Itching for war

As the UN secretary general flies to Baghdad, imperialism is tooling up for war

War in the Gulf appears ever more close. Cruise missiles - ship- or air-launched from heavy bombers, stealth fighters, bat­tleships, destroyers and frigates, etc, are all ranged against Iraq. Only such a massive and high-tech force is ad­equate to tackle Saddam Hussein’s crippled airforce and republican guard - or so we are told.

New Labour and the media are whip­ping up war fever and 1984-levels of hatred towards Saddam Hussein. No charge against the Baghdad regime is too ludicrous. Hussein represents the greatest threat to world peace one could imagine, preaches Bill Clinton. The Iraqi dictator is the potential Adolf Hitler of the 21st century. He must be stopped.

In the House of Commons, there was overwhelming support for the use of “massive force”, by 493 votes to 25 - four Welsh nationalists and 21 Labour MPs defied the consensus. George Robertson, the defence secretary, thundered about how “letting Saddam off, doing nothing, backing off” would have consequences too terrible to contemplate. Robin Cook threatened Hussein with a “proportionate re­sponse” if Hussein employed chemi­cal or biological weapons. Nuclear bombs have been waved threaten­ingly as a measure of last resort.

These aggressive comments from Cook were enough to get The Sun salivating in expectation. ‘Nuke warn­ing to Iraq’, ran the front page headline. In a typical display of wishful thinking, it went on to speculate: “The Allies will nuke Iraq if Saddam Hussein unleashes chemical or biological weapons, foreign secretary Robin Cook warned last night” (February 18). In a less bloodthirsty vein, The Times editorial congratulated New Labour for its determination and said the “impressive” parliamentary back­ing for war-war, not more jaw-jaw “should reinforce Tony Blair’s convic­tion that Britain is right to join America on the dangerous road that, out of short-sighted political expediency or for lack of the military capacities, its European allies decline to tread” (Feb­ruary 18). Even the archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, joined in the jingois­tic chorus. Any war against Hussein would be a “just war” according to Christian theology, and he called for a “determined effort” to eradicate Hussein’s weaponry.

As The Times pointed out, both the US and Britain have categorically defied those untrustworthy and “short­sighted” European powers. Grave sus­picion about the looming Gulf War III reigns in virtually all the capitals of Europe, especially Paris. The most that Cook can claim when it comes to European backing for American/Brit­ish militaristic adventurism was the fact that Germany, Portugal and the Netherlands have offered “support facilities” for the military preparations.

The rest of the world ‘community’ remains even more hostile to Clinton and Blair’s latter-day imperial schemes. Boris Yeltsin and the Chi­nese prime minister, Li Peng, who is visiting Moscow, issued a joint state­ment denouncing any use of force - though they think as world ‘states­men’ that Iraq should comply with UN resolutions, in return for the lifting sanctions. Yeltsin also claimed, yet again, that Iraq was close to backing down in its stand-off with the UN.

The UN security council agreed on Tuesday night that the UN general secretary, Kofi Annan, should go to Baghdad in search of a last-minute ‘compromise’ - on imperialism’s terms, of course. But the tokenistic nature of Annan’s mission is clear - to provide a ‘moral’ fig leaf for mass slaughter. The Clinton administration insisted that any ‘solution’ must abide by two core principles: “unfettered access and “full integrity” for UN weapons inspectors. Even more bluntly, Bill Richardson, the US ambassador to the UN, told reporters, as Annan departed for Baghdad: “We reserve the right to disagree if the conclusion of this trip is not consistent with UN resolutions and our national interests.”

For the likes of The Times and the ‘hawks’ in London and Washington, the April 3 1991 UN resolution 687, paragraph 34, is enough: it commits the UN to take “such further steps as may be required” to implement the resolution and “to secure peace and security in the area”. What more do you need? Go, bombers, go.

So far, the opposition to the current war drive has consisted of pacifistic moans and not so heart-rending ap­peals to the moral/legal scruples of imperialist conscience. This desire for fair play can be seen in the sentiments of the 25 rebel MPs. Tony Benn thought that it would be “prudent” to get a further UN resolution before the US missiles start raining down on Iraq, and Tam Dalyell demanded: “Does the house have the clear, unambiguous undertaking that, before military action is taken, we will return to the se­curity council of the UN for its clear, unambiguous endorsement of that military action?”

Imperialism is just not playing by the rules. Depressingly enough, this also seems to be the view of some on the revolutionary left. The Socialist also complains that “the actions of Blair and Clinton are not about up­holding UN decisions or bringing de­mocracy to the people of Iraq” (February 13). Would the war be some­how justified if Blair and co were “up­holding” UN resolutions?

Though it may come as a shock to Tony Benn or Tam Dalyell - and you would have thought that The Social­ist would know better - the UN is not some essentially progressive body which has been ‘corrupted’ by US/British double-dealing. The UN has always - just like its predecessor, the League of Nations - been a tool for imperialism and the big powers. For all its pseudo-internationalist orna­mentation, the UN represents the liv­ing negation of real internationalism.

The workers’ movement and the left must go beyond the pacifistic anti-war sentiments we have seen up to now - a protest by the Labour lefts outside parliament, a sit-down in Whitehall last Saturday and a peace vigil out­side 10 Downing Street on Wednes­day. The potential threat to world peace posed by this round of warmon­gering cannot be met with either ap­peals to bourgeois law or its better conscience.

Peace abroad will only come when the working class makes war on the enemy within - the capitalist class and its state.

Eddie Ford