ABOUT THE CRISIS IN THE MIDDLE EAST
Interview with Mansoor Hekmat
Communist Number 59, October 1991
Question: What is the analysis of the Politburo of the present crisis in the Middle East? What are the background and the causes of this crisis?
Mansoor Hekmat: We must first define the crisis itself. The background and the causes of what reality are we supposed to talk about? Western journalism and the Western governments involved in this issue, at least in their propaganda, give a limited and misleading picture of this crisis. As though the issue is over the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq and the consequences of this incident from the viewpoint of the supply of oil to the West, or the fate of the foreigners in the region. Of course, their more specialist analyses reflect the wider dimensions of this crisis and the dangers which thereby threaten the world.
The occupation of Kuwait by Iraq has not been an exception to the general rule governing the relations among states in contemporary capitalism. This is not the first time that a country, in pursuit of its economic, political and strategic interests, has invaded and occupied another. In this specific case, the Iraqi government's economic and political interests are quite clear. Of course, it may be asked why this act has taken place, and could take place, at this particular time. I shall return to this further on. But it should be clear that the main factor in this crisis is neither the violation of Kuwait's sovereignty, nor the restriction of oil supplies to the West, nor the condition of the foreign citizens. The occupation of Kuwait has acted as a tiny spark to a massive explosion on a world scale; as an outlet for the solution of much more fundamental problematics. To comment and take a position on the Middle East crisis means to focus on these main issues and on the future course of the event. The question is not the Iraqi-Kuwait relationship, but, rather, the international alignment that has been formed in the wake of this event and the explosive situation that thereby threatens the world.
This event should be viewed in the context of world developments after the Cold War and the disintegration of the Eastern bloc. Both the occupation of Kuwait and the ensuing situation in the Middle East have been possible because of these developments. Before the events in the Soviet bloc, the world's economic and political geography had assumed a more or less stable form under the influence of the East and West alignment and the confrontation of the two so-called super-powers. Not only the political and national divisions of the capitalist world but the entire conceptual superstructure and ideological physiognomy of the world had been defined under the influence of this international encounter. Today all these equations have to be defined anew. Open and unresolved questions have arisen. Every state, force and individual is, for its part, accepting a role in shaping the future profile of the world. The Arab world is part of the world as a whole; what is today taking place there is no more astonishing than the events in the Soviet Union and in West and East Europe. Past relationships and equations are being revised from all sides. Just as the European geography of two years ago seems out of date, and the encountering and even the mere existence of the NATO and Warsaw pacts in the old form have lost meaning, so the political balance and the political and administrative divisions surviving to this day in the Arab world and the Middle East have been questioned. In one word, with the entry of the world into the post Cold War era not only do new questions emerge but the old ones present themselves in new forms.
When we look at the two sides of the conflict that has developed in the Middle East we immediately see that the issues that are emerging or being resolved go far beyond the occupation of Kuwait. For the USA this confrontation is a channel through which to mould the future political shape of the capitalist world in favour of safeguarding her position as a super-power. The end of the Cold War, the developments in Europe and the elimination of the Soviet bloc, have weakened the position of the USA vis-a-vis Europe, and internationally. The unification of the two Germanys, which, moreover, is taking place in the context of a united and economically powerful Europe, to a large degree reduces the role of the USA in the international political scene to a second-rate one. This corresponds with the USA's economic decline. NATO is in effect becoming a useless phenomenon. The present crisis helps to keep open the chances of the US as a super-power. A breathing space is being created for the USA to express itself as a military power which Europe and other advanced industrial countries need. Even before the present incident, Western analysts, looking for a rationale for the continued existence of NATO and the hegemonic role of the USA, pointed to the existing problems in the less-developed countries and in the Middle East. With the occupation of Kuwait, the future of America as a super-power can be cleared of ambiguity. The "West" suddenly finds itself in need of the USA and her leadership. Therefore, whatever the dimensions of the Kuwaiti issue itself, the USA needed to transform it into an international crisis. The US has done all it could towards this end with the help of Britain. First a massive force is deployed in the region, initially with the excuse of defending Saudi Arabia. Then there is explicit talk of military offensive and even tactical nuclear war in the area. The dimensions of the crisis itself by no means justify this tumult and militarism. But the USA's perspective goes beyond the restoration of the status quo in Kuwait and the Middle East. The central issue is to remain the lead actor and a super-power in a rapidly changing world.
At the same time the occupation of Kuwait provides an outlet for the posing of more fundamental contradictions. The present situation has made the conflicts and tensions in the Middle East which before were restrained within a given world balance of power and which surfaced in relatively milder forms, to emerge in the sharpest and most conspicuous forms. The tensions themselves can be fully explained. First, the Palestinian question has to pose itself in newer forms. The occupation of Palestine and the oppression against the Palestinian people is an old wound on the body of the Arab world. The second point is the artificial geography which colonial powers have enforced on the Arab people. These people consider themselves a divided nation. To think that hundreds of millions of people will go on forever tolerating, on the one hand, their poverty and deprivation and, on the other, the legendary wealth of a handful of sheikhdoms, created on the regional map by the aid of set squares once British colonialism was leaving, is an absurd thought. These divisions and objective economic gulfs have been an important source of discontent for the vast number of masses and a basis for the influence of Arab nationalism. Third, with the end of the Iran-Iraq war, a number of factors are added to the picture. The failure of Iran and the Islamic current in the war not only strengthens Arab nationalism but reinforces Iraq's position in the Arab world as a country that has rebuffed this threat. Iraq is pushed forward as a military and political power in the Arab community. The price of oil, oil-rich fields or suitable shores for exporting the oil, the debts to wealthy sheikhdoms and their role in Iraq's economic reconstruction, and so on, are vital issues for Iraq. To all these must be added the fact that Kuwait was made independent in a completely artificial and colonialist fashion and that Iraq has always called for its re-annexation. The changing world situation has allowed Iraq to occupy Kuwait. But with this incident, followed by the line-up of the USA and its allies and their taking of a manifestly belligerent pose, a large section of the Arab world is mobilised and historical conflicts in this region are pushed to the fore.
Coming in the midst of the turbulent world of the post Cold War period, a combination of these tensions and frictions has created the present crisis. The starting point for this event was the occupation and annexation of Kuwait by Iraq. This has naturally resulted from this country's immediate interests. But this is only a starting point. What has produced a crisis on such a scale is that this incident has in effect been turned into a channel for the resolution of conflicts and the clash of material interests which have a global and historical dimension. Most important of all is the USA's need and effort to redefine its position and role as a super-power in the new conditions in the world. Above all it is the relation between Europe and the USA and American role in the new world that is being decided.
Question: What is the Politburo's specific position towards this crisis and the key issues of this crisis such as the occupation of Kuwait, the economic boycott of Iraq, deployment of US forces and those of its allies in the region and the control of seaways, the possibility of the outbreak of war, the situation of the foreign nationals and refugees, etc?
Mansoor Hekmat: I must first make a general comment about this issue. For us as a communist and internationalist party, as part of the working-class movement which has clear social and political aims, taking sides politically or socially with any party in the conflict, with any one of the involved blocs, is irrelevant. Our perspective and alternative for societies neither corresponds with the former situation in the region, nor is it represented by the sides of this conflict. We do not have, and have not had, the tradition of regarding every social encounter as the confrontation of progress and reaction. However, this does not mean that we are indifferent towards the issues which emerge amidst all this. The life and future of vast masses of working people are being decided here. The contemporary world is in this way defining its framework for an era. We have an interest in all these. Bearing this in mind let me take up the points in your question.
1- The USA is going to impose a bloody war on the people of the region, particularly on the Iraqi people who are just shaking themselves off the privations and miseries of an eight-year war, in pursuit of specific imperialist interests. The USA's threats and warmongering have nothing to do with the occupation of Kuwait. The political commentators of the American bourgeoisie themselves say this in so many words. Neither the rule of the Kuwaiti Sheikh, nor Kuwait's sovereignty, nor oil, is among their serious justifications for starting the war. They admit that the interest for which American youth have to fight is the USA's status in contemporary world economy and politics as a super-power which has been weakened particularly with the unification of the two Germanys and the end of the Cold War. It is not the cut off of oil supplies - which is not going to happen and cannot happen - nor the issue of Kuwait's sovereignty. They bluntly say that if the US can make a show of force here as a military might, it can still remain the gendarme of the post Cold War world, as its so-called leader. For the US this is a blessing to bolster its declining position vis-a-vis the other sections of the capitalist world. We emphatically condemn this warmongering and this open bullying. Whatever the origins of this incident, today it is only the US interest, and US interest alone, that has confronted the world with the nightmare of another human tragedy on a scale even more massive than what the US has imposed on the world up to now.
2- Likewise, we condemn the deployment of force in the Middle East and the control of the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea as the most blatant form of imperialist bullying. They first bring in their forces and then, by twisting the arms of this or other state, get their UN's permission. The world does not need a gendarme. This has to be prevented.
3- With regard to economic sanctions, we can suppose that every country or a bloc of countries may use trade pressures as a lever in international relations. But this particular case reeks of an unscheduled intimidation. The occupation of Grenada, the mining of Nicaraguan shores and the invasion of Panama by the United States, and, starkest of all, the occupation of Palestinian land by Israel, have not led to any form of sanctions up to now. The Anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa has been constantly appealing for the continued economic sanctioning of the Apartheid regime, but we have not even seen a tiny gun-boat in South African waters. Blocking supplies of food and medicine to millions of people as a means of applying pressure, which is illegal even by UN resolutions, is a completely anti-human act. Even if we take refusal to trade with Iraq as any country's right, military intimidation in the name of putting this policy into effect must definitely be condemned and stopped.
4- With regard to foreign citizens, we are certainly against denying people the right to travel and settlement, and above of all the certain right to escape the hazards of war. We, too, want the liberty of the foreign nationals. But in this case too the West has made an exhibition of deception. In our view, the open belligerence of the US and European countries and the prior frustration of all diplomatic and political options have played a big part in stranding the foreign nationals in Kuwait and Iraq. Among the countries that have sent ships and troops to the region are even those which would never have ventured the attempt had they had even a half-metre common border with Iraq or if there were the slightest chance of their suffering non-military losses because of their policy. What are Canada, Italy, Australia, and the like doing there? It should also be said that it requires extreme prejudice and Eurocentrism to focus public attention on the much fewer number of Americans and Europeans, while hundreds of thousands of other foreign nationals have either been trapped, under miserable conditions, or, even if they are allowed to leave, have no way of returning to their countries. When Western governments and media call their citizens "human shields" they are admitting that in their view the millions of other innocent people don't count as human beings and may be slaughtered. If war is dangerous and deadly it is so for everyone. You can't, at one and the same time, both speak of possibility of attack by tactical nuclear weapons, and feel pity for your citizens. Furthermore, what should the people who live, work and go to school there do? If anyone is concerned about the safety and security of innocent people, including those from one's own country, they ought to do something about the ominous shadow of war , which is threatening the lives of millions of people.
At one stage the Iraqi government stated that if the US and its allies would rule out the possibility of first strike, their citizens would be allowed to leave. This may have been a basis for the solution of the foreign nationals' issue. But the problem is that these people have decided to make war. If the responsibility for the lives and safety of the foreign nationals in Iraq lies with the Iraqi government, the responsibility for the lives of millions of people of the countries which will be the scene of the war lies with the USA and the West. Finally, if pity for European citizens is out of compassion for human beings and protection of basic human rights with regard to free movement and settlement, then we should ask the Western governments why they are closing their borders to immigrants who are fleeing non-European countries because of poverty and war. What stood out clearly in this crisis was not that bourgeois politics knows no humanism and that in disputes between countries and national interests in the present world defenceless human beings are the first victims. Everyone knows that. What became clear was the degree of deceitfulness of the official ideology and ethics in bourgeois society, even where they lull people to sleep every night with the lullaby of democracy, and how the media in democratic Europe and the USA is an appendage of foreign policy.
5- We do not approve of the occupation of Kuwait, since as a communist party we stand for working people freely determining their own destiny - and not states and armies doing this. But condemning the occupation of Kuwait is not, in our view, a correct position either. First, it must be clear what the political and principled basis is for such a condemnation. The infringement of international law? We are neither defenders of these laws, nor have we signed them. And now and again we find ourselves in conflict with them. The existing international law has essentially been drawn up to regulate the relations among capitalist states. Their observance or infringement calls for no commendation or denunciation on our part. The violation of Kuwait's sovereignty? As I said, the fact of Kuwait being a country and its independence and territorial integrity is nothing sacred for us. Setting aside a few oil wells and putting a Sheikh to guard them is no basis for sovereignty. In our opinion, many borders in the Arab world are artificial and the result of colonial heritage. The people of Arab countries who live and work there are the ones who should, by their free will, decide the fate of the political geography of this region. The political geography of the world is changing. One cannot use two yardsticks, one for Europe and another for the Middle East. It may be said that in this particular case the status quo is being changed through military occupation and from above. In our opinion, this may be a reason for not approving it, but not for condemning it. Finally, condemnation of the occupation of Kuwait could be relevant for us if a freer and a more progressive system was being replaced by a more backward one. This does not apply either. More than being a country, Kuwait was a labour camp for immigrant workers who, without the slightest civil rights, were working for Western companies and their local subsidiaries under a clan political system. Therefore, even from the viewpoint of the transformation of social relations, the condemnation of this incident is irrelevant. It is interesting to note that at the beginning, some Western propaganda on this issue was still influenced by the atmosphere of the period of pressure on the Eastern bloc; by focussing on the political system in Iraq, attempts were being made to portray the alignment in the Middle East as the confrontation of democracy and dictatorship. But very soon it was asked, even in the public opinion in the US, that whatever the political system in Iraq may be, defending Kuwaiti and Saudi governments cannot be portrayed as defence of democracy. Inevitably, the official propaganda was concentrated more on the question of oil and the fate of Western nationals. In our view, we are not faced here with the opposition of different social systems; it would be misleading to pose the issue as such. In international politics and in the world of diplomacy condemning an act means calling for the restoration of the earlier situation and aligning oneself with the main forces who have ranged themselves against this act - be this through the UN, by economic sanctions, by propaganda, and so on. We do not belong to this rank, and will not sing along with it.
Secondly - and this is much more important - the main issue today is no longer the occupation of Kuwait. The world has not mobilised on the issue of Kuwait's territorial integrity; the arrays have not been formed on this basis. The central issue is the perspective which the US sees before it for the restoration of some kind of international hegemony, and for which it is prepared to sacrifice the lives of hundreds of thousands in a war which will ruin the lives of several generations to come. To cover up this truth and to focus on the issue of the occupation of a puppet sheikhdom, a clan political system, is to yield to this imperialist perspective and to turn into a pawn in the propaganda war of the US. Once the USA packs up and goes, then you can begin to talk about the destiny of Kuwait in a proper way.
Question: To what extent can we regard the refusal of the Politburo to condemn the occupation of Kuwait as influenced by the considerations and constraints stemming from the presence of our camps and facilities in Iraq?
Mansoor Hekmat: In this specific case, none whatsoever. There have been instances in the past - and there will be in future - when because of having technical and camp facilities on Iraqi soil we softened our articulation or even refrained from commenting on certain issues. We have declared this before and see absolutely nothing wrong with it. To this day, we have not trampled on any of our principles for this reason. We have been prepared to abstain from our absolute freedom of action in those fields which from the viewpoint of the specific activity of the Communist Party of Iran are considered secondary, so as to strengthen the main battle fronts of our struggle. But up to now we have not changed any of our positions out of such considerations. We do not think it right to condemn the occupation of Kuwait for the reasons that I mentioned. Even if, for example, Egypt had one day invaded Saudi Arabia and ousted the Saudi government, we would not condemn that either. And we have no facilities on Egyptian soil. We are not enthusiastic about the clan systems, Islamic retribution laws, women's oppression, denial of rights to people and their subjugation by billionaire Sheikhs in these countries. If anyone is today violating human principles and adopting a position on the basis of their material interests, it is those who talk about democracy in Europe but are prepared to let thousands of people, from various nationalities, get slaughtered in the Middle East for the profits of capital, and have the rule of some Sheikh imposed upon the lives of many others. This means the entire "highly respectable" media in West Europe and the USA, as well as the bourgeoisie's hypocritical and deceitful politicians.
Question: What is, in your view, the desirable solution to this crisis?
Mansoor Hekmat: What is desirable should be distinguished from what is possible. Our desirable solution to the hardships faced by the working people, for their liberation from poverty and war throughout the world can be seen in every line of our programme and statements: socialism and an end to the class system. This is our solution and the reason for all our activity. Unfortunately, worker socialism today is not in a position to radically decide the fate of society at such political cross-roads. In this particular crisis this force is by no means among the leading players on the stage. This situation must change. And this is our job. But for the vast masses of people whose lives are being used as pawns, there is only one solution: war must be prevented at all cost. The US government and allies must be made to refrain from carrying out this slaughter. None of the issues involved in this crisis - the occupation of Kuwait, the foreign nationals, oil, embassies, etc - can be a justification for this disaster. As a practical course, we think the solution of the issue of Kuwait should be left to the Arab world itself. Non-military and political solutions should be sought for this crisis.
Question: How probable is the outbreak of war? What will be its consequences?
Mansoor Hekmat: In my opinion the outbreak of war, that is, its being started by the US, is very likely. The US has got into a big gamble. The results of victory in such a war are very tempting for it. But at the same time the same war can in the long run result in much greater losses for the US; it can lead to its further isolation, particularly to the weakening of its influence in Europe. Their hope is to paralyse Iraqi resistance by heavy, lightening strikes, and at least take position in Kuwait. They have calculated their and the enemy losses in human terms - military as well as civilian. But even if they succeed, this will not be the end of the matter. The new balance will be short-lived, and only a prelude to several decades of bloody conflict in the whole Middle East with decisive global consequences. The outbreak of such a war can even seriously influence the current trends in Europe and the political situation in the USSR. Whether or not war breaks out, this event has already initiated the process of fundamental changes in the region. For example, the Saudi government and the other sheikhdoms will have to go. The ruling structures in Arab countries will not remain as before. The Palestinian issue has entered a completely new stage. The ideological and political balance in the Middle East has been upset. Nationalism and, to a lesser degree, Islam will once again be pushed forward, at least in the medium term, this time more as a stream of Pan-Arabism. Direct class struggles will once more be overshadowed by national, religious and similar conflicts. This is a serious regression from the viewpoint of the development of the class struggle in the Middle East. It can drag generations of workers in this region behind non-worker and backward ideologies and movements, and raise serious obstacles to workers' unity and socialist struggle. Finally, we should not forget that if the US is successful in its present militarist policy and in consolidating its position as the gendarme in the post Cold War world, this will be a prelude to the violent suppression of any working-class and mass movement in many regions of the world which should somehow pose a threat to its interests.
Question: How do you evaluate the standpoint of the Iranian government?
Mansoor Hekmat: The position of the Islamic Republic has changed both over time and in proportion to the balance among the factions. The Hezbollahis have been the main losers. They lost their credit in their Islamic world; the course of improvement in relations between the Islamic Republic and the West accelerated; and the government of Rafsanjani gained tangible concessions both in the solution of disputes with Iraq and in the form of extra foreign reserves by selling oil at the higher price. The problem of the Iranian government is at what price to sell itself to the West. Rafsanjani's initial comments indicated that they had not correctly grasped the situation and thought that the incident would very quickly end in West's favour. Later comments by Khamenei were bargaining to wring further concessions. It is clear that neither the Iranian regime nor the Hezbollahi current as a faction will be an independent and effective voice in this event. I think the Iranian government will in the end find itself beside the West. It may even happen that the Hezbollahis, having been used by the ruling faction to gain concessions from the West, be altogether removed from positions of power. It is true that with this incident the Hezbollahi faction finds an opportunity for propaganda and show-offs. But it should be noted that this is all that it can now do. This current has even lost the power of Islamic mobilisation in the Middle East to Arab nationalism. And in Iran it is faced with another faction which, with this incident, has consolidated its position further, both in international diplomacy and in the economic field. The likely course is that the Hezbollah more and more assumes the features of a noisy opposition, but lacking an effective power in the state apparatus.
The above interview took place when Mansoor Hekmat was in the leadership of the Communist Party of Iran. His political activities continued in the CPI until, because of his struggle against nationalism, which was emerging as a strong tendency in the CPI, Mansoor Hekmat resigned from the CPI and established the Worker-communist Party of Iran (WPI).
Translated by Bahram Soroush