Imperialism split over Bush's war

The report by the leaders of the UN weapons inspection teams have, entirely predictably, been jumped on by the Bush and Blair governments in an attempt to bolster their diplomatic position in favour of war with Iraq. Although the report failed to establish that the Baghdad regime has any 'weapons of mass destruction', the fact that it has not explained fully what has happened to the weaponry it is known to have possessed is deemed sufficient by the US and Britain to declare Iraq to be in "material breach" of UN resolution 1441, which threatens Iraq with "serious consequences" (the code word for invasion and war) if such a breach is deemed to have taken place. Bush himself did not let a little thing like lack of evidence spoil his 'state of the union' address. After all, "It would take just one phial, one canister, one crate slipped into this country to bring a day of horror like none we have ever known". He even revived once more the absurd notion that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden are comrades in arms - next week Bush will 'reveal' devastating new 'proof' that Baghdad has links with Al Qa'eda. The mixed content of the report had not really delivered the political coup de grà¢ce that the Anglo-American imperialist gang had been hoping for. Hans Blix's comments regarding insufficient cooperation are unlikely to be enough to see off the diplomatic bloc that was sealed a week ago between the French, German, Russian and Chinese governments. They want to head off what they view as a damaging military adventure, offering them nothing, while potentially doing enormous damage to the stability of the entire Middle East. It is of course virtually certain that such diplomatic manoeuvres as pleading for a second UN vote will in themselves not stop the Bush administration attacking Iraq according to its own predetermined timetable. Chances are, Bush will in the next few weeks begin 'operation regime change', long signalled in advance with belligerent speeches in the aftermath of the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York on September 11 2001. Blair, who has been hoping to use the UN as cover for his intended act of imperialist piracy, now sees his own international reputation and the credibility of his government put under unaccustomed and unprecedented strain. While Bush, in the aftermath of 9/11, was blessed, by the good offices of Al Qa'eda, with an outraged American public, whose wounded national pride he could seemingly manipulate in the cause of whatever military adventure he chose, Blair does not have that kind of luxury. And in fact it is now far from clear that Bush has the American public behind him, as might have been expected only a few months ago, in his drive to invade Iraq. Given recent snapshots of American opinion, it now appears that two thirds of Americans are opposed to the US going to war with Iraq without UN authority - a remarkable turnaround from the kind of popular militarist sentiment that was abroad in the country only a few months ago, possibly representing a sobering up among the American population. It is also clear that the political conditions do not exist in Europe for untrammelled military adventures of the Iraq type - thus, given his firm support of Bush's anti-Iraq crusade, this leaves Blair in a particularly exposed position once Bush sets the dogs of war off the leash. At best, the Bush-Blair war will find major discord at home. At worst, Blair could find himself in the iniquitous situation of facing popular revolt while at the same time, in international/political terms, being squeezed between the United States and a bloc of its diplomatic and political critics in a falling out and stand-off over this Bush-led armed crusade. It is pretty clear why there is opposition from this bloc. The agenda is not, as is feebly pretended by the Bush-Blair 'axis of evil', anything to do with the 'security' of western countries if Saddam Hussein hands over nuclear, chemical or biological weapons to the likes of Osama bin Laden. No one with an ounce of intelligence sincerely believes that Hussein is interested, even if such weapons exist in the Iraqi arsenal, in arming people who regard him as an infidel and his regime as an enemy to be overthrown and replaced with an islamic state. Hussein is many things - a bloodthirsty autocrat, mass murderer and torturer of political opponents, a chauvinist butcher both of Iraq's Kurdish national minority and of the majority Shi'ite population at different times; he is not, however wont to political suicide. Rather, what is at stake is the desire of the Bush administration to use the window of opportunity so kindly given it by bin Laden to avenge his father's perceived failure to 'really' deal with Saddam Hussein, to seize control of Iraq's material resources, not least its large oil reserves (the second richest in the world after those of Saudi Arabia), and to put itself in a commanding position so as to be able to redraw the map of the Middle East to the advantage of the United States. Not surprisingly, this is not a programme that the likes of France, Germany, Russia and China are particularly keen on. What gives an urgency to Bush's war drive is not merely the fact that the Iraqi desert winter, when it is cool enough for the US armed forces (and token British cohorts) to fight in the daytime, will draw to an end around the beginning of March and thus make it much more difficult to fight. It is the real sign that the window of opportunity may be beginning to close up in terms of popular support for aggressive wars. Bush needs to attack Iraq quickly and decisively to maintain the momentum of his administration, hopefully bolstering the social base for wars of this type, before any US anti-militarist movement is able to really kick off. For Bush, a delay could be fatal in this regard. Thus, irrespective of what goes on at the UN in terms of pleas for delay from others on the security council, it is highly unlikely that such things will make the slightest difference. That is why it is socialists and communists, working within the broader anti-war movement, have a particular responsibility to exploit the opportunities that are presented to us by Blair's acute and palpable weakness in this situation, given the mass anti-war sentiment that exists in this country. If we are able to lead a popular revolt on a sufficient scale, it could conceivably force Britain out of the coming war - which in turn would have a major effect on the fortunes of the anti-war movement in the United States. There is not much room for doubt that in terms of the immediate military balance of forces, Saddam Hussein's regime is in a pretty weak position, and is unlikely to put up effective resistance for very long. The main difficultly for the US imperialists is not that: it is rather the political impact this act of piracy will have on the wider Arab and muslim world, the enormous benefit to the likes of Al Qa'eda, the destabilisation of 'moderate' Arab regimes, etc - a price Bush appears to be quite prepared to pay to get into a commanding strategic position in Iraq. We need mass action on an international scale, centred on the working class, to halt this barbaric and dangerous military adventure in its tracks. In particular, the anti-war movement needs to reach out to organised workers: the action by train drivers in Motherwell, Scotland a couple of weeks ago in refusing to move ammunition destined for Blair's war is only a small foretaste of what is needed for anti-war activity to be really effective. There needs to be a reciprocal interaction between the organisation of mass anti-war demonstrations, such as those planned around the world on February 15, and the labour movement, so that the social weight of anti-war sentiment in society at large can be brought to bear in a form that exercises real physical force - the power of industrial action against the war. For this, we need an anti-war movement that is politically strong, that is able to defend itself against inevitable attempts by bourgeois reaction to tar it with the brush of being 'for' such anti-democratic entities as Hussein's regime in Iraq, or Al Qa'eda. While we must of course demand that the imperialists keep their hands off Iraq, the labour movement has no interest in 'defending' Hussein's regime, any more than - despite the dogma of some on the left - we had in soft-peddling criticism of the atrocities of bin Laden. We should not advise the Iraqi workers and oppressed minorities to refrain from taking their own action to replace Hussein even in the teeth of the US imperialist strategic power-grab, if and when such an opportunity arises during the war. Indeed, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, in his worst hour of crisis, and an appeal for mass action to the workers of the entire region, offers by far the best hope of a real defence of the rights of the peoples of the Middle East against this imperialist rampage. Ian Donovan