Third camp politics: America, Iran and our solidarity

Submitted by Newcastle on 24 September, 2009 - 9:35 Author: Campaign for Peace and Democracy, Monthly Review

Barack Obama’s decision to cancel US plans to build a missile defence base in the Czech Republic and Poland has raised again the issue of America’s attitude to the Iranian regime. Part of the aim of the missile cancellation was to enlist Russia’s co-operation in stopping Iran’s nuclear programme.

After the June protests in Iran, members of the US Campaign for Peace and Democracy wrote about the America-Iran conflict and how the US left perceive it. What they say about the American left could also be said about the British left, who, on many issues, under the cover of opposing big power imperialism wind up backing the notion that “the enemy of my enemy [i.e. of the ruling class in Britain, or the US] is my friend”. The Campaign for Peace and Democracy (which involves socialist activists) campaigns against militarism and US foreign policy while not subscribing to the “the enemy of my enemy...” view. The CPD’s July statement provoked a debate with writers of left-wing journal Monthly Review, (which does take the “the enemy of my enemy” view). The whole debate can be found at Extracts.

Question and Answer on Iran

There is a foolish argument in some sectors of the left that holds that any state that is opposed by the US government is therefore automatically playing a progressive, anti-imperialist role and should be supported.

On these grounds, many such “leftists” have acted as apologists for murderous dictators like Milosevic and Saddam Hussein. The Campaign for Peace and Democracy has always argued that we can oppose US imperial policy without thereby having necessarily to back the states against which it is directed.

Ironically, despite their current rhetoric, some US neo-conservatives favoured an Ahmadinejad victory. They knew that on the main issues dividing the US and Iran — Tehran’s pursuit of nuclear energy, its support for Hamas and Hezbollah, and its insistence on forcing Israel to withdraw completely from the Occupied Territories — Ahmadinejad’s position was no different from that of Mousavi or that of Iranian public opinion. But Ahmadinejad, with his confrontational style and his outrageous “questioning” of the Holocaust, is a much easier leader to hate and fear; his continuing grip on power therefore serves the goals of neo-conservative hawks and Israeli hardliners. And they know that Iranian public opinion solidly supports the cause of Palestinian rights; and that Ahmadinejad’s anti-Jewish rhetoric has harmed, not helped, the Palestinians.

Some of these “leftists” say that whatever Ahmadinejad’s faults, the mass upsurge in Iran plays into the hands of US imperialism. On the contrary, a people’s pro-democracy movement is the worst fear of the many authoritarian regimes on which Washington relies to maintain its hegemony; such as the rulers of Egypt, Saudi Arabia Kuwait, Pakistan and elsewhere. And not just among US clients. It is significant that news of the demonstrations was heavily censored in China and Myanmar, and that the Russian government was one of the first to congratulate Ahmadinejad on his “victory.”

As leftists we are very familiar with rightwing politicians disingenuously claiming to care about the poor and the working class. The Islamic Republic has long included a social welfare component to help it maintain support. Ahmadinejad has undertaken some populist programmes, utilising some of the revenues generated by the sharply higher price of oil. But, even ignoring the fact that basic democratic rights and women’s rights are hardly the exclusive concern of the well-to-do, the Islamic Republic, and especially Ahmadinejad’s presidency, have not been good for the workers and the poor of Iran.

Anyone purporting to support the working class has to back independent unions so that workers can defend their own interests both in the work place and in the society at large. However, Iran has still not ratified international labour conventions guaranteeing freedom of association and collective bargaining and abolishing child labor, and unions in Iran have been subjected to horrendous repression…

What do we want the US government to do about the current situation in Iran?

There is a great deal that the Administration can do. Obama should promise that the US will never launch a military attack on Iran or support an Israeli attack. He should commit the United States not to support terrorism or sabotage operations in Iran, and immediately order the cessation of any such activities that may still be occurring. He should lift sanctions against Iran — certainly not as a reward to Ahmadinejad for stealing the election, but because the sanctions have a negative impact on the Iranian people and provide one of the main justifications for Ahmadinejad's iron rule. He should take major initiatives toward disarmament of US nuclear and conventional weapons, and he should withdraw all US troops from Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Pakistan. And he should work to promote a nuclear-free Middle East, which includes Israel.

By reducing these threats, Obama would thereby be removing one of the main rationalisations for Iranian repression (as well as for its nuclear program).

What should we do about the current situation in Iran?

We need to make it clear to the Iranian people that there is “another America”, one that is independent of the government and opposed to its oppressive and anti-democratic foreign policy. Our support comes with no strings attached and no hidden agenda. Iranians should be made aware that it is American progressives — not the US government or the hypocrites of the right — who offer genuine solidarity…

Is it right to advocate a different form of government in Iran?

As leftists, the Campaign for Peace and Democracy supports radical change everywhere that people do not have full control over their political and economic lives. We advocate such change in the United States, in France, in Russia, in China. And we support it in Iran too. But we do not support the United States government — or Britain or Israel or any other country —imposing “regime change” outside its borders by force.

What was wrong with Bush's invasion of Iraq in 2003 was not that the regime of Saddam Hussein was overthrown — his was a hideous regime and anyone concerned with human decency wanted it ended — but that Bush asserted that the United States had the right to invade. Political change imposed by a foreign army, or brought about by the covert operations of foreign intelligence agencies, is unacceptable, and it is especially unacceptable when the foreign power concerned has a long history of interventions for its own sordid motives: to impose its domination, to control oil resources, to establish military bases.

But do we support the Iranian people if they act to end autocratic rule in Iran? Of course! This is a government that, in addition to its just-completed election fraud and vicious attacks on its own citizens, imprisons, tortures, publicly flogs and hangs political opponents, labour activists, gays, and “apostates”, and still prescribes execution by stoning as the penalty for adultery.…Workers have no right to strike. A woman's testimony is worth half that of a man’s and women have limited rights to divorce and child custody. The regime imposes gender apartheid, segregating women in many public places. Veiling is compulsory and enforced by threats, fines and imprisonment. We should support Iranians’ efforts to end these barbaric practices.

Stephen R. Shalom, Thomas Harrison, Joanne Landy and Jesse Lemisch, CPD (July 7, 2009)

Riding the “Green Wave”

There are many problems with the Campaign for Peace and Democracy’s “Question and Answer" ... when stripped of its didactic format, this amounts to little more than an emotional plea to its target audience to surrender what remains of their leftist instincts (long under siege in the States, and shrinking rapidly), and join its authors for a ride on the “green wave” of yet another colour-coded campaign that fits well with one of their government’s longest-running programmes of destabilisation and regime change.

We believe that any “confusion” felt by the left and “American progressives” towards these events is a confusion that has been sown by our would-be instructors…

Consider first the CPD’s selectivity... the CPD has yet to put up a Q&A related to or a statement announcing its solidarity with the mass demonstrations in Honduras after the June 27-28 military coup that overthrew the democratically elected president of the country, Manuel Zelaya. Neither has the CPD announced its solidarity with the 100 or more indigenous victims of a 5 June massacre by the government of Alan García in Peru... nor with the high numbers of civilian victims of the several-year-long US and NATO bombing campaigns over Afghanistan and Pakistan..

In each of these theatres and the many others that fall within the US sphere of influence and responsibility, the potential benefits of a sustained left-critique and consciousness-raising about US policy and its devastating impact on the lives of people are far greater than anything to be gained by urging “solidarity” with dissenters in a distant land where the US influence for constructive purposes is minimal, but its hostile and destructive interventionism has been and remains great.

Is it a mere coincidence that these neglected matters, all of which bear undeniably on the cause of peace and democracy, are also ones in which a thoughtful Q&A would inevitably challenge US policy action or inaction, whereas a focus on Iran at this moment fits instead the long-term US policy of demonisation, isolation, sanctions, destabilisation, and eventual regime change?…

By portraying the Islamic Republic as even more of an outlaw regime than it had been portrayed prior to 12 June, doesn’t this intensive focus on discrediting the Iranian election feed nicely into the US-Israeli destabilisation and regime-change campaign? No matter how much the CPD protests otherwise, doesn’t its call for “solidarity with the anti-Ahmadinejad movement” and its advocacy for “a different form of government in Iran” encourage leftists to pull down their natural defenses against US imperialism?

Much intelligent analysis has pointed to similarities between a strategy employed by the Mousavi camp in June 2009, and the strategy used in earlier campaigns of destabilisation against US targets for regime change that date back to the elections in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia in 2000, Georgia in 2003, and the Ukraine in 2004, to name three where it succeeded…

For progressive Americans who’d like to make it clear to the Iranian people that there is “another America”… but whose memory of their own government's history has yet to be Twittered away, isn’t the net effect of the CPD’s activism to increase the likelihood that the next president of Iran, some time in 2013 (if not sooner), will be a US-supported candidate — in the pattern of the “remarkable victory” of Violeta Barrios de Chamorro in 1990 that delivered a “devastating rebuke to the Sandinistas,” as the New York Times editorialised, a “clear mandate for peace and democracy,” in the first President Bush’s words?…

Apart from these ongoing destabilisation campaigns, a series of reports since early July have described plans and training for possible future Israeli military attacks on Iran’s nuclear programme...

We find it damning that, as these US and Israeli threats to attack Iran have escalated in June and especially in July, the US-based Campaign for Peace and Democracy — while remaining silent on this major threat to international peace and security posed by the United States and Israel, which if carried out would undoubtedly kill many more Iranian civilians than the Iranian government has killed since June 12 — initiated its campaign to delegitimise Iran's June 12 election as its cause celebre… and in effect laid down with the lions…

Considering events inside Iran from June 12 on, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Iranian financiers of the Mousavi campaign had concluded that they could achieve their political objectives best, not at the ballot box in June 2009, and not by arguing their case before the rigid bodies of Iran’s executive branch, but by tailoring their messages of dissent to foreign audiences, taking to the streets to provoke repressive responses by state authorities, with every action of the state serving to delegitimise it in the eyes of the West’s metropolitan centres, whose recognition and validation the protestors have sought above all.

In short, the protests are certainly not entirely “homegrown” and have a pretty clear link both to direct destabilisation campaigns and to the massive destabilisations imposed upon this region of the world by the United States and its allies just this decade alone…

None of this is to deny the reality of a massive democratic surge inside Iran on a scale unseen since the overthrow of the Shah in 1979. But it is to question how well we understand the role of state-of-the-art communications technology in mobilising the demonstrators, and how truly “indigenous”, autonomous, and independent they are from foreign meddling and influence, where foreign powers have invested considerable resources and know-how in these modern regime-change campaigns.

While we agree that Iran’s political system has very serious defects, it towers above others in the Middle East that are US clients and recipients of US aid and protection. If Iran were a US client rather than a US target, its political system would be portrayed as a “fledgling democracy”. imperfect but improving over time and with the promise of a democratic future.

The CPD asks whether Ahmadinejad is “good for world anti-imperialism.”... This tendentious analysis misrepresents the real issues, and begs several questions. According to both the letter and the spirit of the UN Charter, a state that is on the imperial hit-list ought to be defended against aggression, and interference in its affairs is ruled out. Aggression and subversion should be strenuously opposed by the American left. It should not be suckered into such efforts even when the target is not playing a “progressive, anti-imperialist role.”…

So, while Mahmoud Ahmadinejad might not be good for world anti-imperialism, his country is not just “opposed by the United States”, it has been under serious US attack and faces a continuing threat of escalated violence. It should be first-order business of a left and supposed campaign for peace as well as democracy to oppose this threat. But with Ahmadinejad a demonised target and Iran’s allegedly sham election of June 12 utterly discredited, the CPD’s willing participation in that whole process (in contrast to Honduras, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia) provides first-class service to the imperial powers.

Edward S Herman and David Peterson, Monthly Review


As any reader of our Q&A on Iran, past Campaign for Peace and Democracy statements, and the CPD Statement of Purpose can readily see, our views are diametrically opposed to those of the US government.

We called for an end to sanctions against Iran, and for a guarantee of no military intervention by the United States and no support for military intervention by Israel. We’ve condemned the hypocritical bullying of Iran to comply with the Nonproliferation Treaty — at the same time as we opposed the possession of nuclear weapons by all countries, the United States and Iran included.

Earlier this year we strongly denounced the Israeli attack on Gaza and demanded an end to US military aid to Israel… our entire outlook expresses a root-and-branch rejection of this country's bipartisan imperial foreign and military agenda.

The title of Herman and Peterson’s critique is “Riding the Green Wave at the Campaign for Peace and Democracy and Beyond.” The implication is that CPD endorses or politically supports Mousavi, whose campaign color was green. But while CPD extended its solidarity to the protesters in Iran, it was quite explicit in its criticisms of Mousavi.

Herman and Peterson make much of CPD’s alleged “selectivity”. Why, they wonder, did we issue a lengthy statement on Iran and not Honduras, Egypt, US elections, etc., etc.? This is actually a red herring. With its limited resources, CPD has often “selected” to mount campaigns directed against US imperial policy…

Behind all the stilted and pompous verbiage is a simple proposition: it is wrong to criticise (“demonize”) any government that is a potential target of the United States. That is what the “principles” listed in their reply boil down to. And this is not a matter of emphasis or language, but a firm refusal to defend people who are victims of oppression so long as the oppressor is an enemy of the United States (or Israel).

For example, what if a movement arose in North Korea aimed at deposing its vile police state? Washington would like nothing better, right? Ergo, progressives could not support it, no matter how spontaneous and independent of CIA control (which Herman and Peterson would probably not believe anyway). The gulags, torture and mass famines under which the North Korean people suffer? Sorry, nothing to be done about them.

After all, “urging ‘solidarity’ with dissenters in a distant land where US influence for constructive purposes is minimal, but its hostile and destructive interventionism has been and remains great” would be a fatal distraction from the main priority — opposing US imperialism. What’s worse, it would play right into Washington’s hands.

Essentially, Herman and Peterson’s position is a revival of Cold War thinking: there are two camps in the world and the left must choose the anti-US camp, no matter how bloodthirsty and authoritarian its leaders may be. At one time that camp was the Soviet bloc; today it is the “anti-imperialist” states of the developing world.

This position does not require actually embracing creatures like Milosevic, Saddam Hussein, Ahmadinejad, and company, but merely engaging in apologetics — making excuses for them. The tried and true technique employed by two-campers like Herman and Peterson has always been, whenever movements for democratic change emerged and then were crushed in the anti-American bloc, first, to allege CIA control, and then to change the subject as quickly as possible to the (very real) crimes of the United States and its clients.

Nothing could be more contrary to the historical traditions of the radical democratic left with which we identify — an internationalist left of generous sympathies, one that is always ready to extend solidarity to struggles for democracy and human dignity wherever they occur, that believes in the right of all people to control their governments and societies, even if they have the bad luck to live in a country that the US wishes to destabilise.

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