1990-2020, Thirty years of war and destruction in the Middle East. Part One: a decomposing system sinking into military barbarism

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Idlib, Syria, 2020

The Middle East appears today as a zone of desolation, continuous massacres and the brutal repression of populations, an immense field of ruins. Whole countries like Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine or Libya are totally devastated by military confrontations, civil wars and the most brutal massacres of hundreds of thousands of civilians, while millions more are forced to join the masses of refugees in the camps. In Iran for 40 years the population has suffered a backward regime which plunges it into a disastrous economic situation, a permanent state of war and repression. Egypt has been a boiling pot since the fall of Mubarak and the seizure of power by General Sisi. Lebanon is on the verge of economic bankruptcy and community tensions are intensifying again, just like in the Arabian Peninsula where tensions between states (Saudi Arabia with Qatar or the Sultanate of Oman), as well as within them (between cliques within the Saudi state), are intensifying. Popular revolts are crushed in blood while sinister militias impose their rule under the banner of religious fundamentalism (Al Qaida, Daesh, Hezbollah), nationalism (Kurdish militias) or tribalism (Libya, Yemen).

This dramatic picture is that of a region which vividly illustrates the descent of capitalism into a cycle of wars which constantly open up new areas of conflict:

  • the military interventions of the big international vultures like the United States, Russia, China and the European powers, and regional scavengers (Turkey, Iran, Israel, etc.), transforms the region into an open-air cemetery;
  • the daily reality of repression and massacres represents a nightmare for the populations and feeds an inexhaustible source of refugees trying to escape this hell;
  • from Iran to Turkey, from Lebanon to Egypt, the states of the region are strangled by the war economy and many of them are in virtual bankruptcy. In the emirates or kingdoms of Arabia, the opulent skyscrapers of barbaric and backward regimes are erected by hired labour treated like convicts;
  • the incessant barbarism reigning in the region constitutes a fertile ground for all the ideologies of despair such as jihadism;
  • the development of all-out tensions also increases the risk of a generalised conflagration which could have dramatic consequences for the entire planet.

Of course, from the conquests of Alexander the Great to the Crusades, from the struggle between the Roman consuls Marc Antony and Augustus to the digging of the Suez Canal, since Antiquity the region has often been at the centre of economic, political and military appetites and the wars that ensued.

This text does not aim to develop a history of recent conflicts in the Middle East but to show how the understanding of the decadence and decomposition of capitalism is an essential framework for understanding the explosion of contradictions which plunge this region of the world today into warlike bestiality and chaos. This barbarism has a history, and it reflects the rotting of the system.

30 years ago, in our orientation text on “Militarism and Decomposition” [1] the ICC already underlined the importance for revolutionaries of being discerning on this essential question of the role of war and militarism:

it is important that revolutionaries should be capable of distinguishing between those analyses which have been overtaken by events and those which still remain valid, in order to avoid a double trap: either succumbing to sclerosis, or ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’. More precisely, it is necessary to highlight what in our analyses is essential and fundamental, and remains entirely valid in different historical circumstances, and what is secondary and circumstantial - in short, to know how to make the difference between the essence of a reality and its various specific manifestations.”

It is by applying these principles and in continuity with this method that we will situate and analyse the last thirty years of wars and conflicts in the Middle East.

Militarism, imperialist blocs and declining state capitalism

The question of wars and militarism is obviously not a new problem. It has always been a central issue within the workers’ movement. The attitude of the working class towards bourgeois wars has evolved in history, ranging from support for some of them to a categorical rejection of any participation. If, during the 19th century, revolutionaries could call on the workers to lend their support to this or that belligerent nation (for the North against the South during the Civil War in the United States, for the attempts at national insurrection by the Poles in 1846, 1848 and 1856 against Czarist Russia), the basic revolutionary position during the First World War was precisely the rejection and denunciation of any support for either side.

The modification of the position of the working class with regard to wars was precisely in 1914 the crucial point of cleavage in the Socialist parties (and particularly in the German social democracy) between those who rejected any participation in the war, the internationalists, and those who referred to the old positions of the workers' movement in order to better support their national bourgeoisie. This change corresponded to the modification of the very nature of military conflicts linked to the fundamental transformation capitalism underwent between its periods of ascendancy and decline.

In particular the Communist International based itself on this analysis to affirm the necessity for the proletarian revolution. Since its founding, the ICC has adhered to this analysis and more specifically to its elaboration by the Gauche Communiste de France which, in 1945, spoke without ambiguity about the nature and characteristics of war in the period of capitalist decadence:

In the era of ascending capitalism, wars (national, colonial and imperialist conquest) expressed the upward march of fermentation, strengthening and expansion of the capitalist economic system. Capitalist production found in war the continuation of its economic policy by other means. Each war was justified and paid its costs by opening a new field of greater expansion, ensuring the development of greater capitalist production. […]

War was the indispensable means for capitalism to open up possibilities for further development, at a time when these possibilities existed and could only be opened up by means of violence. Likewise, the collapse of the capitalist world having historically exhausted all the possibilities of development, finds in modern war, imperialist war, the expression of this collapse which, without opening up any possibility of further development for production, does nothing but to plunge the productive forces into the abyss and to accumulate ruins after ruins at an accelerated rate. […]

If in the first phase, the function of war is to ensure an enlargement of the market, with a view to greater production of consumer goods, in the second phase, production is essentially focused on the production of means of destruction, that is, with a view to war. The decadence of capitalist society finds its striking expression in the fact that from wars for economic development (ascending period), economic activity becomes restricted mainly with a view to war (decadent period).

This does not mean that war has become the goal of capitalist production, the goal for capitalism always remaining to produce surplus value, but it does mean that war, taking on a permanent character, has become the way of life of decadent capitalism”. [2]

What therefore characterises war in the period of capitalism's decadence is its increasingly irrational character. In the nineteenth century, despite the destruction and massacres they caused, wars were a means for the advance of the capitalist mode of production, promoting the conquest of the world market and stimulating the development of the productive forces of the world. For society as a whole, the wars of the 20th century are no more than the extreme expression of the barbarism into which capitalist decadence plunges society.

In this sense, military spending does not represent a field of accumulation for capitalism but constitutes a cancer eating away at the capitalist economy by pumping more and more technical, human and financial resources into unproductive sectors. Indeed, while the means of production or the means of consumption can be incorporated in the next productive cycle as constant capital or variable capital, armaments constitute a pure waste from the point of view of capital itself since their only purpose is to go up in smoke (including literally) when they are not responsible for massive destruction.

Faced with a situation where war is omnipresent in the life of society, decadent capitalism has developed two phenomena which constitute major characteristics of this period: state capitalism and imperialist blocs: [3]

  • State capitalism, the first significant manifestation of which dates from the First World War, responds to the need for each country, in view of the confrontation with other nations, to obtain the maximum of discipline within it from the different sectors of society, to reduce as much as possible conflicts between the classes but also between rival factions of the dominant class, in order, in particular, to mobilise and control all of its economic potential.
  • Likewise, the constitution of imperialist blocs corresponds to the need to impose a similar discipline between different national bourgeoisies in order to limit their reciprocal antagonisms and to bring them together for the confrontation between the two military camps.

Consequently, neither state capitalism, nor the imperialist blocs, nor a fortiori the combination of the two, means any “pacification” of relations between different sectors of capital, much less a “strengthening” of the latter. On the contrary, they are only the means that capitalist society secretes to try to resist the growing tendency towards its dislocation.

This omnipresence of war in the life of society and its irrational character were particularly confirmed during the two world wars which marked the 20th century, as during the Cold War and its mad arms race. This warlike rampage has been clearly materialised in the Middle East. [4]

Confrontations between the blocs in the Middle East in the 1970s and 1980s

The history of the Middle East vividly illustrates the development of militarism and military tensions in decadent capitalism.[5] For economic and strategic reasons (access to “warm seas”, trade routes to Asia, oil, etc.), the Middle East, like the Balkans for that matter, has always been an important stake in the confrontation between powers. Since the entry of capitalism into decadence and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in particular, the region has been at the centre of imperialist tensions. After the Ottoman Empire’s collapse, the implementation of the Sykes-Picot agreements divided the area between England and France. It was then the theatre of the Turkish civil war and the Greco-Turkish conflict, of the emergence of Arab nationalism and Zionism;[6] it was a major stake in the Second World War (German offensives in Russia towards the Caspian Sea and Iran and of Italian-German forces in North Africa and Libya towards Egypt).

After 1945 and the Yalta Agreements, the region constituted a central zone for the confrontation between the blocs of East and West. The period was marked by the establishment of the new state of Israel and the successive Israeli-Arab wars in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973, and above all, in this context, by the persistent attempts by Russia and its bloc to establish itself in the region through support for Mossadegh in Iran in the early 1950s, for Nasser in Egypt during the 1960s, for Hasan al-Bakr in Iraq around 1972, for the Palestinian Fedayeen and the PLO during the 1970s, for Hafez el-Hassad in Syria in 1980. These attempts were met with strong opposition from the United States and the Western bloc, which made the state of Israel one of the spearheads of their policy. At the end of the 1970s, although the American bloc gradually gained overall control of the Middle East and reduced the influence of the Russian bloc, the fall of the Shah and the “Iranian revolution” in 1979 not only deprived the American bloc of a key stronghold but announced, through the coming to power of the backward regime of the Mullahs, the growing decomposition of capitalism.

The 1980s opened under the auspices of the fall of the Shah's regime in Iran, resulting in the dismantling of the Western military system to the south of the USSR, and the invasion of Afghanistan by troops of the Red Army. This situation caused the American bloc, spurred on by the pressure of the economic crisis, to launch a large-scale imperialist offensive aimed at pulling recalcitrant small imperialisms (Iran, Libya, Syria) into line, at pushing Russian influence to the periphery of capitalism and at establishing a “cordon sanitaire” around the USSR:

The growth of armaments in both blocs isn't the only thing which reveals the present scale and intensity of imperialist tensions. This intensity corresponds to what is at stake in all the local conflicts which ravage the planet. This scale corresponds to the breadth and objectives of the present offensive of the US bloc.

This offensive has the objective of completing the encirclement of the USSR, of depriving this country of all the positions it has been able to maintain outside its direct area of domination. It has as a priority the definitive expulsion of the USSR from the Middle East, through the disciplining of Iran and the re-insertion of this country into the US bloc as an important pawn in its global strategy. It has the ambition of going on to recuperate Indochina. In the final analysis, its aim is to completely strangle the USSR, to strip it of its status as a world power.

The present phase of this offensive, which began right after the invasion of Afghanistan by the armies of the USSR, (which was a major advance by the latter towards the ‘warm seas'), has already achieved some major successes:

- the winning of complete control over the Near East where Syria, previously linked to the Russian bloc and, along with the PLO, was the main loser from the Israeli invasion of the Lebanon in ‘82, has now become one of the pawns of US strategy, sharing with Israel the role of ‘gendarme' in this region and where the resistance of recalcitrant bourgeois factions (PLO etc) has been progressively broken […]

- the growing exhaustion of Iran (which is the condition for its complete return to the US fold) due to the terrible war with Iraq, which is supported by the US bloc via France […]

One of the main characteristics of this offensive is the western bloc's more and more massive use of its military power, notably through the sending of expeditionary corps from the US or other central countries (France, UK, Italy) to the battle zones (as was particularly the case with the Lebanon, to ‘convince' Syria of the necessity to align itself with the US bloc, and in Chad in order to put an end to Libya's pretensions to independence). This corresponds to the fact that the economic card so abundantly used in the past to grab hold of the enemy's position is no longer sufficient:

- because of the present ambitions of the US bloc;

- because of the aggravation of the world crisis itself, which creates a situation of internal instability in the third world count­ries that the US bloc used to rely on.” [7]

Thus, despite the indiscipline and the upheavals in a whole series of Middle Eastern countries such as Iran, Syria, Iraq or Libya, plunged into a catastrophic economic situation and with their imperialist ambitions perpetually frustrated, trying by permanent blackmail to sell themselves as dearly as possible, the last years of the decade marked a noticeable increase in pressure from the Western bloc and the United States to consolidate their control in the Middle East.

However, the “loss of control” of the situation in Iran from 1979, the destabilisation of Lebanon (the term “Lebanonisation” would become a concept designating the destabilisation and fragmentation of states), the occupation of Afghanistan by Russia and finally its defeat, as well as the murderous war between Iran and Iraq, were already warning signs of the initiation of the dynamics of decomposition and provided the ingredients which would generate the new imperialist configuration of the period of decomposition.[8]

1990: Decomposition exacerbates imperialist tensions

The implosion of the Eastern bloc marks the beginning of the period of decomposition of the system. It dramatically accelerates the stampede of the different components of the social body towards “every man for himself”, a descent into chaos. If there was one area where this trend was immediately confirmed, it was that of imperialist tensions: “The end of the ‘cold war’ and the disappearance of the blocs therefore only exacerbated the unleashing of the imperialist antagonisms inherent in capitalist decadence and aggravated in a qualitatively new way the bloody chaos into which the whole of society is sinking […]”.[9]

The disappearance of the blocs in no way calls into question the reality of imperialism and militarism. On the contrary, they become more barbaric and chaotic:

The constitution of imperialist blocs is not the origin of militarism and imperialism. The oppo­site is true: the formation of these blocs is only the extreme consequence (which at certain moments can aggravate the causes), an expression (and not the only one), of decadent capitalism's plunge into militarism and war.  […] the end of the blocs only opens the door to a still more barbaric, aberrant, and chaotic form of imperialism.”[10]

The exacerbation of warlike barbarism that followed tended to be expressed more concretely through two major trends, which would prove to be crucial for the development of imperialism and militarism, particularly in the Middle East:

  • the explosion of all-out imperialist appetites resulting in the multiplication of tensions and conflicts: “The difference, in the coming period, will be that these antagonisms, which were previously contained and used by the two great imperialist blocs, will now come to the fore. […] with the disappearance of the discipline imposed by the two blocs, these conflicts are liable to become more frequent and more violent, especially of course in those areas where the proletariat is weakest"
  • the development of “every man for himself” and corresponding attempts to contain the resulting chaos, both of which are aggravating factors in warlike barbarism: “the chaos which already reigns in a good part of the world and which now threatens the large big developed countries and their reciprocal relations, […] faced with the tendency towards generalised chaos which is specific to decomposition and which has been considerably accelerated by the Eastern bloc's collapse, capitalism has no other way out in its attempt to hold together its different components, than to impose the iron strait-jacket of military force. In this sense, the methods it uses to try to contain an increasingly bloody state of chaos are themselves a factor in the aggravation of military barbarism into which capitalism is plunging.”

This pressure of “every man for himself” and the multiplication of imperialist appetites which results from it in a period of decomposition are also major obstacles to the reconstitution of new blocs. The predominant historical tendency is therefore towards every man for himself, towards the weakening of the control of the United States over the world, in particular over its ex-allies, even if the first world power tried to thwart this tendency on the military level, where it had enormous superiority, and maintain its status by imposing its control over these same allies.

First Gulf War: the “world policeman” tries to thwart the tendency towards “every man for himself”

Operation “Desert Storm”, unleashed by the United States against Saddam Hussein's Iraq in the early months of 1991, is a manifestation that fully corroborates the characteristics of imperialism and militarism in the period of decomposition, as identified in the orientation text on “Militarism and Decomposition”. Faced with the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi forces, President Bush Sr. mobilised a large international military coalition around the United States to “punish” Saddam Hussein.

The Gulf War highlighted the reality of a phenomenon which necessarily resulted from the disappearance of the Eastern bloc: the disintegration of its imperialist rival, the Western bloc. This phenomenon was already at the origin of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait: it was because the world had ceased to be divided into two imperialist constellations that a country like Iraq believed it was possible to take control of an ex-ally of the same bloc. This same phenomenon manifested itself during the preparation phase of the war, with the various attempts by European countries (notably France and Germany) and Japan to torpedo, through separate negotiations carried out on behalf of the release of hostages, the central objective of US policy in the Gulf. The US therefore aimed to make the punishment of Iraq an “example” to discourage any future temptation to emulate the behaviour of that country.

But it was not limited to this objective. In reality, its fundamental goal was much more general: faced with a world increasingly dominated by chaos and “every man for himself”, it was a question of imposing a minimum of order and discipline, first of all among the most important countries of the former Western bloc.

In such a world, more and more marked by warlike chaos, by the “law of the jungle”, it fell to the only surviving superpower to play the role of world policeman, because this was the country that had the most to lose in the global disorder, and because it was the only one that could afford to do it. Paradoxically, it would only be able to fulfil this role by increasingly encasing the whole world in the steel corset of militarism and warlike barbarism.

“Desert Storm” reveals two basic characteristics of imperialist clashes in the period of decomposition:

- In the first place, there is the total irrationality of the conflicts, which is one of the hallmarks of war in a period of decomposition.

While the Gulf war is an illustration of the irrationality of the whole of decadent capitalism, it also contains an extra and significant element of irrationality which is characteristic of the opening up of the phase of decomposition. The other wars of decadence could, despite their basic irrationality, still take on apparently 'rational' goals (such as the search for 'lebensraum' for the German economy or the defence of imperialist positions by the allies during the Second World War). This isn't at all the case with the Gulf war. The objectives of this war, on one side or the other, clearly express the total and desperate impasse that capitalism is in today:

- on the Iraqi side, the invasion of Kuwait undoubtedly had a clear economic objective: to grab hold of the considerable wealth of this country […] On the other hand, the objectives of the war with the 'allies' which was accepted by the Iraqi leaders as soon as they remained deaf to the ultimatum of 15 January 1991, were simply to 'save face' and inflict the maximum damage on the enemy, at the price of considerable and insurmountable damage to the national economy;

- on the 'allied' side, the economic advantages obtained, or even aimed for, were nothing, including for the main victor, the USA. The central objective of the war, for this power - to put a stop to the tendency towards generalised chaos, dressed up in grand phrases about the 'new world order' - did not contain any perspective for any amelioration of the economic situation, or even for preserving the present situation. In contrast to the time of the Second World War, the USA did not enter into this war to improve or even preserve its markets but simply to avoid a too-rapid amplification of the international political chaos which could only further exacerbate economic convulsions. In doing this, it could not avoid aggravating the instability of a zone of prime importance, while at the same time aggravating the difficulties of its own economy (especially its indebtedness) and of the world economy.” [11]

- In the second place, we must note the central role played by the dominant power in the extension of chaos across the whole planet:

The difference is that today the initiative isn't being taken by a power that wants to overturn the imperialist balance but on the contrary the world's leading power, the one that for the moment has the best slice of the cake […] The fact that at the present time the maintenance of 'world order' […] doesn't imply a 'defensive' attitude […] on the part of the dominant power, but by an increasingly systematic use of the military offensive, and even of operations that will destabilise whole regions in order to ensure the submission of the other powers, expresses very clearly decadent capitalism's slide into the most unrestrained militarism. This is precisely one of the elements that distinguish the phase of decomposition from previous phase of capitalist decadence.”

Operation “Desert Storm” effectively suppressed the challenge to American leadership and the various imperialist appetites for a time. However, it exacerbated the polarisation of the mujahedin who fought the Russians in Afghanistan against the American “crusaders” (constitution of Al-Qaeda under the leadership of Osama bin Laden in the 1990s). From the second half of the 1990s, European countries such as France or Germany exploited the desire for autonomy in countries such as Egypt or Saudi Arabia, while, after its failure during the invasion of Southern Lebanon, the Israeli “hard” right came to power (the first Netanyahu government) against the will of the American government which supported Shimon Peres, and which would do anything from then on to sabotage the peace process with the Palestinians that was one of the greatest successes of American diplomacy in the region.

A more obvious expression of the challenge to American leadership was the dismal failure in February 1998 of Operation “Desert Thunder”, which aimed to inflict a new “punishment” on Iraq and, beyond that country, on the powers that secretly supported it, especially France and Russia.

In 1990-91, the United States trapped Iraq by pushing it to invade another Arab country, Kuwait. In the name of “respect for international law”, they succeeded in rallying behind them, willy-nilly, almost all the Arab states and all the great powers, including the most reluctant like France. “Desert Storm” thus made it possible to assert the role of American power as sole “world policeman”, which opened the door to the Oslo process (the Israeli-Palestinian agreements). In 1997-98, on the other hand, it was Iraq and its “allies” who trapped the United States: the obstacles posed by Saddam Hussein to the visits of “presidential sites” by international inspectors led the superpower to a new attempt to assert its authority by force of arms.

But this time around, it was forced to give up this enterprise in the face of staunch opposition from almost all of the Arab states, most of the great powers, and (timid) support from Britain alone. The contrast between “Storm” and “Thunder” highlighted the deepening crisis of United States leadership.

Of course, Washington didn't need anyone's permission to strike when and where it wanted (which it did in late 1998 with Operation “Desert Fox”). But by pursuing such a policy, the United States was placing itself at the head of precisely the tendency it wanted to counter, that of every man for himself, as it had momentarily succeeded in doing during the Gulf War. Worse yet: the political signal given by Washington during “Desert Fox” turned against the American cause. For the first time since the end of the Vietnam War, the American bourgeoisie had shown itself incapable of outwardly presenting a united front, despite being in a situation of war. On the contrary, the procedure of “impeachment” against Clinton intensified during the events: American politicians, engulfed in a real internal conflict on foreign policy, instead of disavowing the propaganda of the enemies of America according to which Clinton had made the decision to intervene militarily in Iraq because of personal motivations (“Monicagate”), gave credence to this propaganda.

The underlying foreign policy conflict between certain factions of the Republican and Democratic parties had proven to be very destructive, precisely because this “debate” revealed an intractable contradiction, which the resolution of the 12th ICC Congress formulated as follows:

On the one hand, if it gives up using or extending the use of its military superiority, this will only encourage the countries contesting its authority to contest even more. On the other hand, when it does use brute force, even, and especially when this momentarily obliges its opponents to rein in their ambitions towards independence, this only pushes the latter to seize on the least occasion to get their revenge and squirm away from America's grasp.” [12]

On this point, the resolution of the 13th Congress of Révolution Internationale (section of the ICC in France) in 1998 was prescient:

While the US has not recently had the opportunity to use its armed might and to participate directly in this ‘bloody chaos’, this can only be a temporary situation, especially because it cannot allow the diplomatic failure over Iraq to pass without a response.” [13]

Second Gulf War: decline of American leadership and the explosion of imperialist ambitions

The attacks of September 11 2001 led President Bush junior to unleash a “war on terror” against Afghanistan and especially Iraq (Operation “Iraqi Freedom” in 2003). Despite all the pressure and spread of “fake news” aimed at mobilising the “international community” against the “axis of evil”, Bush junior failed in his attempt to mobilise other imperialisms against Saddam's “rogue state” and was forced to invade Iraq with Tony Blair's UK as his only significant ally.

The resolution on the international situation at the 17th ICC Congress (2007) noted how much the failure of Operation “Iraqi Freedom” underlined the inability of the American policeman to impose its “world order”. On the contrary, the “war on terror” had reinforced imperialist tensions, the development of every man for himself, and the weakening of American leadership:

The failure of the American bourgeoisie, throughout the 1990s, to impose its authority in any lasting sense, even after a series of military operations, led it to look for a new enemy of the ‘free world’ and of ‘democracy’, so that it could once again pull the world's powers into line, especially those which had been its allies: Islamic terrorism. […] Five years later, the failure of this policy is obvious. If the September 11 attacks allowed the US to draw countries like France and Germany into their intervention in Afghanistan, it didn't succeed in dragging them into its Iraqi adventure in 2003; in fact it even provoked the rise of a circumstantial alliance between these two countries and Russia against the intervention in Iraq. Later on, some of its main allies in the ‘coalition’ which intervened in Iraq, such as Spain and Italy, quit the sinking ship. The US bourgeoisie failed to achieve any of its official objectives in Iraq: the elimination of ‘weapons of mass destruction’, the establishment of peaceful ‘democracy’"; stability and a return to peace throughout the region under the aegis of America; the retreat of terrorism; the adherence of the American population to the military interventions of its government.

The question of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ was soon settled: it became clear that the only ones to be found in Iraq were the ones that had been brought in by the coalition. This quickly exposed the lies concocted by the Bush administration to sell the invasion of Iraq.

As for the retreat of terrorism, we can see that the invasion of Iraq has in no way clipped its wings but on the contrary has been a powerful factor in its development, both in Iraq itself and in other countries of the world, as we saw in Madrid in March 2004 and London in July 2005.

The establishment of a peaceful democracy in Iraq took the form of the setting up of a puppet government which couldn't maintain the least control over the country without the massive support of American troops - a control which is in any case limited to a few ‘security zones’, leaving the rest of the country free for massacres between Shias and Sunnis and terrorist attacks which have claimed tens of thousands of victims since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.

Stabilisation and peace in the Middle East has never seemed so far away: in the 50 year conflict between Israel and Palestine, the last few years have seen a continuous aggravation of the situation, made even more dramatic by the inter-Palestinian clashes between Hamas and Fatah and by the growing discredit of the Israeli government. The loss of authority in the region by the US giant, following its shattering defeat in Iraq, is clearly not separate from this downward slide and the failure of the ‘peace process’ of which it was the main proponent.

This loss of authority is also partly responsible for the growing difficulties of the NATO forces in Afghanistan and the Karzai government's loss of control of the country in the face of the Taliban.

Furthermore, the increasing boldness of Iran over its preparations for obtaining nuclear weapons is a direct consequence of the US falling into a quagmire in Iraq, which for the moment prevents a similar massive use of troops elsewhere […]

Today in Iraq the US bourgeoisie is facing a real impasse. On the one hand, both from the strictly military standpoint and from the economic and political point of view, it doesn't have the means to recruit a force that would eventually allow it to ‘re-establish order’. On the other hand, it can't simply withdraw from Iraq without openly admitting the total failure of its policies and opening the door to the dislocation of Iraq and an even greater destabilisation of the entire region.” [14]

In fact, the occupation of Iraq resulting from the invasion led to a fiasco for the United States. Occupation troops suffered heavy losses in attacks and ambushes and Iran's rise to strength as a regional power defying the United States was by no means blocked, on the contrary, and the Baathist cadres of Saddam's regime joined the resistance and formed the backbone of extremist Sunni movements such as Islamic State.

More fundamentally, Bush junior's Iraqi adventure fully opened up the Pandora's box of decomposition in the Middle East. Indeed, it first vividly exposed the growing stalemate in US policy and the aberrant escape into warlike barbarism. It severely weakened the global leadership of the United States. Even though the American bourgeoisie under Obama tried to reduce the impact of the catastrophic policy pursued by Bush, and the commando action decided by Obama resulting in the execution of Bin Laden in 2011 expressed an attempt by the United States to arrest this decline in its leadership and underlined its absolute technological and military superiority, these reactions could not reverse the underlying trend, while leading the United States into a headlong rush into warlike barbarism.

In addition, the warlike adventure of Bush junior exacerbated the spread of every man for himself, which manifested itself in particular in an all-out growth of the imperialist ambitions of powers like Iran, which has developed its hold on the Shiite parties and militias not only dominating Iraq but also in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, even the Gulf Emirates and Qatar, which have increased their support for radical Sunni groups. These ambitions brought no peace to Iraq but only the exacerbation of tensions between imperialist sharks and an even deeper plunge of this country and its people into bloody carnage.

Part II to follow.

M. Havanais, July 22, 2020


[1] International Review n° 64 (1991).

[2] Report to the July 1945 Conference of the Communist Left of France.

[3] Cf. “Orientation text: Militarism and decomposition”, International Review n° 64.

[4] Cf. “War, militarism and imperialist blocs”, International Review n° 52 and 53 (1988).

[5] Cf. in this regard the “Notes on the history of imperialist conflicts in the Middle East”, International Review n° 115 (2003) and n° 117 (2004), for a more detailed overview of imperialist relations in the region until WWII.

[6] On this level, the history of the Middle East underlines how much the establishment today of new national entities, successful (Israel) or not (Kurdistan, Palestine), engenders war and exacerbates imperialist rivalries.

[7] “Resolution on the international situation: 6th ICC congress”, International Review n° 44 (1986).

[8] As far as China is concerned, it did not yet have the means in the 1980s and 1990s to assert its imperialist interests beyond a certain threshold. However, between 1980-1989 it was engaged alongside the United States against Russia in Afghanistan. In the second part of this article, we will see that its “Silk Road” project as well as its energy needs today give the Middle East an increasing weight in the implementation of its imperialist policy.

[9] “Resolution on the international situation, 9th ICC Congress,”, International Review n° 67, (1991).

[10] “Orientation text: Militarism and decomposition”, International Review n° 64.

[11] “Report on the international situation (9th ICC Congress)”, International Review n° 67 (1991).

[12] International Review no 90 (1997).

[13] International Review n° 94 (1998).

[14] International Review n° 130 (2007).



Imperialism and Decomposition