What did the latest Near-War between the U.S. and Iran Reveal?


Some Notes on the Inner Contradictions of the US Policy in the Middle East


By Michael Pröbsting, International Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), 11 January 2020, www.thecommunists.net




As is well known, the U.S. and Iran avoided in the last 48 hours only by a whisker a full escalation of their conflict. Since the beginning of the conflict in May 2018, when the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and imposed massive economic sanctions, there have been a number of confrontations.


However, the latest cycle of tensions provoked undoubtedly a situation which brought the US and Iran closer to war than at any point in the past four decades. The latest escalation began on 27 December 2019 with an attack of Iraqi militias (with close links to Teheran) on the K-1 Air Base in Iraq which killed an American contractor. In response, the U.S. launched airstrikes across Iraq and Syria, killing 25 Iran-backed Kata'ib Hezbollah militiamen. Days later, thousands of demonstrators attacked and even entered the U.S. embassy in the Green Zone in Bagdad.


On 3rd January, the U.S. killed General Qassem Soleimani – one of the most influential leaders of the ruling elite in Teheran –, the Iraqi PMF commander Abu Mahdi al Muhandis and other commanders. In response, Iran launched five days later numerous ballistic missiles at two U.S. military bases in Iraq. However, despite claims of Iranian television that there were 80 U.S. deaths, in fact these attacks caused no casualties. It is with almost certainty that Teheran deliberately avoided casualties in their operation – something which has been speculated not only by various non-Iranian sources but which has been also acknowledged by General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Aerospace Force. [1] Teheran even informed the Americans – via Iraqi and Finnish offices in Bagdad – about this attack in advance. [2] After this development, both sides signaled that they do not intend, for now, to continue military operations against each other.




Marxist stance




The Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT) has always opposed the U.S. sanctions and military aggression against Iran. [3] Our position has not been based on any sympathy for the reactionary Mullah regime. On the contrary, we have always supported popular protests against the regime including the latest uprising in November 2019. [4]


Likewise, we fully support the heroic Iraqi masses protesting against the corrupt capitalist government in Bagdad. This struggle which started in October last year is still continuing despite the brutal repression by the police and pro-Iranian militias which have already killed more than 500 demonstrators. [5]


Likewise, revolutionaries also support always the struggle of oppressed people against imperialist powers. This is why we defended Iraq in 2003 against the U.S. invasion as well as the subsequent popular resistance struggle against the occupation forces and their proxies. [6] We supported, for the same reason, the recent mobilizations against the U.S. embassy in Bagdad. [7]


Irrespective of our opposition to the reactionary regime in Teheran, we defend Iran against any aggression – economically, politically or military – by U.S. imperialism. This position is rooted in the Marxist analysis of the class character of the countries involved. While Iran is a semi-colonial capitalist country, the U.S. is, in contrast, the biggest imperialist Great Power. [8] In conflicts between (semi-)colonial and imperialist countries, revolutionaries are obliged to side with the (semi-)colonies against the Great Powers. [9]


Hence, during the recent escalation the RCIT called for the military defeat of U.S. imperialism and sided with Iran resp. the pro-Iranian militias in Iraq without lending any political support to their reactionary leaderships. [10]




Did Trump win the showdown?




However, in this article we intend not to deal with questions of revolutionary tactics. Rather, we want to discuss the inner contradictions of the US policy in the Middle East and their consequences for future developments. It should be pretty evident why this issue is highly relevant.


1) The U.S. is the largest imperialist state on the globe;


2) The Middle East is a region where the interests of all Great Powers – the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan – clash; [11]


3) Finally, the Middle East is that world region which has experienced the largest number of revolutionary uprisings and civil wars in the last decade. [12] This is all the more relevant since the global wave of class struggles and popular uprisings which began in autumn 2019 has opened a new stage in world politics characterized by a pre-revolutionary dynamic. [13]


The latest cycle of tensions has thrown light on the inner contradictions of the U.S. policy in the Middle East. On the surface the Trump Administration appears to come out as a strong force. It has killed a leading figure of the Iranian elite and, in return, it only lost a few military installations in Iraq. However, this would be a highly superficial and misleading view.


This is the case, first, because it is very unlikely that the Iranian missiles strike has been the end of the retaliation. Senior IRGC commanders already warned of “harsher revenge soon” and said that “Wednesday’s missile strikes were only the start of a series of attacks across the region. [14]


Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has also called for the ouster of US forces from the region in response to the assassinations of Soleimani and al-Muhandis. He warned: “The suicide attackers who forced the Americans to leave from our region in the past are still here and their numbers have increased. [15] In addition, leaders of Iraqi militias also announced strikes in retaliation. Iraqi militia commander Qais al-Khazali said: "The initial Iranian response to the assassination of the martyred commander Soleimani has happened. Now it is time for the initial response to the assassination of the martyred commander Muhandis. And because Iraqis are brave and zealous, their response will not be any less than that or Iran's. That is a promise." [16]


No doubt, these Iranian, Iraqi and Lebanese leaders are under massive pressure from their supporters to fight back after the U.S. killed several of their commanders. They would massively lose their prestige if they would not strike back after this unprecedented provocation.


The Trump Administration is in a similar situation. Its primary motivation for the killing of General Soleimani was simply to increase the slim chances of the Mad Man to secure his re-election in November this year. As a President who is threatened with impeachment by the Congress and who is highly unpopular among both the American people as well as the establishment, Trump must grab every chance to boost his prestige. After the killing of a U.S. contractor and the storming of the embassy, Trump was close to his “Benghazi moment”. [17] This is why the White House ordered the killing of Soleimani. However, for the same reason, Trump will be forced in the next months to strongly react to any other attack by the numerous opponents of the biggest Great Power. And such attack will inevitable take place!


In principle, neither Washington nor Teheran want a full-scale war. However, the political logic of the conflicting interests and the driving forces behind make such an escalation a very realistic possibility in the near future.




Preparing the withdrawal?




Washington faces a fundamental and irresolvable problem: As the RCIT has elaborated in several documents, U.S. imperialism is trapped in a long-term process of decline. Its days are over when it enjoyed absolute hegemony. This is true on a global scale where its leading position is challenged by Chinese and Russian imperialism. And this is also true for the Middle East.


While Trump superficially appears as the “strong man” after the killing of Soleimani, a closer look reveals that this event, in fact, has aggravated the fundamental problems of U.S. imperialism in the Middle East. The following developments in the last days demonstrate this pretty clear.


Firstly, the Iraqi Parliament formally called for the expulsion of all American troops from Iraqi soil. True, the resolution was not binding. Trump also reacted by threatening to demand billions of dollars in compensation from Iraq or to impose “sanctions like they’ve never seen before” – a particularly cynical demand from an occupying colonial power which invaded Iraq in 2003 against the will of the people! However, the political and symbolic importance of this resolution should not be underestimated. It has opened a process which will massively increase the political pressure by the Iraqi people to end the U.S. occupation.


Secondly, in reaction to the events on 3rd January, Iran announced it will no longer abide by the limits contained in the 2015 nuclear deal. “Iran did not elaborate on what levels it would immediately reach in its program. Tehran has already broken some of the deal’s limits as part of a step-by-step pressure campaign to get sanctions relief. It has increased its production, begun enriching uranium to 5% and restarted enrichment at an underground facility. While it does not possess uranium enriched to weapons-grade levels of 90%, any push forward narrows the estimated one-year “breakout time” needed for it to have enough material to build a nuclear weapon if it chose to do so. [18] France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian nervously warned that “within a fairly short period of time, between one and two years, [Iran] could have access to a nuclear weapon.” [19] It does not need any explanation that such a development would dramatically change the relation of forces in the Middle East – to the detriment of the U.S., Israel and their allies.


Thirdly, the latest escalation obviously reinforced the desire of the White House to massively reduce its military presence in the Middle East. It is well known that the U.S. is negotiating with the Taliban on the concrete terms of the withdrawal of American troops. [20] President Trump has also repeatedly announced his desire to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. [21]


Characteristically, only one day after the Iraqi parliament voted for the expulsion of U.S. troops from its country, the U.S. military circulated a letter announcing the complete withdrawal of its troops from Iraq. While they later claimed that this was only an “unsigned draft letter” which was “mistakenly” sent to the Iraqi government, this incident demonstrates clearly that the Pentagon gears itself for the withdrawal of its troops. [22] Naturally, this will only embolden the determination of the Iraqi forces – and all other opponents of U.S. imperialism in the region – to intensify their efforts to expel that Great Power from the Middle East which once dominated undisputedly this region.


One should interpret Trumps proposal to expand NATO to include Middle Eastern states in the same context. [23] His pressure to increase NATO involvement in the Middle East, i.e. a stronger participation of other states, is only a pretext to withdraw American troops.




Shock in Israel




It does not need much explanation that a withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan would have dramatic consequences for Israel. Until now, the Zionist Apartheid state could rely on the unwavering and massive political, economic and military support of the most powerful imperialist state. [24]


It is therefore hardly surprising that the Zionist establishment reacts with shock to the “unsigned draft letter” which reflects once again the erratic Middle East policy of the Trump Administration. An Israeli journalist with close connection to the military elite reported about the reaction: “The content of the letter — that the Americans were preparing to withdraw from Iraq immediately — turned on all the alarm systems throughout the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv. More so, the publication was about to set in motion an Israeli “nightmare scenario” in which ahead of the upcoming US elections President Donald Trump would rapidly evacuate all US forces from Iraq and Syria. [25]


The RCIT has repeatedly drawn attention to the decline of U.S. imperialism and the desire of the Trump Administration to withdraw from several hotspots. In our last World Perspectives document published nearly a year ago we wrote: Anyway, the Trump Administration tries to deal with the decline of the U.S. with an inconsistent mix of aggressiveness and foreign policy conciliation. As already indicated, the U.S. will withdraw a number of troops from Syria and Afghanistan. It is forced to negotiate with the Taliban. Washington is facing defeat by an opponent it overthrew when it first invaded Afghanistan in 2001. We are heading towards a repetition of Saigon, 1975. Likewise, the Trump Administration has become conciliatory towards North Korea. This is despite Trump’s bombastic threats of only a year ago and reports that North Korea has continued building nuclear weapons.[26]


And a few months ago, when Trump suggested withdrawing all U.S. troops from Syria, we spoke about another “Saigon moment”. We think that the recent developments strongly confirm this analysis.


In summary, while the latest escalation did not result in a full-scale war between the U.S. and Iran for now, it is clear that further clashes and even a war are a highly realistic possibility in the course of this year. In any case, we are in the midst of dramatic changes of the political relation of forces in the Middle East.


In our New Year Greetings 2020 we wrote: “We are heading towards a political volcano eruption. [27] A few days later, the world was close to a full-scale war between the U.S. and Iran. Such dramatic developments and instability are the ferment for wars and revolutions. Revolutionaries need a clear analysis of the driving forces of these ruptures as well as a consistent program for socialist transformation of the Middle East. The RCIT is committed to build a Revolutionary World Party fighting for such a perspective!


[1] Al-Monitor: IRGC general claims Iran did not target troops in attack, 9 January 2020 https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/01/iran-irgc-general-iran-target-us-troops-iraq.html

[2] Iraq, Finland received 'advance warning' of Iran missile attack on US forces, 8 January 2020, https://www.alaraby.co.uk/english/news/2020/1/8/iraq-finland-received-advance-warning-of-iran-missile-attack

[3] See on the confrontations between the US and Iran the following RCIT statements: Aramco Attack: Defeat the US/Saudi/Israeli Warmongers! Defend Iran against any imperialist aggression! But no political support for the reactionary Mullah Regime in Teheran! 16 September 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/aramco-attack-defeat-the-us-saudi-israeli-warmongers/; Strait of Hormuz: Escalating Tensions between the US/UK and Iran. Drive the Great Powers out of the Middle East! But no political support for the reactionary Mullah Regime in Teheran! 22 July 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/escalating-tensions-between-the-us-uk-and-iran/; Iran: Down with Trump’s Sanctions and Military Threats! But no political support for the reactionary Mullah Regime in Teheran! 11 May 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/down-with-trump-s-sanctions-and-military-threats-against-iran/; Warmongering in the Middle East: Down with all Imperialist Great Powers and Capitalist Dictatorships! 13 May 2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/joint-statement-warmongering-in-the-middle-east/

[4] See on this e.g. the RCIT statements: Iran: Long Live the Popular Uprising against the Mullah Regime! Unite with the popular insurrections in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria etc. to a single Intifada! Down with the US sanctions against Iran! 18 November 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/iran-long-live-the-popular-uprising-against-the-mullah-regime/; For the Iranian Revolution! Down with the capitalist Mullah dictatorship! Down with Imperialism! For a working class revolution in Iran! Action Platform for Iran by the RCIT, February 2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/iran-platform/

[5] See on this e.g. the RCIT statement: Iraq: Victory to the Popular Insurrection against the Government of Abdel Mahdi! Build Popular Councils! For a Workers and Poor Peasants Government! 04 October 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/iraq-victory-to-the-popular-insurrection-against-the-government-of-abdel-mahdi/

[6] See on this e.g. chapter 13 in Michael Pröbsting’s book: The Great Robbery of the South. Continuity and Changes in the Super-Exploitation of the Semi-Colonial World by Monopoly Capital Consequences for the Marxist Theory of Imperialism, 2013, http://www.great-robbery-of-the-south.net/

[7] See on this e.g. Yossi Schwartz: Iraq: Down with U.S. Imperialism, 31.12.2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/iraq-down-with-u-s-imperialism/

[8] See on this, in addition to the literature mentioned above, Michael Pröbsting’s essay: Semi-Colonial Intermediate Powers and the Theory of Sub-Imperialism. A contribution to an ongoing debate amongst Marxists and a proposal to tackle a theoretical problem, 1 August 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/semi-colonial-intermediate-powers-and-the-theory-of-sub-imperialism/

[9] This has been always the position of Marxists as we have demonstrated in numerous publications. To give only one example, Trotsky elaborated in 1938 on a possible conflict between semi-colonial Brazil and imperialist Britain: I will take the most simple and obvious example. In Brazil there now reigns a semi-fascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of the conflict will the working class be? I will answer for myself personally—in this case I will be on the side of “fascist” Brazil against “democratic” Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat. Truly, one must have an empty head to reduce world antagonisms and military conflicts to the struggle between fascism and democracy. Under all masks one must know how to distinguish exploiters, slaveowners, and robbers!” (Leon Trotsky: Anti-Imperialist Struggle is Key to Liberation. An Interview with Mateo Fossa (1938); in: Writings of Leon Trotsky 1938-39, p. 34)

[10] See on this the RCIT statement: The U.S. Aggression against Iran and Revolutionary Tactics. Defend Iran against any imperialist aggression! But no political support for the reactionary Mullah Regime in Teheran! Continue the popular liberation struggles of the Syrian, Iraqi, Yemeni and Iranian people!, 06 January 2020, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/the-u-s-aggression-against-iran-and-revolutionary-tactics/

[11] For a Marxist analysis of the Great Power rivalry see e.g. Michael Pröbsting’s book: Anti-Imperialism in the Age of Great Power Rivalry. The Factors behind the Accelerating Rivalry between the U.S., China, Russia, EU and Japan. A Critique of the Left’s Analysis and an Outline of the Marxist Perspective, RCIT Books, Vienna 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/anti-imperialism-in-the-age-of-great-power-rivalry/

[12] The RCIT has published numerous articles and statements on the Arab Revolution which began in 2011. They are published on our website at: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/. Documents on the second wave of the Arab Revolution are collected here: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/collection-of-articles-on-2nd-wave-of-great-arab-revolution/. And documents on the Syrian Revolution can be viewed here: https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/collection-of-articles-on-the-syrian-revolution/.

[13] See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Are We Nearing a New “68 Moment”? A massive upsurge of global class struggle in the midst of a dramatic shift in the world situation 22 October 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/global/are-we-nearing-a-new-68-moment/

[14] Patricia Zengerle, Ahmed Aboulenein: U.S. House votes to rein in Trump's war powers as U.S.-Iran tensions stay high, 9 January 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iraq-security/u-s-house-votes-to-rein-in-trumps-war-powers-as-u-s-iran-tensions-stay-high-idUSKBN1Z80P5

[15] Ali Rizk: Nasrallah calls for regional action against US military, 10 January 2020, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/01/lebanon-hezbollah-expel-us-forces-iran-soleimani-killing.html

[16] Iran-Backed Iraqi Militia Leader Promises Iraqi Response to U.S. Air Strike: Tweet, 8 January 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2020/01/08/world/middleeast/08reuters-iraq-security-khazali.html?searchResultPosition=3

[17] See on this the RCIT statement: New anti-Islam film: We condemn the latest imperialist-racist assault on the Muslims! On the mass protests against the US embassies in the Middle East, 13.9.2012, in: Revolutionary Communism, No. 6, November 2012, pp. 4-5

[18] Nasser Karimi, Jon Gambrell and Zeina Karam: Blowback: Iran abandons nuclear limits after US killing, 6 January 2020, https://apnews.com/e043255bd33ab318f71d1947716a5b94

[20] See on this e.g. RCIT: Afghanistan: A Successful Strike against the US Occupation, 19.10.2018, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/asia/afghanistan-a-successful-strike-against-the-us-occupation/; RCIT: Afghanistan: Drive the US Occupants Out! US President Trump escalates the imperialist crusade against the Afghan people! Support the resistance against the occupiers and their stooges! 23.08.2017, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/asia/us-occupants-out-of-afghanistan/;

[21] See on this e.g. RCIT: Syria: Assad Regime and Kurdish YPG Strike a Reactionary Deal, 15 October 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/syria-assad-regime-and-kurdish-ypg-strike-a-reactionary-deal/

[22] Leaked U.S. letter to Iraq was a poorly worded draft: top U.S. general, 6 January 2020, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iraq-security-usa-milley/leaked-u-s-letter-to-iraq-was-a-poorly-worded-draft-top-u-s-general-idUSKBN1Z5255; Ryan Pickrell: The US military mistakenly sent a draft letter to the Iraqi government suggesting it was pulling out its troops, 6 January 2020, http://www.businessinsider.fr/us/leaked-letter-sparks-concerns-of-us-troop-withdrawal-from-iraq-2020-1

[24] The RCIT has published numerous documents on Palestine and the Zionist state. They are collected on our websites at https://www.thecommunists.net/worldwide/africa-and-middle-east/. In particular we refer to the book of our comrade Yossi Schwartz: Palestine and Zionism. The History of Oppression of the Palestinian People. A Critical Account of the Myths of Zionism, April 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/palestine-and-zionism/. See also Michael Pröbsting: On some Questions of the Zionist Oppression and the Permanent Revolution in Palestine, May 2013, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/permanent-revolution-in-palestine/

[25] Ben Caspit: US withdrawal from Iraq is Israel’s worst-case scenario, 8 January 2020, https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2020/01/israel-us-iran-iraq-syria-qasem-soleimani-letter-withdrawal.html

[26] RCIT: World Perspectives 2019: Heading Towards a Volcanic Political Eruption. Theses on the World Situation, the Perspectives for Class Struggle and the Tasks of Revolutionaries, 2 March 2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/world-perspectives-2019/

[27] RCIT: Greetings for the New Year of 2020. In the midst of a global wave of class struggle and popular uprising we must join forces in building a Revolutionary International! 27.12.2019, https://www.thecommunists.net/rcit/greetings-for-the-new-year-of-2020/