[The general line of the following report was adopted by the DSP National Committee on April 25, 2003.]
Washington’s quick and apparently easy military defeat of the Iraqi Baathist regime – instead of putting the US political and business elite’s drive for global domination on a more secure and longer-lasting footing – is threatening to turn into a political debacle, exacerbating the very problems the US rulers hoped it would decisively help to overcome.
The US rulers hoped widespread international scepticism about Washington’s rationale for the war – that Saddam Hussein’s regime possessed a massive arsenal of chemical and biological weapons and that it might turn these over to Osama bin Laden’s al Qaeda terrorist network to be unleashed against the United States – would be dissipated by the rapid discovery of such weapons. However, neither during the invasion nor since have any chemical or biological weapons stockpiles been discovered by the invaders. This failure will only confirm the view – widely held in most of the world – that the “weapons of mass destruction” rationale was simply a ruse for Washington’s real objective of seizing control of Iraq’s oil resources.
The US rulers hoped that the widely-held international perception of their invasion of Iraq as an act of imperial conquest would be swept away by the rapid surrender of the Iraqi army, followed by widespread public displays by the Iraqi masses, particularly the majority Shiite population, of gratitude and welcoming of US troops, thus confirming Washington’s portrayal of the invasion as an act of liberation.
However, neither of these hopes were fulfilled. The massive “precision” bombing campaign which Washington mounted against government buildings in Baghdad failed to deliver the devastating psychological blow that was intended. Despite the Pentagon’s expectations that the Iraqi army would put up little resistance, in the first weeks of the invasion US and British troops encountered stiff resistance, particularly from Iraqi army units in the south made up predominantly of Shiite conscripts.
Rather than throwing down their arms and surrendering in droves, Iraqi soldiers fought heroically though hopelessly against the technologically superior Anglo-American invaders. On April 11, Christian Science Monitor reporter Ann Scott Tyson interviewed US troops with the 3rd Infantry Division who were deeply troubled by their task of mowing down Iraqi soldiers who kept fighting even in suicidal situations.
“Even as US commanders cite dramatic success in the three-week-old war”, Tyson reported, “many look upon the wholesale destruction of Iraq’s military and the killing of thousands of Iraqi fighters with a sense of regret. They voiced frustration at the numbers of Iraqis who stood their ground against overwhelming US firepower, wasting their lives and equipment rather than capitulating as expected.”
“They have no command and control, no organisation. They’re just dying”, US Army General Louis Weber told Tyson.
Commenting upon the annihilation of Iraqi soldiers in one-sided battles, Lieutenant-Colonel Woody Radcliffe told Tyson: “Even a brain-dead moron can understand we are so vastly superior militarily that there is no hope. You would think they would see that and give up.”
In one battle in the southern town of Najaf, Radcliffe told Tyson “there were waves and waves of people coming at” US soldiers “with AK-47s” out of a factory and the US soldiers “were killing everyone”. The US commander ordered up air strikes to, as he put it, “take them out all at once”.
This slaughter of young Iraqi conscripts deeply troubled the front-line US soldiers. One US soldier said to Tyson: “For lack of a better word, I feel almost guilty about the massacre. We wasted a lot of people. It makes you wonder how many were innocent.”
The top US political and military commanders, of course, shared none of these regrets. Commenting about the Iraqi soldiers to his war council in Washington, the US commander-in-chief said they “fight like terrorists”, according to an April 14 New York Times report on how George Bush saw the war.
Why Iraqi regime collapsed
The unexpected resistance that Iraqi soldiers displayed left Bush with two choices – either halt the invasion and seek a negotiated settlement with Saddam Hussein’s regime (an alternative Bush had long before ruled out as unthinkable), or to drive through to Baghdad imposing greater and greater destruction from aerial bombings as the US Air Force depleted its stock of precision bombs. The latter alternative also meant abandoning the initial attempt to avoid fuelling potentially massive anti-war protests around the world by minimising Iraqi civilian casualties.
As the US invaders approached Baghdad, the Pentagon signalled to the city’s population that it was prepared to indiscriminately slaughter huge numbers of civilians rather than risk large numbers of US military casualties in fierce urban battles with Iraqi fighters. It did this through a decision to bomb a restaurant on April 7 where Hussein was thought to be eating. Though Hussein’s whereabouts remained unknown, the bodies of more than a dozen civilians, including young children, were pulled from the rubble after four “bunker-buster” bombs were dropped on the restaurant by a US warplane. Robert Fisk, the London Independent‘s correspondent in Baghdad, cited the bombing of the restaurant as one that represented a “clear breach” of the Geneva conventions’ ban on bombing civilian targets.
It appears that justifiable fear that Washington was willing to unleash upon the civilian population of Baghdad the same sort of carpet bombing that it inflicted for several weeks upon Republican Guard units on the outskirts of the city – if the Iraqi military retreated into the city – led to widespread opposition to any such move from the civilian population. With fear of the terrible death and destruction Washington was prepared to begin inflicting upon them outweighing their fear of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime, Baghdad’s civilian population refused to cooperate in any military defence of the city. The Baathist regime’s morale quickly collapsed, its leading personnel went into hiding, and its remaining military units – now leaderless – dissolved back into the civilian population.
The US rulers hoped that the Iraqi masses’ gratitude for removing the Baathist regime would provide Washington with years of political capital in Iraq which it could use to easily install a US military occupation regime followed by a stable puppet regime that would enable the US capitalist ruling class to secure control over Iraq’s oil resources, the second largest in the world after Saudi Arabia’s – which for all practical purposes are already under US control.
However, whatever gratitude Iraqis may have felt toward Washington for removing Hussein’s brutal regime, was dissipated within a few days of the Anglo-American occupation of Baghdad, Basra and other Iraqi cities as the occupation troops failed to quickly restore electricity and water supplies and allowed widespread looting of public buildings, including massively overcrowded hospitals.
In Baghdad, just about the only government building that the US troops protected was the Iraqi oil ministry building, which had also been conspicuously left untargeted during the bombing campaign. Within 24 hours of the US Army’s entry into central Baghdad, a ring of US troops was posted around the building to protect it from looters. The political significance of this action has not been lost on the Iraqi population. As the April 15 Australian reported: “While most other public buildings in Baghdad have been left unguarded [from looters], the huge Oil Ministry headquarters on Palestine Street has been ringed by more than 70 US troops and protected by up to a dozen or more armoured personnel carriers. That glaring contrast has convinced many angry Iraqis that Washington’s invasion of Iraq was motivated by its own commercial interests and the state of international oil markets rather than its professed concern for the Iraqi public and its democratic rights.”
What Washington means by “freedom” and “democracy” in Iraq was illustrated when US officials convened a hand-picked meeting of selected Iraqi “representatives” at the heavily-guarded Tallil air base in southern Iraq on April 15. Presided over by retired US general Jay Garner, who is soon to be installed in Baghdad as the country’s quasi-colonial governor, the meeting demonstrated that Washington has no intention of permitting the Iraqi people any say in the selection of a post-Baathist government.
According to the accounts provided of the meeting by the carefully-screened journalists who were present the mood of the Iraqi “representatives” was described as “lukewarm”, even “sullen”. Hoshyar Zebari, a representative of the pro-US Kurdish Democratic Party, attempted to explain away the atmosphere by declaring: “They are nervous. They don’t believe Saddam is gone yet.” A far more likely explanation for the “invitees’” nervousness was their worry about being too closely identified as US stooges. Only five days earlier, one of Washington’s key Iraqi political assets – Islamic cleric Abdul Majid al Khoei, who had been flown by the US military into Najaf with US$3 million provided by Washington to exert his influence – was hacked to death by an angry mob when he attempted to visit a mosque with Haider al Kadar, a Shiite cleric loyal to Saddam Hussein.
At the gates of the Tallil air base, which were heavily guarded by US marines and military police, an angry crowd of about 150 voiced their contempt for the April 15 meeting. Gesturing toward the base, Iraqi Communist Party member Mohammed Yasser told the Washington Post: “Just imagine that. An American flag, and American forces, and they say that this is the opposition of Iraq. You can judge the picture for yourself.” Some, like Sheik Mehhi Abdulhussein from the al Najin tribe, wanted to take part in the meeting. “We came here to attend, but they won’t allow us”, he told the Washington Post, to which he added: “All of them are agents of the Americans… All the Iraqi people have to resist such a movement that is formed under the American umbrella”.
While what Garner referred to as the beginning of “a democratic Iraq” was being held, up to 20,000 Iraqis marched through the streets of the neighbouring city of Nasiriya chanting “No, No, No Saddam; No, No, No United States.” Shiite cleric Sayed al Musawi told the protesters: “The United States and Saddam are two faces of one coin. One dictator has replaced another… We don’t want democracy brought by American tanks.”
Musawi’s remarks were echoed by Iraqi Christians attending Good Friday services last week. Typical was the comment made to the Boston Globe‘s reporter in Karbala by Alaa Tawbiah, who said: “The Americans and Saddam Hussein are two sides of the same coin. We drove the British out with sticks in 1920. If the Americans try to stay, they’ll get their due.”
With the collapse of the Baathist regime, the mosques are emerging as the main organising centres of Iraqi resistance to the US occupation. It appears that Sunni and Shiite clerics are working together to promote this resistance movement. And while many of these clerics are Islamicists, replacing the secular Baathist regime with an Islamic regime is not the primary issue at the moment. “What we are faced with today is not a choice between secularism and religion. We’re facing an invasion and foreign rule. We have to work together to end it”, Dr Wamid Omar Nadmi, a leading political scientist at Baghdad University told the British Guardian.
Significantly, the largest Iraqi opposition group – the Shiite-dominated Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq – boycotted the Tallil air base meeting. SCIRI vice-president Abdul Aziz Hakim issued a statement in Tehran reiterating its demand that US forces leave Iraq immediately. “Iraq needs an Iraqi interim government”, he said. “Anything other than this tramples on the rights of the Iraqi people and would be a return to the era of colonisation.”
A few days ago, the Western media briefly reported that hundreds of thousands of Iraqi Shiites were setting out on a mass pilgrimage to the Shiite holy city of Karbala. The media accounts presented this mass pilgrimage as evidence of the religious freedom the US invasion has brought to Iraqi Shiites, noting that such a pilgrimage had been banned under Saddam Hussein’s regime. But they neglected to report that the pilgrimage was in response to a call issued by Ayatollah Mohammed Baqir Hakim, the exiled leader of the SCIRI, for a mass convergence in Karbala to protest against the US occupation of Iraq.
The steadily mounting protests by Iraqis against the US occupation not only discredits Washington’s claim that its invasion is aimed at “liberating” the Iraqi people, it threatens to undermine its objective of installing a relatively stable puppet regime.
From the standpoint of the US ruling class, the outcome of its invasion of Iraq is in stark contrast to that of its invasions of Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989. In both those cases, Washington succeeded through limited military operations in installing subservient and relatively stable capitalist regimes almost overnight. The US rulers’ resulting political victory was virtually simultaneous with their military victory.
By contrast, while Washington’s invasion of Iraq has militarily crushed the Baathist regime, it has not politically crushed the Iraqi masses’ will to resist imperialist domination of their country. As a result, Iraq is threatening to become Washington’s Palestine, with an intifada potentially involving 15 times as many people as live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. And only those who believe in fairy-tales can think that the US occupation forces won’t respond to an Iraqi intifada the same way that Washington’s Israeli ally has responded to the Palestinian intifada
When up to 200,000 Iraqis poured out of last Friday’s prayers in Baghdad mosques chanting anti-US slogans, according to British Guardian reporter Mark Oliver, a recording was played over US Army loudspeakers warning people in Arabic to disperse “immediately or there will be consequences”. An indication of what the US occupiers mean by “consequences” was signalled when on two consecutive days earlier that week US troops fired into crowds in Mosul protesting against the city’s new pro-US mayor. This is a foretaste of the greater repression that is to come.
The US rulers hoped that a quick and easy military victory over the Iraqi regime would demoralise and cow the Arab masses and thus help politically stabilise Washington’s corrupt and tyrannical client regimes throughout the Middle East. But the outcome of the invasion is producing the opposite result.
In testimony given on April 8 before the US Senate’s subcommittee on international economic policy, export and trade, Martha Brill Olcon, a senior associate at Washington’s Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (a “liberal” ruling-class foreign policy think-tank), warned that the “period of US military occupation will be a time of real stress in the Persian Gulf and in the Muslim world more generally, where many will see the US military presence as a form of thinly disguised 21st century-style colonialism”. Olcon observed that “Protests in both the Arab and the Muslim world more generally are likely to continue throughout the period of US military occupation and this kind of public reaction will make the regimes that have supported the US effort more vulnerable from their critics”, adding: “When one adds up active and inactive supporters, the regimes in Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan have all been put at greater risk, and the last two were already quite vulnerable.”
Iran – next target
The US rulers hoped that a grateful Iraqi population would enable Washington to turn Iraq into a politically stable base from which to launch a future operation for “regime change” in neighbouring Iran, the world’s third largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia and Russia. Placing Iraq and Iran under US domination would give the US rulers control over the Persian Gulf region, which has 65% of the world’s known oil reserves. It would enable the US rulers to decisively bolster their political and economic leverage over capitalist competitors such as Japan, China and France whose economies are dependent on imports of oil from the Persian Gulf. Growing and sustained popular resistance in Iraq, however, will make it much harder for Washington to use Iraq as a staging post for an invasion of Iran.
In her testimony before the US Senate subcommittee on international economic policy, Olcon made no attempt to hide the fact that achieving “regime change” in Iran is a key foreign policy objective of the US ruling class, while noting the difficulties of achieving this. She said: “US policy-makers should also make sure that they have drawn all the appropriate lessons from our military engagement in Iraq before challenging the regime in Iran by military means. First, there is the question of international support for such an operation, which is certain to be even more difficult to obtain than the current operations in Iraq. But even if US policy-makers were convinced that we could successfully overcome the international diplomatic fall-out of proceeding militarily with a small coalition of allies, there is the question of how the Iranian military and Iranian people would respond in the face of a military incursion. While it is certainly the case that the Iranian political and religious establishment are in an uneasy alliance at best, Iranian nationalism is a much more formidable and deeply rooted force than Iraqi nationalism, and there is little or no evidence to suggest that outside forces would be welcomed by any significant sector of the population as the source of moving the Iranian polity toward a more secular and pro-Western form of government.”
Olcon’s reference to the “formidable and deeply rooted force” of “Iranian nationalism” was an oblique allusion to the February 1979 revolution – in which the Iranian masses mobilised in their millions to successfully defeat the US-backed Palhavi monarchy, its 400,000-strong army, its 80,000-strong CIA-trained secret police apparatus and its 20,000 US “advisers” – and to the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, in which the Iranian masses again mobilised in their millions to successfully drive back and defeat an invasion of their country by the Iraqi regime, which at that time possessed the strongest army in the Persian Gulf region.
Sending North Korea ‘a message’
Another objective of Washington’s invasion of Iraq was to “send a message” to North Korea, the third member of Bush’s “axis of evil”. The US rulers hoped that a successful demonstration of their ability to use their enormous military might to quickly and easily achieve “regime change” in Iraq would enable them to intimidate the North Korean regime into co-operating with Washington’s demand that Pyongyang abandon its nuclear weapons program.
In 1994 the Clinton administration signed an agreement with Pyongyang, under which Washington agreed to assist North Korea in the construction of two light-water nuclear reactors that could not be used for reprocessing spent nuclear fuel into weapons-grade uranium and plutonium. Washington also agreed to supply North Korea with 500,000 tonnes of fuel oil per year. In exchange, Pyongyang agreed to freeze its nuclear weapons program, shut down its Soviet-built nuclear power plant at Yongbyon and put all its nuclear research facilities under the inspection of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
However, as soon as the Bush administration took office in early 2001 it suspended its commitments under the 1994 Framework Agreement and then renounced the agreement entirely, while demanding that Pyongyang continue to abide by its commitments under the agreement. Instead, North Korea terminated the IAEA inspections and began the process of opting out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Washington has repeatedly rebuffed offers by Pyongyang to hold direct talks and has insisted on “multilateral talks” in which the US hopes to enlist Beijing and Moscow – along with Tokyo and Seoul – in applying pressure on Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
Last December, Pyongyang announced that it was restarting a small reactor at the Yongbyon nuclear power facility. Washington’s claims that the facility can reprocess enough plutonium to produce one nuclear bomb a year. On April 9, the CIA released a report claiming that North Korea could produce “two or more nuclear weapons a year”. The CIA also claimed that North Korea may soon flight test its Taepodong-2 ballistic missile, which would have the capability of striking parts of the United States with a nuclear warhead.
The same day as the CIA report was released, Washington unsuccessfully sought passage in the UN Security Council of a resolution condemning Pyongyang for pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The representatives of China and Russia indicated they would veto such a resolution. Instead, the most Washington was able to get out of the Security Council was an expression of “concern” about the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea.
On April 16, Washington triumphantly announced that Pyongyang had agreed to “multilateral” talks in Beijing. Bush administration officials privately told the media that this was a result of Pyongyang “getting the message” of Washington’s invasion of Iraq. However, the next day the North Korean foreign ministry issued a statement which declared: “Only a tremendous military deterrent force, powerful enough to decisively beat back an attack supported by any ultra-modern weapons, can avert war and protect the security of the country. This is a lesson drawn from the Iraq war.”
In the light of this statement, rather than being an indication of willingness to capitulate to Washington’s demands, North Korea’s agreement to participate in so-called multilateral talks – which involve only itself, the US and China – would appear to be a diplomatic maneuver on Pyongyang’s part to buy time so that it can produce a “tremendous military deterrent force”.
Cuba smashes US subversion network
Commenting to the April 21 Moscow Times, retired Russian army general Andrei Nikolayev, head of the Duma’s defence affairs committee, drew the conclusion from the Iraq war that the decisive factor in the outcome was the collapse of the Iraqi army’s morale. “The outcome of a war depends on an army’s morale”, he said. However, an army’s morale is very much dependent on the morale of the population as a whole. This is a conclusion that the revolutionary government in Cuba, which has had to combat a concerted economic and political effort by Washington to bring about “regime change” on the island for four decades, has been acutely aware of. It’s with this crucial factor in mind that we need to see the Cuban government’s so-called crackdown on dissidents earlier this month.
On March 18, the day before the US invasion of Iraq began, the Cuban government ordered the arrest of 75 individuals and charged them with receiving funds from Washington and collaborating with the US Interests Section, the unofficial US embassy, in Havana to subvert the Cuban Revolution. Cuban authorities put the accused on trial on April 4-7. The courts handed down sentences ranging from six to 28 years in jail.
On April 8, in the wake of a string of hijackings of planes and boats, a Cuban court found another 10 people guilty of having hijacked a ferry six days earlier, using handguns and knives, in a failed attempt to reach Florida. The hijackers had been charged with “very grave acts of terrorism”, and three men among them were given the death penalty and executed by firing squad on April 11, after the country’s Supreme Court and Council of State upheld their sentences. Another four men in the group were given life in prison, while three women were given one- to five-year jail terms.
The US rulers have now seized on the sentences to justify ratcheting up their decades-long effort to destroy the Cuban Revolution. On April 8, the US House of Representatives voted 414-0 for a resolution demanding the immediate release of the imprisoned “dissidents”. The editors of numerous US dailies – many of them liberals who have in the past called on Washington to end its economic embargo against Cuba – have joined the chorus condemning Havana for alleged “human rights violations”.
During an April 9 press conference in Havana, Cuban foreign minister Felip Perez Roque detailed the provocation orchestrated by Washington over the last seven months that led to the arrests and trials. He noted that they built on the US government’s unrelenting 44-year-long economic war, support for paramilitary forces operating from US territory which have been responsible for the deaths of more than 3000 Cuban citizens in terrorist attacks, and numerous assassination attempts against Cuban government leaders.
“In the last seven months”, he stated, “there have been seven hijackings of Cuban air and sea crafts, encouraged by … the indiscriminate application of the Cuban Adjustment Act, by the practice of receiving people who use terrorism and violence to get there.” Approved by the US Congress in 1966, the Cuban Adjustment Act encourages people to leave Cuba for the United States by providing virtually automatic asylum to any Cuban who lands in Florida, regardless of whatever crimes they may have committed to get there.
In an accord signed by both governments in 1994, Washington agreed to provide 20,000 visas annually to Cubans wishing to emigrate to the US and who apply to do so. Even though requests have exceeded this number every year, the US government has been granting a diminishing number of visas. The number of visas has dropped from nearly 11,000 three years ago to just over 7000 last year. In the first five months of this year, which for immigration purposes began on October 1, the US Interests Section has issued only 500 visas. Perez Roque pointed out: “We are dealing with a deliberate plan to make those who want to emigrate lose hope, so that they have no alternative but illegal immigration.”
At the same time, he observed: “The US Interest Section’s diplomatic pouch is increasingly being used to bring in funds and other materials to carry out counter-revolutionary acts to groups in Cuba created and funded by the US government.”
He accused James Cason, head of the US Interests Section in Havana since last July, of recruiting, funding and organising a network of political agents in Cuba.
Many liberal opponents of Washington’s economic embargo against Cuba will undoubtedly be won over by Washington’s misinformation campaign about these developments, and many supporters of the Cuban Revolution, particularly in the imperialist democracies, may initially be confused. But for the Cuban government to not act decisively to crush any attempt by US imperialism to create a network of political agents inside Cuba or to not act decisively to deter violent attacks sponsored and encouraged by the US government, would run the risk of politically demoralising the revolution’s supporters within Cuba, which is the decisive factor in the revolution’s ability to defend itself.
What deters Washington from invading Cuba, and has done so for more than 40 years, is not the opposition of world public opinion, but the US rulers’ worry that the enormous numbers of US casualties an invasion of Cuba would entail would cause a huge political crisis within the US itself. But the effectiveness of that political deterrent depends on minimising any illusions among US policy makers that the Cuban people, armed in their millions, would not mount a fiercely determined and unified resistance to any US invasion; it depends on making it clear to Washington that pro-US elements in Cuba have absolutely minimum political support among the Cuban masses and that the Cuban people support their government’s refusal to compromise with counter-revolutionary elements.
Moreover, we can be sure that the most class-conscious supporters of the Cuban Revolution around the world, particularly those who are themselves having to combat Washington’s counter-revolutionary intrigues such as Chavista workers in Venezuela, will not be confused by the imperialist propaganda about the Cuban government’s alleged “human rights violations”.
Throughout the 1990s one of the greatest factors bearing down on the morale of the Cuban revolutionaries was the Cuban Revolution’s isolation in Latin America – the fact that there was not a single other revolutionary government in the hemisphere. Today, however, the Cuban Revolution has an ally in Latin America – the Venezuelan government of Hugo Chavez, which has made significant progress in dismantling the institutions of capitalist power in an oil-rich, partially industrialised country with a population more than twice the size of Cuba’s.
Through mass mobilisation of the working class, the Chavez government has defeated a US-backed coup by the Venezuelan bourgeoisie and its generals, splitting the ranks of the army from the bourgeois officer corps and linking the ordinary soldiers with Chavez’s working-class supporters. The government, relying on the combined mobilisations of soldiers and workers, has defeated the Venezuelan bourgeoisie’s attempt at an economic strike, and has succeeded in wresting the state-owned oil industry out of the hands of its bourgeois managers and placed its running into the hands of the oil production workers.
An April 17 Associated Press report from the Venezuelan capital Caracas provided an insight into how the Chavez government is dealing with one of the key institutions of capitalist power. Headlined “Venezuela’s Chavez clamps down on police”, the article reported: “They used to be keepers of the peace. Now the 500 police officers under Miguel Pinto’s command are mostly just killing time. Ever since President Hugo Chavez clamped down on the Caracas police, charging them with instigating a coup, Pinto’s 500 motorcycle cops spend most of their days playing chess or exercising at their hilltop precinct. Soldiers search them as they enter or leave the building, and allow only limited patrols. They’ve also taken away the officers’ submachine guns, tear gas grenades and shotguns.”
AP correspondent Christopher Toothaker noted that the story’s the same right across Caracas. “Soldiers have confiscated weapons, impounded many police vehicles and stationed armoured personnel carriers outside police precincts to monitor officers’ movements”, he reported.
In December, Venezuela’s Supreme Court ordered the government to return police control to Caracas mayor Alfredo PeÔ a, a Chavez opponent. Toothaker reported that last Friday, “Chavez brushed aside a Supreme Court ruling and said he would keep his firm grip on the 9000-strong city police because they were ‘the lance that started the coup’ last year.”
While still largely cloaked in constitutional legality, the Venezuelan revolutionary process has been moving forward toward neutralising and dismantling the institutions of capitalist power within the country, and beginning to organise the Venezuelan working class as the country’s ruling class. If it continues on that trajectory and succeeds, it will have an electrifying effect upon the masses of Latin America, and upon radicalising youth around the world, including in the imperialist countries, creating a big new opening to win them to the perspective of socialist revolution.
Washington’s drive to war against Iraq brought to the fore the conflict among the imperialist powers that has been immanent ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.
Backed by the German government, France led the opposition in the UN Security Council to the US-led war drive. After Washington launched its invasion of Iraq, however, both Paris and Berlin did an about-face, declaring support for the US assault and wishing it success in defeating the Iraqi regime.
Now, as Washington seeks to consolidate its military victory in Iraq, Paris and Berlin are trying to assert their claim to be part of the imperialist occupation of Iraq and the exploitation of its wealth. They are doing this by calling for a central role for the United Nations in the construction of a new regime in Baghdad.
“We are no longer in an era where one or two countries can control the fate of another country”, French President Jacques Chirac said on April 11, in a dig at the US and its British bulldog. “The political, economic, humanitarian, and administrative reconstruction of Iraq is a matter for the United Nations and for it alone”, Chirac added.
Both before and during Iraq’s occupation, Paris has fought to defend the lucrative investment and trade deals built up between French corporations and Saddam Hussein’s capitalist regime. French companies had signed almost 800 contracts to supply parts and equipment for the Iraqi oil industry – second only to those signed by Russian companies. The French-dominated oil company, TotalFinaElf, which is also the world’s fifth largest after Exxon-Mobil, BP, Royal Dutch Shell and Chevron-Texaco, had negotiated deals with the Hussein regime that would have given it control over 25% of Iraq’s huge oil reserves.
These agreements were built on the close political relations between Paris and the Baathist regime going back decades. But most of them were signed under the UN-imposed sanctions regime that began 13 years ago. Paris is now seeking to maintain these deals by insisting that it have a say in the construction of a new regime in Iraq. French representatives have threatened to use their veto in the UN Security Council to maintain the UN “food-for-oil” program, under which sales of Iraqi oil must be approved by the UN, with earnings from these sales being deposited in a UN-controlled account. They hope this will block Washington’s plans to use the income from Iraqi oil sales to fund its occupation of Iraq and the construction of a US-controlled puppet regime.
At an April 8 meeting in Northern Ireland, Bush and British PM Tony Blair made it clear that their imperialist rivals would not elbow their way into a share of the occupation’s spoils. The UN, they declared, would have a “vital role” in supporting the US-installed “interim authority” in Iraq, i.e., distributing some medicine, food and water, plus serving as a “conduit for international contributions” to the US-controlled “reconstruction” effort.
Conflicts between the imperialist powers in Europe have also deepened during the war in Iraq. The European Union was revealed to be anything but unified, as a number of member governments – Britain, Spain, Italy, Portugal, the Netherlands and Denmark – identified their own interests with those of the US rulers’ drive to war.
After dire predictions in the corporate media of his possible downfall, Blair lined up a huge majority of the British parliament behind his war alliance with Washington during a March 19 vote. Blair’s policy has been consistent with the increasingly heavy reliance by the British rulers on their “special relationship” with Washington to defend their global imperialist interests. That relationship dates back to the period following World War II and US President Harry Truman’s 1947 initiation of the Cold War drive to “contain and rollback” the Russian Revolution. In the lead-up to the Cold War, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called for a “special relationship” between London and Washington that would be the core of an imperialist military alliance in Europe, which was inaugurated in 1949 as the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
US post-Cold War strategy
Throughout the Cold War, Washington used its command over NATO to indirectly defend and advance US business interests against its imperialist rivals, who became for all practical purposes US military-political protectorates. However, the end of the Cold War threatened to undermine Washington’s military-political leverage over its European imperialist rivals’ relations with each other and with Russia and the Middle East.
The most urgent task facing the US rulers in the 1990s was how to block Paris and Berlin from becoming the core of an alternative Europe-based military-political centre separate from NATO that would have an independent capacity to project military power toward the Middle East and create an independent European imperialist sphere of military, political and economic influence between Germany and Russia.
These objectives clashed with Berlin’s goal to first bind Germany’s neighbours to it through a political bloc that would underpin the eurozone, and to draw the former Soviet bloc states bordering Germany and Austria into secure relations with Berlin, that would enable it to advance German business interests in these new capitalist countries. Both of these objectives required close co-operation with Paris to strengthen the European Union not simply as an integrated capitalist market and currency zone – which Washington had no objection to since this made it easier for the European subsidiaries of US corporations to expand their operations in Europe – but as a military-political centre independent of Washington’s domination. Since the latter goal has long been an objective of the French imperialist rulers, Berlin’s goals meshed with those of Paris.
Thus from 1991 Paris and Berlin have been headed for confrontations with Washington. Up until Washington began its war drive against Iraq, however, these conflicts were not out in the open. They have instead gone on behind closed doors in NATO, the European Union and other bodies and through maneuvers in the military-political and diplomatic spheres.
Through much of the 1990s they were played out in the various wars that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia. During the succession of Balkan wars in the 1990s, Washington maneuvered to ensure the primacy of NATO, and thus of US control, over imperialist military intervention and imperialist policy into the Balkans.
When the Bush administration came into office in early 2001, it sent a strong warning to the European imperialist governments via the British media that it would vigorously oppose any such development. On January 11, 2001 the London Daily Telegraph published an article based on a briefing it had been given by a top Bush official. Under the headline “President Bush to Europe: It’s No More Mr Nice Guy”, the article made it clear that the European Security and Defence Policy – the independent power project of the European caucus within NATO – was unacceptable. Two weeks later, the London Financial Times’ Washington correspondent spelt out the Bush gang’s attitude toward the ESDP: “A common EU approach in NATO’s councils … is anathema to US foreign policy doctrine. Those close to Mr Bush have made it clear the US will not tolerate an agreed EU approach to NATO questions.”
Under the Bush administration, Washington, in concert with London, has managed to dominate the military-political reintegration of the former Soviet satellites in east-central Europe into the capitalist world market, creating a string of US satellite regimes between Germany and Russia, encouraging their integration into both the EU and NATO as a counterweight to Paris and Berlin’s attempts to transform the EU into an independent military-political centre. In the lead-up to the war against Iraq, all of these new EU and NATO member countries in east-central Europe lined up behind London against Paris and Berlin within the EU and NATO to back Washington’s war. “The centre of gravity [in NATO] is shifting to the east”, crowed US war secretary Donald Rumsfeld in response to these developments, referring to Paris, Berlin and Brussels contemptuously as representing “old Europe”, in contrast to the London-led “new Europe”.
London was conspicuously absent from the short list of countries proposed by the Belgian government to form the core of an EU military force, endorsed by European Commission president Romano Prodi on March 26, five days after the Anglo-American invasion began.
Behind these political conflicts between the imperialist powers is a sharpening of inter-imperialist economic competition in a world capitalist economy characterised by a continuing tendency toward stagnation and weighed down by massive levels of productive overcapacity.
In 2001, the US, the EU and Japan accounted for 72% of world GDP, with the US accounting for 31.5%, the EU 26% and Japan 14.5%.
The Japanese economy has been effectively stagnant for 13 years following the bursting of its 1980s stock market and real estate bubbles, which have left its banking system crippled with massive non-performing debts. For the last 13 years the Japanese economy has oscillated between recessions and upturns that have hardly ever exceeded growth rates of more than 1%. While EU economies have performed better than Japan’s, they too are relatively stagnant. The US economy, which was the driving force behind world economic growth in the 1990s, has begun to exhibit traits of “Japan’s disease” since its late 1990s stock market bubble began collapsing three years ago.
In all three of the major imperialist economies, bourgeois economic analysts are increasingly worried about deflation. Deflation occurs when demand for goods and services stagnates or drops severely and sharpening capitalist competition leads businesses to repeatedly cut prices simply to maintain their market share, leading to a debilitating downward spiral and depression conditions. The last time the US economy, for example, experienced widespread deflation was in the 1930s.
In its latest World Economic Outlook report published a week ago, the International Monetary Fund, after noting that prices in Japan have now fallen for four consecutive years, which is unprecedented for a developed capitalist economy for half a century, warned that: “Persistent deflation is dangerous because it limits monetary policy flexibility, increases real debt burdens, and provides an incentive to delay spending, which reinforces deflation, thus risking a deflationary spiral.” For the umpteenth time, the IMF urged the Japanese government to reestablish inflation.
Downgrading its 2003 economic growth rate prediction for the EU from 2.2% to 1.1%, the report said growth in the EU economies “continued to disappoint in the second half of the year, especially in Germany, and prospects remain lacklustre”. The outlook for business investment in Europe, which has contracted continuously since mid-2002, was described as “tentative” in view of excess capacity and corporate debt.
The IMF was particularly concerned about the German economy, which accounts for around 28% of European GDP. “Germany’s stagnation”, it said, “remains a particular concern, the more so given the dearth of evidence of a turnaround with industrial production, business confidence, and retail sales continuing to slump, and the jobless rate at a three-year high.”
The report warned that the risks of deflation in Germany were greater than elsewhere in the developed world, outside Japan.
Cutting its forecast for US economic growth this year from 2.6% to 2.1%, the IMF observed that in the second half of 2002 the US economy had “failed to sustain the momentum” of the first half, with growth in the fourth quarter “turning very low”. Indeed, in the last quarter of 2002 the US economy grew at an annual rate of only 1.4%, a sharp drop from the 4% growth rate of the previous quarter. The US economy needs to grow by at least 3.5% a year to avoid rising unemployment.
Nevertheless, the IMF predicted that the economic growth rate in the developed economies as a whole would accelerate from an estimated 1.9% this year to 2.9% next year. This prediction is based on its expectation that US economic growth will accelerate to 3.6% next year.
However, the report fails to provide any indication of what the sources of this acceleration will be. It notes that consumer spending encouraged by low interest rates has provided the chief prop for the US economy since it began recovering from the 2001 recession.
But the boost in consumer spending from households refinancing their mortgages at lower interest rates has, the report states, “probably run its course”, adding that “Household spending seems unlikely to provide the same support to activity as in recent years”. In fact, the rate of consumer spending is actually decelerating as unemployment continues to rise in the US.
There is little sign that business spending on new plant and equipment will pick up the slack, given the high levels of unused productive capacity in the US economy. According to the IMF report, there is significant overcapacity “throughout the US economy, including in IT, airline, automobile and energy sectors”.
According to the US Federal Reserve Board, operating capacity in the US industrial sector fell from 75.3% in February to 74.8% in March, the lowest reading since December 2001. Industrial output fell by 0.1% in February and by 0.5% in March. The decline in output was widespread, and included production of automobiles, household electronics, appliances, furniture, machinery, metal and wood products.
Commenting on these figures, an April 15 Canadian Press wire service report from Washington noted: “Profit-pressed businesses and battered manufacturers have been reluctant to make big investments in capital projects or in hiring, a major factor restraining economic growth. Since falling into recession in 2001, the economy has been struggling to get back on firmer footing. Instead, it has been suffering through a pattern of uneven economic growth, with a quarter of strength followed by a quarter of weakness.”
An article which is to be run in the April 28 issue of Newsweek magazine observes that the “United States, which has been haunted by the nightmare of deflation since its stock and internet bubbles started popping in early 2000, is particularly vulnerable now that growth has slowed”. The article observed that the “outlook for inflation is lower than when companies borrowed to expand in the 1990s, which means that it will be more expensive to repay than they had expected” and this is why the Moody’s credit rating agency has been downgrading the credit worthiness of so many companies. It quotes John Lonski, the chief economist at Moody’s credit rating company, as saying: “I don’t want to see inflation go any lower. The risk of deflation in the US economy is greater than at any time since at least 1950.”
The Newsweek article points out: “The US Federal Reserve has been eyeing Japan, which has been subject to the wealth-destroying effect of deflation since its stock and real estate markets crashed in the early 1990s, and Fed governors have made clear their commitment to stave off a similar scenario in America.”
“But”, adds Newsweek, “competition in the global economy is now so intense that companies are rapidly losing the power to raise prices.”
Changing balance of economic power
For nearly two decades, the US economy has depended on foreign capitalists, mainly from the other imperialist nations, financing its accumulating external debt, which is now around $2.7 trillion, greater than the foreign debt of all underdeveloped countries combined, and continues to grow by $1.9 billion a day. This has produced a changing relationship of economic power within the imperialist triad – the US, the EU and Japan – reflected in a change in their ruling class’s relative share of world economic assets. A measure of the latter is the accumulated stock each has of foreign direct investment (FDI).
The US capitalist class, with about $1.4 trillion accumulated FDI – 21% of the world’s total – is still dominant, followed by Britain with 14.4%, France with 7.87% and Germany with 7.84%. A decade of economic stagnation has cut Japan’s share of accumulated world FDI from 11% in 1990 to 4.6%.
Together the capitalists of the EU hold 52% of accumulated FDI – two and a half times as much as the US capitalists. In 1980 they had almost equal shares. It is thus no surprise that the French and German
capitalists want to see the EU create a military force that is independent of US control and can independently defend European imperialist interests on the global stage.
The US invasion of Iraq and its contemptuous disregard for other imperialist ruling class’s economic interests there emphasised the fact that no imperialist ruling class can afford to allow a chasm to exist between its international economic power and its ability to use military force aboard to defend its economic interests against its competitors. But the war also revealed the limits of European imperialist integration, exposing the fact that greater European economic integration has failed to translate into a “common European” imperialist foreign policy. Instead, the rival national capitalist classes in the EU were propelled toward defending their separate interests, whatever their common stake in a trading bloc competing against the US and Japanese capitalists.
Japan stands to be the biggest loser from the Iraq war among the major imperialist powers. It is the most dependent upon imported oil with 70% of its supply coming from the Persian Gulf region (compared to about 15% for the US and 38% for France). Japan is thus the most vulnerable to Washington’s use of the “oil weapon” in inter-imperialist conflict.
Sooner or later, Tokyo will have to start to follow the course Paris and Berlin have embarked upon of being able to use their military forces within the semi-colonial world independently of US control, challenging Washington’s grand strategy for a “New American Century” in which all the other imperialist powers are to be simply military vassals in the service of US imperialist domination over the Third World.
The ensuing political conflicts among the imperialist powers – as was already revealed by the lead-up to the US invasion of Iraq – will generate big political battles and mass anti-war mobilisations within the imperialist nations in which the class-conscious vanguard of the working class movement can intervene into to win larger and larger numbers of working people to a political course that promotes the defence of their interests independent of the policy of any wing of the capitalist rulers. It is along that line of march that the working-class vanguard can advance the class-consciousness and organisation of their class and put itself in a position to wrest the war-making powers out of the hands of the imperialist rulers, which is ultimately the only way to put an end to the threat and actuality of war.
– The Activist was as the internal discussion bulletin of the Democratic Socialist Party