The War on Terror: Contrasting Liberal and Marxist approaches

In this paper I will be discussing the political theories behind both Liberalism and Marxism and how they differ in their approach to the challenge of International terrorism today.


Whilst both modern political movements were born out of the changes in Europe and Russia throughout the renaissance and the enlightenment with the industrial revolution, religious reform, advancement in scientific discoveries and the end of the middle ages. The changes in realities both political and religious sparked a new era of modern philosophical thinking.

Human nature

Contrast to widely held religious beliefs (Christian) at the time of the middle ages, the Church believed in the doctrine of ‘Original sin’ that Human beings are born bad and that by accepting Jesus and following his example they could be redeemed. The beginnings of the emergence of Secular thinking about religion and particularly the separation of religion from state brought about by the influence of Baruch Spinoza’s works and the decline in the power Religion had in Politics, new ideas began to emerge as to how in a state of nature human beings would behave.

Early Realist thinkers such as Hobbes believed that if human beings were left in a state of nature then every man would be out for himself and would result in a permanent state of violence and conflict. Many Realist thinkers believed that human beings to avoid this conduct would form a social contract and a civil society, which would have a significant influence in running the lives of its citizens as it holds that civilization has an important role in nurturing human beings into being civilized.

The idea of subscribing to a social contract placed communal obligations on its citizens towards one another in return for security and laws to protect them. However many philosophers, drawing on Evolutionary theories put forward by Charles Darwin in On the Origins of Species such as natural selection believed that what made human beings different was that they were not living in a state of nature. The founder of Psychoanalysis Sigmund Freud for example believed that human behavior was driven by violent, sexual desires from our primitive past that society’s role was to repress and to civilize people.

The next approach to politics is what is commonly known as the Liberal approach. Liberals believe that human beings are self-seeking and the individual should be central. Human beings should be left to their own devices to pursue their individual choices with minimal state intervention, particularly in the economy. Friedrich Hayek argued against state planned economies and that the market should be free to create a spontaneous society.

He argued against collectivist trends in society and that Nazism and the former Soviet Union for example was the result of the fact that some must control any collectivist economic planning through a centralized authority that would eventually lead to totalitarianism. The only option to avoid the chaos as he described using the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany was a return to the free market and of Individualism.

Drawing on this the High Priest of Capitalism, Adam Smith too spoke about what he called Moral Sentiments that people would learn to behave accordingly from their social relationships and can exercise moral judgments and a sense of sympathy for others in spite of their behaving in their own self-interest.

What people of his (Hayek) time in the 1940s were skeptical of was the realists concern that the idea of a society where individuals pursued their own desires with little state intervention would too not lead to chaos. Smith called these benefits to society at large by people acting in their own self-interest as the Invisible hand.

As became quite a popular belief in Britain and the United states by economists and philosophers such as Hayek and James Buchanan that meeting the individuals needs was something that Politics could not do alone. Buchanan argued that because human beings behaved selfishly and looked out for their own interests, so too did politicians and civil servants, and that there was no place for idealism such as serving the public interest as society was composed of many different groups all with competing interests which could not all be met, and politicians who claim to be doing what is best for the public were in fact doing what they personally believed was good for the people and that the free market was a better means of meeting the needs of individuals as opposed to Politics.

Drawing on these two political approaches we find one more major approach, the Marxist approach. Marxism criticizes the Liberal, Capitalistic approach for it sees it as an exploitative and unstable system of government. Marxism argues that in a Capitalistic society a small minority of the population (Bourgeoisie) exploits the proletariat majority, who owns the means of production and reaps the capital from the labour carried out by the working class. Marx did not believe that there was a set human nature but that we have the potential to be completely altruistic, but we must develop through a process of development in which economic systems improve gradually, he called it a negation of the negative, with each passing system the negatives are removed. We are currently in capitalism, and soon when all the booms and busts become extreme enough, people’s mindsets will be opened to communism as a more stable way of life, our minds will be “freed” to be altruistic towards everyone.

From now on we will focus on Liberalism and Marxism.

Understanding the issue

Before we can look at the two perspectives on the issue of International Islamist terrorism we need to look at another school of thought and where the Radical Islamic ideology came from and what has given it its following and its role as an emerging world power.

In the late 1940’s an Egyptian named Sayidd Qutb went to America to study its education system. He traveled around president Truman’s Liberal America and found that what he believed he saw in Western Liberalism was not a society that was moving forward but a Selfish individualism where people were trapped by following their desires. He felt that Liberal Individualism threatened the shared values that kept society together and that this Liberalism would lead to Nihilism and a breakdown in society itself, where peoples lives lacked meaning and could unleash dangerous, primitive, animal forces in human nature. That what seemed to many as progress was in fact taking people backwards. Coming from a society where Islam and religion had played a role historically in political affairs, Qutb did not approve of the moral relativism and trends towards Post-modernism that begun to prevail in the West. As no longer would values be considered absolute and would eventually lead to chaos and could lead to its own destruction.

Qutb returned to Egypt in 1950 and tried to stop the Selfish Individualism from influencing his own country. He worked at devising an alternative society where Egypt would have all the benefits of western science and technology but where a Political Islam would play a central role in controlling the masses individual desires by providing a strong, absolutist, and moral framework and that the masses would be led by a vanguard of individuals who could see through the selfish individual desires and lead them to a higher truth. He joined a group called the ‘Muslim Brotherhood’ who supported the revolution to overthrow the last remnants of British rule led by the president to be Nasser. But once Nasser was in power, he made it clear that the new regime would be Secular and modeled on Western societies and forged an alliance with the United States.

The CIA went to Egypt to provide Security agencies for the new regime, as a result the Brotherhood fought against Nasser’s regime and in 1954 Qutb and some members of the Brotherhood were arrested by the security services. In prison the members of the Brotherhood were tortured by the regimes CIA trained security agencies. Qutb’s ideas on western values and way of life was further radicalized where he formulated a concept known as Jahiliya, a state of barbaric ignorance that needed to be overthrown and resisted wherever it was spreading and should lead the masses who were not aware that they were infected by it back to believing in a higher truth. This even justified killing of Muslim leaders such as Nasser as they were no longer considered Muslims. He wrote a few books in prison, his most famous book which would become the bible of Islamism, was titled ‘Milestones.’ He was sentenced to death for treason and executed in 1966 by the Egyptian authorities.

But his ideas survived, he gathered disciples, one of them was a man named Aymin Zawahiri who set up a secret group who he hoped would become the vanguard that Qutb had called for to overthrow societies infected by Jahiliya. Aymin Zawahiri became the mentor of Osama Bin Laden. Zawahiri became a Doctor and came from a wealthy family. He believed that president Sadat had become corrupt by the Western influences on the country and that it was time to overthrow him. Sadat’s willingness to negotiate peace with and recognize Israel in return for the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt, which it lost in the Six-day war, was viewed by the Islamists as a betrayal and that assassination was justified. Zawahiri and other followers of Qutb formed a new group called Islamic Jihad that plotted to assassinate Sadat publicly so as to shock the Egyptian public. Some Egyptian army officers who were a part of the plot assassinated Sadat. The assassins were arrested and the Egyptian government looked to find others who were behind the plot and arrested many Islamists including Aymin Zawahiri who was also like Qutb tortured in prison further radicalizing his ideas.

Islamist trends were not restricted to Egypt alone but prevalent amongst similar small movements throughout the region and in 1979 the Shah of Iran was overthrown by the Ayatollahs who implemented in Iran an Islamic republic similar to the society that Sayidd Qutb had proposed.

In the meantime the United States was struggling with the balance of power in the world with the Soviet Union during the Cold war and found that the US and the Islamists had a common enemy, the Soviet Union and its invasion of Afghanistan. The Islamists and the Americans formed an alliance to fight the Soviet Union.

The United States under president Ronald Reagan sent aid, support, training, intelligence information and weapons to the Mujihadeen in Afghanistan. At the same time there were other groups arriving in Afganistan, they were Arabs from different backgrounds that were sent by religious leaders to fight off the Soviets from occupying Arab land. One of its leaders was a Religious leader named Abdulla Azzam who organized these groups in Afghanistan. Abdullah Azzam believed that Islam should play an important role in society and encouraged these Arab freedom fighters to return to their home countries after the war and should work on converting people to his ideas. Unlike Aymin Zawahiri, Azzam stressed that this must be done through peaceful and political means and not through the use terrorism.

What then occurred was that many Arab governments started releasing Islamists from their prisons who would then go to Afghanistan to join in the war against the Soviet Union, including Aymin Zawahiri who challenged Abdullah Azzams more moderate approach to achieving an Islamist society and started to spread his ideas amongst the foreign fighters.

The Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachov believed that the Soviet system was beginning to decline and decided to change some of the policies of his predecessors, including withdrawing from Afghanistan. He appealed to the Americans to help establish a stable government in Afghanistan and to stop arming the Islamist fighters. The United States rejected his proposal and demanded that the Russians leave Afghanistan and allow the Afghans control of their country. He warned the Americans that such a victory for the alliance would not lead to Democracy in Afghanistan but an increase in the influence and following of Islamism throughout the region.

When the Soviet Union withdrew from Afghanistan and soon after would collapse altogether, both the United States and the Islamic fighters would claim victory and also an overwhelming optimism in the defeat of what both had considered evil and entering into a new and better era. For the United States that meant looking to further the cause of Democracy, its concept of Individual freedom and of course Capitalism and American power and influence throughout the world. For the Islamists it was a boost in their own revolution to change the political regimes in the region. Both were under the illusion that it was that battle against the Soviet Union that caused the whole Soviet empire to fall, ignoring the internal instability and conflicts within the Soviet system itself.

The Islamists returned to their countries and tried to overthrow many of the pro western regimes throughout the Arab world by both violence and convincing the Muslim and Arab masses to believe in their ideals of a Political Islam. After the masses were horrified by some of the violent acts carried out by Islamists they were not convinced by these new idealists visions.

Aymin Zawahiri and Osama Bin Laden decided that rather than give up on the Islamist ideology altogether as a result of the movements failure in the Arab world. They came to believe that the masses were so corrupted by Liberal and western ideas that rather than target the Arab governments the movement should go and attack the source of the problem itself, the United States. And consequently led to the attacks on the World Trade center on 9/11 and other acts of terrorism throughout the world. And created a global issue which we now know as the War on Terror.


The first response we will look at and its attitude towards this phenomenon will be that of the West, led by the United States government started by George W. Bush. However this struggle did not begin with George W Bush after 9/11 but is part of another ideological worldview, which began to emerge within the Republican Party known as the Neo-Conservative movement, founded on the theories of Leo Strauss. It is here where we begin looking at what has become the basis of the belief in the principles and justification for the war on terror.

The Neo-conservatives and followers of the teachings of Leo Strauss, like the Islamists were critical of the Liberal ideals of America, but believed that society needed to create unity and improve social cohesion amidst the Individualism, which Qutb too had opposed. They believed that America stood for freedom and Democracy and that America had a destiny and a unique role in the world to spread Democracy and freedom throughout the world. They did not agree with the idea of relativism, but that western society represents progress and that America had an interest in furthering its interests by supporting likeminded groups seeking to overthrow either Communism or Totalitarianism. They were not happy with America’s cozy relationship with brutal dictatorships that were serving pro-western interests and were idealists who felt that America would be safer if more countries were democracies too.

Stanley Hoffman in his book Duties beyond borders on the limits and possibilities of Ethical International Politics raises the point that:

“One must not confuse tolerance for diversity, and for those values of other people that are merely different from ours, with the acceptance of practices and policies that violate our notion of humanity. To do the latter would mean abandoning ‘the element of universalization which is present in any morality.’ If the values we try to promote are values which make the coexistence of peoples and value systems possible, there is no need to be ashamed of it. In two cases I have mentioned earlier, the Germans in the 30’s and the Arab-Israeli dispute, the answer is certainly not relativism – ‘all claims are equally valid.’
The solution, quite simply, is that one had to resist the Nazis, whose code required the destruction of ‘inferior’ races and value systems, but without exterminating the German people; and that should have had some consequences on how one ought to have waged the war.”

(Hoffman S 1981:38)

This has become one of the key moral justifications behind the west’s invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, to overthrow brutal regimes that are a threat to the their own population and the fear that if such people or groups managed to obtain W.M.D’s would then use them against the West, the consequences could be much worse than the attacks on 9/11 or other smaller acts of terrorism such as the 7/7 London bombings or the terrorist attack in Madrid.

The issue is viewed very much through a black and white lens. It is founded on the belief that the cause of Islamist terrorism is that of a radical, extremist and dangerous ideology equal to that of Nazism that must be fought and eradicated before it becomes too late. It is often described as a ‘Clash of Civilizations,’ a term first coined by political scientist Samuel P. Huntington, who argued that people’s cultural and religious identities will be the primary source of conflict after the Cold War. He identified many different kinds of civilizations throughout the world; this conflict would largely involve the West, which includes the Americas, Europe, Australasia and many of the former member states of the Soviet Union coming into conflict with a competing Muslim civilization including much of the Middle east, northern West Africa, Albania, Bangladesh, Brunei, Comoros, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Maldives.

Sometimes this has been termed in rather specifically religious terms such as a Judeo-Christian alliance verses Islam. It has in some cases gone a step further to not describe it as a Clash of civilizations but that of a Civilization against Barbarism, between a mature, advanced civilization (the West) against a primitive backwards, uncivilized society (Islamism). However both often view each other as the embodiment of evil.

We will return to this later on but now we will look at a very different interpretation of these events which is mostly critical of the western worlds policies and particularly to the ‘War on Terror.’ This view could be defined as the Marxist approach.

As we mentioned earlier, Marx viewed society at his time as that of a political struggle between two classes, of one class (Bourgeoisie) dominating the other (Proletariat) by reaping the capital from the labour of the working class who feel alienated as a result of their exploitation by those who own the means of production. Society changed, as in many of the European countries much of the Labour that was previously carried out within a state was then moved to poorer countries throughout the world to exploit.

The Communist leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin described this as A special stage in Capitalism he believed this to be a result of a transition from a competitive market to that of the emergence of monopolies, a stage contrast to a necessary condition for Capitalism to thrive of on, the existence of free competition whereby large companies force out smaller companies that are unable to compete. He describes Imperialism as:

Capitalism at that stage of development at which the dominance of monopolies and finance capital is established; in which the export of capital has acquired pronounced importance; in which the division of the world among the international trusts has begun, in which the division of all territories of the globe among the biggest capitalist powers has been completed.

(Ilyich V, Imperialism as a special stage in Capitalism)

This is one factor with regards to our issue, which we must consider, that of the interests of Capitalist monopoly, corporations looking for cheap labour through imperialism. But another is related to that of any nations national interests, which Hans Morgenthau highlighted in his Six Principles of Political Realism.

1. Political realism believes that politics is governed by objective laws with roots in human nature.

2. The main signpost of political realism is the concept of interest defined in terms of power which infuses rational order into the subject matter of politics, and thus makes the theoretical understanding of politics possible.

3. Realism assumes that interest defined as power is an objective category which is universally valid but not with a meaning that is fixed once and for all. Power is the control of man over man.

4. Political realism is aware of the moral significance of political action. It is also aware of the tension between the moral command and the requirements of successful political action. Realism maintains that universal moral principles cannot be applied to the actions of states in their abstract universal formulation, but that they must be filtered through the concrete circumstances of time and place.

5. Political realism refuses to identify the moral aspirations of a particular nation with the moral laws that govern the universe. It is the concept of interest defined in terms of power that saves us from moral excess and political folly.

6. The political realist maintains the autonomy of the political sphere; he asks “How does this policy affect the power of the nation?” Political realism is based on a pluralistic conception of human nature. A man who was nothing but “political man” would be a beast, for he would be completely lacking in moral restraints. But, in order to develop an autonomous theory of political behaviour, “political man” must be abstracted from other aspects of human nature.

(Morgenthau, H. Six Principles of Political Realism)

Not only is it in the interest of global corporations to be able to operate in poorer countries for cheap labour but also there is for many nations regardless of their political approach a dependency on certain resources, some have been necessities at times such as oil for example where a large concentration of the worlds reserves are found in the Middle-East and also profitable resources for certain industries such as Gold, precious metals and Diamonds. This factor is very important in understanding foreign policy.

If we take the Middle East for example, before the end of the Second World War, much of the region was ruled by Colonial regimes, the British and the French for example. In this time when the Empires directly ruled and controlled these lands they were able to exploit the resources of interest to these Powers.

One means of controlling the local indigenous populations of these countries was that of ‘divide and rule.’ Where the people are divided by some means, it could be by tribal group, racial group, religious group, political affiliation or any other factor that the colonialist may deem would work best. Once one has a clear division, one group is used to serve the interests of the colonial regime by offering incentives and benefits in return for exploiting and oppressing the other group to work against their will to be exploited and to prevent a revolution or an attempt to overthrow both the occupying power and the other oppressing group. With regard to the case of the Black slave trade in the United States these two groups were defined as ‘House’ slave and ‘Field’ slave.

When the Colonial powers could no longer afford to rule over these territories largely as a result of the cost on these Powers after the Second World War, they decided to leave, withdraw their forces and go home, but before they left they divided up the land taking into consideration their interests, and set up puppet governments who would take over control of these new independent states such as giving control of Jordan to the Hashemites under King Abdullah, or in Iraq where the British granted independence in 1935 as a result of pressure from the Hashemite King Faisal who died in 1933, the Hashemite family continued to rule Iraq but they were overthrown through a military coup led by Rashid Ali al-Gaylan on 1 April 1941. This led to an Anglo-Iraq war where the British were afraid that al-Gaylan might cut oil supplies to western countries who then occupied Iraq until they could restore the Hashemites to power and ended the occupation in 1947.

Returning to the Iranian revolution in 1979 mentioned earlier where the Shah of Iran was overthrown by the Ayatollahs, we refer to a figure that was incredibly influential. He was an Iranian intellectual name Ali Shirarti who was very influenced by Marxism from the time he spent as a student in Paris.

Shiriarti worked at trying to translate the Marxist theories with regard to class into a language that the Iranian people would understand using Islamic symbols and merging Marxism with Islam to create a classless society based on social justice against the Shahs regime which whilst was favorable to the western world with regard to its oil interests in the country was viewed by his population as holding the interests of the United States above that the Iranian people.

Similarly, before the Iranian revolution, the Algerian revolution sought to free the country from French rule from 1954 to 1962. One of its leading theorists on decolonization behind this war and contributed towards theories of decolonization in general was that of the psychiatrist Frantz Fanon. Fanon argued that the only way for colonized peoples to achieve independence and attain their freedom and dignity was through violence. The revolution was successful and his ideas inspired many other groups who were seeking independence from foreign rule. What we see today is the merging of Fanons theories on decolonization with that of Marxism and Islamism.

The Marxist view to the issue of Islamist terrorism is essentially that of adding a religious twist to its critique of Liberal Capitalism and the current world order. Marxism was traditionally a secular and predominantly Atheist movement but its views on religion would not have been as well received in the Middle-East by rather traditionally, religious populations and particularly as such ideas arrived in the Middle-East and the Third world much later from their first modern inception in Europe as they were developing sweeping across Europe during a period of secularization.

The Paradox

Former Israeli politician Natan Sharansky in his latest book ‘Defending Identity’ highlights two extremes between the Post modern and Multicultural west and that of Radical Islam as being that of one society which has chosen to become fully committed to the idea of Democracy at the expense of negating its National identity amidst a reaction from another society that has become completely committed to its identity and tradition at the expense of Democracy and argues that one cannot work without the other.

In Sharansky’s previous book ‘The Case for Democracy’ he argued that there were only two kinds of societies, these he defined as a Free society and a Fear society. After his experience of imprisonment within the Former Soviet Union for his belief in Zionism and his release and emigration to Israel, he regarded the Soviet Union as a Fear society and the democratic west as an example of a Free society. His litmus test was whether it was possible for an individual to freely stand in a public square and express their views. He regards Islamist societies too as a Fear society and believes that Democracy and freedom are intrinsically linked, good and just and spreading freedom is a duty of the free nations to fight for the freedom of others. George W Bush regarded this book to be a critical book on his thinking behind his policies on the War on Terror.

The US led War on Terror since 9/11 and the Neo-Conservative view of themselves as Democratic revolutionaries believes that its political and moral approach is not just something that is good for America but is good for the whole world. This has led to a debate primarily between European Liberal Democracies and the United States over whether one can instill Democracy and Liberal regimes in non-Democratic countries by force or whether Democracy like in Europe was something that developed from within over time. And whether or not the US led invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan has just poured petrol on the flame and increased the following and support for an anti-Democratic Islamism as opposed to putting out the flame.

Another example is the Israeli Palestinian conflict. For many years Israeli and American leaders regarded the PLO leader Yasser Arafat as a controversial figure, who wasn’t considered trustworthy, was corrupt and a supporter of terrorist acts against Israel, particularly during the Second Intifada. After Arafat’s death in 2004, Israelis and many of her allies saw an opportunity for the Palestinians to elect a new leader; their preferred candidate to win was the new Fatah leader Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas).

Hamas decided to stand in the elections, which caused a lot of protest from Israel and America who regarded the group as a terrorist organization, they demanded that if Hamas were to stand for elections they must renounce terrorism, recognize Israels right to exist and honor past agreements. After much objection the Palestinian elections took place and Hamas for the first time won many seats and formed a National Unity government with Fatah.

This was not the result the Israelis or Americans were hoping for, they called on the International community to not recognize the government as Hamas had not changed its stances and regarded it as an illegitimate government. To the shock of Israel and the United States many members of the UN argued that this was the democratically elected government and whether the world liked it or not they represent the Palestinian people.

Israel and the United states were in a difficult position; they had successfully implemented a democratic election amongst a population that did not have a recent history of Democracy and Israel and the United States did not get the result they needed nor wanted.

Professor of Linguistics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Noam Chomsky, points to other cases where the United states have supported military coups in Latin America to overthrow democratic regimes that sought to implement policies contrary to the interests of the United States. He points to a contradiction and hypocritical position of the United states where the claims of many US governments such as Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and the Bush Administrations who hold that Democracy and freedom should extend to all peoples but then have allied themselves with non-democratic, oppressive regimes such as Chile under Augusto Pinochet in 1974 who put an end to Allende’s democratically-elected government and established a military dictatorship, and other numerous examples of US similar interventions in other Latin American countries and in the Middle East and accuses the US government of being responsible for support for and involvement in many human rights violations.

Since 9/11, there has become a huge concern about security and preventing future terrorist acts, and the US implementation of the Patriots act passed by congress in 2003. Many have criticized the Patriots act as containing sections that infringe upon constitutionally protected individual and civil rights contained in Title II. The increased surveillance on the population and altering of laws authorizing the Government and its security services to hold people suspect of or investigate individuals based on for example, which books they read, websites they visit, events they may attend and views they may hold in order to more affectively fight terrorism have been considered controversial to some but have been argued that that is the price everyone must pay, the giving up of certain rights for the sake of National security.
This may pose a challenge to Sharansky’s litmus test of freedom of speech, whilst some views may be considered tolerable in this day and age regarding certain issues but others may not.

Other critics of the US policies on the war in Iraq have claimed that the real reasons for going to war in Iraq was never about disarming Sadaam Hussein from intelligence reports claiming that he had Weapons of Mass Destruction and to free Iraq from the tyranny of his rule and bring democracy. Some have claimed that it was about US oil interests, or that Sadaam Hussein was a threat to his neighbors and his own people and was supporting Al Quaeda in spite of discrepancies between various intelligence of whether this was true that Iraq had anything to do with the attack on 9/11, and view such claims to be the emphasis of the Wars aims, particularly after the UN weapons inspection headed by Hans Blix failed to find Weapons of Mass Destruction in the country.

Instead they believe that the coalition forces if not just for oil interests, saw this as an opportunity for various corporations and nations to benefit monetarily from the war in Iraq by the contracting of various western construction companies to rebuild Iraq after the war, putting a debt on the country to the Word Bank, other countries that have pledged loans to its reconstruction through the Iraq Relief and Reconstruction Fund (IRRF) established in April 2003, which is a US administered and funded organization. Privatizing of many of its industries making the country vulnerable to predator rich global organizations and furthering western influence in the region.

One of the latest issues on the agenda of the international community is the threat of Iran under President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad of being suspected of attempting to develop Nuclear weapons. Iran claims that its nuclear program is developing nuclear energy for peaceful means and is not in violation of the non-proliferation treaty and has the right to nuclear energy. The international community believe that Iran has a secret agenda to develop Nuclear weapons and according to a number of intelligence agencies including the CIA, Mossad, MI6 and the KGB testify that Iran is a key supporter of terrorist activities including supporting the Lebanese based group Hezbullah and that Iran is a threat not only to Israel but to her Arab neighbors and fear that Iran could arm terrorists with Nuclear weapons and pose a huge threat to the region and the world and must be stopped from obtaining Nuclear weapons.

Israel fears that based on the nature of the Iranian regime and Ahmedinijad’s hostile comments towards Israel, insulting comments regarding the Holocaust believes that Israel faces an existential threat from Iran and urges the international community to put pressure on Iran and consider the possibility of military action if diplomatic efforts fail. There are discrepancies between countries as to how far away Iran is from possessing a Nuclear weapon. And politically as a result of the objection to the war in Iraq and after the invasion of Afghanistan deem that a US attack on Iran would not be possible and that if Western efforts to stop Iran fail and no military action is possible, Israel will consider going it alone as a last resort and not wait for the possibility of an Iranian attack on Israel.

Whether Iran would or wouldn’t use its nuclear arsenal is not the only issue. Iran may have come to the conclusion that it needs to obtain a Nuclear weapon in order to prevent another US led invasion only this time in Iran. Iran, a country with a different political culture to the west, sees American influence in the region through its close relationship with Israel, its invasion of Iraq to the west and its presence in Afghanistan to the east, as well as its allies with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and at times Turkey seeking to become a member of the European Union and feels that they are becoming vulnerable to the possibility of either an attempted coup, having the regimes power and authority undermined from within or threatened externally by an attack from the west and would come to believe that only if Iran possessed a nuclear weapon it would put the country in a unique, strong position where it holds a deterrent  against not only the possibility of a military attack but also preventing western influence and the ability to extend its own influence and agenda throughout the region.

After a rather hard line on the war on terror under George W Bush, the newly elected president Barack Obama too believes that Iran must not be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons but has taken a different approach to resolving the problem through diplomatic efforts but leaving all options on the table. He started by offering incentives to Iran to abandon their nuclear program and tried to forge formal diplomatic relations between the two countries again which were non existent since the fall of the Shah in 1979 but has not been successful so far and has met much criticism and been accused of pandering to appeasement of terrorists by his political rivals and not understanding the nature of the threat. He has also focused on trying to resolve the Israeli Palestinian conflict in an attempt to weaken Iran’s influence in the region as well as being more open to the possibility of Israel making peace with Syria as a result of the regime suffering economically and a growing sense of isolation. Syria is an ally of Iran but is a marriage of convenience, the two regimes are not ideologically the same, president Assad’s regime is Alawite and secular and fears that the possibility of him too maintaining rule of his country could be undermined by the growing influence of Islamist trends and may be able to avoid this by making a deal with Israel over the Golan heights and becoming a part of the Western bloc like Egypt and Jordan.

The Israeli government believe that the Obama administration is wrongly assuming resolving of the Israeli Palestinian conflict first will then heighten the chances of confronting the Iranian threat but that it is the opposite, resolving the Iranian threat will then make peace between Israelis and Palestinians more realistic and that Obama is enacting a policy similar to that of Neville Chamberlin towards Nazi Germany before the Second World War of convincing Czechoslovakia to give up the Sudeten land in exchange for peace by putting pressure onto Israel to freeze all its settlement building in the West bank and that it will not make any difference to the fact that Iran still poses a threat through the power and optimism that it gives to groups like Hezbullah and Hamas not to recognize Israel and continue a hard line policy to destroy the state of Israel by inciting hatred of Israel and the west and firing rockets into Israel from Gaza and Lebanon.


As we can see there seems to be a paradox between a nations ability to weigh up the balance between its values and its ideals against maintaining its interests, security and power, as Morgenthau has highlighted in his Politics Among Nations the Struggle for Power and Peace that:

“The main signpost that helps political realism to find its way through the landscape of international politics is the concept of interest defined in terms of power.”

(Morgenthau, H 1985:5)

Since the end of the cold war, the west became the victor and exerted its power throughout the world in order to defend its interests but saw the emergence of other new powers that would challenge its values, its system and authority in the world such as the Islamist worldview in the Middle East or even China as a developing economic power which operates a political system of a form of state Communism. Control over the resources of the Middle East has been an interest to many World powers throughout history; this is not anything new.

With the emergence of these new competing powers it is likely that we may see another fight for the balance of power in the world like that of the Cold war, a further conflict that could have disastrous consequences in the form of war of one power seeking to defeat the other or the possibility of both parties coming to a compromise and creating some system of interdependence looking at containing the threats and recognizing that our values are different and relative and somehow agreeing not to infringe on one another but to work with one another on mutual international interests such as trade, the latter option does not seem likely to occur in the near future, but it is a possibility.


Hans Morgenthau, “Six Principles of Political Realism”, in Williams et al., Classic Readings

V. I. Lenin, “Imperialism: A Special Stage of Capitalism,” in Williams et al., Classic Readings, pp. 63-65.

Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, “The Communist Manifesto”, in Robert Tucker, The Marx-Engles Reader (NY: Norton, 1978)

Adam Smith, “An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations”, London: Methuen and Co., Ltd., ed. Edwin Cannan, 1904. Fifth edition; first published in 1776.

Adam Smith, “Moral Sentiments” first published in Glasgow: 1759

Friederich Von Hayek, “The Road to Serfdom”, published in England by Routledge: 2001

Friederich Von Hayek, “The Constitution of Liberty”, first published in England by Routledge: 1960

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