By James Lockridge
(This essay is a response to Maximilian Forte’s essay “Causation or Correlation, a Useful Crisis Notwithstanding: U.S. Democracy Promotion in Iran.”)
Are the current protests in Iran really 100% legitimate and “home grown” or primarily the direct result of outside agents i.e. CIA or corporate influence? Or are the protests 100% legitimate and being co-opted by outside agents? Does it matter? Maximilian’s chief assertion in the Causation or Correlation essay is that the “U.S. government has (not directly) created Iranian discontent and marshaled Iranian youths to risk their lives protesting during a brutal crackdown” is probably correct. What he fails to indicate is how foreign agents can have a more powerful, same, or very similar impact utilizing methods that are congruent to outright involvement. My position is that while the U.S. may not be outright extensively stage-managing the protests, they are never the less utilizing various Iranian political actors, propaganda and other instruments to influence public opinion and a have great impact without outright involvement. Therefore, foreign agents (CIA and oil corporations) have and continue to play a monumental role in the orchestration and current meddling in the events of Iran.
The basis for my rationale is primarily economic and ideological. Oil is a precious commodity that foreign interests must secure and that imperialist have gotten smarter due to past disasters of outright involvement and idiosyncratic factors in the Middle East in their timing and tactics when conducting regime change. Likewise the desire and the quest to spread U.S. style democracy around the world is pervasive.
I posit that the paradigm of “mass-involvement” i.e. on-site training, marshaling and other assistance of local resistance is not applicable in urban pre-war combat contexts. In countries that have not been outright invaded such as Iran, the paradigm of “specific-involvement” utilizing multi-layer human proxies and trusted cut-outs (intermediaries) better fits. Specific-involvement allows for both orchestration and involvement through human leverage.
True, the U.S. Government has not created the current discontent, but what does that matter when the U.S. and British governments have significantly influenced the chain of events, albeit some inadvertent since the 1940s that led to the current discontent. Again, as Maximilian noted the U.S. has not directly intervened, but that just means capital, arms and know-how will be directed through proxies. Recent and past examples in Iraq and Afghanistan showcase the utilization and success of specific-involvement propaganda and the control of meta data surrounding actual events as the favored strategy.
Utilizing specific-events allows foreign agents to blend in and conduct “attacks” and merge with the local population, essentially it is the updated imperialist version of hit-and-run. Historically, guerrilla tactics have had more success in the country sides, metaphorically being the “shadows” than in the cities, metaphorically being the “light.” Usually, it is a mistake for the guerrilla to operate in light. In the light, the guerrilla is surrounded by a thousand eyes and ears and the lack of resources and skills that make outright conflict possible. In Iran if fragmented proxies and cut-outs are utilized on the ground with the anonymity of technological devices to help drive the message domestically and abroad the power dynamic begins to shift in favor of the properly funded and highly skilled guerrilla in this case the U.S. government and oil corporations. The direct benefits of utilizing specific-involvement in urban pre-war contexts is that the relevant socio-cultural and psychological nerves can be agitated and allows foreign agents to win the “hearts and minds” of the local populace creating leverage. Leverage has the direct benefit of allowing outside agents to engage in the light and hide in plain sight and use fewer resources to accomplish objectives.
Likewise blending in is important for three primarily tactical reasons: The first is being an obvious target get’s one killed, so it’s less risky. Second the presence of outsiders particularly the U.S. is viewed as an assault on national and personal dignity, which shows that boundaries have been violated, borders crossed, and spaces invaded, thus hearts and minds can’t be won and leverage is not possible. Third, using proxies and cut-outs allows outside agents to disavow all knowledge about the proxy or the cut-out. Remember being directly involved pre-war creates a dangerous precedent.
A recent example of post-invasion specific-influence than can be applied pre-invasion is when the Marines created a propaganda moment during the early stages of the Iraq war. CNN in 2003 the Los Angeles Times in 2004 both reported that the U.S. Army’s Psychological Operations unit staged-managed the infamous toppling of the statue of Saddam Hussein in Firdos Square in central Baghdad on April 9, 2003 and it was not a spontaneous reaction by Iraqis. According to both reports, a Marine colonel first decided to topple the statue, and an Army Psychological Operations unit turned the event into a propaganda moment. The Marines brought in cheering Iraqi children in order to make the scene appear authentic in what was the most staged military photo-opportunity since Iwo Jima. This same or similar tactic can be applied in Iran. Who is to say that Neda Salehi Agha Soltan was not killed by “friendly fire” like the former pro football player and U.S. army ranger Patrick Tillman killed in Afghanistan and the meta data surrounding his death changed to fit propaganda purposes? Tillman was vaulted to iconic status and branded as an “American hero” that was killed by terrorist in the line of duty, but he actually was “accidentally” killed by his comrades. The use of the Taliban in Afghanistan in the 1980s and early 1990s against the Soviet Union showcases the use of human combat proxies.
Oil is the obvious end goal for the U.S. and others to interfere in Iran’s affairs like in 1953. Then like now control of the country’s oil through concessions and exploitation of Iran’s central geographic position in the Gulf is the play. Following the 1953 coup the United States enlisted the major U.S. oil companies in an international consortium to run Iran’s oil industry. Iran has estimated oil reserves of 136.2 billion barrels making it third behind Canada and Saudi Arabia. It is also the fourth largest exporter in the world. Also Iran’s location allows for the production and transport of oil to every door step in Europe. Oil was an integral part of U.S. foreign policy in the twentieth century, and its influence has shown no sign of diminishing in the twenty-first century. Oil is the lifeblood of the modern military machine and modern industrial society. Major foreign oil producers will need to increase their production capacity to meet growing demand in the coming decades. Likewise, Iran needs help expanding production to meet its domestic needs. Iran currently pumps 2.1 million barrels per day (bpd) well below the 6 million bpd before the 1979 Revolution. All the major postwar doctrines of U.S. foreign policy—the Truman, Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, Bush I & II and Reagan doctrines—relate, either directly or indirectly, to the Middle East and its oil. I think the same rule applies to the Obama administration.
In conclusion, the use of multiple and fragmented local proxies and cut-outs to conduct specific-involvement events that strike at socio-cultural and psychological nerves and meta data alteration are the preferred and updated tools of the imperialist guerrilla during urban pre-war involvement. The use of such methodologies in Iran allows for significant impact and involvement beyond initial instigation or simply the riding the discontent wave. I agree 100% with Maximilian about the exit options presented to the Iranian people are miserable. I think there is a real risk in the mid to long run of history repeating itself and their being another coup, followed by an Iran Revolution part II, which would further stoke the West’s Islamophobia and cause a future military incident on the scale of Iraq. This is one plausible and very real scenario.