Sep 30, 2019
On September 14, a total of 22 drones and cruise missiles struck two oil installations in Saudi Arabia, the Abqaiq processing facility and the Khurais oil field. Abqaiq is the largest oil production facility in the world. For a few days afterwards, Saudi Aramco, the Saudi national oil company, was forced to cut oil production in half, leading to a temporary spike in oil prices on the world market.
The attacks came from Houthi Shiite militias in neighboring Yemen that are fighting a bloody dictatorship supported by the Saudi government. Ever since 2015, the Saudi military has intervened in an effort to secure dictatorship over any popular resistance in Yemen that could spread across the border into Saudi Arabia. It has carried out massive bombing campaigns that have devastated Yemen. In this barbaric war, over 70,000 people have been killed and 18 million people have been faced with the prospect of starvation.
The U.S. supports the Saudi government’s war in Yemen. For U.S. imperialism, Saudi Arabia is one of its most important client states in the Middle East. The Saudi regime loyally serves the U.S. capitalist class, helping to impose U.S. imperial interests. Moreover, Saudi oil is a huge source of profits for the U.S. oil companies. It is the second largest supplier of oil to U.S. refineries and Saudi Aramco is the most profitable company in the world. As well, Saudi Arabia is a major customer for U.S.-made weapons.
That is why U.S. officials reacted so rapidly to the drone and cruise missile attacks on the Saudi oil installations. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declared them to be “an act of war.” President Trump threatened that the enormous U.S. military force in the region “was locked and loaded.” In other words, the tens of thousands of U.S. troops, naval warships, bombers and jet fighters were ready to attack.
The U.S. news media and top U.S. experts immediately named Iran as the main aggressor. Why and how did the focus shift from Yemen to Iran? In fact, it has been the U.S. stance toward Iran for the last 40 years.
Ever since a big uprising in Iran overthrew the Shah in 1979, the U.S. puppet who had ruled the country with an iron fist, the U.S. has treated the government of Iran that replaced the Shah like an enemy. This has not been because the Shah’s replacement, the ruling mullahs, are reactionary religious fundamentalists. After all, the Saudi regime is even more reactionary and fanatical—and U.S. officials get along just fine with them.
No, the problem for U.S. officials is that the Iranian regime has not been 100 per cent loyal and dependable to the U.S. imperialists. The government of this very big country of 85 million people has carried out a slightly independent policy in the region.
To bring the Iranian government to heel, the U.S. government fomented the bloody Iran-Iraq war that went from 1980 to 1988. The U.S. also tried to strangle the Iranian economy with suffocating trade and financial embargoes. However, the Iranian regime survived, despite the suffering of the population.
About 18 years ago, relations between the U.S. and Iran began to thaw. When the U.S. invaded and occupied Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, U.S. and Iranian governments found themselves more or less on the same side. The same happened when Syria was swept up in civil war a decade later. Once again, Iranian-backed forces fought alongside the U.S. and its allies. And so, the Iranian regime was a valuable ally to U.S. imperialism in helping it to impose its order.
In 2015, the U.S. government negotiated a diplomatic settlement with the Iranian government under the auspices of the permanent members of the United Nations Security Council, plus the German government. This settlement was framed as a nuclear agreement, but nuclear weapons were never the main issue. The question was whether the U.S. would allow economic and political relations to be normalized, whether Iran would be allowed to be part of the U.S.’s imperial order in the Middle East.
That agreement lasted approximately three years. In May, 2018 the Trump administration broke the agreement and began to reimpose economic sanctions on Iran. This was not a response to anything that Iran had done. No, the U.S. did it because the U.S. policy makers no longer needed Iranian support in the same way.
U.S. imperialism had finally prevailed in most of the big wars that had raged in the Middle East. The Iranian government was in permanent rivalry with the two closest allies of the U.S. in the region, the governments of Saudi Arabia and Israel, over influence in the Middle East. And... there was a big surplus of oil and gas in the world and so the big oil producers didn’t want even more competition from Iran as it began to ramp up its production for export.
The new sanctions that the Trump administration slapped on Iran have been increasingly devastating. The sanctions go far beyond U.S. trade with Iran. On the world stage, any company or individual who trades or carries out financial operations with Iran is also subject to the sanctions. Therefore, they shy away from dealing with Iran because they risk being cutting off by the U.S.
As Brian Hook, Trump’s Special Envoy to Iran, explained, the embargo has been a “tremendous success.” It has “effectively zeroed-out Iran’s export of oil.” As a result, Hook bragged: “We have sanctioned Iran’s export of petro-chemicals, industrial metals, precious metals. We have collapsed foreign direct investment. We have seen significant asset flight leaving the country. Iran is in a recession. Inflation is creeping up near 50 percent.”
As always with embargoes, it is the Iranian population that is paying the highest price. It already suffers from the dictatorship of the mullahs, from corruption and the permanent privileges of the regime’s dignitaries. The embargo has aggravated the shortage of food and just about everything else, including medicine and other vital necessities.
Trump and Pompeo may not have followed through on their threats to bomb Iran. But U.S. imperialism is ratcheting up its very real economic war against Iran and its population.