First Published: The Guardian, March 5, 1975.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Paul Saba
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U.S. imperialism has essentially dominated the oil-rich Middle East since the end of World War 2, extracting enormous profit and plunder.
Its tactic was to keep the Arab nations politically divided and diverted, economically dependent and militarily threatened by the expansionist U.S.-client state of Israel.
Soviet support for certain Arab governments against Israel–which Moscow used to gain a foothold in this strategic area to contend with Washington for hegemony–was parried over the years by pumping more U.S. money and arms into the Israeli economy and military machine.
At the same time, the USSR has been colluding with the U.S. by defending the Zionist state’s ”right to exist” and suggesting that it is willing to use military force to guarantee Israeli security. Likewise, the Soviet Union’s cynical emigration policies which have literally forced those Jews who want to leave the USSR to apply for Israeli visas has been a provocation to the Palestinian people and, objectively, a source of replenished manpower to the Zionists.
In the most recent period, however, another development intervened that seriously jeopardized U.S. control over the Middle East. This was the world trend of countries seeking some measure of independence from both superpowers, resulting in the greater unity of small- and medium-sized countries in various regions of the world.
In the Middle East this unity was largely focused against the U.S., the predominant power which has been the main supporter of Israel, although in lesser measure it assumed the character of opposing Soviet social imperialism as well.
The concrete expression of this was the Arab oil boycott growing out of the October 1973 war, an action that immeasurably contributed to the Arab cause and weakened the viability of Israel and its U.S. mentor. The Soviet Union, of course, sought to exploit this for its own hegemonistic ends and, temporarily at least, saw its own position strengthened. The USSR also sought to exploit the boycott–exchanging arms for oil. Then reselling the oil to consumer countries at a profit.
Reflecting upon this changed situation and the fact that its Soviet rival was trying to replace the U.S. as the dominant power in the Middle East, Washington adjusted its tactics.
Most importantly, it now recognized that the Israeli asset was becoming a liability in the face of united Arab–and virtually world–opposition to its expansionism. Clearly, one of the significant outgrowths of the 1973 war was the recognition by the U.S. State Department that some form of compromise might have to be achieved on the question of Israel which would partly satisfy the just demands of the Egyptians, Syrians and–to a much lesser extent–Palestinians. Understanding that its trump card–intransigent U.S. support for Israel–was being reduced in value, the USSR, too has made a show of joining the search for “peace” in the Middle East.
Neither the U.S. nor the USSR, in our opinion, has the slightest interest in the just demands of the Palestinians, or the Arab nations for that matter. At issue is contention over which of the two superpowers will control the oil-rich Middle East at a time when many of the countries of the region are beginning to consider the idea of controlling it themselves.
Thus, while both superpowers are busily elbowing each other out of the way in a mad dash for ”peace,” each is trying to strengthen its position to achieve the consistent goal of hegemony. In this regard, the U.S. has been intensifying its intrigue and manipulations in the crucial area of the Persian Gulf and in the Saudi Arabian peninsula.
For many years the U.S. was able effectively to manipulate this area without necessarily showing the flag. U.S. oil companies “took care of Saudi Arabia on the south shore of the Gulf while to the north the Shah of Iran’s “debt” to the U.S. (Washington got him into power by manipulating the downfall of militant nationalist Premier Mohammed Mossadegh in 1953 and helped him remain there) coupled with his extreme anticommunism tended to assure American imperialism of an unswerving ally.
But the winds of independence blew over Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as throughout the entire third world. And, while maintaining their exploitative and reactionary class nature, King Faisal and the Shah bent with them, at least a little. The rulers of these semifeudal, semicapitalist countries realized that times–at least outside their countries–were changing and that an expression of independence was not only desirable but possible. In Faisal’s case, there was in addition the fear of becoming totally isolated from the rest of the Arab world. In the Shah’s case, the principal additional element appears to be the assertion of the self-interest of Iran’s own exploiting classes, including their expansionist aims.
However diverse the causes, both despots began inching cautiously away from complete U.S. domination while retaining their fierce antagonism toward the Soviet Union. They joined and played a big role in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)–a progressive move–although the Shah used his influence as a member to support the U.S. by trying to sabotage the oil boycott and by being a chief oil supplier to Israel.
U.S. influence in the Persian Gulf has never really been in doubt (aside from the small portion of Iraq on the waterfront, the rest of the Gulf states are either overtly pro-U.S. or lean in that direction). Nevertheless, Washington in the months after the 1973 war was not disposed to take any chances. Aware of the Soviet Union’s interest in the area, the U.S. began an attempt to firmly consolidate its power, largely through strengthening ties with King Faisal and the Shah but also through gestures to Oman, the Union of Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar.
Not long after, important elements of the Seventh Fleet–including the aircraft carrier Constellation–pushed into the Persian Gulf for the first time.
Developments in recent weeks and months make it evident the U.S. has every intention of turning the Gulf area into an impregnable barrier to any possible Soviet intervention in the region. Although only a part, it is a large part of Washington’s overall Mid He East strategy against the USSR.
One aspect of the U.S. role in the Gulf is to bolster the regimes with which it does business against internal and external enemies. In this, the U.S. hopes to forestall any further moves toward independence, however small, on their part. Last year alone, the Pentagon sold an incredible $5 billion in arms to Saudi Arabia and Iran. Similarly, of the 34 countries to which the U.S. admits sending Defense Department technicians, Saudi Arabia and Iran rank second and third after South Vietnam (Saigon). Even tiny Kuwait is a relatively large arms buyer and may soon enjoy a substantial increase in Pentagon advisers.
It is a measure of U.S. problems in the area that it has been threatening war against the very regimes it has been supplying with arms. Armed invasion as a last resort cannot, of course, be ruled out, but the truth of the matter is probably closer to what columnist Jack Anderson wrote last week: “The U.S. has made secret preparations not to seize but to protect the oil fields of the Arab sheiks. In public, Secretary of State Kissinger has warned that the U.S., as a last resort, might take military action to prevent the oil strangulation of the West. But in private, he has offered to help petroleum potentates defend their fabulous holdings. He is worried that radical Aljab groups may attempt to overthrow the conservative sheiks.
The evident meaning of the U.S. arms deal is to make the countries concerned more dependent upon Washington by offering “protection” against any projected Soviet moves or, more likely at this point, any national independence movements.
Both King Faisal and the Shah view the Peoples Democratic Republic of Yemen (PDRY) along the Gulf of Aden south of Saudi Arabia as a threat to their own reactionary interests and are intent upon preventing any other progressive manifestation from entering their domains. Subversion against the PDRY, backed largely by Saudi Arabia and instigated by the CIA, has taken place, of course, but the chief target on the peninsula is the liberation movement in semi-feudal Oman’s Dhofar province, bordering progressive Yemen.
For almost a decade, 90 percent of Dhofar was largely controlled by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Oman (PFLO), threatening not only to free the province but the entire country, an historic outpost of British imperialism extending up to the Gulf of Oman at the very entrance to the Persian Gulf in the Arabian Sea. With one oppressive sultan after another acting as agents of British imperialism, the people sought to take history in their own hands by launching armed struggle in 1965. Peoples Yemen supported this just struggle.
Knowing that puppet Sultan Qabus bin Said, despite abundant help from the British, might not be able to hold out against the PFLO, the Shah of Iran in 1973 began sending the first of thousands of U.S.-equipped soldiers into Oman to put down the people’s war. The Shah’s troops launched a massive, brutal attack last December which obviously harmed the PFLO forces.
According to the French newspaper Le Monde, “the new offensive was preceded in November by a systematic pounding of the region by British” bombers. The bombing was directed at “villages, watering points, herds of animals, fields and pastures in order to empty the mountains of their inhabitants and thus deprive the guerrillas of their support.”
Warning that the situation is critical and that the “liquidation” of the Dhofar revolution is an immediate possibility, the PFLO issued an urgent statement this Jan. 31: “We appeal to all progressive and democratic forces to pressure their governments for a decisive stand against the Iranian invasion and to support the fighting of the steadfast masses in Oman.”
Sultan Qabus was in Washington around this time, successfully asking for U.S. military equipment, including antitank missiles, and Pentagon technicians. It seems likely the U.S. will be granted use of the Omani island of Masirah for an air base as well as other concessions. Just a couple of weeks ago it was revealed that Oman will guard its side of the narrow Strait of Hormuz at the entrance to the Persian Gulf with British ground-to-air missiles. Iran guards the other side. Just last month as well, the Shah majestically offered to place his U.S.-built air force at the Sultan’s disposal should he need it.
It is obvious that in the face of progressive or nationalist regimes in the central and western Middle East, U.S. policy (in addition to some possible compromises on Israel and continuing efforts to drive a wedge between these regimes and the Soviet Union, if not win them over entirely) is to construct a reactionary pincers around the all-important Persian Gulf composed of two of the richest and most backward countries in the world plus several smaller countries. To achieve this it must be unstinting in fulfilling arms and technical demands and supporting the regimes against popular resistance. A subsidiary benefit for U.S. imperialism is that–OPEC or not–by controlling their armed forces and the source of resupply and repair, Washington is seeking a way to have a continuing say in the oil policies 0f two of the greatest producers.
Of the two allies, Iran is the more important, outranking Saudi Arabia in population (32 million to 8.2 million), military strength, economic development and potential and expansionist vision. In this regard, Secretary of State Kissinger noted Feb. 18 following a meeting with the Iranian despot–wherein the latter indicated he would continue to supply oil to Israel–“relations between Iran and the U.S. are extremely close. I believe that His Imperial Majesty and I are agreed that they probably never have been better.” That is actually saying a lot.
There are, of course, contradictions between the Shah and the U.S. An element of the Shah’s policies, as King Faisal’s, is predicated on national and regional interests which do not always coincide with Washington’s interests. It goes without saying the U.S. would rather pay less for its oil. Also, Iran is one of the only two Asian countries which has expressed support for the Soviet Union’s Asian “collective security” plan, indicating that it does not wish to completely foreclose its options with the other superpower. To the extent that contradictions exist between the Saudi Arabian and Iranian ruling classes and the U.S. this is a good thing and its further development is to be encouraged. But the old relationship of collusion between these Persian Gulf regimes and the U.S. against the other superpower is still the principal aspect of their relationship. Thus, despite certain moves toward independence, Saudi Arabia and Iran must certainly be considered close allies of the United States in the Middle East.
There seems to be some question within a section of the U.S. Marxist-Leninist movement about the role played specifically by Iran, the implication being that Iran is distinguishing itself in the struggle against the two superpowers.
No one can deny the Shah’s consistent 22-year stand against the Soviet Union. He has also been consistent in maintaining his regime’s ties with U.S. imperialism. When all is said and done, the only conclusion is that despite contradictions, the chief aspect of Iran’s relation to the U.S. is-partnership.
One of the arguments advanced to justify the view that the Shah’s regime is “anti-imperialist” is that Soviet social imperialism is the most aggressive and dangerous of the superpowers in the Persian Gulf. We do not think that this corresponds to reality.
It is true to say that in the Middle East as a whole, the principal contradiction and primary source of conflict is the contention between the U.S. and the Soviet Union for hegemony.
This contention exists in the Persian Gulf as well where the Soviet Union played a role in the recent coup in Afghanistan and where the USSR has been trying to exploit the national oppression of minority peoples in both Iran and Pakistan in order to weaken and dismember those countries as it did with Bangladesh. But even if Soviet ambitions are on the rise, the chief barrier to the aspirations of the peoples in the Persian Gulf area for independence and the foremost exploiter of the laboring masses in those countries remains U.S. imperialism.
Flowing out of an incorrect analysis of the real situation in the Gulf is the view offered by some U.S. Marxist-Leninists that the leading liberation organizations in Oman are Soviet-dominated and that the present life-and-death struggle in Dhofar is merely a cover for Soviet expansionism. If such were really the case, solidarity with and support for the Dhofar revolutionaries by other peoples and Marxist-Leninists would be unwarranted.
But the fact is that all Marxist-Leninists including, of course, Peoples China, support the just struggle of the people of Oman against the reactionary Sultan, the Shah of Iran and their U.S. and British overseers. This struggle is led by the PFLO which, with or without some alleged shortcomings, is the sole legitimate instrument for the Omani people’s liberation at this time.
These incorrect ideas go against the very meaning of the united front against the superpowers, a front that must be waged against both the U.S. and USSR (not joining one to fight the other); a front that cannot liquidate either the class struggle or the national liberation struggle in the name of opposing this or that superpower.
Another incorrect view among some U.S. Marxist-Leninists is the one that sees the Shah’s regime simply as a puppet of the U.S., like Thieu in South Vietnam or Lon Nol in Cambodia. This view either fails to see or completely underestimates the significance of contradictions between the Iranian ruling class and the U.S. and therefore tends to dismiss as mere diplomatic maneuvering some of the genuine moves towards independence made by the Shah’s regime.
The move of countries toward independence is a progressive development of our time. To the extent that otherwise reactionary regimes genuinely stand up for their countries’ independence, they should be encouraged and supported. But to the extent that these regimes impinge on the independence of other countries or repress genuine national liberation movements, they must be opposed. Likewise, as the class struggle within these countries sharpens, as it must, the aspirations of the oppressed masses for revolution cannot be seen as anything but a positive development deserving the support of revolutionaries throughout the world.
Unless U.S. Marxist-Leninists understand these principles, they run the gravest of risks: of right opportunist tailing after reactionary regimes; of gross national chauvinism; and of indelibly compromised proletarian internationalism.
We think all Marxist-Leninists must keep this in mind as the united front against the superpowers expands and as the contention between the U.S. and Soviet Union sharpens in the Middle East and throughout the world.