After Saudi Arabia beheaded 43 people, you would have thought it was the perfect opportunity for US Republicans to identify the Saudi government as one of the main exponents of a toxic, fundamentalist form of Islam. After all one of the main features of the presidential campaign has been particularly inflammatory rhetoric from the Republican candidates, most notably Donald Trump regarding Muslims and Islam. But following the beheadings – a method of execution most associated with ISIS – it was Republicans who offered the most vehement defence of Saudi Arabia.
The beheadings come at a particularly volatile time in the Iran-Saudi strife, Syria is still embroiled in a calamitous civil war which has killed over 250,000 people and led to the displacement of millions since fighting began in 2011, Iran has backed its only consistent ally since 1979, Assad’s government which it sees as key to its regional interests, meanwhile Saudi Arabia desperate to counter Iran’s growing influence within the region has supplied extremists including Jihadists with weapons and training. In Yemen, Saudi perceives the rise of the Houthis as directly attributable to Iran, and has tried to justify their murderous intervention by exaggerating Iranian involvement. The war in Yemen, which began in March after a Saudi-led coalition supported by the United States and Britain has wreaked much havoc on Yemen, including the killing of an alarming number of civilians due to indiscriminate coalition bombing; the destruction shows little signs of waning, as a Doctors Without Borders hospital was bombed on January 10th.
Executing 47 people on a solitary day is inhumane regardless of the crimes of those killed, but what aroused such outrage was the fact Saudi executed a Shi’ite cleric, Sheikh Al-Nimr who was charged for participating in protests against the regime. Al-Nimr who protested against the Saudi regime in 2011/2012 protests advocated a non-violent approach in resisting Saudi oppression. In 2012 Saudi police shot him in the leg and indiscriminately shot at those who staged a demonstration voicing their disdain for the arrest, two people were killed; he was allegedly tortured while incarcerated. The Saudis have tried to rationalise the killing by portraying him as a sectarian violent man who had ties with the Iranian government. This though is propaganda of the most sinister kind, far from being a pawn of the Iranian government, Al-Nimr was critical by asserting that they act out of self-interest, and that Saudi Shi’ites shouldn’t simply support them on the basis that they’re Shia; he also criticised the Syrian government and Assad and characterised him as an oppressor. A belligerent reaction from Iran was inevitable considering the bulk of its population belongs to the Shia branch of Islam but dismay at the execution was on display throughout the whole region including in Saudi and Bahrain. The forces in each country have a long history of responding to protest by deploying squads of armed police designed to both quell and deter dissent, any reluctance to succumb to their pressure will met with violence, which in some cases is fatal.
This case was no exception. In Manama, a village in Bahrain authorities used water cannons and fired birdshot pellets at people indignant at the executions. In Saudi, police killed a Shia resident from Awamiya and wounded an 8 year old child. Shi’ites in Saudi are in a very perilous position, in addition to the oppression from the Saudi regime, ISIS have also inflicted severe misery on their communities by targeting their mosques. The response in Tehran to the execution was also quite hostile, the Iranian government of course are hardly in a position to condemn the executions, they’re second only behind China in the number of executions a year, most who are executed are non-violent drug offenders, many Iranians though were incandescent with anger at the execution of someone they revered. While understandable there could be no justification for the ravaging of the Saudi embassy where protestors resorted to throwing molotov cocktails and destroying furniture and documents. While the response from the Iranian police was swift and they identified and detained those who entered the embassy, the damage was already done. Saudi then announced it was severing all diplomatic ties with Iran, along with a number of other countries. Needless to say that this is a very troubling development and will likely only fuel more conflict in the region. Saudi too are suffering from a precipitous fall in the price of oil, which has seen them incur a major budget deficit. To counter this they’ve employed austerity measures, but an integral part of the Kindgom’s maintenance of control of its population was the supply of money to certain parts of the population to prevent social unrest, without this vital tactic its hold on power becomes more fragile. This is why it makes sense for the Saudi government to generate more sectarianism, it diverts attention away from its own failings. But it’s a strategy that is fraught with danger.
Following the executions the condemnation from Saudi’s Western allies was tepid. This was to be expected of course, there’s too much money at stake to risk alienating Saudi, which scathing condemnations may have done. In October Jon Snow confronted David Cameron on Saudi’s abysmal human rights record, and why the UK conducted secret vote-trading deals with Saudi to ensure both states got elected to the UN human rights council. Cameron really struggled to offer a rationalisation, but not surpringly when backed into a corner he appealed to the security of the country and claimed the relationship with Saudi was integral to the security of Britain. The dogs on the street know why the UK is in bed with the Saudis and it’s got nothing to do with preventing terrorism, it’s to do with money. Since David Cameron was elected in 2010 the UK have sold 5.6 billion worth of arms to Saudi Arabia. Many of these arms have been used by the Saudis in their horrific war against the Yemeni people. In December Amnesty said that according to the legal opinion of several professors that the UK’s military contracts breach both domestic and international law because of the government’s full awareness of the atrocities the arms that they’re selling are causing. In the United States, several Republicans defended Saudi Arabia and stated that they should have the full support of the United States. “Frankly, the Saudis don’t survive without us. Well, I would want to help Saudi Arabia, I would want to protect Saudi Arabia” Donald Trump said following the executions. “Saudi Arabia is one of America’s closest and oldest partners and deserves our continued support” asserted John McCain. “The Saudis have been one of our strongest allies in the Middle East” said Ben Carson in response to the executions, he also implied America were in someway responsible for inciting Saudi to execute the Sheikh because of the Iranian nuclear deal. These statements are in contrast with what they’ve stated regarding Jihadist terrorism. “I think people want the truth. I think they’re tired of politicians. They’re tired of politically correct stuff. Until President Obama uses the words radical Islamic terrorism then the problem will not be solved!” Donald Trump “Look at the world in 2009, and look at the world today. It is dramatically shifted in favour of the forces of radical Islam, forces of terror, and they are now direct threats to the United States of America.” John McCain “U.S. leaders must acknowledge the existential threat ISIS and radical Islamic terror pose to the nation.” Ben Carson. It’s clear that these two sets of statements are irreconcilable, but it’s not difficult to see why Republicans are comfortable expressing contradictory positions. The first set are in service of the defence industry who depend on the Saudis for billions worth of sales each year, whether the Saudi government are a hideous regime has little relevance, they’re a loyal customer and there’s too much money at stake to risk destabilising the relationship. The second set of statements are designed to convince Republican voters that unlike President Obama they’re willing to be strong in tackling radical Islam, this usually involves advocating for merciless bombing of Muslim-majority countries, and or other policies that will cause more suffering to Muslim people. Evidence and reason are enemies to the Republican party, what’s important is appealing to the prejudices of their potential voters to secure power. The Democratic party do this to a degree too of course, but they’re very careful to avoid alienating independent voters, Trump’s strategy has been successful in gaining the support of Republicans and has given him a great chance of winning the Republican nomination, his supporters are loyal and fully committed to him, but he will struggle to gain the support of independents because of his divineness which makes a Clinton presidency an almost certainty, barring some significant scandal or major terror attack.
The completion of the Iran nuclear deal is indeed some positive news amid the war and conflict in the region – A demonstration that diplomacy can indeed be successful – Those desperate for war opposed the deal including the Israeli government who are led by a vicious war criminal, and hardliners from both the Iranian and US government found themselves in agreement that it’s not in their interests to engage with the enemy. Without Hassan Rouhani, Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister and John Kerry the prospect of such a deal would have been remote. Rouhani was elected as the Iranian president in 2013 and has been described as a pragmatist and advocated engagement with the West. Iran have made significant concessions with regard to their nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of sanctions which have been in place for more than 30 years. Despite the sanctions Iran has made huge advances in science, and its scientific progress is reported to be the fastest in the world, and 70% of Iran’s science and engineering students are women. Iran will now gain access the billions of dollars in assets that were frozen overseas. Comically, the US also paid them back the money they owed them for an arms deal made more than 30 years ago when the Shah was in power. Iran paid the US government millions, but because the Shah was overthrown they never received the supply of weaponry. The exchange of prisoners was also a step in the right direction: Americans who were detained unlawfully were allowed to travel home in exchange for the release of Iranians who violated sanctions. Whether this signals an increased chance of rapprochement between the two countries is too early to ascertain. The Obama administration is now in its final year of office, and there’s no guarantee the following administration will be as willing to engage with the Iranians. The fact the Iranian government is still an enemy of America’s two strongest allies in the region Saudi and Israel will also act as a hindrance to possible rapprochement. It’s also worth bearing in mind that two of America’s allies in the region Israel and Pakistan do have possession of nuclear weapons, and aren’t signatories to the non-proliferation treaty. If the US are seriously interested in stability and peace in the region they should exert pressure on each government to join the treaty, and begin the process of nuclear disarmament.
In Western media, Iran are often depicted as an aggressor, a nation which not only poses threat to its neighbouring countries, but who constitutes a threat to world peace. The animosity some Iranians harbour for Western governments is said to be a product of the propaganda that emanates from Iranian media. This view is decidedly repugnant to reality that it raises questions about the state of Western media and to what extent it’s marred by ideological bias. Far from being a perpetual conflict that can be attributed to theological differences, Iran and the United States once had mutual respect for each other, so much so that president Truman who was president from 1949 to 1953 sympathised with the plight of the Iranians and felt revulsion at the racist, colonial attitude Great Britain had towards Iran. Iran admired the US for standing up for them after the 1st World War, and appreciated their political system. At this time the US government had very little involvement in the affairs of countries in the Middle-East, and it was primarily the actions of colonial Britain that aroused much of the hostility in the region. Britain was the leading empire in the world and felt that owning profitable resources like oil reserves from faraway countries was their God-given right. The company that caused all the controversy was the Anglo Iranian Oil Company which extracted petroleum from Iran, it built a refinery in Abadan and the bulk of the profits went to the British. Iranian workers were also exploited and treated like objects. For many years there was little resistance to this project, because the British had the support of tyrannical Iranian dictators who maintained order and control; there were some attempts to gain some compromises from the British but these were unsuccessful. This would all change after 1941 when the Soviets and British invaded and occupied Iran forcing the Shah to step down in favour of his son. Iranian nationalism was on the rise and a figure who would forever change Iran’s history emerged: Mohammad Mosaddegh. He abhorred British imperialism, and was a proponent of nationalising AIOC, in addition he espoused secular values, and wanted greater freedom for the Iranian people. In 1951 he was democratically elected as prime-minister of Iran, he introduced social reforms which were greatly beneficial to the average Iranian. At this point the British were eager to stage a coup but President Truman couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to overthrow Mosaddegh who he had a lot of sympathy for. When President Eisenhower was elected in 1952 this would all change; suddenly the British led by Churchill had an administration who was receptive to the idea of deposing Mohammad partly because of the fear of communism and partly because of the benefits they would later receive and with the assistance of the CIA the plot to overthrow Mosaddegh dubbed Operation Ajax began. The CIA bribed thugs, clergy and politicians to participate in a propaganda campaign against Mosaddegh, a pro-Shah mob was paid to riot in August, and between 300 and 800 people were killed. Mosaddegh who was vehemently opposed to violence was ill-equipped to resist this. The mob marched at his residence and he was forced to disappear, eventually he surrendered and was convicted of treason, and placed under house arrest, many of his supporters were executed. Kermit Roosevelt who ran the operation was triumphant and he celebrated with the Shah. US companies benefited financially from the coup, much of the oil concessions were given to them by the Shah. Iran’s brief period of democracy and independence was over, for the next 20 years the Shah would operate with an iron fist, dissent wouldn’t be tolerated and his secret police force SAVAK was setup with the assistance of the CIA, they would torture and persecute any opposition to the Shah. In addition the US sold billions worth of weaponry to the Shah, which helped him tighten his grip on power. The love Iranians had for Mosaddegh didn’t wane, and the Shah was acutely aware of this so much so that he forbade any mention of portraying him in a good light, even when Mosaddegh died Iranians weren’t permitted to mourn him. When the Shah fell Iranians eventually got their chance to pay homage to Mosaddegh, on the 12th anniversary of his death thousands payed their respect to Mohammad; he finally got the send-off he much deserved. Without a doubt he was one of the most towering figures in Iranian history, a man of boundless integrity who left an indelible impression on anyone who knew of him. For many Americans they were completely oblivious to what their government was doing, in fact the US government succeeded in covering up the coup for several decades. On the 60th anniversary of the coup, the CIA finally admitted it was fully involved in planning and execution of the coup. It acknowledged that: “The coup was carried out “under CIA direction” and “as an act of U.S. foreign policy, conceived and approved at the highest levels of government.” From any impartial observation of history, the view that Iran instigated the conflict is deeply untenable to the extent it requires proponents of that view to either disguise Western crimes in Iran, or to exaggerate and lie about the actions of the Iranian government: It started with the exploitation and theft of Iranian resources by the British, the overthrow of Iran’s democratic president which was orchestrated by the CIA and MI6, the support and supply of billions in weaponry to the Shah, who was a murderous tyrant, and the assistance to his secret police force SAVAK which tortured and killed dissidents. And then following the Islamic revolution the support and supply of weaponry to Saddam Hussein who launched an attack on Iran which resulted in one of the worst wars of the century, in addition the US assisted Saddam while he gassed Iranians, and when he committed a ghastly chemical weapons attack on the Kurdish village of Halabja, the US lied and accused Iran of being behind the attack despite knowing full well it was their ally. The US also downed an Iranian passenger jet, killing 290 people, mostly Iranians. They were later forced to pay compensation but never fully apologised or admitted to any wrongdoing and awarded the admiral responsible for the atrocity; what message does that send to the rest of the world? The sanctions imposed on Iran have also had devastating effects on the civilian population. How could someone have awareness of these facts and still maintain that Iran is the aggressor? Perhaps, irrational, tribalistic patriotism? Or racism against Iranians that view them as uneducated, backward people? Or simply dishonesty by someone who understands the facts but chooses to ignore them? None of this negates the fact that the Iranian government has committed some grotesque crimes and its form of theocracy restricts the freedom of its people. It’s entirely incompatible with Mohammad’s vision for the country which was for it to be secular, democratic and free. But the precedent set in 1953 sent the message that if you weren’t willing to be strict and authoritarian your fate would be the same of Mosaddegh’s. Any discussion about the current authoritarian government in Iran which disregards the role the United States and Britain played in creating the conditions that led to its power is one devoid of any semblance of reason. The notion that Iranian aversion to the US government is unreasonable is all the more remarkable when you consider the blatant overreaction to the incident involving the American soldiers who entered Iranian waters last week. Despite the fact it was error on the part of the US soldiers, Republicans and several in the US media depicted it as an aggressive act by Iran. This underscores the lengths Republicans and hawks in the media are willing to go to provide some justification for their desire to see an aggressive act undertaken by the US military against Iran.
If The United States does not make fundamental shifts to its foreign policy, violence and war will continue unabated for decades to come. Its unwillingness to confront Saudi Arabia and Israel’s destabilising role along with its catastrophic wars in Afghanistan and Iraq has done untold damage to the region. If it continues down this dangerous path of pursuing regime change, and failing to address its own flaws along with those of its allies the risk of nuclear war is great. We now know how close the world to came to nuclear disaster during the Cold War, saved only due to the actions of a few individuals. There’s no guarantee that next time such a crisis emerges, that we’ll be so lucky.