US Imperialism and the War on Iraq

By John Peterson

The nearly always-incoherent GW Bush has somehow managed to make an art of steering public attention away from the collapsing economy and the rampant greed and corruption in the US. The stock market has fallen for 5 weeks straight, and particularly on the technology-heavy NASDAQ index, the fictitious gains of the boom have been all but obliterated. His financial and political buddies have been exposed as crooks, and more and more questions are being asked about his role in all of this. What's a guy to do?! Well, the easy thing to do would be to start a war! History shows that at least at the beginning of a war, there's nothing better to distract the public. Bush started by declaring a "war on terror" on anyone and everybody who wasn't "with us", and now he is determined to attack Iraq. Never mind that all wars inevitably lead to even greater instability and unrest in the long-term - Bush and company are too obtuse to think that far ahead.

After he was elected, we predicted that in spite of Bush's campaign promises to focus on America, and let the rest of the world take care of itself, he would be forced by events to undertake the most aggressive foreign policy in history. He knew it, and his advisers knew it (as did the Gore camp), but while promising to build a modern, efficient military in order to "guarantee peace", he also promised to keep his snout out of the rest of the world. The following quotes from his debates with Al Gore in 2000 are a far cry from the war-drums of interventionism, imposition of "democracy", and "nation-building" he is beating now!

"I would take the use of force very seriously. I would be guarded in my approach. I don't think we can be all things to all people in the world. I think we've got to be very careful when we commit our troops. The vice president and I have a disagreement about the use of troops. He believes in nation-building. I would be very careful about using our troops as nation-builders. I believe the role of the military is to fight and win war and, therefore, prevent war from happening in the first place."

"… if we don't stop extending our troops all around the world in nation-building missions, then we're going to have a serious problem coming down the road."

"I don't want to try to put our troops in all places at all times. I don't want to be the world's policeman; I want to be the world's peacemaker…"

"It really depends upon how our nation conducts itself in foreign policy. If we're an arrogant nation, they'll resent us. If we're a humble nation but strong, they'll welcome us. And our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power, and that's why we've got to be humble and yet project strength in a way that promotes freedom."

"I'm concerned that we're over-deployed around the world. See, I think the mission has somewhat become fuzzy. Should I be fortunate enough to earn your confidence, the mission of the United States military will be to be prepared and ready to fight and win war, and therefore prevent war from happening in the first place."

"There may be some moments when we use our troops as peacekeepers, but not often…. This is a peaceful nation, and I intend to keep the peace."

"You're going to live in a peaceful world. It'll be a world of peace, because we're going to have clearer - clear-sighted foreign policy based upon a strong military, and a mission that stands by our friends; a mission that doesn't try to be all things to all people. A judicious use of the military which will help keep the peace."

Compare the above quotes to any speech made by Bush in the past year and a half! Of course, at that time even Bush could have had no idea how hollow these words would sound just two years later. We have entered the most unstable period in world history since WWII, and despite the "peaceful" intentions of the capitalist ruling class, the people of the world are faced with new and horrific wars. This should surprise no one - war and instability go hand in hand with capitalism in the same way as the boom-slump cycle, unemployment, poverty, and general uncertainty are part and parcel of the system.

Anyone with illusions in Al Gore's new-found "anti-war" stance should refer to the 2000 Presidential debates in which he did his utmost to be even more pro-military and interventionist than GW. His opposition is along the lines of a more clever representative of the capitalist class. He can see the inevitable instability an attack on Iraq would bring about, and he wants to focus money and resources on the broader "war on terror" instead. It is easy for him to take this stance since he is not in office. Bush's behavior is not due solely to his personal attributes (or lack thereof). It is a reflection of the instability and crisis of capitalism on a world scale. Had Gore won he would have been forced to adopt similar measures to defend the rule of capital and the domination of US imperialism. It will be likewise if he were to win in the future and inherit the "war on terror".

So why did all the supposed peaceful intentions of the American capitalists, represented by GW Bush, go sour? A brief look at the hypocrisy involved in this war will make it clear that these very capitalists are directly to blame for the current crisis.

Of course no one will seriously defend Saddam - he is no friend of the workers of the world, and we would all like to see him strung up by the Iraqi masses in downtown Baghdad. As socialists we are opposed to Saddam Hussein - but is it the job of the corrupt and rapacious US capitalists to get rid of him only to replace him with a willing servant of their own? We support the Iraqi working people against Saddam and his regime, and as workers extend them a hand in solidarity. The real enemy of the peoples of Iraq and the United States is the same - world capitalism. Bush's reasons for going to war with Iraq have nothing to do with defending the Iraqi people - or the American people for that matter. In reality it has little to do with disarming Iraq (which has already been largely disarmed), and everything to do with enforcing a "regime change" in a country which sends the US a million barrels of oil a day - i.e. a government pliable in the hands of US imperialism and GW's oil buddies. If US capitalism really cared about the plight of the Kurds and Shiia people of Iraq, then why did it allow Saddam's Republican Guards to slaughter them in the aftermath of the Gulf War? Why does it turn a blind eye to the repression of the Kurds by its ally Turkey and allow the Turkish military to enter Iraq in pursuit of Kurdish oppositionists?

Nonetheless, Bush picked a good enemy to start a war with. First of all, no one in the US likes Saddam Hussein. He's a monster who gasses his own people, is a dictator, and steals wealth from the poor (no matter that in the past the US government did experiments on its unknowing citizens with germ and chemical warfare; that Bush was fraudulently "elected" to power and dictatorially flaunts the "sacred" Constitution; or that Bush's tax cuts and corporate welfare are the biggest form of theft from the poor). Secondly, there is a direct historical precedent - his father George I went to war with Iraq and achieved a rapid victory (but let's not forget that he still lost the election just a few months later).

These days everyone is familiar with the Bush administration's constant accusation that Iraq is a "rogue", "evil" nation, hell-bent on nuking and gassing the entire civilized world. First of all, Saddam may be a power-hungry megalomaniac, but he isn't crazy.  He knows very well that the use of any weapons of mass destruction would result in the total annhiliation of his entire country; that is, his source of power, wealth, and prestige. So even if he had such weapons, it is extremely unlikely he would ever use them.  Before previous UN inspections resulted in their destruction, it was confirmed he had a highly developed nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons program. But where did he get those weapons from in the first place? The simple fact which is rarely mentioned in the press is that the US and Britain provided Iraq with the bulk of its weapons of mass destruction. In 1982 President Reagan removed Iraq from the State Department's list of countries regarded as supporters of international terrorism. This conveniently opened up the opportunity for billions of dollars of imports and exports between the US and Iraq - all during the reign of Saddam Hussein. In the Iran-Iraq War which resulted in over a million dead, the US backed Saddam as a regional counter-weight to the anti-American regime of the mullahs in Iran. Even after Iraq invaded Kuwait, US and British companies made millions selling "dual use" technology which could be used not only for commercial but military purposes - including the production of weapons of mass destruction. After Saddam gassed an entire Kurdish village, the dual use material continued to flow into Iraq. The reason we knew Saddam had such capabilities is because we sold him most of the material in the first place!

As we have explained in other articles, by 1998 the vast bulk of Iraqi WOMD capability had been eliminated. All serious experts agree that there is no way they could have significantly rebuilt their WOMD resources in the past four years. Iraq was a much greater threat in 1991 than it is now after decade-long sanctions which resulted in over a million dead due to lack of healthcare, food, etc. - not to mention the effects of the use of depleted uranium ammunition in the 1991 campaign. The argument that the US must go in and stop this madman from using these weapons is so flimsy it is amazing that Bush imagines he can get away with it. There has not been a shred of evidence offered to back up the accusation. Saddam was once the US's loyal attack dog in the region, and now that the dog has turned on its master, they want to give him a good kicking and have him put to sleep. The bottom line is that the US wants Saddam out no matter what - anything else is just a diplomatic ploy to build support where little exists.

By stirring up a fear campaign about Iraq's alleged weapons of mass destruction, Bush has managed to create the illusion that there is a lot of support for his war aims. But the geopolitical situation is nothing like it was 12 years ago. The collapse of the USSR at that time led to the US being the world's only super power - no one was going to stand in its way. But the balance of forces has already changed drastically in the previous period. Based on the world economic slump, all the capitalists are fighting tooth and nail for every possible market and trade advantage. The interests of Europe and the US are no longer as closely aligned, as evidenced by trade wars and harsh criticism of Bush's policy - one German minister even compared GW's arrogant behavior to Hitler's!

Across the ex-colonial world, conditions for the masses have deteriorated to astonishingly low levels. This has left the Middle East in a much less stable position than it was before. In 1991, Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was a clear violation of international law. Even though Kuwait is an entirely artificial political entity, run by corrupt and oppressive oil sheiks, in the eyes of the world, the big, bad Saddam had violated a nation's integrity and had to be punished. Even the Arab world, and most importantly Saudi Arabia, supported the US effort and allowed its bases to be used for attacks. Israel kept out of the conflict even though Iraqi SCUD missiles were fired at its cities, and the Palestinian crisis was largely kept behind closed doors.

Now this has all changed. Not a single Middle Eastern regime can afford to anger its population. Many of them have warned openly that civil unrest could lead to "regime change" in their own countries if the US attacks Iraq. Key players Saudi Arabia and Jordan have refused the use of their bases. In Israel, the continued murder of Palestinians has the entire Arab world on the streets, and Sharon has promised to retaliate if attacked by Iraq - which could lead to an all-out Arab-Israeli war. Bush is careening blindly towards disaster - but he has no other option.

So from openly calling for "regime change" in Iraq, Bush turned to the argument that Iraq must allow UN inspectors back in to search for weapons of mass destruction. Now, the US has the world's largest stockpile of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in the world, but luckily we can trust GW Bush to use them wisely! America - the world's policeman whether it likes it or not - gets to decide who gets to have these weapons, and it uses the United Nations as a fig-leaf for covering up its intentions around the world. For example, if UN resolutions are so sacred, why does the US ignore resolutions on Cuba and Palestine? Why doesn't the US bomb or invade Israel for violating countless resolutions for decades? Why doesn't it attack the fanatical, unstable rulers of India and Pakistan for possessing weapons of mass destruction?

Those who wish to turn to the UN for "impartial" moderation of the world's problems are in for a harsh surprise. The US and other imperialist powers pay the bulk of the UN budget, and it can only offer a "friendlier" face to imperialism. In the final analysis it can only resolve secondary issues between smaller nations - never anything directly affecting any of the big powers. The US will just use the UN as a smokescreen for its aggression. Will the bombing of innocent men, women, and children and the razing of the Iraqi cities be more "humane" if the planes and missiles have the letters "UN" painted on them? Coalition or not, any attack on Iraq will be in effect a unilateral action by the US - with a handful of British and other "allied" units along for the ride. We can offer no support to the United Nations or vague appeals to "peace" in the abstract. The only way we can stop this war is to mobilize the world and especially the US working class against the predatory policies of imperialism. Together with the Iraqi people we could build a genuine peace based on mutual cooperation, sharing of resources, planned democratically production on the basis of need, etc.

A war on Iraq seems inevitable at the present time. In spite of Iraqi attempts to concede to the demands of the UN, even this is no longer enough for imperialism which is growing impatient. The US and Britain maintain that Saddam is a liar and that they will have to attack anyway. For them, February would be the best time to attack, so they are in a rush to announce the commencement of hostilities. It will take some months to position the troops and equipment, particularly since they will not have easy access to bases in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Germany, etc. and will likely have base their operations out of Qatar. As we have explained before, the decision has likely already been made, and the rest is just window-dressing for public consumption.

The Vietnam War resulted in mass movements of the youth and workers, ultimately forcing the imperialists to withdraw. Then, the US economy was still enjoying the post-war boom - the strongest upswing in history - and this had an effect on people's consciousness. The heavy battalions of workers did not oppose the war in mass numbers for a number of years - but eventually they too came out on the streets. Now we are faced with stagnation, recession, and even depression. The enormous cost of the war can only hurt the working class and further depress the already moribund economy. Of course for the rich it will be different! Along with increased defense contracts at the expense of programs like education, oil prices will soar, and the oil barons assembled around Bush will make a killing!

As the "war on terror" drags on and new fronts such as Iraq are opened up, the youth and workers will begin to question the status quo on a mass scale. Already, the youth is in ferment, and big mobilizations of the workers are being prepared on the trade union front. A deteriorating quality of life and a future of cuts, attacks on living standards and civil liberties is what capitalism holds in store for us. We must begin now to mobilize the youth and working class against the hypocrisy of the ruling class. These people do not represent us, and do not have our best interests at heart. One look at the growing list of corporate scandals, rising unemployment lines, bloated military budget and militarism proves that these people do not have the ability to build a peaceful, prosperous world. No to the War on Iraq! Money for Healthcare and Education! Us Troops out of the Middle East!

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