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26 March 2003: reproduced from The Socialist 28 March 2003

War And The 'New World Disorder'

US 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 'reconstruction'.

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 instance.

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.

Imperialist betrayal

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 them.

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 1914.

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.

Economic crisis

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.

Anti-capitalism

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.

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