The coming imperialist war on Iraq and the new 'American Century'
The Activist - Volume 13, Number 1, January 2003
By Doug Lorimer, National Executive
[The following report was adopted unanimously by the 20th Congress of the Democratic Socialist Party.]
For a year now, US President George W. Bush’s administration has had as its top foreign policy goal achieving violent "regime change" in Baghdad. Sometime between late January and mid-February next year, the US military will attempt to achieve that goal by launching a massive bombing assault and ground invasion of Iraq. On the basis of a leak from the White House, the October 22 New York Times reported that the goal of the bush administration is to install a US military proconsul in Baghdad - along the lines of General Douglas MacArthur’s six-and-half year rule in post-1945 Japan - before handing Iraq over to a puppet government.
The active military preparations for the US conquest of Iraq have been underway for months now.
On December 20, the Miami Herald reported that "a senior administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity" said that up to "100,000 American troops, along with additional naval and air forces, could begin moving immediately after the holidays and be in place by the end of January or early February". The US forces would be "joined by about 20,000 British troops and forces from other countries willing to fight Iraq President Saddam Hussein", the official said.
Another "senior defense official" told the Miami Herald that the Pentagon had been quietly moving tanks, armoured vehicles and other heavy equipment into the Middle East for several months as part of a build-up that was kept low-key to avoid "alarming the international community and creating the impression that the Bush administration had prejudged the UN inspections process."
Of course, the Bush administration has no need to "prejudge" the UN weapons inspection process, since this process has been set up by the administration to provide it a fool-proof pretext for launching its planned invasion of Iraq. If the Iraqis fail to fully co-operate with the inspection regime, this will provide the US rulers with the pretext for an invasion. And if the Iraqis do fully co-operate and the UN inspectors fail to find any "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq, this will also provide the US rulers with the pretext for an invasion. When he was asked in an interview on November 15, "What if no weapons of mass destruction are found by UN weapons inspectors inside Iraq?", US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld replied: "What it would prove would be that the inspections process had been successfully defeated by the Iraqis".
The December 20 Miami Herald article reported that another "senior defense official" said the pre-positioning in the Middle East of US military personnel and equipment was designed to reduce the time necessary to assemble an invasion force from four months to four weeks or less. The article noted that an "estimated 50,000 American personnel now in the Middle East include about 20,000 ground troops, most of them in Kuwait" and "most of the command structure for an invasion of Iraq: the headquarters staffs of the Europe-based US Army 5th Corps, the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force from Camp Pendeleton, Calif[ornia] and Gen. Tommy Franks’ 600-strong Tampa-based Central Command staff".
The US Central Command, established in 1983, directs US military operations in the Middle East, Northeast Africa and southwest Asia, including the waters of the Persian Gulf. Its purpose, bluntly spelled out in a US Air Force University document accessible on the Pentagon’s web site, is "to protest the United States’ vital interests in the region - uninterrupted, secure US/Allied access to Gulf oil."
The document adds: "unrestricted access by the industrial nations of the world to the Central Region’s vast oil reserves remains an imperative".
Invasion and occupation
Writing in the October 16 Wall Street Journal, retired general Barry McCaffrey, who commanded the US army’s 24th Mechinsied Division, which spearhead the US invasion of southern Iraq in February 1991, said that the US armed forces were planning for a "short and violent military campaign" aimed at taking over Iraq. US ground forces would invade Iraq from Kuwait in the south, Jordan in the West and through being airlifted from Europe to air bases in Turkey and then by helicopter into northern Iraq, with the aim of rapidly setting siege to Baghdad.
A major target of the invasion, McCaffrey said, would be Iraq’s elite Republican Guard, a well-trained, well-equipped force of 100,000 troops that is digging in around Baghdad, including the Special Republican Guard, which protects the top Iraqi government and Baathist Party officials. McCaffrey said that "allied forces will be compelled to kill the 15,000 troops of the Special Guard".
In January-February 1991, during the six weeks of intensive bombing and the 100-hour ground invasion of Iraq, the US-led forces suffered only 140 casualties, while killing at least 100,000 Iraqis. McCaffrey acknowledged that this time though, "US forces are likely to endure significant casualties". This is because a US conquest of Iraq will entail urban warfare.
The US military chiefs are well aware of this. An article in the October 21 New York Times described a September 16 report by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff entitled "Doctrine for Joint Urban Operations" (In Pentagpon terminology, "joint" designates operations combining air, naval, ground and special forces under a single command.)
The Times article dishonestly portrayed the new Pentagon strategy as aiming to bypass cities, avoiding combat losses and minimising civilian casualties. The report itself, which was posted onto the Times’ web site, argues for using advanced weaponry on a massive scale - with an inevitably catastrophic impact on civilian populations - as a substitute for the perils and difficulties of house-to-house combat.
It notes that "All those aspects of urban ground combat that have historically extracted a terrible price on attacker, defender, and non-combatant alike remain present today, multiplied by the increased size and complexity of urban areas and increase in the number of inhabitants."
According to the report: "Cities reduce the advantages of the technologically superior force…The physical terrain of cities tend to reduce…command, control and communications capability, makes aviation operations more difficult, and decreases the effectiveness of…indirect fire support, [reducing] ground operations to the level of small unit combat."
The document frequently mentions three historical examples in which superior attacking forces met defeat at the hands of defenders - the battle of Stalingrad in 1941-42; the battle of Hue during the Tet Offensive in February 1968, in which US Marines suffered heavy casualties recapturing the city from the Vietnamese liberation forces, while US public opinion turned sharply against the US war in Vietnam; and the battle of Grozny in 1994-95, in which four attacking Russian army columns were fought to a standstill by Chechen guerrilla fighters, and anti-war sentiment within Russia grew rapidly.
The Pentagon war planners are clearly concerned that protracted street battles to occupy Baghdad could have the same effect in the US.
Their answer to this problem, according to the document, is to avoid making cities combat zones, and directing massive firepower on them from afar. It singles out the importance of what is called, in Pentagonese, "shaping the battlespace". The commander of an urban assault "shapes the battlespace…by exerting appropriate influence on…the elements of the urban triad". The "urban triad", according to the report, consists of the physical terrain, population and infrastructure. "Exerting appropriate influence" on the "urban triad means", in plain English, leveling buildings to improve mobility, destroying infrastructure to deny water, electricity and medical treatment to the defenders, and driving out (or killing) the civilian population so that they don’t get in the way.
The document calls for "the use of fires to create conditions favorable for operation movement manoeuver" and declares that "Incendiary weapons are lawful as long as they are not employed so as to cause unnecessary suffering", while weapons "with incidental incendiary effects are exempted. as are munitions with a combined effect". While phrased as a restriction on the use of incendiary weapons, the report indicates that burning down cities is part of the Pentagon’s strategy for urban combat operations.
While acknowledging that the Chemical Weapons Convention, to which the US is a signatory, "prohibits the use of all chemical weapons, including riot control agents", the report goes on to declare, "the United States holds the position that use of riot control agents to control prisoners or civil disturbances is not a method of warfare and therefore not covered by the convention". So US military commanders are reminded that they cannot legally gas enemy soldiers, but they can gas prisoners and civilians.
Elsewhere in the report, the Joint Chiefs insist there should be no limitations on the types of weapons employed by US commanders in an assault on urban areas: "In any urban combat maneuver", the report states, "the best approach is to use the full range of combined arms technology and weaponry available to the joint force".
Given the inevitable slaughter of civilians that would ensue, the report advises careful planning of public relations "to produce maximum cooperation between the media and joint forces". It declares that "successful engagement of the media can…help produce and maintain domestic and international support". Underscoring the premium that the Pentagon places having the media act as its propaganda mouthpiece, the report notes that the US military defeated the Vietnamese attacks in urban areas in the 1968 Tet Offensive, but lost the "information battle", and ultimately, the war itself.
The report speaks in Orwellian terms of a "strategy of reprogramming mass consciousness" to guarantee domestic and international support for urban combat operations.
It approvingly cites the political lessons learnt by the Russian military in the first Chechnya campaign of 1994-95, with the result that, as the report summarises it, "during the second Chechnya campaign of 1999-2000 the Russian government made every effort to control the media and ensure that the Russian view of the war dominated public opinion". "Russia", it adds "won the information war from day one of the fighting".
The strategy outlined by the Joint Chiefs may enable the US military to relatively quickly occupy Baghdad and other Iraqi cities with limited US casualties. However, as the experience of the Russian occupation of Chechnya has shown, it may not be sufficient to crush all armed resistance. Moscow claims there are only 1000 rebel fighters in Chechnya, however the Chechen guerrillas have tied down about 100,000 Russian occupation troops and more than 4700 Russian soldiers and police have been killed in Chechnya since Russia’s "quick victory" two years ago.
Under siege in Afghanistan
Indeed, it appears that the US military itself is starting to face the same problem in Afghanistan. At the end of 2001, the US claimed it had achieved a crushing victory over the Taliban regime and its al Qaeda allies. An article in the December 19 British Guardian by Dan Plesch, a research fellow at the British military’s Royal United Services Institute for Defence Studies, reports that over the past year the US occupation forces in Afghanistan have suffered one military setback after another.
Plesch described the real story of what happened during Operation Anaconda in March 2002 when the US forces launched a highly publicised operation to hunt down the al Qaeda fighters in their mountain caves in eastern Afghanistan. He wrote:
Locally recruited Afghans were trained as "beaters", driving al Qaeda from its high mountain caves on to the guns of US soldiers lying in ambush. The reality was that it was the US army that was ambushed…
At a dozen mountain passes, al-Qaeda attacked US and allied forces as they jumped from their helicopters to take up what they thought would be their own ambush positions. So intense was the enemy fire that for two days the US could not fly in helicopters to support its own troops, who remained pinned down in vicious fighting.
After proclaiming the operation a complete success, the US announced that no more operations of this kind would be undertaken. During the summer, the units involved…were replaced by the 82nd airborne…the most highly trained infantry unit in the US army, and one Pentagon planners would prefer to have available for Iraq.
"The 82nd airborne", Plesch reported, "began operations to dig out enemy forces from the villages in eastern Afghanistan…One senior US editor told me he had been prevented by his own organisation from filling reports on the futility and brutality of [these] operations. He said the only comparison in US military history was a punitive expedition into Mexico conducted by General Pershing in 1915. This produced virtually no results after months searching the desolate Mexican countryside in search of Pancho Villa, chasing up false leads provided by the local population."
Plesch added that "US-led attacks…have been ineffective, suffered outright defeat, or resulted in disaster. These failures have led the US to keep its forces mostly inside their bases [where] they are under attack almost daily from missiles and machine guns."
War for oil
While the corporate mass media ceaseless repeats the White House’s propaganda claims that its war drive is aimed at depriving Iraq from using "weapons of mass destruction", a survey of public opinion in Europe and the US released on December 4 by the US-based Pew Research Center, whose advisory body includes former US secretaries of state Madeliene Albright and Henry Kissinger, found that large percentages in every European country "think that the US desire to control Iraqi oil is the principal reason that Washington is considering a war against Iraq". In France 75% subscribe to this view, in Germany 54%, in Britain 44%. Even in the US itself, where the three-letter word is rarely mentioned in the mass media, 22% believe oil is what the coming war on Iraq is really about.
We shouldn’t be hesitant to say that this will be a "war for oil". There’s a great deal of truth in that statement. It will be a war to ensure that the US capitalist rulers gain control over Iraq’s most economically significant natural resource. We should remember that the US capitalists alone use 26% of the world’s oil production and that every aspect of the world oil market - which accounts for 10% of world trade - is dominated by a handful of giant corporations effectively owned by a handful of superrich families in the US, Britain and other imperialist countries.
While the fortunes of ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell are not minor concerns of the political representatives of imperialism, this does not account for the depth of their interest in Middle East oil.
Oil (as petrol) provides the primary fuel source for transportation in modern capitalist economies. It is central to the whole system of capitalist production. A shortage of petrol would undermine the automobile industry and along with it, the steel and rubber industries, to say nothing of all the other aspects of the capitalist economy such as tourism, suburban shopping malls, fast food outlets and so on, that have grown up around an automobile-based system of mass transportation.
The situation is particularly acute for most of Western Europe and Japan, since they do not have significant oil resources of their own and most of their oil comes from the Middle East. The Persian Gulf oil fields supply 65% of Western Europe’s oil and 80% of Japan’s. Without access to Middle East oil, the economies of Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Japan would quickly collapse. By contrast, the US is a major oil producer itself and while it is heavily dependent on oil imports, less than 20% of these come from the Middle East.
While the US is not directly hostage to Middle East oil, the havoc that would be created in the world capitalist economy as a whole should Western Europe and Japan’s supply of oil be cut off would have a devastating effect on the US economy. Furthermore, the role that the US plays as the economic and military guarantor of the supply of Middle East oil to Western Europe and Japan gives it enormous leverage over its imperialist political allies and economic competitors.
The superrich owners of Big Oil in the US - the Rockefeller, Morgan, Mellon and Dupont families - and the government officials who defend their interests are not worried that Saddam Hussein’s regime will deprive the US of access to Iraq’s oil production. To the contrary, for more than a decade now most of Iraq’s crude oil production has been sold to US oil companies. Forbes magazine estimated that last year 70% of Iraq’s oil output was directly sold to US oil companies, and named ExxonMobil and ChevronTexaco (known in this country as Caltex) as the biggest purchasers. According to the American Petroleum Institute, US companies imported an average of 611,000 barrels of crude oil from Iraq in the first half of this year, making Iraq the fifth largest supplier of oil to the US.
According to a report filed on August 20 this year by American Broadcasting Corporation news correspondent John Cooley, oil industry sources estimated that 90% of Iraq’s crude oil production of 1.8 million barrels per day is going to refineries in Louisiana and Texas.
Most of the purchases of Iraqi oil by US companies have been organised through the UN Oil for Food Program, under which Iraq has been forced to sell its oil at below the international market price in exchange. Through this scheme, US oil companies have made billions in super-profits from the purchase of cheap Iraqi oil.
Furthermore, leading US oil service companies such as Halliburton have worked through the UN via their European subsidiaries to supply equipment to Iraq’s oil industry. Under Dick Cheney’s management, Haliburton helped rebuild Iraq’s oil production infrastructure, the destruction of which he supervised from the Pentagon in 1991 when he was George Bush senior’s defence secretary. Haliburton reportedly earned an addition US$1 billion by exporting Iraq oil through black-market channels to circumvent the US-imposed economic blockade on Iraq.
Although US companies have profited handsomely from trading with Saddam Hussein’s regime via the UN and the black-market, their lack of direct official ties with Baghdad has enabled their French and Russian rivals to sign contracts giving them exclusive rights to extract and transport oil and gas from Iraq once UN sanctions are lifted.
In one violent stroke, a US-engineered "regime change" in Iraq would void these contracts and clear the way for US oil companies to gain total control over Iraq’s oil reserves. The US corporate elite’s best-case scenario was neatly summarised by Robert Collier in an article printed in the September 20 San Francisco Chronicle:
The world’s biggest oil bonanza in recent memory may be just around the corner, giving US oil companies huge profits…for decades to come…And it may all come courtesy of a war with Iraq…[O]il analysts and Iraqi exile leaders believe a new, pro-Western government would prompt US…petroleum giants to rush into Iraq, dramatically increasing the output of a nation whose oil reserves are second only to that of Saudi Arabia. Once [Iraqi] production reaches its full capacity, they say, the enormous increase in supply could…shift the balance of power among the world’s major oil producers."
Battle for oil in Venezuela
Among those major oil producers of is Venezuela, where a battle is being fought between the government of President Hugo Chavez, backed by Venezuela’s proletarian and semi-proletarian urban and rural poor including those in uniform, and the super-rich capitalist families, backed by Washington. The struggle in Venezuela is also about control of oil. The Chavez government aims to use revenue from the oil industry to improve the living standards of the poor and to advance the country’s economic development and independence. But since 1974, the oil industry has been moving in the opposite direction. At that time, PdVSA, the state-owned oil company kept 20% of its revenues for its operating costs and turned over 80% to the government. In 1990, it was 50-50, and in 1998, when Chavez was first elected president, the company kept 80% and turned over 20% to the government. By the late 1990s what the capitalist managers of PdVSA had in mind was full privatisation - not a reversal of the trend of the previous 20 years.
Having failed to oust the Chavez government through a military coup in April, in early December the Venezuelan capitalists, acting through PdVSA’s management, organised the privileged technicians and administrative personnel to shut-down of the computerised oil industry with the aim of forcing Chavez to immediately call new presidential elections, despite the fact that he was re-elected only two years ago with 57% of the popular vote. The Chavez government has countered by organising the National Guard and production workers to restart oil refining and the loading of tankers using manual controls.
The oil industry bosses’ strike has divided the anti-Chavez forces, with chambers of commerce in three states opposing it, and stiffened opposition among working people to efforts to oust Chavez. Faced with this situation, Washington has not taken as open an aggressive stance against the Chavez government as it in April did during the generals’ coup attempt.
Venezuela, is the world’s fifth largest oil producer, supplying nearly 20% of US oil imports. If the Chavez government succeeds taking Venezuela’s oil industry out of hands of its present capitalist managers, Washington’s will most likely attempt to force "regime change" in Caracas by drastically reducing its oil imports from Venezuela. To do this, however, the US rulers will need to be able to secure a reliable alternative supply. Conquering Iraq and placing its oil industry under the direct US control would put them in a position to do just that.
Middle East oil and US imperialism
On October 30, White House mouthpiece Ari Fleischer told the mass media that "the White House has no interest in controlling Iraq’s oil reserves if the Bush administration decides to take military action to remove Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein". "That’s not the way America works", he added.
On the very same day, the petroleum industry journal Oil and Gas International, carried the following report:
The Bush administration wants to have a working group of 12 to 20 people focussed on Iraqi oil and gas to be able to recommend an interim government ways of restoring the petroleum sector following a military attack in order to increase oil exports to partially pay for a possible US military occupation government - further fuelling the view that controlling Iraqi oil is at the heart of the Bush campaign to replace Hussein with a more compliant regime.
Washington’s war on Iraq will be a war for oil - a war to secure the dominant position of the US corporate elite in the world oil market, and to weaken the position of "other major oil producers" as well as their oil-deficient West Europe and Japanese imperialist competitor. That’s the way imperialist America works and always has.
Gaining control of the Middle East’s vast oil reserves has been a central part of US finance capital’s drive for global economic domination since the beginning of the imperialist stage of capitalism. In his 1975 book The Seven Sisters: The Great Oil Companies and the World They Shape, Anthony Sampson gave a detailed description of how at the end of World War I the US State Department maneuvered against Britain and France to maintain the already dominant position of the US oil companies in the rapidly expanding world oil market.
"The immediate battlefield for post-war oil diplomacy", Sampson noted, "was the disintegrating Ottoman Empire. Turkey was paying the price for defeat by having her dwindling possessions carved up between Britain and France. Both countries, while pretending that oil was not foremost in their minds, were specially concerned with two regions along the river Tigris in Mesopotamia (soon to become Iraq), the regions of Baghdad and Mosul which were suspected of containing huge oil reserves."
Sampson described how, in 1914, a syndicate known as the Turkish Petroleum Company had been formed to explore and exploit these oil reserves. It was half owned by BP, with the other two quarters equally divided between the Anglo-Dutch Shell company and the German Deutsche Bank, which had financed the Baghdad railway. The agreement went into abeyance during the war, but in December 1919 it was revised at the conference at San Remo, convened to draw up the peace treaty with Turkey with the German quarter-share being given to French investors.
As Sampson observed:
It was a classical European horse-trade, and it deliberately excluded the US, on the semi-plausible grounds that American had not declared war on Turkey and was not therefore concerned with the peace treaty. But the Americans were outraged when the agreement came to light. The American ambassador in London delivered a strong note to the Foreign Office implying that Britain was trying to corner the world’s oil, and recalling (in stately language) that America had helped to win the war and was entitled to share in the spoils. Lord Curzon, the British Foreign Secretary, replied that oil from the British Empire and Persia amounted to 4.5 percent of the world’s production, whereas the US controlled (with Mexico) about 82 percent.
By August 1922, under sustained pressure from Washington, the British offered the Americans first 12 per cent of the Turkish Petroleum Company, and eventually 20 per cent, which they accepted. The State Department had gradually pushed open the door into Iraq open…
During World War II, Washington secured a monopoly for the four big US oil companies over the extraction and transportation of oil from the vast new oil reserves in Saudi Arabia and began construction of an air force base at Dharhran, near the oil fields. After the war, the Dhahran base became the largest operated by the US Air Force between Germany and Japan. Through the CIA-organised coup in Iran in 1953, Washington broke BP’s 40-year monopoly over Iranian oil and transformed Iran from a British to a US protectorate. As a result of these manoeuvres, US companies increased their control of the Middle East’s oil supply from less than 13% at the beginning of World War II to 60% by the end of the 1950s.
Far more populous than Saudi Arabia, Iran was allotted a key role in policing the entire area around the Persian Gulf area for imperialist oil interests after the British rulers decided to withdraw their armed forces from the Arab side of the Gulf in the early 1970s. As the New York Times noted in July 1971: "By 1975, when the present program of military deliveries and training is completed, Iran is expected to be a major Middle Eastern power and an element of stability in the volatile Gulf region, American officials say." During the 1970s Washington built up the shah of Iran’s army into one of the largest and best equipped in the Third World, with some 200,000 troops. To crush internal opposition, the CIA built up the shah’s secret police into a massive network with 60,000 agents.
Then in early February 1979 Washington’s Persian Gulf strategy was dealt a massive blow, when a year-long wave of strikes and street protests culminated in a mass insurrection in Tehran and other Iranian cities which led to the expulsion of the shah and his 20,000 US "advisers". The Iranian revolution brought home to the US rulers the political consequences of the defeat they had suffered in Vietnam four years earlier, and their subsequent inability to build a national consensus behind the protracted use of US troops in defence of imperialist interests in the Third World. "At the risk of being melodramatic", declared the Wall Street Journal on February 21, 1979, "today we see the world order coming apart…The spiral into disorder can be averted only if the US starts to assert itself again."
Unable to use of its own troops to restore reliable pro-imperialist regime in Iran, Washington turned for help to Saddam Hussein’s capitalist regime in Iraq, a regime that had been consolidated in power following a CIA-assisted military coup in 1963 which beheaded the vanguard of the 1958 anti-monarchist, anti-landlord revolution.
For eight-years Washington provided encouragement, financial assistance and arms via its French and British allies to Saddam Hussein’s murderous war against Iran, which began with a massive Iraqi invasion of southern Iran in 1980. In launching this war, the Iraqi capitalist rulers hoped to take advantage of the recent disintegration of the shah’s army to significantly expand its source of revenues by seizing Iran’s oil fields, its refineries and its tanker ports. At the end of this war, which was one of the bloodiest of the 20th century, with hundreds of thousands of deaths and injuries on both sides, Hussein’s regime gained only a tiny strip of land on its southern border with Iraq and the US rulers found themselves no closer to their goal of installing a reliably subservient, pro-imperialist regime in Iran.
The 1991 Gulf War
The Iraqi regime’s invasion of Kuwait in August 1990 was an extension of the expansionist course that propelled it to war against Iran in the 1980s. By invading Kuwait, the Iraqi capitalists sought to gain control of Kuwait’s oil reserves and its deep-water port. They sought to put themselves in a better position to pressure the militarily weak Saudi Arabian regime on pricing and quotas policies with the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries and thus increase their share of the revenues garnered by the Persian Gulf states from their sale of oil to the imperialist oil monopolies. They acted on the assumption that Washington would not risk the domestic political consequences of taking the number of casualties that Baghdad itself accepted so casually in its eight-year war with Iran, and therefore they would not have to fight a war with Washington; that they could either get away with their annexation of Kuwait or negotiate a deal with Washington that would allow them to keep some of the island port facilities and oil fields they had seized.
However, the Iraqi regime’s invasion and annexation of Kuwait not only proved to the US rulers that Saddam Hussein’s regime could not be counted on to be a reliable, compliant servant of imperialist interests in the Middle East, it handed them on a silver platter the best opportunity in a decade to recover some of what they had lost in the Middle East through the fall of the shah’s regime in Iran.
Baghdad’s assumption that the US rulers would not risk fighting a war that would result in high US casualties led the Iraqi regime to assume that Washington would not launch any military assault at all. Saddam Hussein’s regime therefore made no preparations to organise the Iraqi population for an imperialist military assault on Iraq; right up until Washington unleashed its six-week campaign of round-the-clock aerial bombardment on Iraq on January 16, 1991, the Iraqi regime’s propaganda over radio and television promised there would be no imperialist military assault on Iraq. US and allied warplanes dropped 88,500 tons of bombs on Iraq, destroying factories, bridges, electrical generation plants, irrigation works, water purification facilities and everything nearby them, including residential neighbourhoods.
The death toll of Iraqi civilians was cold-bloodedly discounted by the White House and the Pentagon before the aerial bombardment of Iraq began. Their stress on the "precision" of the bombing and "smartness" of the bombs a cynical public relations exercise from day one. It was later revealed that of the total tonnage of bombs dropped on Iraq, some 70% missed their "military" targets.
Well before the imperialist air-war was launched on Iraq, Washington knew through its extensive intelligence-gathering means that the Iraqi people and armed forces were not being organised by Saddam Hussein’s regime to defend themselves from a brutal bombardment or to resist a large-scale armoured invasion backed by US and allied air cover. Baghdad sent most its best fighter planes to Iran. That was a signal that it wasn’t planning to provide air cover for its troops in Kuwait.
As the imperialist aerial bombardment continued, Baghdad began withdrawing its best tanks and other armour, as well as its anti-tank attack helicopters, from Kuwait and southern Iraq. That was a signal that it didn’t intend to mount any serious resistance to an imperialist armoured ground invasion of Kuwait and southern Iraq. Finally, most of the Iraqi officer corps was moved out of battle zone. The mass of regular Iraqi troops in Kuwait and southern Iraq were left by Saddam Hussein’s regime without any air cover, without a command structure, without any organisation. They were no longer organised as an army. They were simply individual, lightly armed workers and peasants - sitting in bunkers - facing a massive imperialist aerial and ground bombardment. Saddam Hussein’s regime abandoned them to the mechanised slaughter organised by US and its allies.
When Washington launched its ground assault, it knew it would not encounter any serious resistance and therefore could anticipate a quick military victory without high US casualties. On March 1, 1991, US President George Bush senior gloated "we’ve kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and fall all". But the "Vietnam syndrome" - the deep reluctance of the US working class to have the lives of large numbers of their family members in uniform sacrificed in pursuit of US foreign policy objectives - was never tested during the 1991 Gulf war because Saddam Hussein’s regime never intended to fight a war against US imperialism and it didn’t.
Washington’s decision to halt its ground assault in southern Iraq after only 100 hours, was based on the assumption that its political objective of achieving a government in Baghdad that would be a compliant servant of imperialist interests was "in the bag". All the US rulers had to do was wait for some section of the Baathist establishment and officer corps to depose or assassinate Saddam Hussein and replace him with a another military thug who would be more accommodating to Washington. But since US forces never headed for Baghdad, the imperialist invasion of Iraq never reached the point where the Baathist regime’s survival was put at direct risk by this invasion.
In one sense, from the point of view of Saddam Hussein’s regime, his strategy of not fighting a war against US imperialism worked. His gangster-style grab for more turf was pushed back, but his best troops, aircraft, artillery and other equipment needed crush internal rebellion remained intact.
In the days following the halt in US offensive operations on February 27, 1991, some of the Iraqi troops who had fled from the killing fields of Kuwait went into open rebellion against Saddam Hussein’s regime. They were fed up with the disastrous consequences for Iraqi troops and civilians alike of Hussein’s expansionist adventure in Kuwait and treacherous refusal to organise its troops to fight the imperialist assault. These soldiers joined the revolts by tens of thousands of working people against the Baathist regime in the cities, towns and villages of southern Iraq. The oppressed Kurdish people rapidly took control away from the Baathist regime’s repressive apparatus in a large section of northern Iraq. In the face of these internal threats to the Baathist regime, the officer corps of the Iraqi army rallied around Saddam Hussein’s ruling gang which turned against these rebellions the elite troops, armour and air power that it had refused to use to defend the Iraqi people from the imperialist military assault.
While the US rulers’ central political objective in militarily attacking Iraq was to replace Saddam Hussein with a more accommodating ruler in Baghdad, they had no desire to see the Iraqi capitalist state overthrown by the workers and peasants. Washington therefore ordered its military forces in southern Iraq to do nothing to interfere with Baghdad’s bloody suppression of the popular rebellion and to begin withdrawing from Iraq as soon as possible.
Post-Cold War world and US strategy
The imperialist assault on Iraq in early 1991 coincided with a fundamental shift in the international political situation - the disintegration of the Soviet Union as a result of the turn by its ruling bureaucratic elite toward the restoration of capitalism and reintegration into the world capitalist economy. This marked the end of the so-called Cold War, which was the consequence of the outcome of World War II during which Washington emerged as imperialism’s pre-eminent economic and military power and the Soviet workers and peasants successfully repelled German imperialism’s invasion of the Soviet Union. The Cold War was imposed on the US rulers by their inability to carry out by means of a hot war, a shooting war, their goal of restoring capitalism in the Soviet Union. They were no strong enough to do so right on the heels of World War II largely because of the organised resistance of US troops to being used as cannon fodder in such a war.
By the time the US rulers had overcome this political obstacle through a relentless four-year campaign of whipping up patriotic hysteria against a supposed Moscow-directed "communist" conspiracy to takeover the "free world" and destroy the "American way of life", the key military advantage they possessed coming out of World War II - their monopoly of nuclear weapons - had been broken by the Soviet Union. As a result, Washington had to abandon its plans to use its military power to restore capitalism in the Soviet Union and other countries where it had been overturned as a consequence of Moscow’s military victory over the German occupation armies in Eastern Europe and the Japanese occupation armies in north-east Asia.
Throughout the Cold War, however, Washington continued to use its military power to wage hot wars in the Third War - in Korea and Vietnam for example - while striving to achieve a level of strategic military superiority sufficient to be able to fight a war against the Soviet Union without fear of devastating retaliation.
In the end, it was the bureaucratic ruling elite of the Soviet Union which decided to liquidate the USSR and restore capitalism.
George Bush senior’s administration responded to the collapse of the Soviet Union by initiating a full-scale review of US military strategy. The chief concern of Pentagon policy-makers at the time was how to ensure that the collapse of the Soviet Union would not undermine the leverage Washington’s command of the NATO military alliance gave it over its West European allies in international trade and other economic disputes. France and Germany were pushing for the formation of a military wing of the European Union that would be independent of NATO, and therefore of US, control. In response to this concern, in March 1992 Paul Wolfowitz and Lewis Libby, Dick Cheney’s undersecretaries for defence policy, drafted the Defense Planning Guidance which bluntly stated that Washington "must seek to prevent the emergence of European-only security arrangements which would undermine NATO" and deter "potential competitors from even aspiring to a larger regional or global role". The document argued that to achieve this the US had to "retain the preeminent responsibility for addressing…those wrongs which threaten not only our interests, but those of our allies and friends, or which seriously unsettle international relations".
When leaked in final draft form in March 1992 the document drew so much criticism it was hastily withdrawn and repudiated by President Bush senior. However, it provided the basic policy framework through which the Clinton administration conducted its military interventions into the series of wars which ravaged the Balkans following the break-up of Yugoslavia in 1991-92.
The end of the Cold War was widely seen by the US rulers and their policy experts as providing the possibility for Washington to exercise its military power unilaterally, "unashamedly laying down the rules of word order and being prepared to enforce them", as a 1991 article in the ruling-class policy discussion journal Foreign Affairs bluntly put it.
While Bill Clinton was president, the Cheney gang formed a private organisation called the Project for a New American Century (PNAC) to formulate a coherent plan to achieve US global political and economic dominance. In September 2000, the PNAC released a document setting out its proposals for US foreign policy in the 21st century as follows:
Over the decade of the post-Cold War period…almost everything has changed. The Cold War was a bipolar world; the 21st century world is - for the moment, at least - decidedly unipolar, with America as the world’s "sole superpower". America’s strategic goal used to be containment of the Soviet Union; today the task is to preserve an international security environment conducive to America’s interests and ideals.
To carry this out, the document argued that the US military would have to perform "constabulary duties" throughout the world, and urged the expansion of permanent US military bases beyond Western Europe and north-east Asia, to the Middle East, Southeast Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia. It urged a much larger US military presence throughout the world, beyond the roughly 130 countries in which US troops were then deployed.
The document argued that "the US has for many decades sought to play a more prominent role in [Persian] Gulf regional security" and that "While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American military presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein".
The document recommended that the US boost its war spending to a minimum of 3.8% of US gross domestic product and that it develop the capability to "fight and win multiple, simultaneous major theatre wars". It identified Iraq, Iran and North Korea as the primary short-term targets, criticising past Pentagon war planning for having "given little or no consideration to the force requirements necessary not only to defeat an attack but to remove these regimes from power".
Of course, it is one thing for US ruling-class strategists to devise a military plan to assert global dominance, it’s another thing to find the political means to win public support for achieving it. As Zbigniew Brzezinski, the former national security adviser under President Jimmy Carter, put it in his (1999?) book The Grand Chessboard: "The pursuit of power is not a goal that commands popular passion, except in conditions of a sudden threat or challenge to the public’s sense of domestic well-being".
Bush’s War on Terror
The September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center provided the Cheney gang, reinstalled in power behind the moronic, eldest son of George Bush senior, with the ideal "sudden threat…to the public’s sense of domestic well-being" that it needed to implement its plan for a new American century.
In a series of articles published by the Washington Post in January based on interviews with senior members of Bush junior’s administration, it was revealed that at a cabinet meeting on the morning after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld argued that Iraq should be "a principal target of the first round in the war against terrorism". Iraq was temporarily spared only because secretary of state Colin Powell persuaded Bush that "public opinion has to be prepared before a move against Iraq is possible".
At a meeting of the National Security Council (NSC) later that day, Rumsfeld again argued that the US should attack Iraq. Powell and the top US military officers argued that Afghanistan should be the first target since plans for such an attack had already been drawn up under the Clinton administration. Bush sided with Powell. Vice-President Dick Cheney argued that the targets of the War on Terror should be quickly expanded beyond the Taliban and al Qaeda to states that "sponsor terrorism".
An article in the April 2002 issue of the New Yorker magazine, Nicholas Lemann revealed that Bush’s national security adviser, Condoleeza Rice, told him that shortly after the 9/11 attacks she had called together the staff of the NSC and urged them "to think about ‘how do you capitalise on these opportunities’ to fundamentally change American doctrine, and shape the world". She reportedly told the NSC staff: "I really think this period is analogous to 1945 to 1947…in that the events so clearly demonstrated that there is a big global threat…And it’s important to try to seize on that and position American interests and institutions…before they harden again."
Lehmann reported that "Inside government, the reason September 11 appears to have been ‘a transformative moment’, as one senior official I had lunch with put it, is not so much that it revealed the existence of a threat of which officials had previously been unaware as that it drastically reduced the American public’s usual resistance to American military involvement overseas, at least for a while."
Following its quick victory in over the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, achieved through a punishing aerial bombardment and the CIA’s bribing of local Afghan warlords to turn against the Taliban ruling clique in Kabul, the Bush administration launched a concerted propaganda effort to implement the Cheney gang’s plan for the new American century. In his January 11 State of Union address to Congress, George Bush junior announced that the next targets of the War on Terror would be Iraq, Iran and North Korea - the "Axis of Evil" - justifying this with the claim that these states were threatening the US with "weapons of mass destruction".
On September 17 the Bush administration published its National Security Strategy document which fleshed out the political goals for a colossal expansion of US militarism. The document announces that the previous Cold War doctrine of "deterrence" must be replaced by a new doctrine of "pre-emptive action". "Deterrence", it declares was an "effective defense" because the Soviet Union was "a generally status quo, low-risk adversary". This is a remarkable admission, given that it made by more or less the same people who as recently as the 1980s were describing the Soviet Union as an "empire of evil" head-bent on worldwide conquest.
The new doctrine proclaimed in the document is "pre-emptive action" against any country which the US rulers deem poses, or might at some time in the future pose, a threat to US interests. "We must be prepared", it declares "to stop rogue states and their terrorist clients before they are able to threaten or use weapons of mass destruction against the US and our allies and friends."
Neoliberal globalisation and the US war drive
The document, however, sets a broader agenda for the use of US military power, declaring that the US will "use its unparalleled military strength…to extend the benefits of free markets and free trade to every corner of the world".
The supposed benefits of extending "free markets and free trade" to "every corner of the world", which has been the policy of the imperialist rulers for more than 20 years now, are quantified in the document with a passing reference to the fact that "half the human race lives on less than $2 a day".
The "benefits" of two decades of globalising "free markets" seem to have escaped the most people, according to the Pew Research Center’s survey of public opinion in 44 countries, presented in its December 4 report What the World Thinks in 2002 - How Global Publics View: Their Lives, Their Countries, The World, America. Compiled on the basis of 39,000 interviews, the report revealed that "almost all national publics view the fortunes of the world as drifting downward".
In the section of the report devoted to the respondents’ attitudes to their own lives, economic hardship was named as the most pressing personal problem in 40 of the 44 countries surveyed. Not surprisingly, "overwhelming majorities" of respondents in Africa "say there have been times in the past year when they did not have enough money for food, clothing or health care". Majorities of those interviewed in Latin America and Russia report that they have been unable to afford food at some time in the last 12 months. However, one of the most remarkable and damning results of the survey is that 15% of Americans interviewed acknowledge not being able to afford food "occasionally" in the past year, 19% have not been able to afford clothing, and 25% have not been able to afford health care. According to the report, "Overall, a third of Americans say they have encountered at least one of these hardships in the past year". Such a figure would probably be a more accurate indicator of the real; level of poverty in the US than the official figure of 11.5%.
In the section "Global Publics View Their Countries", the report’s authors bluntly admit that most of the 38,000 people interviewed "are overwhelming dissatisfied with the way things are going in their countries today", adding the comment that "Solid majorities in every region say they are unhappy with the state of their nation". The levels of dissatisfaction in the developed capitalist countries range from 55% in the US to 70% in Italy; in Eastern Europe, they range from 60% in the Czech republic to 91% in Bulgaria; in capitalist Latin America, from 79% in Mexico to 96% in Argentina; in Africa, from 55% in Tanzania to 90% in Kenya; in Asia, from 52% in China to 92% in the Philippines. Vietnam was the only Asian country where a majority of respondents - 69% - expressed satisfaction with the state of their nation.
In the section "Global Publics View the World", the report returns to the same recurring theme. "If any attitude unites people of different nations and varied personal circumstances, it is their very strong dissatisfaction with the way things are going in the world".
Revealing the pollsters’ major concern, nearly a third of the survey is devoted to how "Global Publics View the US". They discovered that "negative opinions of the US have increased in most of the nations where trend benchmarks are available". In four of the six Eastern European countries surveyed, positive opinions about the US have declined over the last two years. In Latin America, only 34% of Argentines view the US favorably, down from 50% two years ago. More than four in ten South Koreans have an unfavorable opinion.
The researchers found there was a strong sense in most countries that US policies serve to increase the gap between rich and poor. These views were not restricted to poor countries - in France, Germany and Canada some 70% of respondents held this view. In the US itself, the researchers found that a sizable minority - 34% - "believes the US has added to the global economic divide"
It indicates the fundamental political fragility of the US rulers’ drive to use US military power to extend neoliberal economic policies "to every corner of the world", and why their comparison of this period with the early years of the Cold War is fatally flawed. The patriotic hysteria and pro-war sentiment whipped up in the US in the late 1940s was able to be sustained during a protracted "hot war" in Korea and in the early party of the "hot war" in Vietnam because the living standards of most were working people generally improving through that period.
The neoliberal economic policies that the US rulers want to deepen at home and extend "to every corner of the world", however, are aimed at reducing the living standards of the majority of working people in order to sustain and accelerate the enrichment of the corporate elite in a world capitalist economy stagnating under the burden of massive levels of profitably unutilisable productive capacity.
This process of enrichment is bound up with a vast expansion of financial parasitism over the past 20 years and the plundering of corporate financial resources. The series of corporate scandals in the US over the last two years have revealed that there is not much difference between the Mafia-life "biznessmen" who have plundered Russia during the past decade and the daily operations of corporate executives in the US.
The economic agenda the US rulers have in mind for a post-Saddam Iraq was spelt out in a report released on September 25 by the right-wing Heritage Foundation. Its authors foresee an Iraq "managed" by the US and opened up to "structural reforms", foreign investment, deregulation and "privatisation" - exactly the same neoliberal policy recipe that has been used by the imperialist rulers to plunder the resources of the capitalistically underdeveloped countries of Asia, Africa and Latin America.
At our last party congress, two years ago, we discussed and adopted a report on the international situation entitled War and Austerity: Capitalism in the 21st Century (The Activist, Volume 11, Number 1( which noted that: "The explosive emergence of the new movement in the imperialist countries against neoliberal globalisation that began with the mass protests against the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle in November 1999" reflected a "growing crisis of popular legitimacy for the imperialist ruling classes’ drive to globalise - to extend the entire world - their neoliberal policy agenda."
As the US rulers’ have pushed forward their war drive over the last year, increasing numbers of involved in this movement have come to see that the war drive is the most aggressive manifestation of neoliberal globalisation. The "anti-corporate protest movement", as Naomi Klein called it, has increasingly taken on the character of an anti-war protest movement.
This anti-war movement starts at a much higher level of the interconnection between neoliberalism globalisation and imperialist war than previous anti-war movements, even the movement against the 1991 war on Iraq which popularised the slogan "No blood for oil!".
In the years ahead, this new anti-war movement will provide revolutionary socialists with enormous opportunities to convince wider and wider layers of working people - particularly the young workers and students who will be drawn by it into politically activity for the first time - to understand that the underlying cause of imperialist war and neoliberal globalisation is the social regime of corporate capitalism, and that the only way to end them is to effect a revolutionary "regime change" in its heartlands.