COLUMNS Stephen Berk

The Iran Fixation

Since the advent of the oil based economy, the US and its European allies have sought control of Middle Eastern oil fields.  The Ottoman Turks lost hegemony in the Middle East to the British and French as a result of World War One. And after the Second World War, European powers joined the US to form NATO and corner the Middle Eastern oil fields. At that time the US could rely on its own reserves for domestic use, but it formed NATO to counter supposed Soviet expansionism in Europe and elsewhere.  In reality, the Soviet Union had communized the countries at its Western border after World War Two to create a buffer against the West.  The USSR had been invaded by Western powers twice since its formation in 1917 and had lost some twenty million of its population in World War Two.  Yet our Cold War ideology held the Soviets to be the expansionist power, and expansionist American policy was always justified as countering Soviet communist internationalism, as our present empire is justified as countering Islamic “terrorism.”

In 1953, when British and American agents surreptitiously upended a democratically elected Iranian socialist government that had nationalized oil, they claimed their purpose was to counter Soviet influence.  The Shah was placed back on the throne, and Iran’s vast oil reserves were placed at the behest of Western oil corporations.  Twenty-five years later, the Islamist Iranian revolution renationalized oil. Oil rich states, Arab and otherwise, have long been aware that the only way to use their oil for their own good and not become an economic colony of America and the West is to nationalize their precious commodity.  Thus Saddam Hussein’s secular Baathist regime in Iraq also did so.  After the US passed peak oil production and its own resources began to decline sharply in the seventies, the free flow of oil became a priority not only to supply our European allies, but also ourselves. Hence we see what Hampshire College Peace Studies professor Michael Klare has predicted: continuous twenty-first century resource wars.

The overriding truth is that our two immensely destructive wars against Iraq, and our sanctions and increasing bellicosity towards Iran have nothing to do with these countries’ development of nuclear arms or other “weapons of mass destruction.” Though who could blame these oil rich countries in an era of rapidly depleting oil reserves for seeking to defend themselves from inevitable Western invasion by developing such weapons?  It is also true that just as Saddam Hussein had no “weapons of mass destruction,” neither can it be proven that  Iran’s uranium enrichment program has anything but the purpose their leaders articulate:  development of an energy source.

But just as it was useful for the US and its NATO allies to drum up a basis for invading Iraq in order to gain control of its oil, so has it been useful to do so as regards Iran.  And with this in mind Western and Israeli propaganda relentlessly portray Iran as a world threat.  Israel, never short on hyperbole, calls Iran an “existential threat,” citing its president, Ahmadinajad’s hostility to Zionism and penchant for Holocaust denial. But the Western press is forever silent concerning Israel’s own nuclear arsenal of over two hundred missiles. Israel is in fact one of the best armed countries in the world.  And its Mossad has been conducting a secret war inside Iran, including the killing of at least five nuclear scientists, as well as other Iranian civilians, by means of explosive devices.  Can you imagine how the US or Israel would react if Iran were doing such things within their borders?

We have been through all the sanctions and demonizing before in the run-up to the second invasion of Iraq. While the Obama administration lacks the ultra-imperialist Neocons to beat their war drums, they refuse to take military action “off the table,” they conduct no high level, let alone summit negotiations with Iran, and as with Iraq, they sponsor more and more brutal sanctions.

Modern Iran has never started an aggressive war. In the past twenty years alone, the US invaded Iraq twice and Afghanistan over a decade ago, where we still fight to secure a pipeline outlet for Caspian oil to the Indian Ocean. Who then is most likely to start the next catastrophic war in the Middle East?

By Stephen Berk

Steve is a retired history professor from California State University at Long Beach. He's currently on the board of directors of Clatsop Community College, and teaches classes in the ENCORE program. He's written extensively on social, political and religious issues, and has been writing a column in HIPFiSHmonthly for over 5 years.