Lebanon, Syria, Iran: New zones of imperialist conflict

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With the assassination of the former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, an old focus of imperialist conflict has been revived in the Middle East. This new episode in the capitalist barbarism spreading across the world and particularly the Middle East, where we are seeing an endless spiral of terrorist atrocities, reminds us once again that all the bourgeoisie’s speeches about peace are just cynical lies.

Great powers fight over the Middle East

The assassination of Hariri shows the emptiness of all the propaganda that followed the election of Mahmoud Abbas to the presidency of the Palestinian Authority. Supposedly this marked a great step towards peace.

In reality, the assassination has enabled France and the USA, who were behind the September 2004 UN Security Council resolution 1559 that demanded the withdrawal of Syrian troops from Lebanon, to take up their positions in Lebanese political life. Both have rushed to point the finger at Syria (just as Sharon immediately blamed the Tel Aviv suicide bombing at the end of February on the Damascus regime). And these great powers are not acting out of concern for the freedom of the Lebanese population. Far from it. For Chirac, who waxed lyrical about his friendship with Hariri, this was an ideal opportunity to gain a French toehold in a country from which it was booted out in the 80s, culminating in 1991 with the expulsion of its principal Lebanese agent, General Aoun. As for the US, this was a new step in their military strategy in the Middle East and Central Asia. They are increasing pressure on Syria, which the Bush administration has been blaming for harbouring al-Qaida terrorists and members of the old Saddam regime. Washington has made it clear on several occasions recently that Syria could well face military strikes.

Thus the current entente between America and France over Lebanon and Syria is aimed merely at justifying the defence of their respective imperialist interests. It can only lead to new rivalries that manipulate local terrorist gangs and sow further chaos in the region.

The difficulties of the US bourgeoisie

Neither should we have any illusions that recent diplomatic trips by the Washington clique are heralds of harmony between the US and Europe. Certainly US diplomacy has been courting Europe very intensively. After the visit by Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, we then had Donald Rumsfeld at the 41st Security Conference in Munich, followed by the boss himself, Bush, who attended the summits of NATO and the European Union and had a number of meetings with European heads of state, especially those who had opposed the military intervention in Iraq: Chirac, Schroeder and Putin. Why all this diplomatic froth? What is really being prepared in the corridors, behind the hypocritical accolades between rivals, between Uncle Sam and the Europeans? What’s all this about the new partnership for spreading freedom around the world?

The USA’s change of style does not mean that it has given up using its military strength to defend its economic, political and strategic interests. It means it is changing its tactics and its rhetoric to take account of the difficulties it is encountering, particularly as a result of being stuck in the Iraqi quagmire. Its policy in Iraq has everywhere created bitter hostility to the US and isolated it internationally. Unable to retreat on Iraq without undermining its global authority, the US faces contradictions that are extremely hard to deal with. As well as being a financial black hole, Iraq is a permanent focus for criticisms by its main imperialist rivals. Furthermore, the elections in Iraq saw a victory for the unified list of Shiite parties which are close to Iran, and the defeat of America’s man Iyad Allawi, the interim prime minister. “This government will have excellent relations with Iran…in terms of regional geopolitics, it’s not the result the USA hoped for” (Courrier Internationale, 746). Alongside this waning influence over the political parties in Iraq, there is the whole climate of terror which every day sees new atrocities by the ‘resistance’: the suicide bombing which killed 120 people south of Baghdad at the end of February was the worst single attack since the fall of the Saddam regime. The so-called victory of Iraqi democracy – claimed simply because the elections were held – has by no means reduced the risk that the country will split apart along different ethnic and religious factional interests.

The US diplomatic offensive, its desire to be seen to be ‘on the same wavelength’ as the Europeans, has the aim of trying to convince the latter to stand by the US in its campaign to propagate democracy around the world, especially in the Middle East. In fact, the Bush administration has the same military objectives as before, but the ideological packaging has changed: they are giving out that from now on nothing will be done without first consulting the Europeans, since we all share the same human values of freedom and democracy. And it is not to be ruled out that France will be promised a privileged role in sorting things out in Iraq, in exchange for a greater involvement alongside the US.

Behind the ostensibly unifying phrases of US diplomacy, the real divergences are still there and continue to develop. As a high-ranking NATO official put it, “old Rumsfeld has been playing the violin to us, as did Condoleeza Rice last week” (Le Monde 15.2.05). Whereas up to now the Bush team conducted an ‘iron fist’ policy, now it’s an iron fist in a velvet glove. Rumsfeld said that for the US “the mission (in the military sense) determines the coalition”. In other words, America will only call upon NATO if it suits its strategic interests. For their part, the Europeans, notably Germany with the support of France, are talking openly about the need to reform NATO and to replace the Alliance by a group of experts, representing American but above all European interests. Germany is saying clearly that “in the European framework, it feels co-responsible for stability and international order” and on this basis is demanding a seat on the UN Security Council. Given America’s immediate refusal to reform NATO, Germany has even raised the tone via its foreign affairs minister Joschka Fischer, who declared: “we have to know whether the US places itself inside or outside the system of the United Nations”.

This tension around the role of NATO was crystallised by the refusal by the Europeans to contribute to a programme for the formation of military and police forces in Iraq, or by their meagre contributions to it. Vis-à-vis Afghanistan, the European powers have agreed to increase their contribution to the International Force under NATO command, since the latter is under the orders of a French general and has important units of French and German troops. However, they don’t want this military force to eventually fall under the command of operation ‘Enduring Freedom’, i.e. of the American army. The question of NATO is not the only point of discord. After playing symphonies to the Rights of Man concerning the repression of the student movement in Tianenmen Square in China in 1989, the Europeans, as good arms dealers, are ready to lift the arms embargo on China. The Americans don’t agree, and neither do Japan, but that’s nothing to do with the Rights of Man: it’s simply because this would re-launch the arms race on the Asian continent and threaten their influence in a region already subject to powerful military tensions – tensions which have been sharpened recently by North Korea’s official announcement that it does have nuclear weapons.

The USA’s diplomatic visit to Europe does not therefore announce a new era of unity in transatlantic relations. On the contrary, the differences are growing and positions are more and more irreconcilable. The strategies and interests of one and the other are different because each one defends its national capitalist interests. It’s not a matter of bad Americans on the one hand and good Europeans on the other. They are all imperialist brigands and the policy of every man for himself which lies behind all the games of entente cordiale can only lead in the end to new splits, conflicts, and military slaughter – with Iran and Syria as the next possible targets.

Indeed the divergences over Iran are already very deep. The big European powers, including Britain, are in general in favour of negotiating with Iran in order to dissuade it – so they say – from developing a military nuclear programme. Moscow, on the other hand, is Tehran’s leading partner on the nuclear level and has no intention of changing its policies. As for the US, given Iran’s importance as a regional power – now strengthened by the electoral victory of the Shiites in Iraq – they will be obliged to increase the pressure on the Europeans and on Putin to ensure that their line prevails. The Bush clique is threatening to go to the UN with plans in the medium term for a new military escalation which can only exacerbate chaos and barbarism in the region.

US policy can only be based on the canon

As we have argued regularly in our press, the chaos and conflicts that have been developing on a planetary scale are the direct product of the new period that opened in 1989 with the collapse of the eastern bloc, which was soon followed by the break-up of the western bloc. Far from signalling a ‘new order’ of peace as George Bush Senior promised at the time, we insisted that the world was heading towards a murderous disorder, a bloody chaos in which the US gendarme would try to impose its authority through the increasingly massive and brutal resort to its military power (see ‘Militarism and Decomposition’ in International Review 64).

From the 1991 Gulf War to Yugoslavia, Rwanda and Chechnya, from Somalia to East Timor, from the attack on the Twin Towers to the Madrid bombings, to cite only a few examples of the violent convulsions of this phase of decomposition (see our theses on ‘Decomposition, final phase of the decadence of capitalism’ in IR 107), the real cause of these massacres is the imperialist confrontation between states large and small. For the US, whose national interests coincide with the maintenance of a global order built to its own advantage, this aggravation of chaotic imperialist conflicts makes their position of world leadership more and more difficult to sustain. Since the old Russian threat no longer exists, their former allies, in particular the European states led by Germany and France, have persistently sought to defend their own national capitalist interests. The deepening of the economic crisis sharpens the imperialist appetites of all states and leaves the US with no alternative but to launch itself into attempts to conquer new ground, to destabilise its rivals and above all to use its military strength more and more. But this has the consequence of worsening the chaos and the barbarism in the regions where its military adventures take place. In this context, the strategy put forward by the administration under Bush Junior following the attacks of September 11 2001, the ‘war on terrorism’, is a new attempt to respond to the weakening of US leadership. Faced with the growing challenge from other imperialist powers, the Americans have used September 11 and the nebulous threat of al Qaida as a pretext for conducting an unprecedented military offensive across the globe. This long-term military campaign has identified a number of countries as being part of the ‘Axis of Evil’, as states that ‘harbour’ terrorists, or as ‘tyrannies’ which have to be dealt with militarily. This is the case with Afghanistan, Iraq, North Korea, Iran, and increasingly, Syria. In fact, behind all this rhetoric, the US has a much wider strategic aim, which includes the need for a decisive presence in Central Asia, the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. The overall strategic goal is the encirclement of Europe and of Russia. America has a particular concern to ensure control over the world’s main sources of energy supply, so that in future imperialist crises it can have a decisive advantage over the European powers, Russia, Japan and China. This has certainly been the aim of the US but it has faced all kinds of difficulties in carrying out the plan, given the determination of its rivals to defend their own imperialist interests. The result of this can only be the greatest chaos in history. Donald, 5/3/05.