Iraq: US hawks plan “pre-emptive” strike

In the light of Hans Blix and the weapons inspectors’ report that there is no "smoking gun", conclusive evidence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Iraq, the prospect of an immediate war against Iraq by the Bush regime appeared to have receded. Just a few days later, however, US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announced the deployment of a further 65,000 troops to the Gulf region, which will bring the total US forces there to 150,000. This was clearly intended to keep up the pressure on Saddam and at the same time indicate an unstoppable mobilisation for war against Iraq. A number of experts, from previous Iraqi weapons inspectors such as Scott Ritter, commentators such as John Pilger and Socialism Today, argued in advance that the investigation by the weapons inspectors would show that Iraq was stripped of virtually all WMD in the 1990s or the capacity to produce nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future. They have been vindicated, while the legitimacy of Bush’s war plans has received a shattering blow in the eyes of world public opinion.

This has been reinforced by the US’s entirely different approach to the greater threat posed by North Korea in its latest stance. It has repudiated its nuclear agreements with the US, withdrawn from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and warns it will make a nuclear bomb every year. The response of the Bush administration is to declare that this is "a diplomatic issue". Iraq, on the other hand, as Robert Fisk in The Independent (London) wrote, "hands over a 12,000 page account of its weapons production and allows UN inspectors to roam all over the country, and – after they have found not a jam jar of dangerous chemicals in 230 raids – President Bush announces that Iraq is a threat to America, has not disarmed and may have to be invaded".

Yet even before these developments mass pressure, a huge worldwide anti-war movement, introduced an uncharacteristic air of uncertainty, vacillation and seeming doubt into the US administration, expressed by Bush himself. In his New Year walk with reporters on his ranch in Texas, in answer to a question on the prospects of war, he testily declared: "Against which country?… If we do have to go to war, I decide not you." Colin Powell, no doubt anticipating that the weapons inspectors were about to report that they had drawn a blank stated to the Washington Post in early January that 27 January was "not a D-Day for decision making".

In the whole of the previous period this had been precisely pencilled in as a likely "trigger" for the start of a war. US imperialism believed that the post-September 11 mood and particularly the victory in Afghanistan would allow them to go virtually unchallenged in asserting their overwhelming military prowess on a world scale. Now, believed the Republican Party right, was the time to implement their long-cherished plans. Priority was given to completing the ’unfinished business’ left over from the Gulf War. In 1996, an Israeli-US study headed by Bush’s present ’security’ adviser Richard Perle, in a project called "A Clean Break", advocated the removal of Saddam Hussein. In an open letter to Bill Clinton at the time, Perle demanded a full-scale drive for regime change in Baghdad. No time was lost following US imperialism’s victory in Afghanistan to begin to implement this programme of the Republican right and the oil and gas capitalists, who backed them and lusted for control of Iraq’s oil.

Long term plans

They will not easily abandon these long-term plans. However, as Socialism Today and the CWI foreshadowed, US imperialism would in time also discover the limits of this military power. Before even the onset of war they have come up against the political limits of mass resistance from the working class and the poor, as well as bourgeois governments in Europe and elsewhere, subjected to the ferocious pressure of their own populations to stand up to the world’s ’bully’, US imperialism. Even more than was the case in the Gulf War, Kosova and Afghanistan, the ideological legitimacy of the actions of the US, given the mass communications that now exist, are closely scrutinised and, if found wanting, are rejected.

The hawks in the US administration, echoed by some in Blair’s cabinet, believe that, despite the anti-war protests, all that was required was a short military campaign to overthrow Saddam, and the majority of the world’s population, as in the previous wars of the 1990s, would accommodate themselves to this accomplished fact. But as Philip Stevens, the political correspondent of the Financial Times conceded, they are "wrong. Mr Bush and Mr Blair are still to agree on the why". Iraq, in the eyes of the peoples of the world, does not constitute a "present and immediate danger" to either the US or other countries in the Middle East.

North Korea is now such a threat, given the stupidity of the Bush regime in breaking the previous policy of Clinton of "engagement" with Kim Jong-Il’s Stalinist outfit in the North. The condemnation of North Korea as part of an "axis of evil", the cutting off of food and oil supplies, and the brutal rupturing of the previous South Korean regime’s "sunshine policy" has directly led to the current conflict. This in turn could lead to North Korea selling "nuclear secrets", as it has done in the past, to other countries and potential terrorist organisations. How has Bush responded to this? By implementing the new military doctrine of "pre-emptive strikes" against North Korea, which in this context would have to be a nuclear attack? Even the Bush regime would not take such a step, which would lead to world outrage and also its own overthrow. Therefore, Colin Powell has declared that the previously discredited policies of Clinton of ’diplomacy’ and ’engagement’ have had to be resorted to.

US imperialism’s hypocrisy

The hypocritical double-dealing of Bush has not been lost on the world’s population, not least on the US people themselves. It is this political mass pressure, a kind of latent ’people’s power’, which periodically manifests itself in massive demonstrations, which has enormously complicated the US administration’s drive towards a war with Iraq. In Europe, it has led to a profound popular opposition to the idea of war, particularly for "regime change". Only a quarter of the population of Germany, for instance, supports this, while in Britain, which in polls has seemingly the highest percentage in favour of a war against Saddam, particularly if conducted through the UN, support is still less than half the population.

Moreover, it has now entered the popular consciousness that this, as the CWI and Socialism Today have pressed home in slogans, is truly a "war for oil". In an attempt to counter this widespread perception, the Financial Times said that this was not a war over oil because the International Monetary Fund has estimated that a $5 rise in the price of oil, sustained for a year, would mean a drop in world gross domestic product of 0.25%. Their conclusion, therefore, is that a war would damage the capitalist system and is not in the economic interests of the US or world capitalism as a whole. However Bush, as the Financial Times concedes, calculates that the "disruption" would be temporary (he may be mistaken on this) and at the same time the US would have grabbed Iraq’s oil resources.

The US right-wing commentator Thomas Friedman, writing in the New York Times, was more accurate when he argued that a war in Iraq was "not just for oil". In other words, the US has as its aim the seizure of Iraq’s oil and in turn the enhancement of its already dominant position, particularly militarily, throughout the world. If Iraq was crushed, reason Bush and his advisers, potential opponents particularly in the neo-colonial world would think twice before challenging US power. Nevertheless, the economic importance of oil to US and world imperialism is transparent as even British spokespersons have admitted: "Some ministers and officials in Whitehall say privately that oil is more important in the calculation than weapons of mass destruction" [The Guardian (London), 7 January 2003].

The complication for the US in seeking to accuse Saddam of possessing WMD is, in the words of one commentator, like accusing somebody of murder but being unable to discover the body! But the US has not given up hope of discovering or manufacturing the ’evidence’ which could justify military action. Previously, the US government criticised the weapons inspectors and stated that the Central Intelligence Agency had abundant evidence against Saddam. When Blix challenged them to furnish the inspectors with the evidence, they initially hesitated but in early January their files were turned over.

It is doubtful whether there is anything really new in this evidence (as with Blair’s dossier) but the tactics of the US are to clearly find any nuclear scientist who could be spirited out of the country together with their families who will then furnish the necessary ’proof’ against Saddam. Their ’case’ is threadbare at the moment but it remains to be seen whether they can provide such figures whose testimony could be the trigger for military action. However, given the growing scepticism that Saddam possesses significant and threatening WMD, it is extremely unlikely – though not ruled out – that Bush, even in these circumstances could declare unilateral military action.

Bush seeks legitimacy?

In any case, it now seems virtually certain that the US will be compelled once more to seek legitimacy for such a war by returning to the UN for a second resolution. France and even Germany, as well as Russia (whose oil contracts have just been cancelled by Iraq) prior to the weapons inspectors’ report, appeared to be sympathetic to giving the US support of various kinds in the event of an invasion and voting for a new resolution in the UN Security Council. They were motivated largely by naked cash calculations, the fear that in a post-Saddam Iraq they would be squeezed out of the distribution of any spoils on offer.

But, in the case of France, we witnessed a vivid expression of the effects of the mass pressure. 70 per cent of the French people are opposed to the war. Yet the French president Chirac, on television, seemed to promise 5,000 troops to an invasion force in Iraq. Such was the outcry that this provoked he was forced to do a somersault within 48 hours. Given the massive opposition in Germany, despite even the sympathetic noises made by the chairperson of the Bundestag and implied support towards US intentions in Iraq, support from the Schröder government for Bush would pour oil on the already inflamed mood against war. In Britain, Blair is virtually totally isolated, both within the Parliamentary Labour Party, not a hotbed of radical anti-war protest, and even in his own Cabinet. The Guardian reported that he was the sole advocate in the Cabinet of backing the US in the event of US unilateral action. He has been given a warning by the representatives of Labour MPs that he would face the biggest revolt since he came to power in the event of his support for a unilateral strike. Most of the opposition at this stage takes refuge behind opposition to the war "unless it has the sanction of the UN". But if the UN voted for a war against Iraq, it would serve to undermine the already tarnished image of the UN. It would be seen as a stooge and instrument of US imperialism.

All of this has to be balanced however, against the continued mobilisation for war of the US and its allies. Huge resources are still pouring into the region surrounding Iraq. To mobilise such a formidable military machine, as with the First World War, increases the momentum for war. The complete postponement of war without the overthrow of Saddam would utterly discredit Bush and, taken together with the colossal difficulties in the US economy, would probably lead to regime change in Washington, through elections, before such a development takes place in Baghdad.

Therefore, the preparations for war continue. Delegations from the US and Britain in particular, have leaned on the new Turkish government to allow the stationing of US troops there. Turkey has granted the US the right to survey its ports and airbases, but not yet to station US troops, which would have to be approved by the Turkish parliament against the background that 90 per cent of the Turkish population oppose such a step.

Formidable obstacles

Such are the formidable obstacles at this stage, both in the US and worldwide, that it is not excluded that the plans for the invasion could be postponed until the autumn of this year. Despite the formidable obstacles for maintaining such a force on ’standby’, in the 1991 Gulf War troops were kept in the region for six months before the war actually broke out.

The complication for Bush is that mass opposition to war has been added to with significant sections of the tops of the US and British military expressing doubts. So unprepared are British forces, army chefs are being deployed as makeshift leaders of soldiers going into battle. This problem will be compounded by the firefighters’ strike. A war against even a weakened Saddam regime would not be a "cakewalk". US generals from the Marine Corps have broken ranks to issue a warning that a war would be "bloody". It is not possible to say what the effect of a military intervention would be on the Iraqi people. It is possible that, given the terror at the prospect of war and the hatred for Saddam, there would be a collapse and a relatively easy victory for US forces. But this is not at all guaranteed. The Saddam regime has in the past period skilfully cultivated the tribes and clans, some involving one million people, in order to re-establish a base in the population. This has taken the form of financial bribes and even the partial arming, it seems, not just of the Ba’ath party supporters but of other sections of the population in preparation for military resistance, particularly in Baghdad.

It is assumed by US military planners that a war would take the form of an invasion from the south together with a military intervention through Kurdish-held territory in the north. It is expected that there would be little ’resistance’ in these areas. However, even this is not guaranteed, particularly in the south, given the suspicions that the Shia population has about the past and future intentions of the US towards Iraq. But even if they were to ensure a relatively easy passage in these regions, as we pointed out in previous articles, they would meet military resistance from the Republican Guard and, probably, from sections at least of the Baghdad population.

Secret UN report

The mere declaration of war would probably be the trigger for the beginning of a humanitarian and refugee catastrophe that would put in the shade the terrible plight of the Kurds in 1991 who fled the cities of the north to the mountains. A recent secret UN report has indicated that half a million people could be killed, a mass exodus of 900,000 Iraqis would ensue and there could be mass hunger and starvation. The battle for Baghdad could take the form of a ’blitzkrieg’ and the corresponding resistance could be similar to that of the Palestinians in Jenin against the Israeli bombardment, the Chechens in Grozny or even of Stalingrad.

Moreover, a military victory would be the ’easy’ part of any intervention. What would follow would be a nightmare for the region and the world. The whole of the Middle East would be in uproar with the possibility of continued and renewed confrontation between the Palestinians and Israel, and even a war with neighbouring countries. The US has indicated that despite the claims of the ’democratic’ imperialists that an invasion of Iraq would usher in for the first time a democratic phase for Iraq and the region, the US intends to supplant Saddam with its own military dictatorship, with elections ruled out for 18 months and, in reality, a lot longer than that. The economic consequences are incalculable and could, in all possibility, enormously compound the deep economic crisis of US capitalism in particular, far deeper than in 1991, which in turn had serious ramifications for the world.

"Horror without end," Lenin forecast, was the fate of humankind on the basis of a continuation of capitalism. The 1990s revealed this forecast of Lenin to be, if anything, an underestimate, with one war after another and the prospect of an endless series of military conflicts, increased poverty, national and ethnic strife, so long as capitalism continues. The Washington-based Worldwatch Institute posed the issues in a stark fashion: "The human race has only one and perhaps two generations to rescue itself". It declares: "The longer that no remedial action is taken, the greater the degree of misery and biological impoverishment that humankind must be prepared to accept". Added to this is the devastating warning of Joseph Rotblatt, a noted nuclear physicist who worked on the first atom bomb in the US in the 1940s, who warned that Bush’s policy "is setting the world on a course towards nuclear disaster".

However, such a devastating scenario can and will be stopped by the revolt of the working class, the poor and the working people of the world, a manifestation of which is the powerful anti-war movement that is under way. While tracing out the plans and conspiracies of imperialism for war in Iraq, of analysing the different phases of this ongoing conflict, it is at the same time absolutely necessary not to lessen for one moment the building of a powerful anti-war, as well as an anti-capitalist and pronounced socialist movement, in order to check Bush and Blair. It is necessary to create a world in which these horrors will no longer exist. Such a world is a socialist world.

An edited and updated version of this article will appear in the February edition of Socialism Today, journal of the Socialist Party, the CWI’s affiliate in England and Wales.

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January 2003