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WITH OR without a United Nations flag of convenience US imperialism seems to be rushing headlong into a military assault on Iraq.
The human, economic and political consequences for the region and the wider world are incalculable.
LYNN WALSH, editor of Socialism Today, explains why working people internationally must oppose this imperialist war.
Bush Continues Along The Warpath
UNDER PRESSURE at home and abroad, president Bush went to the UN on 12 September to call for action against Iraq.
The lone ranger, however, had not been converted to 'multilateralism'. Bush's diplomacy was a charade. The president of the world's unrivalled hyper-power effectively delivered an ultimatum: take decisive action to get rid of Saddam Hussein, and the US will be happy to accept UN support. If not, the US will go it alone, launching a pre-emptive military strike against Iraq.
Going to the UN in an attempt to legitimise its aggressive policies, however, does complicate the situation for the US. It may delay military action. But there is no guarantee at all that UN involvement will avert war.
Other permanent Security Council members like Russia, China and France fear the upheavals that would follow a US attack on Iraq. Russia and France both have oil and other big business interests at stake in Iraq. But even if they use their vetoes against military action, the US is still likely to go ahead at a time of its choosing.
Apart from Blair, Bush's little drummer boy, the leaders of the major powers still hope to find a way out through weapons inspection and disarmament of Saddam's regime.
Unlike the White House hawks, they fear the explosive effects of another war in the Middle East. But when the Iraqi regime quickly announced that it would accept unconditional weapons inspection, Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Rice and other hawks immediately dismissed this as a 'ploy'.
US LEADERS have repeatedly claimed that Saddam has an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), chemical, biological and nuclear, which threaten the region and even the US itself.
This, they claim, is the justification for a pre-emptive strike against Iraq. In his United Nations speech, however, Bush presented no new evidence, let alone proof, that Iraq currently has such weapons, or missiles and aircraft capable of deploying them.
Scott Ritter, who led Unscom, the UN special weapons inspection commission, between 1991-97, says: "As of December 1998 we had accounted for 90 to 95% of Iraq's weapons of mass destruction capability. We destroyed all the factories, all of the means of production. We couldn't account for some of the weaponry, but chemical weapons have a shelf life of five years. Biological weapons have a shelf life of three. To have weapons today, they would have had to rebuild the factories and start producing those weapons since December 1998."
According to Ritter, this is unlikely given the dire state of Iraq's economy after 12 years of sanctions. Any attempt by Iraq to acquire materials for WMDs or to test such weapons, Ritter says, would be detected by US surveillance methods.
Significantly, Bush did not even call for renewed weapons inspection. At the same time, the US leadership has made it clear that even if Unimovic, the new UN weapons inspectorate, reports that Iraq is clean of WMDs, the US still demands "regime change".
In other words, weapons of mass destruction are merely a pretext for the US. Weapons inspection is irrelevant for the US. Bush laid down a whole range of conditions which, in reality, could not be met without the ousting of Saddam.
The US, Bush told the UN, "has no quarrel with the Iraqi people, who have suffered too long". The hypocrisy is astounding. Iraqis have undoubtedly suffered under the vicious dictatorship of Saddam Hussein. Yet when Saddam plunged the country into an eight-year war with Iran (1980-88), the US supported his regime, providing arms and the technology for WMDs.
Since the end of the 1990-91 Gulf war, the US and the Western powers, under the banner of the UN, have imposed sanctions on Iraq which have had a devastating effect on the population.
Throughout that time the US and Britain have mounted continuous bombing raids against Iraq, to enforce sanctions and the no-fly zones in the North and the South of the country. These have been stepped up in recent months.
The US has the military power to smash Saddam's regime. But a second US war against Iraq would "open the gates of hell", as the secretary general of the Arab League said recently.
The death and destruction would be unimaginable. When many hospitals, schools, electricity and water utilities, etc, have only just been rebuilt, social conditions would be set back another ten, or 20 years or more.
According to Lawrence Lindsey, Bush's chief economic adviser, a US war against Iraq would probably cost $200 billion (£129 billion). Currently, around half the world's population struggles to survive on an income of less than $2 a day.
The 1990-91 Gulf war cost $50 billion ($80 billion in current prices), but Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Japan and others contributed $48 billion. They are unlikely to pay for a second war, reinforcing suspicions that the US intends to grab Iraqi oil as reparation.
WHY IS the US, a mighty superpower, hell-bent on attacking Iraq, a regional dictatorship with a depleted armoury and a shattered, semi-developed economy? The answer is strategic power, economic domination, and oil.
The neo-conservative hawks of the Bush leadership are determined to use the US's unrivalled military power to redraw the map of the world in the interests of US imperialism. They have used the outraged reaction against the attacks of 11 September as a golden opportunity to implement their agenda for a new global 'Pax Americana'. US corporations, banks and finance houses will be assured free access to markets, resources and cheap labour anywhere in the world. Regimes that stand in the way of this will be punished or changed. Friends will be bribed and protected.
Bush's plans were drawn up long before 11 September, and even before he entered the White House. In September 2000, for instance, a right-wing think tank, Project for the New American Century (PNAC), drew up a blueprint for Cheney (now vice-president), Rumsfeld (now defence secretary), Wolfowitz (his deputy), and other Bush advisers.
They planned to take military control of the Gulf region whether or not Saddam was in power: "The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein", says PNAC.
The US's armed forces, the report continues, are "the cavalry on the new American frontier". After '9-11' Bush increased US military expenditure by a staggering $100 billion over the next six years. Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz and company also revealed their new military doctrine, based on offensive, 'tactical' nuclear weapons, and the strategy of pre-emptive war against the US's enemies.
A war for oil
OIL, OF course, is a major motive for US intervention in the Gulf region. Control of Iraq's reserves, second only to those of Saudi Arabia, would give the US a decisive influence over world oil markets. Big business in the US is dreaming of unlimited supplies of cheap oil at $10 a barrel (compared to the current price of around $30 a barrel). Even now big oil companies are staking their claim to Iraq's oil reserves.
Once they control Iraq, with a stooge pro-US regime in place, the hawks believe they can rebuild the political architecture of the whole region. They would move to impose a settlement on Israel/Palestine, strengthening the Israeli state while sponsoring a 'Palestinian state' that would be an Israel-dominated 'bantustan'.
Since its emergence as a major industrial power at the end of the 19th century, US capitalism has played an increasingly imperialistic role on the world arena. The neo-conservative leadership under Bush, however, marks a new phase of the American empire. They are linked to the most ruthless, greedy sections of big business, oil companies, arms manufacturers and financial swindlers. They advocate an even more aggressive, rapacious form of imperialism. Smashing Saddam militarily would, for them, be a powerful demonstration that they mean business.
But they are deluded in thinking that military power alone can secure a stable world order. The Bush leadership is blind to the explosive fallout of a military attack on Iraq. Some of the more balanced representatives of the US ruling class (including many of president Bush senior's military and foreign policy advisers) are extremely alarmed by Bush junior's unbalanced, short-sighted policies.
The US can defeat Iraq militarily. But an invasion of Iraq could be much more costly in terms of US casualties than the 1990-91 Gulf war. The regime's power to resist is unknowable, but Iraqis would be defending their homeland against occupation.
The aftermath of war could also cause big problems for the US. In Afghanistan, defeating the Taliban was relatively easy but the country is still torn by warlord infighting and social collapse. Iraq (divided between Sunnis, Shia and Kurds) could implode, with neighbouring powers like Iran and Turkey intervening.
A US assault on Iraq would provoke an explosion throughout the Arab and Islamic countries. Survival of pro-American dictatorships like Saudi Arabia and Egypt would be in the balance, with the possibility of extreme, anti-US leaders taking over.
Outrage at a US attack on an Islamic country, together with their support for Israel against the Palestinians, would produce many more recruits for organisations such as al-Qa'ida, increasing the terrorist threat to the US and other Western countries. Saddam is now US enemy number one, but bin Laden has not yet been taken 'dead or alive'.
US control of Iraq might promise cheap oil, but in the short run war could dramatically increase the price of oil. The floundering world economy could be pushed into a new downturn.
If the US attacks Iraq there will be a tidal wave of opposition, all the stronger if the war and its aftermath are prolonged.
There will be mass protests, not merely against war, but against the system of imperialistic capitalism which produces a continuous stream of conflict and war. There will be a growing consciousness of the need for worldwide socialist transformation, for a society based on workers' democracy and democratic economic planning. Only an end to capitalist exploitation and oppression can eliminate the scourge of war.
Regime Change: 'But Doesn't Something Have To Be Done About Saddam?'
SADDAM'S REGIME is undoubtedly a repressive police state. He has imprisoned, tortured and murdered thousands of opponents. The regime, based on the Sunnis, oppresses both the Kurdish minority and the Shia majority (60%). Saddam has squandered the country's enormous oil wealth on a monstrous military machine and luxury palaces for his cronies. War with Iran and invasion of Kuwait have brought untold suffering for most Iraqis.
Getting rid of Saddam's regime, however, is a job for the Iraqi people. US intervention and occupation would be strictly to further the interests of US power and economic domination.
Saddam previously developed chemical and biological weapons, and was working towards nuclear weapons. Whether or not he still has such weapons is unclear, but he no doubt desires them. His destructive powers were much greater before the 1990-91 Gulf war than now.
When he used dreadful poison gas against Iranian troops and the Kurds he had the full backing of the US as an ally against Iran, then the US's number one enemy. US military advisers provided Saddam with intelligence, dismissing poison gas as "just another way of killing people".
Currently, US air bombardment, invasion and the aftermath of war pose a much greater threat to the Iraqi people than Saddam's own arsenal.
AS ALWAYS, Bush preaches about restoring democracy in Iraq. In reality, the US wants to install a puppet regime, composed of generals deserting Saddam and politicians like Ahmad Chalabi, leader of the Iraqi National Congress. This is a pure CIA creation. Chalabi is a wealthy banker, convicted in Jordan in his absence to 20 years jail for a $60 million currency fraud. He has no record of opposition inside Iraq.
Immediately after the Gulf war in 1991, there were uprisings of the Kurds in the North and the Shia in the South. President Bush senior made radio appeals for the overthrow of Saddam. But the US forces stood back and watched as Saddam massacred these rebellions.
Fearing the break up of Iraq, a senior US official explained, "Our policy is to get rid of Saddam Hussein himself, not his regime". The last thing the US wants is revolutionary change involving the Iraqi workers and peasants.
If the US occupies Iraq, the result will be a stooge regime, perhaps with cosmetic elections. The country would be run from Washington DC, its oil wealth sucked dry by the big US oil companies.
"If The United Nations Won't Deal With The Problem, The United States Will"
AS THE White House beat the war drums louder and louder during the summer, there were more and more calls for Bush to go through the United Nations.
Leaders of the European powers, Russia, the Arab regimes and others see this as a way of protecting their interests from the repercussions of unilateral US intervention. At the same time, many people genuinely hope that the UN can defuse the Iraq crisis and avoid war. But is the UN really capable of resolving international conflicts, especially when they directly involve the big powers?
History says No. Time and again, the UN has provided a cover of 'international legality' for action by the big powers.
This depends on the support or at least acquiescence of the permanent members of the Security Council, who each have power of veto. When there is no agreement, the UN is paralysed. The US in particular frequently ignores UN resolutions, or acts unilaterally. In the case of Kosovo, the US, Britain and others launched a military intervention without the authority of the UN. Nato sidelined the United Nations.
The Security Council is not an impartial body, merely a forum for the great powers. The US, Britain, France and Russia all have big stakes in the Middle East oil industry. 189 states currently belong to the UN, 120 have US bases on their territory.
The US charges Saddam with breaking numerous UN resolutions, which is undoubtedly true. Yet UN sanctions, enforced by US military power, have imposed death and suffering on the Iraqi people which completely violates the UN's own humanitarian standards. The UN's own agency, Unicef, reported in October 1996 that 4,500 children a month were dying through starvation and lack of medicine.
While condemning Iraq, the US continues to back the Sharon regime in Israel, which blatantly violates a much longer list of UN resolutions. When a UN commission reported on human rights violations by Israeli forces in the Jenin refugee camp, Kofi Annan, under pressure from the US, ordered them to rewrite the report, dropping criticisms of outrages by Israeli forces.
Sabra and Shatila
THIS YEAR is the 20th anniversary of the horrific massacres of at least 1,500 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon's Sabra and Shatila camps - carried out by Lebanese militia under the direction of Sharon. What action has the UN taken about these crimes against humanity? Israel's invasion of Lebanon left over 12,000 civilians dead, 30,000 wounded and 200,000 homeless.
The UN is often praised for keeping the peace in conflict situations. More often than not, however, the UN has totally failed to protect people under threat - because the big powers were not interested in taking action.
In Rwanda in 1994, Franco-Belgian UN peacekeeping forces were withdrawn at the beginning of a genocidal massacre which claimed a million victims in 100 days. In October 1996, the UN protection force was withdrawn from the UN-designated 'safe area' of Srebrenica in Bosnia, allowing the Bosnian Serb forces of general Mladic to murder 4,500 Bosnian Muslims.
The cynical manipulation of the UN by the US is shown by two Security Council resolutions passed in 1975. They demanded that Morocco withdraw its occupation forces from the Western Sahara and that Indonesia withdraw its forces from East Timor.
The US ambassador to the United Nations at that time, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, later bragged in his memoirs: "The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it took. The task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success." East Timor was finally freed in 1999 after 24 years of US-backed occupation. Moroccan forces still occupy the Western Sahara.
Bush's contempt for the United Nations is clear. "If the UN Security Council won't deal with the problem," he said on 19 September, "the United States and some of our friends will." Even those who urge Bush to adopt a multilateral policy merely see the UN as a means of legitimising US action.
The Washington Post, paper of the US political elite, commented (19 September): "If the administration tries with the United Nations and fails, it will be far closer than it is now to achieving a strong consensus with key allies and the American public on military action."
In The Socialist 27 September 2002: