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International Socialist Review Issue 28, March–April 2003

No blood for oil, no blood for empire

AS the International Socialist Review goes to press, U.S. bombs may soon be falling in Baghdad. If accounts of U.S. war plans are accurate–and everything goes according to plan–3,000 cruise missiles will fall on Iraq in a matter of days, combined with an almost simultaneous air and ground invasion. The purpose of this plan, cynically named "Shock and Awe," is to create such overwhelming destruction that Iraqis will quickly surrender. With or without formal UN sanction, Bush has created a coalition through bullying and bribery, to carry out a war for no other purpose than the expansion of the U.S. empire.

"War" is probably the wrong word: "massacre" is more appropriate. As Howard Zinn wrote recently in the Progressive: "How else to describe the mayhem caused by the most powerful military machine on Earth raining thousands of bombs on a fifth-rate military power already reduced to poverty by two wars and ten years of economic sanctions?"

Millions of people around the world have already poured out into the streets to express their outrage at this undisguised mass slaughter. Washington hopes that a quick victory over Iraq will silence the naysayers and set the stage for further opportunities to expand U.S. global domination. Regardless of the course this war takes, the world will never be the same.

We should be clear what this war is and is not about. It is not about spreading "democracy"–the U.S. has always preferred pliant dictators to protect its investments overseas. It is pure hypocrisy to speak of imposing democracy (i.e., the will of the Iraqi people) by foreign conquest. If the U.S. prevails, Iraq will have an "iron-fisted junta," only this time under U.S. colonial tutelage. It is not about deterring a regional threat–Israel plays the role of U.S. watchdog in the region, armed to the teeth with the latest weaponry, and lavished with U.S. funds. It is not about Saddam Hussein’s links to al-Qaeda–since no such links have been proven to exist. It is not about weapons of mass destruction–since there is little or no evidence that Iraq possesses anything that could possibly endanger the U.S., let alone its neighbors. Moreover, the regimes that do threaten the region–the U.S. and Israel–possess thousands of nuclear warheads. These arguments, as Zinn points out so well–"are paper thin and fall apart at first touch."

In fact, the charges George Bush makes against the Iraqi regime more accurately describe his own. Bush himself is an unelected leader, whose regime possesses a frightening arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and promotes and harbors terrorists (think School of the Americas). The U.S. is itself a rogue regime that openly threatens to attack other states because they might at some future date become a threat to its interests.

This war is about U.S. power and wealth. It is about making sure that there are no regional or global competitors to America’s "right" to be the world’s sole imperialist power. It is about controlling the world’s most strategic resource–oil–by seizing control of a pivotal country that contains the world’s second largest reserves of oil. It is about using Iraq as a strategic pivot to attempt to reshape the Middle East. It is about showing the world that the U.S. will ruthlessly smash any regime that thumbs its nose at American might.

The last Gulf War was heralded as ushering in a "new world order" in the wake of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. But in many ways, it was the last war of the old era, fought to maintain the status quo in the Middle East and to find new justifications for the maintenance of old alliances. This war is being waged to reshape the Middle East, and increasingly it appears to be a war that will begin to reshape world relations, setting the stage for the breakup of old alliances and arrangements and making the world a vastly more unstable place. The 1990s was a period in which the U.S. expanded its power economically, primarily through the use of coercive financing and investment (and an occasional gunboat). By the end of the last decade, the U.S. share of world GDP had increased by 6 or 7 percent. The Bush administration has embarked on a new phase of military expansion, using September 11 as the starting point for the assertion of American power militarily throughout the world.

These are Washington’s stated goals. But the world does not stand still while U.S. troops jackboot across the world. Washington seems to have opened a Pandora’s box that is already creating developments that it did not foresee and for which it has not planned.

Washington faces a number of problems that cannot be solved, even by a quick military victory. For one thing, Bush has squandered much of the political capital gained by the U.S. after September 11. The "war on terrorism" has been exposed as a cover, and the events of September 11 as a convenient excuse, for launching an imperialist war. The Bush team clearly thought they would get everything they wanted without a hitch. Instead, they have made, even on their own terms, an unconvincing case for war (failing even to browbeat UN weapons inspectors into giving them a "smoking gun" to justify invasion). The bungling would be more comic if the outcome wasn’t about to be so horrific.

There is a growing willingness of other world economic powers–most obviously France, Russia and Germany–to challenge Washington’s sway. As Bush and his crew become more dictatorial not only to their perceived enemies, but also to their allies, Europe’s biggest powers are balking. They are doing so not out of concern for Iraq’s people, but because they have their own economic and imperialist interests. France and Germany are increasingly uncomfortable with a world in which they are expected to serve Washington’s interests, for the sole benefit of the U.S. It isn’t clear yet whether these differences will develop into more permanent hostilities, or how quickly. But these developments already herald the coming of a new imperialist world order in which the strategic alliances of the Cold War, from NATO to the UN, may collapse or simply fade into oblivion. In this sense, the debate has become not only about the fate of Iraq, but the fate of the world. We can expect more evidence of the international rift that has developed, including a heightening of the arms race and the escalation of military spending around the world.

Moreover, the economic cost of the war is likely to be very high, and this time around, the U.S. will not be receiving the billions from its allies that it received during the 1991 war. The U.S. paid only 12 percent of the cost of that war. The cost of this war will be exacted from American workers already suffering from job loss and wage cuts–which no doubt helps to explain why the antiwar opposition in the U.S. has grown so large so quickly.

The potential for the Middle East to become a boiling cauldron is clearer by the day. This is especially the case if Israel–which has escalated the brutality of its military occupation of Gaza and the West Bank–uses the cover of war to begin ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homeland. As the U.S. gets its greedy hands on Iraqi oil by seizing and occupying Iraq, it also inherits the region’s problems. Northern Iraq could erupt into war between the Turkish army and the Kurds. Unrest will increase in Cairo and Damascus. Over time, Iraqi resistance to American occupation will escalate.

Then there is the possibility of war in Korea. Bush may want to stoke that conflict in order to justify the U.S. military hold on the region, but he is playing with fire. The conflict threatens to escalate far beyond the control of its participants–producing a conflict that will be even bloodier and costlier than the war in Iraq. Moreover, war between India and Pakistan cannot be ruled out.

The world is about to become a far more dangerous, unstable place.

The "whole world is marching"

The most impressive development in all this is that millions of people have come out to protest all over the world before the war has even started. Two million demonstrated in London, 2.5 million in Rome, over a million in Barcelona, over half a million in New York, a quarter of a million in San Francisco, 200,000 in Damascus–the list goes on and the mass radicalization continues apace. In the U.S., the antiwar movement has been embraced by so many that it has quickly become part of mainstream politics. This is in spite of the scale of the ideological onslaught by the Bush administration, and in spite of the cravenness of the press, which behaves as if it were the propaganda department of the U.S. government.

The further development of the antiwar movement is dependent on a number of variables. If the U.S. fails to win a UN resolution, the antiwar outpouring will be massive. If the U.S. succeeds, there is an entire section of the antiwar movement that has expressed support for UN-sponsored military action that will be disoriented, or even support the war. First, we must continue to argue that the UN Security Council (the real decision-making body within the UN) does not represent the international community, but rather a handful of the most powerful capitalist states. Second, UN support for a war on Iraq will act, as it has in the past, as a mere fig leaf to cover naked U.S. aggression. With or without a UN mandate, therefore, we must continue to oppose the war. Even with UN sanction, the movement will still embrace millions of people around the world–who have become more and more disillusioned with the UN these last few months, as the U.S. has bribed and bullied its way toward war. Moreover, the outbreak of war will harden the core of opposition and deepen its politics.

What is striking is the way in which millions are making the connection between the economics of capitalism and war–and the connection between the cost of war, who benefits and who is made to pay for it. In the U.S., the war abroad combined with the Bush administration’s economic attacks and heightened domestic repression, means that the radicalization around the war will deepen and spread. The class component of the antiwar movement has become clear internationally, from the AFL-CIO’s unprecedented decision to criticize the war, to the threat by unions in Australia, Italy and elsewhere to take industrial action in the event of the war’s outbreak.

It would be a mistake to think that the outbreak of war is proof that these protests have had no effect. Far from it. Tony Blair’s government in Britain may fall as a result of his support for war. Berlusconi, initially an enthusiastic supporter, has become quiet. Even the U.S. seems hesitant to plunge into war without a nod from the UN. The fact that the U.S. government is hell-bent on war in spite of the protests teaches activists a valuable lesson–when the vital interests of American imperialism are at stake, the political cost of their interventions must be raised to a higher level to stop them. Millions will learn that ruling classes respect the will of ordinary people only if it is forced upon them.

"There is a basic weakness in governments," Zinn writes,

However massive their armies, however wealthy their treasuries, however they control the information given to the public–because their power depends on the obedience of its citizens, of soldiers, of civil servants, of journalists and writers and teachers and artists. When these people begin to suspect they have been deceived, and when they withdraw their support, the government loses its legitimacy, and its power.

That is why, even if the U.S. is at war as you read this, we must emphasize the importance of redoubling resistance. No meeting, no protest, no action is too small. Every action is a link in the chain of a movement and a struggle that will eventually challenge and stop U.S. imperialism from wreaking its havoc on the world.

Band of warring brothers

THE BUILDUP to the war in Iraq has produced the nastiest and most public rift between the U.S. and its European allies since the Second World War. The stance of Germany and France has hardened out of a reluctance to allow the Bush administration to steamroll them into outright opposition to Bush’s war plans. In reaction to the insolence of their European vassals, the imperial bosses in Washington seemed to have blown a gasket. When the U.S. defense secretary compares Germany to the U.S. bogeys Cuba and Libya–and his titular boss, the president, doesn’t reprimand him for it–you know the "Transatlantic Alliance" is fraying at the edges.

The transatlantic tensions have provided the most backward elements in the U.S. with another chance to embarrass themselves. The boneheads in the U.S. House of Representatives took time away from outlawing human cloning to remove the adjective "French" from French fries and French toast served in the House cafeteria. But as the transatlantic train wreck unfolded, many figures in the American establishment openly expressed dismay. Even Iraq hawk Thomas Friedman, from his perch on the New York Times editorial page, voiced his doubts:

If the president can’t make his war of choice the world’s war of choice right now, we need to reconsider our options and our tactics. Because if Mr. Bush acts unilaterally, I fear America will not only lose the chance of building a decent Iraq, but something more important–America’s efficacy as the strategic and moral leader of the free world.

The row over Iraq in the United Nations represents something else entirely. It is one aspect of the repositioning between the U.S. and its Western allies in the wake of the Cold War.

The U.S. constructed the post—Second World War institutions like the United Nations and NATO to extend a U.S. protectorate over Europe and Japan. The U.S. arrogated to itself the right to place throughout Europe bases, troops and its "forward defense," including nuclear weapons, against the USSR during the Cold War. For the 1945—90 period, the European powers largely accepted this arrangement. But when the Soviet empire and the USSR itself collapsed in 1989—91, the entire postwar settlement had no further justification.

For most of the 1990s, the U.S. administrations of Bush Sr. and Clinton attempted to refashion the postwar settlement to preserve U.S. domination within the rubric of the existing postwar arrangements. So the Clinton administration pushed through NATO’s enlargement to absorb parts of the former Eastern Bloc. And it developed a new doctrine for NATO to project its power outside of its traditional Western European area–a doctrine put to the test during the 1999 NATO war over Kosovo.

But for a section of the U.S. ruling class that wanted to press the advantage of the U.S. as the only world superpower, these plans smacked of allowing "the Lilliputians to tie down Gulliver." This faction, represented most starkly in the cabal running the U.S. government today, is willing to toss aside its allies if they get in the way of U.S. plans. The Bush administration’s bullying of the allies–what former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski likened to the USSR’s treatment of the Warsaw Pact!–provoked a huge outcry, both in the streets and the suites of Europe.

The protests in Europe have been truly enormous. It’s estimated that 30 percent of the adult population of Spain–residents of a country that is fronting for Bush in the Security Council–demonstrated on February 15. European workers have taken more radical actions than their U.S. counterparts, too. Railworkers in Scotland refused to move war materiel in January. Demonstrators in Ireland and Italy have actively impeded military shipments in those countries.

But as Spanish, British and Italian governments’ defiance of mass antiwar sentiment show, the reluctance of European powers to go along with Bush is only partly related to the mass opposition to the war. France and Germany–where on-the-ground antiwar organizing actually lags behind the organizing in Italy, Spain and Britain–have emerged as the main obstacles to the U.S., nonetheless.

In taking its Iraq war plans to the United Nations Security Council, the U.S. thought it could win international backing, camouflaging its real aims in the rhetoric of disarmament. But so far, the U.S. gambit hasn’t worked. Other ruling classes represented on the Security Council decided that their national interests don’t coincide with those of the U.S. They see the war in light of the Bush Doctrine’s proclamation of the U.S. goal to prevent the rise of any "peer competitor" to challenge it in world politics.

For second-rank powers such as Germany, France, Russia and China, the Bush Doctrine is reason enough to find common ground.

Each has its own strategic interests to oppose the U.S. move into Iraq. Russia’s ability to earn billions of hard currency from its oil and gas sales is at risk if the U.S. can dictate the world price of oil from Baghdad. U.S. moves into Central Asia and its courting of the "new Europe" of the former Soviet empire threatens Germany’s long-term plan to project its economic and political influence eastward. The European Union’s desire to wield its economic power–at parity with the economic might of the U.S.–is threatened as long as Washington can use its military might to arrange world politics and economics to its benefit.

This analysis of the interests lying behind European opposition demonstrates why U.S. antiwar forces, who should oppose anti-French and anti-German bigotry, shouldn’t at the same time believe that France’s right-wing President Jacques Chirac or Germany’s social democratic Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder have become allies of the antiwar movement. These same champions of peace cheered on the NATO bombers that acted outside of the UN Security Council in killing thousands of ordinary Serbs in 1999. And the planned U.S. colonialism in the Middle East today only follows in France’s bloody footsteps.

France, Russia and China don’t have the economic or military might to compete with the U.S. Still, their presence on the Security Council–a legacy of 1945–allows them an opportunity to at least try to slow down U.S. war plans. In the end, all the maneuverings around the Security Council are about this. As foreign affairs commentator William Pfaff put it, "Washington only now is discovering that its efforts to override or divide opposition to what it wants in Iraq have created a coherent international opposition that before was not there. It has diminished rather than affirmed its old international leadership."

If this international coalition against Washington holds up after the Iraq debacle, it will pose difficulties to the Bush administration’s attempt to remap the world. A world in which the U.S. is unable to impose its will unilaterally is still a ways off. But the European allies have served notice that they are no longer willing to play the role of loyal subjects to the U.S. Still nastier economic, political and military conflicts lie ahead.

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