Canada is already at war with Iran. The Canadian government has extensive sanctions against Iran, which are part of the crushing economic war on the country that have led to food shortages, undermined access to pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, prevented relief from getting to Iranians when flooding devastated the country in April, and triggered a collapse in economic growth and pushed the country into a deep recession.
The Trump administration has designated a branch of Iran’s military, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a “terrorist organization,” the first time a US government has applied the label to a country’s military. The classification means that any individual or group that does business with the IRGC could face criminal prosecution; the move will further undermine Iran’s economy, given that the IRGC is one of its major players.
US sabre rattling
The Trump government has taken steps that suggest greater US aggression against Iran could be in the offing. Early in Trump’s tenure, the CIA established an organization focused exclusively on gathering and analyzing intelligence about Iran. John Bolton, Rudy Giuliani, Newt Gingrich, and Elaine Chao have all lobbied for Mojahedin-e Khalq, a cultish Iranian exile group that is widely despised by Iranians for its murderous violence and collaboration with the US-Iraqi assault on Iran in the 1980s.
In May, then-acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan presented Trump’s key national security aides with an updated military plan to kill people in Iran that would involve deploying up to 120,000 troops. The US sent B-52 Bombers to patrol the Persian Gulf — supposedly because of an unspecified threat against US personnel in the Middle East, a threat that Britain’s top general in the anti-ISIS coalition says doesn’t exist — where they were joined by other US jets already in the region; the US also approved sending the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier and a Patriot missile battery.
To justify these escalations, the US government tries to portray Iran as an aggressor that bears primary responsible for the violence in the Middle East. The principal talking point here is the wildly misleading claim that Iran is the leading sponsor of “terrorism” in the region. Washington has also dubiously suggested that Tehran is responsible for sabotaging two Saudi oil tankers, as well as one from the UAE and another from Norway — an accusation for which the US admits there isn’t proof.
And the Trump administration, which recalled its non-essential embassy staff in Iraq citing purported threats from Iran-backed forces in Iraq, blames Iran for a rocket that landed near the US’s Iraqi embassy but has provided no evidence. That hasn’t stopped Trump from threatening to bring about “the official end of Iran.” Nor did it prevent his government from dispatching drones, 1,500 more troops, additional Patriot anti-missile batteries, reconnaissance aircraft and additional air and missile “defense” systems to Iran’s doorstep last month, all of which are on top of the eighty thousand troops the US admits to having in the area, to say nothing of the thousands more US forces in the region’s seas.
The US claims that Iran shot down US drones on June 6 and 13, offering—you guessed it—no evidence.
Last week, the US claimed that Iran attacked two oil tankers though the evidence contradicts that assertion. That served as a pretext for the Trump administration announced that it was sending another thousand troops, unambiguously a move to try to intimidate Iran.
On Wednesday, Iran did shoot down a US drone. Tehran says it was in its airspace, which Washington denied, but what’s clear is that this was a massive surveillance machine extremely close to Iran—21 miles, by the US’ admission—that has “powerful surveillance sensors to monitor ground or maritime activity in great detail” and presumably it was, well, spying on Iran.
To call all of these US provocations dangerous would be a gross understatement.
Why the US wants Iran destroyed
US government hostility towards Iran has nothing to do with nuclear weapons. We know this because Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program and hasn’t been close to having one since at least 2003, if ever. Iran takes the position that it should be able to develop and profit from its own natural resources and says that, if it’s not allowed to do that, it will withdraw from the nuclear agreement that the US exited last year. Unlike the US, Iran abided by the accord, but a key Iranian incentive for signing it was to get relief from the sanctions that are immiserating the country and undermining progressive change.
Understanding the actual reasons the US ruling class wants to destroy Iran requires examining the wider context.
Between the 1953 US-British coup against the democratically elected Iranian government of Mohammad Mosaddegh and the 1979 revolution, Iran was an indispensable ally of the US government in the Cold War against “Communism” and Arab nationalism, and the Iranian people were subject to the Shah’s US-backed torture state. It’s difficult to overstate how severe a blow Iran’s revolution was to the American ruling class; it would be roughly comparable to an anti-imperialist revolt toppling the Saudi state today or to the US’s Israeli cop on the beat going off duty.
The US ruling class never reconciled itself to the loss of its Iranian partner, especially not after a subsequent hostage crisis in which the US could not simply impose its will. To make matters worse from the standpoint of US planners, Iran showed itself to be a formidable obstacle to US dominance in West Asia when the American occupation and bombing of Lebanon — and enabling of Israel doing the same — led to the 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut, which the US attributes to Iran and which resulted in the US withdrawing from Lebanon, defeated and humiliated.
Iran isn’t a threat to start a war with the US, but it has long been a threat to US ruling class domination of the Middle East.
Iran has sponsored branches of the Palestinian liberation struggle against Israeli colonialism, supported Hizbollah’s resistance to US-Israeli aggression in Lebanon, backed Iraqi groups fighting the US occupation of Iraq, and aided the Houthis in Yemen against the US-Saudi-UAE-UK-Canadian attack on and starvation of Yemen. These actions are the basis on which the US and its partners call Iran a sponsor of “terrorism” — a characterization that elides the ways in which these are responses to US imperialist aggression, a force that is orders of magnitude more destructive than any actions Iran or its allies have taken. Likewise, Iran’s presence in Syria and support for the Syrian government have been repeatedlycharacterized as malevolence that needs to be offset by the alleged benevolence of US activities in Syria.
Such geopolitical considerations are part of the logic of the US ruling class’ domination of the global capitalist system; that domination requires the control of territory and vital resources. Pursuing these objectives in the Gulf has entailed decades of US war-making against both Iraq and Iran and US militarization of the Gulf.
US ruling class animosity toward Iran long predates the Trump presidency. The American state, unwilling to tolerate an independent government in the Middle East let alone one capable of thwarting US designs on the region, sponsored Iraq’s invasion of Iran almost immediately after the 1979 revolution, going as far as helping Iraqi President Saddam Hussein use sarin and mustard gas against Iran in 1988.
The same year the US navy shot down an Iranian civilian airliner, killing all 290 passengers and attempting to cover up what happened in what the US says was an accident but for which it has always refused to apologize. For several years that decade, the CIA funded Reza Pahlavi, the son of the last Shah who’s presently on a quest to create a “parliamentary monarchy” in Iran, an endeavor for which he says he will accept, US, Saudi, or Israeli support.
The Clinton government’s policy was the “dual containment” of Iraq and Iran that sought to isolate both governments politically, economically, and militarily, while the neoconservative mantra in the lead-up to the Bush administration’s 2003 US invasion of Iraq was “the road to Tehran lies through Baghdad.” The Obama government prosecuted its own crushing economic war on the Iranian population, while the much-ballyhooed Obama-era nuclear deal wasn’t a peace deal but a strategy for controlling Iran and did not mean the end of US sanctions.
Canada and the US out!
It’s far from certain that the Trump government will bomb or invade Iran, with the administration apparently split over whether to carry out this particular war crime. Trump just announced on Friday that he at the last minute called off a planned military action against Iran. While the US has a substantial military advantage over Iran, the latter has a strong military and allies in the region capable of carrying out significant counter-attacks against US allies and US personnel. In the event of a US military assault on Iran, the US military would suffer significant casualties.
The Trump government may opt against invading or bombing Iran, but what the US is doing amounts to international armed blackmail that says to Iran: submit to American dictates, including unchallenged US hegemony across the Middle East, or face economic asphyxiation, if not a bloody onslaught.
The jury long ago returned its verdict on US intervention in the Middle East: tens of thousands of dead civilians in Yemen with tens of thousands more on the brink of death by starvation; annihilating Syrian cities and arms shipments that benefited sectarian groups and that undermined the revolution; the destruction of Libya; a million dead in Iraq, unending massacres in Afghanistan.
Canada’s ruling class has played important parts in all of these bloodlettings: selling the weapons that are shredding Yemen apart, flooding the Syrian battlefields with weapons and profiting handsomely, taking part in the invasion of Libya, as well as the war the war ostensibly aimed as defeating ISIS. A similar catastrophe in Iran must be prevented, and there is a history of the 2003 anti-war movement which stopped Canada from directly participating in the war.
The first and most straightforward demand people in Canada should make is that Canada must not participate in current and future aggression against Iran, which means that Canada must lift its sanctions against Iran and normalize diplomatic relations with the country. (In 2012, Canada closed its embassy in Tehran and expelled Iranian diplomats from Ottawa.)
Canadian policies toward Iran should not be viewed in isolation. They must be understood in terms of the Canadian ruling class’ overall position in the US-led imperialism. Accordingly, Canada’s relations to other junior partners in that empire are also important parts of the picture. Israel and Saudi Arabia are Canadian allies who are parts of the warmongering against Iran with all three states operating under the auspices of US leadership.
The current economic and political war on Iran, and any military one that may be on the horizon, will be driven by the US—not Israel or Saudi Arabia—because the US is the sole global superpower. Yet the Israeli and Saudi governments do have interests in seeing Iran annihilated. Israel believes Hizballah’s victories against it wouldn’t have been possible without Iran. Israel’s existential purpose is to drive the Palestinians into permanent submission and Iran gets in the way of that. Saudi Arabia blames Iran for the apparent victory of the Syrian government in its allies in the Syrian war and for the Yemeni resistance to the US-Saudi-UAE-UK-Canadian evisceration of Yemen. Saudi Arabia’s proxy in Bahrain was almost lost and they see Iran as having been an important part of that. The Saudis want a compliant government in Lebanon but view Iran as getting in the way of that through its strengthening of Hizballah. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia brutally oppresses its Shia population and regards Iran as a force that emboldens Saudi Shias.
Militarily, Iran is a formidable foe for Israel and vastly more capable than Saudi Arabia. Both Israeli and Saudi capitalists see an opportunity for immense profits if the two countries can fully and openly consolidate their already substantial relationship—something that would benefit business interests in the US as well—but the calculation of the US, Israel, the Saudis, and other pro-US governments in the region is that for the US-allied Arab dictatorships to fully embrace Israel the Palestinian question has to be removed from the agenda by forcing them into a permanent surrender, a goal that is highly unlikely to be achieved.
Thus, demands that are crucial on their own terms are part and parcel of the effort to derail the assault on Iran. Accordingly, Canadian socialists and peace activists need to call for an end to Canada’s support for Israel, both because isolating Israel internationally is a key element in the vitally important struggle for Palestinian liberation, and because ending war in the Middle East requires reigning in Israel’s capacity to act as the US-led empire’s attack dog. Likewise, ending Canadian weapons sales to Saudi Arabia is urgent because the Saudi government is extraordinarily repressive domestically and has been a driving force in creating “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” in Yemen.
Because the war against Iran is taking place on multiple fronts, the response to it must as well. The goal, after all, is not only to stop the war on Iran but ultimately to shatter US-Canadian imperialism. Weakening the links between prongs in the US empire like Canada, Israel, and Saudi Arabia is a necessary step in that direction.
This article was adapted from an earlier version that appeared in Jacobin.
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