[A-List] Hisham Bustani and Reza Naeem on Iran's Role in the Middle East
critical.montages at gmail.com
Wed Jun 27 13:10:45 MDT 2007
I'm sure leftists in the Middle East, from North Africa to West Asia,
are having conversations like this on the important topic of Iran's
role in the Middle East. While my view of Iran is not those of
Bustani's and Naeem's, and it is debatable what exactly "Iran's
project" is, given multiple divisions among Iran's power elite as well
as within Iranian society, it is true that the Arabs and the Turks
have no political project of their own that is neither support for
imperialism nor simple reaction against it. -- Yoshie
Setting Priorities Straight in the Struggle:
On Iran and the Iranian Role in the Arab Region
by Hisham Bustani
Before we deal with the topic of the Iranian role in the Arab region,
it is useful to recall the complexity of Iran and its different
For one, Iran is not a "Banana Republic," and its regime is not a
puppet or a client regime of Imperialism. Iran has a regional project
and works seriously to accomplish it. It holds many important
political cards and uses them cleverly in the context of realizing its
project. Some of these cards are Iran's nuclear program, its close
relationship with the Syrian regime, its close relationship with
Hezbollah in Lebanon, its close relationship with Hamas and Islamic
Jihad in Palestine, its close commercial and economic ties with
influential states like Russia and Germany, its close relationships
with the "North Coalition" in Afghanistan, its oil reserves, and (most
importantly) its role in Iraq, i.e. its strong connections with and
influence on the militias and parties that cooperate with the US
For another, the project of Iran is not an anti-Imperialist project.
In other words, Iran is not the Venezuela of the so-called "Middle
East" (with all our reservations about the term "Middle East"). It
does not promote a popular liberation project for the people of the
region that is based on ending hegemony and exploitation and realizing
the sovereignty of the people over their land and resources. Iran's
is a pragmatic nationalist/sectarian project with expansionist
aspirations. It occupies Arab land (Ahwaz, Tunb Islands). It saw no
problem in seeking the assistance of its "enemy number one" during its
war with Iraq (the Iran-Contra affair). It also sees no problem in
helping the same "enemy" (the USA) on the logistic and intelligence
levels during the US aggression against Afghanistan. And, finally,
Iran is playing a very destructive role in Iraq through empowering and
supporting the sectarian militias and parties in Iraq who are also the
backbone of the US-dominated political process.
Iran seems to have contradictory patterns of behavior if one looks at
them from a progressive point of view, but they fall into place if one
sees them in the Iranian context: Iran backs the US invasion of
Afghanistan and is a key factor in fragmenting and destroying Iraq;
while the same Iran backs anti-Zionist and anti-US resistances in
Lebanon (Hezbollah) and Palestine (Hamas and Jihad).
With all these complexities, what should the progressive position on
Iran be on the Arab and regional levels?
First, we must acknowledge the complete absence of a progressive Arab
project in the Arab region on the official level of regimes or on the
level of people's organizations (parties, unions, movements, etc.).
The Arab regimes are completely subordinate to Imperialism; they are
incapable of influencing anything diplomatically or militarily. The
recent attack on Lebanon is a key event through which to comprehend
this fact: not only did Arab regimes stand idly by watching the
destruction of Lebanon, but some of them went so far as to support
Israel in its effort to eliminate Hezbollah. Also, during the attack
on Lebanon, the Secretary General of the Arab League, Amr Musa,
announced "the death of the Peace Process" with "Israel." This "Peace
Process" is the main strategy (past, present and future) of the Arab
regimes. Its failure on the Arab level reflects its success on the
Zionist level. To put it more clearly, the Arab regimes were and are
working according to a Zionist agenda, as is demonstrated by comments
by the top pan-Arab official.
On the popular level, there are three salient clusters of problems:
1. The resistances (Iraqi, Lebanese, and Palestinian) face many challenges:
* They are not integrated into or bonded to a comprehensive Arab
* They do not coordinate with each other.
* Unfortunately, some of them do not consider others a resistance
in the first place (mainly the Iraqi and Lebanese resistances).
* The Iraqi resistance failed to utilize the US/Zionist aggression
on Lebanon and Hezbollah's resistance to counter the spread of
sectarianism in Iraq.
* Hezbollah is still reluctant to openly support the Iraqi
resistance and finalize a position on the Iraqi factions that joined
the occupation-sponsored political process.
* The Palestinian resistance insisted on isolating the Palestinian
question ("Palestinizing" the struggle), failing to relocate the
struggle for Palestine back into its proper Arab context, when it
decided to go on its own with its bargaining over the imprisoned
soldier in Gaza following Hezbollah's proposal to collectively
negotiate for the three imprisoned Zionist soldiers (two in Lebanon
plus the Gaza prisoner).
* Imperialism has partially succeeded in diverting the main effort
of the resistances from confronting the external enemy towards
secondary internal conflicts (Palestine: Hamas goes into the
government and fights with Fatah over authority; Lebanon: Hezbollah
engages in an internal political fight over the government; and Iraq:
the US tries to portray resistance as "just another sectarian
2. The official, organized Arab opposition (political parties,
professional associations, and so on) is preoccupied with struggling
for political existence rather that struggling for political programs
and ideology. And there is a huge difference between the two.
3. The Arab masses are "politically correct" in their understanding
and political position, but, because of the lack of organization, an
enormous problem, they do not have influence on the ground.
In the Arab region, there are three main powers (USA/"Israel," Iran,
and Turkey) and two projects (US/Zionist and Iranian). The Arabs are
the terrain on which these powers pursuing their respective projects
fight. In the game of history, those who have projects can take
advantage of events. Makers of events who lack a project cannot make
the most of their own actions. This means that, in the absence of an
Arab liberation project, any event will be exploited by either the
US/Zionist project or the Iranian one.
Does this mean that we have to choose sides: either Iran or the USA?
Definitely not. Our analysis should always differentiate between the
main contradiction and the secondary ones. The main contradiction is
always with the bigger, more powerful, and globally dominant
Imperialism: It is the USA and its subsidiary "Israel."
The main enemy of all anti-Imperialists, and of the Arab liberation
project, is US Imperialism and Zionism. Any other contradictions are
secondary. Therefore, those who say that "Iran is more dangerous than
the USA" or "Iran is more dangerous than Israel" are not only not
objective, but their analysis serves US Imperialist interests in the
* Prioritizing the battle with Iran that has a sectarian and
fragmenting character, over the battle with the USA and "Israel" that
has a unifying and liberatory class character.
* The probability of transforming the USA and "Israel" into
provisional allies or "powers-that-can-be-comprehended" in confronting
the "Iranian danger." Some Iraqi factions have already started
talking in this direction, while the Saudi and Jordanian regimes
promote such an understanding.
* Fragmenting the Arab resistances in Iraq, Palestine, and
Lebanon, one from another, and putting them in confrontation, rather
than being together in one trench.
* Diverting the Arab masses away from the paramount US/Zionist
danger towards low-priority targets for the Arab liberation project.
Does this mean we should ally with Iran in the face of the USA?
Here we should differentiate between two levels:
The popular level: here lies a necessity of establishing a front that
includes all the peoples of the region (Arabs, Kurds, Turks, Iranians)
to confront US Imperialism and Zionism, both exploiting and harming
all those peoples.
The official level: here we can see from the examples above that the
Iranian regime is not anti-Imperialist, it has its own project for
regional hegemony and works for that interest, not for the interest of
the people. Therefore, it is impossible to seek an alliance at that
Needless to say, US-imposed sanctions and/or a military strike against
or invasion of Iran will principally harm the people (the stark
example of Iraq since 1990 is still a scar in the face of humanity).
Neither sanctions nor military force against Iran can be an American
solution of the Iraqi sectarian dilemma, which Washington created in
the first place and is the first to benefit from it! Therefore, the
objective position would be to stand against the threats to Iran and
support it in the face of any attempted or actual aggression.
The way out: steps towards fulfilling an Arab liberation project in
the Arab region.
Remaining in a condition of continuing reaction is very dangerous.
Resistance without a strategic project will keep us and our cause
alive but leave us treading water and rotating in our place forever,
in a world transforming at massive speed. A world where Imperialism
will continue to make a huge effort to strengthen its interests at the
expense of people, with no regard except for profit. What we need is
to evolve a people's project to confront the US/Zionist project. In
this way, we can stay alive and move forward. What are some ideas
that can serve this aim?
* Building the horizontal unity of the Arab popular struggle, as a
lever to achieve a qualitative vertical progress.
* Rearranging political alliances locally, regionally, and
internationally on the basis of polarization, not points of agreement.
* Re-introducing socialism and secularism as the optimum option
for confronting Imperialism and achieving progress.
* Expanding popular struggle from the Arab region to include all
the people of the region.
* Forming an alliance with rising anti-Imperialist regimes in South America.
* The task for European and US anti-Imperialists: unconditional
support for the resistances in the Arab region, breaking the official
taboo on such support, establishing a radical front against
Imperialism today is in crisis, but it is not defeated, and it is not
destined to be defeated without the direct action of
If we lose this historic opportunity by
* turning our back on the resistances in the Arab region and
pretending they are not our problem, or the resistances do not
represent us simply because they are Islamic or Ba'thist, or
* by directing our efforts away from the main enemy, or
* by contributing to the stabilization of the sectarian project by
adopting its mechanisms, or
* if the resistances, instead of fighting their common enemy,
start fighting each other, or
* if we are deceived into transforming the main battle with
Imperialism and Zionism into internal trivial political fights,
then we will rescue Imperialism from its crisis, and will be obliged
to wait for another 100 years or more, until Imperialism enters a
crisis of similar proportions.
Hello, I am a communist from Pakistan and I differ with Bustani's
analysis of Iran as having a hegemonic role in the Arab world, like US
imperialism and Israeli expansionism. The history of Iran amply
suggests that the regie, however unpopular, has expansionist
tendencies in the Arab world. Since the modern Iranian state took
hold under the Pahlavis (and even before that), Iran has NEVER invaded
o occupied another country, much less Arab land. Arabs have lost land
consistently to Israel but never to Iran.
Of course Iran's regime is far from anti-imperialist. But that is not
to say that it harbors expansionist designs in the Arab world. To say
so would be to buy into the analysis which Arab clients of imperialism
like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt have been offering, of a "Shia
I think there is a potential for communists and secular-nationalists
to play a role in resisting US imperialism and Israeli expansionism.
One way is to build contacts, say with Iranian progressives and
communists. At the moment, Iran has a small underground communist
movement. Also, Iranian women are at the forefront of resistance to
both their regime and US imperialism. Progressive Arab women must
build links with these Iranian women, who face far more oppression in
Iran than their counterparts in the Arab world. Rather than dreaming
of forging links with the anti-imperialist regimes of Latin America,
which is so ridiculously inaccessible and far away from the Middle
East to actually have a material impact on resistances here, we should
attempt to build bridges with Iranian progressives, since Iran is
probably going to the first in the line of imperial fire should
imperialism decide to invade the region once again. Attempts must
also be made to forge links with the Turkish left, which in a large
part is made up of communists.
The key is of course to recognize that because of historical factors,
secular and communist forces are not about to become a poplar force in
the region any time soon, and we must be prepared to work with genuine
resistance forces which resist imperialism but which may or may not
utilize Islamist rhetoric, like Hezbollah and Hamas.
raza naeem | 06.27.07 - 4:34 am
More information about the A-List