FRFI 172 April / May 2003
The US/British Coalition war on Iraq has immense consequences not only for the countries involved, the invaders and the invaded, and the neighbouring countries in the Middle East, but also for the rest of the world. This war is a watershed, marking the complete disintegration of the old world order which subsisted from the Second World War onwards. This war initiates the new century that the US has marked down as its own: this is its opening bid for global domination. The British ruling class, under the leadership of its most committed imperialists, the Labour government, is no poodle, but a greedy partner in this enterprise. The Coalition strategy is both a war for oil and for stamping its authority on future world relations. We should be clear, however, that while the US may want to claim ‘a new American century’, and Britain may demand its share, the seeds of their own destruction have already been sown. Alongside wars come revolutions.
The Coalition war began on 19 March after months of diplomatic manoeuvring, strong-arm tactics, and behind the scenes, the remorseless movement of troops and war materiel to the region around Iraq. US Joint Chief of Staff, General Tommy Franks, promised ‘this will be a campaign unlike any other in history’, comprised of ‘shock, surprise, flexibility and overwhelming force’. ‘S, G and A’, he said, adopting the style of an advertising executive, ‘special forces, ground attack and air bombardment, in that order.’ Hundreds of journalists were ‘embedded’ with Coalition forces, ready to be drip-fed information favourable to the invaders. As if as a warning, a crew of ITN journalists travelling independently, were wiped out by Coalition ‘friendly fire’ in the first days of the war.
Coalition partners promoted the idea that this was a humanitarian enterprise, a liberation war. Prime Minister Blair, in a 21st-century version of the Crusades and Onward Christian Soldiers, maintained that he had a moral duty to rescue the Iraqi people from intolerable repression. The war was dubbed Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Reality, however, quickly gave the lie to any expectation that the war would quickly turn to victory or that the Iraqi people would pour out of their houses to welcome Coalition troops. With the northern invasion route blocked by the Turkish refusal to host Coalition forces, the smooth running of the invasion through Kuwait became imperative. In the first few days, according to the news reports, invading Iraq was like slicing through butter: Basra for breakfast, Baghdad by tea-time. Then the capture and total submission of Umm Qasr, a small town near the border, had to be announced on three consecutive days, when in fact resistance continued throughout. Basra was pronounced to be friendly, ‘not a military target’: Coalition forces would surround it, ‘fix it’, but leave it alone. ‘We have no quarrel with the Iraqi people’ became the mantra, while Baghdad was bombarded with missiles, wounding and killing hundreds of civilians, and Basra was redesignated a military target because Coalition troops were meeting armed resistance. Doubts were now creeping in that Donald Rumsfeld’s insistence on restricting the number of troops to a light invasion force was a mistake. The theory of shock and awe is that a number of wars can be fought quickly. But Iraqi cities could not just be ‘fixed’ and then left to a smaller number of British troops to ‘housekeep’. The Iraqis were fighting back. On Saturday 22 March, Day 4, General Franks boasted of the surrender of Iraqi troops: at one stage claiming the entire 51st Division of the Iraqi army which would have consisted of thousands of soldiers. The reality was that only a few hundred came forward.
The US spent months before the war on psychological operations calculated to demoralise the Iraqi people, encourage them to overthrow Saddam Hussein, and intimidate anyone thinking of fighting back. It even set up a radio station, Radio Tikrit (named after Saddam Hussein’s birthplace) to spread disinformation.
The lying infected not only the propaganda aimed at the Iraqi people; both US and British reports aimed at swaying opinion in the United Nations (UN) Security Council were littered with fabrications. Britain’s 55-page report published in September 2002, the work of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, alleging the smuggling of uranium to make nuclear weapons, was exposed as obvious lies. And the January report, promoted by Downing Street, turned out to be a 10-year-old PhD thesis together with already-published and speculative material from Jane’s Weekly. Colin Powell tried to seduce the UN to support war with bogus information. Iraq had kept ‘up to a few dozen’ Scud missiles he allegedbut the UN inspectors reported that they had accounted for the disposal of 817 of 819 after the Gulf War. Powell also detailed ‘vast amounts of chemical weaponry’ while the UN inspectors reported that they had verified the destruction of virtually all of Iraq’s stocks. Even the CIA was sceptical about the claim that Iraq is part of a global terrorist network.
The lying was not successful. The Iraqi people, oppressed though they are by the current regime, have not been deluded by Coalition blandishments to believe that US-style ‘liberation’ to imperialist-puppet status has more to offer. Likewise, despite months of diplomacy, arm-twisting and bribery, a majority of the Security Council could not be forced to support a second resolution for war on Iraq, which would have dignified it with a doubtful legality under international law. In fact the first resolution, passed in the Autumn of 2002, Resolution 1441, was worded in such a way as to cover up the differences in international opinion. Subsequent attempts by the British Labour government to bend the wording to show either international unity or approval for war were ridiculous. The split in the Security Council was inevitable and reflected the real dynamic of international relations: the US and Britain were supported by Spain and Bulgaria; France, Russia, China, Syria and Germany were in opposition. Six other member states sat on the sidelines.
In fact it was only the British Labour government that was desperate for United Nations approval for the war. If its manoeuvres had succeeded at the UN, Britain would have reaped the kudos for coralling Europe into the US camp. When this plan was crushed by the threat of a French veto, which the British and the US loudly condemned as an ‘unreasonable veto’ (see box), there was no question of turning back. Without the second resolution, Blair is now banking on being able to outflank Britain’s main competitors in Europe – France and Germany – by partnering the USA in the war. The UN, after all, was just a cover for Labour’s imperialist ambitions. In the end, the fig-leaf of the Attorney General’s unpublished opinion that the war is legal under international law was enough for the Labour government.
The much-vaunted Labour opposition in Parliament, and the promised vote before going to war, fizzled out. Once troops were on the move most were happy to back ‘our boys’. Still the myth is being promoted that Blair has hijacked the Labour Party, when in fact Labour’s history is entirely on the side of imperialism. The left in the Labour Party stands convicted of a failure of principle. Some like Clare Short, international development secretary, are all mouth, selling out their principles for a morsel of cabinet power. Others are happy without the morsel of power: they take their salaries and pensions. The Labour Party was formed as a bourgeois imperialist party designed to oppose socialism and betray the working class. It continues in this tradition.
The US, on the other hand, proclaimed in advance that it was willing to go it alone, without the blessing of the United Nations or international law. When Hans Blix reported to the UN that the weapons inspectors were making ‘some progress’ and needed ‘months, not days or years’ to disarm Iraq, this was the signal for the US to break ranks. It was no surprise. While the UN had been useful to impose the will of imperialism on small nations in the post Second World War period, preventing the differences between the nuclear superstates escalating into war, it is now a fetter on US imperialist ambitions. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US, free to cajole, bribe and bully, began to show contempt for international treaties and the United Nations. After the election of President GW Bush, the US ruling class openly began to forge international relations in its own interests. International treaties on the environment, world trade, nuclear weapons proliferation, cheap generic medicine for poor nations, and agricultural subsidies have been reneged upon. The US opposes the foundation of an international criminal court and now openly describes the UN as ‘a theatre of the absurd’.
In line with a blueprint promoted by a right-wing Republican pressure group, The Project for a New American Century (see box), President Bush has flagged up the intention to go for world domination, especially in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre. The first step was the war on Afghanistan which led to the deaths of an estimated 20,000 people. With no opposition to its control of the region, the US appointed ex-Unocol (US oil company with a reputation for doing business with repressive regimes, eg Burma) advisor, Zalmay Khalilzad, as Special Envoy to Afghanistan. The plan is for a US oil pipeline across the country: a proposal that the Taliban had turned down. As a result of its Afghan war, the US now has military bases in Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Georgia. It has established a presence in Djibouti (eastern tip of Africa on the Red Sea). It has control of Bab Al Madab: a main oil trading route and also controls interests that give it access to West African oil fields.
There was no opposition from the international community when the US deprived prisoners from the Afghan war of any rights. They were refused prisoner of war status under the Geneva Conventions, and deprived of any rights to a trial as citizens of any state. Many were transferred to the US Guantanamo Bay Camp X-ray in Cuba where they are still detained without trial and without access to legal representation. Many others, unnamed, have been transported to unknown prisons in unnamed countries where they are undoubtedly being tortured in total contravention of international law. Blair has not raised one finger to help the British citizens who are detained in these circumstances. Hence the hollow laughter from the Arab and Islamic world that greeted the US/British cry of foul play at the treatment of Coalition soldiers captured by the Iraqi regime by showing them on television.
Last year in the US National Security Strategy, Bush announced a chilling programme ‘to dissuade potential adversaries from...surpassing, or equalling, the power of the United States’. In his speech at the military graduation ceremony at West Point in June 2002, Bush warned that American security ‘will require all Americans...to be ready for pre-emptive action.’ Pre-emptive action is, by definition, in breach of international law. Donald Rumsfeld wants to rid the world of the old treaties which prevent chemical warfare: he is promoting a new form of chemical warfare that will put combatants (and civilians) to ‘sleep’ – Coalition-speak for death in the case of the sick, elderly and children. Already, before the war is even won, the imperialists are squabbling over the spoils. The UN may be assigned the role of clearing up the rubble and disposing of the refugees. The real profits will go to US corporations, and the British if they are lucky. International regulators will take control, with the Iraqi people coming last in the list of beneficiaries.
We are witnessing the establishment of the new world order by bloody force and it is our job to join the opposition.
The US wants to restore its former glory. It wants a return to the post Second World War years, this time without the Soviet Union. It wants to rule Europe through its special relationship with Britain, dominate the Americas, and outgun Asia. Such ambitions, however, cost money and resources. And this time round the world is heading for recession, with the US in a position to fall further and faster than its competitors.
It is clear that in the Middle East the opposition to imperialism is being built. It is not led by Saddam Hussein or Al Qaida; they are the creatures of imperialism, hired to control the oppressed and bludgeon any opposition. They are just the excuse imperialism uses for war. It is led by the example of the Palestinian people and by the poor and oppressed of the Middle East who are demonstrating their implacable opposition to the new world order. This time round the US and Britain may not be able to afford to rule.
The suicide attack which left four US soldiers dead on Saturday 29 March in Najaf was a nightmare for US and British imperialism. The spectre of such attacks multiplying during the battle for Baghdad will haunt the military. In a bid to spread the war regionally, US Defence Secretary Rumsfeld has threatened Syria and Iran for allegedly supplying equipment and volunteers to the Iraqi war effort. Meanwhile British construction giant Costain has urged the government to ‘bypass the UN’ in awarding post-war construction contracts and the proposed new ‘Governor of Iraq’ will be retired US General Jay Warner who is president of an arms company which supplies technical services for Patriot missile systems. He is also a strong pro-Zionist.
After March 1988 when the Iraqi regime gassed Kurds at Halabja killing 5,000 people, the Financial Times ran articles exposing what the regime was doing. Mrs Thatcher complained to the paper that Edward Mortimer’s articles were damaging British business prospects.
The Veto and the United Nations Security Council
Neither the US nor Britain has ever had any hesitation in using the veto in their own interests (often coinciding). There is no such thing as an ‘unreasonable veto’. The five permanent members of the Security Council have the right to use the veto against resolutions, effectively blocking them.
USA: Since 1990 the USA has used its veto more times than any other country. Seven of the last nine vetoes have been used by the US; six of these were in favour of Israel. Its overall total is 76, with 35 of them being used to block criticism of Israel. Its last lone veto was three months ago to block a resolution condemning the killing of UN employees by Israeli soldiers and the destruction of a UN warehouse filled with food for poor Palestinians.
Britain: The UK has used its veto 32 times, 23 times with the USA. Many of these vetoes blocked criticism of apartheid South Africa or prevented action against it. The most recent UK veto was in 1989 when the USA, France and Britain vetoed a resolution deploring the US military invasion of Panama.
France: France has used the veto 18 times, 13 times alongside the US and UK. It last used a lone veto in 1976.
China has used its veto five times. Overall the USSR used its veto more times than any other country, but since 1991, Russia has used its veto only twice.
Project for a New American Century
The Project for a New American Century was formed in the 1990s by a group of right-wing ‘thinkers’ with the aim of reviving Reaganite policies. Its Statement of Principles, dated 3 June 1997 opens:
‘As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s pre-eminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests? ...
‘We seem to have forgotten the essential elements of the Reagan Administration’s success; a military that is strong and ready to meet both present and future challenges; a foreign policy that boldly and purposefully promotes American principles abroad; and national leadership that accepts the United States’ global responsibilities.’
In January 1998 this pressure group wrote to President Clinton proposing the removal of Saddam Hussein from power as a priority of foreign policy. The letter points out that if Iraq is allowed to develop weapons of mass destruction ‘American troops in the region, our friends and allies like Israel...and a significant portion of the world’s supply of oil will all be put at hazard’. It goes on to urge diplomatic, political and military effort in this direction, cautioning ‘in any case American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council’.
Supporters of this letter, now holding office in the Bush administration include: Donald Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defence; Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defence; Peter Rodman, Assistant Secretary of Defence for International Security Affairs; Richard Lee Armitage, Deputy Secretary of State; John Bolton, Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control, Non Proliferation and International Security; Zalmay Khalilzad, Special Envoy to Afghanistan; Paul J Dobriansky, Under- Secretary of Global Affairs; William Schneider Jr, Chairman of Defence Science Board. Other supporters of the Project and signatories to its Statement of Principles are: Dick Cheney, Vice President; I Lewis Libby, Cheney’s Chief of Staff; and Jeb Bush, GW Bush’s brother; and Richard Perle, formerly Secretary of Defence under President Reagan, until recently Chairman of the Defence Policy Board and instrumental in the drive to war. Perle was forced to resign because of the clash of his ‘business interests’ with affairs of state.