Interimperialist Rivalries Heat Up

Countdown to Desert Slaughter—Defend Iraq!

Millions Protest Around the World

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 798, 28 February 2003.

FEBRUARY 24—As many as a million people took to the streets of American cities on February 15 and 16 to protest the impending war against Iraq, despite concerted government efforts to intimidate the populace with a “code orange” terror alert and a police ban on a march in New York City. Millions more marched in every major capital of West Europe—London, Paris, Berlin, Rome, Madrid—and in hundreds of cities around the world. Public opinion polls show that a large majority of West Europeans view the present government of the United States as the greatest danger to world peace. In pursuing their own imperialist aims, the rulers of France and Germany are now appealing to this pacifistic sentiment and anti-American nationalism. A senior French official pontificated that if the U.S. goes to war without the sanction of a UN resolution, this will mean a return to “the law of the jungle.”

Predictably, the Bush White House has responded to all this with the arrogance born of overwhelming military superiority. The Pentagon budget is greater than the combined total military spending of all other major states in the world. Hence the French and German leaders are forced to confront the U.S. only at the diplomatic level and then fairly cautiously. In the councils of NATO, they made a big show of opposing a U.S. move for additional weapons for Turkey, a member state, and then relented after a few weeks. Now France has joined in the hue and cry over Iraq’s supposedly illegal al-Samoud 2 missile arsenal—which have a range of barely 100 miles—with a government spokesman vigorously denying any “particular leniency with regard to Iraq” (Reuters, 23 February). With over 200,000 U.S. and British troops poised to invade and occupy the country, the imperialists vindictively demand that Iraq destroy what defensive weapons it has.

This would be a predatory and imperialist war on the part of the U.S. but a just and defensive war on the part of Iraq. Military defense of Iraq does not mean any political support to the bloody and oppressive Saddam Hussein regime. Particularly given the overwhelming military superiority of U.S. imperialism, the chief means of defending Iraq lies in class struggle against the imperialist rulers in the U.S. and Europe. At the same time, the working class and oppressed peoples the world over must defend the struggles of the Iraqi people against the American invaders.

The main focus of wrangling between the U.S. and France is over an additional UN resolution explicitly authorizing an immediate war. Such a resolution is particularly important to British prime minister Tony Blair, whose lapdog-like servility to Bush has provoked massive popular opposition, indeed revulsion, especially in his own ruling Labour Party and the trade-union movement. The Bush gang is hoping that France, Russia and China will abstain rather than exercise their veto power in the Security Council. But even American neocolonies like Mexico are balking at endorsing a U.S. war against Iraq.

For 12 years, the self-proclaimed “world’s only superpower” has waged a one-sided war against this small, semicolonial Near Eastern country. The 1991 Desert Slaughter campaign was accompanied by economic sanctions, both “legitimized” by UN resolutions, which have resulted in the deaths of a million and a half Iraqis from malnutrition and disease.

The “disarmament” of a relatively industrialized Third World country like Iraq means not only the slaughter of tens or hundreds of thousands of people but the continued devastation of industry and infrastructure. Chlorine for water purification and pumps for irrigation and sewage are among the wide range of items deemed by Washington to have military use and thus banned by the UN starvation blockade. As Dilip Hiro notes in his book Iraq: In the Eye of the Storm (2002): “Due to the broken-down pumps, the sewage spills over into rivers, the source of drinking water. And that leads to such illnesses as typhoid and dysentery, which reached epidemic proportions in 1997.” Also banned as “dual use” items are seeds, pesticide, fertilizer and spare parts for farm machinery—even textbooks, writing paper and medical vaccines, the latter because they contain trace amounts of a potential chemical weapon.

Now Bush Jr. is intent on finishing the job begun by his father and continued by his Democratic successor Bill Clinton. Why? The usual answer, especially on the left, is that the U.S. wants to get control of Iraq’s oil fields, which contain the second-largest petroleum reserves in the world after Saudi Arabia. “No Blood for Oil!” is a main slogan of the antiwar protests. But the U.S. could buy every barrel of oil produced by Iraq for a fraction of the projected cost—from $50 to $200 billion—of an invasion and occupation. The men who run Wall Street and Washington want Iraqi blood no less than they want Iraqi oil. They want to send a message, especially to their main imperialist rivals, that they have the military power and the will to use it regardless of what the rest of the world says or does. Defend Iraq against imperialist attack! Down with the UN starvation blockade! All U.S./UN troops out of the Near East and Persian Gulf region!

Rifts in the Western “Alliance”

The recent political fireworks and mutual recriminations over Iraq signal deeply rooted and long-developing tensions between American imperialism and its main European capitalist rivals and erstwhile anti-Soviet Cold War allies. From the White House and Congress to TV and radio talk shows, the American ruling class is whipping up popular hostility especially toward France. Prominent politicians, Democrats as well as Republicans, are calling for punitive measures against French and German imports. Pentagon generals are talking about reducing U.S. troops stationed in Germany and transferring them to the now-friendlier climes of East Europe and the Balkans. The right-wing New York Post ran a doctored photo of the UN Security Council on its front page depicting the French and German delegates as weasels. In North Carolina, one restaurant has even changed french fries to “freedom fries”!

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times (14 February), French ambassador Jean-David Levitte commented: “Reading the papers from both sides of the Atlantic, I sometimes wonder whether the impending war is not between France and the United States.” In a sense, the impending U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is directed at France or, more generally, at America’s rivals in Europe and also Japan.

The massive outpouring of antiwar protest across Europe expressed the well-founded hatred and fear of American militarism among the working people, fear that the Pentagon’s arsenal of death and destruction will be used not only against Third World countries like Iraq but at some point against Europe. That fear was heightened by the Pentagon’s release last year of the “Nuclear Posture Review,” which explicitly allows for a “pre-emptive” American nuclear attack and lists seven possible targets, including (for the first time) non-nuclear countries like Iraq. But if popular opposition to American militarism is not directed toward proletarian internationalism, it will inevitably be directed toward strengthening the military power and global role of one’s “own” capitalist state.

Thus a recent editorial in Le Monde, the premier mouthpiece of the French bourgeoisie, called for the European Union (EU) to “enlarge our defense policy which today is nationally limited” and an earlier piece even chastised Germany for being too pacifist. If today the German imperialists clothe themselves in more pacifistic garb than their American counterparts, it does not mean that they are inherently more “peaceful.” It simply reflects the fact that at the present moment they lack the military means to challenge their American rivals. The European sections of the International Communist League intervened in the February 15 protests linking the defense of Iraq against the American-led attack with total opposition to the militarism of the European bourgeois states.

The rift between the United States and the major European capitalist states revealed by the Iraq crisis points toward the division of the capitalist world into rival imperialist blocs. As we wrote five years ago in the ICL “Declaration of Principles and Some Elements of Program” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 54, Spring 1998):

“Increasingly mutually hostile imperialist powers and rival blocs must oppress the peoples of the former colonial world and those still under the yoke of colonial peonage, impoverish the world’s masses, engage in continual wars for the maintenance and redivision of the world markets in order to prop up the falling rate of profit, and attempt to smash the revolutionary struggle of the workers wherever it breaks out. In its final frenzied effort to maintain its class rule, the bourgeoisie will not hesitate to plunge humanity into nuclear holocaust or dictatorial oppression of unprecedented ferocity.”

America vs. Europe in the Post-Soviet World

NATO was formed in 1949 under tight American control as a military alliance with the West European capitalist states against the Soviet Union, which in defeating the Nazi German Wehrmacht had emerged from World War II as a military-industrial power second only to the United States. A few years later the U.S. formed a military alliance with Japan against the USSR, the People’s Republic of China and North Korea in the Far East. With the destruction of the Soviet Union through capitalist counterrevolution in 1991-92, the fundamental economic conflicts of interest among the major imperialist states, which had been somewhat constrained by the Cold War alliances, had to come to the fore.

In their own way the American ruling class understood this, too. Declaring their state to be the “world’s only superpower,” they were determined to keep it that way. In what has since been explicitly adopted as U.S. policy, a 1992 Pentagon document, leaked to the press, stated its intent to “set the nation’s direction for the next century” (New York Times, 8 March 1992). The “first objective” was to “prevent the emergence of a new rival,” precluding “the emergence of any potential future global competitor.”

With the demise of the Soviet Union, the primary purpose of NATO for American imperialism has been to prevent European, centrally German, economic strength from being translated into an independent military force. Thus during the 1990s, the Clinton White House consistently sabotaged any independent EU policy—especially at the military level—toward the fratricidal wars in the Balkans ignited by capitalist counterrevolution and the resulting breakup of Yugoslavia. Two left-wing writers, James Petras and Steve Vieux, explained in this regard:

“The disintegration of the Yugoslav confederation and the subsequent emergence of warring ethnic mini-states formed the background for the revitalization of NATO and the re-emergence of US hegemony in Europe. At the cost of tens of thousands of lives, the US blocked European peace initiatives in order to safeguard its political ‘leadership’ on the continent via NATO.”

New Left Review, July/August 1996

Nonetheless, France and Germany not only supported but actively participated in the U.S./NATO attack on Bosnian Serbs in 1995 and the air war against Serbia in 1999. And Russia joined in the subsequent occupation of Kosovo under the NATO structure, with an American general in overall command.

France Talks the Talk But Can’t Walk the Walk

This time around, however, Paris, Berlin and Moscow are taking a different line. The neo-Gaullist regime of Jacques Chirac in France has put itself forward as the main spokesman for anti-American bourgeois nationalism in Europe. But that role does not correspond to the actual balance of economic and military forces in Europe. France’s exalted diplomatic status as one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, with the right to veto American-supported resolutions, is a carryover from the early years of the Cold War. Despite its small nuclear arsenal—the force de frappe—France is a second-level imperialist state.

Germany is the dominant economic power in Europe. And then there’s Russia waiting in the wings. Capitalist counterrevolution has led to a catastrophic economic and social decline unprecedented in the history of any modern, industrialized country. Nonetheless, Russia’s new capitalist rulers inherited from the USSR a powerful nuclear arsenal and strong conventional armed forces. An alliance between Germany’s economic and technological resources and Russia’s military potential would create a formidable challenge to American global dominance.

For the moment, however, France is trying to act as spoiler to the U.S. at the diplomatic level. This is not, in fact, something new. France played the maverick in the Western alliance during the Cold War, too. Since the regime of Charles de Gaulle in the 1960s, French ruling circles have flaunted their “independence” from Washington without, however, seriously opposing American strategic interests.

Taking advantage of the close ties between the U.S. and Zionist Israel, de Gaulle and his successors reoriented French policy in the Near East toward “radical” Arab nationalist states like the Ba’athist regimes in Syria and especially Iraq. While the latter mainly depended on Soviet military aid and diplomatic support, the Iraqi regime also cultivated good relations with France and vice versa. In the 1970s, the state-owned Iraq Company for Oil Operations agreed to provide France with almost a quarter of its total output. In turn, France became a major weapons supplier to the Iraqi military. Jean-Pierre Chevènement, the defense minister in the Socialist government of François Mitterrand in the 1980s, was a founder at the time of the Iraqi-French Friendship Association.

During the diplomatic run-up to the 1991 Gulf War, Mitterrand played “soft cop” to Bush Sr.’s America. For example, he proposed a UN resolution “linking” the withdrawal of the Iraqi army from Kuwait (which is part of the American oil empire in the Arabian peninsula) with Israeli withdrawal from the Palestinian Occupied Territories. In the 1990s, France along with Russia pressed for a relaxation of the economic sanctions against Iraq but was rebuffed by the Clinton White House. So they have continued to participate in the starvation blockade of Iraq.

The Iraq Crisis and the New World Disorder

Why then the sudden and massive explosion in West Europe of opposition to a U.S. military takeover of Iraq? The usual answer is a simple one: George W. Bush. Certainly, this extreme right-wing administration in Washington, with its “America über alles” ideology, has aggravated tensions with its European “allies” and inflamed European public opinion. There is real hatred for the racist warmonger in the White House among the working people of Europe, just as there is among workers, blacks and Latinos in the U.S.

But popular hatred of war has nothing to do with the reasons that the French Gaullists and German Social Democratic leaders are now balking at a U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. The current rift in the Western “alliance” is in part conditioned by the world economic downturn precipitated by the Wall Street crash. During the 1990s, European, especially German, industrialists and financiers made a lot of money in the U.S. through increased export earnings, increased sales revenue from their American-based operations and capital gains on their holdings of high-tech and other American corporate stocks. But then the U.S. boom went bust, and many Europeans took a bath as the S&P 500 and NASDAQ indices went south. To make matters worse, the Bush administration has resorted to trade protectionism, for example, on imports of steel.

The U.S. move to take over Iraq has brought to a head an array of accumulated grievances in French and German ruling circles—trade policy, the Anglo-American cartel’s control of the world oil market, the flaunting of U.S. power around the world from Afghanistan to the Philippines. The Bush gang has responded by seeking to undermine French/German leadership of the European Union. In late January, Secretary of State Colin Powell lined up the governments of Britain, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Portugal, Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic to issue a pro-war and pro-American statement in no less an authoritative organ than the Wall Street Journal.

Powell’s ploy exposed and deepened the division in Europe between East and West. The new capitalist rulers of the countries of the former Soviet bloc (e.g., Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic) have joined the EU or applied for membership with the expectation of being generously subsidized by the far wealthier West European countries, centrally Germany. But now they are being offered the opportunity to play off Washington against Paris and Berlin for perhaps even greater economic rewards. French president Chirac was so incensed that the new and aspiring EU members in East Europe supported the American position on Iraq that he lashed out: “It is not well brought-up behavior.... They missed a good opportunity to shut up.”

Underlying Chirac’s tirade are a couple of basic truths. First, France, even in concert with Germany, lacks the economic resources, much less military power, to check American influence even in France’s own backyard. Second, there is no such thing as “Europe” in a political sense. The EU is a bloc of bourgeois national states whose rulers pursue their own conflicting interests, often knifing one another in the back.

In fact, the period prior to the Iraq crisis was one of substantial conflict among major EU states. France and Germany were fighting over agricultural subsidies; France and Italy over the regulations governing trade in wine and cheese; France and Britain over job losses from the closure of British firms in France. The only policies these West European capitalist regimes were collaborating in were police-state measures against immigrants and intensified attacks on the union movement and social programs.

Chirac and German Social Democratic chancellor Gerhard Schröder are now acting more or less in tandem in opposing an immediate invasion of Iraq. However, the overall policies of France and Germany in the Near East are quite different, to a degree even counterposed. Orienting toward the Arab nationalist regimes, French ruling circles profess (however hypocritically) sympathy for the Palestinian cause. Moreover, France has a large Arab population, mainly from its former North African colonies, who are fervent supporters of the Palestinian resistance to the murderous Israeli occupation. Germany, on the other hand, has been a major provider of economic aid to Israel, second only to the U.S. Hence the effect of an American invasion of Iraq on Israel/ Palestine would likely disrupt the current Paris/Berlin bloc vis-à-vis the U.S.

The Zionist rulers are looking forward to the American attack on Iraq as an opportunity to completely crush the Palestinian resistance, possibly by driving the Palestinian population into the surrounding Arab states. Le Monde (20 February) quoted a “very senior military official” who recalled that “the first Intifada [Palestinian uprising] was stopped by the first Gulf War.” The current Palestinian uprising “could finish the same way,” he declared, “if the American attack takes place and it is victorious.”

While Washington openly backs its Israeli junior partners in their bloody repression of the Palestinians, it currently postures as a defender of the Kurdish national minority in Iraq. But nowhere is the cynicism of U.S. imperialism’s proclamations of “liberating” the Iraqi people clearer than in the horse trading over the Kurds. In order to secure Turkey as a platform for an American invasion into northern Iraq, the U.S. is giving the Ankara regime billions of dollars and license for its army, notorious for its war of annihilation in Turkish Kurdistan, to occupy Kurdish areas of Iraq. The imperialists are dead set against any expression of Kurdish national self-determination.

Only within a socialist federation of the Near East can the national rights of all the main peoples of the region be achieved, from the Palestinians to the Kurdish population, which is divided among Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey. The realization of a socialist republic of united Kurdistan requires the proletarian overthrow of all four of those bourgeois states.

For Unconditional Military Defense of North Korea and China!

The impending U.S. invasion of Iraq is to be carried out in the name of the “global war on terror” declared by the U.S. rulers following the criminal 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center by Islamic fundamentalists. Osama bin Laden’s Al Qaeda network and its Afghan mujahedin supporters were originally organized, armed and financed by the CIA to fight the Soviet Army in Afghanistan in the 1980s. In 1989, the “liberal” Stalinist regime of Mikhail Gorbachev withdrew the last Soviet forces from Afghanistan in order to appease American imperialism. The retreat of Soviet power in Central Asia was quickly followed by the capitalist counterrevolution which swept across East Europe and then destroyed the USSR itself.

In the aftermath, Washington seized on “Islamic terrorism” as a new external enemy against which to rally the population. For their part, the Afghan-based Islamic fundamentalist terrorists turned on their former American paymasters. The U.S. rulers justified the invasion of Afghanistan in late 2001 as a war of vengeance. It also served a broader strategic purpose by introducing U.S. military forces into Central Asian countries bordering both Russia and China.

Iraq, of course, had nothing whatsoever to do with the 9/11 attack. The Arab nationalist regime in Baghdad and Islamic fundamentalist groups like Al Qaeda are mortal enemies. Recall that Saddam Hussein was a Soviet client while Osama bin Laden was a CIA asset during Cold War II.

The Bush gang has made it clear that after the takeover of Iraq its next target will be North Korea. Standing behind North Korea, geographically and politically, is China, by far the most powerful of the remaining states where capitalism has been overthrown (the others being North Korea, Vietnam and Cuba). Having succeeded in their decades-long goal of destroying the Soviet Union, the American imperialists view the continued existence of the People’s Republic of China as a very large piece of unfinished business. Their goal: to reverse the 1949 Chinese Revolution in order to subjugate and exploit China. Their strategy: to combine external military pressure with internal capitalist penetration facilitated by the “market reforms” of the venal Beijing Stalinist bureaucracy.

We stand for the defense of the Chinese and North Korean bureaucratically deformed workers states against imperialist attack from without and capitalist counterrevolution from within. Especially in the present context, that means supporting the right of North Korea to develop nuclear weapons along with the delivery system necessary to make them an effective deterrent to the Pentagon war machine.

Precisely because North Korea might have a few nukes and effective medium-range missiles and certainly does have a strong conventional armed force, even Bush & Co. are moving against it in a cautious and roundabout way. For now, they’re trying to line up Japan, Russia and China to put economic pressure on the Kim Jong Il regime to restore “international” (i.e., imperialist) control over its nuclear facilities.

The key country here is China, which provides most of the economic aid, especially food and fuel, upon which the beleaguered and impoverished Pyongyang regime depends. China has the power to block any U.S. move for stronger economic sanctions against North Korea not only in the UN Security Council but, more importantly, in the real world. However, the Beijing Stalinist bureaucracy has repeatedly emphasized agreement with the imperialists’ demands for a “non-nuclear Korean peninsula” and has sought to lean on the Pyongyang regime to “moderate” its policies. Such criminal appeasement only emboldens the imperialists in their drive to foment counterrevolution in China itself.

Fundamentally, the defense of those states where capitalism has been overthrown requires the extension of proletarian rule to the advanced capitalist countries. Yet this perspective is not only alien but anathema to the nationalist bureaucratic castes that rule in China and North Korea. The Stalinist bureaucrats in Beijing and Pyongyang fear that socialist revolution in South Korea and Japan would quickly inspire proletarian political revolutions against themselves by the Chinese and North Korean workers and peasants. Likewise, a political revolution in China or North Korea would have an enormous impact on South Korea and on Japan, the industrial powerhouse of Asia.

For Class Struggle Against U.S. Capitalist Rulers!

Seizing on the World Trade Center attack to get a lock on power, the Bush administration has unleashed a “war on terror” whose domestic face has been a racist witchhunt against Arabs and Muslims, with the civil liberties of the population as a whole increasingly put through the shredder. Beginning with the arbitrary detention and forced interrogation of thousands of non-citizens, the government has gone on to assert that those citizens deemed “enemy combatants” also have no citizenship rights. Its ultimate target is the labor movement, the real “enemy within” in the eyes of the American bourgeoisie, as seen in the invocation of “national security” against a threatened West Coast longshore strike last year. Meanwhile, the White House showers tax cuts on the rich and strips inner-city kids even of their school lunches.

But as the huge turnout for last week’s antiwar protests and the number of trade-union resolutions against a war demonstrate, the patriotic “one nation indivisible” hysteria whipped up following 9/11 has grown thin under the weight of recession, mass layoffs and grotesque corporate corruption. And with its heavily working-class and black and Hispanic base, the U.S. military is a reflection of the class and racial contradictions of civil society. An article in the Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun (19 January) reports on widespread sentiment among the sailors of the USS Kitty Hawk and other ships of the Seventh Fleet against an attack on Iraq.

It could not be clearer that the multiracial working people of America and the semicolonial masses of Iraq have a common enemy in the war-crazed, labor-hating gang in the White House and the capitalist class it represents. But the labor tops and the reformist organizers of the antiwar protests seek to channel the growing opposition to U.S. military adventures abroad and the anger building at the base of this society into the “lesser evil” Democratic Party of American imperialism. In fact, because of its image as a “friend” of labor and black people, the Democratic Party has historically been the preferred party of war for the bourgeoisie. Those Democrats who have spoken out against “Bush’s war” hope to position themselves to get out ahead of and contain any opposition and turmoil that the war against Iraq could generate among working people and minorities.

Antiwar youth, labor militants and fighters for black and immigrant rights must understand that any genuine opposition to imperialist war must be based on class struggle and political protest independent of all the parties and agencies of capitalist class rule. Defend Iraq against U.S. attack! For class struggle against U.S. capitalist rulers at home! Break with the Democratic Party of war and racism! Build a workers party to fight for socialist revolution!

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