because I think I’ll be in a position to run one(!), but so I can tell others who might be interested.





من تصمیم گرفته ام در مسابقۀ دو 10 کیلومتری شهر میلتون کینز انگلستان شرکت کنم و امیدوارم که بتوانم از طریق فامیل، دوستان و آشنایانم برای صندوق کارگری ایران WFI پولی تهیه کنم. سعی من این خواهد بود که در درجۀ اول به کسانی مراجعه کنم که در گذشته هم از فعالیتهای هوپی حمایت کرده اند و بعد به کسانی مراجعه خواهم کرد که در اتحاد چپ انگلستان میشناسم. فکر میکنم که این کار باعث میشود که در کنار تهیه پول ، چشم اندازهمکاریهای سیاسی آینده در شهر میلتون کینز در رابطه با ایران محکم تر خواهد شد .

 من لینک زیررا برای اهداء وجه نقد خود به اطلاعتان میرسانم ، میتوانید آن را به اطلاع یگران هم برسانید .

 در ضمن دو مسابقۀ دوی دیگرصندوق کارگری ایران در راه است . نیمه ماراتون گوتمبرگ در سوئد و ماراتون اسلو در نروژ. ممکن است من نتوانم در آنها شرکت کنم ولی میتوانم به دیگرانی که علاقمندند اطلاع دهم. شما هم اینکار را بکنید.

 با سپاس



Changed and unchanged What do the negotiations with Iran tell us about US policy?

This is an edited version of a talk given by Mike Macnair to the January 25 Hands Off the People of Iran day school


Since the last national meeting of Hands Off the People of Iran there have been some very substantial changes to the policy of US imperialism, as well as to the policy of the Iranian government, following last year’s ‘election’ of Hassan Rowhani as president (in practice, these were not free elections; more the exercise of choice by the supreme leader). We have also seen the opening of public negotiations – private negotiations had been taking place significantly before the election of Rowhani. And there is an interim deal for an extremely limited relaxation of sanctions in exchange for what is in substance capitulation by the regime on the nuclear enrichment issue.

I use the word ‘capitulation’, but in reality it was a rational course of action on the part of the regime, taking into account the actual relation of forces, the operation of sanctions and their impact. By contrast, it would in a certain sense have been irrational for the regime to pursue the object of nuclear enrichment against the will of the United States. ‘In a certain sense’, because there was a certain rationality for the regime in presenting itself as a national champion of the autonomy of Iran and so on. But at the same time, having regard to the global relation of forces, the situation is not one in which the pursuit of nationalist agendas against the will of the United States is a rational course of action for any country. We have seen that spectacularly in the cases of Zimbabwe, Iraq and many more.

US policy

US policy in the wake of the opening up of public negotiations is now extremely obscure. In Egypt there has been substantial restoration of the ‘military regime without Mubarak’ in the wake of Mushir Sisi’s overthrow of the elected Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Mursi, and the US has in effect ‘talked both ways’ in relation to the regime. The US is not claiming that the army coup is welcome or a step towards ‘constitutional rule’, which it clearly is not. But it had evidently been seeking some sort of deal with the Muslim Brotherhood before that period, and it is no longer in a position to pursue that agenda now.

Meanwhile, the ‘Libyan revolution’ turns out merely to have produced a failed state with localised militias. As for Syria, the civil war is ongoing and negotiations do not seem to be leading anywhere – military analysts generally judge that the regime is gradually winning. Various US commentators say that admittedly there has been a lot of aid from Iran and from Hezbollah, plus logistical help and supplies from Russia. Nevertheless, it does look as though the regime is gaining the upper hand. Again the attitude of the United States has been extremely variable: from threatening action following the crossing by the Syrian regime of the “red line” of the use of chemical weapons, to backing a negotiated settlement.

Most recently there has been a revival of the Sunni insurgency linked to al Qa’eda in western Iraq. The Iraqi Shia government is an artefact of the US invasion, but is also an ally of the Iranian regime. US responses are extremely unclear.

In Syria particularly, although there has been anti-regime rhetoric from the US, we cannot speak of solid US support for any part of the opposition. It is true that aid is being sent, with US acceptance, to the opposition groups from the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia and it is very unlikely that they are doing this directly against the will of the United States: they have a degree of autonomy, but not that much. But this does not represent a determination on the part of the US to ensure victory for the opposition,

The Saudi regime and Israel clearly think there has been a turn in US policy towards a deal with Iran, which is against their interests. Part of this policy is diplomatic manoeuvring of the hard cop/soft cop type in connection with the negotiations. But it has gone a little bit further than one would expect, certainly on the part of the Saudis, in that respect. Washington ‘Beltway commentariat’ pieces are more than usually varied and confused, and do not show a debate between clear lines of action.

There is a school of thought that the US should reorient its policy in the Middle East to reconciliation with the Iranian clerical regime, with the consequences for US alliances which would flow from that, including not just refusing to give active support to the opposition in Syria, but trying to make some kind of deal with the Ba’athist regime. One can see a possible reason for such a course. After the ‘Arab spring’ the US fairly clearly attempted to make a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and with other Islamists, using its existing alliance with Saudi Arabia as the linchpin. However, what has become clear both in Libya and Syria and also in a sense in Egypt, is the inability of the Sunni Islamist groups to create order.

This is also true in a sense in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood throughout its time in government always had snapping at its heels Salafist tendencies of a more extreme character. This made it necessary for the Brotherhood itself to take a more strongly Islamist line than the Turkish government (which western commentators were holding up as a model for the MB). And then, in turn, the Brotherhood’s more strongly Islamist line put it at odds with the Egyptian urban middle class, posed problems for the tourist industry, which is a very substantial part of the Egyptian economy, and also involved conflict with the army, judiciary, etc. Hence the development of a movement of opposition against Mursi and his pre-emptive overthrow by the army. So Egypt is an instance of the inability of the MB to create order.

To put it another way, these are examples of the inability of Saudi clients to create order. The Saudi regime itself is extraordinarily primitive politically: the precarious alliance of the large Saud family with a section of Salafist ulama, a regime which is able to maintain legitimacy solely by the massive disbursement of oil rents to the ‘native’ population and the maintenance of a large migrant labour underclass. It is unsurprising that translating Saudi support for Salafist policies into countries with large Arab cities and without major oil revenues fails to produce workable political models.

In contrast the Iranian regime clearly is able to maintain a sort of order. The Iraqi Shia government, with the backing of Iran, appears to have done that for the imperialists’ purposes, though only by ‘sectarian cleansing’, and so not in Sunni-majority areas. The ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’ creates no more than localised sectarian militia operations.

In Syria, similarly, the Islamists – as much as, if not more than, the ‘secular’ opposition – are proving to be incapable of creating a serious counter-order to the regime in areas they ‘control’. It is the same with the Sunni Islamist groups in Libya. And so there is a logic for the US in reorienting its alliances and looking more favourably on the Shia regime in Iran, because at least this regime can create a degree of order.

It cannot be said, however, that this is a definite turn on the part of the US. The agitation for increased sanctions coming out of the Congress is one sign of that. And US commentator Juan Cole suggests that the treasury department is agitating against the easing of sanctions. I am not entirely sure why that would be the case, but, if it is true, it could be because the lifting of sanctions would mean that the US would have to release large quantities of money which it is holding. If that is the reason then it is an extraordinarily short-termist view.

Regime change

There is an alternative line, for which the aim remains regime change in Iran – and this is not just among Republicans. There are people associated with the Democrats and with the administration who have projected the line that the negotiations are simply a diplomatic stage: escalating demands will be placed on the regime, which will force Iran out of the negotiations and thereby lose its diplomatic cover.

The people favouring this line are actually those who proposed in early 2013 that there should be private negotiations with the clear statement that there were two alternatives on the table. Either there would be a deal, under which Iran would obtain civil nuclear power under tight controls, with international inspectors and so forth, with the regime making as many concessions as were necessary for that to take place; or there would be a full-scale US attack. Not an Israeli surgical strike on Iranian nuclear facilities, but a full-scale US air, naval and missile attack. In other words, not an invasion, but a ‘shock and awe’ bombing campaign with an emphasis on taking out Iranian air and naval capabilities, as well as its potential nuclear capacity.

It seems to be agreed across the board that the ‘surgical strike’ option is not real, that the real options are either a negotiated solution or a full-scale bombing campaign. But at the same time there is also a lot of talk presenting Israel as the hard cop – ‘If we don’t get a solution soon, then Israel will attack’ – giving the impression that the United States will be unable to keep its attack dog on the leash for an indefinite period of time.

We should remember in this context that the long period of sanctions against Iraq, combined with episodic military attacks, in the period 1991- 2002 was punctuated by negotiations, by partial relaxations of sanctions, by ‘a deal is possible’ type periods – and still it ended in war.

Indeed, when Lord Goldsmith, briefed by US lawyers, presented the legal justification for war against Iraq in 2003, he claimed that the 1991 war had never actually finished. Therefore, since there had been a breach by the Iraqis of the terms of the ceasefire laid out in 1991, there was a right to take military action without further legal authorisation.

The context then is the persisting sanctions regime. We in Hopi have repeatedly made the point that the ‘sanctions regime’ is a euphemistic term, that it is in reality a commercial blockade or siege of Iran. These activities at any time before the very recent past would be understood as acts of war. The conduct of the United States and of the western powers in relation to this regime is a form of warfare against Iran. It is not perhaps as obvious or as immediate and spectacular as bombing campaigns, invasions and so on: but it is, nevertheless, a form of warfare.

It is a form of warfare which again, as we have repeatedly demonstrated, is actually aimed at the civilian population. In spite of the talk of targeting the regime, the reality is that those close to it are always able to find a way round the sanctions. They have been throughout. Recently, thanks to the corruption scandal in Turkey, one of the means by which actors within the Iranian regime have been able to find ways around the sanctions – and indeed even enrich themselves – has been revealed to the world. The people who are hit by the sanctions are the civilian population, for whom the payment of wages, medical capabilities, etc have been adversely affected.

So it is not only the case that the United States has been for some years pursuing a war of sanctions (even if this has now been slightly mitigated by their very partial lifting through the negotiations), but this is also actually a terrorist policy. Terrorism, to the extent that the word is not purely ideological, consists of attacks directed at the civilian population with the purpose of inducing fear and terror. That is what the sanctions policy is.

The question then is, why has the US been pursuing a war policy against Iran?

Carter doctrine

The long-term background is that of the Carter doctrine, which was actually formulated by president Jimmy before the outbreak of the Iranian revolution of 1979. According to this doctrine, it is essential for the security of the United States that no ‘outside power’ (it is unclear what exactly that means) should be capable of conducting military operations in the Persian Gulf. This is not peculiar. There are all sorts of similar US ‘national security’ doctrines, the most spectacular of which was adopted in the late 1940s: that it is essential for the security of the United States that the US navy has unrestricted access to the Chinese coast. That is to say that the US does not, still, recognise that there is such a thing as Chinese territorial waters.

But the question in a sense is, why is the Carter doctrine in place? Because of it, the overthrow of the shah of Iran was viewed as an immediate attack on US security; because of it, the US backed Iran in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, both directly and through the agency of Britain and so on. Why?

The very standard, commonplace leftwing explanation is that the United States needs cheap oil as the basis for the ‘consumer society’. Now certainly Carter’s public motivations for this doctrine were based on that – that is what he gave as his public explanation. But in fact US operations in the Middle East have tended since the 1980s (and certainly including the Iran sanctions) to increase the price of oil, not reduce it. Moreover, US interests and involvement in the region goes back to the displacement of Britain and France in the 1940s and 1950s: when – for example – Britain and the US overthrew the Mossadeq government of Iran in 1953, the upshot was that the oil companies that were nationalised under Mossadeq passed from British ownership prior to nationalisation to predominate US ownership under the shah. Moreover, at this time the problem was hardly one of access to cheap oil: in that period, the US was a major producer and exporter of oil, so it cannot be the case that the US economy was being strangled by the high cost of oil and that this was the reason for those US operations in the 1950s.

Today, the US is moving back in the direction of ‘energy independence’ through fracking and so on, though it does not expect to attain the status it enjoyed in the 1950s until around 2020-25. But, although events since 2011 have led to disorientation of US policy and to a loss of control, Washington remains deeply concerned with the Middle East and the need to manoeuvre in an agile way, which is difficult due to the US constitutional structure.


The immediate question, therefore, is actually one of global control. With regard to the Middle East the question is posed not in relation to cheap oil as the foundation of the consumer society, but as oil as a munition of war. Oil which drives tanks. Oil which drives military aircraft, trucks and so on, none of which can be driven by electrical power. So that what the US wants from control of the Middle East is the ability to turn off the taps to other hypothetical rival powers.

Again, we can go back further than this. The US has been interested in global control since the 1940s – predating the cold war obviously. In 1941-47 the initial aim of US foreign policy was to prevent the re-emergence of the British empire. And indeed in 1944-47 the US was still looking to use its alliance with the Soviet Union to block any sort of deal which would lead to the revival of the British empire. There is a very useful discussion of this in Ben Steill’s recent book, The battle of Bretton Woods, which is about global monetary policy and US-UK rivalry at that time.

The underlying issue, at the end of the day, is the global reserve currency and the advantages that come with it, centrally in financial markets. In this respect the US has taken over the role which Britain enjoyed from the 19th century down to 1940. If the global financial taps are under your control you can dictate access to markets – in particular markets for capital goods. You can also dictate access to raw materials at favourable terms (which does not necessarily mean cheaply). In the situation that the US has been in since its effective defeat in Indochina in the middle 1970s, it has actually been advantageous to the United States for the price of oil to be high, as compared to its rivals in Europe and particular China, which does not have any significant oil resources.

It is a common error – and a standard piece of ideology – for bourgeois economists to claim that the relative strength of the currency is immediately related to the strength of the economy, and that if there is a strong economy there will automatically be a strong currency, and therefore exchange rates will auto-adjust in a floating currency regime. But it does not work like that.

The strength of currency relies, at the end of the day, on the ability of the state to enforce payment of debts. The currencies we use are not gold, but debt instruments. And at the end of the day the ability to enforce payment of debts flows from military strength. In turn military strength flows from productive capabilities – but productive capability under certain conditions, the conditions of global, great-power war. The US is the world’s top-dog country because it won in 1941-45. Just as Britain was the world’s top-dog country because it won 1789-1815.

This brings us back towards the concrete. The first point is that the United States remains absolutely dominant, despite being in relative decline. It is undoubtedly the case that the US armed forces are more powerful than the next 10 armed forces put together.

The consequence of being the world’s top-dog country is that financial transactions tend to run through your financial centre, and your domestic economy tends to become financialised. Amongst other effects, ‘onshore’ land values, and hence rents and other housing costs, tend to rise, so that in turn wages have to go up. The result is the ‘offshoring’ of productive capacity elsewhere in search of lower land and wage costs. This, in turn, undermines the long-term basis of the military power which makes the country world top-dog. You can keep paying for the immediate military power out of the tribute received from retaining reserve currency status and control of a major financial centre; but this financial tribute flows increasingly from the appearance of strength, rather than from underlying productive dominance, leading to military strength. In order to retain the appearance of strength, it becomes necessary to take military initiatives of one sort or another to demonstrate that you are strong (while as far as possible avoiding a great-power war which would demonstrate the hollowness of that claim).

In the period down to 1975, the US’s policy sought to create an order beneficial to global capitalist development. However, since the defeat in Indochina, US practice has changed: initially aiming to give the USSR and its allies a taste of ‘insurgency’, and beginning with Mozambique, Angola and Cambodia, the US demonstrated its power by simple destruction – reducing states and societies to rubble and warlordism. Libya is only the most recent example.

Going back to the debates among the various authors in the Beltway commentariat, they are very much concerned with the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant in Fallujah and so on; they are desperately concerned that the course of action that the United States is currently engaged in will make it appear weak. The result is profound irrationalities in decision-making, and one of the features of that which is visible in the analysts’ debate is over whether to reorient relations towards Iran. This is pretty clearly a rational course of action from the point of view of US capital, but at the same time, because of the danger that it will make the US state appear weak, there is another school of thought, which argues particularly for much bigger overt US intervention in Syria and the drawing of ‘red lines’ against Iran (for example, against continued support for the Syrian Ba’athist regime).

So there is a real risk of the war of sanctions turning into a bombing war. The fact that there are negotiations and a few sanctions have been lifted does not mean that this risk has been wholly removed.


The second issue is that we are not just in a period of the relative decline of the United States, but in a period of the decline of capitalism as a social order, as a practice.

The form of this decline is in a sense just like the period of the counterreformation in feudalism, in which there was an aggressive state promotion of feudalism and Catholicism. We are in the counterreformation period of capitalism. Neoliberal globalisation is partly in the interests of the United States, because the US is too much in relative decline to be able to afford the concessions to rival powers that it made during the cold war period or the ‘golden age’ of the 1950s and 60s. But neoliberal globalisation also partly reflects an aspiration of capital to restore another ‘golden age’ – the period before 1917 – and to get rid of all the concessions that were made to the working class subsequently (universal suffrage, the welfare state in Britain and so on). This aim of going back implies a much more aggressive state promotion of state-backed pseudo-capitalism.

And that too is present in the negotiations phase in relation to Iran. As Yassamine Mather has written in a number of recent articles, the Rowhani regime is actually more aggressively neoliberal, or more overtly, ideologically neoliberal, than the Ahmadinejad regime was.

There was a lot of talk after 2009, and to an extent continuing today, amongst the liberal left to the effect that ‘neoliberalism is over’, ‘neoliberalism is dead’ and so on. But the reality is that in the five years which have passed since the crash of 2009 we now talk the language of ‘structural reform’ rather than that of ‘neoliberal globalisation’. There is some nibbling at the edges of bringing back protectionism, in one way or another. But the underlying neoliberal offensive of capital against the working class – and of the United States against the subordinate powers through aggressive trade liberalisation, through demands that wages must fall to ‘competitive’ levels and welfare systems be cut – is not only still with us, but it is very much alive and kicking. So any idea that the negotiations between the US and Iran will result in better conditions for the Iranian working class is an illusion. Whether there are negotiations or not, whether sanctions are removed or not, the US will continue to demand ‘structural reform’, the end of subsidies, wage cuts, (and in private, the suppression of trade unions), and so on.

In conclusion, there is a real, continuing danger of a reversion to the policy of regime change and hot war. Most of the sanctions – or, more bluntly, the US-led siege of Iran – continue; and, even if all the sanctions were lifted, there is the continuing pressure of US-led neoliberalism, which the Rowhani government clearly supports, for attacks on working people and the poor.

Do not imagine, therefore, that the negotiations and any potential deal will remove the continuing threats against the people of Iran emanating from the United States.