By Liam Carroll
In the face of recent reports about enduring military bases in Iraq and the designation by the United States of Iran's Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organisation, it is surely worth considering why Washington continues to pursue a strategy, both in Iraq and toward Iran, that many believe has gone hopelessly awry.
The answers might be found in an appreciation of Washington's wider strategic objectives. As the world's largest economy, America's strength is inevitably bound to the well-being of the global trading system which the US has spent no little effort in promoting. From the Marshall Plan, through to the work of the World Bank, the IMF and more recently the WTO, the United States has worked tirelessly to increase demand for, and the production of, globally traded goods. In the post-war world the US found itself commanding huge industrial and financial resources that made it uniquely placed to take advantage of international trade.
In conjunction with its trading strength the US had the military might to defend those political regimes that were willing to respect the rules of global trade, and where possible to overturn regimes that dissented. The history of the last 65 years is replete with examples of nationally popular leaders being overthrown by US backed-proxies, most notably in Iran in 1953, Indonesia in 1962, Chile in 1971 and Nicaragua in 1989, not to mention the failures, including the recent US backing for the removal of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. In each case the reasons for regime change were pretty much identical; the political leaders wanted to nationalize their countries’ resources and to keep control of the economy within the nation state, thus removing the country from the American based global system. The ultimate nightmare for Washington in this respect was what they called 'the domino effect' in which if nationalism were seen to prosper in one country, then other countries might follow.
In this context it is worth recalling where Iraq and Iran stood before the invasion of 2003. With the world's second and third largest reserves of oil beneath their feet, the strategic importance of these countries could only grow, and in conjunction with weapons of mass destruction, their ability to undermine Washington's authority in the region was also set to increase. The very harsh sanctions that were imposed on Iraq since 1991 and the determined efforts to disarm the country can also be understood in this light, and it was in no small measure the gradual disintegration of those sanctions that precipitated the invasion. Much as the weapons issue may have been exaggerated to gain public support, there is plenty of evidence that the fear, in Washington, of Saddam's weapons programmes was quite genuine, as indeed it is of Iran's.
In destroying the Ba'ath regime then, the US removed a defiant power from being able to interfere in its long term plans for the region, which inevitably will involve bringing the oilfields under corporate control sooner or later. The threat from small divided militias in Iraq too is surely more manageable, from the Washington’s point of view, than the threat from what would eventually have become a well armed state, and a hostile one at that. The US may not have achieved all its war aims yet, but it has surely at least eliminated a major impediment to long term management of the world's major oil producing region.
The determination of the US to maintain enduring bases in Iraq, to push through the hydrocarbon laws that will open up the oilfields to foreign control, and to continue to stitch together a government that will give the process its legal legitimacy and guard against nationalist or Iranian takeover are all in keeping with America’s long term strategy. A careful reading of US presidential candidates' views on this topic reveals that there is no serious dissent from this position.
Similar objectives are discernable in Washington's policy toward Iran; weaken the regime through every means possible, encourage dissent amongst ethnic groups, sow seeds of division amongst the leadership, build an international sanctions regime and try to deny the country access to any nuclear technologies. Undermining Tehran at every opportunity, most recently by classifying Iran’s Revolutionary Guard as terrorists, is all part and parcel of this same strategy.
The US doesn't expect to achieve its goals over night, as indeed no empire ever did, but it is sure to remain focused on very specific objectives. For the US government the war in Iraq won’t end, it will just be a question of steadily pursuing objectives, and with regard to Iran, the war will never really start, for in many senses, it already has.