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by Alan Woods
Thursday, Sep. 11, 2003 at 1:22 PM
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Misery likes company
George Bush has second thoughts on Iraq
By Alan Woods
Sometime last May a triumphant George W. Bush hired an aircraft carrier (at the tax payer's expense) to announce to the nation that the war in Iraq was over and America had won. Just four months later a more sober George Bush, his feet now firmly on dry land, faced the television cameras to inform the American public that they were in for a long, hard haul in Iraq, that they would have to put up with a lot of pain and expense before the show was over.
Things in Iraq are not going according to plan. The financial and human costs of occupying Iraq are mounting inexorably. American and other coalition troops are being killed every day. Even worse, the costs of the operation are spiralling out of control. The Bush administration is seeking more money from a reluctant congress. The President told the nation that the total cost would be about 87 billion dollars - of which 66 billion would be needed for this year alone. But nobody really knows how much it will all cost or when it will end.
In an act of desperation, Washington is looking for help from a source it hoped to avoid: the United Nations. At the start of this year Bush and Rumsfeld expressed themselves in the most scathing tones about the UN. They treated the French, Germans and Russians with utter contempt as they stormed into Iraq without even the pretence of a UN resolution. How things have changed! Last week American officials circulated a draft UN resolution to members of the Security Council urging other countries to commit money, troops and other support towards the rebuilding of Iraq. The draft resolution sanctions the creation of a multinational force under "unified" command (that is to say, with American generals in charge). What is the reason for this startling change of heart?
Firstly, the military situation is grim indeed. The US military has belatedly acknowledged that America is faced with a guerrilla war. In the four months or so since President Bush declared hostilities at an end in Iraq, more US soldiers have been killed than during the war itself. The American imperialists have got more than they bargained for. The steady increase in losses raises the interesting thought in Washington that maybe it would be better if those on the receiving end of Iraqi anger were French, German or Russians, rather than Americans. This would maybe lessen the public anger in the USA and considerably increase Bush's chances of re-election.
Thus they have finally decided the USA could use some help - hence the appeal to the UN. The Pentagon needs more troops - lots of them - more correctly, they need cannon fodder - lots of it. The British have already obliged (they are such obliging people!). Foreign minister Jack Straw has let it be known that more British troops must be sent immediately - or else "there is a danger that we will fail in our strategic aims."
The exact nature of these "strategic aims" has never been made clear. They were originally supposed to be something to do with removing weapons of mass destruction and thus making the world a safer place. Unfortunately, no such weapons have been discovered in Iraq, which is now (together with the rest of the world) a lot less safe than it was before. Then there was the business about ridding Iraq of an evil dictator and introducing its people to the joys of democracy. But most Iraqis would probably consider that the present regime is neither more joyful nor more democratic than the one it replaced. The evils of one dictatorship have merely been replaced by the evils of another dictatorship - that of a brutal foreign occupation. Even the "strategic aim" of plundering Iraq of its oil wealth now looks decidedly questionable, since the Iraqi resistance have most unfortunately decided that economic sabotage is an acceptable form of hitting the foreign invaders where it hurts - in their bank balance.
Meanwhile the fortunes of Britain have sunk so low that it is now reduced to playing second fiddle to American imperialism everywhere. The Blair administration has an even more slavish attitude to Washington than the Tories, whose clothes they have stolen. They hang on every word and gesture of the man in the White House, hoping to glean from his looks some hint of his wishes and intentions, in order to rush to carry them out as quickly as possible, like a dog waiting to see in what direction his master will throw a stick. Such humiliating servility will fill any honest Briton with shame. But the leading clique around the Right Honourable Anthony Blair does not know the meaning of shame.
The problem is that no matter how many troops Blair sends, they will not be enough either to control Iraq or to take the pressure off the US forces. More troops are needed! And they must come from other countries. If they cannot be raised from Germany and France, then they must be raised from Egypt or India. For when it comes to the search for cannon fodder, the US generals have no time for racial prejudice! In fact, the number of blacks serving in the US forces in Iraq is far greater than their proportion in the total US population. When Mr. Bush talks about the need for Americans to accept pain and sacrifice in Iraq, he is not referring to himself but to the poor, the blacks, the Hispanics, the children of the workers. This has been duly noted and will be the cause of even greater discontent in the future.
Despite all urgings, it is not at all clear whether America's resolution will be passed by the Security Council, much less prompt countries such as France, Germany and Russia to contribute troops. The White House and the Pentagon are determined to preserve American military command, which they see as central to their "strategic aims" (the eventual plundering of Iraq by US oil and construction companies). But France, Germany and Russia would prefer the UN to be fully in charge, in order to advance their own strategic aims: to reduce American power and influence in the Middle East and increase their own. Needless to say, the two strategic aims are not very compatible.
Then there is the little matter of cost. The burden of keeping a large occupation force in Iraq is becoming excessively heavy even for such a wealthy country as the USA. America is therefore looking for others to share the burden. In Brussels last Wednesday, American officials met representatives from the European Union, the World Bank, the United Nations and others to discuss possible donations. This was obviously a prelude to a larger donors' conference scheduled for late October in Madrid. Washington wants donors to pledge money towards reconstruction. But the potential donors are wary. They know that this would be tantamount to endorsing the American-led occupation.
France and Germany have made it clear that the price for any financial aid would be a greater UN role in reconstruction (that is to say, the French and German construction firms want to get their hands on these lucrative contracts as well). Prospective aid donors at this week's conference also said that better security would be needed before aid could flow properly into the country. In general, the Europeans remain unenthusiastic. It is a case of "After you, dear Sir!"
The declared goal of the imperialists is to make Iraq self-sustaining. This, of course, depends on the production of oil. Iraq has the second-biggest oil reserves in the world, and the American companies, for reasons that require no explanation, are anxious to get the oil flowing in their direction as soon as possible. On the other hand, the French, German and Russians are, for equally obvious reasons, anxious to prevent this from happening and to get a slice of the action for themselves. This is the real basis for the constant manoeuvres and intrigues on the Security Council.
The Economist comments: "The appeal to the UN comes as lawmakers and the president returned from their holidays to new and gloomier assessments of the Iraq situation. A Congressional Budget Office report released this week says that the Pentagon may need to cut the number of American troops - currently around 140,000 - by more than half by next spring, to stay ready for other possible threats. Britain, America's chief ally, with 11,000 troops in Iraq, is reviewing its troop levels there amid suggestions that more may be needed. Money too is a growing concern: estimates for the total cost of rebuilding Iraq have run as high as 0 billion. The administration appears set to ask Congress for emergency spending on Iraq of around billion, most of it for the military rather than reconstruction. Congress seems likely to approve the money, but whether it will be enough is doubtful. Paul Bremer, America's top administrator in Iraq, has estimated that billion alone is needed to give Iraqis a decent water system. These demands come at a time when America already faces a record federal budget deficit of 0 billion next year, before any new spending on Iraq."
In a word, the Americans would welcome a little financial aid from their friends across the sea. But how to get this aid? Given the ferocious invective of Washington against the French and Germans a few months ago, and their total exclusion from the task of Iraqi reconstruction to date, this is easier said than done. Bush and co. had no alternative than to swallow their pride and go back to the United Nations. The latest US-sponsored resolution is an attempt to get the Europeans to send troops and money to Iraq. It reaffirms the "vital role" of the UN in tasks such as "nation-building" (although everyone thought that Iraq was already a nation) and providing humanitarian assistance (to sort out the humanitarian catastrophe caused by the Americans). But at the same time, it endorses the American-backed Governing Council of Iraq as "the principal body of an Iraqi interim administration." The US imperialists thus want to have their cake and eat it at the same time. But as any small boy will tell you, this is impossible.
Of course, the Americans and everyone in the Security Council pay lip service to the need for democracy in Iraq and the interests of the Iraqi people. The draft resolution is therefore careful to mention the need for elections and constitution drafting, and the UN's role in all this. However, at what point American (and Iraqi) power would stop and UN power would begin is left conveniently vague. Already one Security Council member has anonymously complained of "too many vague references to the United Nations".
The German and French imperialists are not completely stupid. President Jacques Chirac and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder both said last Thursday that America still had not changed its position sufficiently to win their support for the resolution. UN officials themselves, after the devastating attack on their Baghdad headquarters last month, are not overly enthusiastic about a more serious involvement. Thus, Mr Bush's hopes of getting the resolution passed by the end of September seem excessively optimistic.
To state the obvious: the idea of a democratic and independent Iraq is just a joke as long as it remains under foreign occupation. The imperialists want a parliament in Baghdad - but only as long as it is dominated by their obedient stooges. Behind every Iraqi "minister" there will be an American official, and behind every American official there will be the US army. That is what they mean when they say that "security and political control must eventually fall entirely to Iraqis". To imagine anything else would be the height of stupidity.
In order to camouflage their real intentions, America last week endorsed an "all-Iraqi Governing Council", which named its cabinet officials. This is a joke in extremely bad taste. The council is weak and toothless. It is entirely dominated by the Americans, who are also in charge of training Iraqis as police and security guards. Donald Rumsfeld, America's defence secretary, who visited Iraq this week, said that up to 60,000 Iraqis are already involved in security. In this way, they hope to reconstruct a state apparatus under US control.
There can be no question of re-establishing a genuinely independent Iraq without the existence of an Iraqi state. Lenin explained long ago that, in the last analysis, the state is armed bodies of men in defence of private property. The old Iraqi state was smashed by the invaders. In its place stepped the armed forces of the coalition - which is just another way of saying the USA. Iraq has therefore been reduced to the role of a colony of the USA, with no will of its own and no power to decide anything.
The colossal oil wealth of Iraq is completely at the disposal of the invaders - just as the treasured possessions of a private family are completely at the disposal of a thief who has battered down the doors and seized control of a house. Like any thief, the imperialists maintain control of what they have seized by the use of force, and so the Iraqi people are responding with force in an attempt to eject the intruder. What the occupying forces describe as acts of terrorism are part of a war of national liberation, in which the people of Iraq are fighting to achieve the right to control their own lives and destiny.
The convening of a "parliament" under such conditions can only be a manoeuvre to conceal the brutal reality of a foreign conquest and occupation under the fig leaf of a false "democracy". Most of those who participate in this fictitious "parliament" are collaborators who have little or no real base in the population and are hated by the people they are supposed to represent.
A recent article in Stratfor commented: "The United States has realized that it cannot pacify Iraq on its own. One proposal, floated by the State Department, calls for a United Nations force - under U.S. command - to take control of Iraq. This raises three questions. First, why would any sane country put its forces at risk - under U.S. command, no less - to solve America's problems if it doesn't have to? Second, what would additional outside forces, as unfamiliar with Iraq as U.S. forces are, add to the mix, save more confusion? Finally, what price would the United States have to pay for U.N. cooperation; for instance, would the U.N. presence place restrictions on U.S. operations against al Qaeda?"
These are all very good questions! But who can supply the answers? Up till recently, there were plenty of answers (or at least suggestions) from the radical Republican right. These people would really make model inmates for a mental hospital. They suffer from delusions of grandeur on the grandest scale, putting those unfortunates who believe themselves to be God or Napoleon completely in the shade.
Donald Rumsfeld is a convinced disciple of this little band of brothers whose pathological delusions were fed by the apparently swift and painless victory of the US forces last April. Ah! what heady days were those! The sky appeared to be the limit! They were all in favour of invading Syria, Iran - what the hell ‑ the whole Middle East! The conquest of Iraq would immediately lead to the victory of Democracy throughout the whole region. Such was the emotional state generated by this delirium that the flights to Baghdad were full of enthusiastic American evangelists hoping to convert the ungodly to the True Faith.
Now, just four months later, these dreams lie in ashes. There is no sign of Democracy, let alone a Christian revival in Baghdad. Worse still, there is no sign of oil and profits for the big US companies that back the Republican Right and finance its Think Tanks to produce ideas in line with their company balance sheets. The reasons for invading Iraq were both economic (oil) and strategic-military: to gain a firm base from where to control the Middle East, since Saudi Arabia was seen as increasingly unstable, to control Syria and Iran and its nuclear capability. But the guerrilla war in the north has upset Washington's plans. The issue at the moment is not how to project power throughout the region, but how to simply pacify Iraq. The US army has its hands full. It is bogged down in a costly and bloody guerrilla war in Iraq with no end in sight. None of its strategic aims has been achieved. As a result, the influence of the New Right lunatics within the administration has waned, and even Rumsfeld's position is looking a bit shaky.
But nothing can shake the confidence of the hard-core New Conservatives. Despite everything there seems to be no limit to the delusional aspirations of these individuals. Richard Perle, for example, has a very simple solution: the way out is to turn Iraq over to Iraqis as quickly as possible rather than prolonging a U.S. occupation. Mr Perle - who as Defence Advisory Board Chairman occupies a responsible position as adviser to the US government and military - has the advantage over ordinary mortals that he does not dwell on the planet earth but somewhere in the stratosphere. From such a distance he cannot see in Iraq anything but a clinically pure candidate for market economics and Democracy. He cannot see any guerrillas, resistance, Shiites, riots or electricity cuts. His solution is childishly simple: America should simply turn Iraq over to the Iraqis - but the problem is: to which Iraqis?
By blundering into Iraq with no thought or strategy other than to bully, dominate and plunder, US imperialism has released forces it cannot control. As Stratfor comments: "Putting the Kurdish issue aside, the fundamental fault line running through Iraqi society is the division between Sunni and Shiite. The Shiite majority dominates the area south of Baghdad. The Sunni minority, which very much includes Hussein and most of the Baath Party's national apparatus, spent the past generation brutalizing the Shiites, and Hussein's group also spent that time making certain that Sunnis who were not part of their tribe were marginalized. Today, Iraq is a fragmented entity where the center of gravity, the Baath Party, has been shattered and there is no substitute for it."
There is an old Oriental saying: a man who rides on the back of a tiger finds it difficult to dismount. The US imperialists, in their blindness, imagined that all that was required was to eliminate Saddam Hussein and all would be well. They could install a puppet regime backed by US bayonets and then leave, in the sure and certain knowledge of big profits for their oil corporations to come. But things did not work out like that.
One by one, the groups that they tried to base themselves on proved to be useless or even hostile to US interests. By backing the Kurds, Washington immediately provoked a serious conflict with its old ally Turkey, the reverberations of which can still produce new wars and conflicts in the region. The other potential allies, the Shiites, are allied to Iran and no friends of the USA. They remember only too well the failure of Shiite uprisings in the 1990s, which the USA first encouraged and then betrayed. The recent assassination of Ayatollah Mohammad Baqir al-Hakim, the leader of the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), immediately led to mass anti-US demonstrations by Shiites. Al -Hakim was a moderate, engaged in limited collaboration with the United States, which was probably why he was killed.
The United States has a very serious problem. It needs reliable stooges in Iraq to carry the brunt of the pacification program. It needs native policemen and soldiers (under American officers) prepared to be assassinated in the interest of reducing the list of American casualties. But for some reason there are not many takers. The wages may be quite good by Iraqi standards, but the life expectancy is poor.
The only hope of doing a deal with the Iraqi Shiites would be by reaching an understanding with the Iranian regime. The United States has been negotiating both overtly and covertly with Iran on a range of issues, but there has been no definitive breakthrough. The Americans have suddenly become silent on the question of Iranian nuclear power, although there is no doubt that the Iranians have been producing a nuclear weapon. The invasion of Iraq has made them even more determined to do this, because, as with North Korea, the Iranian leaders see nuclear as a bargaining chip and a guarantee against an American invasion. Here, too, the conduct of Washington has had the opposite effects to those intended.
These manoeuvres with Teheran will not yield the desired results. Even if they reach some kind of deal, and the Iraqi Shiites agree to cooperate with the U.S. occupation, there is absolutely no guarantee that they will actively help to suppress the Sunni rising in the north. Nor is it clear that the US would want Iran to have such a big say in the internal affairs of Iraq, with the risk that in the long term Iraq would fall under the control of Iran, not the USA.
In any case, the Shiite masses will not tolerate the occupation of their country by Americans and British forces for long. Irrespective of religious affiliation, they regard themselves as Iraqis and whatever agreement may be reached by the tops will inevitably break down and the masses will again take to the streets. In the long run, the imperialists will be forced to withdraw. As Napoleon pointed out, you cannot sit upon bayonets for long.
Last, but not least, Iran itself is in a state of pre-revolutionary ferment. The rule of the ayatollahs is extremely unpopular and unstable. The war in Iraq has temporarily interrupted the process, but new revolutionary upheavals can break out again at any time. This will completely upset all the calculations of US imperialism and transform the whole situation in the region, starting with Iraq. A revolutionary movement of the Iranian masses would immediately spread to Iraq, transforming the war of national liberation into a war of both national and social emancipation. It would cut the ground from under the feet of the reactionary fundamentalists and open the road to the growth of the revolutionary and Communist tendency that has always been present in Iraq. The Iranian revolution therefore remains the key to the situation.
The USA is now stuck in Iraq as they are stuck in Afghanistan. By their actions the US imperialists have opened up all the fault lines that have been lying dormant in the Middle East and the wider Islamic world. They have caused further chaos and convulsions, splitting and splintering, fomenting conflicts within that world that will end in new wars, conflicts, revolutions and counterrevolutions. With all its power, the United States cannot put out all these fires. Al Qaeda is no more than a marginal force in all this maelstrom of discontent, bitterness and hatred. It is convenient for Washington to have someone to blame for the New World Disorder. But the main cause of this universal instability is the global crisis of the capitalist system. All the other phenomena are merely manifestations of the fact that private property and the nation state have outlived their historical usefulness and are dragging humanity down.
All the actions of the USA cannot alter this fact and are only aggravating the general crisis. Far from arriving at a new state of equilibrium, imperialism has destroyed even the fragile equilibrium that existed before the invasion of Iraq. There is now not a single stable regime in the whole of the Middle East. Even the regime in Saudi Arabia, which previously constituted a firm bulwark of reaction in the region, is now tottering and can be overthrown at any time. This fact was recognised by Washington when it recently agreed to pull out most of its troops. As for the so-called Road Map for Palestine, it has been killed stone dead by Sharon, and Washington can do nothing to save it.
The idea that the US invasion of Iraq has somehow led to greater stability in the Middle East is entirely mistaken. The area has been completely destabilised. US imperialism, it is true, enjoys colossal power, and this power was again revealed in the war with Iraq. But what the present situation shows are the limits of this power. The US leaders have belatedly begun to understand that by overthrowing Saddam Hussein they have merely created a new and even more dangerous situation. They do not control events, but events are controlling them, and there are even more problems down the road.
New shocks and convulsions are being prepared. Sooner or later these must find their reflection in the United States. There is already the beginning of a change in the way US public opinion sees America's involvement in Iraq. People are starting to worry about the scale of its commitment in Iraq - the loss of life, the continuing chaos and the financial drain. The earlier triumphalism has been replaced by a note of deep concern. Opportunistically, the Democrat presidential candidates are now all opposing the Iraqi adventure. More worrying for Bush, there is a growing questioning of the situation even among sections of the Republican Party.
After the first Gulf War, George Bush senior had a support rating of over 70 percent, but within a few months it fell to 29 percent and he lost the election. At present the Gallup poll gives George Bush junior only a 59 percent rating. Discontent and questioning is growing all the time. Sooner or later this will find an expression in a massive outburst of opposition to the war and to a rotten social system that prefers to spend 100 billion dollars in occupying and oppressing Iraq, while systematically slashing social spending on the poor, the sick and the unemployed.
Long ago Leon Trotsky predicted that the USA would dominate the whole world but would find that there was dynamite built into its foundations. That prediction has now come true. It is only a matter of time before the fuse is lit.
London, September 9, 2003.
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