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GEORGE W. BUSH'S warmongering state of the union address appeared to mark a new stage in the 'war against terrorism'. Per Olsson of the Committee for a Workers' International (CWI) - which the Socialist Party is affiliated to - spoke to The Socialist about some of the international repercussions of the war in Afghanistan and how events might develop in future.
New World Disorder
Q. Has the US's rapid military victory over the Taliban in Afghanistan enabled it to assert its interests more forcefully around the world?
A. The crushing defeat of the Taliban regime is undoubtedly a victory for Western imperialism and particularly the US.
This war has, for the time being, restored US imperialism's power and prestige. It has given it an opportunity to expand its influence in Central Asia and exploit the region's oil and mineral resources.
Moreover, US imperialism has delivered a warning to the oppressed masses across the world, particularly in the ex-colonial countries: "Either you are with us or you are against us", declared President George W. Bush after the 11 September terror attacks last year.
The war against Afghanistan confirmed the US's overwhelming military power and its ability to intervene decisively when its prestige and power is at stake. Although fought in the name of a broad "coalition", this was a military operation under the supreme command of the US government and the Pentagon.
The way the war was conducted, mainly from the air with Northern Alliance and other forces as a proxy army on the ground, has reinforced the modern myth that wars can be won by air attacks alone.
As it did against Iraq in 1991 and Serbia in 1999, the US has scored a military victory without being dragged into a ground war and the ultimate losses of American soldier's lives. But that does not mean that the US is strong enough to maintain international stability and determine the course of world events.
Bush's state of the union address showed that US imperialism is prepared to assert its interests more forcefully around the world. The victory in Afghanistan has increased the US ruling class's confidence and strengthened the trend towards unilateralism.
This was illustrated when the US announced in December last year, that it was withdrawing from the Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty of 1972 and push ahead with its plans to militarise space.
But 'going it alone' and attempting to implement an agenda set by US imperialism will fuel an anti-imperialist mood and runs the risk of aggravating all the contradictions that already exist between the main imperialist powers.
Not even the military operation against Afghanistan ended in a total victory. The Taliban has been smashed, but bin Laden and other leaders of the Al-Qa'ida network are still on the run. As socialists, we oppose the methods and actions of individual terrorism. But the idea that imperialism could eradicate terrorism through military action and repression is utopian.
Imperialism laid the basis for terrorism through its economic exploitation and oppression of national rights especially in the neo-colonial world.
Inside Afghanistan, as the US Wall Street Journal pointed out [16 January] "warlords whose armies acted as proxy U.S. forces, are now refusing to disarm or accept the writ of the country's fledging interim government. They are even defying the Americans... And as warlordism takes root again, Afghanistan's neighbours, [plus the US] are doing what they always have done: pursuing their own vested interests by supporting one faction or another, in turn undermining Afghan unity".
'The Great Game' of the 21st century involves many powers and the US has already fallen out with Iran, which is accused, by the US, of trying to strengthen its influence amongst the country's Shia Muslims in Western Afghanistan.
Q. Does this mean that the US will be more likely to resort to military action to defend its interests?
A. Bush's first state of the union address promised the biggest increase in military spending for 20 years. It made it clear that the "war against terrorism" will continue, with or without a coalition.
The US has already drawn up plans for further military actions against several countries: "A confident America is choosing its next target," remarked The Independent [10 December 2001].
Hundreds of US troops are on their way (450 have already arrived) to be involved in "shoulder to shoulder" exercises with the Philippines military against Muslim guerrillas in the south. There have also been reports about raids into Somalia by special forces.
However, Bush singled out Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the "axis of evil" in his speech. To some extent he echoed Ronald Reagan who referred to the USSR as the "Evil Empire" in order to justify his arms race in the 1980s. And he has created an atmosphere of the enemy 'within' as well as without to justify attacks on civil liberties.
There were two main reasons why Bush spent so much time in his address on "the unprecedented danger the civilised world [the US]" is facing. He wanted to deliver a warning and prepare the ground for military attacks against the states named and justify the mad $100 billion "son of Star Wars" project (the national missile defence system which is supposed to protect the US against nuclear attacks by so-called "rogue states").
Many hawks in the Republican party and the US administration are demanding that Bush Jr. finishes off the job in Iraq that his father failed, i.e. topple Saddam Hussein's regime.
However, the administration is split on the question. The less hawkish wing around Colin Powell has pointed to the realities which existed in 1991 and the dangers involved if Iraq disintegrates and the already fragile balance of forces alters.
Even the conservative magazine, The Economist, has warned that: "Iraq does not fit so easily into the Afghan template. Its battered army is still a considerable force. Mr Hussein's Republican guard alone numbers almost 100,000 well-armed men. Vulnerable from the air, the Iraqis would not last long against an invading American army, in the unlikely event of a big one being sent to do serious battle against them.
"But there is no equivalent in Iraq of an Northern Alliance with the numbers, weapons or motivations to do the work for America on the ground... in 1999 Anthony Zinni [then in charge of US forces in the Middle East, now the US special envoy in the region] warned Congress that a fragmented and disintegrated Iraq could pose a greater danger to the region than a Saddam-ruled Iraq". [8 December]
The next phase in "the war against terrorism" could include military operations in countries like Somalia, the Philippines, Sudan and Yemen as a prelude to attacks against the states singled out by Bush. But the world situation today is unstable and many areas have become a flashpoint.
The escalation of the already tense situation in Kashmir and the Middle East for example, or US forces experiencing a similar humiliation to Somalia 1993, could cut across all plans for attacks against Iran, Iraq and North Korea.
Q. Does this mean that the US will be able to use its enhanced power to prevent wars breaking out in the world's 'hot spots'?
A. George W Bush will soon see that there is not much order in the New World Order proclaimed in 1991 by his father. George Bush Sr. promised a world in peace. Yet, in the 11-year post-cold war period 1990-2000 there were at least 56 major armed conflicts.
The crisis of global capitalism, the increasing rivalries between the main capitalist blocs, the power vacuum opened up after the collapse of Stalinism and growing mass anger against imperialism are insurmountable barriers in creating a 'Pax America'. "The rich shouldn't expect the poor to stay away... True peace and security will be impossible while 960 million people are illiterate and while 1.3 billion people live on an income of less one dollar per day", commented the US International Herald Tribune, [22 June 2000].
The US is not only the world's major spender, with 38% of total military expenditure in 2000 but also the largest supplier of arms to the rest of the world (the US accounts for 47% of the global arms trade).
On many occasions, such as in the war against Iraq in 1991 and Afghanistan 2001, the US has waged war against the very same dictators or 'monsters' they created and armed. The US turned Somalia into an arms bazaar in the 1980s and the very same weapons were then used against the US's disastrous military intervention, 'Operation Restore Hope', in 1993.
Western imperialism today is paying the terrible price of its "divide and rule" policy in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Its policy of exploiting right-wing Islamic fundamentalism as a weapon against socialism and the movement of the masses has also been disastrous.
Conflict and war
The national borders and social structures established after World War Two have begun to disintegrate and this has given way to a vicious circle of bloody conflicts to which there is no lasting solution on the basis of capitalism.
Kashmir is, according to Bush's predecessor Bill Clinton, "the most dangerous area in the world". US imperialism was not able to stop India and Pakistan from becoming nuclear powers in the 1990s.
Recently India tested a ballistic missile designed to carry a nuclear warhead and capable of hitting Pakistan's major cities. This happened at the same time as the US was trying to "defuse" the situation. As long as the Kashmir question is unsolved there is danger of a new war.
Neither governments are prepared to make any real concessions towards an independent Kashmir and withdraw their troops, a vital condition in order to give the Kashmiris a real chance to exercise their national and democratic rights.
It is extremely difficult for even a super power like the US to militarily intervene in a conflict involving two of the world's most populated states. The US cannot for very long satisfy both India and Pakistan.
The present crisis in Israel/ Palestine shows the difficulties facing US imperialism today.
US imperialism raised the idea of a future Palestinian state during the war against Afghanistan, but is now turning against Arafat. "Bush also appears to put on hold the US mission to broker peace between Israel and Palestine", remarked the Financial Times [28 January].
The US is lacking a coherent policy on which even a new round of peace negotiations could start, let alone a lasting solution to the conflict.
See last week's The Socialist
Q. Could the struggle against capitalist 'neo-liberal' policies be thrown back because of the US victory?
A. The upheavals in Argentina and the collapse of Enron, the seventh largest company in the US, delivered a blow to the Bush administration.
Argentina, the "darling of Wall Street" - was for many years upheld as an example of what can be achieved on the basis of neo-liberalism.
The mass struggle in Argentina, including eight general strikes in 18 months, has set an example, which will be followed in other parts of the world. A succession of presidents and governments were forced out by the masses. In the end the ruling class had to give up the peso's peg to the US dollar and default on the country's foreign debt (the biggest default in history).
However, the measures taken by the present government are doomed to end in a failure. Argentina's economy is expected to shrink by 5% this year and the proposed draconian cuts in social and provincial spending could spark off a new mass movement.
One political outcome of the crisis in Argentina could be the return of populist regimes in Latin America. Such regimes, under the blow of a deep social and economic crisis, could be compelled to take such actions as expropriation of foreign assets, capital controls, refusing to pay off the debt, etc. in order to protect their slumping economies.
The Enron scandal exposed the speculative character of the boom and that crony capitalism is endemic in "corporate America".
The bankruptcy of Enron, one of the largest energy traders, meant that workers lost their jobs as well as their pension savings, while Enron executives made millions of dollars by cashing share options before the company collapsed.
"Enron's spectacular collapse has now begun to shake the very foundations of American politics", wrote the Independent [25 January]. Hundreds of congressmen on both side have been taking Enron money. President Bush has received more than $500,000 since he first ran as governor in Texas in 1994.
Enron was paid back when Bush took office and the company was involved in working out his energy policy.
Vice President Dick Cheney, in particular, had close links with Enron and a new scandal involving him is in the pipeline. The impact of the Enron scandal should not be underestimated. Bush may be forced to sacrifice his Vice President.
The exposure of crony capitalism in the US at the same time as the global recession is starting to hit ordinary American's jobs and income will undoubtedly undermine the current popularity and confidence of the Bush administration.
Despite the rosy economic picture painted over the last weeks, the US economy is heading for a deep recession or maybe even a slump. The huge debt overhang, the low level of profitability and capacity utilisation, and ultimately a steep fall in investment points to a long period of stagnation in the US.
Q. It was a spontaneous movement that took place in Argentina. Doesn't the weakness of the former workers' parties and their support for the war against Afghanistan mean that we still have a long way to go in building a mass alternative to capitalism?
A. The historic events in Argentina, the 100,000 strong demonstration in Brussels in December last year, recent strikes in France, the Spanish school students and student strikes all indicate the mass anger that exists against neo-liberalism.
The anti-capitalist movement and mood that exist today will reach a new level as a result of the military actions waged by imperialism, the arms race and an increasing gap between rich and poor.
Furthermore, the political establishment and capitalist institutions are in crisis. The present distrust and contempt for the establishment, including the trade union leaders, and widespread alienation are a time bomb waiting to explode.
Spontaneous revolts or mass actions such as in Argentina, which by-pass the traditional parties, could erupt in other countries as well, including Europe. If today's workers and young people do not trust the existing parties and the people at the top they will try to take matters in their own hand.
However, all the struggles taking place today have shown, in one way or another, the need for new mass workers' parties armed with a programme that could provide lasting changes in the interest of working people.
Events and the experience of struggle will change people's outlook and lay the conditions for the formation of new mass workers' parties. No one could predict the speed and the timing of that process, but the question of forming parties representing working people will increasingly be posed by the political and social impact of the global recession.
The task of re-building the international workers' movement on socialist lines is more crucial than ever. This is the task that the Committee for a Workers' International and all its sections have taken on.
Join us in our fight for world socialism.
In The Socialist 8 February 2002: