Iran at a crossroads

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Nelson Mandela meeting with Ayatollah Khamenei, a screenshot from 0:12 of this video, which is related to an article where Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjami said that Mandela has told him that “Iran is the most important ideal destination for South African people as [the] Islamic republic has experienced many difficulties over its resistance and dictatorship.”
Back in January, I wrote about Iran beset by the forces of Western imperialism. I gave a more informed view of the capture of ten US sailors and two navy boats at the time, gave a broader picture of US imperialism, noted that Iran after 1979 became anti-imperialist but is also religiously conservative. I concluded by saying that Iran has a choice: “either it bows to…Western imperialism…or it resists Western influence as the hardliners want…[but] whatever the outcome, it is clear that Iran will get integrated into the capitalist system more now than it has [been] in the past.” This article aims to expand on this by examining responses to the US Supreme Court decision forcing Iran to pay $2 billion to victims of terrorist attacks, with this accusation based on only one NSA intercept, apparently. Additionally, I aim to provide an even more holistic viewpoint of Iran’s place on the international stage.

The US Supreme Court’s ruling and the Iranian response

As the bourgeois media noted, the 6-2 ruling meant that Iran’s central bank, Bank Markazi, lost and that over $2.6 billion of Iranian assets frozen in 2012 by President Obama, needed to be seized to satisfy a previous judgment and pay the American plaintiffs, giving them “justice” and “accountability” for supposedly backing the 1983 bombs in Beirut, among other attacks. [1] Interestingly, John Roberts and Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the decision, written by Ruth Bader Ginsburg which justified a 2012 law passed to help the plaintiffs as aiding “in the enforcement of federal-court judgments,” with Roberts saying that Congress was “commandeering the courts to make a political judgment look like a judicial one.” [2] Ginsburg also declared that this decision “provides a new standard clarifying that, if Iran owns certain assets, the victims of Iran-sponsored terrorist attacks will be permitted to executive against those assets,” so expect more cases supporting such seizures in the future. I could go on, examining how the Supreme Court assisted victims of what they declared was “Iran-sponsored acts of terrorism,” and the judgement itself, but without legal expertise and without hours upon hours of researching more on this case, I think it just best to let the reader read the judgment for themselves. Instead, I wish to, in this section, mention the responses from figures in the upper echelons of Iran’s government which, of course, have been not mentioned in the bourgeois media.

The Iran was rightly up and arms about this ruling. On April 22, the spokesperson for Iran’s foreign ministry, Jaberi Ansari said in a speech in New York that “the ruling has mocked international law…such [a] verdict is stealing the assets and properties of the Islamic Republic of Iran” and added that the US government should compensate Iran for any damages “inflicted on Iran as a result of the ruling,” with Iran, long “rejected allegations of involvement in the 1983 Beirut bombing.” The same day, Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, blasted the ruling. He said that Iran “do not recognize the court’s ruling and the US government knows this well…whatever action it [the United States government] takes with respect to Iran’s assets will make it accountable in the future and it should return these assets to Iran.” Also that day Iran’s Deputy Foreign minister, Seyed Abbas Araqchi, also condemned the ruling. He told reporters in Vienna that this move is “exactly in violation of international law and it can be considered as an international robbery. We do not officially recognize the U.S. court’s decision because it has confiscated and in fact robbed Iranian assets in a completely non-judicial manner by violating international norms.” Many days later, Zarif again blasted the ruling with even harsher words that almost echoed what Araqchi said. He argued in an interview with The New Yorker, with some quotes reprinted in Iran Daily, that he had lost “every respect for U.S. justice,” adding powerfully the following:

“…the judgment by the Supreme Court and…by a New York circuit court deciding that Iran should pay damages for 9/11 are the height of absurdity. How would you explain Iran being held accountable for the damages to the victims of 9/11—and others being absolved of any responsibility, those who were actually responsible for it? These cases cannot stand in any serious civilized court of law…people can legislate in other countries to confiscate American assets. [similar to what was said on Twitter by VNGiapaganda]  Would you be happy with that? The United States has committed a lot of crimes against Iranians, against the people of Vietnam, the people of Afghanistan, the people of Iraq. Can they legislate in their own countries for every collateral damage suffered because of American bombing, for every person who was tortured by the Savak, which was created by the United States, those people can claim money from the United States and go confiscate it? Would you be willing to accept it? So why should we accept the Supreme Court ruling? The Supreme Court is the Supreme Court of the United States, not the Supreme Court of the world. We’re not under its jurisdiction, nor is our money. It [the recent court decision] is theft…highway robbery. And believe me, we will get it back.”

In the rest of interview, there were numerous other observations by Zarif. He said that the Saudis stymied Iranian efforts to work with neighbors in the Persian Gulf, that he wants to see European banks doing business in his country “without fear of U.S. retaliation,” that hostile policies aimed at Iran have to stop, and that the US owes Iran for giving Saddam Hussein “intelligence to hit our civilians with chemical weapons.” He also said that Iranian defense is “not  subject to bargaining,” that the process forward in Syria should be put “in the hands of the Syrian people” and declared that people shouldn’t consider Iran a monolith. Elsewhere, in a statement picked up by conservative media, it quoted Zarif as saying that “the Iranian government does not recognize U.S. extra-territorial law and considers the U.S. court ruling to blockade Iranian funds null and voice and in gross violation of international law…if they [Iranian funds] are plundered, we will lodge a complaint with the ICJ for reparation.” The original source of this quote clarified that there was a wrongly translated part about lodging a complaint with the ICJ, with Zarif saying that Iran will “claim compensation from the US administration” if Iranian assets are confiscated, that John Kerry has “got to know our protest since the US court made such illegal action,” and that a committee was formed to investigate how this happened, in order to prevent “repetition of such cases and…how to prevent such an illegal action to take effect.”

Later in April, Iran’s Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei spoke in a related note about the US intimidating foreign banks so they don’t engage in business with Iran. He said, and I quote,

“the major reason for major international banks’ refusal to cooperate with Iran is the Iranophobia that Americans have been promoting…there is no place in the region more secure than Iran and the conditions in our country in more secure than in the US where several people are killed every day and is even more secure than the European countries.”

Earlier this month, Iran’s parliament also voted against the verdict. Iranian legislators reiterated that the US court ruling contradicts “international law and order,” with the Vice-Speaker of the Iranian Parliament, Mohammad Hassan Abourorabifard, saying that the ruling is “baseless, unreasonable and invalid, “also saying that “the Iranian nation will strongly safeguard its rights.” The article, and one that is similar to it, also quoted the Iranian Vice-President for Legal Affairs, Elham Aminzadeh saying that Iran had filed a lawsuit against the US at the International Court Justice, and that “the government has powerfully stood against the practice of this ruling because the assets belong to the (Iranian) nation and should be spend on its welfare.” The speaker of the Iranian parliament, Ali Larijani, was also quoted as saying that “US officials have not been bound to their promises towards Iran since the victory of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran, but they should know that Iran’s hands are not tied for taking reciprocal measures.” Even the moderate reformist President, Hassan Rouhani, who I will talk about more later, said at a cabinet meeting

“that a court or judiciary in a corner of the world wants to decide about the Iranian nation’s rights and properties is fully illegal and against the international laws and the central banks’ legal immunity…The Iranian nation will stand against this incorrect ruling, and the Islamic Republic and its government will use all their power to restore the Iranian nation’s rights.”

Some strange readers may still laugh and say that there is evidence that Iran was involved in 1983 Beirut bombings, maybe even that they should be “punished.” If you get really wacked out, you might think that Iran somehow owes U.S. victims, of what some laughably call “Iranian terrorism,” $53 billion dollars! Anyway, I looked at some of the available evidence that claims this is the case. The claims that Iran was involved include accusations that it gave Hezbollah “approval and funding,” funding from “Iran’s senior government officials” as this CNN article claims, with the lawsuits just happened to be filed after 2001, and as claimed by one federal judge (also noted here), that “Hezbollah was formed under the auspices of the Iranian government, was completely reliant on Iran.” The best evidence of all of this is a magical document, revealed at the March 2003 trial (note: this is one the site of an anti-Iran activist Kenneth R. Timmerman who I do not agree with), NSA “intercept of a message sent from Iranian intelligence headquarters in Tehran to Hojjat ol-eslam Ali Akbar Mohtashemi, the Iranian ambassador in Damascus,” which is not available to the public only summarized by a judge. Oh boy. The plaintiffs who just won their case in the Supreme Court, in arguably what was an act of robbery, must have been overjoyed when in 2003 a court found that the Iranian Central Bank was “legally responsible for providing material financial and logistical support to help carry out this tragic attack on the 241 servicemen in Beirut in 1983.”

Anyway, a section of a Wiki page on this subject claims that at the time a group called the “Islamic Jihad” claimed responsibility for the bombings but that Reagan officials believed that Iran and/or Syria was responsible for the bombings, and eventually Hezbollah, with a Lebanese author claiming that Iran and Syria helped “organize the bombing,” while some others even say that Mossad was responsible (also argued on numerous other sites). Interestingly enough, the CIA was the first to blame Iran groups and then claim there was “Iranian-sponsored terrorism” and it was the bombing of an embassy by what the CIA claimed was “overwhelming…evidence” pointing to someone opening with “Iranian supporter under the cover name of Islamic Jihad” and some magical callers claiming they were part of Hezbollah. As the CIA said on their website, the Islamic Jihad Organization “claimed responsibility for the Beirut embassy bombing.” In a 2009 article by Muhammad Sahimi argues the following:

“…to this date, no one can point to the true culprits with any great deal of certainty. Iran may have had an indirect role in the attacks, but…the evidence is not conclusive. If Iran played a role, it was in the context of the Iran-Iraq War…an unknown organization calling it the Islamic Jihad [not the Palestine group] took responsibility for the bombings…some experts believe that the Islamic Jihad was the forefather of Hezbollah…there is however no consensus about when the Lebanese Hezbollah was formed…Hezbollah…has always vehemently denied that it had any role in the attacks. Due to close relations between the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Islamic Republic of Iran, those who insist that Hezbollah already existed in 1982 or 1983 tend to also accuse the Islamic Republic of being behind the Beirut bombings. Iran did play a fundamental role in the formation of Hezbollah…it is also true that with Syria’s support, Iran began stationing military personnel…in Lebanon…but departed by 1989…Robert Baer, a CIA agent in Beirut…had concluded that Iran…was the key player behind the embassy bombing…many books and articles have been published on the attacks, but…we still remain in the dark.”

A conservative site, which takes the view that Hezbollah was responsible, notes that the bombing killed 63 people, with many of those killed being from “the CIA’s important Beirut station,” almost implying that the group that engaged in the attack knew of the CIA’s presence. Similarly, libertarian James Bovard, in CounterPunch, does not challenge this placing of responsibility, but says that “the U.S. embassy was a sitting duck for terrorist assault” and how this connected to the “debacle” in Lebanon. As noted in the quote above, Robert Baer and his team concluded, at the time, that Hezbollah was not responsible for the bombing in Beirut, but that it was the Islamic Jihad, one of the “three dozen militias of various persuasion[s] operating just in Beirut in the early 1980’s,” or maybe even the PLO was involved. Then there’s the supposed mastermind of the attacks (if you trust U.S. officials) who was claimed to be part of Hezbollah, who was killed in a car bombing in Damascus, Syria, by unknown assailants.

I could go more into this, but I do think it is clear that it is not clear cut that there was Iranian involvement in this 1983 bombing of the US embassy in Beirut. With that I move onto further sections of this article.

Iran’s geopolitical role in the region and its history

In recent years, the geopolitical role of Iran has undoubtedly increased. After all, it is in a strategic location bordering the Persian Gulf, along with US-allied states of Afghanistan and Iraq, which could arguably be called imperial proxies to some extent. The United States, which should more accurately be described as a murderous imperial monster, is continuing to restrict Iran’s economy. Back in March, this monster and its allies urged more sanctions for Iranian missile tests, which were obviously a defensive measure, but of course such defense is refused for states such as Iran.  As Iran’s Deputy Foreign minister, Araqchi, who was mentioned earlier, put it correctly, “US enmity is endless and still continues against the Iranian government and nation.” This has shown itself to be true when in April, the spokesperson for the State Department, Mark Toner, declared that “the administration has not been and is not planning to grant Iran access to the US financial system,” which was echoed by President Obama. If even a legal fellow of the bourgeois National Iranian American Council, which I’ll talk about more later, says that Obama should engage in more sanctions relief, then that is telling

In response to such imperial assault, there have been, not surprisingly, measures and statements that Iran will not hesitate to defense itself. Most recently, even President Rouhani said that Iran would take drastic measures if there were any delays in the implementation of the 2015 nuclear deal. Zarif added to this that Iran was requiring the Western countries to honor their commitments to this deal. The most insightful comment was from the defense minister, Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan. He implied that US presence in the region “stirs insecurity” in the region and then blaming Iran, furthering saying that “Iran will decisively confront any menacing passage through the Strait of Hormuz” and that it was Iran’s right to hold military exercises. His insight manifested itself in this comment: “We warn the Americans not to repeat their past mistakes and they should learn from historical realities.”  Others, such as Zarif said that Iran would not use force except in defense, a statement falling in line with Article 51 of the UN Charter, which states: “nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations.” Also, Ayatollah Khamenei argued the following at a meeting on the occasion of the birth of the daughter of Prophet Muhammad, Hazat Fatemah Zahra:

“If the Islamic establishment seeks technology and negotiations but does not have defensive power, it will have to back down in the face of any petty country that threatens [it]. That they say the future of the world is one of negotiation and not one of missiles…if that is said of ignorance, well it is ignorance, but if it’s said knowingly, it is treason. The Islamic Republic must use all tools. I am not opposed to political dialog, not with everyone of course. I am fine with political dialogue on the level of global issues. These are times of both missiles and negotiations. Negotiations should be carried out in such a way that we do not get cheated. That we negotiate, put things on paper, but sanctions don’t get removed, and trade doesn’t get going is a sign that something is wrong.”

There is no doubt that Iran is under threat by imperialist machinations. After all, as Khamenei said himself, “American presidential candidates are racing in saying bad words against Iran which is their hostility” and, as he argued later, the West is not serious about confronting terrorism, which, based on the available evidence, seems to be valid. Because of this threat, it is not surprising that despite Saudi efforts to restrict Iran as noted here, for example, an ex-Saudi Price admitting to arming terrorists in the Southeastern part of Iran, that Iran would engage in a foreign policy aiming to stabilize the region. As Zarif noted, with removal of sanctions, the country will try to “restore peace and stability in the region” in part by trying to “quell region tensions” even though some try to thwart this initiative. Rouhani added to this that Iran is concerned about instability in regional states. More than just meetings and such, this policy manifests itself in numerous ways. For one, it includes standing with Syria as a “main chunk in the resistance front against enemies,” in part by sending Iranian commandos to the country on an advisory mission to help Syrian military forces fight foreign-backed militants. Additionally, Iran’s foreign minister is soon to participate in a China-initiated security forum, and Iran’s defense minister may even discuss an arms deal with Russia, regardless of the lies of Fox News.

I could also talk about here about the UN apparently censoring press coverage of the meeting of Kerry and Zarif on April 22 at the UN, Khameini reminding people of the history of the Islamic Republic as one of resistance, or the  non-“revolution” engineered by the CIA to overthrow Mohammad Mossadegh. Instead, I’d like to focus on Iran and the drug trade. Recently, the Secretary General of Drugs Control Headquarters, Abolreza Rahmani Fazli, criticized the UN for failing to live up to their promises, saying that “up until now, the UN has failed to live up to its promises to aid Iran in fighting illicit drugs…what we need from the UN ids the necessary facilities and equipment to combat drug trafficking, particularly detection dogs…Iran, due to sharing borders with Afghanistan, which the origin of production and transit of drugs, has paid the highest price in counteracting illicit drugs.” From this, some could speculate this means that sanctioning countries may be involved in the drug trade, like the United States for instance. This brings us to the history portion of this section, which focuses on Iran and the drug trade. For this, one must turn to a book I am currently reading, The Strength of the Wolf, by Douglas Valentine, which follows a number of agents, or characters, within the Federal Bureau of Narcotics from the 1940s until the 1960s. Valentine who has written about the CIA’s Phoenix Program in Vietnam in a book titled The Phoenix Program, the secret history of the war on drugs, with a specific focus on the DEA, titled The Strength of the Pack, the successor book to The Strength of the Wolf, and more.

Valentine specifically talks about Iran’s place in the drug trade at numerous junctures.  For one, it was clear, from the surveys by FBN agent Garland Williams in 1948 and 1949, and as FBN Commissioner Henry Anslinger knew, that Iran’s most influential families had gained fortunes through the opium trade, intending to keep anti-drug laws weak so their fortunes could continue to grow, with opium shipped to Indochina “through Greek and Armenian brokers,” a trade from which Chinese nationalists were also profiting. [3] More specifically, this trade meant that there were “more than a million addicts” in Iran, but the espionage Establishment cared little, with their goal of keeping the Shah in power rather than pushing Iran to reform its narcotics policies. [4] Interestingly enough, Mohammad Mossadegh, who is well-known for nationalizing Iran’s oil fields in 1951, led a parliamentary coalition, and was hoping to also reform Iran’s narcotic laws, but this was not “the sort of anti-narcotic action that Anslinger appreciated.” [4] Mossadegh also banned opium production in Iran, as he was aware of Iran’s drug addiction problem, but his nationalization of British and American oil firms led to a “bloody coup engineered by the British and CIA,” that was, more specifically, concocted by Kim Roosevelt and the CIA, with Roosevelt working with known CIA asset Faround Nashibi, who was employed as chief of security for Pan American Airlines in Beirut at the time. [5]  In the aftermath of Mossadegh being overthrown in a coup, which the CIA only admitted engaging in a document released in 2013 publicly and Obama tacitly admitted in 2009 (also noted here), the American and British oil companies “regained their properties in Iran,” Roosevelt became the vice-president of Gulf Oil, and the CIA moved in, launching “penetration operations inside the Soviet Union” from Iran. [6] With this change of government, supporting the Shah was a matter of national security eclipsing the “local issues of drug law enforcement” as the royal families in Iran “never stopped overproducing or selling black-market opium.” [6]

There’s more. For one, the FBN had been receiving reports from at least 1951 that the younger brother of the Shah, Mahmoud Pahlevi was “trafficking in narcotics between Tehran, Paris, New York and Detroit,” with the Pahlevi family having holdings in opium fields, and the first documented report of his involvement in February 1951. [7] FBN agent Jim Ryan was surprised to find out that the Shah’s younger brother was engaged in drug smuggling, but as his supervisor, Charlie Siragusa, told him, Prince Ruspoli, another member of the Iranian royal family, was also an addict, and hinted that Pahlevi may have had a drug habit as well, supplying his “jet-set friends so they could all enjoy the same exclusive kick.” [8] It is also worth noting that the family of Prince Ruspoli, “owned huge opium farms” in Iran and how a Corsican even “asked him to supply raw opium to build a heroin conversion factory in Tehran.” [8] This one of the many FBN cases, with a narco boss, Armen Nercessian, set up in a trap and arrested by FBN agent Paul Knight in a garage. [8] The arrest caused quite a stir, but since, at time, the CIA was engaged in Operation Ajax, a plan to reinstall the Shah and overthrow Mossadegh, the FBN never revealed that “Pahlevi’s address was found on Nercessian,” but later Siragusa told Anslinger that the “surplus opium in Iran” could be part of a broader trend. [9] Many years later, the drug trade was still alive and well in Iran. In 1956, while working with General Alavi Moghaddam, Paul Knight and Charlie Siragusa, both working for the FBN, raided a lab “in Tehran that was producing 100 pounds of heroin a week!” [10] This huge bust was only the beginning, with Knight escorting FBN agent Garland Williams to Tehran, at the personal request of President Eisenhower to “solve” the drug problem in Iran, but this was complicated by the fact that CIA officer Bryon Engle with them, who had a job to “create a narcotics squad in Tehran,” at the same time that him and the “were forming, with the Mossad, Iran’s brutal secret police force, SAVAK.” [10] This was further compromised by the reality that America had been “enmeshed in Iran’s opium business since 1943,” when the Third Millspaugh Mission came to Iran to take over Iran’s economy, but not only gave “oil, air transport, and various other commercial rights to American industrialists” but collected “opium revenues, managed the Pharmaceutical Institute, and directed the Royal opium factory,” which prompted some critics to call this team “drug sellers.” [10]

From this history, it is obvious why Iran would be serious about combating the flow of illicit drugs within its country. Additionally, with the explosion of heroin production after the imperial occupation of Afghanistan began in 2001 by US-led forces, this is even more of a pressing issue for them. Perhaps Iran is also doing this in an effort to engender more Western cooperation but that is up for debate.

Where we are now: the crossroads

As Iran currently stands, there are roughly two competing forces: the reformists and the religious hardliners. The reformists are newer, emerging since the 1990s, at minimum, and are backed by the West, specifically the imperialist monster, or “Great Satan” as some Iranians call it. The religious hardliners are those who won in 1979 with the Islamic Revolution, establishing an Islamic Republic, and are vigorously anti-imperialist.

A recent tweet brought this to my attention. It was a tweet from the National Iranian-American Council or NIAC, citing a CNN article which declared, citing magical unnamed “experts,” that the election of reformists “will give Rouhani a less hostile environment to push his reforms.” Before I get into analysis of what these “reforms” are, it is important to analyze NIAC. Their sister organization, NIAC Action, the tweet of which I cited, has five goals: supporting the 2015 nuclear deal (and preventing war), strengthening US-Iran diplomatic relations, lifting sanctions on Iran, promoting “human rights” in Iran, and fighting discrimination against Iranian-Americans and Iranians in the United States. Some of these goals may seem laudable, one must recognize that the board of these organization is staffed with a former Congressional policy advisor, a former intern with the neocon think tank called the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), former American Cancer Society vice-president, former intern for Fund for Peace, a research assistant for the International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) which tries to support Iranian dissidents (a.k.a. the Iranian opposition like the “Green Movement”) and seems to have connections to NED (but supposedly no funding), and much more. [11] From here, it is best to move onto NIAC itself. On its page about its funders, NIAC says that 82% of its funds came from Iranian Americans and that the rest came from foundations such as the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF), the Arca Foundation, and Ploughshares Fund. Then, almost oddly, is the declaration that “NIAC does not receive funding from the U.S. or Iranian governments” which should make anyone a bit suspicious.

Doing a little digging, one finds out that NIAC openly admitted in a 2003 annual report that it received money from NED, and as noted by SourceWatch, received money in the years of 2005 and 2006 as well. Furthermore, there are two reports, which relate to the 2005-2006 grant. One of these notes that NIAC only came into existence in 2002, and then says that this nonprofit “will use renewed Endowment support to create an interactive website for Iranian civic groups to develop their capacity and improve their access.” If that doesn’t sound like assisting imperial destabilization, I don’t know what is. The other report, a follow-up from the previous one, declares that with NED funding, NIAC continued to develop its website for the civic groups mentioned previously, and also “continued to cultivate relations with Iranian NGOs and intensified its marketing.” I also found in my searching that the personal project of a neocon I mentioned earlier, Timmermann, hated the president of NIAC for apparently opposing US regime change in Iran and pushing for diplomacy instead. This implies that NIAC does not support such regime change anymore and that everything is just happy and dandy. However, let us not forget what types of things the RBF has funded in the past, including anti-BDS NGOs at the present, and funds many liberal groups, especially environmental groups, along with a role, in tandem with other groups, to, in the words of Jay Taber, “subvert democracy and derail democracy in favor of US hegemony.” When it comes to NIAC, perhaps it is best to look at their campaigns themselves. One recent “action” item of theirs, about lifting visa waivers for Iranian-Americans, cites the support of 35 “tech entrepreneurs,” which are really just capitalists, for justification. [12] Other posts show that NIAC seems to care about “U.S. foreign policy interests” not being trampled, wants there to be “economic reintegration of Iran into the global economy,” and thinks that Iranian-Americans can “make a change” by voting for Democrats. Other posts showing NIAC praising “moderate” imperialist Bernie Sanders, thanking Obama, calling out the supposed “regime” in Iran. If that isn’t enough, NIAC argues that House Republicans opposing the Iran nuclear deal threatens “U.S. national security interests.” [13] What is a bit worrisome is one of the justifications sent to Congress for why the Iran nuclear deal should be approved and I quote directly: “a successful resolution of the nuclear issue will empower Iran’s political moderates in addition to the Iranian people, who can press their leadership for both internal and external moderation.” I could go more into NIAC, but it seems clear from what I found that they serve as an organization that supports the Iranian opposition and hence are in line with US imperial interests at this time, even if they do not receive direct funding from NED. It is also evident that because of this, it means that NIAC is a bourgeois organization, a bourgeois NGO to be precise.

Having covered NIAC, it is vital to return back to the two competing forces in Iran, roughly. The “reforms” proposed by Rouhani are not something that any person, especially those on the “Left,” broadly or narrowly defined, should stand for. According to a few articles I looked at, his reforms include: (1) privatizing the automotive industry; (2) opening up the economy more to the West; (3) engaging in “economic liberalization” which are code words for privatization; and (4) weaken state involvement in the economy. [14] There was an article on a site that is a project of the German Green Party which noted that Rouhani’s administration has “hewed to rather conventional austerity measures, curbing inflation and cutting costs,” and saying that if this approach is maintained, along with the slow amount of foreign investment, “the economy is in danger of shrinking rather than growing.”  Then there was a rash of articles quoting numerous Iranian high-level ministers who declare that Iran wants to fully join the WTO, a mainstay of the existing capitalist system since 1995. [15] This is not very promising, but neither is the fact that one of the leading members of the “neoconservative advocacy community,” the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) sided with Rouhani, declaring that “the elections appear to have given the Rouhani-aligned moderates and reformists a plurality in the new parliament,” praising the harsh cuts to food and fuel subsidies, supporting his “reform agenda,” and that the best option is for “the United States…to do nothing.” This praise is not surprising when, as one Reuters writer declared, after claiming that the idea of a “resistance economy” was bunk, that “Rouhani’s reforms…in many ways resemble policies of a center-right European government.” [16] To me, this is deeply troubling as it basically implies that Rouhani is not only doing the “right thing” but is doing something that governments of Europe, which have been implementing austerity left and right, destroying social programs and social services, is fine as well. That is not a good sign going forward.

The elections this past February proved whether this agenda was “winning” in Iran or not. The Economist declared that this parliamentary election was part of a “backlash” against conservatism. The election results showed that reformists won 66% of the parliamentary seats in the province of Tehran. According to the election results, the Principalists, which is another name for the “hardliners,” seemed to win a majority of the seats, even when I recounted them a second time. However, that was before all of the results were in, which shows that the reformist coalition called “List of Hope” won against “hardline” coalitions like the Principalist Grand Coalition and People’s Voice Coalition. It is also important to note here that Khamenei called for full participation of Iranians in elections and that, as noted by Iranian state media, “more than 60 percent of some 55 million eligible voters cast their ballots at around 53,000 polling stations across the country.” It worth also pointing out that at one point some wanted electronic voting in Iran without a secure system, so it was abandoned, which seems to eliminate one possible avenue of Western manipulation or tampering.

Some may ask what this election means. For one, I’m not sure if these new legislators will heed Khomenei’s message after the election which said that “I shall remind all authorities…[of] preferring national interests over personal or party requests, courageous resistance against foreign intervention, Revolutionary response to plots by the malevolent and traitors,” and so on. Sputnik, a Russian state-funded news outlet posited, around the same time, that “the decline of Islamic clerics…demonstrates that the Islamic revolution in 1979 is a distant memory.” Some Westerners may be cheering at this announcement, but it vital to dig more into what this means. It is clear that Rouhani’s reformist administration is trying to court Western companies like BP (despite its role in the 1953 coup), which recently opened an office in Tehran and a recent “major oil, gas and petrochemical convention” which attracted over “900 international firms…for four days of showing, stalking and cutting deals with 900 domestic companies” including Asian enterprises and European firms such as ABO Value (Czech), Camfil Power Systems AB (Swedish), Carbon Energy Club (Belgian), Sichuan Huagong Petroleum Steel Pipe Co. (Chinese). [17] This obviously will mean that the economy will continue to move from one that is centrally-planned, albeit not entirely; to one that is more of an open market. [18]

There is no doubt that Western capitalists must be jumping up and down and so excited about this opportunity to tap into a new market, exploiting more people for their personal gain, of course. But it also means that NED’s efforts have been relatively successful. NED, as must be remembered, is an appendage of the murderous empire. In terms of Iran, they have given awards to leading Iranian political activists such as Ali Afshari and Manouchehr Mohammadi, awarded the Green Movement with the 2010 Democracy Award, as noted here, here, and here, supported “democracy” efforts in Iran. NED also portrayed Iran as an authoritarian monster that was repressive, gave money for an online journal, radio station, organizations, and activists, honored more activists (also see here and here), and much more. At the same token, one could say that NED has not been successful. For a time that was true because the Green Revolution was pushed back in 2010, a movement which obviously was a method to gain control, like the other movements NED has honored, and put in place a Western-friendly government. Of course NED is not the only organization at play here; likely the CIA has secret operations afoot in Iran, along with USAID, and a number of other organizations like BBG and others that spread imperial propaganda.

Looking forward, there is isn’t even a need to talk about the size of Iran’s economy, a silly pseudo-“left” statement on Iran, or how oil prices were supposedly tied to the outcome of Iran’s recent elections. Instead it is best to remember that Khamenei is the one who, along with others, opposes privatization but supposedly supports an “illusion of privatization.” But the deeper reality is that if such privatization which the reformists, and their Western capitalist backers, want is fully implemented, then the “resistance economy” will be utterly destroyed. Such an economy, which existed under UN sanctions, is one that has five-year development plans, has expanded production of “knowledge-based products,” increased production of “strategic goods,” markets in neighboring countries, increased exports of raw materials, and yes, privatization despite Khomenei saying in 2013 that trust in “imposed economic theories of the West and the East” was harmful, a description which was mostly echoed by the Chairman of Iran’s Expediency Council, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. The Guardian claimed that this type of economy, a term first used in 2010, which includes a “push for self-sufficiency and domestic production…a commitment to the central place in the economy of…bodies like the IRGC,” but is flexible term and depends on what happens in the US.

There are some who oppose Rouhani’s policy of privatization.  One such article is by Drake University Professor Ismael Hossein-zadeh on the website of the sometimes good, sometimes wacky, Global Research Centre. In this article, Hossein-zadeh writes that the efforts of Rouhani’s administration, unlike the “opening of China to foreign capital” has been inspired by “the doctrine of economic liberalism/neoliberalism” which is a break from the past when Iran viewed economic sanctions as an opportunity to be self-reliant. He further argues that the “open-door economic policy” of the Rouhani administration undermined these past gains, the industrialization strategy of import-substitution is ignored, and that soon Iran would be experiencing deindustrialization if it does not temper the opening of itself to foreign trade. He also adds that Rouhani and his administration are taking on foreign debt to improve the country, that the approach forward would lead to dependence of Iran, and that Rouhani and his economic advisors are “West-centric in a misplaced, inappropriate and mistake way” that follows the strategies of “mature or advanced capitalism.” He concludes by saying that unless such neoliberal policies are reversed then Iran’s markets will be “flooded with foreign products,” the manufacturing base will be weakened, foreign debt will escalate and national sovereignty compromised.

Where do we go from here?

After reading this article, some readers may have little hope in Iran changing. Some readers may remember that communist parties in Iran are almost non-existent, with the suppression of the Iranian communist party, Tudeh, in the 1980s. Some readers may say that Iran does, in its current form, serve as an anti-imperialist state. Arguably that is still true, however, with the Rouhani administration, this position is quickly slipping away as Rouhani tries to pull Iran closer to the West. Others may even say that with these new developments, maybe there is a possibility for a push in Iran for a more expanded communist presence. To be honest, I’m not very optimistic about the latter possibility. At this current time, I’m fully willing to support those forces that resist Western imperialism in Iran, even if they are termed “hardliners” in the bourgeois media and even if I disagree with their religious conservativism. For now, that seems the best we can do since Iran is clearly not a socialist government like Cuba, definitely not a “market socialist” country like China, but seems to be religious government with revolutionary roots, the most positive label one could give it apart from it being called a bourgeois reformist government, which one could argue convincingly. I’d like to hear your comments on this issue since it is definitely possible that I misinterpreted something or said something more. That’s all. Thanks for reading.


Notes

[1] See a Reuters article by Lawrence Hurley (April 20, 2016) titled “U.S. top court rules Iran bank must pay 1983 bomb victims.” Also see: an NPR article by Eyder Peralta (April 20, 2016) titled “Supreme Court Rules Frozen Iranian Money Be Turned Over to U.S. Terrorism Victims”; an AP article (April 20, 2016) by Mark Sherman titled “High Court sides with families of ’83 Beirut bombing victims”; a Bloomberg News article by Greg Stohr (April 20, 2015) titled “Iran Terror Victims Win at U.S. Supreme Court, Can Collect $2 billion.”

[2] See a Reuters article by Lawrence Hurley (April 20, 2016) titled “U.S. top court rules Iran bank must pay 1983 bomb victims.” In its defense, the Iranian bank argues that “Congress unlawfully changed the legal rules in a pending case” while Roberts also said in his dissent that after this decision, “with the court’s seal of approval, Congress can unabashedly pick the winners and losers in particular pending cases” as noted in an April 20, 2016 article in the Wall Street Journal by Brent Kendall titled “Supreme Court Upholds Terrorism Victims’ Ability to Collect Frozen Iran Funds.” For more on an analysis of Robert’s dissent, from an unabashedly conservative source, of course, see here.

[3] Valentine, Douglas. The Strength of the Wolf: The Secret History of America’s War on Drugs. London: Verso, 2004. Print. pp. 78-9, 102, 117.

[4] Valentine, The Strength of the Wolf, 105.

[5] Ibid, 105, 170.

[6] Ibid, 170.

[7] Ibid, 117.

[8] Ibid, 118.

[9] Ibid, 119

[10] Ibid, 169.

[11] Other positions held by those on the board include a former “Physical Therapy Assistant,” former organizer for United for Peace and Justice, a graphic designer, and a former reporter.

[12] This is also cited in a post here.

[13] In their ad, NIAC claimed that opposing the deal threatened a “chance for peace.”

[14] See Arthur MacMillian’s March 1, 2016 AFP article titled “After Iran elections, Rouhani aims for economic reform,” Ian Black’s February 29, 2016 article in The Guardian titled “Iran election results put Hassan Rouhani on cautious path to reform,” and Michael Kaplan’s January 25, 2016 article in the International Business Times titled “After Iran Nuclear Deal, Rouhani And Supreme Leader Battle Over Domestic Reforms.”

[15] Valiollah Afkhami Rad, the Deputy Industry Minister, was quoted as saying in January of this year the following: “Iran will soon form a working group to negotiate its way to join the World Trade Organization and a total of 40 countries have expressed willingness to join the group which marks the prerequisite for permanent membership to the WTO…structural reforms in Iran’s economy need to take place and reduction of tariff levels has been put on the agenda.” A post by a person who formally worked at the United States Institute for Peace declared that “Iran is increasingly vocal about its readiness to join the World Trade Organization…Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh…announced that finalizing its WTO membership is “a priority” for Iran…domestic lobbies…are particularly wary of foreign competition. Iran will thus need not just structural changes but also political mobilization.” In a television talk show in December 2015, Iran’s minister of industry, Mohammad Reza Nematzadeh, said that “our country can join the World Trade Organization in less than two years,” and noted that Iran has been requesting to be a WTO member since 1995.

[16] See Andew Torchia’s May 1, 2014 article in Reuters titled “Politics, markets complicate Rouhani’s rescue of Iran economy.”

[17] It is worth reading the letter written by President H.E. Xi Jinping of the People’s Republic of China which says, in part: “…In history, China and Iran made important contribution[s] to opening the Silk Road and promoting exchanges between Eastern and Western civilizations…since the inception of our diplomatic ties in 1971, the China-Iran relationship has stood the test of international changes and maintained a momentum of sound and steady development…Our development strategies are highly compatible, which creates huge potential for cooperation…the long distance between Beijing and Tehran is no obstacle to the interaction or cooperation between China and Iran, nor to the friendship and exchanges between out peoples. China is ready to join hands with Iran to renew the Silk Road spirit and create an even better future for China-Iran relations.”

[18] For proof that Iran is moving in this direction, see a webpage on Economy Watch’s website, this website, this post on the USIP website, this country brief by the World Bank, this book, and much more.


Addendum

As I continue to read about this subject, I have had some interesting responses. One reader, VNGiapaganda, asked me what I thought of the possibility that “Afghan opium is being used to destabilize Iran” and commented that this is “something I’ve been wondering about, because Iran has been having HUGE problems with narcotics from what I’ve gathered.” I think this a definite possibility. UNODC puts it this way about Iran:

“Drug trafficking represents a major challenge for the Islamic Republic of Iran. The geographical location of the country, particularly its porous 1,923 km-long Eastern border with Afghanistan – the world’s largest illicit opium producer – and Pakistan, has turned it into a major transit country for illicit drugs. In response to this challenge, the country has built one of the strongest counter-narcotics enforcement capabilities in the region over the years…[in 2014] Iran accounted for 74% of the world’s opium seizures and 25% of the world’s heroin and morphine seizures in 2012…More than 3,700 national law enforcement officials have been killed and over 12,000 have been maimed in counter-narcotics operations over the last three decades…the Islamic Republic of Iran also faces emerging trends of illicit production and trafficking in Amphetamine-Type Stimulants (ATS).”

In addition, as NarcoNon puts it, “Iran lies directly in the path of the world’s largest flow of heroin,” and that “Ethnic Kurds…are thought to be heavily involved in the movement of drugs across this border.” Let us not forget the imperial monster has allied with Kurds, at least since the 1990s, a “strong, deep partnership” or “close relationship” as a November 13, 2015 New York Times article (by Tim Arango and titled “Sinjar Victory Bolsters Kurds, but Could Further Alienate U.S. From Iraq) put it, which manifests itself in military strikes, for example (see Morgan L. Kaplan’s September 9, 2014 Washington Post article titled “Why the U.S. backed the Kurds). There are probably more articles than this on this relationship, but one could speculate that the US government, covertly of course, was working with Kurdish traffickers to destabilize Iran. However, that may seem to be too much of a stretch. Still, as an Iranian state media outlet put it, Iran sees itself, among other countries as the “frontline of the fight against narcotics trafficking” and has fighting to stop “infiltration into the country” by drug smuggling groups.

It is clear that Iran is facing “huge problems with narcotics” as VNGipaganda pointed out. The corporate-backed Middle East Institute claims that NGOs are doing the best work in stopping drugs, but this disregards the huge seizures of drugs like tons upon tons of opium (and other illicit drugs), a drug control organization that is part of the Iranian government, which is all part of their “war on narcotics.” Bourgeois media have declared in the past that “Iran is the main gateway for the region’s top drug exporter, Afghanistan” with more than 2.2 million Iranians who are drug addicts, that punishments for those trafficking illicit drugs often result in execution, and that there have been massive public awareness campaigns about illicit drugs. This media has also declared that drug trafficking soared in 2012 even with Western sanctions ravaging the economy, claiming wildly that even that Iranian forces and Hezbollah were involved (see a Washington Post article by Joby Warrick, on November 1, 2012 titled “In Iran, drug trafficking soars as sanctions take bigger bite”), and another quoting a prominent Iranian official is a member of the Expediency Council, Saeed Sefatian apparently illustrating “legalisation of cannabis and opium use under specific circumstances outlined by ad hoc laws.” Some, like High Times, have used the latter quote to call for “opening up” of democratic dialogue in Iran which inherently means to assist the reformists and therein privatization, while others have said that Iran’s drug policy is just paradoxical. Others argued that Iran, “as one of the world’s primary frontiers in the fight against opiate and illicit drug trade, should be actively encouraged and assisted to take a more prominent role.” You can bet that isn’t happening.

Anyway, onto other issues of note. Ali Akbar Velayati, head of the Strategic Research Center, which is part of Iran’s Expediency Council, told reporters in Tehran that “I have had five meetings with Mr. Putin and I never saw his hesitation in supporting the legitimate government of Syria,” and he asserted that Iran regards “Assad and his government as a “red line”” as the Iranian state media outlet summarized it. Yet again, this shows that Iran is staking out not only an anti-terror position but an anti-imperialist one by standing with an arguably Arab nationalist government, regardless of that fact that the latter is secular. Another article I stumbled across said that a “Russian S-300 missile defense system delivered to Iran has been brought to Khatam al-Anbia Air Defense Base,” further noting that “Moscow and Tehran signed a contract for the delivery of five battalion sets of S-300 PMU1 air defense missile systems in 2007” and that “Iran displayed the first S-300 air defense missile system imported from Russia in April.” This sort of trade probably angers imperial elites as they see Russia as a “threat” despite the fact that it only has 10 military bases worldwide compared to hundreds upon hundreds of bases by the murderous empire. Two other articles I found related to the section of this article on the US Supreme Court case relating to Iran. One of them cited a PressTV video showing the Iranian Parliament speaker condemning the decision. Another quoted Rouhani, the Western-backed reformist, as saying in a speech, following the denouncement by the Non-Aligned Movement, the following:

“The government will never allow for the money that belongs to the Iranian nation be easily gobbled up by the Americans…[Iran will] take this case to the International Court [of Justice] in the near future and will not spare any effort towards the restoration of the nation’s rights through legal, political and banking channels.”

A statement like this could imply that even with reformists in power that Iran may still remain anti-imperialist. However, one must consider that with more cooperation with Western forces there is no doubt that the reason to be anti-imperialist will be left, with Iran ultimately, if Rouhani’s center-right policies are fully implemented, becoming a dependent state. Hence, anti-imperialism won’t even be on the agenda.

Finally I write about here a little bit on NIAC and NED. From what I found, the US State Department, the mainstay of the foreign policy establishment and one of the pillars of the empire, has a transcript of a 2011 press conference with participants including: the NIAC President, Trita Parsi; Congressperson Keith Ellison; former New York Times correspondent Nazila Fathi; Nader Hashemi, a person who edited a book about the Green Movement; the Swedish Ambassador to the US, Jonas Hafstrom; an international policy analyst for the RAND Corporation, Alireza Nader; U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Suzanne Nossel; and a director of Middle East and North Africa for Human Rights Watch, Sarah Leah Whitson. At this press conference, hosted by NIAC, and funded by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and the Ploughshares Fund, participants moaned and groaned about “the human rights situation in Iran,” citing International Campaign for Human Rights in Iran (ICHRI) and Amnesty International as sources, along with trying to hold Iran “accountable” for its “human rights violations” maybe even refer them to the International Criminal Court! Other participants claimed that Iran is a “very nationalistic country,” claims that US politicians should publicly support Iranian opposition figures, heap more sanctions in Iran, and many more horrid “observations.” I think it also worthy quoting a bit of what Keith Ellison has to say, as it shows what side he is on. He says, in part the following which sounds like an apology for empire:

“The United States has done a lot of good things in the world. There’s no doubt about that. I’m proud of that. We’re one of the largest donor nations in the world, and I’m proud of that. But it’s also true that our relationship to the Middle East in particular has been somewhat limited to a few factors. Oil, our historic relationship with Israel, and counterterrorism basically have been the three prongs of our relationship with the Middle East…When we’re in a relationship with a government that somehow meets some of our economic and strategic needs, but at the same time they’re human rights violators, it’s easy to take a blind eye and not look in that direction…fundamentally human rights do lend to long‑term overall stability in a nation where people can raise their own voices, can speak their own truth without fear of being carted off and being on the business end of a jail cell, or worse. I believe those societies will be more stable over time…in the 1953, the democratic initiative of Iranian people was undermined and so, for so many years, we followed that policy because it met our own economic and strategic interests. That policy changed radically in 1979, and we’ve been dealing with the aftermath ever since that time…as Americans living in the United States, we can form the basis of a peace constituency that says human rights has got to be the way we interact with the rest of the world…I was happy to see that the “smart” sanctions President Obama signed into law last year contain some of the provisions of the legislation that I introduced…The legislation was basically ‑‑ NIAC was an indispensable resource, as I mentioned already — it’s really our legislation…Gaddafi was able to crack down brutally in part because of the absence of foreign media…the international community needs to remind the Iranian government that we are watching…it’s legitimate for the United States to have interests and legitimate for them to pursue them, but I also think that human rights is an interest of ours too…I believe that there is room for sanctions; I’ve actually introduced sanctions bills myself. But the greater history of sanctions is that it doesn’t do much to change the conduct of the country at whom the sanctions are targeted…our default position should be multilateralism…I think we should have an interest section or an embassy everywhere we can, without regard to whether we like that government or not.”

This suck-up to the murderous empire also reveals that NIAC is completely fine with sanctions on Iran, as long as they are “smart,” implying that other sanctions are “dumb.” Additionally, the fact that he only says that “the democratic initiative of the Iranian people was undermined” in 1953 without saying that there was a US and British bloody coup to overthrow Mossadegh is just disgusting.

As much as I would want to go more through that press conference, I must move on. NIAC pops up in a newsletter for the US Embassy in 2011, making one think it could just be a foreign destabilization operation. Beyond this, some of the results from a search of the State Department’s website makes it seem like they are a pawn of the US government itself. Readers may remember the declaration on NIAC’s website that they do not “receive funding from the U.S. or Iranian governments.” Last night, when I was attempting to look for the NED reports, I had archived before my laptop was stolen, I looked specifically through the reports of 1984-2004, the results of which will be explained later. As it turns out, NIAC received $25,000 from NED in 2002 for implementing a two-day workshop for “forty members from five civic groups” to help them develop their publicity efforts. If you don’t think this is an effort of imperial destabilization than I’ve got to say that you are sadly deluded. Additionally, this proves that NIAC is not really telling the full truth with their disclaimer, a disclaimer which implies that people have criticized them for U.S. government funding in the past and that people have accused them of being pro-Iranian government when they obviously are not. Other tweets, with a thread beginning here, show the following:

  • $316,860 for the Iran Teachers’ Association (1991-4, 2001-3)
  • $105,000 for the Abdorrahman Boroumand Foundation (ABF) (2002-4)
  • $55,949 for the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) (2004, incorrectly called “the Center for the International Private Enterprise”)
  • $50,000 for The Foundation for Democracy in Iran (1995)
  • $40,500 for Vital Voices Global Partnership (2004)
  • No grants for Iranian groups for the years of 1984-1990 and 1996-2000.

Most of the grants for the Iran Teachers’ Association related to distributing their publications, including eventually a journal published by them titled Mehregan. As for the ABF, the descriptions of the grants make it seem that the ABF was given money to create a “human rights” website for “victims” of the “Iranian regime,” code for Iranian opposition activists. CIPE tried to “inject the voice of business” into Iranian society, which is not surprising considering one of its goals is to “help improve the functioning of market economies and build democratic societies” with “partners” to advance their capitalist policies across the world. Like the other organizations, the Vital Voices Global Partnership pushed to help Iranian opposition activists, specifically Iranian women. As for The Foundation for Democracy in Iran, the grant money should be obvious: it tried to monitor “human rights violations” in Iran.

While words from such organizations may seem nice on the surface, it is important to remember that these organizations are part of a broader push for imperial destabilization of Iran. There is no doubt about that. If one adds up the money from the organizations listed above, it is clear that between the years of 1991-1995 and 2002-2004, $568,309 was given to NED grantees in an effort to destabilize Iran. Some may laugh and say this a paltry sum, but lest us forget that there are still reports from 2005 on which are not noted here and that making this reality clear is still significant. Again, I welcome your comments and look forward to future interactions.

 

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4 thoughts on “Iran at a crossroads

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