Bush exploits tragedy to promote imperialism and repression
The collapse of the World Trade Centre’s Twin Towers, after two planes were deliberately flown into the huge buildings, and the resulting deaths of nearly 3,000 people, is a terrible, tragic event etched in the memory of hundreds of millions of people around the world. What quickly became known as ‘9/11’, united working people, globally, in revulsion and in horror.
However, the fifth anniversary of 9/11 provided the occasion for Bush and others to indulge in grotesque exploitation of the deaths in New York. Despite protestations to the contrary by the Bush Administration, little thought is given to families and friends of those innocently killed.
A US report, last week, warned that 70% of rescuers, contractors and volunteers at ‘Ground Zero’ (the site of the 9/11 disaster) suffer lung damage. More than 40,000 people worked to clear the "terrible pile of building, aircraft and human debris from the smouldering rubble" (Observer, London, 10 September). Many have died or are dying and others were told they would be "sick for life". After years of denial by the authorities that mysterious deaths and injuries amongst workers were linked to their Ground Zero, solid evidence emerged that illnesses were indeed caused by toxins at the destroyed Twin Towers site. Now the ill workers are campaigning for compensation and to know why they were told it was "safe" to work at Ground Zero.
The Bush Administration tries to sweep aside all these injustices. Instead, the 5th anniversary of 9/11 is used by the White House to try to deflect attention away from its disastrous foreign policy quagmire and to try to justify more repressive measures and imperialist aggression.
Despite initial military successes, Iraq and Afghanistan revealed US imperialism to be a weakened giant, a view reinforced by the ‘Hurricane Katrina’ catastrophe. Overwhelming US military might did not bring the victory Washington’s neo-cons expected in Iraq. In fact, Bush created a monumental disaster for US imperialism in Iraq, that is now being added to by the unravelling of the position of imperialism in Afghanistan.
Immediately after 9/11, there was a tremendous international wave of sympathy towards the New Yorkers and the US people. However, the imperialist policies of Bush produced a seismic shift, as this sympathy turned into deep mistrust and opposition to Bush (notwithstanding the continued attraction of US living standards for many of the world’s poor). A similar development took place within the US with a collapse in Bush’s own approval rating.
‘War on terror’
Bush is scraping the barrel politically; trying to use the tragedy of 9/11 to scare the US population into supporting his policies, especially in Iraq, and to win support for his so-called "war on terror". The US administration continues to try to link 9/11 with its war of aggression against the people of Iraq. In doing so, Bush simply ignores a recent Republican-controlled US Senate report that said there were no links between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda or 9/11. Indeed, the Bush administration depends upon the "big lie" technique. Only days after the Senate report was published, Vice-President Dick Cheney went claimed on US television there were "links" between the old Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda.
In a cynical move to cover up the lies about Saddam’s supposed, ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’ (WMD), Bush emphasises the threat of "Islamic fascism". In an attempt to rekindle the fears of the ‘Cold War’, the US president brackets together Lenin, Hitler and bin Laden – as if there was anything in common between the leader of the world’s first socialist revolution, the leader of the fascist counter-revolution in Germany and a reactionary theocratic leader!
Even the idea of the ‘war on terror’ is meaningless, except as a propaganda tool. As a US Republican Senator commented "This is no more a war on terror than World War Two was a war on blitzkrieg …Terror is a tactic; it is not our enemy."
Terror is not simply bomb attacks. Since 9/11, there have been terror attacks in Bali, London and Madrid and other cities, but also there was Bush’s "shock and awe" assault on Iraq that was designed to terrorise. An estimated 72,000 civilians have died since September 11, 2001, as a result of the global ‘war on terror’.
Part of Bush’s renewed propaganda push, is an attempt by the White House to shore up Republican support in this November’s US mid-term elections. That is the reason why Bush mentioned bin Laden 18 times in one recent 40 minute speech. This signals the start of the Republican’s election campaign.
As always, imperialist propaganda is highly selective. For electoral reasons, Bush concentrates on the nearly 3,000 who died on 9/11 but does not mention the nearly 3,000 US soldiers who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan, let alone the far larger numbers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan, since September 2001. The London Financial Times conservatively estimates that 44,000 Iraqis have died since the US invasion, as the result of what is, in many ways, mass state terror. The fact that Bush, supported by Blair, refused to even ask the Israeli state to stop its terror onslaught that killed hundreds of Lebanese civilians, many of whom were children, is buried beneath the official White House 9/11 propaganda.
Huge human cost
If Bush and other leaders were really concerned about the world’s welfare they would be speaking about a "war on poverty". On the very day the Twin Towers were destroyed, the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation estimated that 36,615 children died each day from the effects of extreme poverty. This is 12 times the numbers that perished in New York. But the world’s poor can expect nothing from the rich rulers.
Even in relation to Iraq, Bush makes no mention of the mounting human cost of that country’s descent into chaos and near civil war. This is not simply due to continuing attacks on the occupying forces, but also because of a developing civil war, of horrific sectarian bombings and mass killings by sectarian death squads. This is causing large-scale population movements in Iraq. Of course, Bush does not dare comment on the results of a recent opinion poll in Iraq that asked people what were the main three reasons for the US invasion. The survey found that Iraqis cited US oil (76%) interests, the building of US military bases, and to ‘help’ Israel, as the primary reasons for the occupation.
For US imperialism, Bush’s policies in the Middle East have not only utterly failed in their declared objectives but have actually weakened the sole superpower, in many respects. Even the limited regional aims of the Iraqi invasion – control over world’s second largest oil reserves and a tighter strategic grip in the Middle East – totally failed to materialise. One effect of Bush’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is the strengthening of the influence and regional power of its arch local rival, Iran.
Outside the shrinking band of Bush and Blair diehard supporters, there is overwhelming despair amongst capitalist strategists and commentators. There are deep divisions within the US ruling class. A raging debate is taking place within the US right, between neo-cons and more ‘traditional’ conservatives, as the implications of Bush’s disastrous policies register. Many of the neo-cons are shocked at the results of a policy that has weakened US influence internationally. They are trying to distance themselves from the White House; the ‘blame game’ has started.
It is not accidental that earlier this year recently retired US military generals criticised what was happening in Iraq and the Middle East. Gerard Baker, a British supporter of the Iraq invasion, asked in mid-August "…where did it all go wrong, George? … Tehran has emerged as the true hegemonic power in the region …If I were a conspiracy theorist I would be starting to conclude that you were some sort of Iranian Candidate, an agent of Tehran, brilliantly executing a covert strategy to enhance the prestige and power of the ayatollahs." Writing in early September on the Iraq invasion, the well-known British military historian, Antony Beevor, commented: "One is amazed that no move has yet been made to impeach its architects." Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of State to US President, Bill Clinton, said, "Iraq may turn out to be the greatest disaster in American foreign policy."
In the run up to this November’s US mid-term elections, Bush hoped to reduce US military numbers in Iraq. But the worsening situation in that country forced an increase deployment of US troops, as well as more former soldiers being called up. In July, Richard Armitage, who was Bush’s deputy secretary of state, until January 2005, commented: "The US has almost totally reversed the troop situation from two months ago. The danger is that this is too little and too late and that the US will turn into a bystander in an Iraqi civil war it does not have sufficient resources to prevent."
Civil war in Iraq
At almost the same time, the farewell memo of Britain’s retiring ambassador to Iraq, stated, "The prospect of a low level intensity civil war and a de facto division of Iraq is probably more likely at this stage than a successful and substantial transition to a stable democracy. Even the lowered expectation of President Bush for Iraq – a government that can sustain itself, defend itself and govern itself and is an ally in the war on terror – must remain in doubt."
Recently retired US generals were scathing in their condemnations of two serving colleagues. They testified, in early August, to the US Senate, that Iraq was "…devolving into civil war." The London Financial Times described Iraq as a country where "…the economy has collapsed. Oil production is half pre-war levels, while the provision of basic services such as water, power and sewage is below that."
Imperialism’s strategists are desperately debating about what to do about the Iraq disaster. Some argue for Iraq’s partition. Others object to this ‘plan’, pointing to the huge bloodshed and destabilisation the country’s division would involve, particularly in Baghdad, and its regional effects, especially the opposition by Turkey, and other neighbouring states, to the establishment of any independent Kurdish state in the north of Iraq. Other imperialist strategists in the US talk about creating a new Iraqi dictatorship. In mid-August, it was reported that in Washington "…senior administration officials have acknowledged …that they are considering alternatives other than democracy." This is not new. After all, Saddam was a key western ally until he invaded Kuwait in 1990. In the 1980s, Iraq was the third largest recipient of US assistance. The only difference next time is that it is likely that there would be three dictatorships in a partitioned Iraq.
While the situation in Iraq descends deeper into a downward spiral the US’s Afghanistan "settlement" is also falling to pieces. NATO military leaders are forced to admit that the fighting in Afghanistan is far more severe that they expected. In just over two months, the British troop contingent fired other over 400,000 rounds of ammunition. Even before the latest round of fighting began top British generals were deeply sceptical about the new NATO plans. Some retired British generals wrote to Blair about their misgivings. But Blair, with no opposition from his New Labour ministers, was determined to go ahead with pouring more soldiers into Afghanistan.
The result is heavy fighting that is making a mockery of NATO’s stated goal of winning "hearts and minds". NATO forces are now regularly issuing public statements high body counts of dead "Taliban" that is reminiscent of the Vietnam War. In that conflict, the US military used to issue such high body counts that they were regularly predicting "victory" over the Vietcong. The reality was different. Many of dead were civilians, which only increased the determination of the Vietnamese people to fight the US imperialism. Significantly, in Afghanistan, the body counts are mainly the result of aerial reconnaissance. But NATO’s ‘successes’ mean its troops are unable to patrol on the ground.
But this is not simply the question of the sharp increase in fighting between Taliban and NATO forces in Afghanistan. The Karzai government is becoming increasing isolated from the population, partly because of the widening gap between the small elite that has benefited from aid and the drug trade, and the impoverished masses. Since 2002, $82.5 billion has been spent on military operations in Afghanistan, compared with just $7.3 billion on ‘development’.
The growing anger of the destitute Afghans was vividly illustrated at the end of last May, when 17 people were killed during riots in Kabul. This followed the death of three civilians when they were hit by a US military truck. The Kabul rioters shouted, "Death to Karzai". Afterwards, Karzai appointed a former warlord, "with known links to organised crime", as police chief of Kabul (New York Times, 23 August). In reality, President Karzai can only survive on the basis of US and NATO troops and by a policy of buying support from warlords and drug dealers.
Karzai’s deals with warlords are mirrored, in a different direction; by the Pakistani army’s early September deal with pro-Taliban elements in the North Waziristan area.
Clearly feeling incapable of winning a military conflict against the pro-Taliban forces, the Pakistani regime agreed to a ceasefire, in May, and then negotiated an agreement to end fighting in North Waziristan. In return for an end to army attacks, the self-declared "Pakistani Taliban" promised not to attack the army or to allow cross-border raids into Afghanistan. News of this deal was accompanied by the Pakistan army’s top spokesperson, General Shaukat Sultan, being forced to claim that he was "misquoted" after he told the US TV station, ABC, in a recorded interview, that bin Laden would not be arrested "as long as one is staying like a peaceful citizen."
Imperialist deals with opposition?
This deal mirrored the debate that is starting to open up about whether it is possible to reach some kind of deal between the imperialist powers and some of the armed opposition they face. Such deals are not unknown. A few years ago, in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein leaders served as ministers in a coalition ‘power-sharing’ government that carried out social cuts, after declaring a permanent end of hostilities by the IRA.
But the Middle East is different. The region’s vast oil resources are vital to the world economy. Both the US and other imperialist countries want "reliable" governments to administer the region. That is why the arch reactionary Saudi feudal dictatorship is supported so much by the West. But the march of events could force the imperialist powers to reach deals with different forces, if only to keep the oil flowing.
An important aspect of the so-called "War on Terror" is governments, most notably those of Bush and Blair, seized the opportunity to institute wide ranging repressive measures. They have ruthlessly exploited working people’s fears of terror after 9/11 to justify and to try to get approval for huge strengthening of the capitalist state and executive power.
Bush now presents as "normal" the CIA’s secret prison network, where it hides suspects seized from around the world; a modern day, "globalised" version of the Nazis’ "Nacht und Nebel"("Night and Fog") policy of disappearances and secret imprisonment. Despite the US army’s deputy chief of staff for intelligence testifying to Congress last week that "no good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices", Bush still justifies it, and makes a semantic distinction between "coercive interrogation techniques" and "torture". Significantly, Bush is currently asking the US Congress to grant retroactive legal impunity to all civilian officials who authorised torture and war crimes since 9/11. This must serve as a warning of how superficial is the ruling class’s adherence to "law and order", let alone democratic rights, when they fear their interests are challenged.
Enormous global opposition to Bush
The lies about Saddam’s "Weapons of Mass Destruction" (WMD), the disaster of Iraq, the US/British support of the Israeli state’s attack on Lebanese civilians, and the continuing questions about what actually happened on 9/11, all fuelled enormous distrust internationally towards the US and Bush. Both Bush and Blair are weakened at home. Bush’s Republicans face the possibility of significant defeats in the mid-term elections. Blair is so unpopular he is facing a revolt by Labour ministers and parliamentarians who are terrified of being too associated with the prime minister and therefore losing their jobs.
Even before the invasion of Iraq, the world saw the biggest-ever international wave of protests. The mood of opposition and distrust towards Western imperialism deepened around the world, which is reflected in the collapse of US’s imperialism’s prestige.
In many countries, there is a growing anti-imperialist mood. Iraq is no exception to this. While the Israeli government was battering the Lebanon a protest march against US support for this onslought took place in Baghdad. Although the US military claimed that only 14,000 took part, international press agencies reported that hundreds of thousands marched.
For a handful of deeply alienated and desperate young Muslims, anger at Bush, Blair and co. reached such a point they were prepared to carry out indiscriminate suicide attacks, as was the case in London, in July 2005. But while socialists understand the intense feelings of outrage at US imperialism and the desire to strike back, we utterly oppose the very idea of attacking civilians, whether it is in Amman, Bali, London or Madrid.
Shortly after 9/11, we wrote: "The actions of the hijackers, notwithstanding the right-wing obscurantist programme of bin Laden, are ultimately grounded in the feeling of intense oppression of the Arab people as a whole. Consequently, US imperialism’s ‘war against terrorism’ cannot succeed in the long run, so long as the conditions that have bred terrorism remain. The fact that these methods are used is also a reflection of the weakness of Marxism and the organised working class movement. This is partly because of the dramatic shift to the right of the ex-social democrats who head the ex-workers’ organisations."
Anti-war movement needs socialist direction
Unfortunately, this weakness is not yet rectified, with the result that, despite growing opposition to the war, there is a working class movement able to give a clear anti-imperialist and socialist direction to the hostility of many youth and working people to imperialist adventures.
One consequence of this is growth in support for ‘radical’ Islamic movements. This is fuelled by Bush’s self-declared "crusade" against mainly Muslim countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Lebanon; Bush’s denunciation of "Islamic Fascism"; and the increasingly hostility towards Muslims in many countries.
But the political-Islamic movements are based upon capitalism and, as was shown in the history of all Muslim countries, cannot answer the needs and aspirations of working people and the poor.
Today, opposition to the occupation of Iraq, to the war in Afghanistan, and to future imperialist military adventures, are key issues. Mass international opposition to the policies of Bush play an important role. But if the imperialist occupation of Iraq is to be permanently ended, an independent workers’ movement, which has mass support amongst the urban and rural poor, needs to be urgently built.
Internationally, support has to be given to those activists seeking to build workers’ organisations and fighting for democratic rights for all, including women and all nationalities and religions. Socialists call for decisive measures to deal with the social and economic misery. This requires struggling for a socialist confederation in Iraq that would decisively break with capitalism and imperialism.
Although Afghanistan is a more rural society than Iraq, the same basic issues of building independent organisations of the workers and the poor are posed, if the country is going to break out of a seemingly endless cycle of wars and poverty.
The events of the last five years, especially the Iraq war and occupation, provoked huge worldwide mass protests, and deepened the radicalisation already under way globally. It has added opposition to militarism and to imperialist war to the increasing protests against neo-liberalism, capitalist globalisation, and the international offensive against working people’s democratic rights and living standards.
Events since 9/11 graphically show the horrors inflicted by imperialism. The lessons working people and youth draw from events will help prepare the re-building of the international socialist movement. Only such a mighty class movement can fundamentally change the world, ridding it of war, poverty, oppression, dictatorship and repeated economic crises; by ending capitalism and by starting to build a socialist world.