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Obama & Iran’s Opposition

January 5, 2010

By Mark Vorpahl

Workers Action

On the weekend of December 26-27, the Iranian regime saw the greatest threat to its survival to date as possibly millions flooded the streets across the nation to express their opposition to the government, facing off with the regime’s notoriously repressive security apparatus. From his holiday retreat in Hawaii, President Obama saw fit to make the following statements:

“The United States joins with the international community in strongly condemning the violent and unjust suppression of innocent Iranian citizens, which has apparently resulted in detentions, injuries, and even death.” “For months, the Iranian people have sought nothing more than to exercise their universal rights. Each time they have done so, they have been met with the iron fist of brutality, even on solemn occasions and holy days.” Obama called on Iran to respect human rights and release “all who have been unjustly detained within Iran.”

Such fine words are meant, in part, to reassure U.S. workers that their basic sense of justice and decency are reflected in the Presidency. Like any commodity, Obama’s appeal is marketed in a way to make people who have bought into it feel better about themselves and the world. However, given his record while in office, his claims bear no more legitimacy than the accounting practices of the banks and insurance companies Obama helped to bail out.

There is a clear contradiction between Obama’s projected image as a beacon of hope and change and his administration’s actions. This is clear on many fronts in both domestic and foreign policy. There is one example that is especially pertinent for understanding what is likely to transpire in regards to Obama’s attitude towards Iran’s Opposition Movement.


In June, there was a military coup in Honduras that overthrew the democratically elected President Zelaya. Obama initially condemned the action. In Honduras a tidal wave of popular outrage against the coup defied its brutality, arrests, and assassinations for months on end in scenes similar to what we are seeing in Iran today. Nevertheless, the Obama administration did nothing to oppose the coup, which would have been within its legal rights to do, according to international law. U.S. taxpayers’ money still poured in to support the illegal government through a variety of channels, and there was no effort made to cut off political relations. In fact, the Obama administration worked with the coup makers, even while they were murdering Honduran unionists, in an attempt to find a “diplomatic solution” that would render Zelaya politically powerless.

Today, the U.S. is one of the few countries recognizing the results of the elections that were engineered by the coup makers, with advice from the U.S., to provide a democratic veneer to their dictatorship. The Obama administration has consciously conducted itself in this manner against the wishes of the Honduran popular movement, which boycotted the illegitimate elections by up to 65 percent, and against the wishes of the vast majority of Latin American nations. Consequently, a regime that is every bit as brutal and undemocratic as the one in Iran, if not more so, is now viewed as legitimate by the Obama administration.

As treacherous as the Obama administration’s actions were towards the Honduran people, they were in equal measure crafty and loyal towards the interests of whom the Presidency is sworn to really represent, regardless of whether it is occupied by a Democrat or a Republican — that is, the interests of the big business which care more about making big profits from super exploited Honduran workers then they do for democracy and human rights.

Of course, Iran is not Honduras. There are different geo-political and economic concerns in regards to U.S. relations. These will require different tactics for the U.S. to achieve its goals. The only certain commonality is that these goals will stand in opposition to the needs and aspirations of each country’s working class and poor, including workers in the U.S.

U.S. Relations with Iran

One difference is that currently the U.S. is at odds with the regime in Iran, whereas in Honduras, the Obama administration had been meeting with the coup makers over how to politically weaken Zelaya even before the Honduran oligarchs decided to kidnap him and set up their own government. Oil-rich Iran has grown too politically independent for the U.S.’s liking. They have become competitors for political influence in the region and, to a limited but significant degree, business rivals for U.S. corporations throughout much of the world. Consequently, the U.S.’s ability to maintain its control over the Middle East as a source of cheap oil, cheap labor, and super profits has been challenged. This is the main motivation behind the U.S.’s bluster over Iran’s alleged nuclear capacity and its human rights record.

The U.S. is actively pursuing regime change in Iran. Using this as a justification, the current Iran regime has characterized the massive protests as a product of U.S. imperialist meddling. As preposterous as this is, given the broad-based scope of the protests, unfortunately some on the left have adopted this viewpoint in a confused effort to appear consistently as opposing U.S. imperialist machinations. In doing so, however, they tend to dismiss the deep discontent that exists among working people in Iran, the enormous potential of the opposition’s base to play a revolutionary role, and most importantly, the methods of Obama’s imperialist policy that seeks regime change at the expense of any such popular movement.

The Revolutionary Process Begins

The Iranian people have been suffering from a declining standard of living, brutal measures to put down strikes, diminishing opportunities for youth, the repression of women, and the increasing inability of the real powers in Iran to even symbolically address these issues by using democratic methods. Today’s upsurge of popular protest was not only inevitable, it was predictable.

Currently, the protests are aimed at achieving relatively modest democratic reforms. However, when confronted with the regime’s absolute refusal to do so, there has developed a process of ever deepening radicalization. When the popular upsurge first was sparked back in June by the flagrant electoral fraud that resulted in Ahmadinejad’s re-election, the main chant of the protesters was for their vote to be counted. In last weekend’s protests the chant was “death to the dictator” referring to cleric Ahmad Khatami, who is the real power behind the Iranian regime. Police stations were burned down and there were even examples of police refusing to repress the protests.

All this demonstrates that even the struggle for modest democratic reforms in Iran compel the mass working class base of the opposition towards an increasingly radical and potentially revolutionary direction. This potential can lead to a confrontation with the systematic source of the Iranian peoples’ discontent, that is, the capitalist economic system. For this confrontation to result in a revolutionary victory, it will require a conscious working class leadership that seeks to replace capitalism with socialism which can then guarantee the running of society by the vast majority of the population.

There is currently no such leadership for the popular opposition. Former Presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, whose defeat as a result of electoral fraud sparked the initial upsurge last June, is the de facto leadership at the moment. However, the opposition movement often mobilizes against his wishes, indicating that his leadership role can be very limited.

Mousavi is a long time member of Iran’s political elite which has come into conflict with the hardliners over how best to deal with the regime’s growing difficulties and prevent a revolution. While he has displayed courage, his political outlook is an obstacle in the path of the Iranian people toward realizing their needs and aspirations.

For instance, after the murder of his nephew and threats to his life, Mousavi stated he was not afraid to die for the opposition’s cause. However, he followed this up with a proposal that “the government announce it will be directly accountable before the nation, parliament, and the judiciary and not demand unconditional support regardless of its shortcomings or weakness.” This is not only a far cry from the peoples’ call of “death to the dictator,” it is the exact opposite. It is a proposal aimed at continuing the regime by adopting a more flexible approach to deal with the opposition. Given the depth of the capitalist crisis in Iran, the inability of the regime to solve it and the fighting mood of Iran’s working and lower classes, even if the regime were to adopt Mousavi’s proposal, it would almost immediately be thrown into the same impossible predicament it finds itself in today.

The U.S. Dilemma

While the U.S. may have initially supported some sectors of the opposition who they hoped would follow Mousavi’s lead, the mass movement that has erupted across Iran is their greatest nightmare. Not only does this movement have the potential to topple the Iran regime, it has the potential of defeating U.S. plans as well. The Obama administration is being forced to walk a narrow path between its aims to put a more compliant regime in Iran and navigating away from the threat of a militant popular movement which will put the needs of the vast majority first rather than the domestic and foreign capitalist interests.

Obama’s fine words regarding the protests on December 26-27 cannot be taken at face value. They are an attempt to cover up an inevitable betrayal.

At this point, the Obama administration appears to be committed to pursuing economic sanctions against Iran and possibly air strikes. Whatever is done, it will be accompanied by attempts to demobilize and disorganize the mass base of the opposition so that this movement will not interfere with U.S. intentions. For all genuine supporters of the revolutionary movement in Iran, their tasks are to promote international solidarity with it and demand that the U.S. keep its hands off Iran.

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