As this journal goes to press, the future of Iraq appears to be sealed as far as the US and British governments are concerned. Or at least every statement issued by Bush and Blair and every leak to the media from their officials, points to the war against Iraq being only a matter of weeks, if not days away, depending on who it is who speaks.
The more Iraq conforms to the diktats of the United Nations, the more Bush and Blair reassert their determination to go ahead with their attack against it. While Iraq's communication centres and military installations are being bombed every day by US and British aircraft, the regime is obliged to destroy its al-Samoud missiles, although these cannot be a significant threat to anyone. But even this action is turned into more "proof of deception".
Whether in Washington or in London, the talk about Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" is now a mere ritual, following UN arms inspectors' failure to produce the slightest shred of evidence for their existence. A ritual too, is the demand that Iraq should "disarm", whatever this may mean in a Third World country crippled by two wars and 13 years of economic sanctions. But then the issue never was Iraq's weapons, anyway. By now the real reason behind this war drive appears in its crudest form - the determination of the US and British governments to reshape the Iraqi regime according to Western needs - a determination which is encapsulated in the formula that Bush has been repeating ad nauseam over the past few months: "we will prevail".
Of course, as it has been the case for many months now, there may still be an element of intoxication in all of this. The two governments may consider that a bit more war rhetoric is still needed in order to convince their reluctant public opinions that this war is inevitable, come what may. This rhetoric may also be aimed at putting pressure on potential allies to join the war coalition as well as on declared allies to increase their commitment, before it is too late. But whatever is the case, the increasing concentration of troops and military hardware around Iraq makes this war increasingly likely and the deadline increasingly close.
Yes, the imperialist powers - that is, in fact, the tiny minority of capitalists who rule over the rich industrialised countries - are determined to "prevail" against Iraq. In this respect, there is no difference between the "hawks" and the "doves" among them. Washington, as the dominant imperialist power, is determined to dictate the rules of engagement and take the lion's share of the spoils. But minor "doves" like France and Germany are just as intent as minor "hawks" like Britain, on seeing a tightening of the imperialist stranglehold over the Middle East - which can only benefit all imperialist companies in the long-term, even if US companies reap most of the profits in the short-term. If there are disagreements between the imperialist powers, they do not reflect differences over whether or not the screw should be turned on Iraq, or even over whether the blood of the Iraqi population should be shed or not. The disagreements only reflect the attempts of the various governments to preserve the rival interests of their respective companies.
Indeed there are considerable capitalist interests at stake in the reshaping of Iraq and, beyond Iraq, in the Middle East - and not just for the oil industry, but also for the construction and infrastructure industries, arms manufacturers (the Middle East is the world's largest buyer of imported weapons) and for industries producing finished goods of all kinds, since the oil proceeds monopolised by the state and privileged classes of the Middle Eastern countries represent considerable purchasing power.
As to the UN, it will have offered a convenient framework for the build up to the war. It will have been a means to foster the illusion among Western public opinion that the decision to launch the war was somehow the subject of a "democratic debate" while providing a platform for the West's scapegoating campaign and lies against Iraq. At the same time it will have given credit to the idea that it is not the war itself which is objectionable, but the fact that this war could be decided outside the remit of the UN.
But the UN has always been and remains an agency for the policy of the main imperialist powers. And even if Bush finally decides to go it alone, without the endorsement of the UN Security Council, the UN will not go against its main participant by censoring his aggression against Iraq. But Bush will make sure to involve the UN in ways which will serve to cover his back and, if possible, share out the political and financial cost of the war. And the main UN members will be only too willing to oblige, under some "humanitarian pretext" for instance, just as they have in Afghanistan, or even by taking a more active part in the war itself, as they did during the 13-year long blockade and low- level war against Iraq.
The fact that Western public opinion is opposed to this threatening war - including in the US, despite the hysterical media campaign orchestrated by the Bush administration for months - has not changed Bush's and Blair's policy in the least. Nor has the unprecedented wave of protest marches which took place on 15 February and afterwards, right across the world. But then the governments of the imperialist countries have never based their decisions on the feelings expressed by the populations. Only one factor can influence their policies - a change in the balance of forces in society. The odd protest march, no matter how large, cannot in and of itself, change the balance of forces in any of the rich countries - in any case not as long as it is not part of a much deeper movement which represents a political threat for the administration in office or for the profits of the capitalist class.
In Britain, Blair may seem to be in a somewhat difficult situation. He has chosen to align himself unconditionally behind Bush (after having previously aligned himself behind Clinton when Labour came into office), without having any say whatsoever in the decisions made by Washington. But this choice has caused the largest movement of opposition for decades in British public opinion, in the streets, as was illustrated on 15 February, and even in Parliament, with 122 "Labour rebels" adopting an amendment, on 26 February, stating that the case for war in Iraq "is as yet unproven", in direct contradiction to Blair's speeches.
None of these developments, however, can threaten Blair's position. Opposition against the war remains very respectful of the institutions, more opposed to Blair's tail-ending of Bush, than to the war itself and permeated with illusions both in the UN and in Parliament. And illusions in Parliament can only have been reinforced by the "Labour rebels" - despite the fact that on the same day, out of the 122, only 59 voted against the main motion endorsing Blair's handling of the Iraqi crisis, but stopping short of making a stand on the war itself. Given the size of his parliamentary majority and the fact that, if the worst came to worst, he could still steer Britain into a war without having to consult Parliament, Blair has nothing to fear on that side.
Of course, Blair may be gambling his political career, but he has made no bones about the fact that he does not care - which may well mean that he does not think that public hostility will last once the war is started and that he will have time to regain the credit he has lost before the next general election.
Nevertheless, unlike Bush, Blair has reacted to the anti-war mobilisation by changing the line of argument he uses to back his gung-ho policy. Today he uses two levels of arguments. One, compares today's situation with the Munich negotiations and Saddam Hussein to Hitler, and argues that the UN should not indulge in appeasement towards Saddam Hussein, as the League of Nations did towards Hitler, for fear of risking another catastrophe akin to World War II.
This line of argument is as demagogic as it is inept. What sense is there in comparing a crippled Third World country like Iraq, whose economy has been pushed back in many respects to what it was when it was a British colony, in the 1920s, to Hitler's Germany, which was the second largest capitalist economy in the late 1930s? As to comparing Saddam Hussein to Hitler, this is to forget that unlike Hitler, whose ambition was to bring Germany onto a par with the US and Britain in terms of world market share and colonies, Saddam Hussein's ambitions have never gone beyond being recognised by the West as a trusted regional auxiliary, who was willing to maintain the imperialist order in the Middle-East on its behalf, by waging the Iran-Iraq war to weaken Iran and by repressing the Kurds and Shiites in Iraq.
The other line of argument used by Blair, the so-called "moral case", is even more preposterous, given its hypocrisy. It was aptly illustrated by Blair's speech to the Scottish Labour party conference on 15 February. In passing, one should note the courage of this politician who is in favour of slaughtering tens of thousands of civilians in Iraq with the West's "weapons of mass destruction" and sending British soldiers there to risk their lives in order to defend the interests of Western capital, but who did not even have the guts to face the protestors who had rallied outside the conference hall at the time of his address.
It was in this speech, delivered four hours ahead of schedule in order to avoid the rally, that Blair had the nerve to present the task of ridding the world of Saddam Hussein as "an act of humanity". As if this whole business was simply about dismissing Saddam Hussein, like a bad employee! As if the cost of this operation was not bound to be measured in blood in the short-term and possibly for a long time to come! And as if the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein had not been, first, welcomed by the West when the Baath party's thugs organised the physical elimination of the Iraqi communist party (the largest in the Middle East in the 1960s and 70s) and subsequently, armed and encouraged to act as the West's local policeman, including in repressing the national aspirations of the Kurdish people! And today, a trustee of British capital has the nerve to claim that there is a "moral case" for the British government to overthrow its former stooge, whatever the cost for the population? If there is a "moral case", in all of this, it would be to put on trial the companies and shareholders who made billions in profits out of arming Saddam's dictatorship and the Western politicians who chose consciously to use his regime as their local agent against the region's population!
Whether Blair's rhetorical efforts to "win the argument" in the Labour party and, beyond, in the population as a whole will bear fruit, remains to be seen. But with such arguments his chances seem to be rather thin.
In any case, despite this rhetoric, what happens in Iraq, when and how the war starts and what follows afterwards, will definitely not be decided by Blair. So why does he put in so much effort and take such political risks?
Contrary to a pervasive idea, circulated by part of the media, Blair's policy is not just dictated by his determination to tail-end the US at any cost - although he is certainly concerned with preserving the so-called "special relationship" with the US, which is vital for a number of large British companies, particularly in finance, as well as several which have absorbed US rivals over the past years. The fact is that the Middle East is a part of the world where British capital used to be almost all- powerful following World War I, but it has been slowly pushed out, decade by decade, mostly by US rivals but also by a variety of German, French and Japanese companies. Today, after the 1991 Gulf War, the situation has reached a point where British capital has even had to share its former private kingdom, Kuwait, with the US and, needless to say, the sharing out was not exactly equal. As a result, British companies are left with only two "outposts" in the region - Bahrain and a part of Kuwait. With the new war threatening to trigger a repartition of markets, contracts and resources, it would be easy for US companies to simply kick their British rivals out, unless some special deal can be reached with the US, as in Kuwait, allowing Britain to retain a share of the cake - and even more, if this cake is enlarged by the addition of some crumbs from Iraq.
So, when it comes down to it, Blair's "moral case" is really about defending the interests of imperialism in general, preserving the "special relationship" and ensuring that British capital retains a foothold in the Gulf. And the "act of humanity" is designed to benefit the money coffers of the City.
The trouble, of course, with Blair's and Bush's rhetoric about "regime change" and "bringing democracy" to Iraq is that this is not what the plans currently discussed for Iraq's occupation indicate. Over the past weeks, these plans have been discussed openly in the press, particularly in the US. What they seem to indicate is the intention to set up an American administration using some sections of the Iraqi state as auxiliaries, under which reconstruction would be initiated and a new regime would be selected over time. How much time? The estimates vary between three and eight years.
And what will be the result of this "regime change"? This is obviously an open question, but there is a serious risk of the occupation generating resistance in the country over such a long period of time - in the Iraqi population in general, but also among the Shiites and Kurds, which both have their own sizeable political forces with their own federalist or separatist agendas. Not to mention the risk of a social explosion caused by the extreme poverty of a large part of the population.
But even if there is no such confrontation or explosion under this US administration, the odds that this "regime change" will produce another dictatorship are very high. A team of US researchers, quoted in a recent article published by the Financial Times, found that the US has replaced 18 regimes by force over the past century. But out of these 18, only five resulted in a "democratic" regime - Germany, Japan, Italy, Grenada and Panama. In all the others the US intervention produced dictatorships! And the recent example of Afghanistan, with its unelected government controlling a tiny area around Kabul thanks to the help of a multinational force, while the rest of the country is in the hands of warlords whose attitude to Kabul depends on the flow of dollars they receive from the West - this example shows that the US have not improved their record.
So yes, there is every reason to fear that, after the likely bloodbath due to the war itself and more bloodshed caused by resistance and political instability afterwards, the regime that will come out of this war will be another dictatorship, possibly even with the same torturers wearing the same uniforms - and this would not be the first time. There is a logic to this - the fact that in order to maintain its flow of profits from the looting of the poor countries, imperialism needs to keep the lid on the impoverished populations of these countries and to prevent the expression of political and social opposition among the poor masses.
This is why this war must be opposed, by using every opportunity available. Because it is a war against the populations, which they will pay for with their blood and with their freedom, not just during the war itself, but for the foreseeable future as well, as long as imperialism plunders the poor countries.
"NOT A MAN, NOT A PENNY FOR THIS IMPERIALIST WAR!" - this old slogan for which a generation of working class activists fought during World War I should be resurrected. But at the same time, opposing this war will never be enough. Capitalism, this system of oppression and exploitation which creates war, must be opposed as well. For the working class of the world it is not "regime change", but "system change" which is the objective - the overthrow of this rotten and decrepit capitalist system which is the cause of these intolerable wars and the manure on which so many bloody dictatorships prosper.
2 March 2003