The dramatic situation of a Middle East that has been plunged into chaos reveals the profound cynicism and duplicity of the bourgeoisie in all countries. Each one of them pretends that it wants to bring peace, justice and democracy to the populations who have been subjected to daily horrors and massacres for years. But their fine speeches are just a mask for the defence of sordid imperialist interests and a justification for military and diplomatic interventions which are the main cause behind today's worsening conflicts. The cynicism and hypocrisy of it all have been confirmed in particular by the hurried execution of Saddam Hussein, which is just one illustration of the bloody settling of scores between rival bourgeois factions.
Why the hurry to execute Saddam Hussein?
The judgement and execution of Saddam Hussein were spontaneously hailed by Bush as a "victory for democracy". There's some truth in this: the bourgeoisie has so often justified its crimes in the name of democracy. We have already devoted an article to the subject in this Review (International Review n°66, 1991, "The massacres and crimes of the great democracies"). With boundless cynicism, Bush also announced on 5 November 2006, when he was in Nebraska in the middle of an election campaign, that the death sentence handed out to Saddam was "a justification for the sacrifices willingly accepted by the US forces" since March 2003 in Iraq. So for Bush the hide of a murderer is worth the more than 3000 young Americans killed in Iraq (that's more than the victims of the destruction of the Twin Towers), most of them in the flower of their youth. And the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead since the beginning of the American intervention count for nothing at all. In fact, since the US occupation began, there have been more than 600,000 deaths and the Iraqi government is no longer counting so as not to "undermine morale".
The USA had every interest in ensuring that the execution of Saddam took place before the next round of trials. The reason for this is they would have brought up far too many compromising facts. It has been deemed necessary to obscure all memory of the total support given by the US and the Western powers to Saddam's policies between 1979 and 1990, and in particular during the war between Iraq and Iran between 1980 and 1988.
One of the main accusations against Saddam was the deadly use of chemical weapons against 5000 Kurds in Halabjah in 1988. This massacre was part of a war which cost 1,200,000 dead and twice as many wounded, and throughout which "the Butcher of Baghdad" was supported by the US and most of the Western powers. Having been taken by the Iranians, the town was then re-taken by the Iraqis who decided to carry out an operation of repression against the Kurdish population. The massacre was only the most spectacular in a campaign of extermination baptised "Al Anfal" ("war booty"), which claimed 180,000 Iraqi Kurdish victims between 1987 and 1988.
Saddam began this war by attacking Iran with the full support of the Western powers. After the emergence of a Shi'ite Islamic republic in Iran in 1979, with Ayatollah Khomeini denouncing the US as the "Great Satan", and after US president Carter's failure to overturn the regime, Saddam Hussein took on the role regional cop for the US and the Western bloc by declaring war on Iran and weakening it through 8 years of war. The Iranian counter-attack would have resulted in victory for Tehran if Iraq had not been given US military support. In 1987, the Western bloc led by the US mobilised a formidable armada in the waters of the Gulf, deploying more than 250 war-ships from nearly all the major Western countries, with 35,000 men on board and equipped with the most sophisticated war-planes. Under the guise of "humanitarian intervention", this force destroyed an oil platform and several of the Iranian navy's most effective ships. It was thanks to this support that Saddam was able to sign a peace agreement which allowed Iraq to keep its pre-war borders.
Saddam originally came to power with the support of the CIA, executing his Shi'ite and Kurdish rivals but also other Sunni chiefs within the Baath party, who were falsely accused of conspiring against him. He was courted and honoured as a great statesman for years, being recognised for example as a "great friend of France" (and of Chirac and Chevènement in particular). The fact that he distinguished himself throughout his political career by bloody executions and massacres of all kinds (hangings, beheadings, torturing opponents, use of chemical weapons, slaughter of the Shi'ite and Kurdish populations) never bothered any bourgeois politician until it was "discovered" on the eve of the Gulf War that Saddam was a bloody and frightful tyrant.1 We should also remember that Saddam was lured into a trap when he believed that he had been given the green light by Washington to invade Kuwait in the summer of 1990, thus providing the US with a pretext to mount a gigantic military mobilisation against him. Thus the US set up the first Gulf War of January 1991 and from now on Saddam Hussein would be deemed public enemy number one. The Desert Storm campaign, presented by the official propaganda as a "clean war", a kind of video war game, actually cost 500,000 lives in 42 days, with 106,000 air raids dropping 100,000 tons of bombs, experimenting with the whole gamut of murderous weapons (napalm, cluster bombs, depression bombs...). Its essential aim was to make a demonstration of the crushing military superiority of the US and to force its former allies, now becoming potentially dangerous imperialist rivals, to take part in the war under US command at a moment when the old bloc alliances were falling apart.
With the same degree of Machiavellianism, the US and its "allies" were soon involved in further machinations. Having called upon the Kurds in the North and the Shi'ites in the South to rise up against the Saddam regime, they left him with the elite troops he needed to drown these rebellions in blood, since they had every interest in keeping Iraq together. The Kurdish population in particular was subjected to the most atrocious massacres.
The hired hacks of European media, even joined by Sarkozy the hitherto pro-American French presidential hopeful, are now hypocritically denouncing the "poor choice", the "mistake", the "botched job" of Saddam's hurried execution. It is true that the circumstances of the execution will further exacerbate hatred between the religious groupings. It may have pleased the more fanatical Shi'ite groupings but certainly not the Sunnis, while the fact that it took place at the beginning of Eid, a very important festival in Islam, shocked most Muslims. What's more, Saddam Hussein may now be seen by generations who have not lived under his iron heel as a martyr.
But none of the bourgeoisies had a choice in the matter because they had the same interest as the Bush administration in seeing this execution rushed through in order to hide and erase the memory of their complicity in the atrocities of the past and their responsibility in the spiral of barbarism going on today. The situation in the Middle East is reaching the heights of absurdity, but it is only a symbol of the total impasse the system has reached everywhere.2
The headlong flight into war in the Middle East
Recent developments in the conflict between Israel and the various Palestinian factions, who have also been at each others' throats, have reached the height of absurdity. What is striking is the way that the different bourgeoisies involved have been pushed by the force of circumstances to take decisions which are altogether contradictory and irrational, even from the standpoint of their short-term strategic interests.
When Ehud Olmert offered his hand to the president of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, along with a few concessions to the Palestinians such as the withdrawal of a number of roadblocks and the promise to unfreeze $100 million in "humanitarian aid", the media immediately began talking about the revival of the peace process. Mahmoud Abbas has certainly tried to cash in on these offers in his competition with Hamas, since the aim of these pseudo-concessions was to show that his policy of cooperation with Israel could bring advantages.
But it was Ehud Olmert himself who largely sabotaged any common approach with the president of the Palestinian Authority when he was compelled by the pressure from the ultra-conservative factions in his government to renew the policy of implanting Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and to step up the destruction of Palestinian houses in Jerusalem.
The accords between Israel and Fatah resulted in Israel authorising Egypt to deliver arms to Fatah in order to give it an advantage in its struggle against Hamas. However, the umpteenth Sharm-el-Sheikh summit between Israel and Egypt was totally overshadowed by the Israeli army's new military operation in Ramallah on the West Bank and by the renewed air-raids in the Gaza Strip in response to sporadic rocket fire. So the message about wanting to revive peace talks was drowned out and Israel's intentions made to look very contradictory.
Another paradox is that at the moment that Olmert and Abbas met, and just before the Israel-Egypt summit, Israel announced that it possesses nuclear weapons and made open threats about using them. Although this warning was directed essentially against Iran, which is trying to attain the same status, it goes out indirectly to all Israel's neighbours. How were the latter to start negotiations with such a belligerent and dangerous power?
Furthermore, this declaration can only push Iran to move further in the same direction and legitimate its ambitions to becoming a gendarme and a protector of the region, resorting to the same logic of "deterrence" as all the great powers.
But it is not just the Zionist state which is acting in this way - it looks as if each protagonist is becoming increasingly incapable of acting for the best defence of its strategic interests.
Abbas for example has taken the risk of unleashing a test of strength with the militias of Hamas and has poured oil on the fire by announcing his aim of holding elections in Gaza. This could only be seen by Hamas, which was "democratically" elected only last January, as a real provocation. But this test of strength, which has also taken the form of bloody street-fighting, was the only way that the Palestinian Authority could try to break out of the Israeli blockade and the blocking of international aid in force since Hamas came to power. Not only has the blockade been a disaster for the local population, which has been unable to go to work outside the areas boxed in by the Israeli army and police, it has also provoked the strike by 170,000 Palestinian civil servants in Gaza and the West Bank who have not been paid any wages for months (especially in vital sectors like health and education). The anger of the civil servants, which extends into the ranks of the police and the army, has been exploited both by Hamas and by Fatah as a means to recruit people for their respective militias, each one blaming the situation on the other, while young kids between 10 and 15 are being enrolled en masse as cannon fodder in this murderous conflict.
Hamas meanwhile has been trying to take advantage of the confusion by negotiating directly with Israel for an exchange of prisoners, proposing to swap the Israeli corporal captured in June for some of its own activists.
The bloody chaos that has come out of a year's explosive co-habitation between the elected Hamas government and the president of the Palestinian Authority remains the only prospect. Given this suicidal policy, there should be no illusions about the truce agreed at the end of the year between the Fatah and Hamas militias. It will certainly be punctuated by murderous confrontations: car bombs, street battles, kidnapping, all of it sowing terror and death among the already impoverished population of the Gaza strip. And to cap it all, the Israeli raids on the West Bank or the brutal searches by the Israeli army and police mean that children and school students are regularly being killed in the crossfire, while the Israeli proletariat, already bled white by the war effort, is subjected to revenge operations by Hamas on the one hand and Hezbollah on the other.
At the same time, the situation in South Lebanon, where UN forces have been deployed, is far from being secure. Instability has increased since the assassination of the Christian leader Pierre Gemayel. There has been a major demonstration of force by Hezbollah and other Shi'ite militias, as well as by the Christian faction led by General Aoun who has provisionally rallied to Syria, besieging the presidential palace in Beirut for several days, while at the same time armed Sunni groups were threatening the Lebanese parliament and its Shi'ite president Nabil Berri. Tension between the rival factions is reaching a peak. As for the UN mission - disarming Hezbollah - no one takes that seriously.
In Afghanistan, the deployment of 32,000 troops under NATO's international forces and of 8500 Americans has proved ineffective. The struggle against al Qaida and the Taliban, who have carried out at least a hundred attacks in the south of the country, is getting inexorably bogged down. The balance sheet of this guerrilla war is 4,000 dead for 2006 alone. Pakistan, which in principal is the USA's ally, still serves as a base for al Qaida and the Taliban.
Each state, each faction is pushed headlong into military adventurism, regardless of the defeats they suffer.
The most revealing impasse is the one facing the world's strongest power. The policy of the American bourgeoisie is caught up in all sorts of contradictions. The report by James Baker, former adviser to Bush senior and appointed by the federal government, concluded that the war in Iraq has been a failure and advocated a change of policy: opening diplomatic relations with Syria and Iran and gradually withdrawing the 144,000 troops stuck in Iraq. And what happened? Bush junior was forced to renew part of his administration, notably by replacing Rumsfeld with Robert Gates as Defence Secretary; a number of people were made scapegoats for the Iraq fiasco and have been got rid of, notably two major commanding officers of the occupation forces in Iraq. But above all Bush has announced a new "surge" of US troops to Iraq: 21,500 reinforcements, for an army already heavily dependent on reservists, are to be sent to "secure" Baghdad. The shift in the majority in both houses of Congress, now dominated by the Democrats, has changed nothing: any disengagement or refusal to release new military credits for the war in Iraq will be seen as an admission of weakness by the US and the Democrats don't want to assume responsibility for this. The whole American bourgeoisie, like all the other bourgeois cliques or states, is caught in the infernal machine of militarism, where every new attempt to defend its imperialist interests against its rivals only ends up making matters worse.
The African continent: another edifying illustration of capitalist barbarism
Terrible atrocities are commonplace on the African continent today. After decades of slaughter in Zaire and Rwanda, after the confrontation between cliques in the Ivory Coast, further exacerbated by rivalries between the great powers, other regions are being bathed in blood and fire.
In Sudan, the "rebellion" against the pro-Islamist government in Khartoum is today split up into a myriad of different factions, all fighting among themselves, manipulated by this or that power in an increasingly unstable game of alliances. In the last three years, the Darfur region in the west of Sudan has seen 400,000 deaths and more than a million and half refugees; hundreds of villages have been destroyed and the former inhabitants pushed into immense camps in the desert, dying of hunger, thirst and disease, regularly suffering the attacks of various armed gangs or of the Sudanese government forces. The flight of rebel forces has led to the conflict being exported to other regions, notably the Central African Republic and Chad. This has in turn compelled France to get more and more involved militarily in order to preserve its remaining hunting grounds in Africa, in particular by taking an active part in the battles launched against the Sudanese government from Chad.
Since the overthrow of the former dictator Siyad Barre in 1990, which accompanied the fall of his protector, the USSR, Somalia has been in state of chaos, torn apart by a non-stop war between innumerable clans, mafia gangs of killers and pillagers ready to sell their services to the highest bidder, imposing a reign of terror and desolation across the whole country. The Western powers, which descended on this country between 1992 and 1995, have had to fight a losing battle in the face of this chaos and decomposition: the spectacular landing of the US marines ended in a pathetic fiasco in 1994, leaving the way open to total anarchy. The settling of scores between these gangs of assassins has left 500,000 dead since 1991. The Union of Islamic Courts, which is one of these gangs hiding under a veneer of Sharia law and "radical" Islam, finally grabbed hold of the capital Mogadishu in May 2006 with a few thousand armed men. The transitional government exiled to Baidoa then called on its powerful neighbour, Ethiopia, to save the day.3 The Ethiopian army, with the overt support of the US, bombarded the capital, forcing the Islamic troops to flee within a few hours, most of them going to the south of the country. Mogadishu is a frightful ruin whose population has been reduced to living hand to mouth. A new provisional government supported from a discreet distance by the Ethiopian army has been set up but its appeal to the population to hand in its weapons has had no result. After the clear victory of Ethiopia, the truce could only be provisional and precarious because the Islamic "rebels" are in the process of re-arming, in particular through the porous southern border with Kenya. But the rebels may get support from elsewhere, such as Sudan, Eritrea - Ethiopia's traditional rival - and Yemen. This uncertain situation is worrying for the US given that the Horn of Africa, with the military base in Djibouti and Somalia's position on the route to the Middle East and Asia, is one of the most strategic zones in the world. This is what prompted the US to intervene directly on 8 January, bombing the south of the country where the rebels have taken refuge; the White House claimed that they are being directly manipulated by Al Qaida. Neither the US, nor France, nor any other great power can play a stabilising role or act as a barrier to the spread of military barbarism in Africa or any other part of the world, whatever government is in power. On the contrary, their imperialist interests are pushing them to step up the death and destruction in an increasingly uncontrolled manner.
The plunging of a growing part of humanity into this kind of barbarism and chaos is the only future that capitalism can offer. Imperialist war is today mobilising the wealth of science, technology and human labour not to improve humanity's well-being, but to destroy these riches, to accumulate ruins and corpses. Imperialist war, which is undermining the heritage of centuries of human history and threatens to engulf and overwhelm the whole of humanity, is an expression of a profoundly aberrant social system whose survival has become an insane disaster for human society.
More than ever, the only possible hope lies in the overthrow of capitalism, in the establishment of social relations freed from the contradictions which are strangling society, by the only class that can bring humanity a future: the working class.
1 Another of the region's tyrants, Hafez-el-Assad of Syria, has since his death been dubbed a great statesman in reward for rallying to the Western camp during the period of the blocs, despite a career that was just as bloody as Saddam's.
2 Certain bourgeois writers are quite capable of seeing the unbearable accumulation of barbarism in the world today: "Barbarism follows barbarism to give birth to more barbarism. A video circulates on the internet, the latest contribution to the festival of unspeakable images, from the beheadings carried out by Zarkawi to the humiliated bodies piled up by GI's at Abu Ghraib (...) The terrible secret services of the former tyrant are succeeded by the Interior Ministry's death squads dominated by the pro-Iranian Badr Brigades (...) Whether in the name of Bin Ladenist terrorism, the struggle against the Americans, or the Shi'ite power, the murders directed against the Iraqi civilians have this in common: they are carried out under the law of individual impulse. Scoundrels of all kinds are springing up in the ruins of Iraq. Lying is the norm; the police practise kidnapping and banditry; men of God decapitate and eviscerate; the Shi'ite does to the Sunni what he himself has suffered" (the French weekly Marianne, 6.1.07). But all this is put down to "individual impulses" and in the end to "human nature". What such writers cannot understand is that this barbarism is a historical product of the capitalist system; and that there exists a historic class capable of bringing it to an end: the proletariat.
3 Ethiopia, also a former bastion of the USSR, has become a US stronghold in the region since the fall of Mengistu in 1991.