Iran and the US: Friends at Last?

In a period of pretty much unrelenting geopolitical gloom in the Middle East, the deal reached between Iran and the 5+1 countries is a positive development for various reasons.

Firstly, and most importantly, it lays the basis – however tentatively – for the diplomatic resolution of   a festering and extremely dangerous confrontation that has threatened for more than a decade to turn into an all-out regional war,   whose destructive consequences would have been absolutely horrific for Iranians, and which   would almost certainly have sucked a number of countries into a vortex of violence of incalculable proportions.

Many powerful states have wanted this outcome for some time; Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states.   A rancid collection of neocons and ‘liberal interventionists’, and American Likudniks have also called repeatedly for ‘the West’ to blast Iran or ‘the Mullahs’ – with the usual sigh of resignation at the inevitable deaths of alien dark-skinned folk that would have resulted from their noble intentions.

But then, as Niall Ferguson and Melanie Phillips and so many others have argued, you couldn’t just allow an irrational state motivated by nothing less than a desire for collective religious suicide/martyrdom to acquire nuclear weapons, just so its entire population could blow themselves up in order to get to heaven.

Yes, these crazed arguments were seriously made, with the same level of intellectual gravitas with which Netanyahu equated Iran’s nuclear program with preparations for Holocaust II ie. none at all.

Now, as a result of this deal,   the people who would have died as a consequence of lies and idiotic fantasies like this will now live, and the people who wanted to see them dead will have to gnaw their own hands and batter their keyboards with rantings about ‘appeasement’ and why-Obama-is-Neville Chamberlain op eds.

And this represents a major defeat for Israel and Saudi Arabia,   both of whom have been conniving and manipulating to push the world’s only superpower into whacking Iran for them.     Even worse, from their point of view,   it now turns out that Iran and the US have been secretly negotiating with each other for months.

The fact that the United States has chosen to talk to a leading member of the ‘axis of evil’ is also something of a turn around.   Following Obama’s rediscovery of diplomacy in Syria, the deal may well represent a recognition, however unacknowledged, that the US military simply cannot afford to fight another major war that will wreck yet another Muslim country in order to save it, even if some sections of its foreign policy establishment would still like to.

So all this is good.     But it isn’t a time for jubilation.   The deal could unravel, and you can bet than there many people who will be seeking to make sure that it does, in Tel Aviv and Riyadh and beyond.

It’s also worth remembering what was done in order to force Iran to do this.     The sanctions regime imposed by the United States since the Clinton years and subsequently widened over the nuclear issue, have inflicted huge damage on the Iranian economy.

Despite the usual insistence from its architects that these measures were intended to target the Iranian government not the Iranian people, ordinary Iranians, as always, have borne the brunt of them.

Unemployment in Iran is now as high as 35 percent, mainly because factories have been forced to close because they can’t import raw materials and vital parts.   Inflation is at least 22 percent.     The cost of food, water, fuel and electricity has hit ordinary Iranians who are least able to afford it.     The price of vegetables has risen by 100 percent.

According to the International Affairs Review, ‘ blue collar workers in downtown Tehran can barely afford meat, while luxury cars are ubiquitous in the neighborhoods of North Tehran’.   In addition, lack of spare parts has resulted in numerous plane crashes, in which as many as 1, 700 people may have died.  

The 5+1 countries are perfectly aware of these consequences, despite the customary references to ‘humanitarian’ exceptions to sanctions.     The  ‘White House Fact Sheet’ on the Geneva deal   will now allow ‘License safety-related repairs and inspections inside Iran for certain Iranian airlines’, among other things, so hopefully passenger planes will stop crashing.

But most sanctions will remain in place, such as the prohibitions on buying Iranian oil that have reduced Iran’s oil output from 2.5 millions barrels per day at the beginning of 2012 to 1.5 million – a ‘ loss of $80 billion that Iran will never be able to recoup’ as the report puts it.

That is a prohibition   that Saudi Arabia will be particularly keen to keep in place.   But most of the sanctions will remain in effect to ensure Iran’s compliance with the Geneva conditions, such as US restrictions on trade, which will continue to deprive Iran of ‘ access to virtually all dealings with the world’s biggest economy.’

Then there are the   ‘   targeted sanctions related to Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism, its destabilizing role in the Syrian conflict, and its abysmal human rights record, among other concerns,’ which will also remain in place.

Excuse me?   Iran’s destabilizing role in the Syrian conflict?   That Iran and Hezbollah have helped Assad is one thing – but to call this ‘destabilizing’ given the role played by the West and its Gulf allies in Syria is really, let’s just say, a highly subjective interpretation of what has gone on these last few years.

So hypocrisy and dishonesty remain the nature of the game here, such as the White House’s declared intention to ‘ facilitate transactions for medical expenses incurred abroad.   We will establish this channel for the benefit of the Iranian people.’

Very generous, and no doubt working class Iranians will now be rushing off to hospitals all over the world to take advantage of this dispensation.

And then there is the following:

The American people prefer a peaceful and enduring resolution that prevents Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and strengthens the global non-proliferation regime.   This solution has the potential to achieve that.   Through strong and principled diplomacy, the United States of America will do its part for greater peace, security, and cooperation among nations.

Just to recap: there is no evidence that Iran was seeking to obtain a nuclear weapon,   and there is nothing illegal about its desire to acquire nuclear energy.     The sanctions were an arbitrary measure imposed by a handful of powerful states for purely geostrategic purposes.

If   ‘global non-proliferation’ was really is the object of all this, then Israel would long ago have been called for its own possession of nuclear weapons.   But it never has and it’s difficult to imagine that it ever will be

So there is nothing ‘principled’ about US diplomacy, and nothing principled about the sanctions.   And as for ‘greater peace, security, and cooperation among nations’, don’t get me started.

But at least, for the time being, the tide of war has receded and the warmongers have been thwarted.

And given the events of the last decade, that can only be reason for cautious optimism.

France: Sucking Up the L’argent

Imagine, in a parallel universe, that you are the socialist president of France.     As you look out on a troubled world from the Elysee Palace,   you recognize that you have an opportunity to help defuse a conflict that has been dragging on for more than a decade, and which has constantly threatened to plunge the Middle East into yet another war, of potentially catastrophic proportions.

Still keeping your mind fixed on the word ‘socialist’ (for the sake of argument) you understand immediately that the simmering conflict between Iran and the United States, and more broadly between Iran and the West, is a major threat to world peace.

A social democrat to the core, you sympathize with ordinary Iranians who have been suffering the impact of sanctions, to the point when passenger planes are regularly crashing because they can’t get spare parts.

Mindful of the antimilitarist tradition of Jean Jaurès that your party belongs to, you welcome the possibility of avoiding war through arbitration and diplomacy, especially since those who are have been trying hardest to egg the West on to attack Iran in order to eliminate the nuclear weapons that it doesn’t have are:

a) Israel – under the fanatically uber-Zionist Netanyahu, which believes that trashing Iran is the key to final victory over the Palestinians.

And b) the Gulf plutocracies, particularly Saudi Arabia, which see Iranian/Shiite influence as a threat to their own wealth and regional hegemony and would do anything to reverse it, even if that means kicking off a regional sectarian conflict or getting the world’s only superpower to blast the hell out of Iran or at least cripple Iranian society with sanctions

Given this context, your progressive French administration relishes the opportunity to kick the prospect of war into touch and open a new era that could make so many positive things possible, from a negotiated end to the Syrian civil war to Iranian/Western cooperation to prevent a violent implosion in Afghanistan and stabilize Iraq, or the prospect of putting serious pressure on Israel to make real concessions to the Palestinians.

These would indeed be achievements for a socialist government to be proud of, and you might leave office thinking that you had made a real contribution to ending the militarist drift of early twenty-first century politics.

Unfortunately for France, and for the world, the actual incumbent of the Elysee Palace is Francois Hollande, a man who has yet to see a war he didn’t like, and who bears the same relationship to socialism that Tony Blair does to pacifism.

And so what has happened, in the universe that we actually inhabit, is that France has come close to wrecking the unprecedented rapprochement between the United States and Iran.

All this was done, according to the Guardian, as a result of the personal intervention from that notable statesman Binyamin Netanyahu:

It has emerged that after a call from Barack Obama on Friday evening asking him not to oppose the planned Geneva deal, Netanyahu did the opposite. He called British prime minister, David Cameron, Russian president Vladimir Putin, German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president François Hollande, asking them to block it. Hollande, whose government shared some of Israel”s concerns, agreed.

There are many responses that France could have made to this request, the diplomatic equivalent of ‘fuck off’ being one of them.

After all, even Sarkozy once recognized that Netanyahu was a ‘liar’, but the hapless little warmonger who has taken his place either doesn’t agree, or simply has other priorities, like the prospect of new ‘influence’ in the Middle East, and arms sales to the House of Saud Ltd.

France insists that its opposition to a compromise over the Iranian nuclear issue as a point of principle over nuclear proliferation – though we have yet to hear   Hollande or any other French leader advocate imposing similarly ‘principled’ sanctions on Israel over its nuclear arsenal.

But the real explanation for the French ‘non’ almost certainly lies elsewhere, and has more to do with euros – or rather riyals – than morality.   As Reuters points out:

In October, France sealed a contract to modernize six naval ships and tankers from Saudi Arabia, having won in July one billion euros worth of contracts with the United Arab Emirates for anti-aircraft radars and military observation satellites.

French officials say they are also optimistic on securing a large deal to deliver anti-aircraft defense missiles to Riyadh and the sale of Rafale fighter jets to neighboring Qatar.

Nice work, right?   And there will almost certainly be more to follow, if France continues its circle dance with Israel and the Saudis.

None of this is entirely new.   For all its republican traditions, French foreign policy has often been stunningly chauvinist, reactionary and ruthlessly colonialist.

This is the country that once interned Spanish republican refugees after the Spanish Civil War, that bombed Damascus twice in 1925-26 and 1945, that napalmed Algerian villages and routinized torture during the Algerian War of Independence, and which eagerly joined in the British/Israeli raid on Suez in 1956.   France still seems to believe that it ‘owns’ its former colonies in Africa, and its political elites share with their counterparts in Britain a persistent yearning for wider   post-imperial geopolitical ‘influence’ wherever they can find it.

These aspirations cross the political divide.     Sarkozy was one of the most gung-ho bombers during the NATO war with Libya.     One of the leaked Stratfor emails discussed a meeting between a Stratfor representative with a British, American and French colonel in 2011,   after which he concluded:

The French had a multi-billion dollar contract signed with  Ghadafi for 40 Rafale jets, that was going to be the saving grace for  the French defense industry. Then the French…hear about  AQIM [Al Qaeda in the Maghreb] threats backed by Ghadafi on French targets, and they got pissed.  Sarkozy painted himself in a corner. More than that, though, (and this  is what the british and the french guy agreed on,) was that this was  France really, really wanting to show that it can DO this. To prove its  relevance.

Hollande the former schoolteacher,   has also been desperate to prove his ‘relevance’ and show that France can ‘do’ stuff when it comes to war, whether sending the Legion into Mali or leading the international chorus for an attack on Syria.

Then he appeared to be following in Obama’s slipstream.     And now, France may be taking advantage of US hesitancy and division regarding the potential realignment in the Middle East to carve its own route, and place itself at the centre of a new power bloc, even if Obama doesn’t want it.

Jacques Chirac also stood up against an American administration over Iraq, when he asked for more time for weapons inspections.     Posterity has demonstrated that Chirac was right.

Hollande however, is most definitely wrong.   And if a war with Iran does take place at some future date, he may well go down in history as the man who had the chance to prevent it, and didn’t do so, because in the end war was just simply too profitable to refuse.