First published: February 2003
The coming attack on Iraq is the latest in a series of wars waged by the US government – including the first Gulf War in 1991, the attack on Yugoslavia and the bombing of Afghanistan. But many more people than before have understood the real motives for the war and are therefore opposing it.
This is a vital change. Not only would an attack on Iraq kill thousands of Iraqi people but, if successful, it will be far from being the last, or even the biggest, aggressive war envisaged by the US. In his ‘axis of evil’ speech, George W. Bush has already named North Korea and Iran as potential future targets. The Pentagon ‘nuclear posture review’ document in 2002 named a hit list of countries against which Washington is prepared to use nuclear weapons, including Iran, North Korea, Libya and China. At the end of February, responding to a question from the anti-war MP Alice Mahon, Tony Blair declared that after Iraq, North Korea was next.
The backlash in the Middle East and elsewhere against an attack on Iraq will inevitably lead to an upsurge of terrorist activity affecting Europe and the US. These, in turn, will be used as a pretext for future wars. In the medium term, and most seriously of all, the US is spending tens of billions of dollars on an anti-ballistic National Missile Defence. This is to lay the ground for the possible launch of nuclear wars, in particular against China. In short, a successful US attack on Iraq will be a stepping-stone to a whole series of aggressive wars launched by the US. It is therefore vital not only for Iraq but for the whole world that the US is stopped now.
Precisely because the attack on Iraq is the biggest act of US aggression so far, a corner has been lifted on the real motives and driving forces of the US administration. The aim of this pamphlet is to make clear the real reasons for the US attack on Iraq; to show its place in the series of wars waged by the United States – in what can be described as an era of permanent US aggression; to analyse why Blair is acting as a crucial ally of the US despite being confronted by a clear majority in Britain against the war; to show the link of war with Iraq to other reactionary developments such as the rise of racism and the fascist right; and to show how this and future wars can be opposed.
War on Iraq: the US’s lies
Every declaration made by the US administration to justify an attack on Iraq is a hypocritical lie.
Weapons of mass destruction
Allegedly Iraq is to be attacked because it possesses weapons of mass destruction. In reality, so far the inspectors on the spot have found nothing. The ‘dossiers’ produced by the US and Britain claiming to show Iraq possesses any significant numbers of weapons of mass destruction are a farce – as shown by the revelation that the ‘British intelligence’ information on the issue was drawn from a US student thesis. Indeed, after 10 years of sanctions, Iraq certainly has far fewer weapons of mass destruction than many other states in the region — in particular Israel, which possesses over 400 nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them. If the US administration’s motive was to attack a country in the Middle East with weapons of mass destruction, its number one target would logically be Israel — of which, on the contrary, the US is the biggest supporter. Finally, a justification of ‘possessing weapons of mass destruction’ to be made by the US is particularly ridiculous as that country’s government possesses many times more weapons of mass destruction than any other.
Democracy and human rights
The second US argument is that the war is a fight of democracy against a dictatorship in the form of Saddam Hussein. But some of the closest allies of the US in the Middle East are dictatorships – starting with Saudi Arabia. Israel’s façade of democracy does not apply to the Palestinian population both inside Israel and in the occupied territories which Israel illegally seized by force in 1967. The US itself supported Saddam Hussein for most of the 1980s. More widely, the US has one of the longest records of supporting dictatorships in the world – including such prize specimens as Franco in Spain, the Shah of Iran, Samoza in Nicaragua, and the South African apartheid regime, until the fall of the latter became inevitable. US imperialism has systematically acted to try to impose reactionary regimes in countries liberated by popular revolutions: undermining Castro in Cuba, intervening to overthrow Patrice Lumumba in Congo, militarily intervening in El Salvador, invading Grenada and many other places.
Defence of human rights is another variant of this argument. Again, not only does the US defend and support states guilty of gross human rights abuses – where it is in the US’s interests – but the US’s own human rights record at home makes this argument laughable. The US’s enthusiastic use of the death penalty – in Texas alone, under George W Bush’s governorship 152 people were killed – has been condemned by the United Nations Human Rights Commission for its use of the death penalty against children and those with mental illness. Since 1980 the US has carried out the greatest number of executions of child offenders – a total of 17. In the context of the build-up to war on Iraq, a discussion has developed within US political circles and in journals such as Newsweek over whether torture should be made legal.
The economic reality of US society corresponds to Bush’s hypocrisy: more than 30 million Americans live below the official poverty line, and the US has refused to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Bush has just announced a new tax plan involving the abolition of taxes on dividends (company profits) which will deliver $89,000 a year to the highest earning one per cent in the US. Bush has attacked his critics as being exponents of class warfare.
To believe the US attacks any country because it is a dictatorship or in order to defend human rights is ridiculous in light of this record. Neither, as we will see, will the US install democracy in Iraq. Instead it will install a new dictatorship that will renegotiate oil contracts in favour of United States companies.
The United Nations
The US claims that it will attack Iraq in order to enforce United Nations resolutions. This is a particularly ridiculous argument as the US has made clear that it will attack Iraq anyway even if the UN does not vote for it – thereby itself violating UN resolutions! Once again, the main violator of UN resolutions in the Middle East is Israel – which has waged wars to steal land from its neighbours and still illegally occupies Palestinian and Syrian land. As with weapons of mass destruction, if the goal of the US were to enforce UN resolutions its first target would be Israel.
And, of course, the United States itself has a long record of ignoring UN resolutions and international treaties where they conflict with its interests. The US has torn up the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to develop National Missile Defence, declared the Kyoto Treaty on climate change dead, refused to ratify the Comprehensive (Nuclear) Test Ban Treaty signed by 164 nations, rejected the Land Mine Treaty signed by 122 countries, rejected an International Criminal Court having jurisdiction over US personnel and defends its abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay by classifying them as ‘illegal combatants’, a novel term not recognised by international law and coined to try to get around criticism of its illegal holding and treatment of these prisoners.
As none of the claimed reasons for attacking Iraq bear scrutiny, it is clear that these are not the real US motives. The real reason for the attack, as we will show, is to seize control of Iraqi oil. The real motivation becomes even clearer when war drive against Iraq is seen within the overall dynamic of US policy.
How the United States uses its military superiority
The United States claims that its military policies are ‘defensive’. In particular, throughout the ‘Cold War’ period from World War II until the break up of the Soviet Union the US claimed that it was simply ‘defending the world against Communist aggression’. Events since 1991 have revealed this to be a lie. The break up of the Soviet Union left the US with no serious military challenger. But since then US administrations have deliberately sought to gain greater and greater military superiority over any other country. Its policies, in short, are aggressive not defensive. The US administration’s aim, as shall be shown, is to try to create international economic dominance and unilaterally compensate for the problems of its own domestic economy.
Current US military threats against Iraq are simply a continuation of the type of policies pursued for over a century. The US is the world leader in the development and use of nuclear weapons; it is the only country to have used nuclear weapons in war, when it bombed the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, incinerating 140,000 people. US military forces sprayed 72 million litres of the chemical Agent Orange in a war on Vietnam that killed 1,900,000 people. The US’ chemical weapons are still poisoning the Vietnamese 27 years after bombing. The US used depleted uranium weapons in Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan – radioactivity from which will effectively last forever and has caused horrific health and genetic conditions. The US is developing a new generation of biological weapons including biological cluster bombs and antibiotic-resistant anthrax in defiance of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention. The US has an unparalleled record of invading not only its immediate neighbours – Panama, Cuba, and Grenada – but many other countries. In each of these wars, the US has sought to conceal its real aims beneath hypocrisy and lies.
The US’s record of pre-emptive strikes
The US defends its right to a strategy of ‘pre-emptive strikes’. This is not a new strategy. As far back as 1986, when Ronald Reagan bombed the Libyan capital Tripoli, the official justification given by the State Defence Department was that it was self-defence against future attack. In the same year self-defence was rejected by the International Criminal Court as justification for the US’s action against Nicaragua. The US has used the world situation after 11 September 2001 to codify this as a basis of US policy. In the 2002 White House document The National Security Strategy of the United States, the US declared that: ‘America will act against… emerging threats before they are fully formed,’ and ‘while the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting pre-emptively against such terrorists’.
It states: ‘the United States has long maintained the option of pre-emptive actions to counter a sufficient threat to our national security. The greater the threat, the greater is the risk of inaction – and the more compelling the case for taking anticipatory action to defend ourselves, even if uncertainty remains as to the time and place of the enemy’s attack. To forestall or prevent such hostile acts by our adversaries, the United States will, if necessary, act pre-emptively.’
In short the United States claims a right to commit acts of war unhindered by international law in the name of ‘justice and human rights’ – with the US claiming the sole right to be judge, jury and executioner on these. Unsurprisingly, actions against such ‘violations of human rights’ are pursued vigorously against countries with policies seen by the US as conflicting with its interests and are not pursued if a country is a US ally.
A classic example is when the US destroyed a major pharmaceutical warehouse in Sudan in 1998 – which supplied around half the country’s pharmaceutical supply. This was called ‘counter-terrorism’. If the same happened to the US, it would be called terrorism.
This doctrine of ‘pre-emptive strikes’ is a further development in a more unilaterally aggressive US policy. The war on Yugoslavia, for example – which took place outside of any framework of international law – was used to elaborate a doctrine of unilateral US-led military action, outlined in NATO’s strategic concept of April 1999. This provides for offensive NATO military action with or without the endorsement of the United Nations, anywhere in Western Europe, Eastern Europe or the former Soviet Union.
US military dominance
US military spending dwarfs the rest of the world. The US increased its military spending to over $380 billion, making total military spending total more than the next 15 countries put together. Predicted spending for war on Iraq alone is $110 billion – excluding the costs of occupation.
In Iraq, the US plans to use its overwhelming military superiority to crush and then enforce colonial rule over a country which is impoverished by sanctions. The US war plan – revealed in the New York Times on 2 February – includes more than 3,000 precision-guided bombs and missiles being dropped on Iraq in the first 48 hours, followed by a two-pronged ground invasion with Special Forces being flown in by helicopter to seize the oil fields.
The US has made explicit that it is prepared to use nuclear weapons in a war on Iraq. A list of targets has been drawn up by Stratcom, the Pentagon’s nuclear planning wing, in a ‘theatre nuclear planning document’. US stealth bombers designed to deliver new ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons are being prepared for use on the British colonial territory of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean.
The United States’ longer term military project is to develop ‘full spectrum dominance’ over land, sea, air and space to overpower any future rivals, in particular China. It is developing an ultimate weapon of war: National Missile Defence (NMD) or ‘son of Star Wars’. The programme is designed to intercept and destroy mid-air ballistic missiles and is being created to allow the US ‘first strike’ use of nuclear weapons against other countries without fear of retaliation – that is, to launch nuclear attacks. The project, which could cost up to $1.2 trillion, is already starting a new nuclear arms race. Britain is colluding with the US by allowing the use of spy bases in North Yorkshire as part of the tracking and interception system.
US imperialism cannot bring democracy to Iraq
The US has attempted to justify its attack on Iraq by pointing out that Saddam Hussein is a repellent dictator. Indeed he is. His overthrow and bringing to justice by the Iraqi people for his crimes would be highly desirable. But no support can be given to the war on these grounds because the US has no intention of replacing Saddam Hussein with any democratic regime.
The contrast between Saddam Hussein and the US is that between a repellent local protection racketeer and the central leaders of the Mafia. The numbers killed by Saddam Hussein are tiny compared, for example, to the victims of the US in Vietnam. If there was a real trial of international war criminals, first in the dock would be Kissinger, Bush, Reagan and the other leaders of the US who between them have killed literally millions of people. The idea that the situation will be made better for the people of Iraq by removing a ‘local bandit’ and placing the country under the control of ‘organised crime’ is absurd.
If the United States is seeking to justify war on Iraq because Hussein is a monster, we should ask what the US’s response was when 6,800 Kurdish Iraqis were gassed at Halabja in March 1983. The answer is that they continued to support Hussein as an ally in the US’s proxy war with Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeni. Where did Iraq’s chemical weapons come from? There is substantial documentation to indicate that a ‘witches’ brew’ of pathogens was supplied to Iraq during the 1980s when the US backed Saddam Hussein. Anthrax, botulinum toxin and gangrene, West Nile virus, and Dengue fever shipments were government-approved (Newsweek, 1 September 2002).
The impact of war and sanctions
If the United States had real concern for the human rights of the people of Iraq, they would have stopped the UN sanctions which have blocked imports under ‘dual purpose’ restrictions, including baby food, bandages, incubators, medical materials including swabs, syringes and gauze, toothpaste pencils, paper and school books for children. Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright revealed the US leadership’s real views about the people of Iraq on national television. To the question ‘how do you feel about the reports that half a million Iraqi children have died because of sanctions?’ she responded ‘it’s a hard choice, but we think the price is worth it’.
Far from aiding the people of Iraq, war will be used against them in both the short and long term. War on Iraq is predicted to kill thousand of innocent Iraqi civilians – but this greatly depends on the direction of any conflict. The indirect impact of war could be much more severe. Medact estimate ‘total possible deaths on all sides during conflict and in the following three months will range from 48,000 to over 260,000’. The UN estimates 500,000 people could suffer serious injuries during the first phase of an attack on Iraq; 10 million Iraqis may require assistance in the immediate aftermath of war; two million people may be internally displaced. Christian Aid say chronic hunger could result if the UN Oil for Food programme, which feeds 16 million people in Iraq, is unable to continue. Over the long run the US aims to install a new dictatorship in Iraq – but one subordinated to the economic interests of the US.
Globalisation: how the US sucks capital from the rest of the world
If none of the claimed motives of the US in attacking Iraq stand up to examination, its actions are explained perfectly by the economic problems of the US in general and its desire to control Iraq’s oil in particular.
The US presents itself as the most competitive economy in the world – a model for every other country to follow. Its British defenders parrot that line. The editor of The Economist, Bill Emmott, for example wrote in 20:21 Vision: ‘There is a basic paradox about American leadership that is likely to make it essentially benign… That is the values it espouses and seeks to establish overseas would, if adopted by other countries, make those countries stronger.’
The reality is the reverse. The US economy for the last thirty years has been increasingly uncompetitive. Its balance of payments deficit, at $460 billion a year, is 5 per cent of GDP, and at $1.3 billion a day. It entirely dwarfs that of any other country.
In order to finance this deficit, and protect itself from the internal political destabilisation that would flow from dollar devaluation, the US has to arrange the world economy to enable it to attract $1.3 billion of foreign investment every day via the stock exchange.
Globalisation is simply the means the US uses to achieve this – that is, to create the conditions where capital can flow out of other countries into the US. Emmott claims that: ‘Globalisation is simply the voluntary adoption of international capitalism.’ But, in reality, opening up countries so that their capital can be utilised by the US rather than themselves is not in the slightest voluntary. The US uses both economic threats, and if necessary military force, to ensure the resources of other countries are utilised in its interests and not theirs.
The economic mechanisms the US uses to open up other countries’ economies include its domination of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The policies of the IMF have been a failure for the countries that have adopted them – as shown in such spectacular economic catastrophes as in Russia, South East Asia, Brazil, Argentina and many parts of Africa. The United States, however, continues to foist IMF ‘recovery’ programmes on countries because the core of these is always opening up their financial markets so that capital can flow out to the United States. The WTO is used to protect US trade interests in areas such as agriculture while opening other countries up in areas such as financial services in which the United States is strong.
In the case of a country such as Iraq, the US faces a problem that means it cannot rely on purely economic instruments. As a major oil producer, Iraq would have no need of any IMF/US-backed financial programmes if it were allowed to export oil freely. The US has no adequate economic leverage over Iraq. It therefore uses its other major weapon – military force.
The US dependence on oil imports
We have seen above that the US’s claims that it is attacking Iraq to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, install democracy, and uphold the authority of the United Nations make no sense. All facts fall into place, however, once it is understood that the US is attacking Iraq in order to gain control of its oil.
Oil plays a specific role for the United States within the world economy. It is the one commodity that the US is forced to import in large quantities. Currently the US uses 20 million barrels of oil a day of which half, 10.6 million barrels, is imported. US dependency on oil imports is increasing and by 2020 the US is likely to import two thirds of its oil requirements.
Iraq possesses over 10 per cent of the world’s proven oil reserves – second only to Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, given the run-down of exploration in the last decade, the real figure is probably significantly higher. Iraqi oil production costs are amongst the lowest in the world – $1 a barrel compared to $2.5 in Saudi Arabia and $4 a barrel in the US and North Sea.
Current Iraqi oil production is around 1.5 million barrels a day. However 417 new wells are envisaged and planned investment of around $20 billion would lift production to around 6 million barrels a day within five years. In the long run the potential may be even greater, as 55 of Iraq’s 70 proven fields are not yet developed.
The problem for the US is that the contracts for this development have been given to French, Russian and Chinese oil companies – TotalFinaElf, Lukoil, Zarubezneft, and the China National Petroleum Company. Due to the US’s hostility to Iraq, no United States oil company holds an oil development contract in Iraq. Therefore, as Larry Goldstein, President of the Petroleum Industry Research Foundation put it: ‘If we go to war, it’s not about oil. But the day the war ends, it has everything to do with oil.’ Or as a leaked Deutsche Bank report put it, the US company Exxon-Mobil would be in ‘pole position in a changed regime Iraq’.
It is therefore possible to predict with certainty what will occur. The US attack on Iraq will not be followed by the installation of democracy. But it will be followed by the renegotiation of the oil contracts in favour of US oil companies. The US goal in Iraq therefore may be summarised very simply. It is to replace one dictatorship by another dictatorship that will renegotiate the oil contracts in favour of the US.
The US prepares to confront China
An attack on Iraq, although it will be the biggest US war since Vietnam, does not represent the final stepping-stone in United States’ ambition. Even control of Iraqi oil will not be enough to put out the fires that are raging at the base of the US economy – its inability to create an internationally competitive economy without reducing the living standards of the US working class to the point where that would destabilise political support for the US administration. In particular the US sees the new rising economic power of China, which is bringing over a billion people out of extreme poverty with an economy growing twice as fast as that of the United States, as a threat to its global dominance.
The US’s economic crisis therefore means that it is forced to see each individual war as a stepping-stone to a bigger one. Thus the bombing of Afghanistan was used as a pretext to start the new aggression against Iraq. The US also used this attack on Afghanistan to install new military bases around the world – in particular in the Central Asian states of the former USSR. The US, having established military bases in Saudi Arabia, will install them in Iraq through the war.
As the US already has strong armed forces in Japan and South Korea, the establishment of military bases in the Middle East and Central Asia allows it to try to encircle China from both the West and East.
Any US war with China would, however, inevitably be nuclear – no conventional armed forces could attack the more than a billion people of China. To defeat China the US must be able to launch a nuclear attack on it without suffering equivalent retaliation. It is for this reason that the US is spending tens of billions of dollars to attempt to construct a ‘National Missile Defence’ system that will prevent intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) from being able to strike the United States. This is aimed to break the ‘balance of terror’ that ensured nuclear arms were not used during the Cold War and to allow the US to launch nuclear attacks.
Even if a US anti-missile shield were capable of preventing ICBMs from striking the United States, which is highly doubtful, it would not, of course, prevent them hitting other countries. Britain in particular would be a target, as its Fylingdales radar base, and other facilities, are crucial for the US anti-missile system – a fact beginning to dawn on public consciousness.
Israel and the United States
Israel plays a critical role in US policy in the Middle East. As already noted, the greatest weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East are Israel’s. Israel acts as the US’s proxy in the Middle East. It has invaded Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinian territories ceded to Jordan and still illegally occupies the West Bank and Gaza Strip. To suppress an increasingly vocal Palestinian population, Israel resorts to ever more atrocities. One of the most recent, filmed by an Israeli TV station, is where soldiers play ‘Russian roulette’ with Palestinians, forcing them to pick a card which determines whether they will be killed, have bones broken, teeth pulled out or their property destroyed.
The current prime minister Ariel Sharon heads a regime which murders children: replying to young people throwing stones with bullets and tanks. Israel has used gunship helicopters, bulldozers and tanks to destroy schools and homes, shell hospitals and ambulances. It has massacred over 2000 Palestinians since September 2000, many of whom were children. The scale of the disparity of power in this struggle is demonstrated by the Palestinian death toll being four times that of the Israelis. Under Sharon, Israel has stepped up its assassination and imprisonment of Palestinian leaders in an attempt to politically behead and defeat the Palestinian struggle.
Sharon wants to repeat the terror waged in 1948 and again in 1967 which forced Palestinians to flee their homes. The Israeli state was based on ‘ethnic cleansing’. The waves of Israeli ‘settlers’ who are taking further land illegally and by force from Palestinians are vital to Sharon’s project to make any Palestinian state impossible to achieve. Ariel Sharon’s re-election as Israel’s prime minister sends a clear signal to the Palestinians that a war against Iraq will be used as a mandate to further escalate the assault on them.
Yet the US is not threatening Israel but supporting it. Israel relies on massive political and financial support from the US. Israel has defied many UN resolutions, is guilty of numerous breaches of the Geneva Convention of Human Rights and of using chemical weapons, of torture and collective detention.
The terrible atrocities committed by the Nazis against the Jewish people in the Holocaust were cynically used by imperialism to establish Israel in 1948. Via maintaining tight quotas restricting the numbers of Jewish refugees into other countries, imperialist powers stood by while Nazis practiced genocide. Under pressure from anti-colonial struggles worldwide, including in the oil-rich region of the Middle East, the plan of the imperialist powers was to create a state in the Middle East completely dependent on and loyal to western imperialism. Thus Israel came into being, and is today armed to the hilt by the US.
The Blair government and the war
The common political caricature of Tony Blair and his current in the leadership of the Labour Party is that they are cynical pragmatists – motivated by opinion polls, focus groups and what will allow them to win the next election and remain in government. Quite the opposite is the case: Tony Blair and the New Labour political current represent one of the most ideologically driven, right wing leaderships of Labour ever. This has been revealed to all by Blair’s approach to a US war on Iraq. Public opinion is massively against war, overwhelmingly so if there is no UN resolution and with nearly half of the population currently opposing war even if there is a second UN resolution for military action. Opposition on Labour’s backbenches, in the trade union movement, within Labour’s electoral rivals, and across European social democracy is immense. Yet Blair is has been solidly unequivocal in his support for US foreign policy – as he was on Yugoslavia and Afghanistan.
Blair has spelled out his orientation: engagement with the European Union, and for the subordination of European to US imperialism. In his tail-ending of the United States, Blair is simply following the established British international stance. But in an era of growing inter-imperialist tension, this has a very precise meaning. In his speech to Labour’s 1999 conference, Blair explained that ‘Britain has the potential to be the bridge between Europe and America’, and has proceeded to be the leading exponent of US foreign policy interests within the European Union. His ‘Third Way’ ideology is perfectly consistent with this. Blair urges a recasting of the Socialist International – the organisation of social democratic parties – to create a new international with capitalist forces like the US Democrats. His key allies today in Europe are not with social democracy but with Aznar and Berlusconi. Domestically he strives to emulate the US economic model, to shore up an uncompetitive economy with low levels of investment by rolling back the welfare state, privatising public services and attempting to drive down working class living standards.
This programme has provoked substantial political opposition – which has succeeded in forcing some concessions and blocking some of its excesses, such as the rise in health and education spending the government was obliged to make after two years of sticking to Tory spending limits. A wave of new left trade union leaderships have been elected against Blair’s agenda and right now, across the labour movement and more widely, masses of people are beginning to question how billions of pounds can be spent on a war a majority opposes, while firefighters are denied £8.50 an hour, students face top-up fees and the railway system falls apart.
Tony Blair – and those parts of British capitalism behind his pro-US stand – is aiming to use everything possible to limit and divide this rising opposition. The new era of colonialism which some of the think tanks around Blair openly advocate is prettified with terms like an ‘ethical foreign policy’. These ethics have seen the biggest rise in British military spending for 20 years: in July the government announced an increase in the defence budget from £29.3 billion in 2002, to £32.8 billion by 2005-6. Fears of terrorism have been whipped up. And racism is being cynically encouraged: the tabloid media has merely followed the lead of ministers in unleashing a wave of vile racist propaganda, some of the first results of which, as new statistics in February 2003 showed, are a sharp rise in racist attacks, and the successive election of BNP councillors – now totalling five – in the north of England. The most sickening hypocrisy is churned out: the bombing of Iraq and Afghanistan is defended by Blair on the basis of their human rights records, while refugees from these countries – the two biggest sources of recent refugees – are vilified and often denied asylum.
One of the key tasks facing socialists is to do everything possible to expose, oppose and defeat this whipping up of racism.
The wave of racism being used in an attempt to weaken the opposition to war is in one sense nothing new. Racism is a tried and tested tool of imperialism to assist its wars – portraying those to be attacked as less than human, unable to safely be left to determine their own future and many other variants. The lurid racist campaigns of tabloids like the Sun’s which is promoting a petition against asylum seekers and ran a headline ‘Round ‘em up and kick ‘em out’ on the eve of a by-election in Mixenden, Halifax, where a BNP councillor was subsequently elected, is unfolding on a stage already set by the tone and content of government policy. The demonisation of Muslims and asylum seekers aims to divert attention from the war as the most important issue confronting the country, obscure the real reasons for war, to divide the anti-war movement and to intimidate the Muslim community.
Ministerial statements linking asylum seekers to terrorism and carefully staged armed arrests and raids under the new anti-terror laws echo the way in which the Prevention of Terrorism Act was used in the 1970s and ’80s to terrorise the Irish community in Britain against any involvement in opposing Britain’s occupation of Ireland. This has, of course, been accompanied by yet further tightening of Britain’s policy on asylum – through the Immigration Nationality and Asylum Act, plans to extend the list of countries considered ‘safe’ and threats to withdraw from the 1951 Geneva Convention on refugees and the European Convention on Human Rights.
This cynical boosting of racism has been taken up yet more explicitly by the Conservative Party and the most right wing section of the press, and has assisted the election of five BNP councillors elected in recent months.
Fighting this racist offensive – and the rise in racist attacks that will inevitably accompany it – is therefore a key task of those who want the anti-war movement to succeed. This includes challenging every instance of racism used to weaken the anti-war movement, such as the proposal by the political current Alliance for Workers Liberty to exclude the organised representatives of the Muslim community from the anti-war alliance which they argued at the recent Stop the War Coalition conference, and in NUS. Any concession to racism must be totally opposed.
The new scale of opposition to war
For the first time in decades, the United States finds itself in a minority on the world stage and facing massive internal opposition plus majority opposition in Western Europe. Against the US’s primary war aim of gaining direct and total control over the second largest supply of oil in the world are the competing oil and trade interests of Western Europe and those of Russia and China. Despite the usual attempts to use its economic and military weight blatantly to bully and bribe its way to a second UN resolution, it is struggling to construct an international alliance capable of facilitating war and providing camouflage for the US’s war aims. The opposition to war on Iraq which has emerged is the largest since the Vietnam War. The scale of mass protest both reflects popular opposition to the war and is fuelled by deep divisions amongst imperialist powers.
Alarmed at the results of galvanising international opinion against the United States, sections of the US bourgeoisie argue for tactics more seriously aimed at creating an international coalition for war. To this end, some US Democrats have called for a delay in the timing of war.
The European capitalist class is divided in its attitude, with the most US leaning forces – including Berlusconi, Aznar and Blair – supporting the US’s drive to war. The leaderships of the main European social-democratic parties oppose war under the pressure of overwhelming opposition from the electorates and ranks of social democracy and trade union members.
In Germany – the dominant European capitalist power – the SPD’s anti-war line reflects opposition by significant sections of German capital. A huge proportion of German public opinion opposes war.
In Britain, while the Conservative Party maintains its traditional support for US foreign policy, even there those more inclined towards European capital such as Chris Patten and Kenneth Clarke have expressed reservations. The Liberal Democrats – the party most closely inclined towards the concerns of European capital – are at least opposed to a war without explicit UN backing, and have publicly backed the 15 February demonstration with Charles Kennedy announcing on 10 February that he would personally be joining the march. While Tony Blair is the leading European supporter of George W Bush – succinctly termed ‘the foreign minister of the United States… no longer the prime minister of Britain’ by Nelson Mandela – war is opposed by the majority of trade unions affiliated to the Labour Party, more than 100 Labour MPs and the bulk of Labour Party members. The Green Party, Scottish nationalists and Plaid Cymru all oppose war on Iraq. The demonstration on 28 September 2002 was the biggest anti-war demonstration for decades, with expectations that the 15 February march will be the biggest in absolute terms at least in British history.
Overwhelming opposition among the populations of the Middle Eastern states has meant that the US’s client regimes, particularly Saudi Arabia and Turkey, have been forced to carefully weigh the risks to their leadership of supporting the US and thereby frustrating public opinion, in some cases as strong as 98 per cent against war.
The serious international and domestic divisions within the bourgeoisie lead to the very unusual airing of arguments against war in the media. In contrast to previous wars, access to information about the US’s real agenda is available though mainstream television, radio and newspapers. The propaganda campaign for war is undoubtedly being waged – and should be understood to include racist bile being pumped out by tabloids like The Sun – but to a much less total extent than that seen in other recent imperialist wars. Even issues previously hidden – such as the motive and effects of the first Gulf War – are now being exposed. Sections of the media openly parody US war claims: when Colin Powell held up a vial supposedly illustrative of biological weapons being hidden by Iraq, BBC Online ran a mocking caption competition; Rory Bremner’s satirical review pumps out an explicitly anti-war message mocking US and British claims, on prime time TV.
The liberal imperialism which has been used to prettify all recent imperialist interventions therefore has been paraded to prepare the ground for war on Iraq – but finds itself much more openly challenged. It has found its ‘leftist’ champions – Rushdie, Aaronovitch, Hitchens and others – but these are relatively isolated voices.
A new anti-war movement
The new movement in Britain against war on Iraq has taken a quite different scale to that mobilised against war on Yugoslavia or Afghanistan. Unprecedented numbers and layers of people are seeing through the hypocrisy of the United States and are prepared to protest against it.
The protests against the US attack on Yugoslavia were determined but relatively small. International capitalism was relatively united, and the left significantly divided – in large part deceived by the propaganda war which demonised the Serbs and which had taken place for a decade before the ultimate military assault.
The protests against war on Afghanistan were of a much larger scale and character – which were notable given the fact that they took place in the aftermath of September 11 and the way in which this was used by the US to attempt to justify its war. They incorporated a new radicalised layer of young people who for the first time in large numbers had understood the link between US military aggression and its economic domination of the world. This section of the opposition built on the new anti-globalisation movement.
This opposition is now added to by the established peace movement, the emerging anti-war movement, and sections of the rank and file of the Labour Party and of the left. The second new and extremely important element was large sections of the British Muslim community which had begun to be organised and mobilised on a qualitatively greater scale than anything previously seen. This new mobilisation of British Muslims helped produce last September’s biggest ever demonstration in opposition to war.
With many more opposing war on Iraq than have opposed any recent US military aggressions, the opportunity to consolidate forces for the anti-war movement which will be needed against the wars to come must be grasped to the fullest extent. This means doing everything possible to try to extend the reach of the anti-war movement. No individual country can withstand the full might of US imperialism and its allies – all need international solidarity. The task of the anti-war movement is to give voice to the largest opposition to naked US aggression in decades.
This means supporting the Stop the War Coalition and CND and helping to strengthen the broad-based peace movement, supporting the No War on Iraq Liaison group and efforts by anti-war MPs to consolidate the widest cross party opposition to war. It also means doing everything possible to encourage the new generation of young people mobilising against imperialism’s war drive. Increasingly it means fighting against the attempt to use racism to weaken the anti-war movement and intimidate the newly mobilised layers of the Muslim population.
Finally, it means developing the clearest possible political understanding of the roots and ultimate aims of US imperialism’s military aggression.