Building a new anti-war movement: Background and talking points on Iran

Jan 23, 2020

Editor’s note: The following document was written on January 6, 2020 as the United States government and Trump administration brought us to the brink of full-scale war with Iran. Several major developments have happened since that time, but Liberation School is publishing this document as a helpful guide for activists who are currently building a new anti-war movement in the U.S. We continue to stand at the precipice of war and urge everyone to support the January 25 Global Day of Protest.

On Friday Jan.3, the U.S. government carried out the assassination of 10 people in Baghdad, Iraq, the most prominent of whom were Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite Quds military force, and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, deputy commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces.

The ANSWER Coalition, working with allies in the antiwar movement, had already called for demonstrations on Sat. Jan. 4 in response to the growing crisis in Iraq.

This call was immediately adjusted to focus on the slogan “No war on Iran.” About 15,000 people were successfully mobilized in 90 cities across the country. The demonstrations were overwhelmingly, but not solely, attended by youth who had not previously had to confront the threat of an open war during their lifetimes. It signified a potentially powerful new anti-war movement. The overwhelmingly anti-war response in the country carrying out the war aggression also had its impact on the ruling class, which is divided over the arrogant and reckless act of assassination carried out by the Trump administration.

In order to confront the intense aggression of the U.S. government toward Iran and Iraq, we must build a powerful and large anti-war movement with the broadest possible base of support. Right now, this movement should be organized around the general slogans: “No War on Iran” and “U.S. Out of Iraq & the Middle East.”

Talking points

Even though Trump attempted to walk back from his comments in regards to Iran’s cultural sites and the Iraqi parliament’s resolution to remove U.S. troops from Iraq, these reckless statements are a good basis for talking points to agitate on this issue.

According to the Washington Post, on Jan.6 Trump threatened Iraq with sanctions and a demand for reparations in response to the non-binding resolution to remove the 5000 U.S. troops stationed there:

 “We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build,” Mr. Trump said on Air Force One as he returned to Washington from Florida. “We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.” … Unless the U.S. exits Iraq on a “very friendly basis,” Mr. Trump said, the U.S. “will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before ever.”

These utterly ridiculous claims are an attempt to obscure the reality of the situation. The U.S. built the base in Iraq after the 2003 invasion and occupation that had been preceded by over a decade of crippling sanctions and the 1991 war against Iraq. The U.S. government has systematically, over the course of numerous administrations, destroyed the state infrastructure of Iraq and ignored its national sovereignty.

The threat to impose sanctions “like they’ve never seen before” is pure condescension and arrogance. The United States imposed sanctions on Iraq that killed over a million and a half people. It devastated a country that provided healthcare, education, and other services to its people.

The U.S. owes Iraq reparations, not the other way around.

In regards to Iran, Trump threatened to strike 52 cultural institutions, which is a threat to commit a war crime. The same Washington Post article wrote:

“They’re allowed to kill our people,” he [Trump] said. “They’re allowed to torture and maim our people. They’re allowed to use roadside bombs and blow up our people. And we’re not allowed to touch their cultural sites? It doesn’t work that way.”

Again, this is a clear Alice-in-Wonderland type of logic. Iran has never attacked the United States. All the actions it has taken have been in defense of its nation against unprovoked U.S. aggression. Iran has a deep cultural history that it maintains, along with a state infrastructure, in spite of constant U.S. aggression. The latest round of sanctions have had a deep impact on their economy and most affected the people of Iran whose economic well-being is impacted by the U.S. sanctions. The threat of destroying their cultural sites piles one insult on top of another.

A fundamental point of agitation is the grotesque size of the war budget in the face of the accelerating deterioration of all remaining social programs and the general lack of investment in things that people actually need. The U.S. war budget lays bare that behind the theatrics of partisan politics lies the absolute consensus around U.S. imperialism and the need to project U.S. power across the globe.

Just last month, both houses of Congress passed the 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included $738 billion in “discretionary” funds for the Pentagon–$22 billion more than the 2019 NDAA. The real war budget, which includes line items from other bills, tops over $1 trillion. The final NDAA bill funded Trump’s border wall and Space Force, and excluded provisions that would have required Trump to get congressional approval for any military action against Iran. The majority of Democrats voted for the NDAA.

The massive military budget brings only death and destruction across the globe. Yet the impacts are felt in the U.S. as well. As Martin Luther King Jr. said in 1967, “The bombs in Vietnam explode at home: they destroy the hopes and possibilities for a decent America.”

Whenever billions are needed for war, there is no shortage of money. Whenever people demand social programs, on the other hand, there is never any money available. Highlighting this has the ability to broaden our anti-war movement and bring in a range of sectors. The anti-war movement isn’t just against war and imperialism; it’s also a movement against homelessness, hunger, and unemployment, a movement for free education and healthcare, and a movement for reparations for all those who have suffered at the hands of U.S. imperialism.

Background on Iran

Focusing specifically on Iran, there are a couple of important political points for us to keep in mind:

The Islamic Republic of Iran has historically avoided hasty actions that would provoke the U.S./Israel. While it has persistently pursued a policy of opposing U.S. dominance, it has not fallen into traps that would take it down the path of an outright war against the U.S. Israel in particular has repeatedly bombed Iranian personnel in Syria, specifically stating that it did so with the intent of killing Iranians. Iran has thousands of ballistic missiles that can reach Israel from Iran’s soil. But Israel’s hope of provoking a reaction that would start a large scale confrontation that would pull the U.S. in has failed. Iran has not taken the bait. Even in its earlier, more revolutionary years, the Islamic Republic did not engage in adventuristic actions. Notably, it ended its war with Iraq after eight years, when it had boasted for years that it would not end the war until Jerusalem would be free.

The leadership of the Islamic Republic has no delusions of being able to defeat the U.S. military in a head-on confrontation. However, it believes that it can make direct military attacks too costly for the U.S. It can cause disruptions in the flow of oil through the Strait of Hormuz. It can send thousands of missiles on Saudi Arabia, U.A.E. and other reactionary Gulf monarchies. It can also target Israel and dozens of U.S. bases and other facilities around the region. And, with its large size and population, occupying Iran would be several times as hard as occupying Iraq.

Different factions of the U.S. political establishment have had a range of different views on how to approach Iran. The Obama/Kerry approach decided that it would have to accept the existence of Iran as a regional power, normalize its relations with it, and hope that it could help overthrow it through other opportunities – e.g. the Green Movement in 2009, which the Obama administration supported fully but it failed to succeed in overthrow. Another line has been strongly opposed to any sort of agreement with Iran and thinks that the campaign of regime change – currently called “maximum pressure” – should never stop until the Islamic Republic is overthrown. Most of the proponents of this line are Republicans, although there have been several notable “foreign policy hawk” Democrats. The extremely hawkish faction of this grouping – the regime-change proponents – are for starting a war with Iran. This was the predominant line among the Bush II era neocons – “Real Men Go to Tehran.” But they were unable to pursue it due to strong Iraqi resistance, which eventually thwarted their efforts to reconquer the Middle East.

Within the Trump administration, the strongest proponent of a U.S. War on Iran was John Bolton, who was ousted in the summer. But Pompeo and Pence are also “Iran-Hawks.” The NY Times reports that it was those two who actively pushed Trump to order the assassination of Soleimani. Prior to this, Trump personally had opted against major escalations. Specifically, when Iran shot down the U.S. drone over the Strait of Hormuz, Trump reportedly called for and immediately called back strikes on Iran.

It is possible that Trump has now decided that a war on Iran is good for his re-election campaign and that this would be a good distraction from the impeachment proceedings. Although this is not all that likely since the Democrats’ case against Trump is quite weak and they have nowhere near the 2/3 votes needed in the Senate to remove Trump. It is more likely that Trump did not fully grasp the significance of this assassination in terms of its potential for escalating tensions with Iran. Despite the tough talk, Trump likely does not want to engage in a full-on war with Iran. He would likely prefer to use the assassination of Soleimani as a badge of honor that he perceives will increase his chances of re-election and reinforces his tough guy persona. Another full U.S. war in the Middle East would run counter to his America First propaganda line.

Either way, whether as a direct aim of the U.S. government, or as a result of the unintended consequence of a potential series of escalations from both sides, there is a very real danger of a full-fledged war on Iran now. Our task, of course, is to mobilize against a potential coming war and, by doing this, effectively expose the shallowness of the Democratic opposition.