On the face of it, George W. Bush’s determination to increase the US military presence in Iraq, and his escalating political warfare against the Islamic State of Iran, despite the mounting chaos in Iraq, appear illogical to the point of madness. That is certainly the opinion of many observers in the US, where Congress, controlled since the mid-term elections last November by Democratic politicians anxious to distance themselves from Bush’s failures and unpopularity, is likely to try to block the funding that he needs for his plans. However, that is to fundamentally misunderstand the thrust of US policies in the Middle East over the last thirty years, of which the neo-con adventurism of the last five years is just a particularly aggressive manifestation.
Bush’s problem is that he is falling into the gaping chasm between his stated objectives in Iraq and his real ones, a disconnect that is easily ignored if one’s policies succeed, but possibly fatal if all does not go smoothly. The fact that he and his officials lied to justify their invasion of Iraq, about the threat Iraq posed, about its supposed WMDs, and about several other issues, is now widely recognised even in the US. Many also accept that the invasion of Iraq had nothing to do with the “war on terror”, and that the attacks of 9/11 were merely exploited by the neo-cons to justify a war that they had already decided to fight. But the criticism of Bush is based on a misunderstanding of Bush’s objectives. His policies can only be considered to have failed if they are judged according to his stated objectives: the establishment of peace, stability and democracy in Iraq, and the securing of US oil interests. However, there was also a deeper, underlying objective that has never been explicitly acknowledged, and which Bush and the neo-cons still hope to achieve by the apparently illogical escalation against Iran. If this objective is achieved, they hope that all previous failures will be forgiven and forgotten.
This objective, which has underpinned all US policies in the region since 1979, is the destruction of the Islamic State of Iran, which has long been regarded as the key to defeating the global Islamic movement, the main obstacle to hegemonic American imperialism in the world. Before the Islamic Revolution American hegemony over the Muslim world seemed total, secure and unchallenged. The Islamic movements that aspired to re-establish the political power of Islam in various countries, such as the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen and the Jama’at-e Islami, appeared marginal and irrelevant, easily dismissed as throwbacks to the pre-modern age. The energetic resurgence of the Islamic movement after the Islamic Revolution proved that this perception was wrong, though until the Revolution few even in Muslim countries thought that such a resurgence was possible. The fact that the people of what appeared the most modern and Westernised of Muslim countries could rise against their American-supported ruler, inspired and led by an ‘alim such as Imam Khomeini, and mobilised through the Islamic institutions of the country, came as a huge shock to the West, as well as to many in the Muslim world. What many young Muslims do not appreciate today is that the global confrontation between Western imperialism and Islamic resistance that we take for granted stems almost entirely from the boost given to Islamic movements by the success of the Islamic Revolution. The respect shown to Islamic Iran today by major Islamic movements elsewhere, such as Hamas and Hizbullah, is recognition of this reality.
No sooner had the Islamic State been established than the US set about trying to destroy it. Saddam Hussain’s invasion of Iran in 1980 and the ensuing eight-year war were part of this campaign. So too were the economic sanctions imposed on Iran, and the numerous political and diplomatic maneouvres to isolate and weaken it. In propaganda terms, the US and its allies promoted views of the Revolution as a Shi’i phenomenon, and financed anti-Shi’i propaganda in the rest of the Muslim world. Among other things, they encouraged the growth of the salafi/wahhabi movement from which al-Qa’ida and other such groups have subsequently emerged. And perhaps above all, they moved to assert far more direct military control over the rest of the Muslim Middle East to ensure that the Islamic Revolution could not be ‘imported’ by Muslims in other countries. This was a major factor in their occupation of the Arabian peninsula on the pretext of Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and the gradual build-up of American forces, under different pretexts since then, in every country surrounding Iran. Indeed, it is no exaggeration to say that virtually every US policy on matters concerning Muslims since 1979 has been determined to some extent by the need to limit and contain the effects of the Islamic Revolution.
Bush’s determination to attack Iran is the logical culmination of this US policy over the last 30 years. The occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq were essential steps to this end. The fact that they have not gone as smoothly as planned will not prevent Bush from pressing on, and success against Iran will make the failures in Afghanistan and Iraq less important. Bush’s determination to press on despite the US’s failures may appear insane, but there is a dangerous method in his apparent madness that Muslims cannot afford to ignore.