Operation Desert Storm - Imperialists go to War

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! no. 99 February/March 1991

The attempted demolition of Iraq began under the cloak of darkness at 3am on 17 January 1991. By the end of just the first day of Operation Desert Storm Iraq had been subjected to a bombardment one and a half times more powerful than Hiroshima and double that which flattened Dresden. Days of unrelenting bombing, the biggest in history, will be followed by the use of ground forces against shell-shocked Iraqi troops.

For the first time we are witnessing the full range of modern high-tech conventional imperialist warfare. Overwhelming force is the key phrase. A massive technically superior military machine is being used against Iraq's 18 million people. To ensure against the remotest possibility of defeat or heavy imperialist casualties nothing must be left to chance. Hence the over 700,000 imperialist and allied troops, the 1,650 fighter and bomber aircraft, the 3,800 tanks and 129 battleships carrying cruise missiles, and the 1,000 US nuclear warheads with British and Israeli additions held in reserve. Hence on day one the dropping of 18,000 tons of explosives in 1,300 sorties and the firing of 1,000 plus cruise missiles (each costing £1m). This onslaught was designed to rapidly and completely destroy Iraq's capacity to retaliate. It failed - US and British aircraft have been destroyed and Iraqi Scud missiles have hit targets in Israel.

The obscenity of this war is cloaked behind the computer war games jargon of 'taking out' and 'pinpoint bombing'. They have reduced the horrors of war to a carefully censored 24-hour TV spectacle without a shred of honest information. Government ministers, armchair generals and Labour hacks blandly assess the success of 'our war'. We will not see the blood, the bones, the charred bodies. The extent of devastation, injuries and deaths is not and, if the imperialists have their way, never will be, known. But we do know that Britain's role in this bloody slaughter has been second only to the USA.

Why are they waging war?

What is this war about? Only fools would believe that the international gangsters of US and British imperialism have suddenly become converts to the cause of self-determination. If the Kuwaitis had no oil they could weep until the deserts bloomed before the imperialists would aid them.

This war is about imperialist power, profit and oil. When they talk of 'stability in the Middle East' they mean the subordination of the Arab masses and Arab oil to the imperialists and their obscenely rich hireling Kuwaiti and Saudi sheiks. They mean the permanently enforced balance of power that keeps their only stable and reliable ally - their ghastly offspring Israel - stronger than any other nation in the region.

President Bush was clear: imperialist wealth must be defended against the threat posed by an Iraqi regime strong enough to assert its interests in the region - 'Our jobs, our way of life, our own freedom and the freedom of friendly countries would all suffer if control of the world's great oil re-serves fell in the hands of Saddam Hussein.' And US Secretary of State James Baker said: 'The economic lifeline of the industrialised [imperialist] world runs from the Gulf.'

So we have seen imperialist war aims enlarged. First they were merely going to 'defend' Saudi Arabia. Then they wanted to 'liberate gallant little Kuwait' - a regime despised through-out the Arab world. A country whose citizens are so thoroughly spoiled by oil wealth that they failed to put up even a token resistance to the Iraqis. A country where 80 per cent of workers are immigrant Arabs and Asians forced to labour for a pittance. A country which has no elections and where the national pastime is shop-ping. A sort of Arabic Dallas. But one which keeps oil safe for the 'free world'.

Then the aim moved beyond liberating this paradise. 'Any withdrawal that left the Iraqi war-machine intact would be unacceptable', said the USA. However token Saddam Hussein's opposition to Zionism, the elimination of his regime would consolidate the reactionary alliance of imperialism, Zionism and the Arab bourgeoisie which had secured their control of the area and isolated the Palestinian and Kurdish revolutions.

As we go to press, it is too soon to tell how far the imperialists will succeed in their military and political aims. Their determined attempt to prevent an Iraqi strike against Israel which could draw Israel into the war and fracture the anti-Iraqi Arab alliance has already faced its first set-back. It is not yet clear whether Iraqi forces will be strong enough to cause further serious problems and whether the Arab masses will rise up against the fate being planned for them.

Who will rule the 'new world order'?

This war has seen the greatest international coalition in history. Twenty-seven nations are ranged against Iraq. But the strains among the main imperialist powers are visible. The French, German and Japanese governments have proved to be less enthusiastic about launching war. Hence the last-ditch French-led European peace initiative to forestall hostilities. It was not a strong challenge but that it existed at all mightily upset the USA and its British corporal.

Since 1945 the USA has been the Big Brother of the imperialist world. It has used its overwhelming muscle to make the world safe for imperialist exploitation and ensure itself the big-gest share of the loot. Only in recent years has it begun to face serious economic rivals in a German-dominated Europe and in Japan. This mounting rivalry was graphically demonstrated in breakdown of the GATT trade talks. The US is intent on using the Gulf war to reassert its dominance in the world and its control of Gulf oil on which Europe and Japan depend.

The question for Britain - ally with Europe or the USA? - which seemed to underlie Thatcher's demise has been for the moment roundly answered. Uncle Sam is the man for Britain and only those more far-sighted imperialist politicians like Denis Healey and Ted Heath have questioned this choice. In advocating caution, they have been conscious that Europe could develop its own alliances and interests in the Arab world in which Britain could share. Shackled to a USA and Israel hated throughout the Arab world, this will not be possible.

The rumble of bombs in Iraq may be the prelude of greater storms to come. If the rivalry between the USA, Europe and Japan continues to grow, we or our children will see a war to redivide the world. And then those who live in imperialist countries and previously only watched wars on TV will come to understand the meaning of the term 'taking out' for themselves.

Whatever happened to the anti-war movement?

Never has there been a greater need for a massive anti-war movement. But where are the voices raised against war? Day one of Operation Desert Storm saw a packed House of Commons rallying behind 'our boys'. Hundreds of comfortable old men talked about the need for 'courage' and 'sacrifice'.

What is there left to say about Kinnock and co? Wanting to safeguard British imperialism, wanting to court votes, terrified of being deemed unpatriotic if they so much as coughed during the war debate: 'Our forces are engaged in pursuing legitimate objectives and should enjoy full support across the political spectrum...Dictators don't withdraw, they have to be defeated.' Thus said Kinnock, the grammar schoolboy who knows his place, looks up to his betters, and glows warmly when they let him into their club.

In the USA, where they are fortunate enough not to have a large social democratic party, the Senate and House of Representatives were deeply divided. With black people and other oppressed layers playing a far more significant role politically, a serious anti-war movement is developing. Not in Britain.

Yet it cannot be said that it is the Labour leadership that has prevented a significant anti-war movement. They are not contenders for the leadership of anti-war sentiment, they are explicitly leading the war party. The culprits must be sought amongst those who have taken the leadership of the anti-war trends, primarily Tony Benn and the Labour left. It may seem churlish to focus on Tony Benn given that he is one of the few politicians to oppose the war. But it must be said - he and his trend have prevented the building of an enduring and effective anti-war movement.

Through the five months leading to war the Labour left's position, expressed by large CND demonstrations, was to give sanctions a chance. To starve the Iraqis rather than bomb them. A week before the war the CND, calling for more time for sanctions, organised a demonstration of 100,000. And when war came and the bombs fell, what could they say? They led the anti-war movement into a blind alley.

What does Benn's position represent? 'The consequences of the war in the Gulf could be...the Arab nations solidly united against the West.' He wants to oppose the war - for the good of imperialism! Hence his grotesque illusions in the United Nation's ability to secure a just solution. A UN which since the collapse of the socialist bloc has become an instrument of imperialist policy, and under whose flag the blitzkrieg on Iraq is being waged. With his call for sanctions and UN action what is Benn actually saying? - that the oppressed can be kept down by peaceful means rather than war, that the current world order can be defended by becoming a little more just.

This tired old rubbish persists because it has a purpose. People in the imperialist nations are faced with a choice. Many of them do not approve of the war, poverty and starvation which imperialism creates. To do something about it they would have to ally with those who directly suffer at the hands of imperialism. Or they could become silent accomplices to imperialist oppression. The choice is there. Today it is summed up in the question: 'Are you for or against imperialist intervention in the Gulf?' Benn invents a comfortable third option: a peaceful solution via the UN. At the same time he gives the Labour Party the entirely spurious appearance of being worthy of support from those opposed to this war.

In the Gulf war there is only one position which reflects both the interests of the Arab masses and of those sections of the British population who desire peace: Stop the War! Imperialist Troops Out of the Gulf! It won't build a mass movement tomorrow. But then a mass movement that disappears when war is declared is not a great deal of use. It will however start to attract to its ranks the most consistent and enduring forces. It will provide a means of allying with and defending Arabic, Turkish and Kurdish people in Britain now under chauvinist attack. It will be the beginning of a new trend in Britain. If it is not born now, in the midst of this slaughter, the future is bleak indeed.

An edited version of this article was also published as chapter 1.3 of The New Warlords: from the Gulf War to the recolonisation of the Middle East



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