Monday, February 20, 2006

Iran, Humanitarianism, Napalm Substitute

Iran, as every sane person of even mildly liberal and leftish opinion is well aware, is not a very democratic country or, for many of its population, a very nice place to live. It is a theocratic authoritarian state in which many women are systematically oppressed and in which it is a capital offence to be homosexual. The President of that country is a holocaust denier and an anti-semite. This much is clear.

Of course, there are many nasty regimes in the world at present - but like Iraq in 2002-2003 - this illiberal state in particular appears to have caught the attention of assorted Western humanitarians (Politicians, Generals, Harry's Place). The main reason for concern appears to be that the mad Mullahs are are 'engaged in the development of nuclear weapons'. No matter that there is no evidence for such development and no matter that, by western estimations, Iran is at least several years away from the ability to start building a bomb. Suddenly, however, the US and the UK have decided that this potential to start building a bomb sometime in the future, is, right now, an immediate problem. At the same time the humanitarian band-wagon is starting to roll again (falling in behind the revving US armoured columns) - we must be prepared to bomb this country in order to bring democracy. Now, more democracy and more freedoms in Iran would not be a bad idea at all. But, you'd have thought that after the not so successful attempt* to export democracy to Iraq, they might have learned some lessons by now. Democratisation if it is to come, must come from within - it's quite difficult to spread it by means of shrapnel and napalm substitute.

Now what might be the possible reasons behind this apparent drive to another war? It sure as hell ain't humanitarian concern in the Pentagon and the Whitehouse. One of the painful lessons of history is that democracy and human rights have only ever been of secondary concern at most in US military action - an optional extra, incidental or accidental by-products - nice if it happens, but never the primary, motivating matter. What drives the US (and every other state) is economic and political self-interest. Humanitarian concern is today's useful ideological smokescreen. This is completely obvious isn't it? Only a fool would believe otherwise. There are a lot of fools.

One thing which distinguishes the liberal from the socialist is that the liberal tends to take the ideological/moral pronouncements of liberal democracy at face value. Contrary to the hoary old myth of the socialist as utopian dreamer (and the liberal as practical realist) the socialist tends to think like a cynic. As any socialist knows one should never take any government's pronouncements at face value and one should always suspect the worst. Pessimism of the intellect and all that.

Another thing which tends to distinguish the political liberal (political/moral theorists) from the socialist is that the political liberal tends to be dreadfully ignorant of all things economic. That states have pressing economic imperatives to fulfill, that states must guarantee both short and long run profitability for their capitalists (and therefore economic and political stability for the state) is something of which most liberals - attempting to construct intricate theories of 'just desert' and contractual moral social obligations - remain blissfully unaware. With such general ignorance, then, it goes without saying that political liberals are for the most part totally unaware of the specific economic-political pressures and tensions which shape state action and strategy today. Witness the tripe churned out by political liberal philosphers, 'cosmopolitan democracy' theorists, and all the rest of them in regard to the Iraq war. None of them (as far as I'm aware) have much to say about global political economy and economic-military rivalry between capitalisms. Without any mention of the US's huge deficit, its utter reliance on sucking in foreign capital and an understanding of the ways in which it must continually strive to secure hegemony in the absense of industrial competitiveness then, it seems to me, that a knowledge of Mill, Rawls and Just War Theory, (though very nice), is not going to get you very far beyond banal platitudes.

The sabre rattling over Iran (as in the case of the war on Iraq) cannot be explaned by reference to humanitarianism, or concern for human rights and democratisation. Bush is not reading up on Mill, Rawls and Just War Theory. He is looking at what needs to be done in order to safeguard the US's economic and political domination in the short, medium and long term. He has armies of useful idiots to provide the ideological cover.

The big P has this to say about the drive to war with Iran:

"Next month, Iran is scheduled to shift its petrodollars into a euro-based bourse. The effect on the value of the dollar will be significant, if not, in the long term, disastrous. At present the dollar is, on paper, a worthless currency bearing the burden of a national debt exceeding $8trn and a trade deficit of more than $600bn. The cost of the Iraq adventure alone, according to the Nobel Prizewinning economist Joseph Stiglitz, could be $2trn. America's military empire, with its wars and 700-plus bases and limitless intrigues, is funded by creditors in Asia, principally China. That oil is traded in dollars is critical in maintaining the dollar as the world's reserve currency. What the Bush regime fears is not Iran's nuclear ambitions but the effect of the world's fourth-biggest oil producer and trader breaking the dollar monopoly. Will the world's central banks then begin to shift their reserve holdings and, in effect, dump the dollar? Saddam Hussein was threatening to do the same when he was attacked.

While the Pentagon has no plans to occupy all of Iran, it has in its sights a strip of land that runs along the border with Iraq. This is Khuzestan, home to 90 per cent of Iran's oil. "The first step taken by an invading force," reported Beirut's Daily Star, "would be to occupy Iran's oil-rich Khuzestan Province, securing the sensitive Straits of Hormuz and cutting off the Iranian military's oil supply."

Of course the humanitarians and liberals will respond that this is 'economically reductionist' (as opposed to their not in any way reductionist idealism one supposes). Don't we know that states are not driven by economic imperatives - that things are 'much more complicated than that'** and that in this post Cold-War order, humanitarian intervention is an autonomous and driving force in inter-state relations?

Well, no, we don't think that because, you see, we're not fucking idiots.

*I say the 'attempt' to export democracy - what I mean, of course, is that the humanitarians tried to export democracy through some immense act of will, some heroic hope against the odds. The Coalition forces weren't really all that conscientious about it in their actual, concrete activity. I picture the humanitarians concentrating very hard, willing the US on to set up democracy - [ fingers pressed to temples - nnnggghhh!! ngggghhh!!].
** Well yes, of course things are complex and of course they are not wholly reducible to economic concerns (who says they are by the way?) but what they mean by this, of course, is that economic imperatives have nothing to do with anything - they don't exist you see.

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