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International Socialist Review Issue 32, November–December 2003


The Empire falters

IN THE first days of the invasion of Iraq, the Vietnamese government issued this statement: "With a huge war machine, the U.S. will gain victory in military terms. However, they cannot avoid political failure." The Vietnamese, who should know something about U.S. imperial debacles, were right. We are now witnessing the unfolding of this failure.

The October 1, 2003 issue of Newsweek called it a "perfect storm"–a confluence of factors that is turning an apparent victory into the Bush administration’s first real political crisis. The disaster in Iraq hasn’t yet crippled the administration. But the strain is showing. When the leading figures of the U.S. government start to complain that the press isn’t reporting all the good news in Iraq, you know they’re feeling events escape from them. Or when Bush is forced to issue an order to stop his squabbling aides from leaking the administration’s internal fights to the media–only to see news of the Bush order turn up in the press the next day–cracks are beginning to emerge in the imperial presidency.

The administration’s October "victory" in winning unanimous support for a second UN Security Council resolution affirming its leading role in the occupation may give the administration something "positive" to talk about. But the resolution has little practical impact. The U.S. will still have to maintain a huge (and possibly escalating) troop presence and spend billions to make the Iraqi economy more easily lootable by U.S. corporations. If the Iraqi resistance and resentment among U.S. soldiers continue to grow, the crisis will only get worse for Bush.

Support for the occupation continues to shrink. A September 23 poll found that only half the population–down from 73 percent in April–thinks that Iraq was worth going to war over. This is prompting a chorus of criticism of a president who only recently was considered untouchable. In mid-October, to cite just one example, U.S. weapons inspectors accused Secretary of State Colin Powell and other top officials of fabricating evidence at the UN before the war. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, one of the main architects of the Iraq disaster, faces increasing criticism, and has had control of the occupation taken out from under him and handed over to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The administration is also under fire for outing a CIA agent as an act of revenge against her husband, former Ambassador Joe Wilson, who revealed that the administration lied in its claims that Iraq had tried to buy nuclear materials from Niger.

Every day it becomes clearer that the government lied to win support for the war. They have not even managed to find any weapons of mass destruction. The Bush administration has even quietly admitted that there was no Iraq-al-Qaeda link. Every day it becomes clearer that the Bush administration arrogantly overestimated its ability to consolidate its control over Iraq.

Meanwhile, the Iraqi opposition, which comes from diverse sources and by all accounts has widespread support, continues to grow. According to David Barnes, who just returned from a tour of Baghdad as part of a British trade-union delegation, "Everyone we spoke to was against the U.S. occupation…. Opposition to the occupation is universal in the workplace."

As the ISR goes to press, there have been eight major bombings in Iraq since May. There are still dozens of daily guerrilla attacks on U.S. forces, and the attacks are spreading from the "Sunni triangle" to involve Shiite resistance in Baghdad and elsewhere. American soldiers are killed and wounded on a daily basis, resulting in the strange fact that U.S. fatalities in Iraq are now greater since Bush declared that the war was officially over last May than during the invasion itself. Since the invasion, an average of nine U.S. soldiers have been wounded every day.

And the occupation is only going to provoke more organized resistance. According to correspondent Patrick Cockburn, U.S. troops have been engaging in "collective punishment," bulldozing Iraqi farmers’ fruit groves as punishment for not informing on the guerrilla resistance. And there are countless reports of atrocities committed against Iraqis by the occupiers, driven by what one soldier called a "shoot-to-kill" policy whereby Iraqis are routinely shot at checkpoints. These punitive measures will have the effect of increasing the popularity of the resistance.

Even John Sawers, British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s emissary in Baghdad, was forced to admit: "We are losing the consent of the Iraqi people." A loss of consent means that U.S. colonial rule in Iraq can only be enforced by brute force. Yet naked rule by force will provoke more resistance, which in turn will require even greater doses of lethal force, and so on. How many young farmers whose land has been bulldozed will decide they have nothing to lose by joining the resistance?

In the meantime, the discontent among U.S. troops is growing–from National Guard reservists and their families angry over the extension of their tours of duty, to regular troops feeling that they are not fighting the war they expected to fight. The Pentagon added to the discontent by announcing a proposed 47 percent cut in combat pay–which it later rescinded under pressure. A recent Stars and Stripes survey found that half of U.S. troops in Iraq are not planning to reenlist and described their unit’s morale as "low," and a staggering one-third complained that the war has little or no value. This sentiment is fueling the first shoots of military resistance from small but growing organizations like Bring Them Home Now and Military Families Speak Out.

Bush’s popularity now hovers around 50 percent, losing all of the "bounce" he received after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. And numerous polls show him close to or even losing to a Democratic challenger next year. Rather than being the crowning achievement of Bush’s presidency, Iraq could be the undoing of the Bush administration.

For the antiwar movement and other forces on the left, the growing crisis over Iraq should increase confidence to build a solid opposition to the Bush agenda–at home and abroad. But for now, many activists have become convinced that the best they can hope for is a Democrat dumping Bush in 2004. For them, just about any Democrat will do. In 2000, author and filmmaker Michael Moore supported Ralph Nader for president. But in September, he issued a call for former Gen. Wesley Clark to join the Democratic race. Clark is a cipher who could be a Trojan horse for the right-wing Democratic Leadership Council forces. Moore’s action is one of the best examples of the "anybody but Bush" phenomenon that has has captured most of the left in the U.S.

While this may be understandable, it’s also tragic. When millions of Americans are turning against Bush’s policies in Iraq and at home, much of the left is signing up to back one or another candidate whose main differences with Bush are rhetorical and tactical–not substantive. The Bush administration’s policies in Iraq have failed. The administration is losing credibility even with sections of the ruling class. Yet all of the "serious" Democratic contenders (i.e., those with a chance to be nominated) are competing to come up with a Plan B that will help prop up the U.S. disaster in Iraq.

So no matter what the Democrats promise to deliver on health care, education or jobs, they are committed above all to helping make the U.S. occupation of Iraq succeed. And when forced to choose between U.S. credibility in Iraq and the needs of ordinary people in the U.S., the Democrats will always side with U.S. credibility. Those on the left who are prepared to work for a Democrat in 2004 should have no illusion about what they are signing up for.

Iraq occupation: Why we say "Out now"

NEW YORK Times columnist Nicholas D. Kristof summed up the attitude of most liberal opponents of the war on Iraq who now support continuing the occupation: "My fear is that we will now compound our mistake of invading Iraq by refusing to pay for our occupation and then pulling out our troops prematurely…. In that case, Iraq would last about 10 minutes before disintegrating into a coup d’état or a civil war."

"I believe that President Bush was wrong to go into Iraq," claims Kristof, "but he’s right about staying there."

But it is not possible to separate the war from the occupation. The invasion was launched precisely in order to occupy Iraq (Secretary of State Colin Powell even announced days before the invasion that the U.S. was going in whether Saddam Hussein left Iraq or not.) All the excuses offered for the invasion, from eliminating weapons of mass destruction to liberating the Iraqi people, were there to justify occupying Iraq and seizing its oil wealth.

The U.S. certainly owes enormous amounts in reparations to the Iraqi people for destroying their country’s infrastructure in two major wars, a decade-long blockade and a brutal occupation. But the use of these funds to benefit Iraqis rather than the U.S. ruling class depends upon the funds being controlled by the Iraqi people, not by their American overlords. Has not U.S. policy for more than 10 years now been the systematic disintegration and destruction of Iraqi society?

All talk of a "premature" pullout causing chaos is simply a modern version of the "white man’s burden." All ruling classes claim that their conquests are for the good of the "natives." But the truth is that no ruling class has ever occupied a nation for the benefit of its people. This occupation has nothing at all to do with the needs or interests of the Iraqi people. It is about controlling oil and establishing a firmer military presence in the Middle East in order to reshape the region in the U.S. image.

In this context, pulling troops out "prematurely" means pulling them out before the U.S. has had a chance to repress the resistance and establish a stable puppet regime.

Most antiwar activists don’t draw these conclusions. Most haven’t yet been exposed to an explanation of imperialism, and therefore haven’t yet been won to the slogan, "Iraq for the Iraqis."

But this is the argument that must now be put forward forcefully in the antiwar movement if the movement is to become a consistent force against all phases of America’s attempts to impose its rule, whether diplomatic assault, economic blockade, invasion or occupation. The right of Iraqis to self-determination is a basic democratic right that the antiwar movement must be absolutely clear on, whether that occupation is carried out solely by the U.S. or with the fig-leaf cover of the UN.

Those who support a UN occupation of Iraq are wrong on two counts. First, on the basis of democracy. The Iraqi people cannot achieve any real democracy, i.e., self-rule, if they are under the domination of a colonial overlord, whether that overlord is wearing a green or a blue helmet, and no matter how much that overlord bleats about "democracy." These overlords–the U.S. and Europe, which dominate the UN–are historically the most consistent opponents of democracy in the Middle East. Second, on the basis of self-determination. Stan Goff, a Special Forces veteran whose son is in Iraq, put the case powerfully and succinctly: "The Iraqis have every right to resist an occupation of their own country." Any other position constitutes, willy-nilly, support for colonialism. Who are we to debate the future of the Iraqi people, when Iraqis, along with a great many U.S. soldiers, agree that the first condition of guaranteeing them a decent future is that the U.S. should get out?

The U.S. went to the UN for a simple reason–to get cover for its occupation. And the UN has given it to them, against the wishes of the Iraqi people. Even the U.S.-appointed puppets are asking for more self-rule than Washington and the UN are willing to grant.

The ISR goes to press as the first national demonstrations take place in Washington and San Francisco against the occupation. It will likely bring together a much smaller core of activists who better understand the imperialist nature of the occupation, and are committed to fighting it. But that doesn’t make October 25 any less important. It is the start of a new, anti-occupation phase of the movement. The unraveling of the occupation itself, the growing troop discontent and the rising Iraqi opposition, will teach more and more people that this occupation must be opposed, under the unequivocal slogans "Troops out now!" and "Self-determination for the Iraqi people."

The recall: Bitter fruit of
California’s "lesser-evilism"

THE OCTOBER 7 recall of California Governor Gray Davis should be an object lesson in the disastrous politics of "lesser-evilism." No one represented himself as a "lesser evil" better than Democrat Davis, who always managed to secure victories for his right-wing, money-grubbing, pro-corporate politics by invoking the disasters that would befall California if voters chose a Neanderthal Republican. Unfortunately for him, his luck ran out. Faced with a referendum on his dismal record on October 7, he received a well-deserved beating.

The main downside of the referendum was the choice of Republican action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger to replace Davis. But it wasn’t just Republicans or conservatives who revolted at the polls. After weeks of browbeating the Democratic "base" of trade unionists, minorities and liberals into retaining Davis or replacing him with the equally sleazy Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante, the Democrats found that they were generals without an army.

As many as one-quarter of self-identified liberals and even one-quarter of registered Democrats voted to get rid of Davis, according to the Los Angeles Times exit polls. Almost one-half of trade unionists and about 45 percent of Latinos voted for the recall. And more than one-third of Democrats voted to replace Davis with Schwarzenegger or right-wing Republican State Senator Tom McClintock.

Davis was rightly despised for presiding over the state’s fiscal meltdown–caused above all by the California energy crisis, when Davis chose to cave to the power bosses, rather than put up a fight. His solution to the huge budget deficit that resulted has been to make workers pay–with drastic cutbacks in education, health care and virtually every government program except the state prison system.

When he decided to raise taxes, Davis didn’t take back the 1990s giveaways to corporations and the rich. Instead, he hiked taxes that disproportionately hurt working people–like the tripling of California’s vehicle tax, something mentioned by almost every voter interviewed in exit polls.

Many people will regard Schwarzenegger’s victory in the California recall as yet more evidence that the majority of Americans are more right wing than left wing, or at least apolitical enough to send the Terminator to the governor’s mansion. After all, the woman-groping, Hitler-admiring Republican is roughly as intellectually challenged as the Reagan-admiring Republican in the White House.

The ISR strongly challenges this view, however. For one thing, the same electorate that tossed out Davis for Schwarzenegger rejected the racist Proposition 54 by a margin of 2 to 1. Schwarzenegger ran largely as a "moderate" and confined his public statements to empty slogans culled from his movie scripts. So the election results clearly do not represent a resurgence of the right.

More than anything, the recall exposed the political bankruptcy of the two-party system. The opportunity to play a direct role in the political direction of their state energized Californians and provided an outlet for their anger and frustration. This is why voter turnout was so high–about 30 percent higher than in the last gubernatorial election. At the same time, (the 135 candidates on the ballot notwithstanding) they were left to choose, once again, between two corporate-backed parties that do not represent their class interests. Thus, their anger was expressed as "kick the bum out!"–by voting for the other main party.

This dynamic was documented perfectly in a recent article in the October 5 San Francisco Chronicle, "Voters direct rage at their leaders and recall itself." The article was a summation of interviews of ordinary Californians’ opinions of the recall–and concluded that voters’ anger was directed at both political parties. As one pro-recall voter explained before the vote,

Part of the reason most people leave the Democratic Party and leave the Republican Party is because they feel disenfranchised by both of those parties. The bottom line is that people feel, whether it’s a Democrat or a Republican, that (elected officials) are more interested in gaining power and far less interested in what people are worried about.

My guess is most people who will vote for the recall are not 100 percent in favor of the recall. However, they see no other alternative. This is the only way to get the attention of politicians–essentially, to fire them. Gray Davis is an at-will employee of the people of California, and the people have the right to fire him.

The fact that Arnold Schwarzenegger may still lead in the polls is not a function of people’s admiration for Schwarzenegger, it’s a function of the depth of disgust people have for the political system.

In a recall election that mostly presented a choice between two big business parties dedicated to upholding the status-quo, one candidate–Peter Camejo of the Green Party–represented a serious alternative. Camejo spoke out for universal health care and affordable housing, opposed George Bush’s occupation of Iraq and called for solving California’s budget deficit by taxing the rich. Camejo won 3 percent of the vote in the recall–the largest showing for any candidate independent of the Democrats and Republicans. The almost 250,000 people who opted for a serious alternative in California are a significant minority that can be organized into a force that can challenge the two-party duopoly.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Camejo came under pressure to fold his campaign and support a Democratic lesser evil, but he stood up to it. Camejo’s firmness contrasted with liberal pundit Arianna Huffington, who ended her candidacy and urged Californians to vote "No" on the recall (i.e., vote for Davis). She even appeared with Davis to urge a "No" vote. In that one action, she may have won support among establishment Democrats. But she undercut every critique of Davis’s money-grubbing and reactionary policies she had made in previous weeks.

Asked why he remained in the race to the end, Camejo told reporters: "I want to use this last week to convince the base of the Democratic Party of how they have suffered because of the dysfunctional nature of the Democratic Party and its subservience to the same interests that fund the Republican Party."

Camejo was right on target. And those who are tempted to vote for "anybody but Bush" in 2004 should take to heart what he said. In California–arguably the most liberal Democratic state in the country–the Democrats and their shills in the leaderships of the unions and liberal organizations mounted an unprincipled defense of the indefensible Davis. But millions of Democratic voters didn’t buy what they were selling. California now has a real Republican governor as a result. And the same Democrats who were predicting doom if the state elected a sexist Hitler-lover were hailing Schwarzenegger as a "statesman" and pledging to work with him the day after the election. No wonder people are cynical about the two capitalist parties.

On October 7, Davis and Bustamante paid for their subservience to corporate interests. And soon it will become obvious that the same interests pull Schwarzenegger’s strings as well. Governor Groper will face the same budget crisis that helped to sink Davis. And he’ll offer up the same basic solution that Davis did–make ordinary Californians pay. Only by building a movement of working people from below will the left be able to push back continuing efforts to offload the state’s crisis onto the working class. The sooner the broad left faces up to that admittedly difficult challenge, the better.

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