March 2003: reproduced from The Socialist 28 March 2003
War And The 'New World
IMPERIALISM'S war in Iraq threatens to create turmoil in the region and
internationally. Socialist Party general secretary, Peter Taaffe, looks
at the possible global consequences of this horrific conflict.
THE LONG 'phoney war' is over and the real war with
the unleashing of the most fiendish weapons against the Iraqi people has
begun. In the bloody equation of war, how it unfolds is unknowable. But,
given the crushing military might of the US - equal to what the twelve
nearest states to it possess - it does not take a military genius to
envisage that it will 'win' the war.
But will US imperialism 'win the peace'? Will Bush,
now adorned with the imperial cloak of a modern Caesar, this time
establish what eluded his father - a stable new world order?
Even without a shot being fired, all the hallowed
institutions which underpinned the power of world capitalism lie in
ruins. The UN is an 'irrelevancy', according to Bush, because it did not
acquiesce to the wishes of the representatives of the new 'empire'.
The main military alliance of European and US
capitalism, Nato - already weakened by the demise of the 'enemy', the
Stalinist states of Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union - is now
completely redundant. And the dream that the European capitalists could
produce at least an economic and political counterweight to the US has
been shattered as 'old Europe' and the so-called 'new' Europeans of
Eastern Europe trade insults.
The so-called 'democratic imperialists', who
dominate the Bush administration - Perle, Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld -
envisage the use of Iraq's oil resources to achieve a new democratic
flowering of Iraq and the rest of the Middle East. Instead, we see the
unseemly scramble by US firms to grab the lion's share of these
resources and use them for their own benefit.
Iraq's nationalised oil industry will be 'privatised'
for the benefit primarily of the US with even Bush's 'partners in crime'
(the industries of other 'allies') being unceremoniously pushed aside.
As to Bush's promise for a UN role in the
'reconstruction' of Iraq, this will be restricted to seeking to salvage
the people of Iraq from the wreckage after the bombs have done their
dirty work. The real fruits have already been portioned out as the Bush
administration has awarded contracts worth $900 million (£560m) to
American companies to undertake the profitable aspects of
This is a war for the re-colonisation of Iraq, not a
war of 'liberation' and 'democracy'. Bush wants to 'liberate' not just
Iraq but the whole of the Middle East. A previous Republican US
president, Eisenhower, formulated the 'domino theory' on the eve of the
Vietnam war: unless 'communism' was stopped in Vietnam, the other
regimes in South-East Asia would collapse. Now Bush has formulated a new
domino theory, only this time in reverse: establish capitalist
'democracy' in Iraq and the dictatorships in the rest of the Arab world
will collapse in its wake.
Yet a report leaked to the Los Angeles Times,
written in February, cites the corruption, serious 'infrastructure
degradation' and overpopulation in the Middle East. This is why
"broader and enduring stability throughout the region will be
difficult to achieve for a very long time".
One consequence of this war could be a spiralling of
violence between Israelis and Palestinians, with Sharon this time
pushing for the eviction of the Palestinians, and a complete separation.
This could lead to a new Middle East war. Moreover, the report points
out that 'anti-American elements' - code for Islamist parties - are
likely to win in any elections that take place, in Saudi Arabia, for
When a similar thing happened in Algeria - with a
clear victory for Islamist parties - this led to the suspension of
elections in a 'democracy'. A brutal civil war followed, with hundreds
of thousands of victims, mostly through army massacres, which was
approved of by the 'democratic' US and European capitalists.
The report simply states: "This idea that you
are going to transform the Middle East and fundamentally alter its
trajectory is not credible."
On the contrary, unparalleled turbulence and
upheaval throughout the whole of the region will follow this war.
Seventy percent of Arabs in a poll now expect a ratcheting up of
terrorism. A new Islamic, worldwide 'intifada' looms. In Iraq itself,
stability, prosperity and national and ethnic peace will remain a
chimera in any conceivable post-Saddam regime.
IN 1991, in justification for not entering Baghdad,
the then-US defence secretary stated: "If you are going to go in
and try to topple Saddam Hussein you have to go to Baghdad. Once you've
got to Baghdad, it's not clear what you'd do with it. It's not clear
what kind of government you would put in... Is it going to be a Shia
regime, a Sunni regime, or a Kurdish regime, or one that tilts towards
the Ba'athists or one that tilts towards the Islamic fundamentalists?
"How much credibility is that government going
to have if it is set up by the US military? How long does the US
military have to stay to protect the people and sign on for that
government, and what happens to it when we leave?" The author of
these lines was Dick Cheney, now the US vice-president, and they remain
as pertinent today, if not more so, than twelve years ago.
The US has been drawn into the quagmire of a
possible civil war between Sunnis and Shia and a similar conflict
between the Kurds and the Turks in the North. The Kurdish leaders, once
more foolishly ensnared into supporting the US, will be betrayed again.
Not only independence but probably even autonomy will be refused by a
government ruled by the US military proconsul, General Tommy Franks.
Moreover, the economic bonus that was envisaged from
the conquest of Iraq will not materialise. This time the US will not
have Japan, Saudi Arabia or Germany to pay for their military adventure,
unlike the first Gulf war. Therefore, rather than being used to
fertilise and irrigate the Iraqi economy to grow, its oil will be used
to line the pockets of the oil and gas capitalists of the US.
The real bill will be paid by the Iraqi people. In
every military campaign of the last decade or so, the US and its allies
have promised 'democracy' and economic benefits for those who have been
'liberated' from tyrants.
Yet, the peoples of the Balkans, for example, have
reaped a whirlwind of social and economic collapse through so-called
'democracy'. And their response is to massively disengage from the
'democratic process', with participation in elections plummeting.
The same goes for the 'newly-liberated' Afghanistan.
The writ of the Afghan head of state, Karzai, does not go beyond the
'city state' of Kabul in reality. Moreover, his rule is maintained
through the foreign bayonets at his disposal - the US, Britain, Germany,
etc - and through agreement and bribery with the warlords, most of whom
maintained the Taliban regime. Bin Laden remains at large, as does
Mullah Omar, and the Taliban is reported to be making a comeback in the
region around Kandahar.
Power and prestige
A SUCCESSFUL war against Saddam - perceived not so
much as a 'desert storm' but as a 'perfect storm', short and with few
victims - would still have huge consequences. After Afghanistan, the
impression will have been reinforced amongst the more than one billion
Muslims that the 'Christian West' is bent on another crusade to crush
In reality, this war is not being conducted against
Muslims alone but to enhance the economic power of US imperialism
through the acquisition of Iraq's oil and, at the same time, to
reinforce the role of US imperialism as the world's policeman. Thereby,
they hope to cower the mass of working people and poor peasants in the
neo-colonial world in particular, in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
In the short term they may succeed, but only by
storing up problems that will shatter US imperialism. Leon Trotsky
remarked that one of the effects of the Second World War would be the
triumph of US imperialism. But the opposite side of this process would
also be that by bestriding the world it would also build into its
foundations all the explosive material of world capitalism.
To some extent this happened (particularly in the
Vietnam War), but was partially muffled by the 'Cold War'. World
capitalism, the different imperialist powers of Europe, the US and Japan
were forced to 'hang together' in order to prevent them being 'hung
separately' when faced with the challenge of Stalinism, a different
social system but with a totalitarian, one-party regime.
The collapse of Stalinism meant the disappearance of
the glue which held the different imperialist powers together. This was
not immediately evident in the afterglow of the 'victory' of capitalism,
symbolised by the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the first Gulf
War at the beginning of the 1990s. Also, after 11 September the
'solidarity' of world capitalism seemed to be symbolised by Le Monde's
headline, 'We're all Americans now'.
Within 18 months all of that has been turned around
with the vilification of the Germans, now followed by the French, as the
stock in trade of every capitalist politician in America and Britain.
The divisions that have opened up are not for
secondary or incidental reasons. The difference between the French and
the Germans and Blair's Britain is rooted in the different perceptions
of the world and the relationship between Europe and the world's
hyperpower, US imperialism.
Blair perceives of Europe in 'partnership' - read,
completely subservient - to the US, whereas the French/German axis
wishes to set up a countervailing power to the US which, armed with the
Bush doctrine of 'pre-emptive strikes', threatens to consume the world
in endless and debilitating conflict.
The adventure in Iraq is projected by the 'hawks' to
lead to similar action, possibly against Iran, Syria, Libya and any
other 'evil' or 'failed' state. 'Diplomacy' will be used for the time
being against North Korea but as both Bush and Blair have admitted in
recent months, action to 'disarm' North Korea will also be posed.
The conflict between the US and Europe, as well as
the divergences which have emerged over Iraq with Russia, China and
other powers, symbolise a return to the same kind of inter-imperialist
rivalries which marked out world capitalism in the decades prior to
This conflict within Europe itself will affect the
enlargement process. Although unlikely to be completely derailed, the
pace at which it will be carried through could now be much slower.
Any attempt by the US to use its victory in Iraq to
further undermine and weaken Europe, for instance, through economic
measures of a protectionist character, will rebound on them through
retaliation from Europe and other economic powers.
THE DREAM that cheap Iraqi oil will lay the basis
for a further upswing of world capitalism will also be shattered. Sheikh
Yamani, the chief of Opec in the 1970s, has warned that the effects of
the war in Iraq, particularly if the oil fields are destroyed, could
mean a loss of Iraqi oil virtually for ever. The price of oil will
spiral in the short term, but even if it comes down to $20 a barrel, or
even less, this will not be sufficient to stimulate world capitalism,
faced as it is with the over-investment of the 1990s, with stagnant and
falling profitability and the beginnings of a drop in expenditure in the
retail sector in Europe and the US in particular.
The US may be the world's strongest military power
but it is also the biggest debtor in history. It already absorbs about
5% of the world's savings. It borrows from the rest of the world to
cover its 'savings gap'. The tax concessions to the rich, plus increased
arms expenditure proposed by Bush, will increase the gap to as much as
9% of gross domestic product, it is estimated, by the end of the decade.
Laura Tyson, Bill Clinton's economic adviser, asked
rather incredulously: "Will the rest of the world be willing to
cover a gap of this size and, if so, on what terms?" She answers
her own question by pointing out: "Worrying signs that foreigners
are beginning to reduce their massive holdings of dollars and
dollar-denominated assets" have now appeared. The consequence is
the beginning of a collapse in the dollar.
The policy of the Bush administration, with its
panoply of 'pre-emptive strikes' is, in the words of the US writer, Gore
Vidal, a policy of "permanent war for permanent peace". But
its interventionist role abroad will inevitably come up against the
resistance of the peoples, in a neo-colonial world, but also in the
industrialised countries of Europe, America and Japan.
The mass demonstrations, particularly on 15
February, and the strikes which followed, were not enough to stop the
war. Nevertheless, they were sufficient to temporarily stay the hand of
Bush and Blair, and this mood has not gone away. Only because the vital
interests of the ruling class of the US were at stake, its role as world
policeman, as well as its lust for the oil, determined it to go on such
a risky adventure as this. However, the fallout will be huge and will
measured not in months, but in years.
NOT THE least of the effects will be to reinforce
and extend massively the anti-capitalist movement. In the aftermath of
11 September, this movement was temporarily stunned. However, it soon
recovered and, on the eve of this conflict, had once more reached mass
proportions. An unprecedented hostility is now widespread towards the
big capitalist corporations and the politicians in their pay. Even
business guru, Charles Handy, has written: "People's trust in
business, and those who lead it, is today cracking."
At the same time, Larry Elliot, in The Guardian,
writes of "a stirring of interest in green, social democratic and
Marxist interpretations of the global economy". It will be the
latter body of ideas, Marxism, which can show a way out to the mass
anti-capitalist movement that will rise to an even higher plane in the
aftermath of this war.
In Britain, even if he wins, Blair will ultimately
lose as a result of his backing of this obscene war. Even the sanitised
Labour Party is split from top to bottom and big defections from its
ranks are taking place.
The ground is being prepared for an unparalleled
period of mass upheavals, mass demonstrations, strikes and a revival of
struggle by working people who will be more prepared now to fight back
against the attacks on them and their families. Above all, the need to
create a new mass political alternative, a new mass workers' party, will
emerge as a real option in the next period. A new world disorder is
being ushered in by this war, but out of which will come a new mass
liberating movement for socialism.