Thursday, November 1, 2012

Arab Revolutions Put Iran Attack On Back Foot

There can be little doubt that the Arab revolutions have already transformed the Middle East and look set to continue and deepen that transformation. Dictators in Tunisia, Yemen and, most spectacularly thus far, Egypt have gotten the boot. In Tunisia and Egypt the working class played a sizeable role in their ouster and this has led to a labour spring involving the explosive growth in independent unions, rank and file confidence, wild cat strikes and political demands that would have been unthinkable even two years ago.

But while most of the left have applauded the revolts in those three above countries, they have been much more circumspect - and in some cases downright hostile - to the revolts in Syria and Libya (or the earlier and less successful Green Movement in Iran). The reason is honourable enough - they see the hand of imperialism stirring the pot in countries that, if not openly anti-imperialist now, were in the past and, in the case of Syria, still support anti-imperialist movements like Hizbollah and Hamas. The USA and its allies, the logic runs, want to see Assad overthrown in order to weaken the "axis of resistance" (as Iran's president branded Iran, Syria and Hizbollah in Lebanon, in a clever twist of the Bush mantra that labelled Iran and North Korea as part of an axis of evil). Many have even argued that the revolts in Libya and Syria aren't even really revolts but merely fabricated coups by pro-imperialist elements.

This is to miss the point on a number of levels. First the mass and sustained character of the revolts in both Libya and Syria (in particular Syria) bely the notion that these are mere quislings risking their necks to sell out their country. It also starts from a profoundly naive belief that true and pure revolts have no truck with imperialism. Sadly, no such revolt has ever existed. By definition a revolt is both the underdog - lacking the weapons and infrastructure of their oppressor state(s) - and heterogenous politically.

Since humans aren't the Borg and don't think the same things simultaneously, they can reach myriad conclusions, arising from their social location and personal experiences. Some sectors of a revolt will draw the conclusion that the quickest road to victory is by aligning with the big countries of Europe or America to get access to guns and even the playing field militarily - not thinking about the price to be paid (or even accepting that price). Others will resist the conditional aid of outside states and prefer to build an indigenous mass movement.

And, lastly, imperialist countries never just sit on the sideline. Their multitude of intelligence agencies, secret services, state-funded aid organizations, etc. exist for a reason: to promote the hegemony of their country abroad. They will seek to influence opposition organizations and individuals and to bend them - and through them opposition movements - to supporting the strategic interests of their state. The proxy wars of the Cold War era were precisely the result of maneuverings between the USSR and the USA. Sometimes it involved supporting opposition movements (particularly in the case of the USSR, which was always considerably weaker than the USA) and sometimes it involved supporting the regimes already in power to crush opposition movements. Imperialism is, by definition, opportunistic.

It is a mistake to base our support for opposition movements on whether or not imperialism is trying to influence them - and even where they are succeeding to a degree. Revolts, even ones compromised by imperialism, have a way of getting out of the control of those who would use them to their advantage. One need only look at the challenges that the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is facing in trying to rein in the tumultuous movement in Egypt that brought them to power.

There is a final reason for supporting the Arab Spring with great enthusiasm and not viewing it through the narrow lens of state-to-state relations. Western imperialism's hope that the weakening of the Syrian regime would permit greater pressure on Iran isn't happening quite that way. The belief that the Arab Spring would allow Iran to be isolated and make it more susceptible to military assault has turned out to be quite the opposite as this article in the Guardian makes clear:

US naval, air and ground forces are dependent for bases, refuelling and supplies on Gulf Arab rulers who are deeply concerned about the progress Iran has made in its nuclear programme, but also about the rising challenge to their regimes posed by the Arab spring and the galvanising impact on popular unrest of an Israeli attack on Iran...

US naval commanders have watched with unease as the newly elected Egyptian president, Mohamed Morsi, has made overtures towards Iran. US ships make 200 transits a year through the Suez canal. Manama, the Fifth Fleet headquarters, is the capital of a country that is 70% Shia and currently in turmoil.

Ami Ayalon, a former chief of the Israeli navy and the country's internal intelligence service, Shin Bet, argues Israel too cannot ignore the new Arab realities.

"We live in a new Middle East where the street has become stronger and the leaders are weaker," Ayalon told the Guardian. "In order for Israel to face Iran we will have to form a coalition of relatively pragmatic regimes in the region, and the only way to create that coalition is to show progress on the Israel-Palestinian track."
The conclusion seems pretty clear: the greatest threat to the goals of western imperialism in the Middle East is the Arab Spring. The deeper grows that revolt, particularly in the Gulf states and especially in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, the more imperialism will be constrained in its actions and agenda.
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