Debate and discussion: Iraq - don't trust Bush

Submitted by AWL on 21 February, 2003 - 4:36

Don’t be an optimist for Bush

By Martin Thomas
Some of Eric’s arguments are a valuable corrective to tendencies on the Left to say no wherever the USA says yes, or to assume that everything will be for the worst in the USA’s war drive. I think, however, that he ends up making himself a mirror-image of the nay-sayers, and making the assumption most favourable to US strategy wherever there is doubt.

First, however: if the four “assumptions” which Eric mentions all prove false, what then?

It makes no difference to our conclusions if the USA gets UN approval, or if public opinion becomes more pro-war. We never base ourselves on following public opinion, let alone the UN.
A resolution of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty National Committee last September faced the issues in the other two “assumptions” squarely. “US strategists evidently believe that with enough ‘smart bombs’ they can crush Saddam’s regime quickly, set up an alternative, and then withdraw. At small cost they will have secured the end of the malodorous and ineffective UN sanctions against Iraq, established a reliable government over one of the world’s major oil powers, and stabilised a crucial region. Even if we thought that the gung-ho US strategists were calculating correctly, socialists could not support such plans [even though] Saddam’s regime is as evil and terrorist as any on earth.”

Why not? Because “the overthrow of Saddam is for the people of Iraq to do, not for the US to impose on Iraq at inescapably large cost of Iraqi civilian and conscript life” (maybe not hundreds of thousands, but very likely tens of thousands); and because the US war plans are part of a strategy to establish the US as “globocop”, not just against Saddam, but against the peoples of the whole world.

A very similar view is argued in the appeal “No to war! No to Saddam!” which the AWL is currently promoting internationally.
If we were sure, now, today, that all four “assumptions” would prove false, then our tone and angle of argument against the war drive would certainly be different. We are not sure; and we are not inclined to be “optimists for Bush”. How can it be right to base our judgments, now, on giving the US administration the benefit of the doubt in every case?

Why is Eric so sure? How can he be so sure? The substance of his arguments is that any of the four assumptions may be wrong — which is certainly true — but at the start of his article he writes flatly and confidently that all four assumptions definitely “are going to turn out to be misguided and wrong”.

Let us review the four assumptions. That the US and Britain are isolated diplomatically I do not assume at all. In public speeches in recent weeks I have been saying that France will, in the end, back the US war drive. I am not so sure now; but still, the odds tilt that way.

If France gives the USA its UN resolution, that will dent anti-war sentiment. Once war starts, however horrific and unjust, there will be many who didn’t want it but feel that they should back their “own” government in war regardless. If the Wolfowitzes and Perles prove right in their calculations, and the USA wins the war easily and cheaply, then... nothing succeeds like success.

So I don’t assume that “anti-war sentiment grows every day”. Nor, I guess, does anyone but the most naïve. Without “growing every day”, however, anti-war sentiment can remain very large. I think it will. I will work to try make sure it does. Young people aroused to political life by the infamies of the multinational corporations and international banks will not easily swing over to support for the USA’s war for oil.

The Left, says Eric, assumes that Saddam has no (or few) weapons of mass destruction, and that a war will kill “hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis”. It is true that many on the Left wrongly feel obliged to paint Saddam in the least bad light, or to hype up the likely casualties of war. It is also true that the casualties in Afghanistan (2001) and in the Kuwait war of 1991 proved smaller than we expected.

But Eric’s “optimism for war” seems self-contradictory here. If Saddam has lots of weapons of mass destruction, and the war is endgame for him, won’t he use them? In which case there will be large casualties, and the risk of horror spreading wider in the Middle East — for example by Ariel Sharon seizing the chance to drive masses of Palestinians out of the West Bank — is great.

I also doubt Eric’s optimism about the war being followed by a US drive similar to that after 1991 for an Israel-Palestine settlement.
Leave aside for now arguments about the inadequacies of Oslo. The people in the US administration pushing for war on Iraq are more on Sharon’s wavelength than Oslo’s. They look for peace to thrashing the Palestinians until they will settle for a few bantustans, not to any sort of democratic accommodation.

For “doves” in the US establishment to prevail over the anti-Palestinian “hawks” requires that the US ruling class as a whole feels an urgent need to placate, accommodate, and calm feelings — i.e., that the Iraqi war has destabilised the Middle East, rather than passing off as smoothly as the Wolfowitzes and Perles predict.
To be “optimistic” for the US war on all counts simultaneously — that Saddam has a huge arsenal which it will neutralise, that the casualties and disruption will be small, and that a drive for peace will follow — is contradictory.

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