Paul Mason writes: “This is a good day,” said Barack Obama, announcing the end of nuclear sanctions against Iran, “because, once again, we’re seeing what’s possible with strong American diplomacy.” The deal, accompanied by a prisoner swap and the release of frozen Iranian funds, signals the end of Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
But it is not a triumph of “strong American diplomacy”. It is testimony to America’s weakness and incoherence, in the very region where it has concentrated its military and diplomatic force for decades. As for Iran, with the nuclear programme gone, and its iconic American prisoners released, normal levels of barbarity can now be resumed.
First, there is the ordinary repression: convicts – two-thirds of them drug dealers or drug users according to the UN – were being executed at the rate of three per day last year, the highest per-capita execution rate in the world. Then there’s the suppression of trade unions. Iran arrested 233 labour activists in the year to May 2015. All strikes and labour agitation are treated as threats to national security by the Revolutionary Guards, the hardline military force that enforces Islamic discipline at home while spearheading military operations abroad. Finally, there is the outright political repression that has left two presidential candidates from the “green” protests of 2009 – Mehdi Karroubi and Mir Hossein Mousavi – under house arrest, and hundreds of other human rights activists, lawyers, journalists and scientists detained.
As western businesses rub their hands at the prospect of renewed access to this market of 78 million consumers, it’s worth remembering what the purpose of all this repression is. Industry is militarised: huge swathes of the economy are owned by the Revolutionary Guards themselves. With their front companies de-listed and given new access to the international bank clearing system, many of the Guards’ leaders will now get very rich. The workforce, deprived of all basic rights to organise, their jobs totally precarious, and with 70% earning less than the official poverty level, will get the chance to be exploited by global capital, not just the Guards, the mullahs and their cronies.
You could lament all of the repression, yet still celebrate the Iran deal as a diplomatic achievement and de-escalation of conflict, if Washington was demonstrating any sign of a coherent regional policy. But it is not.
On the same day Obama lifted nuclear sanctions, he imposed a whole new set of sanctions on Iran for testing a long-range missile. At the same moment, Iran’s Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, was fighting alongside its ally President Assad in Syria – against both Islamic State and the moderate opposition backed by America. Soldiers from Iran’s Quds force continue to prop up the Shia dominated government in Iraq. And the west’s regional ally, Saudi Arabia, continues to escalate its standoff with Iran after failing to scupper the nuclear deal by executing a Shia cleric.
If your brain is struggling to impose coherence on this picture of half-alliances, provocations and incessant death, that is no accident. Even those with intricate knowledge of the region cannot fathom what the Obama administration is trying to achieve. [Continue reading…]