WeeklyWorker

12.02.1998
Clinton and Blair – unfair to poodles

Blair backs new Gulf slaughter

US air strikes against Baghdad could start within the week

At the time of writing, Saddam Hussein still refuses to back down over UN inspection teams. Loud and aggressive talk ema­nates from Washington and London. At the beginning of this week George Robertson, British defence secretary, gravely informs parliament that Saddam has brought the current situ­ation entirely upon himself: he could have rebuilt the Iraqi economy after the last Gulf War - but he chose not to. He could have gone down the road of peace - but he did not. Is it not ob­vious who is to blame if there is a mili­tary conflagration?

Meanwhile, The Guardian pub­lishes an opinion poll which indicates that 56% of the British public would support any British involvement in military action, with the young (18-24 years old) giving the strongest back­ing of any age group - ie, 65% in fa­vour, 22% against. The newspaper’s editorial thought this was “good news”, as New Labour “can rest as­sured that the public supports its cur­rent international stand” (February 10). As with Bosnia, it is the liberal/‘left’ press which is the most gung-ho.

Whether The Guardian is correct or not, opposition to the militaristic manoeuvrings of the American and British governments is limited - and essentially semi-mute. On Monday morning a deputation of ‘peace cam­paigners’ handed in a petition to 1O Downing Street. This group comprised of the usual list of Labour lefts - Tony Benn, Audrey Wise, Jeremy Corbyn, etc - not to mention the ‘mav­erick’ Tam Dalyell. The message from these social-pacifists was confused, contradictory and paradoxical. Audrey Wise, for example, wanted no bomb­ing, but at the same time suggested that Saddam be dragged before a UN/international court on the charge of ‘genocide and crimes against human­ity’.

On the same day Tony Benn deliv­ered the 16th annual Attlee lecture, where he made extremely unfavour­able comparisons between the latter and Tony Blair: “Clement Attlee was a signatory of the UN Charter and flew to Washington in 1950 to warn presi­dent Truman against the use of atomic weapons in Korea. By contrast, a few days ago another Labour prime min­ister flew to Washington to pledge his full support for president Clinton in launching air strikes against Iraq, in clear contravention of the UN Char­ter.” One suspects that the hundreds of thousands of Koreans butchered by the Attlee-backed forces of impe­rialism would have a different view of Labour’s “greatest leader”.

However, Robertson and Blair are not being entirely disingenuous when they point out that the ball is firmly in Saddam Hussein’s court. He has backed down at the last minute be­fore. For all his bluster, Saddam Hussein is only too aware of the might of US imperialism and of his own mili­tary puniness in comparison - he is no “madman”, as the bourgeois me­dia would have us believe. Both the Clinton administration and Blair, ob­viously, would prefer to get their way without resorting to military action, a costly business not without its risks in terms of social and diplomatic re­percussions.

Then again, it is quite possible that Saddam Hussein will brazen it out - take a gamble. Such a course would not be that reckless. There will be no invasion of US ground troops. His regime appears secure and an internal coup very unlikely at the moment. There is virtually no internally based and effectively operating opposition. What remains is scattered, disorgan­ised, mainly in exile and, as we have witnessed on a number of occasions, often reduced to mere tools of US im­perialism as part of its ‘great game’ with Saddam.

In fact, any act of military aggres­sion which involved a large number of civilian casualties might fracture the ‘anti-Saddam’ coalition and strengthen the Iraqi dictator’s posi­tion. “He many not mind a big strike”, as General Norman Schwarzkopf - the former Desert Storm US commander - told NBC television on Sunday. Madeleine Albright, US secretary of state, was not bothered. At the same time she was telling Face the Nation viewers that “time was running out” for Saddam and that any military ac­tion taken would be “substantial”. In other words, thousands of Iraqi civil­ians will die in an act of international terrorism that will strengthen the Ba’athist regime. Clearly the “big strike” is aimed more at the American public than Saddam Hussein.

Just as in the last Gulf War, there are no crude economic reasons for the latest round of militaristic belligerence. Yes, some on the left tried to maintain that the war in 1990 was about oil - ie, the US had to ‘liberate’ Kuwait in or­der to guarantee its oil supplies. But this was always a facile oversimplifi­cation. The oil still would have been sold. Given the world market, the price level would hardly have moved. The United States, in economic terms, would have been hardly affected. The overriding motivation behind the war was to stamp US hegemony upon the world as it watched the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev begin its final collapse - to play ‘John Wayne’ on a complete world scale. At long last.

Since 1990 we have seen an in­creased drive to police the world - no small or medium power is safe. As the confidence of US imperialism grows, so does the scope of its potential vic­tims. In 1983, Ronald Reagan heroi­cally invaded the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada in order to crush the ‘com­munist threat’ to the western hemi­sphere. Later it was Panama that ended up on the receiving end of American ire. Now it is countries like Iraq which are becoming vulnerable to US intimidation and bullying.

Of course, as we have argued, there is another motive for American sabre-­rattling - Bill Clinton’s domestic pre­dicament. Hopefully, or so the Clinton administration thinks, a bit of B-52 di­plomacy will divert attention away from the ‘Monicagate’ scandal. It may be deeply immoral - but so what? Plenty of US presidents have done it in the past, so why not do it again?

In all this, quite naturally, Clinton has had the unswerving and loyal support of Tony Blair. Throughout this current crisis, predictably, the British government has acted as the tame poodle of US imperialism - and that is probably unfair to poodles. To this effect, last Thursday we saw the ‘Bill and Tony’ double act at a joint press conference. In a highly choreo­graphed news conference, where the starry-eyed couple where serenaded by Sir Elton John and Stevie Wonder - with Harrison Ford and Tom Hanks also acting as chaperones - Tony Blair declared his undying admiration for Bill: “Someone I could trust, someone I could rely upon, someone I am proud to call not just a colleague but a friend.”

Blair was happy to act as Clinton’s fall guy at the conference, in his “fren­zied wish to suck up to Clinton and convince himself he has a world role”, as The Sunday Telegraph succinctly put it (February 8). When questions were asked about ‘Monicagate’- es­pecially the allegation that he put pres­sure on his secretary, Betty Currie, to ‘bend’ her testimony - he advised Clinton to “stay focused” and ser­monised about how the US-Britain axis was a “new and modern relationship for a new century”. As if that were not enough, the jet-lagged Blair on Sunday informed a local government conference in Scarborough that Saddam Hussein “has lied and cheated at every turn. He is a man with­out moral scruple. This is a dictator who has sufficient chemical weapons to wipe out the world’s population.” Amen, Tony.

Coming from the lips of a servant of British imperialism, such piety is breathtaking. As we know, Saddam Hussein was being supplied with military equipment by the west right up to the advent of Gulf War II in 1990. In a paper written in 1988 William Waldegrave, then a minister at the for­eign office, wrote: “I doubt if there is any future market on such a scale any­where the UK is potentially so well-­placed if we play our diplomatic hand correctly, nor can I think of any major market where the importance of diplo­macy is so great to our commercial position.” He therefore ‘relaxed’ the guidelines on the export of defence equipment to Iraq (quoted in The Guardian February 6).

Britain’s warmongering position is in marked contrast to the rest of Eu­rope - and the world ‘community’ in general. There is a marked disinclina­tion to get involved. France, in par­ticular, is vehemently opposed to any US/British adventurism in the Gulf. Germany has permitted the use of its air bases to launch military strikes - but with the utmost reluctance. Iran, Egypt and Morocco have expressed their opposition to any military action. Saudi Arabia has got distinctly cold feet. Russia is actively hostile to US ambitions, Boris Yeltsin warning, “His­tory shows that attempts to es­tablish world hegemony are always short-lived”. Hardly surprising, then, that a very disgruntled William Cohen, the US defence secretary, has se­verely criticised France and Russia for “undermining” morale.

Not that long ago that it was La­bourite Britain which was “undermin­ing” US morale. During the Vietnam war, Wilson refused to send troops - unlike Australia, for instance, which was happy to send conscripts. Now Blair’s New Labour is only too keen to lend direct military support, even if it is only tokenistic - so far: eight Tor­nado jets, one aircraft carrier, two frig­ates and various support ships/aircraft.

To prepare the way, some hoary myths have been wheeled out again. Such as the wonders of air power and so-called ‘smart’ weapons. In The shape of things to come, HG Wells prophesied that air power would prove to be a magical panacea for military strategists. Inspired by this Wellsian spirit, general Westmoreland infa­mously said during the Vietnam war, “Bomb them back to the Stone Age” - expressing the confidence that under the sheer weight of B-52 bombard­ment Vietnamese resistance would in­evitably collapse. This did not happen, reflecting another eventual­ity that Stormin’ Norman Schwarzkopf pointed to in his NBC interview: “We run the risk of doing the same thing we did to North Vietnam” - that is, in­creasing hostility to US imperialism and reinforcing popular support for the regime.

As for ‘smart weapons’, this is a sick fantasy. During the last Gulf War some 90% of ‘smart weapons’ missed their target. It was the eminently ‘unsmart’ bombers that pounded Iraqi forces. So it will be with the next Gulf War, if there is one. Remote, far above the clouds, American pilots unload­ing their weapons of destruction on the Iraqi masses - that is the US-domi­nated New World Order.

Danny Hammill