Is war now certain?
Despite the vast scale of the world-wide opposition to war, a US/UK attack on Iraq seems a certainty. Small-scale air attacks on Iraq have been routine for years. Already they are being escalated. Soon the US and Britain will launch what they call Operation Shock and Awe - total war on Iraq. The first two days will, they say, see 800 cruise missiles rain down on Baghdad, so as to destroy "the enemy's will to fight". Vast numbers of civilians are certain to be slaughtered. The Pentagon says plainly that "there will not be a safe place in Baghdad". Tony Blair and his cabinet plan to commit mass murder in Iraq!
Nine out of ten people in Britain oppose war on Iraq unless it is a UN-decided war. One in two Americans oppose a US attack on Iraq without a specific UN authorisation. They don't want the US and the UK to act alone. A large part of the Parliamentary Labour Party voted against war without the UN. So why won't Bush and Blair listen? Britain and the USA are democracies, after all.
They are very defective democracies - bourgeois democracies. There is no democratic mechanism by way of which the people can in the short term control the actions of those in power. For a long time Blair refused even to let Parliament debate the issue. Bush's democratic credentials are very defective, to say the least. His opponent in the 2000 presidential election got more votes than he died. Bush stole that election.
Should we support war if the UN Security Council does after all back it?
No. The idea of the rule of international law - even bourgeois law - is a good one. It is better than war. It is very significant that as large a part as 50% of the US people want Bush not to make war without new UN authorisation.
But, for fundamentally important things, the UN remains a cartel in which the big powers usually get their way, and in which nothing is done without their agreement. The split between the USA and most of Europe has exposed the real nature of the UN. The USA openly bribes and bullies for votes.
If there is a second resolution licensing the US and Britain to do what they will do anyway, that will weaken the moral authority of the UN. If - as seems most likely now - the US and Britain act without prior UN authorisation, that will weaken it also, in a different way.
But why is Blair determined to go to war, UN or no UN? For years Blair has tried to say and do only the "popular thing", using "focus groups" to find out what it is. Now he is set on defying the vast majority who oppose war. Why?
Blair plays a double role. The USA and Europe are divided sharply on this issue. Blair tried to bridge the gap. He acted as a restraining influence on Bush, persuading him to "go the UN route". He probably believes that if the UN "forces" the USA to go to war without new UN authorisation, then major damage will be done to the UN and to the prospects of a sane world order in this era of US hyperpower.
In the course of playing this role, he has lost all independence. He has become magnetised to the US military juggernaut. As somebody put it, he has become US foreign minister, eloquently pushing the case for war. His attachment to Bush's drive for mass murder in Iraq is now probably unbreakable.
But there is more to it. Blair seems to think he is infallible. He has now reached the level of megalomania that Thatcher reached in the last period of her eleven-year prime ministership - only much earlier. He won't listen. He is of course gambling on a quick victory, a quick collapse of Saddam Hussein's regime like the collapse of the Taliban in Afghanistan. If that happens he will claim to have been vindicated. His standing and authority will be strengthened, as Thatcher's was by the Falklands war of 1982.
Why is Bush determined on war? Oil?
Oil, certainly. That was the fundamental cause of the USA falling out with Saddam Hussein, whom it had backed in his eight-year war with Iran. That led to the Gulf war of 1991.
Saddam Hussein's armies had invaded and annexed Kuwait to gain control of its oil. Success would have given Iraq up to 30 per cent of the world's oil reserves. In 1991 "oil" meant depriving Iraq of control of Kuwaiti oil. In 2003, "oil" means trying to make sure that the whole Gulf region, with two-thirds of the world's oil reserves, is safe for world capitalism.
Without war, US strategists think that in years to come Saddam Hussein's Iraq will re-establish itself as a regional power, openly defying the USA, and in the meantime the Saudi monarchy may fall.
The US administration is also working to give the big Western oil companies, in the first place those of the USA, control of Iraqi oil. Iraqi oil is state-owned. The US multi-millionaires hope to change that and open it up.
But why does the USA want direct physical control of Iraq? The era is long gone in which great powers like Britain and France grabbed control of whole countries to gain possession of raw materials and markets, sometimes fighting over such things like hungry dogs over a bone. We live in an epoch of what has been called the "imperialism of free trade". The USA, the European Union countries, Japan, etc., dominate through their economic strength by way of market mechanisms, supervised by the IMF and other such bodies. That system is much less costly and risky for them than attempting to run colonies in the modern world would be. Why do they need to seize Iraq?
Phases of imperialism have succeeded each other. We may be in a period of sea-change now. Iraq acted as an old-style pre-World-War-Two imperialism when it invaded Kuwait to seize its oil. The US and Britain responded as the world policemen to suppress this resurgence of the old, superseded, type of imperialism. Yet the logic of what Iraq had done in 1990, the modus operandi of the older imperialism, infected and determined the actions of even those who acted to defeat Iraq's attempt at old-style imperialist self-aggrandisement by way of the Kuwaiti oil grab.
Though they have not acted as an old-style colonial garrison, the USA has kept permanent military forces in Kuwait, in Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the Gulf, since then.
The projected US occupation of Iraq is logically the next stage on towards a pre-World-War-Two type of garrison imperialism.
Are you saying that the world is drifting back to old-style colonial imperialism?
The pattern now is of military intervention to manage affairs and install pliable governments, operating in parallel to economic supervision and regulation through institutions like the IMF. That is the significance of the USA's proclamation of the goal of "regime change", and of the "Bush doctrine" that the USA will engage in "pre-emptive" wars. It is "world management" from the US hyperpower's vantage-point of immense military superiority over the rest of the world. It has parallels with the "gunboat diplomacy" of mid 19th century Britain. When the British Navy's control of the world's seas and trade routes was uncontestable, Britain would intervene by "sending a gunboat". The USA today sends rockets and bomber planes.
So nobody intends or even knows for sure what is happening? Things don't work like that!
Yes, they do! Yes, they have! In the last third of the 19th century the British Liberal prime minister, William Ewart Gladstone, who believed in free trade as fervently as Blair and Bush believe in the modern market-worshipping version of the same thing, seriously talked of Britain getting rid of its old, 18th-century Indian empire. Direct control, he reasoned, was not necessary in the epoch of free trade, when Britain was economically greatly ahead of the rest of the world and the British navy controlled the seas.
Yet it was the free-trader Gladstone who began the formation of a new British Empire in 1882, with the occupation of Egypt, which was initially intended to be temporary, but led to Egypt becoming a British "protectorate" for 70 years. Gladstone certainly did not intend that. He would finally leave politics in the mid-1890s after a dispute with the outright imperialists of his own party.
Blair and Bush say it is not about oil.
Sure. But they give so many "good reasons" for reaching the same conclusion, war, that you cannot help but wonder what the real reason is.
Certainly the drive to war with Iraq arises out of the American trauma after the 11 September 2001 Al Qaeda attack on New York. The easy victory in Afghanistan, which left Al Qaeda intact outside Afghanistan and its leader Osama bin Laden still at liberty, did not provide the catharsis the USA needed. It brought neither a full sense of satisfaction nor the destruction of "international terrorism".
Something more was needed - Iraq. And after Iraq? North Korea, Iran...
But Bush is not acting in response to "public opinion" formed by the attack on New York. In the USA now, at least half the people do not want a unilateral US/UK war on Iraq.
Indeed. The Al Qaeda attack on New York is fundamentally excuse, not cause. The dominant figures in the Bush administration, some of them far-out Christian fundamentalists, are seizing the chance they have been seeking for a long time.
They belong to a ruling-class school of thought which believes that the USA, having won the Cold War with the USSR so that it is the world hyperpower, should seize control of Iraqi oil, and in general should assert itself more forcefully throughout the world. They resemble the USA's strategic thinkers of 100 years ago, who argued that it was the USA's "manifest destiny" to be a great world power. That thinking led to the Spanish-American war of 1898 in which the USA seized the Philippines and liberated Cuba from Spain, turning it into a dependent US client state.
The extent to which the USA followed the great European powers of that time in establishing a colonial empire was limited - most of the world was already divided up. In World War One the USA encroached so much on the position in the world of its British ally that serious observers in the early 1920s - Leon Trotsky was one of them - believed that there would be a US-British war. That didn't happen.
In World War Two the USA's power again grew enormously at the expense of its British and French allies, as well as of its Japanese and German enemies. Dividing the world with the Stalinist Russian empire on the other side, the USA bestrode the "free world" like the colossus it was, through sheer economic and military preponderance. It pressurised the British, French, Belgian and Dutch empires into abandoning colonialism. With the collapse of the other superpower, the USSR, the USA is now the unchallengeable world power.
It has been that for over a decade now. What's new?
Political opportunity - the attack on New York - and the nature of the Bush government. This is a very right-wing government which is in the hands of undisguised and unashamed agents of the US oil companies and other US big business. Long-existing trends have come to a head.
Hawkish US strategists want to seize the chance to tidy up, from their point of view, perhaps the most strategic region in the entire world, the oil-rich Gulf. Their experience in Afghanistan and in the 1991 war suggests to them that their military power is irresistible, and that war will be cheap in US lives. And after the Al Qaeda attack on New York they are convinced that they need a "tighter" approach to policing the world.
So we should support Saddam Hussein against US imperialism?
No, we should not! Iraq is a small, more primitive imperialism. Everything the pro-war propagandists say about the Iraqi regime is perfectly true. They are, of course, hypocrites when they denounce Saddam's regime. They have in the past supported and helped that regime. The warmongering Donald Rumsfeld, in his capacity as businessman, once sold material for "weapons of mass destruction" to Iraq.
One way of getting the issue in perspective is to ask what would be the consequences of an Iraqi victory in war against the USA. It will not happen, but if Saddam won he would be able to re-occupy Kuwait and subject the presently autonomous Kurdish area to murderous Baghdad rule. He would grind all Iraqis under the heel of a strengthened totalitarian dictatorship.
Yes, the US may repress the Iraqi Kurds in deference to Turkey, or let the Turkish army do it. The point is that victory for either side, the bigger or the weaker imperialism, will have reactionary consequences.
But Iraq is qualitatively weaker than its enemies. The USA will certainly win if they use the power they have. They may reduce Iraq to a colony again. Iraq represents the Third World, the USA and Britain the great powers.
We should be against US military rule over Iraq, but socialists do not side with a weaker imperialism on the expectation that it will most likely lose a war and suffer the consequences. That approach would have led us to endorse Japan, or even Hitler's Germany, against the USA, Britain and the USSR. Defeated Germany was occupied, plundered, and partitioned for half a century. Socialists opposed the occupation, plundering, and division of Germany. We did not back the Hitler regime on the ground that such a fate in defeat was predictable.
Are you comparing Saddam Hussein to Hitler? That's what the advocates of war do!
Yes and no. Saddam Hussein is far worse than Hitler was before the outbreak of World War Two. He has done things against the people over whom he rules worse than anything Hitler did in Germany before the war. Saddam's is a totalitarian regime in which the "Ba'ath Socialist Party" has the role of Stalin's "Communist" Party in the USSR or Hitler's National Socialist party in Germany.
But of course, Iraq is not an imperialist power comparable to Hitler's Germany. It is far weaker.
Why not back those who want to smash Saddam Hussein? They will bring democracy to the Iraqi people, as they did to the part of Germany they controlled after defeating Hitler, or to US-occupied Japan.
First they will slaughter unknowable but possibly vast numbers of Iraqis. And then? Even the Americans do not claim unequivocally that they will establish democracy in Iraq. They may well replace Saddam Hussein with another, more pliable, dictator, someone with cleaner hands to do the same job that before 1990 they hoped Saddam would do for them. The reason they did not bring Saddam's regime down at the end of the Gulf war of 1991 was that they feared that Iraq would disintegrate into its component parts - Kurds, Sunni Muslim Arabs and Shi'ite Muslims - and leave a power vacuum. They wanted elements in the Iraqi army to oust Saddam without destroying the regime. That didn't happen.
But surely it is most likely that the USA will set up something better in Iraq than the Saddam regime?
Perhaps. But I repeat: how many thousands and tens of thousands of Iraqis will die under their bombs?
Thousands die every year at the hands of Saddam's regime! It is true that many thousands, including children, have died as a result of US-led sanctions over twelve years - but a different regime in Iraq would not let them die, as Saddam has chosen to. War is better than continuing sanctions. As Blair says, it is immoral to let all this go on. There is a moral imperative behind this drive for war!
Right now, no-one can know whether or not this war will bring vast Iraqi casualties, though what we know of such plans as Operation Shock and Awe indicates that it will. The Gulf war of 1991 brought a militarily senseless slaughter of tens of thousands of Iraqi conscripts, and thousands of civilians. The new war will most likely bring more. Nobody knows how long the Iraqi state will hold, how much resistance such forces as Saddam's Republican Guard will put up, or what will happen to the civilians left alive after the 800 missiles if there is fighting in Baghdad and the other urban areas. And nobody can be sure what regime the Americans will install afterwards. Supporting war means giving the USA and Britain support in a possibly vast slaughter of Iraqis, on the basis of giving them the best of every doubt in advance.
The truth, however, is that in history totalitarian regimes like Saddam's have proved hard, usually impossible, to bring down from the inside. The people are savagely held down. Outside pressure is necessary to crack the government's grip.
But what about the cost in human life and the uncertain result? Why should we trust the Americans and British? Of course it is plain stupid - as well as obscene and repulsive - to do as some anti-war propagandists do, and equate Saddam with Bush or Blair, for example by saying that the answer is "regime change" in Washington and London. But it is true that Bush is far from being a model democrat with impeccable democratic credentials. Remember, he was not even properly elected. And this is the most right-wing US government for a long time. They have used the attack on New York and war to gain a popular legitimacy they did not have and, to go by US polls, are rapidly losing.
It is very far from certain that the USA can do in Iraq what it did in Japan and post-war West Germany. And it is a very different country from the USA of Roosevelt's "New Deal". Nobody can have confidence in the US administration to do "good" after the slaughter they plan to unleash.
One measure of this is that they did a deal with the Turkish government - though the Turkish parliament has repudiated it, at least for now - to hand a large part of Iraq's Kurdish region, where since 1991 the Kurds have enjoyed self-rule under US protection, over to Turkish military occupation. Some democrats!
The consequences in the other Arab and Islamic countries of the projected attack on Iraq are incalculable. All the signs are that there will be an upsurge of raw Islamic feeling. Existing governments may be brought down. The Turkish backlash against the deal which the Turkish government had negotiated - many billions of dollars for allowing the USA to use Turkey as a military base - may be a small foretaste of the reaction.
For a certainty, there will be an immediate growth of support for and recruits to Al Qaeda and other terrorist organisations. There is not a single bourgeois-democratic government in the Arab world. Attacking Iraq may set the whole region alight and open up the prospect of much stronger mass Islamist movements replacing existing regimes.
The Saddam regime rests on the Sunni Muslim Arabs. The Shi'ite majority are oppressed. An Islamist mass movement in Iraq itself may be the result of this war.
There will be idiots in Britain and elsewhere who see such prospects as "revolutionary" and desirable, as if they have never heard of the vicious Khomeini regime installed in Iran by the Islamic revolution of 1979 there.
So you oppose war because one of its consequences may be popular revolution? Isn't that reactionary?
It is the Islamist revolutionary movements and regimes that are entirely reactionary! The point is that if you support war because it will bring US/UK-installed "democracy" to Iraq, you must also reckon with a strengthening of black Islamist reaction across much of the Middle East and beyond - reaction that may poison any future democracy.
Such things were possible in the Gulf War of 1991. Despite dire warnings, they didn't happen.
This time round there is far more opposition to the USA's war plans. The Arab and other Islamic governments oppose war, and that will also boost the popular Islamist opposition - and especially those political Islamists who promise not just to oppose but also to "do something" in retaliation, like Al Qaeda and Hamas.
Don't we need a positive alternative to achieve the desirable things - like destruction of the totalitarian Iraqi regime - which Blair and Bush say they will achieve by war? Something like a more powerful, more interventionist, more hands-on version of the Helsinki Agreement of the 1970s, which led to valuable exposures of human rights abuses in Eastern Europe?
Yes. Liberal opponents of war have suggested such useful things as UN "human rights" inspectors to do on human rights what the weapons inspectors try to do for materials of war. We should be pleased if such things are done. Socialists should not get into proposing detailed alternatives to war for Bush and Blair - for all such measures depend on sanctions, and ultimately on the credible threat of war. Sanctions are often the prelude to war, as the humanly indefensible sanctions on Iraq of the last 12 years have been.
The specific job of socialists and consistent democrats is to back the democratic opposition forces in the Iraqi state, the working class and the oppressed minorities. There was once a powerful would-be revolutionary working-class movement in Iraq, which was crushed by the Ba'athist coup of 1963. And since then the working class has been vastly strengthened in numbers and social weight. The working class and the oppressed minorities are our hope for the future, and our alternative to Saddam Hussein.
Solidarity with the peoples of Iraq - against war and against Saddam!