Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

Crisis and Conflict in The Gulf of Arabia

Background

The Iranian revolution which brought the Ayatollah to power in 1979 was intended to overthrow the Shah of Iran with his torture and dictatorship and remove the influence of the United States from the region. But Iran then became a theocratic dictatorship just as barbaric as the one it had replaced. Summary executions, rigid Islamic dress code for women, a brutal secret police force, ruthless suppression of opposition groups, imprisonment of political opponents and trade unionists – all these were and are common place. As indeed they are in many other countries in the Middle East, such as Western allies like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Egypt etc. All armed by the US, UK and other supposedly 'Freedom-loving' governments.

Iran has a Shia majority, which means that the early days of Islam; they have been enemies of the Sunni sect, principally from Saudi Arabia. Such is the unifying power of religion! Saudi Arabia exports its Wahhabi-inspired extremism and terrorism which fed into Ai Qaeda leading on to 9/11. Iran also has a sizeable minority of Sunnis, also Kurds and some other religious and ethnic minorities. As well as these religious groups, competing ruling classes vie for power and wealth from their vast oil fields and refineries, and their exports of oil and gas to the rest of the world.

Since the discovery of oil at the beginning of the 20th century there have been numerous wars in the region over oil, land, trade routes and strategic spheres of influence. Iraq and Iran, for example, were at war against each other for a long time - a war promoted by the US which was backing Saddam Hussein in Iraq. The war between Iraq and Iran began in September 1980 and lasted until 1988, twice as long as World War I. The war was marked by indiscriminate ballistic-missile attacks, extensive use of chemical weapons and attacks on third-country oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. Over one million people were killed in the conflict.

Later, because of oil interests, the US switched sides and attacked Iraq which led to the removal of Saddam Hussein. But Iraq as a state was majority Shia, and Saddam was a Sunni. Even now the majority in Iraq are Shia, not Sunni, so their natural allies are Iran and its ruling class. Iranian policy is to drive the US out of the Middle East making them the dominant power.

But the US especially under Trump especially sees its two key Middle Eastern allies as Israel and Saudi Arabia. Both these countries view Iran with hostility. Trump successfully taps into US nationalism whether it is to attack Mexicans or those living in the Middle East. And Trump is also playing on this regional conflict in an attempt to gain electoral support in the November 2020 Presidential elections.

Politicians cannot think and do as they please under capitalism. Trump, although a declared isolationist, has to protect US interests in the Middle East. Iran is surrounded by dozens of US military bases and nearly 65,000 American troops. The Gulf nation of Qatar hosts the US's largest military base in the Middle East. Al Udeid Air Base, which was built after the first Gulf War, is home to an estimated 13,000 troops and is the headquarters of the US Air Force Central Command. They are there for a reason. And that is to protect US oil interests.

Under Trump the US is planning to create an international military coalition to safeguard strategic waters for oil routes off Iran and Yemen, after several attacks on tankers in the Gulf which is blamed on Tehran. Under this plan, Washington would provide command ships and lead surveillance efforts, while enlisted allies would patrol waters near those US command ships and escort commercial vessels with their nation's flags (DAILY TELEGRAPH 10 July 2019).

If Iran wants the US to get out of the Middle East, Trump, following previous administrations, is intent on staying even this causes war and conflict.

Why assassinate General Qasem Soleimani?

Trump's decision to assassinate General Soleimani has led the Iraqi government to ask the US military to leave their country, diverted resources away from fighting an emboldened Isis, united factions in Iran against the "hated Satan" (US), led to retaliatory ballistic missile attacks on military installations in Iraq and the destruction of 276 lives in the shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger aircraft. Unlike the capitalist left, socialists have no interest in supporting terrorists such as Qasem Soleimani just as we have no interest in US capitalism and its politicians.

So why did Trump chose to start the year with this action - why now? Trump's primary concern is to get re-elected. Trump knows that the "rally around the flag" effect boosted George H W Bush's standing during the 1991 Gulf War. George W Bush saw his approval surge to record levels in the days after the September 11 attacks and subsequent bombing of Afghanistan.

Those were massive military engagements, however. When the stakes have been lower, the tangible political benefits - at least in terms of polling - are harder to discern. Obama saw little movement in the polls during the conflict in Libya.

Trump is hardly unique in thinking he can gain an electoral advantage over his political opponents by "rattling sabres"; and of course it can go disastrously wrong. Lyndon Johnson bogged down by the continued deaths of US servicemen in the Vietnam War, decided not to seek re-election and gave the poisoned chalice of Vietnam to Richard Nixon whose administration subsequently imploded following Watergate and his Impeachment in 1973.

Again there is the lesson to be learnt from the Falklands War. Leopoldo Galtieri and his Junta had problems in Argentina and as a diversion invaded the Falklands expecting no war. The campaign was designed and executed in the midst of devastating economic stagnation in Argentina, which provoked civil unrest. To divert civilian attention from falling living standards and inflation at 600%, the military dictatorship whipped-up populist nationalistic sentiment for the islands, several hundred kilometres from the Argentinean coast, that were under British colonial rule
https://www.warhistoryonline.com/instant-articles/the-argentinian-side-falklands-m.html

If Galtieri thought the invasion would turn attention away from domestic problems he misjudged the situation. The British government, who had been in dispute with Argentina over the Falkland Islands since the early 19th century, had seen the Falklands as a strategic outpost worth defending. In the end the Junta in Argentina collapsed shortly after Britain regained the Falkland Islands.

Election politics apart, US policy in the Middle East is driven by the need to protect oil production, oil supply and oil routes in the region. And this has been the case throughout the last two centuries.

Paradoxically, by killing an Iranian war hero, the US has inadvertently helped to re-unify Iraq and Iran, in just the sort of alliance that General Qasem was trying to build - the so-called Shia Crescent. Not a very intelligent thing to do - no doubt the Bush and Obama intelligence advisors would have warned against this act. Acts of war often have unintended consequences.

Iran and its proxy actors in Iraq, Syria and the Lebanon and elsewhere remain a potential threat to US interests, increasingly so since the US pulled out of the nuclear treaty and imposed crippling economic sanctions. Iran's threat to US interests is real and goes all the way back to the fall of the Shah. A primary cause of the hostility of other countries like Saudi Arabia and Israel towards Iran is that it controls the strategic Strait of Hormuz and has the Persian Gulf in the south of the country.

These countries, particularly Israel and Saudi Arabia, yearn for the days of the stability of the Shah. And the only way they are going to get this stability back is regime change. There can never be any peace in capitalism: only competition, conflict and war. And this applies to the Middle East as it does to other areas of the capitalist world.

Workers should come to realise that conflict and war flows from capitalism and cannot be prevented by capitalism's politicians. Even when there is 'stability' the many problems of the regions working class would still remain unresolved.

The Socialist Attitude to War

The Socialist Party of Great Britain has been consistently opposed to capitalism's wars on the grounds that workers' interests are not served by supporting or dying in them. Socialists do not support nation states and the interest of their ruling class. Neither should workers. As Marx stated, workers have no country: "We cannot take from them what they have not got" (COMMUNIST MANIFESTO).

Workers do not own the means of production. Workers do not own oil reserves, land, factories, communication and transport systems, and distribution points like warehouses and supermarkets. Workers are exploited in the production process getting in wages and salaries less than they get in the wealth they actually produce. Workers have shared class interests no matter where they happen to live. They are engaged in a class struggle over the extent and intensity of exploitation and politically over the ownership and control of the means of production and distribution.

Socialists opposed both the First and Second World Wars on the grounds that they had nothing to do with the interest of the working class. Two manifestos were published setting out the socialist position on both wars; the first was published in the Party's official journal the SOCIALIST STANDARD in September 1914, and the second in the issue for October, 1939.

Both manifestos concluded with the statement:

Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of capitalism and the triumph of socialism.

As we stated in the 1950 pamphlet 'THE SOCIALIST PARTY AND WAR'

These statements not only expressed the S.P.G.B.'s attitude to the wars now past. The principles behind them endure and the statements represent the Party's attitude to wars that may arise in the future" (p. 75).

The capitalist class and their politicians use the armed forces for their own purpose and not in the interest of the working class.

Socialists have never supposed that you can stop war by merely opposing war. It has always been our case that to get rid of capitalism's wars the working class first has got to get rid of capitalism. Capitalism causes conflict and war, and so it is only by political, class-conscious action to remove this that the world's working class can be relieved of the curse of endless warfare, competition and conflict. And at the same time, by doing this, they would also put an end to poverty, homelessness and many other social evils, all caused by the capitalist class system.

Throughout the SPGB's history we have seen capitalist states presenting different types of faces: imperialist and anti-imperialist, monarchist and republican, all varieties of Christian religion, Islam, Hindu and Buddhist, even atheist. There have also been those countries which have claimed to be "Socialist" but they were nothing more than capitalist countries with an exploitive wages system, ruling class, secret police and armed forces no different to other capitalist countries - all of them ready to use force to protect the interests of a privileged minority; internally against their working class and externally against other capitalist countries.

Capitalism is a social system with the characteristic that its wealth is produced primarily for sale. But selling, as any commodity transaction bears witness, is a matter of competition. And competition exists throughout capitalism particularly between nation states which constantly clash over exploiting markets or getting access to commodities like oil.

The socialist attitude to war is to argue that it is caused by capitalism. And we campaign for the working class to organize democratically so as to put an end to this class system of exploitation and to replace world capitalism with world socialism by establishing the common ownership and democratic control of the means of production and distribution by all of society.

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