Weakening grip of US power
Since the collapse of the Russian bloc at the end of the 80s, and the resulting disappearance of the western alliance, the US, the world's only remaining superpower has been permanently forced to take the initiative on the military level, where it enjoys a crushing superiority over all its rivals, with the aim of defending its global leadership from the growing challenge from France, Germany, Russia and China. Since the first Gulf war, all the major conflicts have been the result of a pre-emptive policy by the USA, aimed at forestalling the emergence of a new imperialist bloc. But the US is in the grip of an insoluble contradiction: each new offensive, while it momentarily puts a brake on the challenge to American leadership, at the same time creates the conditions for further challenges, by increasing feelings of frustration and anti-Americanism. The whole escalation since September 2001, which has seen the USA, under the pretext of the struggle against terrorism and 'evil dictators', carrying out the military occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq without the least concern for the role of NATO and the UN, is bound up in this logic. Nevertheless, none of the conflicts which preceded Afghanistan, and above all Iraq, have engendered such a difficult situation as the US is now in.
Emboldened by the ease of its victory over Saddam Hussein, the American bourgeoisie gave little thought to the huge problems posed by the necessity to maintain a military occupation of Iraq. The US is going to be bogged down there for the foreseeable future despite the promises made by the Bush administration about the reconstruction and democratisation of Iraq. Continuous attacks on American troops (and, increasingly, on Iraqi civilians) by the so-called 'resistance' made up of ex-Baathists, and both home-grown and imported Islamists are having a demoralising effect. The number of American troops killed 'after' the war has already surpassed the number killed during open hostilities.
In order to try to maintain order and keep the situation under control, the US is obliged to increase its troop numbers there. A sign of the unpopularity of this mission is the fact that professional volunteers are becoming harder and harder to find and the troops in Iraq are more and more openly expressing their unease about the situation. This has expressed itself in a panicky tendency for US soldiers to shoot up everything that moves; but it is also beginning to take the form of vocal criticisms of the whole Iraq adventure by soldiers and their families at home. 'Road map' in shreds
Before launching the US onto this new military offensive, Bush announced that the liberation of Iraq would overturn the geopolitical landscape of the region. In substance this meant that the US domination of Iraq would strengthen its influence throughout the region, and allow it to press on with the strategic aim of encircling Europe. Such a scenario obviously involved the US being able to impose a 'Pax Americana' in all the most unstable areas, above all in the most explosive of them all, Israel/Palestine. Bush even announced that this conflict would soon be over. Bush was quite right to think that the situation in Iraq would have a strong influence on what happened in the territories occupied by Israel. This is being demonstrated today, but not in the way Bush hoped, since the conflict there is getting worse by the day. The present failure of the American bourgeoisie in Iraq is a real handicap to its policy of pressurising its turbulent Israeli ally to accept the 'road map to peace'. This has been totally sabotaged by Jerusalem. Such difficulties in imposing its will on Israel are not new and partly explain the failure of the various peace plans over the last 10 years. Nevertheless these problems have never been as heavy with consequences as they are today. This is illustrated by the short-term policies which someone like Sharon is able to impose in the Middle East, based exclusively on trying to escalate the confrontation with the Palestinians in order to chase them away from the occupied territories. As in the rest of the world, there's no possibility of peace in this region. The card played by Sharon, the butcher of Sabra and Chatila, can only lead to further bloodbaths, which will in no way resolve the Palestinian problem. On the contrary, this keeps coming back like a boomerang, above all in the form of an increasingly uncontrolled terrorism. Such an outcome can only have negative consequences for the US, which obviously cannot simply abandon its main ally in the region. USA's rivals take advantage of its difficulties
The USA's difficulties in Iraq undermine its international credibility and authority; its rivals can only rejoice in this and try to make the most of it. France has been the most insolent of all: at the UN general assembly, Chirac expresses his differences with his "great ally", arguing that Bush made a mistake in intervening in Iraq in spite of all the reservations put forward by a number of countries, including France of course. More worrying for the US is the fact that up till now it has been unable, despite repeated appeals, to get another major power, apart from the UK, which took part in the military operation from the start, to reinforce its troop contingent in Iraq. Spain, which is not a great power, sent a purely symbolic force. Only Poland, which is a still smaller power, responded positively to American appeals to join the great powers on the parade ground. It will be equally difficult for the US to find volunteers to help it meet the costs of stabilising and reconstructing Iraq.
Even the unanimous vote for resolution 1511 which Washington put before the UN at the end of October, while representing a partial political victory for Bush as it recognises the American presence in Iraq, does not really mean that the USA's major rivals are backing the Iraq adventure. Both Germany's Joschke Fischer and France's Villepin voted along with strong criticisms, the latter saying that there was risk that the resolution would serve no purpose. Germany, France, Russia and China all made it clear that there was no question of putting a cent into the reconstruction of Iraq.
In fact, the USA's present situation of relative weakness has inspired its rivals to go back onto the offensive. Thus on 20 September, in Berlin, there was a meeting between Schroeder, Chirac and Blair, who agreed on the need for Europe to have an autonomous military force and headquarters, an idea which the British bourgeoisie has hitherto opposed. Britain's small steps taken here towards the USA's greatest rivals is not unconnected to the fact that Britain is also paying the cost of the Iraqi misadventure and it needs to change the balance in its alliances by finding a counter-weight to the US. Blair's declaration in this regard is rather eloquent: "On the question of European defence we have a more and more shared position" (Le Monde, 23.9.03). Similarly, at the UN general assembly in September, the 25 members of 'Greater Europe' (the EU 15 plus those who intend to be part of its future enlargement) all voted, apparently on the initiative of Germany and France, in favour of a text which can only accentuate the USA's embarrassment over the policies of its Israeli ally, since it condemned Sharon's decision to deport Arafat. Through a symbolic vote, the image of the US was once again under fire. And among the 25 members of Greater Europe who implicitly criticised the US in this vote, a majority had, prior to the outbreak of the Iraq war, more or less supported the US option against France, Germany and Russia.
In the same logic of sabotaging US policy, the agreement between French, German and British foreign ministers to accept Iran's promises about controlling its nuclear programme was another embarrassment for the US. One of the aims of its offensive in Iraq has been to move towards the neutralisation and even the control of this strategically vital country - this is why Washington has been trying to impose the same kind of inspections regime on Iran as it did on Iraq. By playing the role of mediators with the Iranian regime, the European states are putting a spanner in America's works.
This fact, as well as the recent evolution of Britain's position on the autonomous European force, illustrates a characteristic of the period opened by the disappearance of imperialist blocs which the ICC highlighted at the time of the first Gulf war: "In the new historical period we have now entered - and this has been confirmed by the events in the Gulf - the world appears as an immense free for all, where the tendency of 'every man for himself' will come into its own, and alliances between states will have nothing like the stability they had in the period of the blocs, but will be dictated according to the needs of the moment" ('Militarism and Decomposition', IR 64).
The fact that this situation is unfavourable to the formation of new blocs and thus to the movement towards a third world war between major powers will not spare humanity from a plunge into barbarism: the wars and chaos of decomposing capitalism could, in the long run, equally result in runaway destruction and undermine any possibility of founding social life on a rational and harmonious basis. Capitalism has nothing to offer humanity; the only future is the worldwide communist revolution.