The real motivations for the US offensive
The anti-terrorist crusade that the American ruling class has been carrying out for the past 6 months has been a considerable success.
The USA has installed its military headquarters at the heart of a new strategic region, Central Asia, not only by directly occupying the former military bases of the former USSR republics of Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kirghizstan, but also, more recently, by sending US military advisers to Georgia. This country, still run by Gorbachev’s former minister Shevardnaze, is thus totally outside of Russia’s control at the precise moment when Russia had envisaged intervening in Georgia, which has been accused of acting as a base for ‘Chechen terrorists’. We are also beginning to see America’s attempts to take control of Yemen, which occupies a key position between the African and Asian continents via the Gulf of Aden which links the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean.
A military escalation across the entire planet
With its intervention in Afghanistan, the US has reaffirmed its status as the only world cop, demonstrating its ability to intervene in any part of the planet, even in Afghan mountains reputed to be impregnable. After the installation of the provisional government in Kabul, which has been struggling to survive the bloody skirmishes between the factions who make up the fragile anti-Taliban coalition, Operation Anaconda aims to wipe out the last pockets of Taliban/al Qaida resistance in the Afghan mountains. This has involved two months of incessant bombings which have cost the lives of more Afghan civilians and even eight US soldiers. The US has warned that the war is far from over, thus preparing the ground for further murderous raids in the area.
At the same time, the US has taken new steps up the global military escalator. Alongside the 11 March speech by Bush about the “dangers that face America”, a Pentagon report revealed an “emergency plan” for the use of nuclear weapons against other major nuclear powers such as Russia and China, but also against the threat of chemical and biological weapons by Iraq, North Korea, Iran, Syria and Libya. Strengthened by their success in taking control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal (a little publicised benefit of the intervention in Afghanistan), the USA is upping the stakes in its policy of dissuading other powers from opposing it. At the same time it is conditioning its population to live in permanent fear of attack and to accept as ‘normal’ the US of these kinds of weapons in response or even as a deterrent.
US policy in the Middle East
Today, the US is offering a sordid trade to the Arab states as well as to the European powers: the recognition of a Palestinian state in exchange for war against Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. This is why we are seeing the return of US emissary Zinni to the Middle East and Vice-President Cheney’s tour around nine ‘friendly’ Arab states and Israel. The USA’s about-face, which took the form of getting a vote in the UN for a resolution which “recognises the right of existence of a Palestinian state alongside Israel”, when it has for years been exercising its veto against similar resolutions, costs it very little and doesn’t change much on the ground. At the same time, the retreat of Israeli tanks from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the efforts to resume bi-lateral negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, are also the product of pressure from Washington. But they in no way mean that we will see an end to the violent exactions by Israel or to Palestinian suicide bombings, or to Israeli pressure on the Palestinian Authority. On the other hand they do serve to sweep the carpet from under the feet of international protest. This benefits the US as well as Israel. The multiplication of massacres and outrages, such as the killing of an Italian journalist in Ramallah or the firing at ambulances by the Israeli army, only plays into the hands of the European powers, adding fuel to their criticisms of the US and enabling them to present themselves as defenders of the Arab states. With the ‘affair’ of the US-based Mossad agents who didn’t pass on to the US government all the information they had relating to September 11, alongside Colin Powell’s criticisms of Israel’s policy of reprisals and repression, the US is hoping to put pressure on the Sharon government not to be too much of a Lone Ranger.
As for the peace plan presented by Saudi Arabia, the US has expressed a lot or reticence towards it, seeing it as an attempt by regional powers to assert their own claims and squirm away from US tutelage; at the same time the US has remodelled the plan to suit its own purposes. For America, the essential thing is to remain master of the game and leave no space for any of its imperialist rivals.
Getting ready for a new Desert Storm
If the American bourgeoisie is preparing so actively for a new and spectacular operation against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq (a mobilisation of 200-300,000 men has been announced), it’s because the latter is a major strategic objective for the US. There are two main reasons for this. First, a new demonstration of force is vital. Through their intervention in Afghanistan, the US has proved that is still a superpower, the only one that can play world cop. It has also demonstrated its capacity to act alone, indicating to the other powers that if they want to keep their slice of the imperialist cake, they can only do this on the coat-tails of the US, playing out the role assigned to them by Washington. However, even though they have been paralysed in this campaign and incapable of offering any alternative, the European tendency to challenge the US has still been more rapid and direct than it was eleven years ago, after the Gulf War. Right after the fall of the Taliban we had the European media campaign about the USA’s Camp X-Ray prisoners being kept in conditions outside the provisions of the Geneva Convention. In mid-February, the French minister of foreign affairs, Vedrine, described the American approach to the struggle against terrorism, which presents it as a struggle between good and evil, as being “simplistic” and based on a “utilitarian unilateralism”. This exasperated the White House and led to the French ambassador being called in. But there have been many other criticisms of US arrogance, notably in Germany (the ‘Green’ minister Fischer saying that “the allies are not satellites”), in Spain and even in Britain (as the European Commissioner for foreign affairs, Chris Patten put it, “true friends don’t lick your boots”). This is why the US is once again banging the drums of war, well aware that the European powers can do little about it. Indeed in the last few weeks there has been a real change of tone: France, which for years has been protesting against the sanctions and military operations that have continued to be directed against Iraq by the US (and Britain), now admits that “it is necessary to act against Saddam Hussein’s policy of re-armament” and participated in the ultimatum concerning the readmission of UN arms inspectors to Iraq. Even if the resistance is stronger in the Arab states (Dick Cheney was faced with having to respond to the argument of the crown prince of Bahrain, who said that “the people who are dying in the street today are not victims of any Iraqi action but of Israeli action”), these states lack the means to stand up against American ambitions for very long.
The second motive is that the USA is animated by a major strategic interest in intervening massively against Iraq. In its offensive aimed at ensuring control of the main strategic zones of the planet, the USA is being pushed to more and more exploit its advantageous position. And here Iraq plays a key role. From now on, "Washington intends no longer to count on allied states which enjoy a certain margin of manoeuvre, but on vassal states which owe it absolute allegiance. The establishment of such a regime in a country like Iraq would be the first step in this direction" (from the newspaper Al Hayat published in London; cited by Courrier International of 14 March). In the perspective of anchoring its presence and influence in Central Asia right up to the gates of China, Russia and the Indian sub-continent, America is seeking to establish a single and continuous geostrategic sphere of influence: "the strengthening of hegemony over Iraq and its transformation into an axis of US influence is a matter of the first importance, because Iraq is the junction of the two areas: the ‘far east’ of the Arab world, it is also a look-out post onto Central Asia. On this chessboard, states and their frontiers, their peoples, their destinies, are nothing but pawns. And there is only one player (op cit). We should add that from Iraq it is also possible to keep a close watch over the neighbouring states which are least reliable or most threatened by instability: Iran and Syria on the one hand, Jordan and Turkey on the other.
Today, contrary to 1991, the US is seeking to exert a direct control over Iraq and the Baath party, which demands the elimination of Saddam Hussein, especially because today there is no longer the same threat of Iraq breaking up: the Kurdish and Shiite minorities have become too weak to play a major role. Again this is unlike 1991, when Bush Senior cynically pushed these minorities to rebel, the better to leave them to the mercy of the Republican Guard � the very part of the Iraqi army that the Americans allowed to survive so it could carry out its dirty work.
At the time of the Gulf war, we showed that the operation against Iraq was just a pretext which was really aimed at halting the dynamic towards the dissolution of the western bloc; in particular, that it was mainly directed against the European powers, to prevent them from freely pursuing their own imperialist agendas. Today, the dominant trend in imperialism all over the world is ‘every man for himself’, and this is being aggravated by the phenomena of decomposition (terrorism, exacerbated nationalism). If it is to preserve its imperialist dominion, the US gendarme has only one resort: massive force directed at the least challenge to its authority, no matter where it comes from. Twelve years ago we were promised a new world order of peace. Every day since then has proved this to be a lie. The multiplication of US operations aimed at ‘restoring order’ all over the world really demonstrates that capitalism as a whole can offer us nothing more than ever-widening military chaos and barbarism.
This article is adapted from Revolution Internationale No 322, publication of the ICC in France. Since it was written there have been several shifts in the situation. For the most recent developments see the lead article of this issue.