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September 2002

 

cwi

Part 1. The world after September 11

1) World relations - including the balance of class forces internationally - have been profoundly affected by 11 September and its aftermath. This event underlined in a stark fashion the crushing dominance, economically and militarily, of US imperialism. However, the limits of this power will be demonstrated in the coming period by the growing revolt of the working class and oppressed throughout the world.

2) Some theorists argued before then that the era when one imperialist power dominated had ended. Exactly the opposite was shown by 11 September and its after-effects. Never in history has one country exercised greater power than US imperialism does today. It accounts for one third of world economic output. As a percentage of total world output this is less than what the USA accounted for immediately after the Second World War. However then Europe, Japan and much of the rest of the world lay in ruins. Given the recovery of these regions which became rivals to the US and the growth of the world economy since then, the US economy, with its $10 trillion GDP per annum, exercises an even greater sway than before. It is also the 'market of last resort' for the whole of the capitalist world and sucks in a huge part of the world's capital.

3) Its military dominance is, if anything, even more evident than its economic power. US military spending is equal to that of the 15 states which come after it. British imperialism in its heyday was able to pursue a 'two navy' policy, which meant that the British navy was always equal to the combined strength of its two main naval rivals. Militarily, US imperialism has far exceeded this position. The increase in US military spending demanded by Bush is equal to the total military spending of Russia in a year.

4) Consequently, the Pentagon has enunciated a new military doctrine, underlined by the victory in Afghanistan, called "Full Spectrum Dominance", dominance of land, air, sea and space by the military forces of US imperialism. Its investment in recent research and development of the latest hi-tech military hardware dwarfs that of Europe, whose representatives like 'Lord' Robertson, general secretary of NATO, is reduced to pleading for a little of the benefits of this research to be given to NATO forces.

The Role of NATO

5) The end of the Cold War has meant that NATO has become more and more defunct militarily as far as the US is concerned. NATO's raison d'être was the alleged 'Soviet threat', which has now completely evaporated. This has been underlined with the adherence of Russia to the newly-formed 'NATO-Russian Council'. Militarily, NATO is a pygmy compared to the US. The latter sometimes needs political coalitions as a cover for its military actions - 'multilateralism à la carte'. It may find it convenient to use other forces in 'soft' security roles as in Afghanistan but the Bush administration has made it clear that the US will do the military 'heavy lifting'. It will also decide how and when to deploy military force. No more 'wars by committee', as in Kosova, is the new credo of the Bush administration.

6) The European bourgeois gnash their teeth but are compelled to tolerate, for the time being, the need to shelter under the US military umbrella. At the same time they will attempt to speed up the creation of a military counterweight through a European Defence Force. The obstacles to this are formidable, which will be dealt with in the document on Europe, as will the implications for the working class of the continent. But an increase in military spending will have to be paid for by even greater cuts in state spending on welfare.

Afghanistan after the war

7) The outcome of the Afghan conflict was the third 'hi-tech' victory of imperialism in the last decade, following the Gulf War and the 1998 Kosova War. However, more than the two previous wars, this conflict was more openly a victory by the US alone. As previously, 'a coalition' in support of the war was assembled. However, its role in the contemptuous reference of an American general was to be the "waiters" while the US was the "chef". Europe was allowed to hold the US's coat while the latter slugged it out in the Afghanistan. And, as with the Gulf and Kosova conflicts, others are expected to foot the bill, particularly in the promised economic reconstruction of Afghanistan, while the US and now Britain, in a minor role, do the 'peacekeeping' (fighting).

8) "Victory" has been proclaimed in Afghanistan although the stated war aims of Bush - the killing or capture of bin Laden and the smashing of al-Qa'ida have yet to be realised. It is true that the Taliban capitulated without a fight but up to the time of writing even Mullah Omar has not been captured. Moreover, the regime of Karzai, whose writ does not run beyond Kabul at present, is an 'acceptable' Islamic regime in place of the 'unacceptable' Taliban. (Karzai supported the Taliban as a factor for 'stability' in Afghanistan up to 1998.) The new Afghan government has continued with sharia law but, it is claimed, is much more 'liberal' than the Taliban; they continue to hang people publicly but instead of the body being displayed for four days, as under the Taliban, it hangs for just 15 minutes! At the same time death is still the sentence for adultery for both men and women but smaller stones are used.

9) The ethnic and tribal divisions remain intact and if anything have been reinforced as a low-level civil war takes place between the different ethnic groups, particularly between the Pashtun majority, who fled from Northern Afghanistan, and the Tajiks who dominate the Northern Alliance. A new open conflict between these two main ethnic groupings is not excluded and even the remnants of al-Qa'ida are reported to be trying to recruit one warlord for use against another. The murder of the aviation minister, for ethnic reasons, is in the tradition of Afghanistan. So also is the intervention of neighbouring powers. Pakistan, which up to the conflict considered Afghanistan as its 'hinterland' has intervened, backing one group against another. Iran has done the same in the west and Uzbekistan intervenes in the north. On top of this there is the military intervention of US and British forces.

10) Poverty and backwardness has been the traditional lot of the Afghan people. A new vista seemed to have been opened up with the overthrow of the king in 1973 and the installation of what became first a pro-Russian and then openly Stalinist regimes in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Although totalitarian in their political character, nevertheless these regimes did play a relatively progressive role in abolishing the bride price, initiating land reform, etc. Under the heel of first the mullahs and now of imperialism the wheel of history has been turned back almost to its starting point in the 1970s. Then, 15 per cent of Afghan children were in schools but less than that go to school today in this war-torn region. The 'great achievement' of the Karzai government is a revival of the drugs trade, with Afghanistan accounting for 75 per cent of the world heroin trade.

11) US and British forces, as with previous conquering armies, can be drawn into the mire. The fear of 'mission creep' - small forces are deployed initially only to draw in huge numbers of troops and material later, as in Vietnam - is growing both in the US and in Europe. The Blair government in Britain has deployed forces alongside those of the US, something that not even the subservient Harold Wilson Labour government in the 1960s did in relation to Vietnam. The repercussions of this, together with new flare-ups in the South Asian subcontinent, Iraq, etc., could result in the growth of a massive antiwar movement.

12) The deployment of small forces merely to 'mop up' the remnants of the Taliban and al-Qa'ida could prove to be completely inadequate. There are 700,000 Afghans who are armed. It is estimated that to merely maintain the semblance of 'order' at least 25,000 troops, mostly from the US and Britain, will have to be deployed and the government will have to have under its control an armed force of at least 200,000. However, mere numbers assembled under the banner of the 'government', which at the moment is hardly more than a 'city state', will not be sufficient given the tribal and ethnic divisions with which such a force will be riven.

13) In the immediate afterglow of the Afghan 'victory' substantial resources were promised - up to $20 billion - for a massive reconstruction programme of Afghanistan. But even if such amounts were assembled, and there is little evidence that the US government in particular is prepared to cough up, given the tribal and ethnic structures and the archaic social relations this would be like pouring water down a drain. In Bangladesh, two thirds of foreign aid to help with a clean water programme is pocketed by racketeers and siphoned out of the country. The United Nations has found that aid channelled through its agencies has been used not for the purposes for which it was intended but by corrupt officials to line their own pockets. It is even being used for sexual and other favours, particularly in West Africa. Similar rottenness and corruption has been evinced by 'humanitarian' and aid officials in Bosnia.

14) The real barrier to transforming the lives of the Afghan people lies not just in aid from abroad but by abolishing the outmoded, barely existing, economic system of feudal and semi-feudal relations. The introduction of a planned, democratic organisation of the economy and society under popular control is the only way forward. By itself, however, Afghanistan could not solve its age-old problems of poverty, ethnic and tribal divisions. Together with the peoples in the region and through the establishment of a socialist federation they could begin to transform the situation.

15) The lives and destiny of the Afghan people is, however, so much small change for the US ruling class. Following 11 September the entirely justified sense of outrage and fear which gripped the US working class has been shamelessly exploited by the Bush administration to reassert its battered prestige and rampant imperialist interventionist policy worldwide. Philip Golub, in an article for Le Monde Diplomatique, characterised Bush as the new "American Caesar". He wrote: "Since the end of the Vietnam War, the American right has dreamed of restoring the country's imperial might".

US "National Security State"

16) The element of Bonapartism, which exists in even the most 'democratic' bourgeois constitutions, has been considerably enhanced by George Bush junior since 11 September. Following Watergate and the fall of Saigon, and the discrediting of Nixon, the 'executive' ceded a lot of power to the legislature and the judiciary. Ronald Reagan sought to alter this with the largest peacetime military expansion in US history up to that time, and the resurgence of clandestine CIA operations. George Bush senior pursued Reagan's agenda but like Reagan failed to carry through the programme of the Republican Party right. George Bush junior, however, has seized on 11 September to revive the 'national security state', which has permitted him to reassert the authority of the presidency over the legislature and judiciary.

17) This is a temporary phenomenon resulting partly from the submission to Bush of the US Senate, controlled by the Democrats, and the House of Representatives, which passed the US Patriot Act in late September 2001. This relinquished considerable Congressional control. Extraordinary powers were given to Bush, including the power to order secret and indefinite detention of 'aliens' (non-citizens) whose status is deemed 'irregular'. Exceptional military tribunals were created and over 1200 people arrested and kept in custody with nobody knowing who or where they were. In these military tribunals defendants enjoyed no rights of appeal even when they faced a death sentence. The New York Times declared that such outrageous assaults on the US rule of law were tantamount to "creating a parallel judicial system".

18) Even at the depths of the Cold War the executive did not stoop to such sweeping measures although it did resort to witch-hunts, censorship and blacklists. Even a right-wing Republican commentator such as William Safire declared in the New York Times that the newly acquired powers of Bush amounted to a "seizure of dictatorial power". This was an exaggeration given the present relationship of class forces in the US. Moreover, the present outlook of the US population is not the same as during the Cold War. The development of the modern means of mass communication, a heightened awareness of what is taking place both in the US and even internationally in the aftermath of 11 September, means that sweeping "dictatorial powers" on paper, at this stage can only be deployed sparingly and, moreover, will be temporary.

19) Nevertheless the continued support for the 'anti-terrorist' stance of the US administration within the US was still at record levels at the beginning of 2002. Nine out of ten voters in opinion polls supported Bush's offensive policy against 'world terrorism'. Moreover, worldwide imperialism has managed to shift the balance of world forces, particularly on the ideological plane, in its favour against the working class. This has given the possibility for the US, with Britain in tow, to reassert an offensive military-political strategy, a blatant attempt to enhance the hegemony of US imperialism in particular, on a world scale.

New Imperialism

20) The ideologists of imperialism have, as always, attempted to bolster this by giving this policy a 'progressive' gloss. A senior British Foreign Office diplomat, Derek Cooper, a confidante of Blair, has now shown how far the bourgeois wish to turn back the wheel of history. In a pamphlet published by the Foreign Policy Centre in London he states that there is a need for a "new kind of imperialism". In this booklet, Reordering the World, which has a foreword by Blair, he states that Osama bin Laden proved the dangers of allowing 'rogue states' to continue unchecked. Therefore: "All the conditions for imperialism are there... the weak still need the strong and the strong still need an orderly world, a world in which the efficient and well-governed exports stability and liberty. Empire and imperialism are words that have become terms of abuse in the post-modern world. Today, there are no colonial powers willing to take on the job, but the opportunities perhaps even the need, for colonisation is as great as ever it was in the nineteenth century". He continues: "What is needed is a new kind of imperialism, acceptable to a world of human rights and cosmopolitan values. We can already discern its outline: an imperialism, which like all imperialism, aims to bring order and organisation but which rests today on the voluntary principle".

21) British Labour MPs denounced Cooper, with one of them declaring: "The Tsarina of Russia was better advised by Rasputin than the prime minister is by this maniac. To claim the need for colonialism may be as great as in Victorian times is extraordinary". Another quite correctly said: "The very idea of a 'liberal imperialism' is like 'enlightened slavery' - it just doesn't make any sense". The outrage is justified. But nevertheless, stripped of all the verbiage and the gloss of Blair (Bush is incapable of posing issues subtly or diplomatically), this is exactly what the new offensive phase of US imperialism is in reality.

Axis of Evil

22) US spokespersons such as Rumsfeld have expressed the same views as Blair's advisor but couched in the crude language of the Bush administration. The 'war against terrorism' is to last for at least 50 years according to US vice-president Cheney. Rumsfeld targeted "at least 15 states" as bases for "international terrorist organisations". And Bush himself, in his address to Congress, spoke about the "axis of evil" - most notably Iraq, Iran and North Korea - as the most prominent of 'rogue states', which must be confronted in order to prevent the spread of biological and nuclear terror. This 'danger' has been also for domestic US political reasons; the mid-term elections later this year. The Republicans hope to use the post-11th September situation to smooth the class polarisation and discontent which has arisen from the economic recession in the US. It is doubtful that they will succeed in this task for any length of time.

23) From the overall point of view of the world bourgeoisie, the statements of Bush were highly irresponsible, as the reaction and opposition of the prominent spokespersons of European capitalism showed. A growing gulf has opened up in Iran in the past period between the hard-line mullahs who still control some of the key levers of power in this theocratic state, and the mass of the people, particularly young people, who have shown their opposition to the suffocating control exercised over them and the economic blind alley which Iran is in. Playing on these divisions the policy of capitalism, both the US and Europe, up to 11 September, was one of 'enlightened engagement' with the Iranian regime, with the hope of weakening the position of the hard-liners and opening up a line of communication and collaboration with the opposition.

24) In the case of North Korea, the so-called 'sunshine policy' of engagement and discussion with the isolated North Korean regime had as its aim a gradual softening of the antagonism between the North and the South. The hope was that transitional arrangements could then be put in place towards weaning the North away from the relics of Stalinism. Economic aid and food was provided with the purpose of preventing a collapse and a sudden mass exodus from the North to the South, with the confusion and catastrophic consequences that would mean for the South.

25) It seems that North Korea does not yet possess an effective nuclear weapon but has the potential to create such weapons in the future. However, the statement and actions of Bush turned back the clock. This could temporarily strengthen the hard-line Stalinist wing in North Korea, with unforeseen consequences for the peninsula as a whole and the world, for that matter. In June 1994, the Koreans were on the brink of an armed conflict as the North threatened to turn Seoul, South Korea's capital, into a "lake of fire". The crisis was caused then by the discovery of North Korea's nuclear programme and an armed confrontation was only averted by an eleventh-hour deal, brokered by former US president Jimmy Carter. That agreement is now fraying at the edges, which has intensified since Bush's "axis of evil" speech. The North Korean regime is now making noises about increasing its nuclear programme, including the possible buying of a nuclear power station from Russia. The tension has been heightened because of Bush's speech and a later announcement that North Korea was one of six countries who have been targeted for a possible US nuclear attack in the future.

US-Russia Arms Agreement

26) The US and Russia have agreed to cut nuclear warheads by two thirds within a decade. Putin has been allowed to parade as an equal of the US having, on the surface, pressurised the US to sign its first international agreement, despite earlier opposition by the Bush administration. In reality, this treaty serves to underline once more the weakness of Russia and the power of US imperialism. Russia, given its economic collapse (some estimates put its GDP as the same as Belgium or Switzerland) could not afford to maintain its deteriorating nuclear arsenal. The treaty pledges a cut from current levels of 6,000-7,000 warheads to between 1,700 and 2,200. However, the US is determined on "maximum flexibility" and insisted on storing rather than destroying many of the warheads. Both sides still possess an obscene nuclear arsenal capable of destroying humanity many times over.

New Nuclear Doctrine

27) This agreement does not detract from a significant and ominous change in US nuclear policy. The head of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace declared in response to changes which have been indicated that "This is not business as usual". The new feature outlined in the US administration's nuclear posture review is the call for the development of "smaller and more accurate nuclear weapons" with the specific capabilities of destroying underground bunkers, for example. This is only ostensibly to be used against 'rogue states' that may not possess but may be 'tempted' to acquire and use chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. Bush's National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, declared that these would be developed in order to deter the use of biological or nuclear weapons against the US or its allies and to make clear "that it would be met with a devastating response".

28) At the same time the US has now accepted the doctrine of 'first strike' which was specifically ruled out in the 1970s. It now maintains - under the heading of "broadening the circumstances" - that nuclear weapons could be used "pre-emptively" against countries developing weapons of mass destruction and/or in the event of large-scale conventional attacks. Examples of the latter scenario are an imagined Iraqi attack on Israel or a North Korean invasion of South Korea.

29) This development has serious implications for world relations and particularly the prospects for war and peace. The existence and proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons has enormously heightened the fear and insecurity which now grips humankind in the wake of 11 September. The CWI in the past always argued against the proponents of the idea that during the Cold War the world faced the prospect of nuclear annihilation, perhaps trigged by an 'accident'. In opposition to this view we pointed out that imperialism and the Stalinist bureaucracy in this period, through the policy of 'Mutually Assured Destruction' ('MAD'), maintained an unstable equilibrium. The massive stockpile of nuclear weapons, together with other factors - particularly the existence of democratic rights and power of the workers' organisations and 'democratic' public opinion - was enough to stay the hand of the mad militarists of imperialism. Only by a decisive change in the world relationship of forces would the possibility of nuclear annihilation be posed. This would involve the destruction of the workers' organisations and rights, including the right to strike and freedom of assembly, and the coming to power of a military dictatorship, a Bonapartist regime, similar to the Pinochet regime in Chile, which employed fascist methods to suppress the democratic rights of the working class. An uncontrolled military clique could, under certain circumstances, unleash a 'first strike' nuclear attack and plunge the world into total destruction of all the elements of civilisation.

30) We opposed nuclear weapons and supported the campaign against them. Nevertheless, we considered the 'nightmare scenario' as highly unlikely, if not effectively ruled out. The working class and the labour movement, long before a military dictator in the US, Europe or Japan came to power, would have the possibility themselves of conquering power and introducing a democratic socialist plan of production on a world scale. This is the only way ultimately of banning forever the threat of nuclear horror. However, the collapse of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe led to a new situation, uncharted territory. The irresponsible ex-bureaucracy of the former Soviet Union in particular allowed the plunder and sale of weapons, including nuclear material, some of which may have been put into the hands of terrorist groups. 'Potentially terrorist states' could also assemble a nuclear device, including a dirty H-bomb, to be used under some circumstances. In addition to this, the relationship of forces, albeit temporarily, in the US in the post-11 September period has allowed the military, egged on by the Republican right, to develop a new 'nuclear doctrine'.

31) Now the use of 'pre-emptive' 'tactical' nuclear strikes was posed. For the first time in 55 years there is the real possibility of a nuclear 'exchange', maybe triggered by an 'accident'. This was a real danger during the Indo-Pakistan stand-off at the beginning of 2002. The situation which developed was the most serious since the Cuban missile crisis of 1962. However, the combatants then - the USSR and the USA - through NATO and the 'Soviet bloc' through this crisis developed a system of communications - hot lines - in which the real intentions of each side could be fairly clearly discerned by the other. Given the bitter enmity between India and Pakistan, no such arrangements had been put in place up to then. These countries have already fought three wars before but these were before the acquisition of nuclear weapons. Moreover, both governments were weak, prone to the pressure of their religious-nationalist base and therefore seeking to ventilate the pressure from below with bellicose threats and counter-threats of war against each other. Moreover, the Musharraf regime is a military dictatorship and is not subject to the same civilian control which a 'normal' bourgeois democratic regime would face. The avoidance of an outright war on this occasion has not solved the fundamental underlying conflict which could re-emerge with even greater and more deadly force in the future. The aggressive military stance of the US, including its preparedness in theory at least to use 'tactical' nuclear weapons, has ratcheted upwards the sense of insecurity, the fear of war and nuclear annihilation.

32) Yet it is quite striking that today, as opposed to the past, it is the generals on both sides of the Atlantic, certainly in Britain and the US, who understand the limits and the dangers of military force alone and act to restrain the politicians. Contrast the role of President Harry Truman in 1950, at the time of the Korean War, and the situation today with Bush. Then General MacArthur threatened to use the A-bomb against North Korea. Attlee, on behalf of the then Labour government, flew to Washington to urge the US administration to restrain MacArthur. Truman sacked MacArthur and recalled him to the US. The political representatives of capitalism then understood that despite the overwhelming military superiority of the US the unilateral use of nuclear weapons would have provoked a worldwide reaction.

33) It is the military, or ex-military figures like Powell, who are calling for restraint, mostly behind the scenes, while the right-wing Republican spokespersons like Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, propose the use of military measures which could destroy civilisation for a whole historical era. For these reasons it cannot now be ruled out that in certain circumstances the Bush administration could use so-called 'tactical nuclear weapons', even against an enemy that did not possess a nuclear or biological warfare potentiality. In Afghanistan the so-called 'daisy cutter' bomb virtually had the effect of a nuclear weapon without the 'fall out'.

34) Spokespersons of US imperialism assure the world that these 'new' and 'more accurate' nuclear weapons will be used against an enemy underground or entrenched in 'caves' as with al-Qa'ida in Afghanistan. Even in those circumstances, the use of nuclear weapons could have unforeseen environmental and other consequences. Even the testing of such weapons could add to the ecological and environmental dangers which have already been stored up by the misuse of the resources of the planet by world capitalism. Any use of nuclear weapons, tactical or otherwise, involving large-scale casualties anywhere in the world, even 'accidentally' triggered off, would provoke a mass outpouring of rage and opposition the likes of which the world has never seen. The prospect of nuclear annihilation of the whole of humankind would be made real in these circumstances and would provoke mass demonstrations, general strikes, the marching and storming of parliaments and governments which went along with such actions, etc. Even bourgeois governments in Europe and elsewhere would be compelled to put themselves at the head of mass demonstrations, particularly if the US is involved in initiating a nuclear attack. Even this eventuality, however, would not be a prelude to a world nuclear war. A new antiwar movement has developed, which crosses over and fuses with the anti-capitalist movements, in the wake of Afghanistan.

Invasion of Iraq

35) Undoubtedly, another mighty impulse would be given to such a movement worldwide if Iraq was to become the military target of the US and its allies in the next period. In fact the fate of Iraq could be at the centre of world politics in the next period. An invasion of Iraq, which is proposed by some military strategists, would have repercussions within the US, an immediate effect in the Middle East and impact enormously on relations between the US and Europe, and also between the US and Russia and China. It could, moreover, have a decisive effect on economic perspectives, with a rerun of what followed the 1973 Arab-Israeli conflict and the Gulf War in the early 1990s. The price of oil, which has yo-yoed in the past few years, would rocket upwards.

36) It is for these reasons that the strategists of US imperialism are carefully weighing up the pros and cons and what kind of military action should be deployed against the Saddam regime. The overwhelming mood of the Bush regime is this time to carry through what was begun in the Gulf conflict, a 'regime change', the complete overthrow of the Saddam regime and its replacement by a pliable pro-Western, pro-US regime. However, the road to Baghdad, as in 1990-91, has divots, potholes and massive craters on it. If the US ruling class insists on travelling down this road - an invasion of Iraq - it could have fatal consequences for them worldwide.

37) The Saddam regime is not the Taliban or even al-Qa'ida. For 12 years military force, economic sanctions and other coercive measures have been used against Baghdad. Saddam has applied a mixture of concessions, threats and brutal repression to mitigate their effects. The bombing of Iraq together with sanctions have exacted a terrible price on the economy and the people of the country. There is worldwide indignation at the spectacle of 6,000 children a month dying of starvation and illness. Moreover, sanctions have had a big effect, but not enough to bring the regime to its knees. It is estimated that Iraq earns two to three billion dollars each year from oil smuggling, which effectively bypasses the US-inspired sanctions. It is the ineffectiveness of these sanctions, combined with the alleged acquisition of nuclear and biological facilities by the Saddam regime, which is now used as justification to prepare for an all-out war on Iraq.

38) A former member of the staff of the US National Security Council, Kenneth M Pollock, writing in the March/April 2002 edition of Foreign Affairs, poses the issue bluntly: "The United Sates should invade Iraq, eliminate the present regime, and pave the way for a successor prepared to abide by its international commitments and live in peace with its neighbours". It is conceded that such a proposal has little or nothing to do with the events of 11 September. The policy of 'containment' has collapsed. Very few nations now apply the UN mandated 'constraints'. Naturally, under capitalism, 'ethical' postures count little in the scramble to outsell your competitor. Thus, many nations have been prepared to sell military hardware to Saddam, amongst these the Chinese government. Therefore the policy of 'smart' sanctions will prove equally ineffective. The logic of the US 'hawks' is that if the embargo has already been broken, how long will it be before Saddam receives tanks or missiles, or even fissile material which would then mean that Iraq would pose a danger to every pro-US regime in the Middle East? The conclusion is: "Some form of regime change is steadily becoming the only answer to the Iraqi conundrum".

39) Pollock suggests that the US should provide full military and financial support to the Iraqi opposition. This should be combined with American military force to provide a 'safe zone' in Iraq from which the opposition can operate. A limited military approach - air power, special forces, the support from local opposition groups - would not work. It is possible - and this is one of the strategies of US imperialism - that a massive intensification of the bombing campaign, concentrating on Saddam's elite support in the Republican Guards, the Special Republican Guards, the Ba'ath party and Saddam's internal security services, might create the conditions for a coup. However, when this was tried in the so-called Operation Desert Fox in December 1998 it failed, with Saddam intensifying internal repression, including the arrest and assassination of Shi'ite clerics and the suppression of protests amongst the Shi'ite population of Iraq. The US failed to support risings of the Shias in 1991 and 1995.

40) The analogy with Afghanistan is bogus because the "gap in capabilities" between the Saddam regime and the opposition is much wider. In 1991 and again in 1996, Saddam's Republican Guard easily defeated even the strongest of the local Iraqi opposition forces, the two Kurdish militias. It is impossible for the Iraqi National Congress to play the role of a 'Northern Alliance', a tentative 'ground force'. The INC not only lacks competent field commanders it has also never demonstrated any serious support inside Iraq. Even when it had complete US help it could never gather more than a few hundred fighters at a time inside Iraq. It was heavily reliant on the Kurds for military operations, and was unable to secure any significant defections from the Iraqi armed forces.

Iraqi Quagmire

41) The Iraqi regime's military capability is much greater than the Taliban's. The latter fielded perhaps 45,000 troops at its height, while Iraq has armed forces totalling 400,000 - one quarter of them in the elite Republican Guard and Special Republican Guard, along with paramilitary forces totalling hundreds of thousands more. The Iraqi armed forces are "hardly a juggernaut" but they have repeatedly proved to be more than a match for all the local opposition up to this stage. More importantly the INC is distrusted by the US because the base that it has is still located amongst the Shi'ite population, which is the 'majority' in Iraq, accounting for approximately 65 per cent of the population.

42) The control of Saddam over Iraq is much greater than that exercised by the Taliban over Afghanistan. It would be impossible to employ the same tactics of massive air strikes, which to some extent have already been tried, which routed the opposition forces on the ground and left the Northern Alliance the menial task of reducing isolated strongholds and generally 'mopping up'. The US has conducted heavy air strikes, it is true, in the past, during the Gulf War for instance. In Operation Desert Storm the most powerful preliminary air campaign in history was employed. This was then followed up with one of the most decisive ground campaigns in the twentieth century. The Iraqi armed forces were reduced to a shadow of their former selves. Yet US imperialism was still very reluctant, as Bush senior admitted subsequently, to enter the urban areas, a terrain entirely different to the desert and with unforeseen consequences for imperialism. It was, however, the political factors, what followed Saddam, which was decisive in 1991. Those factors have not disappeared. Given the demographic make-up of Iraq, any regime that replaced Saddam would inevitably be a Shi'ite regime with the attendant danger that it would draw close to Iran, which after all is another of the countries designated as part of the 'axis of evil'.

43) There is no question that the resistivity of Iraq, both militarily and in terms of the social situation, is weaker than it was in 1991-92. But as Pollock quite correctly points out: "Throughout history the key determinant of whether ground units are likely to collapse from air strikes alone has not been the accuracy of the blows, but rather the commitment and discipline of the troops being struck. This point was reinforced in Afghanistan, with the less committed Taliban troops broke under US air strikes but the more determined and disciplined al-Qa'ida units did not - and fought hard later in Kunduz, Kandahar, and Tora Bora".

44) A similar situation arose during the Gulf War when Iraq's low-paid infantry divisions broke under the massive US air campaign, but the more determined and disciplined Republican Guard and regular army divisions did not. Moreover, the US-led forces flew a total of 110,000 'sorties' against Iraq during Desert Storm, compared to only 6,500 against the Taliban by the time of the fall of Kandahar. There was massive bombing of the Republican Guard; the US used twice as many precision-guided munitions against Iraq as against the Taliban, and destroyed 1,500 Iraqi armoured fighting vehicles from the air. The US waged a far more brutal air campaign against Iraq than it did against the Taliban and inflicted far more damage on Iraqi forces. But the key Iraqi divisions never broke and fought hard, although not particularly well, during the coalition's subsequent ground offensive.

45) Pollock therefore concludes: "Even today a substantial part of Saddam's forces would weather a sustained aerial attack, and even badly battered would still be able to prevail in combat against the opposition afterwards. More ominously, he concludes that any attempt to use the Afghan approach in Iraq would "leave the United States dangerously vulnerable to Saddam's counterattacks. Once Saddam realised that Washington was serious about regime change, he would fight back with everything he had - including the two or three dozen Scud-type missiles with biological or chemical warheads that the UN inspectors and US intelligence believe he has still stashed away".

46) These are some of the reasons which prompted the military - the US joint Chiefs - to leak reports indicating their growing opposition to an invasion, particularly an early one, against Iraq. The assembling of 200,000 troops for an invasion is a massive task which would put huge strains on even the US's considerable military machine. Moreover, say the military chiefs, if Saddam faces defeat, losing power and being killed, he would no longer feel the constraints of the Gulf War, which apparently kept him from using biological and chemical weapons. The other danger, indicated to Bush by Franks, head of the US command overseas, was that US troops would be bogged down in "bloody block to block urban warfare in Baghdad" that could kill thousands of US troops and Iraqi civilians.

47) Since 11 September the Bush administration has attempted to break the post-Vietnam syndrome, the fear of committing a large body of US troops in a long, risky war. This campaign has not yet succeeded. There is still big opposition to the US going down this road.

48) A minimum of 10,000 Iraqi civilians would be killed in such a conflict. An additional factor, not mentioned by the military, is that the Middle East as a whole would erupt as soon as Iraq was invaded. This means that the issue of a wholesale military attack, particularly a US-led invasion, is in the balance. However, the hawks such as Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, etc., - even Bush himself - will not give up on this 'project' easily.

The Iraqi opposition

49) At the same time, any massive air campaign, which may not succeed, particularly if it is launched from the north, could compel Saddam to reoccupy the north "with all the attendant slaughter and repression that would entail". The Kurds have indicated that they are not prepared to be the equivalent of the Northern Alliance in any conflict with Saddam. The leaders of both the main Kurdish parties, the Kurdish Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, have both stated that they would not help to topple Saddam unless they know who the next president will be. The leader of the KDP, Massoud Barzani, has declared: "We are not custom-made revolutionaries... We will never become an orderly in the hands of the US or any other force".

50) However, there are indications that the KDP might be prepared to do a deal with former pillars of the Saddam regime such as General Khazarji, Iraq's former chief of staff who fled to the West in 1996. The problem for them and even more so for the US is any credible opposition leader is compromised by his former actions. Almost any senior military figure who served under Saddam has blood on his hands, as has Khazarji, and therefore any new cabinet, post-Saddam and post-invasion, would be composed of war criminals. In other words, a rerun of the post-Taliban regime in Afghanistan is likely in the event of a successful change of regime in Iraq.

51) On the other hand, the head of the Iraqi National Congress, Chalabi, is not entirely 100 per cent trusted by the US. The INC's lack of a credible position on the ground inside Iraq forced the US administration just prior to the Afghan War to withdraw financial support from it. Moreover, Chalabi in the past has been convicted of financial embezzlement in a Jordanian banking scandal. Irrespective of these drawbacks however, the US will, as they did with Karzai in Afghanistan, pick out some figure to head what will be, at least in the first instance, a stooge regime. A writer in The Guardian in London appropriately commented: "Much of the discussion about future Iraqi governments resembles a casting session for a film of the Afghan War. People debate who should play Karzai and so on."

52) However, this leaves out of account a small detail: Saddam has yet to be overthrown. And the factors involved, from the point of view of US imperialism, are not just military. Carrying out an Afghan-style campaign against Iraq would be well-nigh impossible without the support of neighbouring regimes. The Afghan operations required the help from Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Russia and India. The visit of Cheney to the Middle East in March was designed precisely to secure the usual allies of the US for an air campaign and possible invasion of Iraq. However he received a very frosty reception even from the feudal potentates of the Gulf. The Israeli-Palestine conflict has been dealt with fully in the recent statements of the CWI.

Repercussions in the Arab World

53) The assumption of the Bush administration is that the largely totalitarian regimes in the Arab world will be able to keep the masses quiet in the event of military action against Saddam. They point to the lack of mass movements and demonstrations in protest against the carnage meted out to the Palestinians by the Israeli ruling class in the early part of 2002. However, the fact that the Arab 'street' appears on the surface to be quiet gives a false picture of the real mood in the region. Opinion polls have shown a rapid increase in anti-American, anti-Bush feeling - particularly in view of the acceptance by the US of Sharon's war against the Palestinians - following the Afghan conflict.

54) Undoubtedly the existence of totalitarian regimes, which in the past have not hesitated to resort to state terror to suppress opposition, is a factor which stays the hand of the masses at present, particularly in relation to Palestine. However, such are the feelings of indignation, the sense of Arab humiliation, that another war in Iraq would unleash the floodgates of mass opposition and resentment throughout the Middle East. It is this which is terrifying the 'friends' of US imperialism in the region. One bourgeois commentator summed up their feelings in the Financial Times: "Arab leaders seized the chance to warn the vice-president that one war in the region [the Arab-Israeli war] might be manageable but two would be tumultuous folly".

55) Even Pakistan, a partner in US imperialism's war in Afghanistan, is now refusing to allow additional US troops to enter the country to search for Taliban and al-Qa'ida fugitives. Faced with rising domestic discontent and an endemic Islamic fundamentalist and growing opposition, even Musharraf has had to keep his distance from US imperialism. A military invasion of Iraq would, on paper, render victory to US-led forces within a measurable period of time.

56) US forces "ran roughshod over their Iraqi counterparts" [Pollock] in 1991 and since then the gap in capabilities between the two sides has widened. However, a total force to win an armed conflict and occupy the country would still mean assembling between 200,000 and 300,000 personnel. The casualties incurred during such an operation could well mean that they would be much higher than the Afghan or even the Gulf War. The strategists of US imperialism, however, say these are "unlikely to be catastrophic". This reckons without the willingness of Iraqi forces to defend their territory, particularly in the cities, despite opposition to the Saddam regime. Moreover, the fear that Saddam could employ unconventional weapons, certainly bacterial warfare, as he did during the conflict with Iran, cannot be discounted. This could well push the number of casualties much higher, both of US forces and even possibly the population of Israel, in the event of Iraqi missile attacks.

57) In discussing the possibilities of an invasion the US are almost breathtakingly complacent about the opposition they are likely to meet. Because the Egyptian regime is largely a client state of the US, economically and militarily, Mubarak will, it seems, just give the nod for US forces to move through the Suez Canal. But the pressure on Mubarak is already intense and will reach unprecedented levels if the regime should bow to US pressure in this way. Moreover, despite the reluctant acquiescence of US 'allies' to the military strategy in Afghanistan, the same is not likely to be the case in the event of an invasion of Iraq. The Europeans, even the Russians, notwithstanding Putin's prostration before Bush over Afghanistan, and particularly the Chinese, could object strongly and could condemn it, probably through the United Nations.

58) In the US itself opinion polls in early 2002 put support for the Bush administration in its 'war on terror' at nine out of ten of the population. However, anecdotal and other reports indicate that the mood is not uniform. In the more sophisticated urban areas of the US there are not just questions and doubts but outright opposition is beginning to grow against the policies of the Bush administration. In small-town America and in traditionally conservative areas of the US support for Bush is still high. However, that can and will dramatically change in the event of serious US casualties, which it is certain there will be in the event of a ground invasion.

59) But even if an invasion was successful in removing Saddam, which by definition would have to be achieved relatively quickly, the real problems would begin on the morrow of victory, as the British nineteenth century general Wellington commented. The US would have to 'govern' a nation of 22 million people ravaged by more than two decades of war with massive national and ethnic problems, and facing severe deprivation. It is estimated that the cost of 'rebuilding Iraq's economy' would dwarf the estimates for Afghanistan. They range from $50 billion to $150 billion, and that is without the costs arising from another damaging war. As with the wars of the last decade the US would seek to unload the burden for this mainly onto its 'non-participating' allies.

Post-Saddam?

60) The UN or Arab League will be mobilised to prepare for some kind of alternative political regime, which is more likely to be of a federal character incorporating the Kurds, than a unitary state. For all these reasons, following Cheney's visit to the Middle East, even the US right and some in the Bush administration have begun to reconsider the 'wisdom' of military action to overthrow Saddam, particularly an invasion by land troops. Undoubtedly if such a war was to take place the scale and the worldwide impact would be much greater than the war in Afghanistan. The colossal power of US imperialism allows it to play a 'unilateral' role. But the puffed up Bush administration has yet to fully comprehend the extreme limits of this power from a political, social and class point of view.

61) The tumultuous events in the Middle East, which at the time of writing have arrived at a stalemate between the Israelis and the Palestinians, have demonstrated in the most unvarnished fashion the limits of modern US power. Yet it is an open question whether these lessons have been absorbed by the strategists, insofar as there are any, of the US Republican right who dominate the Bush administration.