Notes from the front – of the week 9/4/2015

British leaders’ debates highlight need for new politics

Even many of the most blinkered political commentators have registered that the seven-way leaders debate embodies the fracturing of the traditional British political system dominated by the two major parties. The fact that it also clearly ushered in a new era of women’s political leadership is clearly progressive.

The election campaign itself is characterised by attritional hostilities between the major parties and a new polarisation to both left and right among voters. The Tory Party is clearly unable to break out of its decades-long downtrend in support and has lost further support by implementing austerity. It cannot play the race card as a distraction to bolster support, as it has done during its time on office, because its strategists understand that this boosts UKIP. Labour seems incapable of a decisive breakthrough as it is hamstrung by its own support for austerity.

As a result a space has opened up to the left of Labour which is being occupied in different ways by the SNP in Scotland and by the Greens in England. This is a change as the role of UKIP has been to shift the entire political debate into the gutter of racism. Yet Farage’s vile racist and homophobic verbal attacks in the debate may solidify his support, and could be seen as an indicator of the campaigns that will have more mainstream support when austerity is resumed post-election.

Serious polling confirms a majority of the population is increasingly anti-austerity. Labour could have capitalised on that mood with a clear anti-austerity, pro-growth message and policies. Instead it looks set to lose votes and seats to parties who say they oppose austerity. The main thrust of the Tory campaign is supported by the entire ruling class- to put as much distance between Labour and the SNP as possible. Big business in Britain is entirely committed to austerity and aims to marginalise all forces not wholly committed to implementing it.

The Iran nuclear deal – US still committed to regime change

The announcement on 2 April of the interim agreement between the P5+1 group of states (the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany) and Iran does not signal that imperialism has changed its fundamental orientation to Iran. The US and its allies retain the strategic objective of changing Iran from an independent regime to a Western client.

The official text of the 2 April agreement is secret and has not been published. However the US and Iran released their own statements – which differ on aspects of what has been hammered out. Despite these disagreements it is clear Iran has made significant concessions on its nuclear rights and has agreed to reduce its nuclear infrastructure and place it under unprecedented international invigilation. In exchange international sanctions on Iran will be reduced.

The US claims sanctions will only be ‘suspended’ in phases while Iran says that UN, EU and US sanctions will all be ‘terminated’ immediately the final agreement is implemented. The US is fighting to maintain the maximum possible sanctions against Iran. A final agreement on this nuclear deal is expected by 30 June. Plus the US has no intention of letting any economic sanctions that are not ‘nuclear related’ be lifted. Washington intends to continue the pressure on Iran whilst ensuring Israel has the military advantage in the region.

Israel, Saudi Arabia and a significant US lobby (mainly Republican) accuse Obama of capitulation. Fundamentally they oppose an agreement that removes any sanctions. The guarantee of continued Iranian vulnerability to superior Israeli and US weapons (including nuclear) is not sufficient. They only support the US stepping up its offensive against Iran.

The Obama administration and its more martial critics agree that Iran is the most powerful obstacle restricting Western domination of the region’s energy supplies. Iran is imperialism’s principal opponent in the region; it supports Syria’s independence, the national resistance movements standing up to Israel’s occupation and invasions – including Hamas, Hizbollah, and others – plus now Iran is opposing the Saudi bombing of Yemen.

Overthrowing the Iranian government has not proved possible. Despite the plethora of sanctions imposed since 1979 and increased in recent years, Iran is the fourth largest Middle Eastern economy, behind Turkey, Saudi Arabia and UAE, and ahead of Israel and Egypt. Its population at 77 million is second only to Egypt in the region. The Iranian government has withstood sustained attempts to weaken it, such as the 1980 -1988 Iran-Iraq war for which the West armed Iraq.

Iran’s popular 1979 revolution ousted the US puppet regime of the Shah. Every US administration, including the current one, has been committed to restoring US dominance. The strategy is to grind down the population ‘s morale using economic sanctions, war and the threats of attack. A direct imperialist land invasion is not considered a likely option as it would encounter far greater resistance than Iraq or Afghanistan ever produced.

Israel and Saudi Arabia want to accelerate the offensive and would like to see direct bombing raids on Iranian military targets. But Iran’s has significant defences and capacity to respond to such attacks, so the US would need to deploy large scale resources back to the region to assist its allies. The US does not consider it currently has the capacity to follow that course.

Following the financial crisis Obama has prioritised rebuilding the US economy. Resources have been shifted from the military to investment, to stimulate growth so that in future there is a growing economy that can support greater military spending. Since 2010 there has been a shift of more than one per cent of US GDP from military spending to investment, achieving a modest level of economic growth. This fall of military spending (from 5.6 per cent of GDP in 2010 to 4.3 per cent in 2014) is equivalent to the resources the US would need to fund a major land war such its invasions of Afghanistan or Iraq. Additionally the US is shifting a portion of its military resources away from the Middle East to focus around China (‘pivot to Pacific’), whilst simultaneously it is increasingly committed in Ukraine where it is trying to crush the rebellious Russian republics.

Obama aims to weaken the Iranian government as far as is possible within the current balance of forces whilst taking advantage of the concessions President Rouhani is offering the West.

In addition to agreeing to roll back its nuclear programme Iran has been more accommodating of US interests in Iraq and helped paved the way for the US to re-establish its military presence in Iraq. The US wants more concessions and would prefer Iran played no role assisting the Iraqi government defeat Islamic State.

Rouhani was elected President in 2013 as the candidate offering a compromise with imperialism. The most recent wave of sanctions, imposed three years ago, has taken a serious toll on Iran’s economy. Oil exports and essential imports are much reduced, Iran’s local currency has collapsed more than 50 per cent against the US dollar. The consequent hardship imposed on the population clearly impacts on the political situation. There is widespread support for getting the sanctions lifted, whilst a significant minority is concerned the concessions may go beyond what is necessary.

Concessions to the US may be unavoidable to prevent economic strangulation, but the US track record shows clearly it will not permanently end all sanctions – as regime change is its goal.

Syriza’s enemies insist on austerity

The political and economic situation in Greece continues to approach the point of crisis, even if $470 million in interest payments are made immediately to the IMF. That will avert only in the short-term and there is no public sign that any part of the Troika is willing to soften its insistence on renewed austerity measures and full repayment of debt to all creditors.

The trip of Finance Minister Yannis Varoufakis to Washington to meet the IMF was not a success. The IMF represents US interests and US banks have no exposures to Greece. As a result, in the past it has taken a more relaxed approach to the possibility of ‘haircuts’ (enforced losses) for bondholders. But this is only because agreements with previous Greek governments included privatisations and efforts to drive down wages and pensions, which US firms hope to benefit from. The IMF was never going to be an ally in opposing renewed austerity.

There were hopes that the trip by Prime Minister Tsipras to Moscow would be more fruitful. Greece certainly needs overseas investment and some flexibility on the forms of ownership is justified to achieve it. But Russia is itself struggling under the effects of US and EU sanctions, and may not be in a position to offer much.

Even if a more substantial package is possible from Russia, or China at some point it is certain that the Troika will attempt to block it, using spurious notions of legality and European solidarity. This highlights a general point. The Troika wants to keep Syriza in a vice in order to crush it and the wider anti-austerity movement. As a result, the Troika and its constituent parts are not in the slightest amenable to persuasion.

Therefore, Syriza has to act very carefully, but very decisively. Only by presenting the Troika with fait accompli will it have any room to manoeuvre. This is what was done with the adoption of €300 million in measures to alleviate the humanitarian crisis. This needs to be repeated on a series of fronts and on a larger scale in order to maintain the morale and solidify the coalition of its own supporters.

Massacre at Garissa – by-product of Western policy

The horrendous assault by terrorists linked to Al Shabab at the university in Garissa that left 147 Kenyans dead is the latest stage in the escalating violence in the region. There have been widespread protests in Kenya following the massacre.

But it is all too easy for local politicians to divert this justified anger inter a renewed downward spiral of inter-ethnic and sectarian violence. The real dynamic is that the terrorist response is in retaliation to the activities of the Kenyan Defence Force in its ‘policing’ operations inside Somalia. This is directly under US instruction, which has used both Kenyan and Ethiopian military forces to do its own dirty work.

Far from making Kenyans safer, these punitive expeditions invite retaliation and are combined with increasing communal violence, much of it sponsored by the state or local ‘Big Men’ politicians and directed against Muslim Kenyans. As Socialist Action has warned previously, this threatens to make Kenya more like the chaos of Somalia, not vice versa. A break from acting in the interests of the US is necessary before there can be any hope of peace in the region.

Nigeria elections- a victory for US interference

The victorious candidate in the Nigerian elections Muhammadu Buhari had the clear support of the US and its Western allies. Prior to the vote leading Western media had signalled they expected Buhari to win without much polling evidence and whitewashed his role in the military junta which formerly ruled the country. During the count the US and Britain issued a statement about ‘poll-rigging’ as they feared their man would not win.

There was probably little for them to fear given widespread disenchantment with the defeated President Goodluck Jonathan, reflecting discontent over continued corruption, economic slowdown and the unchecked outrages committed by Boko Haram. But US interest derives from the key facts that Nigeria is the largest economy in Africa and the world’s fifth largest oil exporter.

But the IMF is offering only cuts to public sector spending and the US demands increasing militarisation. Neither of these offer any way forward for the overwhelming majority of the population.