Try Bush, Blair, and Saddam Hussein

The capture of Saddam Hussein last weekend is being hailed in London and Washington as vindication of Bush and Blair's war. Yet amidst the triumphalism of the US and British governments, there is a note of caution, writes Ian Donovan

The imperialists are of course desperately hoping that taking out Saddam will weaken the nationalist insurgency that has been gradually picking up steam ever since Bush declared the end of ‘major combat’ on May 1, after having apparently successfully occupied Iraq against fierce, but short-lived resistance during the weeks of overt conventional war. The calls for “peace” and “reconciliation” made by Bush, Blair and US viceroy Paul Bremer, the appeals for the insurgents to lay down their arms and join in the alleged reconstruction of a ‘democratic Iraq’ that immediately followed Saddam’s capture, betray the fact that the imperialists are not in the position of strength that they claim right now.

Their weakness stems from the fact that, while they may earnestly hope that the insurgency will end now that Saddam is under lock and key, they have no real reason to expect that it will. Many have commented on the manner of Saddam’s capture, the pathetic tramp-like appearance of the former strongman and his hiding from the Americans in ‘spider holes’ with no real guards, etc, as hardly what you would expect from the supposed leader of a guerrilla insurgency.

However, for all the US propaganda portraying the insurgents as simply followers of Saddam, despite the occasional tapes his followers have sent to Arab television stations and the like with his pronouncements, it seems highly unlikely, to say the least, that such an insurgent leader would simply surrender without a shot being fired in the manner that appears to have happened. What you would rather expect is that, whatever the secret arrangements made to conceal them, such leaders would have a dedicated elite guard to protect them from capture at all costs. But nothing like this seems to have happened.

What is more likely is that Saddam was something of an isolated figure - a liability to any insurgent movement, not least because of his notoriety and recognisability; hardly an anonymous figure who could blend in with the population, moving through the country unseen in order to lead a hit-and-run war against the occupying forces. Even if a considerable proportion of the insurgents are supporters of Saddam’s Ba’ath party - which seems likely, given the nationalist history and politics of this formation long before Saddam became its dominant figure - there is no necessary reason for its wider cadre to defer to the leader once he became a fugitive from the occupiers. Rather, in order to wage an effective insurgency, this movement would have had to develop other, probably rather decentralised, sources of command.

In any case, many reports coming out of Iraq say that the insurgent opposition forces on the ground are of a variety of political persuasions, including also islamists, nationalists and dissident communists - and many ordinary people who have either been brutalised or seen their families brutalised by the coalition occupiers. The imperialists may take comfort from the firing of guns in the air by ordinary Iraqis welcoming the capture of Saddam; however, such guns could easily be fired at them tomorrow: in some cases they already no doubt have been. The angry demonstrations in Mosul, Fallujah and Tikrit, and no doubt other places, that have been going on since news broke of Saddam’s arrest, are one indication that the coalition imperialists’ hope of making some sort of progress for their own political project - the conversion of Iraq into a pliable, pseudo-democratic client state of the US - is not going to run smoothly just because one has-been has fallen into their hands.

The many who are rejoicing in other parts of the country at Saddam’s capture do not, despite the claims of the imperialists, constitute any kind of social base they can rely on either. Obviously, one can loathe Saddam Hussein and rejoice in his misfortune, while at the same time increasingly despising the brutal occupiers who have taken him, and intend to use his capture in order to further the same kind of aims they were pursuing when they armed him with nerve gas and other means of mass death in the 1980s. Times and alliances may have changed - the voracious imperialists have not - which is something the Iraqi population is relearning every day.

There are many who have reason to hate Saddam for his massacres, murders and torture of anyone who expressed the mildest dissent, etc. But many Iraqis have suffered just as much at the hands of the imperialists - during the Desert Storm war of 1991, during the many years of sanctions that followed it, during the invasion and occupation of 2003. And of course, there is the well known historical fact that, for much of his period in power, western imperialism regarded Saddam Hussein as a bulwark and a source of stability, not least against the ‘anti-imperialist’, islamist-led ‘revolution’ in Iran, knowing full well the brutality of his regime. Indeed, the whole hue and cry over Halabja in 1988 is the most monumental hypocrisy imaginable.

Saddam Hussein was, as everyone knows, armed to the teeth by the United States in order to fight Khomeinism - the massacre at Halabja was of Kurds who Hussein’s regime knew were led by nationalist politicians engaged in alliances with the Khomeini regime against his own. The kind of weaponry used at Halabja - chemical and biological agents - that a decade or so later UN inspectors would be trying to find - were sold to the regime by Reagan and Bush senior - they even appointed a special envoy to butter up Saddam and keep him sweet: one Donald Rumsfeld.

At the same time our intrepid quartermasters were also supplying arms to the Khomeini regime, covertly, as part of the Byzantine triangular sting that eventually landed Ronald Reagan in his own mini-version of Watergate: the Iran-Contra scandal that burst into the headlines at the end of 1986. The objective of US imperialism in supplying arms to both sides was to manipulate both Iran and Iraq - potentially powerful regional states whose peoples both have reason to hate the depredations of imperialism - playing one off against the other. Thereby crippling peoples whose grievances could - if they found a rational, genuinely revolutionary means of political expression - be enormously dangerous to the US and its interests in the Middle East.

Then there is the 1991 Gulf War itself, that started Hussein’s regime on the track to prolonged demonisation by imperialism, culminating in the invasion of Iraq over a decade later. It is a matter of public record that Saddam Hussein was tipped the wink that the US would not oppose an invasion of Kuwait by April Glaspie, then US ambassador to Iraq, shortly before the August 1990 invasion. The damning transcripts of this interview found their way into the public domain at the time. Of course, when Saddam fell into the trap, US imperialism seized the resultant opportunity, having so recently been deprived of its accustomed cold war enemy with the collapse of the eastern bloc, to declare war and thereby find a new means of selling militarism to the American masses, at the same time strengthening its military hegemony in the Middle East.

Given the close contact that existed between Iraq and the Reagan-Bush administrations throughout the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, the idea that the US ambassador was in some way naive about the likely actions of Saddam Hussein, who supposedly took advantage of her ‘weakness’, is laughable. Rather, the laying of a trap for a regime the US regarded a ‘useful enemy’ - useful, that is, to the sole superpower in what was then becoming a unipolar world, in which finding excuses to sell rampant militarism was then quite a difficult political problem for the US ruling class. Saddam in a public, international trial may well be inclined to shed some light on these matters also.

Then there are the weapons of mass destruction that were the pretext for the invasion of Iraq. There is no reason to suppose that Saddam will contradict what UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix has now admitted (very belatedly agreeing with his predecessor, Scott Ritter, who loudly proclaimed it before the war): that Iraq’s chemical and biological weapons, and the very rudimentary nuclear research and experimentation that had once been undertaken, were destroyed under threat of punitive, UN-endorsed US military action soon after Iraq’s defeat over Kuwait at the beginning of the 1990s.

This, and the detail that could be supplied about the falsity of this casus belli, is one more reason to keep the Saddam trial as hush-hush, local and rapid an affair as possible. Yet another is what he may say about US collaboration with Israel and its own crimes against the Palestinians - which could again resonate around the Arab world in particular and lead to him being seen as a martyr.

These are the kind of reasons why coalition spokespersons are letting it be known that there will be no international trial of Saddam Hussein. International courts are the preferred bodies of European imperialists, particularly France and Germany, who lack the dominating power of the US and perhaps see such bodies as a way to restrain the latter from ‘excessive’ use of that power in their own interests. But, for the Americans, such ‘international’ judicial schemas are counterposed to their role as global imperialist cop. It would suit them down to the ground to have the ex-dictator tried by a purely Iraqi court - which would after a fairly perfunctory process place the entire blame for the crimes in Iraq over the past decades on the shoulders of Saddam Hussein, following up a truncated trial with a quick execution.

Hussein is of course a monstrous criminal, who richly deserves to die, but such a thing would have the character of a judicial equivalent of a mafia hit against a junior ‘don’ who threatens inopportunely to squeal on some of the murderous doings of the really big boys. It would basically be the US mafia killing him to shut him up and protect themselves.

So the capture of Saddam, which appears in the short term to solve one of the Bush-Blair axis’s problems, could well turn out to be yet another big can of worms. An obviously rigged trial would cause yet more eruptions of outrage in the Arab world. It would possibly reopen the kind of divisions that emerged with France and Germany in particular over the Iraq war: indeed the outcry among liberals calling for a proper international war crimes trial over Iraq may well become a major political issue.

This would pose some interesting tactical problems for the revolutionary left: while we cannot of course solidarise with the liberals’ pleas for this kind of international ‘justice’ under capitalism, the questions raised could potentially be fertile ground for agitation and a means to further expose the crimes of imperialism, thereby increasing the consciousness of the anti-war movement internationally.

If Saddam is to be put on trial for his life for crimes committed fundamentally on behalf of Iraqi and world capitalism, then the paymasters and godfathers of this relatively small-time hoodlum should also face the same process. If Saddam is to face the prospect of execution, then so should the Bush and Blair.