Protesters in Burlington on January 4, 2020 (photo credit Chris Staats)

By Ashley Smith, member: PJC, Democratic Socialists of America, and Community Voices for Immigrant Rights

This commentary is by Ashley Smith, of Burlington, a socialist writer and activist who writes for various publications including Harpers, Truthout, Jacobin, Against the Current, and New Politics.

Trump has unleashed the dogs of war in the Middle East. He assassinated Iran’s General Qasem Suleimani at the Baghdad airport. This act of imperial aggression may trigger a logic of escalation of attacks and counter-attacks that could metastasize into a wider war involving several countries already engulfed in conflicts in the region.

Iran has no choice but to respond to Suleimani’s assassination. He was the second most powerful person in the Iranian state and architect of its regional imperial policy. The closest analogue to his role in the Iranian state in the US would be Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Imagine what the US would do if Iran had killed Pompeo in an airstrike to punish the US for backing Saudi Arabia’s genocidal war in Yemen.

This analogy puts in sharp relief the stakes for the Iranian state. Both the US and Iran would of course prefer to avoid open warfare, the US because it would be taking on a robust regional military power and Iran because it would be thoroughly outmatched. More likely Iran will pursue a strategy of asymmetric warfare, greenlighting attacks by proxies against US targets in the region and internationally.

These will provoke further responses from the US, triggering a logic of escalating attacks and counter-attacks. Trump has already drawn up a list of targets in Iran. Thus, despite the avowed preferences of both states, these attacks and counter-attacks risk generating a new US war with Iran that would draw in other regional powers like Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Trump’s justification of the assassination that set this all in motion wreaks of hypocrisy. He claimed he killed Suleimani in response to Iranian attacks on US targets. At best that’s a half truth, and at worst, and in Trump’s case it’s always the worst case, it’s an outright lie.

In reality, Trump set the escalating conflict in Iran in motion when he scrapped Obama’s nuclear deal and replaced it with a policy of maximum pressure through sanctions, cyberwarfare, and military threats. Ever since, Pompeo and former national security adviser John Bolton have been braying for regime change in Iran, provoking predictable counter measures from Iran.

So, blame for the spiraling antagonism lies squarely with the Trump administration. But the problem with US foreign policy in the Middle East and North Africa is not just Trump and his gang of war mongers. In reality, the US is responsible for many if not most of the problems in the region. Washington’s wars, occupations, sanctions, and support of reactionary regimes like Saudi Arabia and Israel have wreaked havoc in the region for decades.

It predated Trump in the form of Obama’s Drone War, Bush Jr’s war of nation destruction against Iraq, and Clinton’s missile strikes in the region. The US under both Republicans and Democrats has been intervening in the Middle East since the end of the second world war and doing so for one key reason—OIL. It wants to control that key fossil fuel, which powers the world capitalist system and climate change, in order to maintain its hegemony internationally.

Trump is thus following in an ignoble tradition of US wars for control of the region and its oil. Faced with the possibility of a catastrophic conflict with Iran, our responsibility right now is to build the biggest, broadest, most united movement to stop it before it starts. In doing this we have to identify the cause of the crisis.

It is not Iran. Iran is not our enemy. In fact, the main enemy is at home in the White House, the Pentagon, and the corporate boardrooms of the United States. It is they—the ruling class, its politicians, and its military brass—that have led us into decades of wars in the Middle East.

But, opposing Trump and company does not and should not mean supporting the Iranian regime, nor turning the murdered Suleimani into some kind of anti-imperialist hero. The regime and Suleimani in particular are war criminals, lesser ones to be sure compared to Trump, but war criminals, nonetheless.

The Iranian regime represses its own population, supports Bashar al Assad’s brutal war on the Syrian people, backs Hezbollah which represses the popular movement in Lebanon, and runs Iraqi militias that have disappeared and killed hundreds of people in Iraq in the last two months.

Instead of backing reactionary regimes like Iran, we should build solidarity with the popular protests erupting throughout the region—the Second Arab Spring. Mass revolts have broken out in Sudan, Algeria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran itself. They are fighting against regimes in those countries for democracy and equality and against US imperialism and regional powers like Iran, Saudi Arabia and Israel.

Our solidarity must be with those popular movements from below not the oppressive states of the region. Why? Because their fight for liberation is also our fight for liberation. The US war machine oppresses them most directly, but it also oppresses us.

The US spends over $700 billion a year on its military budget. The ruling class and its politicians take our money and use it to make war, occupy countries, conduct assassinations, and maintain hundreds of bases throughout the world. All of that is against the interests of working class people in this country, especially people of color and Arabs, Palestinians, Iranians, and Muslims in particular.

Ruling class politicians like Trump send working class people to sacrifice life, limb, and sanity to kill and oppress working class people in other countries. In the process they whip up a war at

home. Why? Because they use, as Trump does almost on an hourly basis, racism and Islamophobia to hoodwink people into supporting their war.

They scapegoat Arabs and Muslims in particular, turning them into collective suspects, subject to mass racial and religious profiling, detention, arrest, interrogation and deportation. In the process of attacking their rights, they attack all our rights, especially those of dissent and freedom of information and organization, as the Patriot Act did.

Their war abroad also intensifies their class war at home. Just think about all of the wealth, all of that money, all of that human talent wasted on running the US empire. Imagine if we took all of that and used it to address the horrific problems of class and social inequality in our society.

We could pay for Medicare for all if we cut the military budget. We could pay for a Green New Deal. We could pay for Free College for all. We could pay for reparations for African Americans and anti-racist programs like affirmative action to redress racial inequality here at home. We could pay reparations to Iraqis for the US state’s destruction of their country. And that’s just a short list of what we could do.

Let’s all unite and fight to stop Trump’s war on Iran. Our very lives and futures are at stake. We should demand that all our elected officials publicly oppose the war, work to block funding, and support anti-war demonstrations and organizing. And we must get all our groups, our religious institutions, and especially unions to take public stands against this war and turn their members out to protests against it.

In this struggle our slogans should be: No war on Iran! US out of the Middle East! Bring the troops home now! Iraq for Iraqis! No blood for oil! Money for jobs and education, not for war and occupation!