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Beating the drums of war

POUNDING THE WAR drums, the Bush regime is hell-bent on war against Iraq. If the US superpower launches a military strike, it would ‘open the gates of hell’, as an Arab diplomat has said. Whatever the US’s military tactics, Iraqi people will suffer horrendous deaths, casualties, and destruction. US forces are also likely to face significant casualties, far more than in Afghanistan. Explosive repercussions will shake the whole Middle Eastern region, with shock waves spreading far and wide.

The executive of the lone superpower is mustering all its resources for a military strike. Military forces are being mobilised. There is a remorseless propaganda campaign to justify action. Unsubstantiated, alarmist claims are being made about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which undoubtedly posed much more of a threat before the 1990-91 war than they do now. Bush is desperately trying to link Saddam to the attacks on 11 September, warning of "the danger" of al-Qa’ida becoming "an extension of Saddam’s madness… You can’t distinguish between al-Qa’ida and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror". (Washington Post, 28 September)

Bush went to the United Nations (UN) on 12 September to deliver an ultimatum: support immediate regime change in Iraq, or the US will take action anyway. The US is exerting intense pressure on security council members to support a single resolution giving Saddam a provocative ultimatum backed up by the threat of force – effectively giving the US carte blanche to attack. "He can either get rid of his weapons and the UN can act", Bush told contributors to the Republican party’s election campaign, "or the United States will lead a coalition to disarm this man". (International Herald Tribune, 28 September)

Bush is also demanding a blank cheque from the US Congress. His proposed resolution claims at length that the president already has constitutional, congressional and UN authority to use force. For good measure, it concludes: "The president is authorised to use all means he determines to be appropriate, including force, in order to enforce the UN security council resolutions…" In the run-up to the mid-term elections on 5 November, Bush is demagogically trying to blackmail the Democrats, who control the Senate, claiming they are "not interested in the security of the American people".

Meanwhile, additional US forces (including the headquarters staff of Central Command) are being deployed in the Gulf, or prepared for departure. The Pentagon now reportedly has a ‘blueprint’ for a ‘tight, intense attack’. (Washington Post, 23 September) In planning its offensive, the US has cold-shouldered Nato. "The idea of America’s principal military alliance playing a part itself has not been pursued by senior US authorities…" (24 September)

Given this determined drive by US imperialism, war against Iraq appears to be a foregone conclusion. The Bush regime, however, faces some serious obstacles and complications.

Under pressure at home and abroad to take a multilateral approach, Bush was constrained to take a reluctant detour through the UN. Despite his ultimatist approach, this has extended the timescale and complicated his position. The US was wrong-footed by Saddam’s immediate acceptance of ‘unconditional weapons inspection’. It is far from certain that a majority of the security council members will accept a single resolution calling for a provocative weapons-inspection regime, an ultra-short deadline, and a blank cheque for US intervention.

Negotiations over a resolution may take some time. With the notable exception of Bush’s poodle, Blair, most of the European powers are opposed to pre-emptive US military intervention, as are many regional powers. They fear the repercussions of a war, but they are also under intense pressure from public opinion at home. This is particularly true in Germany, where for historical reasons there is a deep aversion to war. Schröder’s blunt opposition to the US position played an important role in his survival in the recent election. The US defence secretary, Rumsfeld, attacked Schröder for ‘poisoning’ relations between the US and Germany.

Public opinion has not been persuaded that Saddam’s regime, however dictatorial and militaristic, poses a special, imminent threat to the rest of the world. Blair’s dossier on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, sprung on MPs only four hours before it was to be debated (24 September), contained nothing new. Next day a whole array of experts dismissed it as strong on assertion, devoid of evidence, a string of ‘ifs’ and ‘perhapses’. In the US, claims by Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice to have ‘proof’ of links between Iraq and al-Qa’ida were contradicted by off-the-record briefings by US intelligence officials. (US Evidence Still Unclear, Washington Post, 28 September)

Bush’s attempt to stampede Congress has also begun to backfire. Up to now, Democrat leaders have been timid, not to say cowardly, in opposing Bush’s drive for a pre-emptive strike. Their tactic was to concentrate on economic issues. Charges of ‘disloyalty’, however, have enraged Daschle, Gephardt, and other Democrat congressional leaders. Above all, the sharp challenge to Bush by the former vice-president, Al Gore, may open the floodgates of congressional opposition. Bush’s determination to oust Saddam, said Gore, will ‘severely damage’ the overall war on terrorism and ‘weaken’ US leadership in the world. Bush was targeting Saddam because the hunt for Osama bin Laden and al-Qa’ida terrorists had become bogged down. Referring to the German election campaign, Gore said "it revealed a profound and troubling change in the attitude of the German electorate towards the US". Gore opposes Bush’s resolution to Congress as ‘too broad’.

The Bush regime, moreover, continues to face sustained opposition from veterans of the Republican foreign policy establishment (see Socialism Today 68), retired military leaders, and many serious strategists of the US ruling class. As Gore was firing a political salvo at Bush (24 September), three retired four-star generals spoke out against unilateral US military action against Iraq. John Shalikashvili, ex-chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Wesley Clark, ex-Nato military commander, and Joseph Hoar, ex-chief of US Central Command, were testifying to the Senate Armed Services Committee. "What’s the sense of urgency here?" asked Clark. "There is nothing that indicates that in the immediate next hours, next days, that there’s going to be nuclear-tipped missiles put on launch pads to go against our forces or our allies in the region".

An editorial in the Washington Post, voice of the Washington political elite, accuses Bush of "cynical and irresponsible manipulation of the [Iraq] issue", using it "as a partisan instrument on the campaign trail". (27 September) This criticism is not motivated by a love of world peace or sympathy for the people of Iraq. These bourgeois voices fear the consequences for US imperialism, both internationally and at home, especially if the US is plunged into a war without any real debate on the likely cost to US society. These strategists favour the exhaustion of containment of Iraq. They are not against intensifying the pressure on Saddam through weapons’ inspection, but they fear the consequences of unilateral US action. "Picking up the pieces in Iraq after a war", says the New York Times (27 September) in a similar editorial, "and installing a government that commands the respect of Iraq’s fractious population, could prove more difficult than unseating Saddam".

War seems likely. But at the moment the equation has too many unknown factors for the result to be certain.

Savage wars of peace

THE BUSH REGIME has now openly spelled out its military-strategic doctrine in its National Security Strategy (20 September). This is a crude assertion of world supremacy, baldly based on the primacy of unchallengeable military power and readiness to launch pre-emptive strikes against any state deemed to be a threat to the US. No power, whether a strengthening China or diminutive rogue states, will be allowed to develop weapons that in any way challenge US hegemony. Overwhelming superiority will be maintained in nuclear weapons, conventional weapons, in space, and rapid intervention forces. Armed might will be the primary element of US foreign policy. Allies will be welcomed, but if they hesitate in their support, the US will act alone.

The US, says Bush, has "no empire to extend or utopia to establish". But what is the Bush doctrine if not a commitment to wage ‘savage wars of peace’ (to use Kipling’s phrase), beginning with an attack on Iraq, to enforce an imperial ‘Pax Americana’? Under the high-gloss varnish of the noble ideas used to justify this policy – defence of freedom and human dignity, etc – lurks the economic egotism of US capitalism. The security statement explicitly elaborates the aim of extending ‘free-market capitalism’, policed by US-dominated agencies like the IMF and WTO, to every corner of the globe. The strategic power of the US will be used to ensure US corporations privileged access to the world’s markets, resources (particularly oil), and cheap labour.

The neo-conservative right closely linked to Bush’s Republican Party faction, openly advocates the promotion of a new American empire. "People are now coming out of the closet on the word ‘empire’," says the neo-conservative newspaper columnist, Charles Krauthammer. "The fact is no country has been as dominant culturally, economically, technologically and militarily in the history of the world since the Roman empire". (International Herald Tribune, 1 April)

This drive for empire is the counterpart of the parasitic finance capital of the late 1990s bubble, of Enron-style fraud and theft. The Bush doctrine represents a more aggressive, rapacious phase of US imperialism. Many of the serious strategists of the US ruling class, however, fear the consequences of the Bush faction’s recklessly short-sighted policy. Given the tortuous complexities of the present world crisis, even the US superpower cannot hope to police the globe without allies. How will military power "ignite a new era of global economic growth", recognised by the security statement as being vital to US national security interests? In reality, military strikes and even threats of intervention will further provoke political turmoil, economic crises and social upheavals. Imperialist aggression will rebound on the US. It will open up deep fissures in US society as the working class is forced to shoulder the burden of economic decline and military adventures. Internationally, events will provoke mass movements of the working class, the peasantry and the poor and dispossessed, impelling them towards a transformation of society. It is social forces, not the force of arms, which will determine the future of the world

No cakewalk

THE US HAS the military power to smash Saddam’s regime and occupy Iraq. The strength of Saddam’s military, clearly diminished since 1990-91, is unpredictable as is the likely resistance from the army’s ranks and civilian forces. But the US is unlikely to achieve the kind of walkover victory it had in Afghanistan, where the Taliban regime had nothing like the same military apparatus as Saddam. The concentrated US assault necessary to quickly defeat Saddam, despite claims that it will be primarily targeted against ‘regime targets’ (command centres and key units such as the Republican Guards), will inevitably mean massive destruction of cities and heavy deaths and casualties amongst the civilian population. While there is deep resentment at Saddam’s dictatorship, many may nevertheless fight to defend their country against US occupation. Whatever the mood of the people, the Iraqi regime is likely to defend the main cities, attempting to draw US forces into high-risk urban warfare. "Take the desert", says one Iraqi minister. "What’s in the desert? If they want to change the political system in Iraq, they have to come to Baghdad. We will be waiting for them here". (International Herald Tribune, 28 September)

The White House hawks imagine that decisive US intervention will provoke a revolt of Saddam’s generals and possibly an uprising against the regime. Yet there are still bitter memories of what happened at the end of the Gulf war in 1991. Bush I broadcast appeals for an uprising. But when the Kurds in the North and the Shias in the South rose against Saddam, the US sat back as Saddam’s forces massacred the rebellions. As much as the US wanted to get rid of Saddam, they were not prepared to support a mass insurrectionary movement.

In July 70 former Iraqi military officers met in London to discuss ways to oust Saddam and run post-Saddam Iraq under the name of the Iraqi Military Alliance. They denied any links to the US, but who can doubt they were financed by the US? Now opposed to Saddam and courted by the US, these former military leaders are hardly champions of democracy. Even the organiser, former major-general Saad Obeidi, warned that any attempt to change the regime would risk heavy bloodshed. (BBC News, 12 July)

General Nizar Al-Khazraji, head of the Iraqi army when it invaded Kuwait, is also eager to lead a revolt against Saddam (though not present at the July meeting). He recently warned, however, that "any idea that America could stay in Iraq to rebuild the country was very dangerous". (BBC News, 24 September) Fears that the US intends to stay 20 or 30 years to control Iraq’s oil "damages the will of the people to overthrow the regime". Claiming that he stands for a ‘democratic regime’, Khazraji insisted that Iraq would have to be an independent country, otherwise "it will be a very dark future for all".

The US has also supported the Iraqi National Congress, created by the CIA and lavishly funded from the US. This is clearly intended to be the nucleus of a future puppet regime. Its leading light is Ahmad Chalabi, an exiled businessman who has played no part in opposing the regime inside Iraq. After the collapse of his Petra Bank in 1989 he was sentenced in Jordan to 20 years jail for embezzling at least $60 million.

The US claims it will restore democracy in Iraq, but under US military occupation, the country would effectively become a US protectorate run by a client government directed from Washington DC.

The price of war?

CONTROL OF IRAQ’S oil reserves, second only to those of Saudi Arabia, is clearly a major US objective. Representatives of the major oil companies have been intensively lobbying leading members of the ‘Iraqi opposition’ to stake their claims in the hoped-for bonanza. Chalabi says he favours "the creation of a US-led consortium to develop Iraq’s oilfields… American companies will have a big shot at Iraqi oil". (Washington Post, 16 September)

Russian, French, and Chinese oil companies fear they may be squeezed out by the US giants. Bush is ruthlessly using this as a lever against France, Russia and China in the security council. "They should be told", said James Woolsey, a former CIA director, "that if they are of assistance in moving Iraq towards decent government, we’ll do the best we can to ensure that the new government and American companies work closely with them. If they throw in their lot with Saddam, it will be difficult to the point of impossible to persuade the new Iraqi government to work with them". In other words, vote for the US resolution, or else.

The White House is playing down the likely cost of war against Iraq, putting it at ‘only’ $50 billion. Even the president’s own economic adviser, Lawrence Lindsey, predicts that a war might cost between $100 billion and $200 billion. Unlike the 1990-91 Gulf war, which initially cost $61 billion, the US is unlikely to recover much from its allies (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Japan and others contributed around $50 billion). In the short term, the US can undoubtedly carry such a burden, between 1-2% of GDP. But working people will increasingly question such expenditure, as long-term unemployment rises and workers’ incomes are cut back – especially as Bush is pushing ahead with massive tax cuts to the super-rich, despite the rising Federal budget deficit and sharpening austerity.

The economic shocks from the war, moreover, could be much greater than currently anticipated. "The Bush administration", comments the Washington Post (21 September), "has failed to face up to the economic consequences of its longer-term struggle against terrorism. The burden of a bigger defence budget, an ambitious homeland security agenda and expanding commitments in areas such as intelligence and foreign aid imposes a clear strain on the budgets; unlike the one-time cost of fighting an Iraq war, it represents new expenses that stretch out indefinitely".

The feeble recovery in the US economy is stalling. "There is still no sign of the strong, durable and broad-based recovery that policy makers were expecting". (Financial Times, 21 September) Investment and profits are stagnant. Only consumer spending currently sustains positive growth, but this rests on record levels of debt and a housing bubble that may not last much longer. Commentators are waking up to the fact that the US now faces the spectre of prolonged deflation, the Japanese stagnation syndrome.

The only buoyant sector is armaments. "These are halcyon days for military contractors". Increased military spending and moves towards war against Iraq are "sending the shares of Lockheed Martin Corp, Northrop Grumman Corp and others skyward". (New York Times, 16 September)

The worldwide flood of capital into the US has subsided sharply, and capital flight has been accelerated by recent developments. Middle East governments and wealthy investors are said to have as much as $1.2 trillion invested in the US, with perhaps half of that held by Saudis. Reports suggest that, after Saudi Arabia was described as the ‘kernel of evil’ in a Pentagon briefing paper, Saudi investors pulled assets totalling hundreds of billions of dollars out of the US. (International Herald Tribune, 22 August) War and its repercussions could trigger a much bigger capital flight from the US.

Though the biggest economy, the US is a debtor country. As a result of accumulated trade deficits, the US economy’s net foreign indebtedness is $2.5 trillion or nearly 25% of GDP. Economically, the US is a giant on shaky stilts.

The whole world economy is in a sickly state. Japan’s GDP is likely to fall by at least 0.5% this year, and the government has conceded that "prospects for growth are bleak". (Financial Times, 21 September) For the first time a new issue of ten-year government bonds was undersubscribed, raising a question mark over further rescue packages to bail out the bankrupt banks.

The head of the IMF, Horst Koehler, pronounced that military action in Iraq might even have a ‘positive effect’ on the world economy by eliminated the current uncertainty. Rivalling Greenspan for contradictory statements, Koehler then said that a protracted war would create "unpredictability, and that is the downside risk". (International Herald Tribune, 20 September) A few days later, the IMF issued a report lowering its earlier world growth forecast for next year, warning that "risks to the outlook are primarily on the downside". (26 September)

Even a short war in the Gulf will push up the price of oil, further depressing world growth. A prolonged war, however, could prove a major economic shock to the world economy.


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