Thursday, 18 June 2009


These are the birth pangs of Obama's new regional order

The turmoil in Tehran reflects a refusal to accept Ahmadinejad is popular and confusion about how to respond to the US

Seumas Milne
The Guardian
Thurs 18 June

'They have elected a ­Labour government," a Savoy diner
famously declared on the night of Britain's election
landslide in 1945. "The country will never stand for it."
From the evidence so far coming out of Iran, something
similar seems to be ­happening on the streets of Tehran –
and in the western capitals just as desperate to see the
back of Iranian president ­Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Of course the movement behind opposition candidate Mir
Hossein Mousavi spreads far beyond the capital's elite, as
did the supporters of Winston Churchill against Clement
Attlee. In Iran, it includes large sections of the middle
class, students and the secular. But a similar misreading
of their own social circles for the country at large
appears to have convinced the opposition's supporters that
it can only have lost last Friday's election through fraud.

That is also reflected in the western media, whose cameras
focus so lovingly on Tehran's gilded youth and for whom
Ahmadinejad is nothing but a Holocaust-denying fanatic. The
other Ahmadinejad, who is seen to stand up for the
country's independence, expose elite corruption on TV and
use Iran's oil wealth to boost the incomes of the poor
majority, is largely invisible abroad.

While Mousavi promised market reforms and privatisation,
more personal freedom and better relations with the west,
the president increased pensions and public sector wages
and handed out cheap loans. So it's hardly surprising that
Ahmadinejad should have a solid base among the working
class, the religious, small town and rural poor – or that
he might have achieved a similar majority to that of his
first election in 2005. That's what one of the few
genuinely independent polls (the US-based Ballen-Doherty
survey) predicted last month, when the Times reported
Ahmadinejad was "expected to win".

But such details have got lost as the pressure has built in
Tehran for a "green revolution" amid unsubstantiated claims
that the election was stolen. The strongest evidence
appears to be some surprising regional results and the
speed of the official announcement, triggered by Mousavi's
declaration that he was the winner before the polls closed.
But most official figures don't look so ­implausible –
Mousavi won Tehran, for instance, by 2.2m votes to 1.8m –
and it's hard to believe that rigging alone could account
for the 11 million-vote gap between the main contenders.

If Ahmadinejad was in fact the winner, then there is an
attempted coup going on in Tehran right now, and it is
being led by Mousavi and his western-backed supporters. But
for the demonstrators facing repression in Tehran, the
conviction that they have been cheated has created its own
momentum in what is now a highly polarised society. That is
given more force by the fact that the protests are
underpinned by a split in the theocratic regime, of which
Mousavi and his allies are a powerful component.

Part of that is about a perceived threat to their own
economic interests. But the division also reflects
differences within the establishment about how to respond
to Barack Obama and the overtures from Washington. All
factions uphold Iran's right to continue nuclear
reprocessing, but Mousavi's campaign was critical of the
level of support given to Hezbollah and Hamas, while
Ahmadinejad's supporters argue that only toughness can win
western acceptance of Iran's status as a new regional

Iran is of course at the centre of an arc of crisis across
the greater Middle East, from Palestine to Pakistan: the
legacy of the Bush administration's catastrophic failure in
Iraq and the wider war on terror. And as the US attempts to
reconstitute its hegemony in the region on a new basis –
for which Obama's speech to the Muslim world in Cairo was
supposed to set the tone – there's reason to believe that
the birth pangs of the new order may yet turn out to be as
painful as the death throes of the old.

Last Friday, even before the polls had closed in Iran, the
US president ­commented that people were ­"looking at new
possibilities" in Iran, just as they had in Lebanon's
elections the previous weekend. In fact, the unexpected
defeat of Hezbollah's opposition coalition (which
nevertheless won the largest number of votes) seems to have
had more to do with local Lebanese sectarian issues and
large-scale vote buying than the Obama effect. But the
implications of his remarks were not lost in Iran, where
the US is still spending hundreds of millions of dollars in
covert destabilisation programmes.

Obama's public engagement over the Israel-Palestine
conflict has so far elicited a commitment by Israel's
Benjamin Netanyahu to the paper ­principle of a Palestinian
state – backed by both his predecessors and George Bush and
hedged around with so many restrictions it would barely
merit Ruritanian status – but no climbdown over illegal
settlement expansion. The chances of a negotiated deal in
such conditions seem minimal, particularly in the absence
of Hamas, and the prospects that a US plan for a settlement
might then fail and plunge the region back into conflict
relatively high.

Meanwhile, ­resistance and wider violence have been growing
again in Iraq, as US occupation troops pull back from the
cities. And in Afghanistan, far from ­winding down the
occupation, Obama is ­escalating the conflict as promised,
with another 21,000 US troops being sent this ­summer to
fight the ­unwinnable war, as attacks on Nato forces have
reached an all-time peak. At the same time, the spread of
the Afghan war into ­neighbouring Pakistan has left
thousands of civilians dead, created more than two million
refugees and led to a civilian carnage from US drone
attacks across the northwest of the country.

In case anyone imagined such wars of western occupation
would become a thing of the past in the wake of the
­discredited Bush administration, ­General Dannatt, head of
the ­British army, recently set out to disabuse them.
Echoing US defence secretary Robert Gates, he insisted:
"Iraq and ­Afghanistan are not aberrations – they are
signposts for the future".

In such a context, the neutralisation of Iran as an
independent regional power would be a huge prize for the US
– defanging recalcitrants from Baghdad to Beirut – and a
route out of the strategic impasse created by the invasion
of Iraq. But so far, the signs from Tehran are still that
that's unlikely to be achieved by a colour-coded


Anonymous said...

didn't he say that the Zionist Jews killed the Jews as they planed it with Germany and UK,ethnically cleansing there own,not that it didn't happen but they did it them selfs,that it didst happen just by Germans,bless,arrrr at least he wants the hydrogen and peroxide and colloidal silver cures for all,bless,x

Graeme said...

Interesting. Although that piece, along with countless others, assumes the Iranians have to choose from either Ahmadinejad, the right-wing populist, or Mousavi, the liberal reformist. Mousavi is a historical accident that just happened to be in the right place at the right time. He, just yesterday, was telling people to stay home and not protest. He's scared of the beast that has been unleashed. Ahmadinejad, on the other hand, is a thug that uses fear and superstition to hold power. Many "leftists" can't seem to figure this out and get lost in his platitudes condemning imperialism. The Islamic Republic has executed more trade unionists than the Shah did. They are a reactionary group, a group that needs to be smashed, case closed.

This mass movement appears not to be controlled by bureaucrats paid off with western money (as was in the color-coded uprisings in the former Stalinist bloc), but really seems to be largely leaderless. The liberals within the establishment are no doubt trying to co-opt this movement, but they have yet been able to control it. The key is for true revolutionary leadership to emerge independent from the Islamic thugs and liberal reformists. Obviously, there isn't such leadership right now (that is strong enough anyway). But I believe with the experience of the people (not only this experience, but their memory of western imperialism), this process has just received a massive boost.

Anonymous said...

It is not for us abroad to "triangulate" the "objective" opponents of US imperialism (as if that were the ONLY imperialism out there); the various real players could care less about our cheerleading. We do owe every ounce of solidarity we have for the workers of any country who are fighting for their liberty as a class. So of course I side with the masses being shot at, not with the shooters.