A Year After 11 September: Will Bush launch a war on Iraq?
A THOUSAND people polled by The History Channel named the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon a year ago on 11 September as “the most memorable event in world history”. This is clearly an exaggeration.
Peter Taaffe, General Secretary, Socialist Party
Many events in the last century – two world wars, a series of revolutions and counter-revolutions, above all the October 1917 Russian Revolution, the single greatest event in human history – were much more decisive turning points for humankind than this event.
Nevertheless, this poll underlines just how 11 September has been etched into world-wide popular consciousness. Afterwards, the world appeared to have “changed utterly”, as the poet Yeats put it. In reality, this event mainly underlined starkly the trends at work before then, particularly US imperialism’s crushing dominance as the only real superpower, both militarily and economically.
The terrorist attacks on 11 September allowed the US ruling class to ratchet up its military spending – by 2003 it will spend as much on defence as the next 15-20 national military budgets combined. It has overwhelming nuclear superiority, the world’s dominant air force, and the only “truly blue-water navy” [Foreign Affairs, July/August 2002].
Moreover, the amount it spends on military research and development – three times more than the next six powers combined – means it will continue to further outstrip any rivals.
It has an unparalleled lead in advanced communications and information technology, and “it has demonstrated unrivalled ability to co-ordinate and process information about the battlefield and destroy targets from afar with extraordinary precision”.
This appears to be vindicated by the outcome of the Afghan War, the third ‘hi-tech’ military victory of US imperialism and its ”allies” in ten years. The attack by al-Qa’ida inspired forces on 11 September gave the Bush regime the excuse to initiate a brutal military offensive phase of US imperialism, combined with a semi-dictatorial attack on democratic and civil rights in the US, under the guise of “the war on terrorism”. This led almost immediately to the war in Afghanistan.
Ironically two ‘fundamentalist’ forces confronted each other, the Taliban/al-Qa’ida regime on one side and the Bush presidency – based on an axis of the powerful lobby of right-wing fundamentalist Christians together with fundamentalist Jewish pro-Israelis in the US – on the other.
MOREOVER, BUSH’S government and the electoral system that produced it are based on an electoral minority – the majority now don’t vote in elections – which bears some parallels with ancient Rome.
Then, only the ”privileged” voted, while the most productive part of society, the slaves, were repressed and militarily kept in check. Today, significant sections of the working class and particularly the poor have given up on voting. Their voice, especially in elections, is not heard.
Even before the “election” – in reality, an unconstitutional coup – of George Bush junior, this political system was deeply flawed, with big dangers of unforeseen and potentially disastrous consequences for the US ruling class. This is now a reality in Bush’s measures following 11 September.
Under the banner of a ‘war against terrorism’ the assertion of US power was taken to a new and explosive level, which will result in ‘blowback’ for US society.
On the one side, US imperialism recaptured ground lost in the past. Forced ten years ago to evacuate its forces from the Philippines, it is now welcomed back to its former bases at Clark airfield and Subic Bay, under the guise of fighting ”terrorism”. In the Philippines this threat comes from a handful of armed insurgents at this stage.
It has established in Central Asia a “semi-permanent” base, particularly in Uzbekistan. Today it calls the shots in post-war Afghanistan. Yet with this come added burdens.
One American senator says this means the probable presence of at least 75,000 US troops in Afghanistan for the next ten years, as well as a massive financial underwriting of the Karzai government. This won’t in any way solve the underlying problems of poverty and tribal and ethnic strife, which led to the rise of the Taliban in the first place.
Those costs, however, will be dwarfed in the event of a US-led invasion of Iraq. The prospects for war grow, then diminish, then grow again, almost as much as the gyrations of Wall Street share prices, and sometimes even affecting them.
At the beginning of August, senior US Democrat, Joseph Biden, chair of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, said an invasion of Iraq was “now likely”. A week later, the Republican majority leader in the House of Representatives seemed to back away, saying “he did not believe an attack on Iraq would be justified without provocation”.
SINCE THEN, the opponents of invasion have recruited some unusual bedfellows. Even Henry Kissinger, Cold War warrior and instigator of the butchery of the Chilean people in 1973, has come out against a “return match” with Saddam Hussein, as has “Stormin’ Norman” Schwartzkopf and hard-right Republican spokesperson Brent Scowcroft.
Indeed, all of George Bush senior’s advisers during the Gulf War either oppose an invasion or urge caution on his son. It is rumoured that “Poppy” Bush himself is urging caution. And the reactionary sheikhdoms in the Gulf – Bahrain and others – publicly oppose an invasion. They correctly fear mass upheavals in the Middle East resulting in their overthrow.
Obscenely, however, even during the holiday period, Bush, from the safety of a golf course, beat the war drums: “I call upon all nations to do everything they can to stop these terrorist killers. Thank you. Now watch this drive”.
His crazed defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, who looks, acts and speaks more and more like “Doctor Strangelove”, has widened the ‘terrorist threat’ to include the previously loyal allies of US imperialism in the Middle East, the Saudi Arabian theocratic feudal regime. The Saudis reportedly retaliated by withdrawing billions of dollars of investment in the US.
Rumsfeld even seemed to justify the continued ruthless occupation of the Palestinian territories taken by Israeli forces in the 1967 war. He referred to them as “real estate” “legitimately” captured in a war; by implication Israel should hold them. This was a clear concession to the Jewish fundamentalists in the US who the Republicans hope will help to carry them to victory in November’s mid-term elections.
Such bellicose statements provoked the barely disguised outrage even of the erstwhile ‘allies’ of US imperialism. Europe’s capitalists, almost unanimously – except, perhaps, for Berlusconi in Italy and Aznar in Spain – have condemned the proposed attack on Iraq.
Schroder, facing a general election in Germany in September, has publicly dissociated himself from Bush. Even the formerly slavishly loyal Blair, through foreign secretary Straw, seeks to distance the government from the US invasion without the previous agreement of the UN and the sending of arms inspectors back into Iraq.
This is partly determined by the knowledge that an invasion could split the government from top to bottom. Both Clare Short and Robin Cook could resign, and half of the “non-payroll” New Labour MPs are in opposition. Some commentators even speculate that Blair himself could be brought down by a combination of events: his support for a Bush-led invasion, upheavals over the euro referendum and looming confrontation with the unions.
No war for oil
IT ISN’T certain, however, that the formidable and growing opposition to a US war with Iraq will sway the Bush regime away from such a confrontation. There are powerful forces clamouring for war.
Perhaps like no other US presidency before, the Bush administration is in thrall to the oil and gas oligopolies. They look hungrily towards a post-Saddam situation with Iraq sitting on the world’s second largest known oil reserves, next to Saudi Arabia.
Indeed, Rumsfeld’s attack on Saudi Arabia is probably connected with the Republican right’s perspectives that one outcome of a war with Iraq could be less dependence on Saudi oil and its replacement by plentiful supplies from Iraq’s oil fields.
They seem oblivious to the fact that an invasion of Iraq could set the Middle East alight and result in the Saudi regime’s overthrow by an even more fundamentalist one.
Amongst this layer, there is almost breathtaking ignorance of the likely repercussions of invasion. Within the US and in Europe, particularly in Britain, foreign policy “experts” are lining up to warn Bush that these war preparations “border on fantasy”.
The grounds for such a war are allegedly the ‘potential’ for Saddam to acquire weapons of mass destruction. However, as John Pilger points out, it was US imperialism itself which supplied Saddam with this very potential:
“A 1994 Senate report documented the transfer to Iraq of the ingredients for biological weapons; botulism developed by a company in Maryland, licensed by the Commerce Department and approved by the State Department. Anthrax was also supplied by the Porton Down laboratories in Britain, a government establishment.” [The New Rulers of the World].
Moreover, a war could provoke the very act – the use of weapons of mass destruction – it is calculated to prevent. In the Gulf War, it seems that Saddam contemplated, but did not use, biological and chemical weapons because the US did not enter the cities to force his overthrow.
Now Bush’s declared policy is “regime change” – the removal of Saddam. If this appeared likely it could prompt him to use biological or chemical weapons, for instance against Israel. Already, Israelis are stockpiling gas masks and the Sharon government has warned that a biological or chemical attack on Israel could provoke the nuking of Baghdad!
Bush’s internal battles
LITTLE WONDER then that the prospects of war and its aftermath produce near panic stations amongst the more sober strategists of capital. The Financial Times complained in July: “Never in the field of human conflict has so much war planning been revealed to so many by so few.”
One explanation for this, they speculate, could be that the constant stream of stories would put pressure on Saddam to make more and more concessions. More likely it reflects the ferocious internal battle within the Bush presidency. The generals, along with Colin Powell, oppose a war, while the Republican right, led by Vice-President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld, clearly dominant in the Bush administration, bang the war drums.
The Financial Times, pointedly warning Bush to restrict his agenda to weapons inspectors going back into Iraq, also said: “Bush might also recall that during the Cuban missile crisis the US military wanted to invade Cuba, while the Kennedy administration insisted on the goal of getting the Soviet missiles out of Cuba. In the not dissimilar debate now, those roles appear to have been reversed.”
A war against Saddam won’t be a rerun of either the Gulf War or the invasion of Afghanistan. Initially the Kurdish parties declared that they weren’t prepared to act, like the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, as proxy troops of the US. Now, after a visit to the US, some are prepared to act alongside US imperialism in an invasion.
They calculate that this would enhance their prospects for an autonomous Kurdish entity in a post-Saddam federal regime. That’s why Turkish prime minister Ecevit and the Turkish army, fearing repercussions from this of a resurgence of the Kurdish opposition within Turkey, have come out against the war. They threatened to move troops to the border with Iraq if war breaks out.
Reinforcing this opposition is the awareness that there is no clear vision of what a post-Saddam regime would look like. 60% of the Iraqi population are Shias; the rest are either Kurds in the north and Sunni Arabs in the centre.
It is not difficult to imagine intense conflict between them with the possibility of some kind of Shia-dominated regime emerging. On the other hand, such is Iraq’s instability that a regime of “Saddamism” without Saddam (another military despot) could be the outcome of a war.
THE OPPOSITION within the US population has also risen dramatically. 47% now oppose an invasion of Iraq, compared to 74% in favour in November last year. Even the chief of the US Marine Corps, who will soon be NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander, condemned the plan to attack Saddam as ‘foolish’.
In the event of a war, there will undoubtedly be a “rallying around the flag” and initially support would probably increase. But even now opposition is growing, which is probably the main reason why Bush has latterly talked of his ‘patience’.
He has an eye on upcoming mid-term elections, which at one stage appeared to guarantee, in the post-September 11 mood in the US, the Republicans’ recapturing of the Senate, giving them a majority in both houses.
Now, the general instability world-wide and the effects of economic crisis within the US itself have cast doubt on such an outcome. The prospect of war has compounded this.
The growing opposition to the war, the profound unease sweeping the US and the deepening economic crisis have led to increased protests, typified by the thousands who protested against a Republican dinner attended by Bush in Portland, Oregon.
This mood will grow in the event of a war, even if an invasion of Iraq does not take place. This is because of the huge effects of the economic slowdown in the US on jobs and living standards.
The US capitalists, led by Federal Reserve president Alan Greenspan, are desperately attempting to boost the US economy to help the Bush presidency. Greenspan says that, as opposed to 1996, when there was “irrational exuberance” now the US is suffering from “irrational despondency”. The only constant, it seems, in the US is capitalism’s “irrationality”!
Mere words, however, are unlikely to rescue the US economy from a double-dip recession. Bush’s father won a war in the Gulf but one result was a spiralling of oil prices that produced the double-dip recession of the early 1990s, which in turn led to his eviction from the White House. The same fate awaits his son on the basis of his present policies and developments in the US economy.
US imperialism is not just the mightiest military power but also the economic engine of world capitalism. The US economy is currently twice as large as its closest rival Japan. Even California’s economy has now risen to become the fifth largest in the world (using market exchange rate estimates) ahead of France and just behind the UK.
In 1999 the US attracted more than one-third of the world’s flow of foreign direct investment. Yet its very predominance ensures that all the contradictions, politically and economically, can recoil on the US with profound social and economic consequences in the next period.
Post-September 11, the US ruling class believed they could do virtually anything, within the US and world-wide. With its muscle it could intervene to intimidate opponents. However, the Arab-Israeli dispute showed the limits of this power, with the US incapable of imposing any lasting solution.
The issue of Iraq, whether it comes to war or not, also shows that the US ruling class cannot just act alone without taking account of opposition world-wide and even within its own borders.
One consequence of 11 September was Bush’s attempt to establish the Republican right’s goal – which escaped his father and even Reagan – of the so-called “national security state”. This envisaged the re-establishment of the ‘authority’ of the presidency, the dominance of the executive over the legislature.
This was achieved for a short period following 11 September. Evoking all the worst authoritarian and even dictatorial influences of the Cold War, Bush rode roughshod over Congress, partly because of the supine position of the Democrats.
Anybody considered slightly suspicious was arrested, sometimes on bogus charges, for either being involved in or assisting ‘terrorism’. 1,000 largely Arab US citizens languish in America’s prisons. Recently a judge ruled that they must be named and given legal rights to prepare their defence.
In other words, the pendulum has begun to swing against Bush domestically and this will be reflected on the international stage as well.
The most disturbed period in human history has now opened up. Post-September 11 brought forth phrases such as “the war against terrorism” and “axis of evil”. Cheney promised a 50-year war against these “enemies”.
Unfortunately, as a commentator in Foreign Affairs pointed out: “Wars have typically been fought against proper nouns (Germany, say) for the good reason that proper nouns can surrender and promise not to do it again. Wars against common nouns (poverty, crime, drugs) have been less successful.
“Such opponents never give up. The war on terrorism, unfortunately, falls into the second category. Victory is possible only if the United States confines itself to fighting individual terrorists rather than the tactic of terrorism itself.”
IN OTHER words, Bush’s war is already a failure. It is now almost commonplace to say that terrorism is itself a reflection of a wider and more profound unease, of unsolved social, ethnic, religious or national problems in society. It is precisely poverty, malnutrition and all the diseases resulting from rotten capitalism that have spawned terrorist organisations in the past and which are still responsible for the threat of terrorism today.
After 11 September a long period of reaction was promised by the emerging dominance of US imperialism. The Socialist warned that the relationship of forces would be altered post-September 11 to the advantage of the ruling class as opposed to the poor, the downtrodden and workers throughout the world.
However, this did not mean that the working class had suffered a profound and historical defeat. There were limits to this reaction, which is already beginning to dissipate by the emergence of forces opposed to US imperialism, particularly the working class.
The last year has shown the terrible future promised for working people on the basis of the continuation of capitalism. But it has also shown the great capacity to struggle by working people. We have seen the collapse in Argentina, followed by Uruguay and even Brazil, with a deepening of the poverty, unemployment and deprivation which scars these countries and the rest of Latin America.
On the other hand, we have seen working people come out onto the streets and protest against capitalism and what it means. In Europe, mighty general strikes, mass days of protest or mass demonstrations have taken place in Italy, Spain, Portugal and France.
If a war should take place against Iraq, it might temporarily sustain the Bush presidency – and even that isn’t certain – but at the cost of undermining it and US capitalism in the medium and long term. Mighty, mass anti-war protests would sweep the world.
Even without declaring war on Iraq, mass opposition is fermenting in the ranks of the working class and the people generally. Of course, a new terrorist outrage on the scale of 11 September could cut across the process of radicalisation. But even then this will not be the same as post-11 September.
It is the rulers of the US, Europe and Japan in particular who are responsible for the conditions which lead to these outrages. They and their capitalist system will be held to account by the movement of the working people world-wide in the period we are going into.
In rejecting capitalism, the next period will see more and more working people looking towards the ideas of socialism and Marxism.