Iranian Crisis: WWIII or Business as Usual?

By Klaus Fanta

In this New Year, we, the people of the world, have just finished reflecting on a previous year filled not only with political division here in the West but on constant and bitter insurrection against Austerity and Imperialism. With an American President who has allegedly broken several rules outlined in the American Constitution and a world that is tired of the consequences of the hegemonic order that he (and many others before him) have overseen, the conditions were ripe for a new war. 

Within the first few days of the year 2020, we have already witnessed a global diplomatic crisis being created before our very eyes. However, as troops roll into Iran, all of us back home seem increasingly more tuned out and uninterested in how this crisis came to fruition in armed conflict, why it is happening in the first place, and who will be affected by it. The purpose of this article is not to take any side over the other, but to understand the interests behind this conflict so that we may better understand our country’s role within it. 

Is This What WWIII Looks Like?

Whenever a new conflict arises, particularly within the Middle East, the immediate question is whether it will turn into an international battle of the same or greater magnitude as the World Wars. The end of the Cold War signaled peace throughout the world and an end to regime changes, proxy wars, and general destabilization throughout the Middle East, Africa, and South and Central America. As we can see now, living through the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, the current situation in Iran, the 2002 attempted coup in Venezuela, the annexation of Crimea, and many others, peace has not been our reality. Indeed, there may be some explanation as to why this is true. What is particularly interesting is that all of these conflicts have something in common: each of these nations had at least a minor role in the global diplomatic crisis known as the Cold War. Within the Middle East, it was the funding and training of Mujahideen fighters who were trained to fight in the Soviet-Afghan War and would later funnel into armed Islamic factions. In Africa, it was the foundation of economically autonomous states, such as Libya under Gaddafi, which were supported by the Soviet Union and attempted to combat capital penetration and wreckage by instituting new currencies. In South and Central America, left-wing revolutionaries and governments tried to maintain economic self-determination but were countered by economic sanctions, as well as outright armed conflict from opposition groups funded and trained by the CIA. Particularly in Iran, it was the installation of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi to nip leftist influence in the bud. 

The thing that all these conflicts have in common is that they have all at least in part reverberated out of larger ideological and economic conflicts, and their effects are felt to this day in the context of the Iranian situation.

The Boomerang Effect

While Iran’s government is quite despotic and could be labelled a theocracy, Iran’s history may give us some insight into how this current conflict has developed. As well, the interests behind the Iranian people’s protest and their government’s armed response to the killing of General Qassem Soleimani can help us understand the conflict even better.

Prior to 1953, Iran was ruled by Prime Minister Mosaddegh. Mosaddegh argued that the AIOC had been used by the British to reap the exports of Iran and saw to it that the nationalization of the company would bring about more economic independence for Iran. For this reason, Mosaddegh had become increasingly more popular among the Iranian people. This became incredibly dangerous to Britain and The United States. To continue reaping the benefits of an extremely lucrative oil industry, the two world powers sought to overthrow Mosaddegh, and successfully did so in 1953. Protesters trained mostly by United States envoys began uprisings earlier in the year and successfully gained control in August. With the installation of Zahedi and later the Shah, Iranian oil was now able to flow into world markets. It was quite like nothing ever happened — British and American investment had suffered minimal harm. 

The Shah government intelligence agencies regularly tortured and shot anyone who alleged that The Shah was corrupt. The regime lasted until the late 70’s when the revolution began, overthrowing the Shah and instituting Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. Khomeini would reform the nation’s strong, massively unequal, and, as some would argue, oligarchical economic game. He would also re-invigorate Shia Islam’s somewhat progressive ideological leanings, which is a particular cause of tension with surrounding Islamic Republics to this day. Khomeini, although generally more favoured than The Shah, had also been criticized for a considerable amount of human rights abuses, including the execution of political prisoners. 

First as Tragedy, Then as Farce

Indeed, history has not been kind to the Iranian people. The last few generations of Iranian people have seen an overall level of violence one cannot even begin to imagine. Through all of these struggles — whether those directly responsible have been the centers of power within their government, or a result of Economic Globalization — one must admire the ultimate sense of hope and determination throughout the Iranian populace. This hope, of course, manifested itself in the recent protests and insurrections at the US Embassy in Baghdad, Iraq, on New Year’s Eve 2019. The United States Government immediately placed blame on Iran for fomenting a proxy conflict in the region, which Iran rejected. 

Indeed, on January 3rd of this year, President Trump made the decision, without the approval of Congress, to launch an air-to-ground attack on General Qassem Soleimani, killing him instantly. This decision has been justified by Trump, given Soleimani’s role in training various Shiite militias such as Hezbollah. In the War in Iraq, Quds aided in killings of hundreds of American Troops. 

Certainly, these accusations against Soleimani are valid; however, what must also be noted was Soleimani’s great success in aiding the defense of Syria against the Islamic State. While this was not particularly motivated by a moral opposition to ISIS, Soleimani had been praised by many as a “military genius” whose leadership was crucial to the defense of Syria against Sunni extremism. 

Considering the factionalism which dominates Middle-Eastern Islamic politics, it is quite telling that Iraq and Iran have united in this new conflict with the United States. What this unity between two dogmatically and ideologically opposed states may say to us is that this is a problem that is larger than the theological interests of each country; in fact, these differences have been almost completely neglected by each state. 

With all of the above in mind, the crisis in Iran is fraught with tension that has only been the result of at least half a century of invasion, religious tension, and even overthrow. The overall situation is not congruent with our grandfathers’ wars.