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While the Middle East is a Powder Keg, Republicans Push for Escalation with Iran

Conservatives are using the crisis in the Middle East to push for the United States to pursue more aggressive policies towards Iran.

Samuel Karlin

October 24, 2023
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While the United States arms Israel with billions in weapons to obliterate Gaza, some sectors of the U.S. regime are also pushing for more aggression towards Iran under the guise of “fighting terrorism.”

Republicans have wasted no time using the developing crisis in the Middle East to call for a more aggressive U.S. policy towards Iran. Donald Trump took to his social media platform Truth Social to post an all caps criticism of Joe Biden’s recent prisoner exchange deal with Iran. Ron DeSantis called Iran “a clearinghouse for terrorist funding in the region” and proposed more sanctions on Iran’s economy. Nikki Haley said “Finish them all. Hamas did this, you know Iran’s behind this. Finish them.”

The messages from the three leading GOP presidential candidates are reflective of the consensus among Republicans that the United States needs a more aggressive policy towards Iran. Despite deepening divisions between the Trumpist sector and the establishment leaders of the Republican Party — largely over issues of foreign policy — the GOP is in agreement that there need to be more hawkish policies towards Iran.

The Wall Street Journal has also been taking up this position. Just a day after the crisis in the Middle East began to unfold, following the Hamas-led operation “Al-Aqsa Storm,” the Journal published an article reporting that Iran helped Hamas plan the operation. The claim relies entirely on non-descript “Hamas and Hezbollah” sources, and has been contradicted by Biden’s national security advisor and reporting from The New York Times, and has been questioned by former U.S. intelligence officials and foreign policy analysts. Of course, Iran does politically support and arm Hamas, but the Wall Street Journal’s dubious reporting and subsequent opinion pieces show that rather than objectively reporting, the Journal is using this moment to push for the anti-Iran policies that the conservative paper has long championed.

Republicans have never missed an opportunity to paint Biden as weak or too conciliatory towards Iran, and the humiliating attack on Israel which caught the Zionist state and the U.S. off guard is a perfect opportunity for them to go on the offensive against Biden’s Middle East strategy.

Biden’s Imperialism in Crisis

While the Biden administration has maintained the brutal “maximum pressure” sanctions implemented under Trump, Biden has mostly sought to contain Iran through soft-power methods. Iran containment was one of the main goals of Biden’s attempt to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia. The possibility of normalization is now off the table; this outcome was likely the desired result of Hamas’s recent operation. Now, Republicans are using open space created by the crisis to pitch their policy which emphasizes even more severe sanctions on Iran and greater U.S. military power-projection in the region.

Faced with the pressure to respond aggressively to Iran and its regional allies like Hamas and Hezbollah, Biden has canceled the release of $6 billion in Iranian funds which he had promised the country as part of his deal to free American prisoners. The deployment of U.S. aircraft carriers, troops, and warplanes to the Middle East is also intended to signal to Iran and its allies not to act against Israel. Secretary of State Antony Blinken also made strong warnings against Iran at the United Nations.

All this may be enough to deter Iran, which is already weakened from an unresolved internal crisis following the feminist-led uprising last year which called the regime’s power into question. The country is in no position to commit to a larger regional war or greater confrontation with the United States. Still, given the volatility of the unfolding situation, Biden’s moves could lead to accidents which miscalculate the considerations that regional powers like Iran are weighing, and as a result, escalate the developing tensions. There have already been several attacks on U.S. bases in the region which the Pentagon has said it will “hold Iran responsible” for.

Despite making moves that risk escalation, the Biden administration’s main policy is clearly an attempt to contain the crisis. Of course, Biden is no peace-maker, but a wider war in the Middle East would be devastating to U.S. imperialist strategy which is already stretched thin from a proxy-war in Ukraine, and a prioritized focus on containing China’s rise as a challenger to U.S. global hegemony. The U.S. regime’s ability to prioritize its imperialist aims has also been greatly disrupted by domestic crises, including the historic UAW strike, a completely dysfunctional Congress, the possibility of another Trump presidency, and a growing mass movement in solidarity with Palestine which is directly criticizing U.S. imperialism.

Biden surely knows that a war between Israel and other countries in the region, including possibly Iran, would exacerbate the domestic crises he is trying to contain, and would greatly disrupt the global economy and likely result in a military defeat of Israel. Any weakening of Israel is also a severe blow to U.S. power, as the Zionist state is the strongest U.S. ally in a region where U.S. imperialist hegemony has undergone serious decline, while adversaries like China and Russia have advanced. With his presidency on the line, Biden cannot allow for deeper economic and geopolitical crises to develop.

Strengthen the Opposition to U.S. Imperialism

The unprecedented scale of the crisis and the various calculations that different regional and global powers are making means we cannot predict how much room there is for escalation. It is unlikely any capitalists in the United States actually want war with Iran, whether by proxy through Israel or directly. Yet the emphasis by half of the U.S. regime on using this moment to strong-arm Iran means that an escalatory cycle which leads to war cannot be ruled out.

To ensure such an escalation to war does not happen, it is important for the thousands of Americans supporting Palestine from the heart of imperialism to also oppose any U.S. aggression towards Iran. We should have no illusions that the Iranian regime is a benevolent actor in the Middle East or aligned with the interests of the working class. But a more aggressive U.S. policy — be it military build-up in the region or increased sanctions — comes with the risk of yet another war, and primarily hurts the Iranian working class and oppressed communities: the very people who have shown themselves to be fully capable of resisting the regime independently of U.S. imperialism. The Iranian working class is also mobilizing in solidarity with Palestine, and they carry with them a powerful working-class tradition which can inspire the international movement for Palestinian liberation to fight imperialism as well as national bourgeois projects in the Middle East, such as the Iranian regime and the reactionary program of Hamas.

The anti-Zionist, anti-imperialist movement developing in the United States must fight back against the Republicans’ attempts to advance an escalatory policy of further imperialist aggression towards Iran. We can do this by uniting our movement with that of the Iranian workers and youth and all our class siblings rising up in the Middle East and around the world against imperialism and in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle.

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Samuel Karlin

Samuel Karlin is a socialist with a background in journalism. He mainly writes for Left Voice about U.S. imperialism and international class struggle.

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