Tony Benn, the veteran British socialist, described the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in its coverage of Iraq as a "weapon of mass deception".
CWI comment and analysis
Iraq: The war train departs
This could be applied with equal if not greater force to Colin Powell’s 80-minute ’report’ on Iraq to the United Nations Security Council on 5 February. It has not succeeded in its intended aim to roll back the worldwide mass wave of opposition to the Bush junta’s plans for a bloody invasion of Iraq. Few doubters or sceptics would have been won over by the barrage of ’facts’, the "smudgy old photos and blurred taped conversations" (Daily Mirror, London) as a justification for going to war. This was certainly not the ’smoking gun’, irrefutable proof of Iraq’s secret arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), nor was it the ’Adlai Stevenson moment’ (during the Cuban missile crisis in 1962 the then US ambassador to the UN dramatically utilised photographs of the deployment of Russian missiles in Cuba to win support).
It is true that Joseph Biden, the senior Democrat on the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee is now a ’believer’. Previously complaining that the US administration had failed to make the case for war, he has now declared, "If I had this evidence before an unbiased jury, I’d get a conviction." He is a lawyer by profession, as are many US ’legislators’ (75% of the world’s lawyers are in the US). But Powell, now a paid up member of the ’hawk’ wing of the Bush regime, has not succeeded in proving the case for war before the court of world public opinion and particularly in the eyes of working-class people internationally, who will be called upon to pay the ultimate price for Bush and Blair’s onslaught against Iraq.
The USA, Britain and other major capitalist powers have no right to intervene in Iraq or other countries. They are planning this military onslaught, not out of concern for the plight of the Iraqi people but to secure control of the oil fields and not because of weapons of mass destruction allegedly held by Iraq. It is the task of the Iraqi people, with the support and assistance of the international working class, to overthrow the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein and not that of US imperialism and its allies. However, even by the ’criteria’ of the ruling class, the case presented by Powell to the UN Security Council was flawed on each substantial charge.
In judging the veracity of Powell’s speech we should not forget that both Bush and Blair produced dossiers last September which were supposed to be crushing indictments of the Iraqi regime’s ’non-compliance’. These have now been shelved because they were totally discredited by the weapons inspectors’ findings, which did not bear out their accusations. Former UN weapons inspector, Count Hans von Sponeck, has now stated: "The inspectors have found nothing that was in the Bush/Blair dossiers of last September. What happened to them? They are totally embarrassed by them. But I have seen facilities in pieces in Iraq, which US intelligence reports say, are dangerous. The Institute of Strategic Studies referred to the Al Faluja’s three castor oil production units and the Al Dora foot and mouth centre as ’facilities for concern’. In 2002 I saw them and they were destroyed, there was nothing. All that was left was shells of buildings."
Despite its length, Powell’s speech was thin on conclusive evidence to back up the main claims to justify a war. Robert Fisk, the trenchant critic of the US’s international role and exposer of the hypocrisy of the Bush regime in particular, described Powell’s performance as worthy of the Irish playwright Samuel Beckett. He described Powell’s presentation as a "mixture of awesomely funny recordings of Iraqi Republican Guard telephone intercepts, à la Samuel Beckett, that just might have been some terrifying little proof that Saddam is really conning the UN inspectors again, and some ancient material on the monster of Baghdad’s all too well known record of beastliness. I’m still waiting to hear the Arabic for the state department’s translation of ’OK buddy’ – ’consider it done, sir’ – this from the Republican Guard’s ’Captain Ibrahim’, for heaven’s sake." He goes on to describe, "Some dinky illustrations of mobile bio-labs whose lorries and railway tracks were in such perfect condition that they suggest that the Pentagon did not have much idea of the dilapidated state of Saddam’s army… We were forced to listen to Iraq’s officer corps communicating by phone – ’yeah,’ ’yeah?’ ’yeah’ – it was impossible not to ask oneself if Colin Powell had really considered the effect that this would have on the outside world." (The Independent, London, 6 February)
On the main charges against Saddam, Powell’s case is ’not enough’ and remains ’unproven’. On the issues of chemical and biological weapons, Iraq is accused of having 100-500 tonnes of chemical weapons agents and 16,000 battlefield rockets, with 65 factories producing a range of munitions. Moreover, four different sources have confirmed, in the view of Powell, that Saddam had seven sophisticated mobile biological weapons labs loaded on 18 lorries that could be used to make anthrax, smallpox or ricin.
It is possible, even probable, that Saddam, despite the claims to the contrary, does possess chemical and biological weapons. These are probably being kept in reserve for possible use in the event of an invasion. He has used chemical and biological weapons against the Kurdish people in the north of Iraq and in the Iran/Iraq war, as mentioned by Powell in his speech. Conveniently forgotten, however, is that these weapons were initially supplied by US imperialism and that Rumsfeld personally endorsed Saddam during a visit to Iraq in the 1980s. The ’monster of Baghdad’ is the Frankenstein monster created by US imperialism.
Powell’s recycled material
Most of the evidence produced by Powell and by the US administration is recycled material and no case has been made that, in their terms, these weapons, as with nuclear weapons, pose a ’clear and present danger’ either to the neighbouring countries around Iraq or to the US. Holding up a phial of ’anthrax’ to indicate the danger of biological weapons and linking this via Iraq to the deaths of US workers in the aftermath of 11 September 2001 was totally dishonest of Powell. Is there little wonder that half the American population now believe that it was Iraqis who were behind the 11 September attacks, when it was clearly perpetrated by non Iraqi’s?
On the issue of nuclear weapons, Powell once more rehashed previous arguments of Saddam’s acquisition of high-resolution aluminium tubes which can be modified into centrifuges to produce enriched uranium for a nuclear device. This is despite the fact that the weapons inspectors themselves have suggested that these tubes are for the making of conventional artillery rockets. Conscious of the weakness of his argument, Powell did acknowledge "different views" on this issue. But as an ’old soldier’, he was right and others were wrong.
Dan Plesch, senior research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said that what was missing was any evidence of a bomb factory or bomb-making equipment. He also added: "All Powell could come up with was one possible component. Scarcely proof of an effective bomb programme. Powell has also alleged materials were being moved after leaks from UN inspectors. Hans Blix, head of the inspectors, has flatly denied this and said they saw no fresh tyre tracks at bases visited or any evidence of banned toxic materials in soil samples."
But as the radical Campaign Against the Arms Trade pointedly commented: "It is all very well demanding war on Iraq for allegedly failing to open up to weapons inspectors. America is the world’s biggest developer of weapons of mass destruction and of exploiting loopholes to keep research secret."
Moreover, many countries now possess the capability of producing nuclear bombs but they are not threatened with invasion by US imperialism. For instance, the Financial Times reported on 29 January: "Japan yesterday admitted that 206 kilograms of plutonium – enough to make about 25 nuclear bombs – is unaccounted for at a nuclear reprocessing facility."
The disintegration of the former Soviet Union, a consequence of the collapse of Stalinism, has left a completely ’degraded’ nuclear industry, which allows potential terrorists to acquire the knowledge to assemble a nuclear device. There is an abundance of caesium in this region, as in the US, that would allow the construction of ’dirty bombs’, which could have the same effect through radioactive fallout as the deployment of nuclear weapons themselves. The most horrifying threat is posed by the North Korean Stalinist regime of Kim Jong-il, which is partly or mainly the consequence of the lunatic policy of the Bush regime towards North Korea (see Socialism Today 72 February 2003). In the past few days, it has been reported that the North Korean regime is moving fissile material out of its nuclear facilities, which it has been suggested can be sold by the regime, as they have done in the past, to nuclear or potential nuclear states and terrorist organisations. This was linked to the deployment of 24 B-52 and B-1 bombers to strengthen the USA forces in South Korea. According to Pyongyang the USS Kitty Hawk has also taken up strike position.
The US has opted to confront the danger by ’diplomacy’ but it has leaked into the press that some sections of the US administration have even contemplated a ’pre-emptive’ strike against North Korea which, in these circumstances, would involve the use of nuclear weapons by the US with the danger of retaliation from North Korea and all the calamitous consequences that flow from that.
US imperialism has now embraced the doctrine of the pre-emptive strike that will increase instability and conflict in international relations. It will open the prospect of other regimes attempting to launch a pre-emptive strike to advance their own interests. Michael R Gordan wrote in the New York Times that following September 11 the ’Bush administration has turned pre-emption from an option into a cardinal principle of its foreign policy’. He rightly warned that ’The doctrine tends to leave the door open to others who want to claim the same right’. (International Herald Tribune 27/1/03). Within two weeks of this warning the North Korean regime threatened that pre-emptive strikes were not the preserve of the Bush administration.
As to the link that Powell has allegedly established between al-Qa’ida, and Osama bin Laden personally, and the Iraqi regime, it has been dismissed as not serious even by capitalist commentators and ’terrorism experts’. On matters of detail Powell was completely wrong. He referred to ’decades’ of contact between Saddam and al-Qa’ida and yet the latter only came into existence five years ago. As Robert Fisk acidly comments: "Bin Laden – decades ago – was working against the Russians for the CIA, whose present-day director was sitting grey-faced behind General Powell."
Even the International Herald Tribune, which has now become largely an apologist for Bush, commented that Powell "did not succeed in drawing a direct line" between Saddam and bin Laden. The charge that al-Qa’ida operatives worked out of north-eastern Iraq – in the Kurdish region – with some of them domiciled in Baghdad was not proof of connivance with al-Qa’ida terrorists. There was no mention of course of US support for Israel and its occupation of Palestinian land. Powell invoked Iraq’s support for the Palestinian organisation, Hamas, without mentioning that the same organisation has offices in Beirut, Damascus and Iran.
In bolstering his case for an Iraq/al-Qa’ida link, Powell, even according to British ’security sources’, was "jumping to conclusions" (The Guardian, London). "A plot" hatched by Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq to set up a network of terrorists to carry out "poison and explosive attacks" allegedly resulted in an attack in Britain where "one British police officer was murdered" (The Guardian, London). But British "security sources" said there was "no solid evidence to support Powell’s allegations. He was "jumping to conclusions".
The reality, however, is that al-Qa’ida, more of a broad ’holding company’ for like-minded terrorists than a centralised organisation, is now present in most of the countries of Western Europe. This, however, has not elicited a threat to bomb these countries or wage war on them as faces Iraq. Powell’s testimony before the UN was not, however, tailored to persuade and convince but to bully and intimidate the rest of the capitalist world to fall into line behind US imperialism’s war plans.
The fact that Powell is now firmly in the camp of the ’hawks’ is proof of the determination of the wing of the US ruling class, which is behind the Bush administration, to go to the end in a war to topple Saddam. Powell spoke in the same language and with the same threats as Bush did when he spoke to the UN in September. He warned that unless the Security Council backed the US it would become an "irrelevancy", a latter-day League of Nations.
A decision by the United Nations to support a military assault may temporarily increase support for the war – especially in the USA and Britain. However, such a decision would also eventually lead to the undermining and discrediting of the UN. At the same time if it fails to support a war it will be increasingly seen as an irrelevance when faced with the might of US imperialism.
Powell’s speech was couched in the implicitly brutal terms used by Bush after 11 September: "Either you are with us or you’re against us." This means that the ’train of war’ has left the station and will not be stopped or derailed by any obstacles on the track. Bush in his State of the Union speech made it absolutely clear that Saddam will be overthrown, with or without UN approval, and in a ’time-line’ determined by US imperialism. Powell’s speech is cast in the same mould as his master.
He was perceived, wrongly, as a ’dove’, a ’voice of reason’ in an otherwise bellicose US administration by sections even of the anti-war movement in Western Europe and elsewhere. He is nothing of the kind, as his record as the general commanding the troops that invaded Grenada and Kuwait demonstrates. He is a multi-millionaire, as is his son, and an integral part of the US ruling class. His differences with the ’hawks’ are those of procedure, of posture, and of seeking a ’coalition’ behind an invasion of Iraq. But it seems that the Europeans were asking for ’more time’ for the inspectors to do their job and this has tipped Powell into the camp of the hawks. In so doing he is showing the steely and brutal determination of the Bush regime, with the oil and gas capitalists celebrating in their rear, to overthrow Saddam and grab the second-largest oil reserves in the world. They expect that this re-colonisation of Iraq, to give it its right name, will enormously enhance the US ’empire’ and force the peoples of the world, particularly in the neo-colonial world, to recognise their ’impotence’ in the face of such awesome power. The consequences of this will represent a social and political earthquake in the Middle East and internationally.
Philip Stephens commented in the Financial Times: ’There is still too little appreciation of the scale of the coming geopolitical earthquake. American occupation of Iraq – and let us not delude ourselves, this will be a long term commitment – will do more than redraw the region’s strategic map. It will mark the moment when the US takes upon itself a role that it has disavowed since the annexation of the Philippines more than a century ago – the role of the imperial power. For the past 50 years America has ruled a virtual empire…’ (FT 7/2/03).
Doomed to failure
In the medium and long term, they are doomed to failure. In the Middle East, where the Palestinians should already be cowed and intimidated according to the schema of the Bush strategists, the limits of US power have been glimpsed. This will be further underlined in the tumultuous events in the future.
In the short term, however, given the overwhelming military superiority of US imperialism, the US is likely to prevail in any war. How is it possible, given the massive opposition to war, unprecedented in its scale and depth to anything we have seen before, that the US ruling class can precede with war? In a sense, as the political journalist John Pilger has commented, the proponents of war, particularly Bush and Blair, are ’isolated’, Blair in his own backyard and Bush from a world point of view. Thomas L Friedman, the American columnist, and an erratic commentator recently on the prospects of war, has given a stark warning to the Bush regime one day after Powell’s speech. He writes: "In talking with Bush administration officials of late I am struck by an incredible contrast. It is the contrast between the breathtaking audacity of what they intend to do in Iraq – an audacity that, I must say, has an appeal to me – and the incredibly narrow basis of support that exists in America today for this audacious project." He professes that he is not worried about the reaction of the Arabs and Turks, of the volatile ’Arab street’, or even of opinion in Iraq. What worries him is the mood of the US population on the issue of war: "I have had a chance to travel all across the United States since September, and I can say without hesitation there was not a single audience I spoke to where I felt there was a majority in favour of war… I don’t care what the polls say, this is the real mood."
It is true that after Bush’s State of the Union speech, support for a war began to increase in the US, as it probably will after Powell’s speech. The proviso in all these polls, however, is that it should be conducted ’through the UN’. However, even if the US decides to proceed unilaterally it is likely that initially support will increase and will grow in the event of a relatively quick victory by US imperialism.
In Britain, however, Blair is not guaranteed to garner political credit from a military victory. This will partly depend upon the character of any victory, the degree of suffering of the Iraqis, etc. The war has already provoked bitter mass opposition to Blair who could be toppled as a consequence of his pro-war policy. One worker on a British TV panel addressed Blair in a debate as the Right Honourable Member (Member of Parliament) for Texas North! The determined opposition to Blair reflected on this programme was then followed by the ’acute international embarrassment’ of the British government following the revelation that its latest dossier on Iraq of "intelligence material" included material copied from thesis prepared by academic and students – some of them several years old. Powell cited this same document in his speech to the UN Security Council.
The prospect of war against Iraq has opened the biggest rift between some of European capitalists – especially France and Germany – and the USA since the end of the Second World War. This conflict has revealed the underlying inter-imperialist clash of interests that exist. At the same time the mass opposition to the war in these countries has been decisive in pushing Chirac and Schroder to oppose US policy. The disastrous election results for the SPD in recent elections in Lower Saxony and Hessen (in which the SPD got its lowest level of support ever) reflect the mass opposition that exists to the neo-liberal policies of the German government despite Schroder’s opposition to the war. This underlines that an anti-war policy is not enough and it must also be linked to a socialist alternative to capitalism.
It is possible that Chirac, despite mass opposition to the war in France, will capitulate at the Security Council. However, if he does this, the anti-war mood could be galvanised into mass action in France.
Can war be stopped?
The question has to be answered by socialists and Marxists who have pointed towards the unprecedented pressure which is being exerted on Blair and Bush to desist from war: why then are they able to proceed in the teeth of this opposition – that could reach or exceed ten million people on worldwide demonstrations on 15 February – along the bloody path of mayhem and destruction in Iraq?
This demonstrates that when vital strategic interests of the ruling class are at stake, or a faction of the ruling class perceives that this is the case, then despite any unpopularity they will go to war. In this situation, mass demonstrations alone, overwhelming opposition to a war, are not sufficient in and of themselves to stay the hand of capitalism. Such mass movements can act as a check on the ruling class; to delay and complicate its war plans. For example, John Howard has become the first Australian prime minister in a century to lose the support of the Senate when it passed a motion of no confidence in his pro-US policy on Iraq. But only if these movements are allied to clear mass action, a general strike and the overthrow of the government and of the system that it represents, can we guarantee that war can be prevented.
Bush and Blair undoubtedly calculate that with a quick victory over Saddam, as with the Gulf war, Kosova and Afghanistan, the opposition will quickly subside and they will be able to bask in the glory. However, to paraphrase the 19th century British prime minister and general, the Duke of Wellington, a victory sometimes brings with it as many if not more problems than a defeat. Friedman comments that the Bush administration is "gearing up for the rebuilding of Iraq, along the lines of the rebuilding of Germany and Japan after World War Two, and Americans are geared up, at best, for the quick and dirty invasion of Grenada." He then goes on to demand that it is "time the president levelled with the country – not just about the dangers posed by Saddam, but about the long-term costs involved in ousting him and rebuilding Iraq. This is not going to be Grenada." He warns that it will "take years" to achieve the aims of Bush and the circle of so-called ’democratic’ imperialists in Iraq. The purpose is not just to overthrow Saddam but also to reconstitute Iraq as a ’democracy’.
On the basis of rotted capitalism and landlordism throughout the Middle East, this schema is just that, a pipe dream. On the contrary, the world crisis of capitalism – exemplified in particular by the deepening recession in the US with the loss of two million jobs since 2001 and one million completely dropping out of the labour force – means that US imperialism will not be able to economically underwrite, even if it controls Iraqi oil, its grand vision for the region. Its occupation of Iraq, because it will be more long term than its previous short, police-type interventions, will pull it into the quagmire, which Iraq has always historically meant, for invading armies.
Afghanistan is a warning to US imperialism of what lies in store for it in Iraq. All the promises that al-Qa’ida and the Taliban were decisively beaten, that an endless flow of billions of dollars would stream into Afghanistan to transform the economic, social and political landscape, and that US and British forces were there ’for the duration’ have turned to ashes. A veil of silence, particularly as far as the US population is concerned, has been drawn over the present situation in Afghanistan. No mention was made by Powell at the UN of the catastrophic situation left in the wake of the US and British invasion, which was foreshadowed by the Marxists at the time. Peace remains an illusion, as a process of steady erosion of the forces of US imperialism is under way. Nightly attacks on US and other troops take place, there is anarchy in the cities outside Kabul and warlordism and drug trafficking are as entrenched as ever. Al-Qa’ida has a radio station operating in Afghanistan with an estimated 25% of all weapons brought into Afghanistan after an alleged ’successful’ war against al-Qa’ida and the Taliban. US forces have retreated from positions on the Afghan/Pakistan border. For instance, in December, US troops abandoned a military outpost at Lwara after nightly rocket attacks. Al-Qa’ida fighters who took over this former US compound and burned it to the ground drove the Afghan allies of the US out days later. Once more, al-Qa’ida and the Taliban have set up training camps, with battles between the US and Taliban forces in and around Kandahar. A US citizen has been killed in Khost and a landmine outside Kandahar blew up 15 civilians.
The ugly reality of Afghanistan is not, however, allowed to blur the rosy future sketched out for Iraq in its post-Saddam phase. In reality, the US could be drawn into an economic, national and ethnic abyss. The Kurds will utilise any war to either move towards their own separate state or at the least demand autonomy within a federal Iraq. Such is the hatred of the Ba’ath party, the foundation of the Saddam regime, that the Iraqi masses could take revenge on the most hated figures, with US forces forced to come to their defence to prevent a bloodbath. The Shias could decide to settle accounts with the Sunnis with civil war looming as a real prospect and the US attempting to hold the ’ring’. Moreover, unlike 1992, the US will not be able to take the begging bowl to Japan, Germany or Saudi Arabia to pay for its occupation and the ’economic flourishing’ of Iraq.
The legacy of an attack on Iraq will be a colossal spiralling of threats from Islamic terrorists bent on revenge against the war that appears to them to be ’against Islam’. One of the factors in the long-term plans of the Bush junta’s desire to occupy Iraq is to construct a ’safety net’ against the doomsday scenario of Saudi Arabia falling into the hands of bin Laden-type sympathisers. Islamic terrorism is one thing; a state, which pursues such a policy, is an absolute nightmare for the peoples of the world, not least in the Middle East. The ’Islamic experts’ who surround Bush perceive that control of Iraq’s oil would give them an ace card in confronting and ’blackmailing’ a hostile Saudi Arabian regime and could ultimately allow it to break the power of Opec in determining oil prices. This, in turn, by driving down the price of oil, could be the fillip, they believe, that could provide an economic springboard for the development of world capitalism.
They will be proved wrong. Their measures will enormously compound the problems of the Middle East and of the world. An era of war, the first stages of which will be the Iraqi war, accompanied by a worsening and stagnating world capitalist economy, could be the main features of this period. Unemployment worldwide has reached 180 million, 20 million more than two years ago. One of the most disturbed periods in history could ensue. It will not quieten the movement of the working class, the youth and the poor. Alongside of devastating war in Iraq we witness the hundreds of thousands who demonstrated in Porto Alegre in Brazil and the very significant victory, temporary though it might be, in the left forces’ defeat of the forces of counter-revolution that sought to overthrow the Chávez government in Venezuela. The mass anti-capitalist movement is dovetailing with an anti-war mood that in the next period can turn into an overtly socialist movement in which the forces of socialism and Marxism will grow.
- No war for oil!
- For mass protests and strikes against the war!
- Support the mass demonstrations on 15 February!
- Fight capitalism and imperialism!
- Fight for a socialist world!