About the Crisis in the Middle East
Interview with Mansoor Hekmat
October 1991

The below 1991 interview with Mansoor Hekmat is part of a comprehensive piece about the crisis in the Middle East as a result of the then Gulf War. In light of the war on Iraq and the relevance of this interview to the current situation, we are reprinting a section in the WPI Briefing. To see the full interview, go to www.wpibriefing.com. What are the background and the causes of this crisis?

Mansoor Hekmat: We must first define the crisis itself. The background and the causes of what reality are we supposed to talk about? Western journalism and the Western governments involved in this issue, at least in their propaganda, give a limited and misleading picture of this crisis. As though the issue is over the occupation of Kuwait by Iraq and the consequences of this incident from the viewpoint of the supply of oil to the West, or the fate of the foreigners in the region. Of course, their more specialist analyses reflect the wider dimensions of this crisis and the dangers which thereby threaten the world.

The occupation of Kuwait by Iraq has not been an exception to the general rule governing the relations among states in contemporary capitalism. This is not the first time that a country, in pursuit of its economic, political and strategic interests, has invaded and occupied another. In this specific case, the Iraqi government's economic and political interests are quite clear. Of course, it may be asked why this act has taken place, and could take place, at this particular time. I shall return to this further on. But it should be clear that the main factor in this crisis is neither the violation of Kuwait's sovereignty, nor the restriction of oil supplies to the West, nor the condition of the foreign citizens. The occupation of Kuwait has acted as a tiny spark to a massive explosion on a world scale; as an outlet for the solution of much more fundamental problematics. To comment and take a position on the Middle East crisis means to focus on these main issues and on the future course of the event. The question is not the Iraqi-Kuwait relationship, but, rather, the international alignment that has been formed in the wake of this event and the explosive situation that thereby threatens the world.

This event should be viewed in the context of world developments after the Cold War and the disintegration of the Eastern bloc. Both the occupation of Kuwait and the ensuing situation in the Middle East have been possible because of these developments. Before the events in the Soviet bloc, the world's economic and political geography had assumed a more or less stable form under the influence of the East and West alignment and the confrontation of the two so-called super-powers. Not only the political and national divisions of the capitalist world but the entire conceptual superstructure and ideological physiognomy of the world had been defined under the influence of this international encounter. Today all these equations have to be defined anew. Open and unresolved questions have arisen. Every state, force and individual is, for its part, accepting a role in shaping the future profile of the world. The Arab world is part of the world as a whole; what is today taking place there is no more astonishing than the events in the Soviet Union and in West and East Europe. Past relationships and equations are being revised from all sides. Just as the European geography of two years ago seems out of date, and the encountering and even the mere existence of the NATO and Warsaw pacts in the old form have lost meaning, so the political balance and the political and administrative divisions surviving to this day in the Arab world and the Middle East have been questioned. In one word, with the entry of the world into the post Cold War era not only do new questions emerge but the old ones present themselves in new forms.

When we look at the two sides of the conflict that has developed in the Middle East we immediately see that the issues that are emerging or being resolved go far beyond the occupation of Kuwait. For the USA this confrontation is a channel through which to mould the future political shape of the capitalist world in favour of safeguarding her position as a super-power. The end of the Cold War, the developments in Europe and the elimination of the Soviet bloc, have weakened the position of the USA vis-a-vis Europe, and internationally. The unification of the two Germanys, which, moreover, is taking place in the context of a united and economically powerful Europe, to a large degree reduces the role of the USA in the international political scene to a second-rate one. This corresponds with the USA's economic decline. NATO is in effect becoming a useless phenomenon. The present crisis helps to keep open the chances of the US as a super-power. A breathing space is being created for the USA to express itself as a military power which Europe and other advanced industrial countries need. Even before the present incident, Western analysts, looking for a rationale for the continued existence of NATO and the hegemonic role of the USA, pointed to the existing problems in the less-developed countries and in the Middle East. With the occupation of Kuwait, the future of America as a super-power can be cleared of ambiguity. The "West" suddenly finds itself in need of the USA and her leadership. Therefore, whatever the dimensions of the Kuwaiti issue itself, the USA needed to transform it into an international crisis. The US has done all it could towards this end with the help of Britain. First a massive force is deployed in the region, initially with the excuse of defending Saudi Arabia. Then there is explicit talk of military offensive and even tactical nuclear war in the area. The dimensions of the crisis itself by no means justify this tumult and militarism. But the USA's perspective goes beyond the restoration of the status quo in Kuwait and the Middle East. The central issue is to remain the lead actor and a super-power in a rapidly changing world.

At the same time the occupation of Kuwait provides an outlet for the posing of more fundamental contradictions. The present situation has made the conflicts and tensions in the Middle East which before were restrained within a given world balance of power and which surfaced in relatively milder forms, to emerge in the sharpest and most conspicuous forms. The tensions themselves can be fully explained. First, the Palestinian question has to pose itself in newer forms. The occupation of Palestine and the oppression against the Palestinian people is an old wound on the body of the Arab world. The second point is the artificial geography which colonial powers have enforced on the Arab people. These people consider themselves a divided nation. To think that hundreds of millions of people will go on forever tolerating, on the one hand, their poverty and deprivation and, on the other, the legendary wealth of a handful of sheikhdoms, created on the regional map by the aid of set squares once British colonialism was leaving, is an absurd thought. These divisions and objective economic gulfs have been an important source of discontent for the vast number of masses and a basis for the influence of Arab nationalism. Third, with the end of the Iran-Iraq war, a number of factors are added to the picture. The failure of Iran and the Islamic current in the war not only strengthens Arab nationalism but reinforces Iraq's position in the Arab world as a country that has rebuffed this threat. Iraq is pushed forward as a military and political power in the Arab community. The price of oil, oil-rich fields or suitable shores for exporting the oil, the debts to wealthy sheikhdoms and their role in Iraq's economic reconstruction, and so on, are vital issues for Iraq. To all these must be added the fact that Kuwait was made independent in a completely artificial and colonialist fashion and that Iraq has always called for its re-annexation. The changing world situation has allowed Iraq to occupy Kuwait. But with this incident, followed by the line-up of the USA and its allies and their taking of a manifestly belligerent pose, a large section of the Arab world is mobilised and historical conflicts in this region are pushed to the fore.

Coming in the midst of the turbulent world of the post Cold War period, a combination of these tensions and frictions has created the present crisis. The starting point for this event was the occupation and annexation of Kuwait by Iraq. This has naturally resulted from this country's immediate interests. But this is only a starting point. What has produced a crisis on such a scale is that this incident has in effect been turned into a channel for the resolution of conflicts and the clash of material interests which have a global and historical dimension. Most important of all is the USA's need and effort to redefine its position and role as a super- power in the new conditions in the world. Above all it is the relation between Europe and the USA and American role in the new world that is being decided.

The above is a translated section of an interview that took place when Mansoor Hekmat was in the leadership of the Communist Party of Iran. His political activities continued in the CPI until, because of his struggle against nationalism, which was emerging as a strong tendency in the CPI, Mansoor Hekmat resigned from the CPI and established the Worker-communist Party of Iran (WPI). The above was printed in the Communist Number 59, October 1991 in Farsi.