What’s behind the US war plans?

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One year after September 11, what balance sheet can we draw of the USA's 'war against terrorism'?

It is first of all clear that the overthrow of the Taliban regime and the operations against Al Qaida in Afghanistan have resolved nothing: the broad anti-terrorist coalition set up by the White House last year no longer exists - a reality confirmed by Bush's desperate efforts to create a new coalition for the proposed assault on Iraq.

Above all, we have seen a steep rise in military tensions and conflicts - not only the threats against Iraq but also a worsening of the bloody mess in the Middle East and the renewed menace of nuclear war between India and Pakistan.

At the same time the USA has installed its military forces at the heart of central Asia - in Afghanistan, in Tadjikstan and Uzbekistan, and more recently in Georgia, which as a result is under a lot of pressure from Russia which has had to respond to this US advance into its backyard.

All this is part of a much vaster strategic aim - not only to win control of this region but also of the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. And by placing North Korea within the 'Axis of Evil', it is clear that the USA is also issuing a challenge to China and Japan. Above all it is pursuing a strategy of encircling the western European powers, and of blocking the advance of its most serious rival, German imperialism, towards the Slav and eastern regions.

And yet despite this gigantic offensive, we are more and more seeing the decline of American world leadership. The 1991 Gulf war already demonstrated that "faced with the tendency towards generalised chaos that characterises the phase of decomposition, and which the collapse of the eastern bloc has considerably accelerated, capitalism has no option, in its efforts to hold together the different parts of a body which is tending to disintegrate, to resort to the iron corset of armed force. In this sense, the very means it uses to try to contain an increasingly bloody chaos are themselves a major factor in the aggravation of the military barbarism into which capitalism has sunk" ('Militarism and decomposition', International Review 64, winter 1991).

The present situation is more and more confirming the growth of this permanent barbarism in a capitalist world dominated by the war of each against all among imperialist powers large and small.

Military force is the only means the US has to impose its authority. If it renounced the use of its military superiority, this would only encourage other countries to challenge its authority more and more. But at the same time, whenever America does resort to brute force, even if it does momentarily succeed in compelling the other powers to rein in their ambitions, in the long run the latter are only led to seek their revenge at the first opportunity, and to try to further weaken the USA's grip. The first consequence of this situation is that the US bourgeoisie is increasingly obliged to go it alone.

The juggernaut of US imperialism rolls on

The 1991 Gulf war was conducted 'legally' in the framework of UN resolutions; the Kosovo war was carried out 'illegally' but in the framework of NATO; the campaign in Afghanistan was waged under the banner of 'unilateral action' by the USA. All this has served to sharpen the hostility of the other states towards Uncle Sam. It's this contradiction which is reflected in the debates and disagreements that have arisen within the American bourgeoisie.

At the beginning of the second world war we saw disagreements between the 'isolationists' and the 'interventionists' about whether the USA should enter the war. Generally speaking the Republicans were in the isolationist camp whereas the interventionists mainly came from the Democratic Party. In 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbour, which had been deliberately provoked by Roosevelt (see 'The machiavellianism of the bourgeoisie' in International Review 108), enabled the interventionists to carry the day. Today this old split has disappeared. But the contradictions of American policy have given rise to a new internal cleavage that cuts across the traditional parties. Within the American bourgeoisie there is no disagreement about the fact that the US must be able to preserve its world imperialist supremacy. The difference of appreciation bears on whether the USA should accept the dynamic which is pushing it to act alone, or should it try to keep a certain number of allies on its side, even if such alliances can have no real stability? These two positions can be seen clearly with regard to the two main areas of concern: the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the plan to intervene against Iraq. In the first case we have seen the USA oscillating between on the one hand total support for Sharon and attempts to get rid of Arafat, to declarations about the inevitability of a Palestinian state on the other. In the aftermath of September 11the USA pursued a policy of almost unconditional support for Israel but it soon became clear that Sharon's ruthless policy of military invasion irritates them. Large sectors of the Arab bourgeoisie - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria in particular - are drawn towards an alliance with the European powers. The latter in turn have stated their opposition to the elimination of Arafat; and although they have proved themselves incapable of acting as 'peacemakers', they can certainly create all sorts of problems by wielding the weapon of diplomacy.

The most publicised disagreements however are over the planned intervention in Iraq to get rid of Saddam Hussein, even though they are really about the way to act and when. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfield, Vice President Dick Cheney and security adviser Condoleeza Rice defend the idea that the USA has to intervene alone and as soon as possible, while other eminent members of the Republican 'staff' such as Colin Powell, James Baker and Henry Kissinger (supported by certain business interests who are concerned about the cost of the operation which the US would have to bear alone at a time when the economy is in trouble) are much more reticent, preferring to alternate between the carrot and the stick.

What is at stake in this war? By making a new demonstration of force, the US aims to reinforce its domination of the region and of the entire planet. During the first Gulf war, there was a lot of propaganda talk about overthrowing Saddam; but in the end the USA had to accommodate him for lack of any alternative strong man to prevent the disintegration of Iraq. Today however, the USA has no further use for Saddam to police the region because it is in a position to assume a much more direct military presence there. And despite the difficulties it involves, an attack on Iraq has the merit of dividing the European powers, particularly Britain on the one hand and France and Germany on the other. Although Britain has certainly taken its distance from the USA over this affair, the leading factions of the British bourgeoisie will stand behind the US, not out of any genuine solidarity but because British imperialism has always seen the overthrow of Saddam as a means to restore its influence in what was once a British colony. By contrast, France has, ever since the Gulf war, expressed its opposition to any further military intervention against Iraq and has tried to maintain links with Saddam. Thus it has consistently called for an end to the embargo against Iraq. Germany, for its part, has always sought to affirm its interests in the Middle East through a Berlin-Baghdad land axis via Turkey.

Towards an aggravation of military barbarism

The 'hawks', partisans of a rapid US intervention in Iraq, seem to be winning out, even if Bush has declared that action is not imminent. We are already seeing a marked increase in Anglo-American air raids both in the northern and southern 'no fly zones'; military commanders in the area have openly admitted that these are rehearsals for a bigger assault. The White House is laying down the strategic foundations for an intervention (more than 50,000 US troops are stationed in Kuwait). And while some supporters of the 91war have defected, others have come on board: Turkey, its palms greased with offers of financial aid, has already agreed to serve as a rear base for US troops. The Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain and especially Qatar, will still serve as bases in the immediate region. (Footnote 1) Jordan will also allow its territory to be used to neutralise Iraq's western frontier, which is closest to Israel. Nevertheless, the enterprise is even more perilous than the operation in Afghanistan, because the US has nothing comparable to the Northern Alliance to do its dirty work on the ground and so spare it any loss of US troops; a bloody invasion that cost it a lot of American lives could result in a reappearance of the 'Vietnam syndrome'. The creation of a broad 'democratic opposition' on the ground, capable of taking over from Saddam Hussein, is far from assured. Another difficulty is that, even more than in Afghanistan, there is a multiplicity of conflicting influences in Iraq. The Kurdish and Shiite minorities are unreliable from the American point of view; the former are highly susceptible to European influence, the latter are too closely tied to Iran. Turkey will also have difficulties staying onside given its sensitivity on the Kurdish question: Saddam Hussein has in fact acted as the gendame of its borders. Also Turkey is increasingly drawn towards the European Union. The other major risk is that the US bourgeoisie will definitively lose its claim to being the peacemaker in the Middle East. Connected to this is the concern that an attack on Iraq will give an impetus to anti-American Islamic fundamentalism throughout the region, above all in the key state of Saudi Arabia.

Thus the prospect we face is a continuation of the warlike policy we have seen in the first Gulf war, then in ex-Yugoslavia, then in Afghanistan, but at a higher level, creating in its wake even more instability and chaos, even more uncontrollable consequences, and in a vast area from the Middle East to Central Asia, and from the Indian sub-continent to South East Asia. All this is a confirmation that the conflicts between imperialist powers in the phase of capitalist decomposition pose a deadly threat to the survival of humanity.

Wim, 7/9/02.

(1) As for Saudi Arabia, it views with some concern the prospect of Shiite participation in any future Iraqi government, and has its own 'anti-American' factions to take into account. The USA has taken note of its reticence to serve as a base for American troops by starting to dismantle the Al-Kharg platform, which was used extensively during the 91 war, and transferring it to the new base being built at Al-Udeid, on the eastern coast of Qatar. (Back)

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