America versus Europe

George Bush’s four-day state visit to the United Kingdom has provoked a storm of brilliant protests and tells us something about the state of imperialism, says Jack Conrad

George Bush’s four-day state visit to the United Kingdom has provoked a storm of brilliant protests. No walkabouts for him. At the cost of £5 million, half the metropolitan police force, 14,000 in total, have had to be deployed to guard the hated US president, turning key areas of central London into a kind of moving no-go zone.

Millions opposed the US-UK war to conquer Iraq. They did not believe Saddam Hussein posed any kind of direct threat to them. Nor did they fall for the bogus claims of ongoing links between Saddam Hussein’s regime and bin Laden. As to Iraqi’s supposed weapons of mass destruction, they still remain undiscovered - that despite six months of occupation. Lies, nothing more than useful lies.

The movement against the war has seamlessly been transformed into a movement to oppose the occupation. Not that there is seamless unity. George Monbiot, the Morning Star’s Communist Party of Britain and a string of Labour leftists such as Tony Benn naively call for the United Nations to act as a substitute for the US-UK coalition. Iraq, they say, is not stable enough yet for self-determination and democracy. Unintentionally this patronising approach plays straight into the hands of Bush and the US administration. Old-style colonialism was never their goal.

In purely military terms the destruction of the Iraqi army was a pushover. But putting in place a viable political alternative has proved far more difficult. Predictably what the US has brought Iraq is not Jeffersonian democracy: rather a new round of social dislocation and barbarism.

The occupying powers have been subjected to almost daily guerrilla strikes - seemingly in the main by Ba’ath Party loyalists. The US responds by blindly lashing out in all directions, producing yet more death and destruction. Faced with the impossibility of imposing a military solution, the US high command has finally drawn up an exit strategy (to be fully implemented by 2006). Undoubtedly the UN could be made to play its part here - like in Korea - as a US proxy.

Neither Iraq nor any of the remaining so-called ‘rogue states’, such as Syria, Libya, North Korea, Iran and Cuba, constitute a “real or present danger” to the US. Economically and militarily they are weak but have managed by one means or another to gain varying degrees of political independence. They are certainly not semi-colonies in any meaningful sense of the term. But, pitted against the US military machine in a conventional war, their defeat is inevitable. That is the point.

Rogue states make a convenient and easy target. True, in the case of Iraq privatisation of the petrochemical industry and the return of US transnationals is a bonus. Oil is though by no means the primary aim - a crude leftwing obsession and over-simplification.

Actually what lies behind the US ‘war on terrorism’ can be summed up under three main headings. Firstly, the ‘war on terrorism’ serves as a cover to introduce all manner of draconian laws and regulations - eg, the Patriot Act - with the consent of the majority of the population. Anti-terrorism is the new anti-communism. Secondly, the ‘war on terrorism’ allows the Bush administration to ramp up arms spending in an attempt to delay a devastating economic recession. Thirdly, the ‘war on terrorism’ is driven by fear of long-term competition from potential rivals - China, India, Russia, Japan and, most importantly, the European Union.

As a land mass the EU is, of course, much smaller than the US. But in population terms it is bigger. The US has some 280 million inhabitants, the EU 380 million. By the standard measure, the EU has a lower GDP than the US ($7.8 trillion, compared to $9.9 trillion). However, the US economy is more privatised than the EU and certain costs - ie, health and education - are not fully reflected in the calculation of GDP figures for Europe. That, and an ‘undervalued’ euro, explains why many economists estimate that the EU has in reality a higher GDP than the US.

The EU still lacks cohesion. It is a confederation of unevenly developed and politically disunited states. Not surprisingly then, the EU was thrown into utter turmoil by Gulf War II. ‘Old Europe’, especially Germany and France, objected to US warmongering, unilateralism and contempt for the UN - dismissed as an antiquated hindrance to “American political leadership” by US neo-conservatives. Britain, Spain and Italy for their part lined up behind the US, along with ‘new Europe’ candidate states, such as Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Bulgaria. The US exploited these divisions to the full and sought to demonise France in particular. Donald Rumsfeld seethed and spluttered about French “treachery”.

Despite Europe’s moments of paralysing disunity the direction is clear: towards some kind of federal superstate. Needless to say, the German-French axis has vaulting ambitions for the EU. Ambitions that can be gleaned from the EU’s constitution drafted under the chairmanship of the former centre-right president of France, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing. His basic remit was to produce answers to the knotty problems arising from enlargement - the EU is set to grow from 15 to 25 member-states in May 2004. There is, however, a parallel agenda: with such a political-economic bloc streamlined and under centralised direction comes the possibility of the EU playing a determining global role and thereby decisively “counterbalancing” the US superpower.

Speaking to the opening session of the constitutional convention on February 28 2002, Giscard d’Estaing looked magisterially towards the future horizon: “If we succeed,” he said, “in 25 or 50 years time Europe will have changed its role in the world. It will be respected and listened to, not only as the economic power that it already is, but as a political power that will speak as an equal with the biggest existing and future powers on the planet” (see www.cer.org.uk).

In his recent book, Of paradise and power: America versus Europe in the new world order, Robert Kegan, deputy chair of the Project for a New American Century, testified to a strategic decoupling. He describes Europe as being committed to a “Kantian” world view of “self-contained law and rules of transnational negotiation and cooperation”. A pacific outlook, arrived at not by learning the “awful” lessons of World War I and II, as claimed. Rather it results from Europe’s profound military weakness. Taken together, the countries of the EU spend no more than $180 billion on arms. The US has a military budget now soaring towards the $500 billion mark. Hence, for all practical purposes today, the EU is incapable of “counterbalancing” the US in military terms. But tomorrow …?

Relations between the US and the EU have traditionally been those of partnership. The EU being viewed essentially as an extension, or an arm of, Nato. Cooperation, however, takes place in the context of increasing tensions, as EU interests and cherished aims come into conflict with US unilateralism, bullying and imperial arrogance. To be specific - barriers against steel imports, the imposition of rising US indebtedness upon the rest of the world, shunning the Kyoto accord, abrogation of the ABM treaty, National Missile Defence, Israeli intransigence over implementing the Middle East road map and disputes over Iraqi reconstruction.

Within the EU’s ruling circles Tony Blair endlessly excuses backing the Bush administration. The conceit is of Britain playing Greece to the new Rome. Influence is said to be better than confrontation. For Bush it is an unsolicited gift. Blair’s fawning, the meeting with Elizabeth Windsor, the stay in Buckingham Palace and the accolades for his Banqueting House speech are all cynically used by Bush to boost his chances of election in 2004.

In the mid to long term Britain’s policy of having one foot in Europe and the other in America cannot hold. The two blocs are diverging. More still unites the ruling classes of the US and EU than divides them. Nevertheless stresses and strains are daily growing. As a result it is correct to say that the EU-US relationship is evolving into an antagonistic partnership.

Transparently the US-UK ‘special relationship’ is not one between equals. In the run-up to Bush’s visit any expectations of a climbdown over steel tariffs, British prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay and the Middle East road map were systematically quashed. Bush is more interested in securing votes in Pennsylvania than rewarding his British satrap. A trade war between the US and the EU - sanctioned by the World Trade Organisation - is therefore on the cards.

Against such a background it is vital that the left and workers’ movement in Europe starts to get its act together. Our task is certainly not to line up with capitalist Europe against capitalist America, as implicitly suggested by Bernard Cassen, honorary president of Attac France. Neither is it adequate to merely pose an abstract socialism. Last week’s Social Forum in Paris represented a modest, though real, step forward: thankfully, despite Socialist Workers Party objections, it was agreed to hold Europe-wide demonstrations against Giscard d’Estaing’s constitution on May 9 2004.

More is needed, however. Much more. The task of Marxists, in particular, is to map out a positive programme which crystalises and logically presents what we are for and which, through the popular struggle to realise its necessary aims, lays the basis for working class self-liberation.