Three years after the US-led invasion of Iraq the country is in chaos. Following the destruction of the mosque in Samarra, one of the holiest Shia shrines, there was a whole series of reprisals, an increasing cycle of violence in which hundreds died. Media speculations on the ‘possibility’ of civil war are already behind the situation. The civil war has already begun and the dismemberment of Iraq looks increasingly likely. With the country falling apart, one way or another, no one is betting on the establishment of a stable government in Baghdad. The example of Afghanistan is there for all to see. The government’s authority doesn’t extend much outside Kabul and NATO troops aren’t going to be leaving for years.
US imperialism: the military response to chaos creates more chaos
The American government blames foreign terrorists for the deterioration of the situation in Iraq. Every suicide bombing is denounced as another blow against an emerging democracy. But the US is faced with more than a handful of terrorists. It’s faced with a world-wide slide towards military chaos opened up by the disintegration of the old bloc system at the end of the 80s. In this new world disorder, there is little reason for other powers, big or small, to put themselves under US discipline, and every reason for each country to fight for its own particular interests in the dog-eat-dog world of decomposing capitalism.
The spectacular interventions of US imperialism since the first Gulf war in 1991 have all been aimed at re-imposing America’s global authority. Control of Middle East oil supplies is one aspect of this strategy. But a more fundamental aim is to prevent the rise of any new powers capable of standing up to the USA. This aim was restated by the Pentagon in the recently published four-yearly strategy review. It contained nothing surprising but was a reminder of what the US has in store. For a start, the phrase ‘war on terror’ is replaced by ‘The Long War’. This is how US imperialism sees the future situation panning out. The war strategy of the US, post 9/11 “may well be fought in dozens of other countries simultaneously and for many years to come.” They see an emphasis going from large-scale conventional military operations to highly mobile, rapid reaction forces.
But while the report talks of the need for “the US military to adopt unconventional and indirect approaches”, the overall goals remain familiar. They want to prevent the emergence of any serious rival on the imperialist stage. “It will attempt to dissuade any military competitor from developing disruptive capabilities that could enable regional hegemony against the US and friendly countries…to ensure that no foreign power can dictate the terms of regional or global security”. This means the US wants to call the shots at every level.
The current situation in Iraq shows how distant that aspiration is. Every time the USA uses its vast military power to try to impose its ‘order’, it stirs up violence, contention and hatred on a mounting scale. And not just from the terrorist followers of radical Islam, but from a growing list of imperialist powers from China and Russia to the very heart of old Europe.
This situation is historic and it makes no difference whether the US state is managed by Bush and his Neo-Conservative cronies or a ‘progressive’ Democrat like Clinton or Kerry. Neither is imperialism a sin of the US alone. We are living in an era in which all states are imperialist, not least those like France or Germany who opposed the US invasion of Iraq. Then they posed as peace-makers because it suited their own sordid national interests. Today they are rattling swords at Iran in pursuit of the same interests.
A wide range of false alternatives
It’s not surprising that in a Ministry of Defence poll less than 1% of Iraqis thought that allied military intervention was helping their situation and 82% were strongly opposed to the presence of coalition troops. With the drift into civil war, the whole Bush/Blair promise that the invasion would turn Iraq into a stable and prosperous democracy looks more and more like a fairytale. And as the death-toll rises among the Coalition troops, it’s equally no surprise that the popularity of the war ‘at home’ is also nose-diving. It is now routinely accepted that the war was launched on the basis of a huge lie (Saddam’s ever-elusive Weapons of Mass Destruction); and an increasing number of soldiers’ families have protested angrily that their sons have been sacrificed for nothing.
On March 18 there is a ‘global day of protest’ that’s “against the occupation of Iraq and new wars”. In Britain typical slogans are “Troops home from Iraq”, “Don’t attack Iran” and “No to Islamophobia”. Those who will be marching will have a number of motivations.
For a start, there will be those who are genuinely horrified at what’s been going on in the Middle East and at the idea of further conflicts to come. But the question is whether these demonstrations really challenge the capitalist war machine. The evidence of the series of protests that have taken place since the invasion of Afghanistan, and then Iraq, shows that pacifist parades are a perfectly acceptable part of capitalist society. Tony Blair says that peaceful and legal protest is one of the democratic rights most anticipated in Iraq. At any rate, even with a million and half people on the streets prior to the 2003 invasion, our ‘democratic leaders’ calmly went ahead with their military plans.
The slogan ‘troops out of Iraq’ also fails to pose the real questions. If the troops are not in Iraq, Afghanistan, or Iran, then they’re going to be in the US, Britain or Ireland, or, in the case of the US, in massive numbers inside the borders of their economic rivals, Germany and Japan. And when the US moves its troops it does so in pursuit of its imperialist interests. Recently, for example, US Brigadier General Mark Kimmit, while admitting that the presence of 300,000 foreign troops in the Middle East, most of them American, was a “contributory factor” to instability in the region, insisted that the US “would not maintain any long-term bases in Iraq”. He also said that the US would have “sufficient forces to deter, and to protect partners and its key national interests”. So the US would retain “sufficient military capability” to attack Iran, for example. The USA’s network of bases is designed to enable action to be taken in any potential trouble spot. Likewise France is upgrading its nuclear arsenal, Britain will also be adding to both its nuclear and its conventional forces, and are we seriously to believe that the Iranian mullahs only want to develop nuclear energy for peaceful ends?
In sum, every capitalist state is arming itself to the teeth. The idea that the imperialist policies of capitalist states can be refashioned in a manner that is somehow less ‘military’ is entirely illusory. Whether great or small, states will use any means at their disposal to advance their interests. In the war of each against all, the bourgeoisie can only resort to force and terror.
Not every placard that will be seen on March 18 will be relying on the benevolence of the capitalist state. There will be others praising the virtues of the Iraqi ‘Resistance’ and telling us that it is ‘objectively anti-imperialist’. But the methods of the Resistance - suicide bombs in crowded markets, provocative attacks on religious sites, sectarian murders and reprisals - are in no way a challenge to the logic of imperialism. On the contrary, these are the typical methods of imperialist war in which the principal victims are always the exploited and the oppressed. And the methods are consistent with the goals: the establishment of an ‘independent Iraq’, able to pursue its own hegemonic ambitions in the region, just like the regime of Saddam Hussein or the ‘Islamic state’ in Iran. It makes no difference whether they want a ‘socialist’ Iraq or a Caliphate: all the disparate bourgeois forces that have set themselves against the US coalition want a state that will serve Iraq’s national, capitalist, and therefore imperialist interests.
Neither spreading pacifist illusions, nor openly siding with one imperialist camp against another, will halt new invasions and new wars. The barbarism in Iraq announces the future that capitalism has in store for all of us because, on a world scale, this is a social system in utter decay; a system which for the last hundred years has been dragging mankind through an absurd spiral of war and destruction. Even if ‘peace’ could somehow be imposed in Iraq, the virus of imperialist war would only break out somewhere else as long as its underlying causes have not been eradicated.
There is a real alternative: the international class struggle
But this harsh truth is not a message of despair. There is a social force that, when it makes its appearance, shows that it is the true negation of imperialist war. This force is the working class, which has no national interests to defend and nothing to gain from sacrificing itself in imperialist wars. It demonstrated this once and for all through the fraternisations, strikes and mutinies which put an end to the First World War. Likewise, it was the defeat of the proletarian revolutions of 1917-19 which allowed the bourgeoisie to dragoon the working class into the second world war. Today, the same basic reality is demonstrated by the war in Iraq. The great imperialist powers are unable to confront each other openly in a world war because the working class today is not defeated like it was in the 1930s. Despite the growing tensions between America and its principal imperialist rivals, the workers of Europe and America to not going to start slaughtering each other for their masters’ interests. So the antagonisms between the great capitalist powers are ‘deflected’ towards the weaker countries, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, and Iran, where the working class is also weaker and less able to sabotage the war-plans of the bourgeoisie.
This places an enormous
responsibility on the shoulders of the working class in the most powerful
countries. It is their struggle in defence of their living standards which has
the potential to paralyse the war-machine at its very heart – in New York,
London, Paris or Berlin. This struggle, after a long period of reflux, is again
raising its head in a series of strikes in which workers are rediscovering the
basics of class solidarity. Today these movements (such as the wildcats of the
Heathrow workers or the Belfast postal workers, or the New York transit strike)
are small-scale, unspectacular, focused on immediate, defensive demands; but
tomorrow they will be compelled to become more massive, more political and more
offensive. This is the movement that will counter capitalism’s lurch towards
barbarism with the proletarian perspective of communism.