It is, of course, utterly hypocritical for George Bush and Tony Blair, both commanding vast nuclear arsenals, to denounce Iran for deciding to restart its uranium enrichment programme. I heard one US neo-con, Frank Gaffney, ranting and raving on the radio the other day about how uniquely evil the Islamic regime in Iran is.
Certainly Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the Iranian president, is a reactionary bigot who denies the reality of the Nazi Holocaust. But then the Austrian government, which has just taken over the presidency of the European Union, includes fascists with very similar views on this subject.
Ahmadinejad seems to be a photo-fit of the cadre of the political Islamist movements that have become so powerful over the past generation. He holds a doctorate in engineering and urban planning, was active in the Iranian Revolution of 1978-9, and fought in the Republican Guards during the 1980-8 Iran-Iraq War.
The Independent on Sunday finds it “worrying” that Ahmadinejad is a believer in the “hidden Imam”, the 12th of the historic leaders of Islam, whom Shia Muslims expect to return to vanquish evil.
I was rather more worried when Ronald Reagan, as US president, with the power to wipe out humankind in an instant, avowed his belief in the “rapture”—the apocalyptic moment when, according to fundamentalist Christians, the faithful will be taken out of their bodies in preparation for Christ’s second coming.
In fact, there are a lot of parallels between Ahmadinejad and the Christian right in the US. Just as the Republicans have succeeded in deflecting the anger and anxieties of many working class Americans onto “cultural” issues such as abortion and stem-cell research, so Ahmadinejad won last year’s presidential elections by presenting himself as the champion of Iran’s poor.
Ahmadinejad targeted the Iranian establishment, symbolised by his main rival, ex-president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, for getting rich from the country’s oil revenues.
In any case, it isn’t Ahmadinejad who is calling the shots in Iran. The Iranian regime’s strategy of gradually resuming its uranium enrichment programme has been run by Ali Larijani, secretary of the Supreme National Security Council.
The Financial Times (FT) reports, “Officials in Iran make clear this strategy is approved by the leadership as a whole, including the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamanei, who holds the last word on matters of state. A well-placed senior official told the FT last month that Mr Larijani answered to Ayatollah Khamanei, and not Mr Ahmadinejad, who had ‘no role’ in security policy.”
My guess is that the top Iranian leaders do intend to develop a nuclear capability. The contrast between the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, who had no weapons of mass destruction, and the impunity enjoyed by the North Korean regime, which almost certainly has some nuclear warheads, gives them a strong incentive to copy the latter.
Whether or not this assessment is correct, the interesting question is what the US and its allies can do to punish Iran’s defiance. The invasion of Iraq has strengthened Iran’s hand by making a military attack on it much more difficult.
Not only are the Pentagon’s forces bogged down in Iraq, but the most powerful political force in the country, the Shia establishment in the south, is closely aligned to Iran. Bush and the Europeans are now talking about imposing UN sanctions on Iran, but it’s hard to see how this can have much effect.
To quote the Financial Times again, “Iran has worked hard to diversify suppliers and encourage self-sufficiency during a 26 year embargo. And with oil past $60 a barrel and rising, Iranian officials doubt that the West—much less energy hungry Asia — will block exports from the world’s fourth biggest supplier.”
This doesn’t mean that the US, or its Israeli proxy, won’t attack Iran. Iraq has shown there are almost no limits to the stupidity and arrogance of the Bush administration. But the results are likely, once again, to demonstrate the limits of US power.