The results of the US elections have come as a big disappointment to all those in the US and worldwide hoping for a defeat for the hated Bush regime.

Background paper produced for the 2004 cwi international conference. socialistworld.net

Bush victory signal for new world disorder?

With majorities in both houses of Congress, Bush has already indicated that he will fully exploit this situation to implement a programme of further concessions to the rich at home and a continuation of his plundering imperialist agenda abroad. "I have earned new political capital and I’m going to spend it on what I told the people I’d spend it on."

While in no way diminishing the complications of Bush’s victory, both in the US and worldwide, at the same time it is wrong to exaggerate the scale of his electoral "triumph" or what Bush is capable of doing internationally. Bush and the neo-conservatives are like the Bourbon kings of old; they forget nothing and learn nothing. No adventure or further military intervention, as Iraq demonstrates, is beyond this gang. But as Iraq also illustrates, they will conjure up colossal forces of opposition both at home and abroad. The reality is that elections, as Marxists never tire of explaining, are snapshots of particular historical moments. The circumstances which can lead to a particular result - a victory for the forces of the right, for instance - can change, and sometimes rapidly.

The opposition to Bush, particularly in the US, can be disheartened and thrown back but the scale of the attacks contemplated for his second term is such that opposition will inevitably return. Moreover, there is a minority of the most conscious section that remains undaunted by the election, particularly of fresh layers of young people and workers. They will be motivated to question, act and draw far-reaching conclusions about the nature of society, of US capitalism, some finding a road to socialist and Marxist ideas. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

The election has not decisively altered the balance of forces or the relationship of the US to the rest of the world. Kerry and the Democrats indicated in advance that their criticisms of Bush were largely of style rather than substance. This was not how the mass opposition to Bush viewed the matter. The estimated 10 per cent leap in turnout, making it the highest in 30 years, indicated the depths of opposition and hatred of decisive sections of US society, particularly on the part of young people and the majority of Afro-Americans. Bush’s defeat would have seen perceived by them as a repudiation of the neo-conservatives’ concerted military strategy - "pre-emptive strikes", endless war and the semi-militarization of US society - by the American people. This would have been particularly the case for the million-fold and unprecedented antiwar movement, both in the US and worldwide, which developed in response to the war. It would have been seen as partial "compensation" for the inability of the antiwar movement to stop the war in the first place.

This surge of opposition, however, was not sufficient to counter the mobilisation of millions of Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals who did not vote in 2000 but were brought to the polling booths by a reactionary programme of anti-abortion, anti-gay rights and support for the "war against terror". Bush and the neo-conservative cabal who surround him will no doubt see the election victory as a licence to continue with an aggressive imperialist posture abroad. The victory of Bush, however, will not be seen by the people of the US, let alone the world, as a ratification of his policies or a licence for "more of the same" over the next four years. On the contrary, the failure of US imperialism in Iraq and the catastrophic consequences for its position that have flowed from this is decisive in hemming in and restricting the Bush regime’s options. In place of military assertiveness and intervention, in effect the Bush regime will be compelled to carry out fundamentally the very same policy, promised by Kerry, "containment" of Syria, Iran and North Korea, rather than serious military efforts to overthrow them.

This does preclude either military "surgical strikes" by the US itself or action on its behalf by a proxy - e.g. by Israel - against "rogue states". Israel bombed the nuclear facilities of Iraq under Saddam, Reagan launched missile strikes against Gadaffi’s Libya and invaded Grenada. The bombing of nuclear facilities in Iran by Israel could not be ruled out. Even that, however, depends upon the internal political situation within Israel itself, which is much more unstable and volatile than when it acted against Iraq, as well as in the US itself. In the light of the failure in Iraq, war against Iran and occupation is not feasible. Iran’s population is nearly three times the size of Iraq’s and, despite the illusion in the attractiveness of US living standards, would arouse Iranian nationalism, reignited by the revolution, which is a vital ingredient in the make-up of the country. Despite the intense mass opposition to the Islamic "hardliners", in the event of an American intervention the population would undoubtedly fight against this.

No Tranquil Era

This does not mean that the US and the world will return to a more "tranquil" era like that prior to Bush’s first term. The coming to power of Bush himself, surrounded on all sides by the neo-cons and ideologically buttressed by the ‘Judeo-Christian’ fundamentalist right, ushered in a new era of unilateralism, of American nationalism and imperialism on a world scale. The stunning military power of the US was on display in the fireworks of "shock and awe" in Blair’s "first war" against Iraq. In the "second war" against the insurgency opposing the occupation, the limits of this military might have also been on display. Even according to Bush, the US has "more will than wallet". In other words, its will to act as a "world policeman" in the "war on terror" is undermined by a weakened economic situation. Yet the US’s "will" will also be shown wanting in the quagmire which Iraq has now become.

The escalating military costs, together with the paucity of military manpower, will test even the world’s only military superpower to breaking point. As one commentator, Peter J. Petersen, writing in Foreign Affairs, has pointed out: "For most of U.S. history, going to war was like organizing a large federal jobs program, with most of the work done by inexpensive, quickly trained recruits. Today, it is more like a NASA moon launch, entailing a massive logistical tail supporting a professionally managed and swiftly depreciating body of high-tech physical capital. Just keeping two divisions engaged in ‘stability operations’ in Iraq for one week costs $1 billion; keeping them engaged for a full year would cost the entire GDP of New Zealand." Weapons procurement programmes, which fell in the post-Cold War to about $50 billion a year in the mid-1990s, are scheduled to rise to over $100 billion a year by 2010 - more than the previous "real dollar" peak in the mid-Reagan years. The inevitable overspend in the military budgets means that "total defense outlays over the next decade may cost 18 percent more than the administration’s official projection. Including interest costs, this excess amounts to $1.1 trillion in new spending, a budgetary surcharge higher than the cost of the first decade of the new Medicare drug benefit."

At the same time, the US is facing severe imperialist overstretch. Even with "help" from the worn-out military reserve and National Guard this cannot "prevent the armed forces from being stretched dangerously thin should a new threat emerge. In December 2003, only two of the Army’s ten divisions were both uncommitted and in a high state of readiness." [‘Foreign Affairs’] Moreover, this bloated military expenditure is not underwritten as it was in the past, by the overwhelming economic strength of US imperialism. The US is now borrowing over $540 billion per year from the rest of the world to pay for the overall deficit funding of Americans’ consumption of goods and services, and for US foreign aid transfers, and this figure is projected to rise. This unprecedented current account deficit is paid for either through direct lending, as well as the sale of US assets to foreign businesses, everything from stocks and bonds to corporations and real estate. The US imports roughly $4 billion of foreign capital each day, half of that to cover the current account deficit and the other half to finance investment abroad. This deficit is higher than under Reagan in 1987, when the dollar’s value fell by a third and the stock market suffered its "Black Monday" plunge. Moreover, this deficit is predicted to grow even larger, as Petersen commented in ‘Foreign Affairs’: "If nothing else were to change, borrowing would continue until foreigners accumulated all the U.S. assets they cared to own, at which point a rise in interest rates (choking off investment) and a decline in the dollar (choking off imports and stimulating exports) would gradually close the current-account deficit. It would not entirely disappear, but it would close sufficiently to stabilize foreign holdings as a share of the U.S. economy." Fred Bergsten, director of the Institute for International Economics, observes, "We finally understand the true meaning of supply-side economics. Foreigners supply most of the goods and all of the money." This situation cannot be sustained indefinitely and the consequences of this will be fully explored in the statement on the world economy.

Economic base undermined

However, the long-term decline of the US, particularly in the "cutting edge" of new technologies and industries, are serious for the US as the dominant world power. The percentage of patents issued through the science journals by scientists in Asia, particularly China, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan is rising. Indian companies are quickly becoming the second-largest producers of application services in the world, developing, supplying and managing databases and other types of software. South Korea is eating away at the US advantage in the manufacture of computer chips and telecommunications software. China has made impressive gains in advanced technologies such as lasers, biotechnology and advanced materials used in semiconductors, aerospace and many other types of manufacturing. It is true that "the United States’ technical dominance remains solid". But the globalisation of research and development is exerting considerable pressures on the American system. The US is learning that globalisation "cuts both ways". It is both a catalyst for US technological innovation and a threat to its previous dominance. The US still spends twice as much as Japan on research and development, the second biggest spender, and in 2002 its total expenditure exceeded that of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the UK combined.  At the same time, the US trailed Finland, Iceland, Japan, South Korea and Sweden in the ration of research and development to GDP. The US still leads in major global technology markets, particularly in information and communications technology but at the same time the continuation of large budget deficits and rising interest payments on this can significantly eat into the government’s support for research and development.

Moreover, private research and development projects are beginning to slip because of the slowdown in the economy. This, in turn, has impacted on the production of American scientists and engineers (38 per cent of the US’s scientists and engineers with doctorates were born outside the country, and of the PhDs in science and engineering awarded to foreign students in the US in the 15 years before 2000, more than half went to students from China, India, South Korea and Taiwan). The restrictions on the immigration of foreign students into the US have created new barriers, leading to Chinese and Indian scientists, for instance, staying at home. New clusters of emerging technology have developed in Shanghai in China, Bangalore in India, and in Shinchu in Taiwan. To begin with, this was based upon a plentiful supply of cheap labour but scientists and engineers trained in the US have led to these hubs developing innovation of their own, leading to one US commentator declaring that the Chinese are now "capable of doing any engineering, any software job, any managerial job that people in the United States are capable of". In India as well, highly skilled software "architects" are employed by the US multinationals. The fear of bourgeois economic commentators is that the economic difficulties of the US are tempting the federal government to reduce "discretionary funding" of the scientists, which would weaken "one of the pillars of the country’s future economic and technological health".

Iraq

These economic trends portend a possible significant global power shift away from the US. Militarily, however, it remains overwhelmingly the only military superpower on the globe. But, given the growing underlying economic weaknesses of the US, to some extent this presupposes that the rest of the world will "share the burden" for maintaining this military might. This was the case in the first Gulf War of the early 1990s. European and particularly Japanese imperialism were willing to financially underwrite the military cost of that war. All of that changed with the coming to power of George W. Bush. The political and military doctrine which has underlined this regime is "military pre-emption falsely called prevention". [‘Foreign Affairs’] That policy has been dragged into the quagmire of Iraq and thereby discredited, not least amongst the bourgeois critics of Bush and the neo-cons. Only 2 per cent of Iraqis, in a recent poll, supported the US occupation. In place of one big dictator, Saddam, the consequences of the war and US occupation have been that the Iraqi people have inflicted upon them dozens of "little Saddams", some of them barbaric Islamicist groups like that of the al-Zaqarwi group linked to al-Qaeda. These terrorist groups are the result of the barbaric war - with latest estimates putting the number of dead civilians as at least 100,000 - and the occupation, with increased poverty, kidnappings, mass unemployment, etc.

As in Vietnam, only more so, there is no visible exit strategy for US imperialism at the present time. The siege of Falluja has been carefully calibrated to coincide with the US elections and in advance of the proposed Iraqi elections in January 2005. The scale of the horror which looms was indicated by Iraq’s "Director of National Intelligence", who admitted: "We could take the city but we would have to kill everyone in it." It is not just the US which is experiencing "mission creep". British troops have been redeployed from the south to the outskirts of Baghdad to take the place of, to "backfill", the US troops used in the siege of Falluja. Even if the US takes the town "completely", it will be a pyrrhic victory, stoking up even further the Iraqi resistance.

The CWI supports the resistance of the Iraqi people, including armed resistance to the occupation. But unlike the opportunist groupings - typified by the Socialist Workers Party in Britain and the IST internationally - we do not give "unconditional" support to all acts of "resistance" by those who claim to be the "resistance". We are not pacifists and have consistently defended the right of the working class and poor peasantry to resist, militarily if necessary, oppression by capitalism and imperialism in all its forms. However, our criteria has always been that those methods which raise the consciousness of the working class and the poor peasants, which increase their confidence and mass resistance are legitimate and should be supported. Conversely, terroristic methods carried out by small unrepresentative groups, using barbaric methods such as beheading hostages, the indiscriminate shooting or car-bombing of Iraqis, etc., are illegitimate from a working class and socialist standpoint.

These methods are distinct from specific military actions - including some which involve "suicide" attacks on opposition military forces - which could be part of a mass mobilisation and arming of the working class. There were 2,700 attacks on US forces up to September but only six of them were claimed by the Zaqarwi group. These are not representative of the resistance of the Iraqi people to the occupation. The US, through its then pro-consul Paul Bremer, appointed the Ayad Allawi regime, widely referred to by the Iraqi population as "non-Iraqis" because of their long period in exile as clients of the CIA. This government of Allawi is belligerently anti-working class. It has reintroduced the 1987 law of Saddam banning strikes in the state sector. This did not prevent workers in the oil industry carrying out a successful strike in order to try to force the US to lift its bombardment of Najaf. Undoubtedly, the Iraqi working class organisations only possess "green shoots" at the present time. It is, however, the duty of all socialists and Marxists to promote the independent development of the working class and its organisations, even amidst the mayhem, brutality and carnage of Iraq.

The bourgeois, neither imperialism nor the weak dependent Iraqi bourgeois, including the leaders of the different bourgeois parties, can show a way out of the catastrophe of Iraq. The elections - if they go ahead - will solve nothing. If anything, it could enormously compound ethnic conflict, which is held in check to some extent by the common enemy of the US and its occupation forces. The horrific possibilities, however, for massive sectarian conflict, are indicated by the slaughter of 40 conscripts into the Iraqi army by al-Zaqarwi’s forces. The latter are based upon the Sunni and foreign Arab fighters. Their victims, on this occasion, were all Shia. On the other hand, in the run-up to the elections it has now been announced by those around Grand Ayatollah al-Sistani, who represents the majority of the Shias, that a common list of "Shia Islamist parties" has reached "preliminary agreement" to run a single list of candidates in the January elections. This could pave the way for a conservative religious Shia-dominated "parliament". This would be the first time since the creation of Iraq in 1920 that the Shia Arabs would be able to take "control".

The US, for very good reasons, favours a "consensus" list made up of all the ethnic and religious groups. As recently as July Bush was warned that Iraq could "descend into civil war", according to a number of US intelligence agencies. The speculation is that the bulk of the Shia list would come from the two pro-coalition parties, the Islamic Dawa party and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI). Al-Sadr and his Mahdi army have adopted an equivocal position. On the one side, they have given up some antiquated guns to the occupation forces for financial compensation, which will probably promptly used to buy more up-to-date weapons to be used against the US and its stooges at a later stage. Al-Sadr indicated in October he would not stand in the elections, probably calculating that it is better to keep his hands free from those Shia parties who would form a government and collaborate with the US and the occupying powers.

At the same time some of Iraq’s "oil-rich" southern provinces have indicated they would like to cut away, thereby cornering the 80 per cent of proven oil reserves in the country for themselves. The Sunni population, particularly the privileged layers within these groups, would not sit back and accept this with equanimity. Nor would the Kurds. The break-up and subsequent Balkanisation of Iraq is posed in this situation. This, however, would not be contained within the borders of Iraq but could draw in on the side of either the Sunnis or Shias the neighbouring countries of Iran, Saudi Arabia (which could also face civil war and possible break-up), Turkey and Syria, which could face the same fate. Little wonder that one British bourgeois commentator has stated: "The coalition forces are part of the problem. The sooner they go, the better - except for the fact that there is no viable alternative." This is undoubtedly the case on a bourgeois basis.

Socialists have to demand the immediate withdrawal of all occupation forces and allow the Iraqi people to determine their own fate. This demand still has mass support in the antiwar movement. But, given the latent sectarian conflicts, that alone is not sufficient to answer the charge which the pro-war camp will hammer away at that, if the troops are withdrawn, chaos will ensue in Iraq and we would "all pay a price for this" in a new round of terror bombings. Iraq now has the features of Northern Ireland and of the Balkans but on a colossal scale. The national and ethnic divisions are intractable on a capitalist basis. An independent, working-class policy, seeking to unite the working class from all ethnic backgrounds as well as the secular forces, is the only way out for the peoples of Iraq.

"International law"

The repercussions of Iraq, in the US, on the Middle East and throughout the world will endure for the next period. Even Kerry stated before the election that it would require another 40,000 US troops to be deployed in order to defeat the "insurgency". By itself, even with the support of the "coalition", this will not be enough even for a temporary stabilisation. The Bush regime tested out the possibility of other capitalist powers militarily "sharing the burden", perhaps through participation in a "United Nations force". However, the worldwide collapse in the "legitimacy" of the US in the wake of the Iraq war is unprecedented and means that it has not received support up to now.

Invoking the US’s violation of so-called "international law", the European bourgeois in particular, backed up by an avalanche of bourgeois professors, have sought to "prove" the divergence of Bush and his gang from at least the formal approach of the governing group of US imperialism since 1945. The threat posed by a different social system, Stalinist Russia, forced US imperialism, despite its preponderant military power to take account of the vital interests of its allies. This was sanctified by the US-inspired Charter of the United Nations. In contradistinction to the crude postures of capitalist powers previously - Germany’s Chancellor during the First World War declared that the treaty guaranteeing Belgium’s neutrality was merely "a scrap of paper" - the UN’s charter obligated states to "refrain from the threat or the use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state". Exceptions were possible where force could be employed, either by individual states or by collective defence against an armed attack.

This concept of "international law" is, of course, shot through with hypocrisy and contradictions. For Marxists, law is always ultimately class based. However, the bourgeois, in seeking to capture the support of its own people and world "public opinion", needs its armed actions to be sanctified by such "moral" precepts. In reality, however, as the commentator Robert Kagan has pointed out: "It was not international law and institutions but the circumstances of the Cold War, and Washington’s special role in it, that conferred legitimacy on the United States, at least within the West. Contrary to much mythologizing on both sides side of the Atlantic these days, the foundations of the US’s legitimacy during the Cold War had little to do with the fact that the United States helped to create the UN or faithfully abided by the precepts of international law laid out in the organisation’s charter. Washington reserved the right to intervene ‘anywhere and everywhere’ as was shown in the Vietnam War, not sanctified by the UN, or by the recent war in Iraq. In both cases however, the standing of the US plunged and its legitimacy was severely undermined as a result." The neo-cons agreed with Kagan, with John Bolton, Bush’s Under-Secretary of State for arms control and international security, declaring before Bush came to power: "It’s a big mistake for us to grant any validity to international law even when it may seem in our short-term interests to do so because, over the long term, the goal of those who think that international law really means anything are those who want to constrict the United States."

His brutal assertion of US unilateralism has been put into practice by the Bush regime with massively damaging results. It is widely perceived now as the main "rogue state" on the planet. Recent opinion polls have underlined the massive unpopularity of the US worldwide, with only a majority in Israel and Russia (disputed by our comrades) in favour of the US. This disapproval was at its highest in Europe with 76 per cent opposed to US foreign policy, a 20 percent increase from two years before. Even 60 per cent of the British population, the only major power to commit significant numbers of troops alongside the US in the war in Iraq, opposed Bush. This opposition reaches a startling 77 per cent amongst those under 25 years old. Even the Pew poll in the US recently pointed out that 67 per cent of those asked said that the US had become less respected in the world and 43 per cent thought this was a major problem. The ignorance of Bush, both historically and in the perception of how his image and statements play to European and world public opinion, is indicated by his comparison of the origins of the Second World War to 9/11: "Like the second world war, the war we are fighting now began with a ruthless surprise attack on America." As one indignant European commentator put it, "Tell that to the Poles."

Middle East: Palestinian-Israeli conflict

The hatred of the US, however, is probably deepest in the Arab world and amongst the 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide. In alarm, bourgeois commentators have pointed to the fact that hostility to the US goes beyond religious radicals who are "the left-wing fringe" but has penetrated deeply into the popular culture. An English language teacher in Cairo at one of the more expensive schools commented to the Financial Times: "I have always known the Americans were bastards." The attack on Afghanistan and the terrible suffering of the Palestinians and Iraqis have reinforced this mood. While Israel has occupied this position until the advent of Bush, the US did not in the past receive comparable hatred at all levels of Arab society. It is, of course, at its most intense amongst the working class and poor peasants. Moreover, it is openly ventilated in the press, in the media and often connected in the minds of the masses with the corrupt Arab regimes which have been compliant in the humiliation that the Arab peoples at the hands of the US occupation. It has widespread ramifications for the region but particularly for the mood of the popular masses. The quisling-type character of many of the Arab regimes was highlighted following the assassination by a booby-trapped bomb of the Palestinian Hamas leader in Damascus. A London-based Arab newspaper reported that an unnamed Arab state had "passed information about Hamas leaders to Mossad, the Israeli government intelligence agency", after a formal request had been made by the latter, which "wanted the intelligence to help it plan assassinations".

In Israel itself, the Likud government of Sharon faces a double crisis over the proposed withdrawal of Israel from Gaza and the brutal neo-liberal budget it is seeking to implement because of the catastrophic economic position of the country. The Gaza plan, involving the dismantlement of settlements and the withdrawal of 8,000 settlers has been met with cries of "traitor" from Sharon’s own party. Sharon himself sees the plan as a necessary "concession", as the "formaldehyde" (liquid used to freeze dead bodies) thereby freezing the peace process. This was admitted by Sharon’s adviser Weisglass, who hatched the withdrawal plan and declared in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz that it would ensure that "out of 240,000 settlers, 190,000 would not be moved from their place". Despite this, Sharon has been threatened by his side with retribution including "civil war" and even assassination, the same fate as Rabin, from the frenzied right-wing settlers that have formed part of the electoral base of the Likud. Likud itself is split down the middle, with Sharon forced to rely on the votes of Shimon Peres and the "Labour" Party, and others, to get the plan through the Knesset. This could lead to a coalition government between the remnants of Likud around Sharon and the Labour Party.

A major complication for this, however, is the austerity programme in the budget which could be defeated if both Labour and opponents of the Gaza withdrawal voted against it. This is against the background of the Israeli bourgeois frantically urging implementation of austerity measures. On the other hand, the Israeli working class has resorted to a general strike in opposition to these measures. So desperate is the bourgeois to avoid any delay in its offensive against the working class that it is pressing Netanyahu, the neo-liberal finance minister, to withdraw his threat to quit the ruling coalition. They have echoed the arguments of Sharon that withdrawal from Gaza - with suitable compensation for the settlers - is necessary for the economy. This is particularly necessary given the background of pressure for further international isolation of Israel accompanied by the threat of economic sanctions, particularly from Europe. Despite this, the coalition could fall and new elections could be held, the outcome of which is completely unpredictable.

All of this is against the background of the reinforcement of divisions between Israelis and Palestinians. This is reflected in the building of the Berlin-type wall, the proposals for separate roads for Israelis running parallel to each other and the creation of second-class schools for the Israeli-Arab population. These apartheid-type measures will not guarantee the Israelis’ craving for "security". On the contrary, as the prospect of a separate Palestinian state diminishes, sections of the Palestinian bourgeois and even the masses are looking towards fighting for equal rights with Israelis. Given the demographic advantage of Palestinians - a higher birth rate - this would result in a Palestinian-Arab majority within the present Israeli state within ten years, something which the Israeli ruling class would not tolerate. This "nightmare" scenario has prompted the rush to try and establish some kind of viable Palestinian entity, which is not possible on the basis of capitalism. If the planned removal of 8,000 settlers from Gaza has led to the threat of "civil war", the departure of 200,000 settlers from the West Bank would make this threat a reality. On the other hand, the Palestinians are riven with divisions which, if the sick Arafat were to die, could lead to open conflict as to who would inherit his mantle and the spoils that go with it.

The Palestinians have paid a terrible price for the Intifada, with a minimum of 3,334 deaths up to September 2004 (1,017 Israelis have died), the smashing of the basic infrastructure by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF), as well as hunger and starvation on the levels of sub-Sahara Africa, a reality for some Palestinians. At the same time there is widespread disillusion at the corrupt Palestinian Authority (PA), with a feeling on the part of some that all the suffering and the sacrifice resulting from the resistance to Israeli oppression has not meant a real advance but a worsening of the conditions of the Palestinian people. A former militant, speaking to the Financial Times, in despair commented: "The Intifada has been a disaster - every household has someone who has been killed or in prison. As a result, people looked at both Israel and the PA as enemies. Israel because it has killed their kids and the PA because it doesn’t defend them."

Before Arafat’s recent illness and his evacuation to Paris, there was speculation that if elections were held to the PA then neither Fatah nor the Islamicist groups such as Hamas would substantially gain but "parties based upon a non-violent approach" could emerge. Given the continued brutal repression of the Palestinians, this is problematical to say the least. But the idea that single combat between armed groups, not based on mass organisations and participation, is a dead end could grow. Together with events on an international scale, particularly the radicalisation of the working class in Israel, the idea of mass and socialist resistance could become an important factor amongst the Palestinian people. We have to build on the tremendous work of our Israeli section by seeking ways of furthering this process by contacting and supporting those Palestinians, young people and others, who are looking for a class and internationalist approach towards the problem of Palestinian liberation.

In the short term, if Arafat was to die a power struggle could emerge within Fatah. Those like Dahlan, favoured by the Israelis, and the former prime minister Abbas are unlikely to succeed in the long term in this situation. It is possible that Barghouti, imprisoned by the Israelis and still retaining support from his previous command of the al-Aqsa Brigades, could emerge as the new Palestinian "strongman". But the web of corruption surrounding Arafat - which led to a partial mass uprising in Gaza when he tried to install his cousin as head of intelligence - will provoke even greater mass resistance in the future.

As far as imperialism is concerned - particularly US imperialism, which holds the pursestrings - a Kerry presidency would not have made a fundamental difference except that the mood music would be a bit different. Bush will probably now seek to resurrect the "road map" but will still heavily support Israel - Bush supplied 500 pound "bunker buster" bombs to Israel just before the election - but at the same time, Israel will be leaned on to make paper concessions to the Palestinians.

Given the colossal exertion of energy involved in the Intifada and the seeming stalemate in the conflict with Israel, periods of relative quiescence, if not "peace", can develop. However, the fundamental conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is irresolvable on a capitalist basis. We still have to advocate the right of the Palestinians to their own state and a similar right for the Israelis, but on a socialist basis and situated within a socialist confederation of the region. It is necessary to advance this programmatic demand even when support for a "two-state" solution ebbs and flows in a very polarised situation. The continued military domination of the Palestinian areas is completely unviable for any long historical period.

The Zionist dream itself is diminishing if not mortally wounded as the younger generation refuse to accept their designated role as agents of the "dubious millionaires" in the military repression of the Palestinians. The unprecedented splits in Israeli society, mirrored in the military and amongst the "bereaved families", are themselves reflections of the unviability of continuing to hold down by force alone the Palestinian people. Only a class and socialist appeal can mobilise the masses on both sides to carry through a fundamental change and end the cycle of violence.

Middle East and Afghanistan

In the wider Middle East, the threat of Bush to repeat the military excursion into Iraq, for instance in an attack on Syria, subsided before the election. Even the US-backed Syrian exiles have, it seems abandoned their dream of riding to power on top of American humvees: "Up to the summer of 2003, we still believed the military option was a good option and it could be used in Syria. Today I believe the military option is not an option. International opinion would oppose it. Syrians would oppose it. Americans would oppose it." [Fared Gaghadry, founder of the US-based Reform Party of Syria. He wants to play the same role as Ahmed Chalabi did in Iraq.] In other words, the complete failure of the US in Iraq has compelled US imperialism and its acolytes to completely reassess their perspectives for Syria.

Notwithstanding this, the alleged "success" of the elections in Afghanistan has been invoked by Blair and Bush as a shining example for what is possible in Iraq and, by implication, for the region as a whole. The informative material by the Pakistani comrades on the CWI website has completely debunked this claim. Karzai, the chosen "president" of US imperialism, was duly elected in an exercise described as a "model" and a triumph for "democracy". Emulating the maxim "vote early and vote often", the warlords who control 80 per cent of Afghanistan ensured that there were many more "registered voters" than the electorate, with in some regions 30 per cent more voting than those eligible to do so! None of the age-old problems of poverty, ethnic conflict or the plague of drugs have been solved but, on the contrary, have worsened since the overthrow of the Taliban. The majority of the Taliban ordered a boycott of the elections, while the warlords who supported the government used force in many cases to ensure a turnout. Undoubtedly some Afghanis, particularly women, used the opportunity to cast a vote for the first time. But in general, the masses were caught between the bayonets and guns of each side, with the government possessing more "pressure" than the Taliban at this stage. The Taliban have shown since the election that they remain undefeated, occupying some important Pashtun areas while at the same time the Afghan people, having had the bitter experience of their role, are not prepared to tolerate them returning to power.

The country is bitterly divided on ethnic lines. The removal of Ismail Khan from the governorship of Herat with the offer of becoming a federal minister has resulted in conflict between his and government forces. He has threatened to join up with the Taliban forces. The Karzai government is dominated by non-Pashtuns but Karzai has promised greater representation for his ethnic group, which could lead to big clashes. His government is narrowly based with a small army of only 14,000, "prone to high levels of desertion" and unable to make much of an impact outside Kabul. This ramshackle government is propped up by 18,000 US troops, compared to 140,000 in Iraq. An additional 10,000 NATO troops - including German troops - are attached to the separate "International Security Force" (ISAF). In the event of a new civil war between the warlords or a concerted link up with the Taliban of these forces, so small a force would be incapable of guaranteeing peace. Moreover, the intervention of all the neighbouring powers - Iran and Pakistan in particular - is a guarantee of further instability and a compounding of the problems of the Afghan people, which can only be solved by eliminating capitalism and the remnants of feudalism, and establishing a socialist Afghanistan as part of a confederation of the region.

The establishment of a military presence with permanent bases in Afghanistan has undoubtedly alarmed the mullahs who control the Iranian regime. This is just part of what one commentator correctly pointed out is "the most extensive realignment of US power in half a century". Part of this realignment is the opening of a second front in Asia. No longer is the United States poised with several large toehold bases on the Pacific Rim of the Asian continent; today it has made significant moves into the heart of Asia itself building a network of smaller, jumping-off bases in central Asia. The ostensible rationale for these bases is the war on terrorism. In reality this is an excuse to enhance the economic and strategic military power of US imperialism, with the US seeking decisive control and influence over the oil resources and pipelines in the region.

Iran

The Iranian regime also undoubtedly sees this as preparation for US-backed attempts to overthrow it. It is the real raison d’être behind the pressure exerted until now by both the US and Europe over its nuclear programme. The US, having unilaterally designated Iran as part of the "axis of evil" has deemed that Iran’s nuclear programme, even if for professed peaceful energy reasons, cannot be allowed to continue. It has rattled the sabre, openly threatening military intervention. For reasons explained above, direct military intervention in Iran is now ruled out. However, the threat of the repetition of the 1981 bombing of Iraq’s nuclear facility by Israel is held over the heads of the Iranian regime. Yet, even according to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty itself, Iran has the right to enrich uranium for "peaceful purposes". The problem is the same process can be used to develop nuclear weapons. This just means that the nuclear option is inherently unstable and cannot prevent the development of weapons of mass destruction, even if a strict "inspection" regime is undertaken. Yet Hans Blix, the former UN chief weapons inspector, in relation to US demands on Iran, declared: "You are asking them to give something up they have a right to be doing. Then you have to accept that they will make demands."

The setbacks for the US in Iraq together with the cowering and retreat of the "reformists" around Khatami have strengthened the resolve of the dominant right-wing group of mullahs in Tehran to hold out against US pressure. The European capitalists are worried that Iran could opt out of the non-proliferation treaty. It could then go on to develop a bomb - probably a necessity in the view of Tehran, particularly against the background of the nuclear bombs possessed by Israel - thereby occupying a similar intransigent position as North Korea. After all, impoverished North Korea, on the brink of breakdown, has rattled its nuclear weapons with implied threats to use them against South Korea and Japan.

This highly unstable, if not explosive situation, again underlines that the neo-con strategy of Bush, rather than defeat "evil" has actually reinforced the possibility of nuclear Armageddon, at least in some regions of the world. Kerry indicated a more "pragmatic" approach, indicating a preparedness to negotiate with Tehran, to "normalise relations" with the Iranian regime. He even offered that if Iran closes down its nuclear facility "we will supply you with nuclear power and we will contain the nuclear material that is created as a result". In seeking to mollify the Tehran regime he also indicated that the US under his control could arrive at a mutually agreed settlement to crack down on both al-Qaeda and the Peoples’ Mujaheddin Organisation (MKO - the Iranian former guerrilla group allied with Saddam Hussein against the mullahs). Bush, on the other hand, has declared this organisation to be a "terrorist" group, yet he gave it protection under the Geneva Convention as "non-combatants". In other words, the Bush regime is prepared to use all opponents of the Iranian regime - no matter how "reprehensible" previously - to weaken and ultimately bring it down.

As stated earlier, any attempt to use armed intervention against Iran would meet not just with resistance from the ayatollahs but the mass of the Iranian people. At the same time, the Iranian working class, increasingly in opposition to the conservative regime, has yet to move decisively to overthrow it. Waiting in the wings in the event of a meltdown in Iran is the son of the former shah, who promises a new "secular" regime. Although the mullahs are still in control, a space has now opened up with the circulation of socialist and Marxist literature, undoubtedly with groups looking for an explanation and ideas similar to those of the CWI. It is crucial that we find the means to intervene and acquire the forces which can open up a different chapter for the Iranian people, build on the experiences of the Iranian revolution but purged of the theocratic and undemocratic ideas of right-wing political Islam.

North Korea

Apart from Iran there are a number of other flashpoints with the potential to flare up, resulting in dangerous conflicts. One of course is Kashmir, which is divided between India and Pakistan, both nuclear armed. Since 1989, as many as 100,000 lives have been lost in clashes in Kashmir. In the recent period a certain softening of relations has taken place, with peace feelers put out, particularly after the surprise election victory of Congress in India. However, despite the pressure of US imperialism, up to now neither side appears ready to make serious proposals to resolve the conflict. At the same time, the very unstable political situation within Pakistan - adequately explained in recent articles on the website - has the potential to flare up and ignite another serious conflict.

Another "hot spot" is, of course, North Korea, originally threatened by Bush with "preventative action", which even he was forced to soften in the wake of the failure in Iraq, as well as the fact of the acquisition of nuclear weapons by North Korea. One commentator has described the Korean peninsula as "probably the most dangerous place on earth". The intransigence of North Korea flows from the history of negotiations with the US over its nuclear potential. The framework agreement of 1994, in exchange for the freezing and dismantling of North Korea’s Russian-designed reactors, capable of producing weapons-grade plutonium, granted the lifting of the 50-year economic embargo as well as the normalisation of relations. North Korea also demanded that the US commit itself to a formal agreement not to use nuclear weapons against North Korea, the supply by the US of proliferation-resistant nuclear reactors, as well as an interim supply of oil. The Bush regime broke this interim agreement and demanded that North Korea unilaterally disarm. The sheer hypocrisy of this has been underlined recently by the revelation that South Korea, under the aegis of the US, has had a secret nuclear programme greater than that of North Korea’s! On top of this, North Korea’s military budget is a quarter of Seoul’s. South Korea spends more on defence each year than the North’s entire GDP.

The collapse of Stalinism in Russia and Eastern Europe, together with the move towards capitalism in China, has resulted in a meltdown in North Korea, with some reports putting the number of people dying of starvation in the 1990s as one in eight of the population, three million. The World Food Programme now estimates that 250,000 children under the age of six are suffering from chronic malnutrition, while a million are badly malnourished. There is a shortfall in cereals of at least one million tonnes. This catastrophic situation compelled North Korea to move towards the introduction of a market and a curtailment of central planning. Many measures seen in the last stages of Stalinism in Russia and Eastern Europe have been introduced, with the self-financing of factories, control in the hands of local managers to hire and fire at will, and their right to choose what they produce. Despite this up to five million people no longer earn enough to feed themselves. The problem is particularly acute in the heavily industrialised north-eastern cities where few factories are working and access to food is limited. This represents a drastic collapse because North Korea was once a developed country with 70 per cent of the workforce in manufacturing but now it is experiencing "re-ruralisation" of the economy. Factory managers are laying off industrial workers in order to grow food instead.

This makes for a very unstable cocktail in the Korean peninsula, which the measures of the Bush neo-con regime have enormously aggravated. Even the Chinese, who have the greatest influence over North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, have so far failed to persuade him to scrap the nuclear weapons programme in exchange for security guarantees and aid to the collapsing economy. Incredibly, US Vice-President Dick Cheney said on his visit to the region in April 2004, "Time is running out for a negotiated resolution to the crisis." Force is completely ruled out in an attempt to overthrow the North Korean regime for the reasons explained above. Therefore, sanctions would be the option available even to the neo-cons. Presumably, this implies that the US - under Bush - would resort to economic sanctions under North Korea. However, even this is dangerous given the economic situation facing the North. A collapse of the regime there would see a mass influx of starving North Koreans into the south, which would in turn be plunged into the economic abyss. The irresponsible gang - from the point of view of imperialism - which rules the White House risks such a situation through its policies. The ex-Stalinist clique controlling the North is capable of the most uncontrolled, adventurous actions. They threatened Japan by firing a missile over its main island, Honshu, and into the Pacific Ocean beyond.

North Korea is just one particularly explosive ingredient in the Asian "theatre", in which the US rubs up and clashes with the interests of emerging giants such as China, India and Japan. China is obviously on the rise but so are India and other Asian states which are boasting growth rates which outstrip Europe and the US in particular. Economic perspectives will be dealt with separately; suffice to say here that China’s economy could be double the size of Germany’s by 2010, with some estimates predicting it could overtake Japan, currently the world’s second largest economy by 2020. A certain amount of caution is required however. Japan was also spoken of in a similar way to China today in its "potential" to overtake the US on the basis of its growth rates of the 1970s. Like Japan at the end of the 1980s, China shows all the symptoms of "overheating", with colossal overcapacity, bad loans, etc., which could result in a crisis on the scale of the East Asian crisis of 1997. These economic considerations apart, China plays and will continue to play an important role in world relations but particularly in regard to relations between the competing powers in Asia.

China’s role - Taiwan

The growth in its economy has been crucial in dragging Japan, partially at least and for a temporary period, out of its decade-long economic malaise. The Japanese boat has ridden on the Chinese wave but is also likely to collapse as well when it subsides. India has also emerged as a major player, its economic upward development pushed by thriving software and business services industries, linked to the US and other advanced economies. The states of South-east Asia are gradually integrating their economies into a large web through trade and investment treaties. The members of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) are now "seriously considering" establishing monetary union, which has been discussed many times and could propel the development of an enormous trade bloc, accounting for much of Asia’s and the world’s economic growth in the next period. However, a new economic crisis which looms will completely cut across this. China is at the hub of this development, rather than Japan or the United States. The latter, however, will probably remain the key economic player in the near future.

But the emergence of China and, to a lesser extent, India - has had serious repercussions in the region. Historically, China and Japan are rivals and have never been powerful at the same time. In the past, China was strong while Japan languished in poverty, but for the last 200 years Japan has been more powerful than a weak and, under imperialism, dismembered China. At the same time, India and China have, in the recent past, been at loggerheads and still have a 42-year old border dispute. Each distrusts the other and competes economically and in terms of influence for control of the region, access to energy resources, security of sea lanes and over the islands in the South China Sea.

There are many potentially explosive territorial conflicts throughout the region. Taiwan, of course, is the most dangerous example. A "destabilising" missile race between China and Taiwan looms. The Taiwanese government has stoked the fires of conflict with China by trying to push through an $18 billion programme to buy arms from the US. The Taiwanese prime minister has called for the development of an offensive missile system, warning China: "You fire 100 missiles at me, I fire 50 at you. You hit Taipei and Kao-hsiung, I at least hit Shanghai." This caused outrage among the Chinese elite, with the People’s Liberation Army urged by the Chinese President Hu Jin Tao to "seize the moment and do a good job in preparing for a military struggle". China has an estimated 610 missiles pointed at Taiwan, an increase of over 100 in a year. This would be sufficient in a ten-hour barrage to wipe out most of Taiwan’s defences before Taiwan’s "ally" could respond. Taiwan has upped the ante through its president by implying that it could hold a referendum on Taiwanese independence. This followed what appeared to be a publicly softer stance towards China. The increased tension was revealed by the outburst of the Taiwanese foreign minister against the Singapore government. Following mild criticism of Taiwan’s stance he declared that Singapore was "hugging China’s balls" and as a "country was as small as a piece of snot"!

The position of the US on this issue and in relation to China is contradictory. For 30 years, it has been the policy of US governments to couple the recognition of one China with a sanctimonious call for a peaceful resolution of the Taiwan question. But, with the issue not resolved, the US has acted on its commitment to Taiwan’s security and provided the island with even more sophisticated military equipment. The fear is that if Taiwan steps over the line of "provisional autonomy" and opts for independence, or if China loses patience the region could explode into war. Involved here is the attitude of the US towards the emergence of China. A discussion has taken place in the ranks of the ruling class whether to treat this giant as a "strategic competitor" or a "prospective partner". For 50 years after 1945, the US was the major stabilising force in the Pacific, enforced largely through its military presence and alliances with Japan and South Korea. The US ruling class is haunted by the prospect of this domination being supplanted, for instance, by a new strategic alliance between China and Japan, rather than the "parallel relations" with the US.

Japan, on the other hand, immediately faced by a rising China, and with North Korea armed with nuclear weapons, which are rattled occasionally in its direction, and increasing tension over Taiwan, is more insecure than previously. It has therefore looked towards the development of a new missile system with US aid, coupled by an attempt by the Japanese bourgeois to lift the constitutional limits on the development and deployment of its military forces. At present, US policy, on the other hand, appears to be one of "soft containment" of China, while seeking intensified co-operation including military co-operation with India as a counterweight to China. China is also seeking to modernise its military forces with a new military doctrine focussing on countering the US, particularly in high-tech, stealth aircraft, cruise missiles and precision guided bombs. The US is suspicious of China’s decision to expand its military budgets, which it perceives as an attempt on the part of Beijing to roll back the influence of the US in East Asia. While the economy continues to develop - mutually benefiting China, the US and India - these powers can rub along. But the possibility of military clashes, some of them serious, is rooted in the situation developing in Asia. The broad perspectives for China internally, both in the economic and political spheres, have to be dealt with in separate material.

Russia

Russia under Putin has also begun to play a more assertive role in defending its interests, especially in its "near abroad", its satellites in the old soviet "empire". Its main economic advantage is, of course, in oil, which has almost trebled in price in the last five years. This has allowed the Putin regime to bask in the illusion of "prosperity" but in reality the cream of the oil boom has

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