From the October 2003 issue of the Socialist Standard
The million anti-war demonstrators who poured into London at the beginning of the year have since been proved right on a number of issues. The people in Iraq did not roll out the red carpet for the “liberating” US and British troops as they overran the country. The war did provoke more anti-Western resentment. There was never any threat to the USA. Iraq's weapons of mass destruction were never the issue and so far have proven not to exist, except in the warped mind of US neo-cons and the Blair junta in Britain. Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 – at last admitted by George Bush on 17 September – and neither was there any link to Al Qaeda. The US war machine is up to its neck in a mess of its own making, which worsens daily, while Bush's corporate buddies are now raking in huge profits from contracts awarded for the reconstruction of Iraq.
The killing continues
It is now six months since Bush informed us that Iraq had been liberated. If this is liberation, then what is oppression? Iraqi infrastructure is virtually non-existent, crime is out of control, and the “liberation” has turned into guerrilla war in which daily Iraqi deaths from gunfire outnumber those of the occupying forces by 20-1. Widespread resentment against US occupation is the norm. The common consensus worldwide is that the US has failed miserably in Iraq, creating only greater regional problems. Millions of Iraqis now accept that whilst Saddam might have been a tyrannical dictator, his regime did ensure relative stability.
The recent US “liberation” of Afghanistan is perhaps analogous. Since the ousting of the Taliban, unaccountable American-paid warlords have been free to rape and murder at will. People are being murdered at the rate of 100 a week. Women are still fearful to walk out without burqas. Opium production is now back to normal and every organisation reporting from Afghanistan makes the same claim – human rights abuses are greater than under the rule of the Taliban.
Indeed, the only significant US achievement in Iraq lies in the fact that the US has turned the only Arab country with no Al Qaeda base into a recruiting ground for Islamic terrorism. You could be forgiven for thinking this was part of the US game plan insofar as it provides the US with a further pretext for its “war on terror” as it currently calls its imperialist foreign policy. What an amazing feat Washington has performed. What a mess Bush now realises he has created.
A recent Washington proposal now under consideration is for the establishment of a UN multilateral military force to join U.S. occupation troops in Iraq. It would operate as a separate, parallel force with a separate command composition, but under the overall command of the US and accountable to the Pentagon. Furthermore, the arrangement would not include the US sharing authority and information with the UN or the countries providing assistance. This was in fact US practice during the Clinton administration in Somalia and Haiti, for instance.
Interestingly, when the UN Security Council opposed the US invasion of Iraq, arguing there was no reason to resort to violence, it was Bush who dismissed the UN as a mere “talking shop”. Now after starting an “illicit” war – if a war can ever be called licit – which marginalised the UN Security Council, a war that has not gone Bush's way, the US seeks the help of the Security Council to internationalise the economic and human costs of their occupation of Iraq. Perhaps Bush thinks Indian, Pakistani or Nigerian mercenaries of the United States will receive a more amicable reception in Iraq than US forces.
US, UN, same difference
One wonders whether Washington is oblivious to the recent attack on the UN base in Baghdad with the loss of 21 lives. For many Middle Eastern militants, the UN is seen as simply another branch of US imperialist foreign policy and thus a legitimate target. Back in the early 1990s, it was the UN which put in place the US-sponsored sanctions regime which wrought havoc on Iraqi society – a society recovering from a 10-year war with Iran and a murderous war with the US, Britain, France (yes) and others. Such sanctions left 500,000 Iraqi children dead from disease and malnutrition and crippled Iraq's infrastructure. More recently, it was the UN Security Council which approved the US-installed puppet government and in effect approved the occupation by opening a UN mission office to help make it successful. So any idea that the UN could carry through something the US could not is wishful thinking. UN forces would fare no better than US troops.
Clearly the Washington warmongers did not count on the post-invasion expenses they would encounter, or the number of troops they would need for the job. The US war-for-profit machine has clearly bitten off more than it can chew. Following on from the $79 billion that was released in April 2003 for the cost of the occupation of Iraq, Bush has since allocated an extra $87 billion and Vice-President, Dick Cheney, has indicated even that will not suffice. Meanwhile, in Britain, chancellor Gordon Brown is to announce a further £1 billion for the British part in the occupation next month.
Sixteen of America's 33 combat brigades are now in the quagmire of Iraq, which means that Bush's pre-emptive wars have placed 160,000 American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Still, Bush wants to send more troops and Blair has also indicated that he is prepared to send thousands more young men and women into the cauldron of hate.
And the beneficiaries? The Iraqi people? No. So far the only ones smiling are the corporate elite close to the White House, the likes of Halliburton and Bechtel, Parsons Group and Stevedoring Services of America, which are earning billions of dollars out of the reconstruction of Iraqi society.
There was always the risk that once Saddam was removed from power extremist groups would come to the fore and make Iraq far more unstable than under Ba'athist rule. This much had been acknowledged by President Bush senior during the first Gulf War and lay behind Washington's decision not to support US-inspired revolts of the Iraqi Kurds and the Marsh Arabs. It made sound US sense to have Saddam crush these revolts mercilessly rather than have him removed and the country fragment and the region destabilise. The very forces the US feared would be unleashed following the toppling of Saddam are now on the rampage – they might have loathed Saddam, but they hate the US more. As the guerrilla war spirals, tens of millions across the world look on in despair, their worst fears confirmed.
Protests without end?
Today, well-meaning people from across Britain have again travelled to London to protest their outrage at the policies of Bush and his sidekick Blair in the pursuit of US global hegemony and the destruction created en route, particularly in Iraq. Most will believe the malaise can be sorted out within the usual channels capitalism offers – either a UN force moves in or the US and British troops come home. The former, though more likely, will only compound the problem and the latter can only leave the region further unstable, with war lords and the varying shades of the region's religions vying for political power. Whilst Bush would welcome a UN effort, a US retreat would be unthinkable.
As on previous demonstrations, placards and banners will carry myriad messages, some demanding “Bush Must Go” and “Bring the Troops Home”, with others screaming in assorted bright inks “No War for Oil” and “End the Occupation.”
Few, if any, will address the root of the problem – the capitalist system itself and its inherent and vicious competition for profits – and how the problems of capitalism can only be solved when we abolish the system itself. On previous occasions we have advised demonstrators who protest against war, without setting it in its true context, to invest in a sturdy banner. If you are opposed to war and its effects, yet are prepared to support capitalism – and many left wing groups actually are despite what they say, usually in the form of a state-run capitalism – then settle down to a life of campaigning.
While it is important that workers oppose war, it is just as important that we recognise just why armed conflicts between states break out and in whose interests wars are waged. If you think about it you'll be hard-pressed to think of a single war that did not have its roots in the desire of small elites to make profits. All wars, even small-scale conflicts – and the ongoing conflict in Iraq is no exception – tend to be fought over mineral wealth, foreign markets and areas of influence, trade routes or the strategic points from which the same can be defended.
To end war – and the need to demonstrate against each war as one war succeeds another (were you on the demos against the war in Afghanistan and before that against the war in Kosovo?) – capitalism has to be ended and replaced by a global system where the resources of the Earth have become the common heritage of all Earthpeople. That way, competition and conflict between elites over resources can give way to co-operation between peoples in different parts of the globe to use the world's resources for the benefit of all its inhabitants.
If you lend your support to a political party or organisation that fails to question the real nature of capitalist society, how our world is organised for production and how power is distributed, then you are in effect supporting a system that bred this war – and will breed future wars. We urge you to think seriously and reconsider your position. Capitalism and war and uncertainty that comes with it, or world socialism and global peace and security? Protest endlessly against each new war as it arises or campaigning for a new world of common ownership, democratic control, peace and human welfare.
From a leaflet handed out at the 27 September “Stop the War” demonstrations.