Blowback in Iraq
Drive Out the Imperialists—By Any Means Necessary!
The U.S. “liberation” of Iraq, trumpeted by the invaders as heralding a golden age of prosperity and democracy in the region, was seen for what it was by the overwhelming majority of the world: a brutal colonial rape. Crippled by twelve years of UN starvation sanctions, Iraq was subjected to an unprovoked, “pre-emptive” attack by the world’s most powerful military machine, whose budget is greater than the 30 next largest militaries combined. An ad on MoveOn.org, a liberal American web site, aptly observed: “What were war crimes in 1945 is foreign policy in 2003.”
The seizure of Iraq was an important step in an attempt to employ America’s unquestionable military superiority to assert its supremacy within the imperialist world order. Oil is a crucial strategic resource, and Iraq has the world’s second largest proven reserves—nearly 11 percent of the total. The U.S. claims a “vital interest” in the Persian Gulf, even though it obtains a mere five percent of its oil from the region—with Japan and the European Union accounting for most of the rest. Control of Middle East oil is “vital” for the American ruling class chiefly because it gives the U.S. a decisive advantage over its imperialist rivals. The main objective of the intervention in Iraq was spelled out in a September 2000 document by the “Project for the New American Century” cabal that included Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy, Paul Wolfowitz:
“Indeed, the United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”
—“Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century”
Cynically wielding the victims of the 11 September 2001 criminal attack on the World Trade Center, the U.S. military and its allies easily toppled Afghanistan’s Islamic fundamentalist Taliban government and installed their own puppet, Hamid Karzai, as nominal ruler. The conquest of Afghanistan provided a pretext for the creation of American bases in Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan through which the U.S. hopes to limit Russian power in the region, exert control over the oil deposits of the Caspian Basin and prepare a noose for China. The campaign against Iraq provided a similar opportunity to establish a string of permanent military installations in the Persian Gulf.
American imperial ambitions may be unlimited but, as is increasingly obvious, there are real constraints on the capacity to pursue them. The German and French imperialists, who cast themselves as pacifist opponents of the brutish, uncivilized Americans in the run-up to the attack, were only concerned about the repercussions of a tighter U.S. grip on the Middle East. Their refusal to go along with the White House encouraged smaller imperialist allies (e.g., Canada) and neo-colonial vassals (e.g., Turkey) to defy the world’s only superpower. In the end, the “coalition of the willing” included only two partners (Britain and Australia) that made significant military contributions. Both did so in anticipation of future pay-offs in oil concessions, trade agreements and access to the American market.
Today, Saddam is in chains and there are 125,000 U.S. troops in Iraq. But the world is proving too large and complicated to be successfully micromanaged from Donald Rumsfeld’s office in the Pentagon. What was supposed to be a relatively painless acquisition of some lucrative oil assets is turning into a mess, as the subjugated Iraqis, particularly in the “Sunni Triangle,” refuse to simply roll over. Most people on the planet (including tens of millions of Americans) recognize that the U.S. occupation of Iraq has nothing to do with “freedom” and “human rights” for Iraqis or self-defense against the Ba’athist regime’s non-existent “weapons of mass destruction.”
The transparent lies pushed by Bush Jr. about the “danger” that Iraq posed to the U.S. were cooked up a dozen years earlier when his father was preparing public opinion for “Operation Desert Storm,” following Saddam Hussein’s ill-fated occupation of Kuwait in August 1990. Bush Sr. was eager to seize the opportunity this presented to establish a permanent U.S. military presence in the Gulf, using the pretext of “defending” Saudi Arabia. Hussein, a long-time U.S. asset, was suddenly demonized as a “new Hitler.” But important sections of the American bourgeoisie were doubtful about the wisdom of attacking Iraq, and as the autumn wore on, popular support for the venture steadily shrank. Eventually, Bush the Elder stumbled upon Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction,” as the New York Times recounted at the time:
“The Administration’s inability to make a compelling argument for a possible war was reflected in a plunge of 19 percentage points [from August to November 1990] in the public’s confidence that it understood the aims.
“Out of three possible reasons for fighting—restoring the Government of Kuwait and defending Saudi Arabia, protecting oil reserves, and stopping Mr. Hussein from developing nuclear weapons—majorities of 56 and 62 percent, respectively, rejected the first two reasons as not being good enough. But 54 percent accepted the third as a potent justification.
“This result was intriguing because…the Administration has not been emphasizing the nuclear threat….
“But the President’s poll takers have begun to realize that hitting harder at the nuclear issue may be a way of capturing the sustained public support that has eluded the Administration so far. Marking a change in tactics, President Bush inserted a line about the issue in a speech in Germany this weekend.”
—New York Times, 20 November 1990
After the “Desert Storm” victory in 1991, Bush Sr. and Cheney (then defense secretary) decided not to topple the Ba’athist regime. This provided a pretext for maintaining a large-scale U.S. military presence in the region. They calculated that UN sanctions would eventually create enough domestic pressure to remove Saddam’s regime, and replace it with a more pliable alternative. While this turned out to be overly optimistic, the elder Bush’s description of the pitfalls of an occupation was remarkably prescient:
“To occupy Iraq would instantly shatter our coalition, turning the whole Arab world against us and make a broken tyrant into a latter-day Arab hero. . .assigning young soldiers to a fruitless hunt for a securely entrenched dictator and condemning them to fight in what would be an unwinnable urban guerrilla war. It could only plunge that part of the world into even greater instability….”
—A World Transformed, George Bush Sr., 1998
Iraqi Defensism vs. Social Pacifism
Despite the brutal and oppressive nature of Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship, the international workers’ movement had a vital interest in militarily defending Iraq. Leon Trotsky explained why in 1938:
“In Brazil there now reigns a semifascist regime that every revolutionary can only view with hatred. Let us assume, however, that on the morrow England enters into a military conflict with Brazil. I ask you on whose side of the conflict will the working class be? I will answer for myself personally—in this case I will be on the side of ‘fascist’ Brazil against ‘democratic’ Great Britain. Why? Because in the conflict between them it will not be a question of democracy or fascism. If England should be victorious, she will put another fascist in Rio de Janeiro and will place double chains on Brazil. If Brazil on the contrary should be victorious, it will give a mighty impulse to national and democratic consciousness of the country and will lead to the overthrow of the Vargas dictatorship. The defeat of England will at the same time deliver a blow to British imperialism and will give an impulse to the revolutionary movement of the British proletariat.”
—“Anti-Imperialist Struggle Is Key To Liberation,” 23 September 1938
The central slogan of the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) in the mass anti-war demonstrations of 2003 was “Defend Iraq Against Imperialist Attack!” This contrasted sharply with most of our leftist opponents, who concentrated on “popularizing” what was already popular: pacifist neutrality. The various “peace coalitions” cobbled together by supposed Marxists, and politically dominated by clerics, social democrats, labor bureaucrats and liberals, constituted an obstacle to the development of anti-imperialist consciousness among the millions of ordinary people who opposed the war.
In Britain, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), the animator of the “Stop the War Coalition” (StWC), made an overt appeal to Christian pacifists on the front page of its paper: “Across the world this Christmas: Peace on earth? …not if Bush gets his way” (Socialist Worker, 21 December 2002). Marxists want a world without war, but we do not shrink from telling working people that the only way to get one is to rid the planet of the cancer of capitalism and replace it with a socialist planned economy.
The Ligue communiste révolutionnaire (LCR—flagship of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International) played a key role in organizing anti-war demonstrations in France. Acknowledging that the French, German and Russian rulers’ “opposition to the war led by the United States was motivated solely by rival interests in this region of the world” (Rouge, 17 April 2003), the LCR also explicitly criticized the social democrats, Greens and Stalinists who endorsed French president Jacques Chirac’s refusal to enlist in Bush’s campaign:
“The various leaders of the parties of the parliamentary left aligned themselves with Chirac. He ‘was right to oppose this war,’ affirmed Jack Lang in the 13 April Journal du Dimanche. ‘My own position, and that of France, was always, “let’s push a diplomatic solution right to the end”…I think we were right…,’ adds Fabius. Others advised Chirac not to give in. Like Mélenchon, who says he must ‘hold out’ or Dominique Voynet, who encourages him to ‘remain firm in his positions’…
“In reality, the leaders of the parliamentary left aligned themselves with Chirac and Villepin because they all defend the interests of French businesses….”
This was all true enough, but only a month earlier, on the eve of the U.S. assault on Iraq, the LCR was itself applauding the French government’s refusal at the UN to support the American invasion:
“France and Russia have initiated a turning point in post-Cold War international relations by announcing that they would use their veto to oppose any UN resolution resorting to force [in Iraq]. Let’s not beat around the bush: anything that thwarts Mr. Bush’s bellicose undertakings is worthwhile. Moreover, it’s the reason why, with the one hundred organizations from the French anti-war coalition, we demanded that our rulers make good on their promises by using every means at their disposal.”
—Rouge, 13 March 2003
In September 2002 (a few months after calling for a vote to Chirac in the second round of the presidential election) the LCR and the British SWP signed a joint statement with various other leftists and liberals that promoted the illusion that the European imperialists can be pressured into pacifism:
“Those who show solidarity with the people of Iraq have no hearing in the White House. But we do have the chance to influence European governments—many of whom have opposed the war. We call on all the European heads of state to publicly stand against this war, whether it has UN backing or not, and to demand that George Bush abandon his war plans”
—Rouge, 19 September 2002
This abject lesser-evilism, so characteristic of “socialist” reformists, typified the utopian popular-frontist illusions pushed by the “revolutionaries” who provided the organizational muscle for the anti-war mobilizations. Trotskyists counterpose the defense of Iraq to both the flabby bourgeois pacifism of the SWP, LCR et al., and the pseudo-leftist neutrality of anarchists who advocate a plague on both houses.
‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’— Naked Colonialism
The U.S. attack was launched on 19 March 2003 with a barrage intended to “shock and awe” the population of Baghdad. The next day, tens of thousands of American and British invaders flooded into Iraq. Over the following few weeks, coalition forces bombarded Iraq with 750 Tomahawk cruise missiles and 12,000 “precision-guided munitions,” killing thousands of civilians. Iraqi military resistance initially proved considerably stiffer than anticipated. Umm Qasr, a small city just north of the Kuwaiti border, held out for five days. Basra, a lightly defended, predominantly Shiite city, with a reputation for hostility to the Ba’athists, was supposed to be an easy victory. However, it took a week of intense fighting for it to fall. The struggle was fiercer still in Nasiriyah, which was not captured for more than two weeks. Yet once U.S. forces reached Baghdad, resistance quickly collapsed, and by 9 April 2003 American soldiers were pulling down Hussein’s statue in Firdos Square.
Vice President Dick Cheney confidently expected that U.S. troops would be welcomed as “liberators,” but that is not how most Iraqis saw things. Thirty-five of Baghdad’s 38 hospitals were closed, and much of the country was left without water and electricity, resulting in outbreaks of cholera and other debilitating diseases. Looters were allowed to sack Iraq’s national museum and library, as the “liberators” looked on impassively. The only things the colonial gendarmes had been instructed to protect were the Ministry of Oil and the country’s refineries.
In mid-April 2003, U.S. Brigadier General Robert Crear ceremoniously opened an oil spigot in Basra and declared: “Now we’re in the oil business.” The nakedly predatory character of the entire enterprise was highlighted in a report by the Wall Street Journal (1 May 2003) that BearingPoint Inc. had been given a one-year contract worth almost $80 million to organize a “broad-based Mass Privatization Program” of state-owned industries and services in Iraq. Hundreds of foreign firms (mainly American) lined up for the projected fire sale of Iraqi assets, expecting to profit handsomely from the further impoverishment of the already destitute country.
French, German and Russian companies were to be excluded from the plunder, but even Washington’s Australian and British janissaries were soon grumbling about their meager share of “reconstruction” goodies. After a fruitless trade mission to the U.S. in May 2003, Leigh Purnell, the executive director of the Australian Industries Group, complained: “If we are going to commit Australian troops and resources with their lives at risk, we would like to think that would be translated into more than just nice sounding words.” Gordon Page, chairman of Cobham PLC, a British aerospace company, sourly commented: “There hasn’t been a payback.”
Iraqis Resist Imperialist Occupation
The imperialist lolly scramble was not only undignified—it also turned out to be rather premature. The 28 December 2003 Wall Street Journal reported that: “Plans to privatize state-owned businesses…have been dropped over the past few months” because of resistance activity:
“[U.S. gauleiter Paul] Bremer’s chief economic adviser over the summer, Peter McPherson, advocated a speedy move toward privatization….
“But as resistance attacks grew more intense, security worries quickly trumped economic ambitions in Bremer’s office. No one wanted to do anything that would increase the number of jobless Iraqis who might be recruited to fight the occupation. Practical concerns also surfaced: the closure of Baghdad’s airport to commercial flights meant few investors could travel to Iraq.”
The extent of Iraqi opposition following Bush’s 2 May 2003 declaration of “victory” stunned the Pentagon war-gamers. But not everyone was surprised:
“‘When it is over, if it is over, this war will have horrible consequences,’ were the ominous words from Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian President, yesterday. ‘Instead of having one Osama bin Laden, we will have 100 Bin Ladens.’”
—Independent (London), 1 April 2003
The motivations of the resistance fighters do not seem particularly difficult to fathom, as John V. Whitbeck observed:
“If the United States were conquered and occupied by Arab armies which announced their intention to stay for years and to restructure the country’s government and economy along Islamic lines, would no Americans resist, not even ‘hardcore Bush loyalists’ or ‘Republican Party remnants’?”
—Arab News, 10 July 2003
The heavy-handed behavior of the occupation forces fueled popular anger from the outset. On 15 April 2003, U.S. Marines opened fire on a demonstration of about 150 civilians in Mosul, killing ten and injuring dozens more. Nine days later, U.S. troops killed another ten people in the same city. When marchers protesting these outrages stopped in front of the 82nd Airborne Division headquarters in Fallujah, U.S. soldiers again opened fire, killing two and injuring 14. Shortly afterwards, messages written in both English and Arabic began to appear, reading “Go Out From Our City. If Refuse We Will Kill You. Because You Are Come Here For Petrol Not for Freedom” (Observer (London), 4 May 2003).
As time went on the demonstrations grew in frequency and size:
“Massive and increasingly angry marches have been taking place throughout Iraq—including the British- occupied south—often triggered by local issues, such as the imposition of mayors. Figureheads appointed by the US and British in Basra, Karbala and Najaf have been assassinated. Fury has been mounting at the hundreds of Iraqis killed by the occupation forces since the fall of Baghdad—on top of the thousands killed in the war itself.”
—Guardian (London), 26 June 2003
The Western media (particularly in the U.S.) usually ignored cases of coalition forces firing on defenseless demonstrators. When such incidents were reported, the official lies about “self-defense” were given prominence. The increasingly successful attacks on U.S. forces, their quislings and the oil and gas pipelines that were supposed to help finance the occupation were more difficult to ignore. Soon “Operation Iraqi Freedom” had morphed into “Operation Desert Scorpion,” as thousands of American stormtroopers staged midnight raids in towns and villages across the country, kicking in doors, terrifying families and carting off hundreds of “suspects.” The New York Times (14 June 2003) reported one incident in which U.S. tanks and Apache helicopters attacked the small Shiite village of Al Hir, killing a 70-year-old grandfather, his three sons and one of his grandchildren. An elderly female relative of the victims, who said she had previously supported Bush, exclaimed: “I will not forgive him. They were so young, they had children, they had never committed any crime. He has leveled our family.”
Civilian complaints of hundreds of similar “mistakes” were routinely brushed aside with callous indifference. When five members of a single family were recklessly gunned down on 27 July 2003 at a U.S. checkpoint in a residential neighborhood of Baghdad, Lieutenant-General Ricardo Sanchez commented, “Apologies are not something that we have as a normal procedure in the military processes”—at least when no American lives are lost.
The situation had deteriorated so far by late summer that even the servile U.S. media began to admit that resistance to the occupation extended far beyond a small coterie of Hussein loyalists. On 19 August, a truck bomb at the United Nations headquarters in Baghdad killed at least 20 people, including the head of the mission, and wounded more than 40. The master hypocrites who run the imperialist media’s spin machine feigned outrage that anyone would attack a “humanitarian” institution like the UN—conveniently overlooking the fact that the first imperialist assault on Iraq in 1991, which the Medical Educational Trust estimated to have killed more than 200,000 Iraqis, had flown the flag of the UN. For a dozen years afterwards, the UN administered a barbaric sanctions program against Iraq that resulted in well over a million Iraqi deaths, many of them children. In addition to the UN, the Iraqi fighters have carried out a series of successful strikes against other imperialist auxiliaries, like the Jordanian embassy and the quisling Iraqi police.
To combat the Iraqi resistance, the U.S. is openly borrowing tactics from the Zionist tormentors of the Palestinians:
“Underlying the new strategy, the Americans say, is the conviction that only a tougher approach will quell the insurgency and that the new strategy must punish not just the guerrillas but also make clear to ordinary Iraqis the cost of not cooperating.
“‘You have to understand the Arab mind,’ Capt. Todd Brown, a company commander with the Fourth Infantry Division, said as he stood outside gates of Abu Hishma. ‘The only thing they understand is force—force, pride and saving face.’”
—New York Times, 7 December 2003
The U.S. locked down the village of Abu Hishma after an American patrol was attacked:
“Two and a half weeks [after a successful attack on a U.S. armored personnel carrier], the town of Abu Hishma is enclosed in a barbed wire fence that stretches for five miles. Men ages 18 to 65 have been ordered to get identification cards. There is only [one] way into the town and one way out.”
The occupiers describe imprisoning the villagers as “protection”:
“‘This fence is here for your protection,’ reads the sign posted in front of the barbed-wire fence. ‘Do not approach or try to cross, or you will be shot.’”
The area commander summed up the strategy:
“‘With a heavy dose of fear and violence, and a lot of money for projects, I think we can convince these people that we are here to help them,’ Colonel Sassaman said.”
But the U.S. has been unable to establish a monopoly on the “fear and violence.” Imperialist financial and technical superiority provide substantial advantages, but do not guarantee omnipotence, as Paul Wolfowitz, a leading administration chicken-hawk, discovered last October when a rocket narrowly missed him in the Al-Rasheed Hotel in Baghdad.
Lebanon 1983, Somalia 1993, Iraq 2004: Blows Against the Empire
The successes scored by the Iraqi resistance have recalled earlier U.S. failures—particularly humiliations in Lebanon in 1983 and Somalia a decade later. In both situations, indigenous forces managed to overcome an enormous disproportion in brute firepower by playing to their strengths—a sympathetic population in which to hide, a superior knowledge of local conditions and terrain and a greater willingness to make the sacrifices necessary to prevail. On the eve of “Operation Iraqi Freedom,” the leading organ of British finance capital recalled an earlier defeat:
“Given the fearsomely fissile ethnic, tribal, religious and political patchwork in Iraq, the US should remember its bloody experience in Lebanon in 1983-84. Initially welcomed as peacemakers, American forces ended up being treated as just another militia and got bombed out of Beirut. Mishandled, Iraq has the violent capacity of many Lebanons.”
—Financial Times (London), 18 March 2003
Frank Gaffney, president of the neo-conservative Center for Security Policy, in Washington D.C., wrote:
“The enemy…has a clear strategy: Bleed the United States to the point where the American people and/or their elected representatives feel compelled to abandon Iraq….
“Inevitably, some will suggest that the death of roughly a score of Americans in the Chinook blown out of the sky last weekend, should be a tipping point—like the loss of the ill-fated Blackhawk helicopter in Mogadishu a decade ago. Call it the “Chinook Down” syndrome. That is, of course, precisely the hope of Saddam loyalists and their imported, Islamist allies.”
—National Post (Toronto), 4 November 2003
Like the earlier failed interventions in Somalia and Lebanon, the current U.S. occupation lacks popular support at home. This can magnify the impact of casualties, and lead to the rapid growth of defeatist moods within the ruling class and the population at large.
In 1983 when Islamic fundamentalists in Beirut eliminated almost three hundred U.S. Marines and French paratroopers with a pair of truck bombs, a bourgeois consensus rapidly developed in favor of pulling out before more damage could be inflicted. Revolutionaries welcomed this setback for the colonial oppressors and were glad to see the imperialist garrisons depart. Our slogan at the time was: “Imperialists Out of Lebanon—By Any Means Necessary!” The formerly-Trotskyist Spartacist League (SL), by contrast, took a social-patriotic dive, calling to save the surviving U.S. Marines (see Trotskyist Bulletin No. 2). This squarely contradicted Lenin’s injunction that:
“‘In every country the struggle against one’s own government, which is conducting an imperialist war, must not stop short of revolutionary agitation for the defeat of that country.’ This is precisely what the line of the so-called theory of ‘defeatism’ involves.”
—Leon Trotsky, “Lenin and Imperialist War,” 30 December 1938
In Afghanistan in 2001, the SL once again flinched and claimed: “the call for a U.S. military defeat is, at this time, illusory and the purest hot air and ‘revolutionary’ phrasemongering” (Workers Vanguard, 9 November 2001). The U.S. military overwhelmed the Afghan Taliban regime and its Islamist allies, but today in Afghanistan, as in Iraq, the occupation forces and the puppet governments they support face a resurgent resistance movement. The imperialists and their vassals barely control Kabul, the Taliban are increasingly active in the south and the rest of the country is held by rival warlords who are a law unto themselves. The conflict in Afghanistan is not yet over, despite the demoralized speculation by the SL and other pseudo-revolutionaries who proclaimed that resistance to the imperialist Leviathan was hopeless.
The once-revolutionary Spartacist tendency today determines its political line on the basis of expediency and short-term organizational advantage, rather than Marxist principle. Bush’s predatory assault on Iraq was, for Leninists, qualitatively the same as the earlier attack on Afghanistan, although it was considerably less popular. The cowardly SL leaders calculated that over Iraq they had enough cover to once again be associated with the position they had denounced a year and a half earlier as the “purest hot air and ‘revolutionary’ phrasemongering”:
“It is in the class interest of the international proletariat to clearly take a side in defense of Iraq without giving any political support to the bloody Saddam Hussein regime. Every victory for the U.S. imperialists can only encourage further military adventures. In turn, every humiliation, every setback, every defeat they suffer will serve to assist the struggles of working people and the oppressed around the globe.”
—“Statement of the Political Bureau of the Spartacist League/U.S.,” Workers Vanguard, 28 March 2003
For reasons best known to themselves, Jan Norden and the other former SLers of the Internationalist Group (IG), who shared our criticism of Workers Vanguard’s cowardly dive on Afghanistan, have insisted that during the U.S. invasion of Iraq the SL again “refused to raise the Leninist call for defeat of ‘its own’ imperialist bourgeoisie” (The Internationalist, May-June 2003). This is simply not the case, as the SL Political Bureau statement demonstrates. The IG also reported: “SL members continually defend their organization’s abandonment of the call to defeat their ‘own’ bourgeoisie by arguing that Iraq does not have the military means to defeat the U.S. imperialists…” (The Internationalist, October- November 2003). This is believable enough—we have certainly found the SL membership to be thoroughly confused by the abrupt zigging and zagging on revolutionary defeatism. The SL leadership is in the habit of substituting internal administrative pressure for political consciousness, and generally avoids any honest accounting of its errors. This preserves the prestige of the leading clique at the cost of confusing its increasingly politically incoherent rank and file.
While the IG has taken an essentially correct position on both Afghanistan and Iraq, it has yet to repudiate the SL’s shameful 1983 flinch on Lebanon. Yet the parallels between Lebanon two decades ago and Iraq today are so obvious that they have frequently been pointed to in the bourgeois press. For example, on the 20 th anniversary of the Beirut barracks bombing, Lawrence Pintak of the Detroit Free Press wrote:
“For anyone with a sense of history, the recent suicide bombings in Iraq carry with them haunting memories of the Oct. 23, 1983, destruction of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, Lebanon, which claimed the lives of 243 U.S. Marines and sailors, and similar attacks on two U.S. embassies in that city.
. . .
“‘In the past, the terrorists have cited the examples of Beirut and Somalia, claiming that if you inflict harm on Americans, we will run from a challenge,’ President George W. Bush told the nation in his September 2003 speech. ‘In this, they are mistaken.’
“The lessons of history tell a different story. America’s brief encounter with Lebanon lasted less than two years. But it was long enough to show the world that a handful of men and women with a few hundred pounds of explosives and a willingness to sacrifice their lives could bring a superpower to its knees. The anti-American militants have learned their lessons well; the same cannot be said for inhabitants of the White House.”
—Detroit Free Press, 23 October 2003
The Iraqi “terrorists” and “loyalist remnants” are now commonly referred to as “resistance fighters” by the U.S. media. American soldiers are no longer “liberators,” but “occupiers” and the term “quagmire” is used a lot more frequently than “victory.” Television viewers are becoming used to images of jubilant crowds dancing around smoldering Humvees and proudly displaying wreckage from downed helicopters. When U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell appeared on the NBC program “Meet the Press” in October 2003, he admitted: “We’ll have to get the security situation under control…we didn’t expect it to be quite this intense, this long.”
Much of the American bourgeoisie is concerned that “pacifying” Iraq is likely to interfere with the pursuit of more vital interests. This sentiment is reflected in Democratic Party attacks on Bush for squandering resources on Iraq that could be better spent on the “War on Terror.” The Democrats also criticize Bush’s unilateralist foreign policy for depriving the U.S. of the “legitimacy” of the UN. The Democrats are, of course, just as committed to U.S. control of the Middle East as their Republican twins—they just have tactical differences over how to obtain it.
National Liberation and Social Revolution
While the Iraqi resistance has scored some spectacular hits, and is making the occupation costlier than the Pentagon planners had hoped, the U.S. is not under any serious military pressure at present. But morale, measured by re-enlistment rates, is beginning to sag, largely as a result of the unexpectedly long deployments. All the contradictions of racist American capitalism are present in the U.S. military, and particularly the army. The callous indifference of the American ruling class toward its praetorians was highlighted by the Pentagon’s attempt to charge wounded U.S. soldiers for their hospital meals. Many members of the U.S. occupation army, which is overwhelmingly working-class and disproportionately black and Latino, have expressed serious reservations about what they are being called on to do in Iraq. That is a positive development that is largely attributable to the effectiveness of the Iraqi resistance.
The U.S. ruling class cares little for those who do its dirty work, but it is concerned about optics. Popular support for the conquest of Iraq was shallow from the beginning, particularly among the minority of Americans who understood that there was no connection between Saddam and either “9/11” or Al Qaeda. It is likely to melt away over time if a steady trickle of U.S. personnel keep getting sent home in “transfer tubes.” The occupation is severely straining the American military and the Pentagon is increasingly forced to dispatch lightly-trained reservists. The failure of the U.S. to get the upper hand in Iraq has discouraged other countries from contributing troops or sharing the costs of the occupation, while also emboldening the Afghan resistance.
While siding militarily with the Iraqi resistance against the imperialist army, we do not close our eyes to the anti-working class character of the former Ba’athist dictatorship, nor to the profoundly reactionary character of the Islamic fundamentalists who target liquor shops and cinemas as well as Christians and other minorities. Many Iraqi women, accustomed to Western dress under the secular Ba’athist regime, now feel pressure to don the headscarf because of the growing influence of Islamic reactionaries.
The relative popularity of the Ba’athists and Islamists is the bitter fruit of earlier betrayals by the Iraqi Communist Party (ICP) in the 1950s. At that time, the ICP had a mass following in the working class, was hegemonic on the campuses, had substantial support from peasant organizations, and was even influential within the officer corps. It also commanded the allegiance of oppressed national and ethnic minorities, including Kurds and Jews. In 1956 Walter Laqueur observed:
“Since that time [1947-49 when the Communist Party was crushed] the Iraqi regime has been one of scarcely veiled dictatorship and wholly reactionary in its outlook; it has been neither able nor willing to carry out sweeping social and political reforms. Petty intrigues and feudal vested interests have prevailed over the urgent necessity to act for the benefit of the nation. As a result, the government has antagonized most of the population, including the entire middle class, which is now willing to make common cause with the Communist fronts in order to overthrow the hated autocracy. The parallel with Czarist Russia is uncomfortably obvious.”
—Communism and Nationalism in the Middle East
Two years later the revolutionary explosion Laqueur anticipated took place. U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower was so concerned by the prospect of a wave of proletarian revolution originating in Baghdad that he dispatched 10,000 U.S. Marines to Lebanon to prepare for an invasion of Iraq. Yet instead of mobilizing the working class to seize power, the Moscow-loyal ICP threw its support behind the nationalist wing of the Iraqi bourgeoisie headed by Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim. Sacrificing working-class interests in pursuit of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism, the Kremlin had instructed the ICP leadership to avoid provoking Qasim. The timidity of the ICP in the revolutionary crisis of 1958 demobilized the working class and emboldened its enemies.
The 14 March 2003 New York Times noted: “Forty years ago, the Central Intelligence Agency, under President John F. Kennedy, conducted its own regime change in Baghdad, carried out in collaboration with Saddam Hussein.” In the aftermath of the coup against Qasim, Hussein, then a 25-year-old Ba’athist intelligence official, was actively involved in the liquidation of an estimated 5,000 ICP members and the imprisonment and torture of many others. But these crimes are unlikely to be among those Hussein faces at his upcoming kangaroo court trial.
The ICP’s 1958 betrayal discredited socialism and Marxism within the Iraqi workers’ movement. Today, these traitors have joined the American puppet “Governing Council” and condemn the resistance to the imperialist occupation as “the main threat to society’s security and progress.” The absence of any revolutionary alternative has made it easy for the reactionary, anti-proletarian Islamic fundamentalists to pose as serious anti-imperialist fighters and gain support within one of the traditionally most secular Arab societies.
While their influence is growing, the Islamists are far from hegemonic. With the Ba’athist boot removed and the American gendarmes tied up fighting the guerrillas, there has been a resurgence of trade-union activity at the grass-roots level, and some significant strike actions. In this situation a small revolutionary organization rooted in Iraq’s combative working class, prepared to champion the rights of Iraq’s oppressed ethnic and religious minorities, to fight for women’s equality and to stand for the strict separation of mosque and state could grow rapidly.
What is critical is to link the fight for national liberation to the struggle for social revolution (i.e., the expropriation of foreign and domestic capital) as the only way that Iraqi working people can free themselves from neo-colonial servitude. Imperialist propaganda about “freedom and democracy” stands in stark contrast to the brutal reality of foreign military occupation. A revolutionary organization in Iraq would attempt to intersect the democratic yearnings of the plebeian masses by putting forward a demand for a constituent assembly elected by universal suffrage. This demand cuts simultaneously against the imperialists, Islamists and Ba’athist bonapartists. The occupation authorities fear that such an elementary democratic measure would lead to the breakup of Iraq along ethnic and religious lines, which in turn might destabilize other imperialist client states in the region. But the workers’ movement has nothing to fear from such a development—if the Shiites in the south or the Kurds in the north wish to separate, Marxists defend their right to do so.
Next Targets for ‘Regime Change’— Syria, Iran, North Korea, Cuba
Immediately after the premature declaration of a U.S./British “victory,” the Bush administration began threatening Syria, claiming it was hiding Iraq’s non-existent “weapons of mass destruction.” The intensity of Iraqi resistance has forced the U.S. to temporarily shelve any plans for attacking Syria, although Washington’s tacit approval of Israel’s October 2003 air strike on a site ten miles north of Damascus makes it clear that the regime of Bashar al-Assad remains in the imperialist cross-hairs. Iran has also faced escalating threats from the U.S., with allegations of “weapons of mass destruction” again providing the pretext. Bush has openly advocated “regime change” in Tehran, and the U.S. military is now heavily deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan on Iran’s eastern and western flanks. At the moment the U.S. has its hands full in both countries, but Iran remains high on the Pentagon’s hit list.
The U.S. administration’s appetite for confrontation with the North Korean deformed workers’ state, which is openly listed in Washington’s “Nuclear Posture Review” as a potential target for an American nuclear first strike, is particularly ominous. The U.S. feigns outrage that the North Koreans dare assert a right to develop, produce and test nuclear weapons for self-defense, though American plans for a “missile defense system” in the Pacific are intended to facilitate a pre-emptive strike against the North Korean and/or Chinese deformed workers’ states. North Korea’s offer to dismantle its nuclear deterrent in exchange for a worthless non-aggression pact with the U.S. (which Bush has thus far refused) is foolish and very dangerous.
In North Korea, as in China, capitalism has been overthrown, the bourgeoisie expropriated and private property collectivized. These achievements represent real gains for the working class that must be unconditionally defended against capitalist restoration. Revolutionaries therefore defend North Korea’s right to possess nuclear weapons, despite its truly bizarre, nepotistic ruling bureaucracy. In North Korea, and other deformed workers’ states, the task of the proletariat is not to destroy the social foundations of the system—nationalized property—but rather to politically expropriate the parasitic bureaucratic caste and institute a regime of democratic workers’ rule.
Cuba, another deformed workers’ state, is also on the U.S. “Nuclear Posture Review” list of potential targets for a nuclear first strike. The Bush administration has floated ludicrous claims that Cuba’s advanced health-care system—made possible by its collectivized economy—is being used to produce biological weapons. In fact, the U.S. has the world’s largest biological war program, which it cynically insists exists purely for defensive purposes. The American bourgeoisie yearns to destroy the gains of the Cuban Revolution and reclaim the Caribbean’s largest island as a neo-colony. It is the duty of all class-conscious workers to unconditionally defend Cuba and all the remaining deformed workers’ states against imperialist aggression.
Working people and minorities in the U.S. are forced to pay for the imperial adventures abroad with union-busting, racist scapegoating and a wholesale assault on elementary democratic rights. Every setback the U.S. rulers suffer over- seas strengthens the position of American working people and the oppressed, just as every success for the capitalist rulers abroad sets the stage for renewed attacks at home.
The destruction of the Soviet Union, which functioned as a global counterweight to American imperialism and permitted neo-colonial regimes far more room for maneuver than they have today, was the most serious defeat ever inflicted on the international workers’ movement. Common hostility to the Soviet Union provided an impetus for European, American and Japanese imperialists to partially suppress their differences. The fall of the Soviet bloc unleashed a massive attack on working-class living standards in every imperialist country and heightened inter- imperialist competition for markets, cheap labor, scarce resources and spheres of influence. The U.S. remains dominant, but the tough talk and unilateralism of the Bush administration is at bottom a reflection of the erosion of American hegemony.
The U.S. grab for Middle East oil is unacceptable to its European rivals, who have watched the American Leviathan venture into the Iraqi tar pit with barely concealed glee. The danger of a third inter-imperialist world war—fought with nuclear “weapons of mass destruction”—looms just over the horizon. Capitalism is a system that produces grotesque social inequality, causes irreversible ecological destruction and, ultimately, threatens thermonuclear mass slaughter. It can only be eliminated through the intervention of a revolutionary, disciplined organization standing at the head of a decisive section of the international working class—particularly within the imperialist countries. The selection of a person as narrow and obtuse as George W. Bush as commander-in-chief of the most powerful country in the history of the world is a perfect metaphor for an irrational and profoundly destructive social system in terminal decline. The world-historic mission of the proletariat is to rescue human civilization by overthrowing the bloody and anarchic rule of capital and replacing it with a planned economy that will lay the basis for a socialist future free of hunger, poverty and war.