My January Reads

22 Jan
this post also features on offguardian

The Roaring Twenties began with a bang. Whatever else the decade may bring, chronologers will look back on its opening fortnight as momentous. The tone was set by the January 3 hit on General Quassem Suleimani, followed five days later on January 8 by Iran’s (token?) retaliatory strikes on US bases in Iraq.

That same day, Ukraine Flight 752 crashed shortly after take off from Tehran, killing all of its 176 passengers and crew. Two days later, on January 10, Western sources were opining that it may have been shot down unintentionally by an Iranian SAM. Having at first rejected the possibility, Tehran was admitting a tragic error within twenty-four hours, in a statement of culpability and abject apology which – along with its angry reception on the streets (82 of the 176 were Iranian) – inevitably dominated the world’s headlines of January 11.

Less well reported – also inevitably, since all conspiracy theories challenging US narratives are a priori ridiculous – is possible US involvement. Here’s former CIA officer Philip Giraldi:

The SA-15 Tor defense system used by Iran has one major vulnerability. It can be hacked or “spoofed,” permitting an intruder to impersonate a legitimate user and take control. The United States Navy and Air Force reportedly have developed technologies “that can fool enemy radar systems with false and deceptively moving targets.” Fooling the system also means fooling the operator. The Guardian has also reported independently how the United States military has long been developing systems that can from a distance alter the electronics and targeting of Iran’s available missiles.

The term, ‘conspiracy theorist’ is itself, in its current blanket and reactionary usage, absurd. Can there be any doubt that some conspiracy theories are accurate? Can there be any doubt that US and satellite politicians have for decades lied to us on matters of the gravest import – on what Nuremburg ruled the supreme international crime of waging aggressive war? Do bear these two questions in mind as I turn to the first of my four reads this month.

All of which, let me say up front, start with the murder of General Qassem Suleimani.

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson Calls Out Trump’s Lies on Iran (783 words)

“Pence’s words are laughable … Soleimani was helping us in Afghanistan in 2001, early 2002, to fight the Taliban. We got indispensable help from Iran in that regard …

” We are going to lie, cheat and steal, as Pompeo is doing right now, as Trump, Esper, Lindsey Graham [and] Tom Cotton [are] doing right now … to continue this war complex.” Wilkerson said. “That’s the truth of it. And that’s the agony of it.”

Shortest and easiest of my reads, this Amy Goodman/Dennis Moynihan piece of January 9 does not mention Flight 752 (a day after the crash, few suspected other than tragic coincidence) but does show, through the words of Colonel Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell, why only the terminally credulous could dismiss out of hand the possibility of US dark ops.

Battle of the Ages to stop Eurasian integration (1,649 words)

For this my second read it’s helpful to have an atlas or map of large enough scale to show ports and major cities on a westwards reach from Shanghai on China’s eastern seaboard, through to Iran and the Persian Gulf, Syria and the Eastern Med. Such a map will also include Central Asia and the vast sweep of Russia. All are essential for grasping the significance of an Escobar piece that takes in Russia’s Greater Eurasia and China’s Belt and Road projects.

And the centrality of Iran to both.

Plus a few things besides – like Modi’s perilous balancing act on Iran. Is India’s ruling class best served by deeper immersion in a bloc of BRICs? Or by keeping Washington sweet? To see why, long term, it can’t have it both ways on Tehran, the map should show the subcontinent too.

(I know you have such a map, serious follower of international affairs that you are. But on the off chance I’m wrong, may I recommend this laminated political map of the world, 1900mm by 1200 and a snip at £40 on Amazon. Clear a well lit stretch of wall where you work/relax/munch your cornflakes, and stick it up. You’re welcome.)

Though he can be excitable of tone – with its more serious risk of hyperbole of content – I’m a fan of Pepe Escobar. He’s always looking to the bigger picture, always well informed and, in this case, prepared to get away from his keyboard for a spot of old fashioned investigation:

… my travels these past two years, from West Asia to Central Asia, and my conversations these past two months with analysts in Nur-Sultan, Moscow and Italy, have allowed me to get deeper into the intricacies of what sharp minds define as the Double Helix. We are all aware of the immense challenges ahead

I confess I’ve no idea – lacking, perhaps, the requisite sharpness of mind – what Pepe’s getting at with a double helix concept lifted from the structure of nucleic acids, most famously DNA. But it sounds good. And who am I to carp and cavil at so bravura, lucid and closely reasoned a take on the geopolitical circumstances in which this month’s seismic events are unfolding?

America’s Monetary Imperialism (3,562 words)

The mainstream media are carefully sidestepping the method behind America’s seeming madness in assassinating Islamic Revolutionary Guard General Qassim Suleimani … The logic was a long-standing application of U.S. global policy, not just a personality quirk of Trump … The assassination was to escalate America’s presence in Iraq to keep control of the region’s oil reserves, and back Saudi Arabia’s Wahabi troops (Isis, Al Quaeda in Iraq, Al Nusra and other divisions of what are actually America’s foreign legion) to support U.S. control of Near Eastern oil as a buttress of the U.S. dollar.

How can the author of those words, Professor Michael Hudson, be so sure?

I sat in on discussions of this policy nearly fifty years ago when I worked at the Hudson Institute and attended meetings at the White House, met with armed forces think tanks and diplomats at the UN. I was a balance-of-payments economist having specialized for a decade at Chase Manhattan, Arthur Andersen and oil companies.

Like others, I rate Hudson highly and have followed him for years – see my 2016 post, Perilous Days (its start point a piece by Pepe Escobar). Now Professor of Economics at Missouri-Kansas, he is described by Paul Craig Roberts, a Reagan Treasury appointee long scathing of US foreign policy from Clinton through Bush and Obama to Trump, as the finest economist of our age.

I almost didn’t include the piece. Unsurprisingly – he is an octogenarian bringing a great deal of knowledge and understanding to the in-depth contextualising of a shock event just three days earlier – it shows signs of being written in haste.

But it’s too good to be excluded on grounds of a typo here, a non parsing sentence there. Even those passages which, despite several re-reads, still go over my head can be overlooked.1

Keep your eye on the big picture is my advice, and don’t fret if some of the detail passes you by. Focus on the two drivers, both informed by Vietnam, of America’s trail of misery and ruin, jihadi terror and genocidal mayhem in the middle east. One is Nixon’s 1971 decoupling of dollar from gold and, soon after, this fiat currency becoming the basis for oil transactions the world over.

That double whammy of fiat currency and petrodollars ties US military might, and weaponising of oil, to dollar hegemony. The corollary is that any threat to said hegemony – attempts, say, by a Gaddafi or Maduro to shift to gold or sell oil in another currency, or the inevitability of Eurasia rising – will be seen by Washington as existential.

See in this regard my recent short post, Talking WW3 Blues.

The other strand? That after Vietnam, waging wars of profit – i.e. waging wars, period – could no longer be done by sending large conscript armies off to foreign lands. This leaves the US ruling class with two complementary options for imposing its imperial will: aerial supremacy and, on the ground, proxy forces which absolutely include terrorism. Hence Hudson’s depiction of Isis, Al Quaeda, Al Nusra etc as “America’s Foreign Legion”.

There’s much more in this the longest of my January reads. One being an assessment of Saudi Arabia which views Israel’s regional aspirations as akin to Turkey’s, in the Washington scheme  of things, rather than the driver of US policy some claim them to be. Another is the vulnerability of Saudi Arabia, hence US supremacy itself, to Iranian strikes on its oil fields should the clerics in Tehran be pushed into a corner so tight they may as well go down with all guns blazing …

… a prospect that strikes terror into the hearts of Europe’s lead players, who nonetheless see no realistic alternative to hanging on to the rogue state’s coat-tails …

But don’t lose sight of the fundamentals: (a) the link between oil, US military supremacy and a dollarised world; (b) armed jihad as America’s answer in the middle east – more arm’s length, to be sure, and more schizophrenic with it – to Britain’s Black and Tan thugs in Ireland.

Suleimani assassination, imperialist strategy and crisis of the Iranian regime (1,679 words)

Where this differs from the other three pieces is that, without losing sight of the demonstrable truth of the USA as arch villain across the entire region, it puts an unflattering spotlight on the reactionary clerical regime in Tehran. This it does in two ways.

First by showing internal power plays within the Iranian ruling class, a factor none of the other three refer to. It views the Suleimani murder as calculated not just to undo Revolutionary Guard advances in Iraq, Lebanon and Syria, but also to exploit and deepen those faultlines. The aim being to install for the second time a US puppet regime – a Shah of Iran Mark II in all but name.

Second, it draws on history, most clearly the Ayatollahs’ aiding the US/UK coup of 1953 which overthrew a government democratically elected on a ticket of nationalising Anglo Persian Oil. (Though it misses the hijacking of the 1979 revolution by those same clerics, who then went on to cement their power grab with a reign of terror which liquidated the Tudeh Communist Party and other secular currents of opposition to the Shah’s police state.)

This matters when the wars on the middle east have seen the left in the West embracing one of two erroneous and mirror image positions on the target states. The more inexcusable has been the way all of the liberal left, and a huge slice of the revolutionary left, have in effect sided with imperialism: damning Ba’athism in Iraq, Libya and Syria on the one hand, Iran’s theocrats on the other, more vociferously than they do Washington and its junior partners in crime.

The opposite fault is more forgivable but still wrong. Those who glorify leaders in Damascus or Tehran (and, posthumously, Tripoli or Baghdad) overlook the degree to which all have colluded at some point with imperialism.2

This piece makes neither mistake, but does make a couple of its own. One is a remark, plucked as far as I can tell from thin air, to the effect that rival factions in Iran may have conspired to put Suleimani in harm’s way. I can’t say that didn’t happen but we’re given zero evidence to back up the idea, and I was heartened to see eyebrows raised over it in several BTL comments.

The other, in my experience atypical for a WSWS piece, is a finale which pulls rabbit from hat in the way the rest of the far left has a tiresome habit of doing. With no credible answer as to what third force we can turn to – since Ba’thism/theocracy and imperialism are to be loathed in equal measure – this far left offers the jam-tomorrow rain cheque of that indefatiguably chimeric call for international solidarity with the Syrian/Iranian working class.

In the main WSWS, mouthpiece for a Socialist Equality Party itself the product of the implosion of Gerry Healy’s frightful WRP, doesn’t go in for ultraleftist silliness. And this piece has the merit of being the only one of the four to consider Iran’s class dynamics. So I’ll turn a magnanimously blind eye to its ending on a call few on the left would dispute in principle – but in practice looks about as imminent as the Second Coming:

Workers and youth in Iran must counterpose to the capitalist Islamic Republic a struggle for a Socialist Workers Republic that would fight to unite the masses throughout the Middle East, across all religious sectarian and ethnic lines, against imperialism and all the venal bourgeois regimes.

In North America, Europe and around the world, the watchword of the working class must be “Hands off Iran!” Opposition to all sanctions, intrigues, threats and war preparations against Iran is a vital element in the building of a global, working class-led movement against imperialist war and the crisis-ridden capitalist system that is its source.

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  1. Should you find Hudson’s piece too dense, I recommend the follow up interview he gave four days later to the Saker.
  2. Such collusions with imperialism are a matter of historic record. Besides the Iranian clerics’ role in the 1953 coup – and an Iran/Contragate every bit as embarrassing to Khomeini as to Reagan – we have Hafez al-Assad’s 1976 invasion of Palestinian camps in Lebanon, at Kissinger’s request that Syria bail out the right-wing Maronite Christian militias facing defeat there. (These being the same Phalangist cut-throats Israel’s Ariel Sharon would, a few years later, unleash at Sabra and Shatila.) But when socialists use such examples to excuse their failure to defend Ba’athist or theocratic states from imperial onslaught, they drag disingenuity to a new low. Are we to suppose America attacks Syria and Iran because of those collusions?

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