“If you watch the nightly news, it feels like the world is falling apart,” said the U.S. president with resignation. Obama´s admitted lack of strategy is not stopping him from sliding into the next Middle East war. On the contrary, he is the fourth U.S. president in a row to bomb Iraq. But the complete absence of any viable plan for the medium term is a reflection of the decline of U.S. imperialism, despite its military might and remaining economic power.
In the post-World War II period, the U.S. established itself as the dominant capitalist power, and as “the world’s policeman.” It was able to use its military and political power to influence other nations and enrich the U.S. ruling class. However, recently the U.S. government has not been able to exert its influence to the same extent and has faced a number of humiliating setbacks.
The 2003 invasion of Iraq was supposed to bring about democracy and improved rights for Iraqi citizens – or at least bring cheap oil access to George W. Bush’s corporate friends. An important target was to overcome the “Vietnam Syndrome” – to get the U.S. population used to new military adventures to secure profits for U.S. corporations all around the globe.
Now, Iraq is divided into three: Kurdish forces control the north; the Iraqi government – with the help of Iran – controls the south and west, which are deeply divided between Shia and Sunni people; and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS, sometimes referred to as IS or ISIL) holds the remainder. This is a nightmare of bloody sectarian, religious, and nationalist divisions for the people and a complete failure even from the cynical point of view of those who started this war for oil. As the Committee for a Workers International said in 2003, the invasion of Iraq would represent the beginning of its dismemberment. This process now seems irreversible. Instead of overcoming the aversion of the U.S. population to imperialist wars, there is now a new “Iraq Syndrome,” with a huge unwillingness of U.S. workers and youth to fight the capitalist elite´s wars.
On top of the decline in the Middle East, new economic turmoil is on the horizon. A new “cold war” is developing with Russia, turning the Ukraine into a battlefield in Europe. There is also a confrontation with China which could lead to proxy wars in Asia.
The Monsters U.S. Imperialism Creates
The beheadings by ISIS have shocked the world. They have brought home to millions of workers the catastrophic realities of the vicious cycle of war in the Middle East and the terror that ISIS and other forces have inflicted on the region’s population.
The Iraqi government installed by the U.S. has been unable to firmly establish itself, even with huge U.S. assistance. The lack of social support of this regime was clearly reflected in the absence of any will to fight among the Iraqi army. ISIS was able to take huge chunks of land, with the Iraqi military melting away before them – leaving only the U.S.-supplied military hardware.
The brutal acts of ISIS, condemned by socialists, have also forced President Obama’s hand, and the U.S. and other Western powers have hastily drawn up a three-year plan to yet again carry out military actions in Iraq.
But the growth of ISIS directly flows from the bloody history of U.S. intervention. In attempting to create stable, friendly regimes, U.S. imperialism has conjured up a nightmare for the people of the region and created new monsters it can´t control.
The Arab Spring showed the anger of workers and poor people in the region about oppression and social misery. However, with the lack of a clear alternative, the movements’ successes were stolen from their hands. New dictatorships were set up – like the Egyptian military taking over again – with U.S. backing. All elements of a people´s uprising in Syria against the brutal dictator Assad are now dragged into a battle between different reactionary, anti-democratic and, in the end, pro-capitalist forces.
The present inability of the working class and the poor masses in the region to form their own organizations and develop a program to overthrow the reactionary, often Western backed, regimes like Saudi Arabia is the background for a temporary domination of reactionary powers. Saudi Arabia, for example, sanctioned at least eight beheadings in the month of August – in reality, as shocking as the ISIS killings.
Obama’s announced “plan” to defeat ISIS tries to bank on these reactionary regimes, and to make use of the disgust over the reactionary methods and policies of ISIS.
It is estimated that Obama’s plan, which is sailing through Congress, will have a $30 billion price tag. This stands in stark contrast to the amount of aid devoted to combating the worst Ebola outbreak in history, which has so far totaled $100 million – including the money given to U.S. pharmaceutical companies developing vaccines.
It is an attempt to cynically continue the divide-and-rule game, played by different imperialist powers in the region for more than 100 years. In addition, it is complicated by the frayed regional relationships that exist. Simply put, it will not re-establish U.S. dominance or create peace and stability for the people.
Based on the cooperation with the reactionary regime of Saudi Arabia, in partial alliance with Iran, in alliance with Kurdish forces, and its allies in Turkey and Israel, the U.S. elites aim to secure their interests. The fact that these forces are in sharp conflict among themselves and most of them will be subject to future upheavals of politically and economically oppressed masses sharply undermines this “strategy” from the beginning.
Iran has already sent ground troops into Iraq to fight against ISIS and to back up Iraq’s shaky army. But Iran’s nuclear programs and regional ambitions have led to hostility between Iran and the U.S. and its allies in the region. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) objected to Iran being involved in developing a strategy to oppose ISIS, but Foreign Secretary John Kerry has left the door open to future cooperation.
The U.S. has so far rejected working with the Assad regime in Syria, which a year ago Obama was seeking to bomb. The Syrian Civil War, which the UN’s own self-confessedly conservative estimate states has cost the lives of 191,000, previously saw Assad use chemical weapons and other military means to put down the population.
But it is in opposition to Assad that ISIS grew, initially as an affiliate of Al-Qaeda but later expelled due to its extreme actions. ISIS has grabbed a large part of the territory in the northern part of Syria as well as the northern and eastern parts of Iraq. It has carried out massacres against Shia Muslims and religious minorities in the areas that it controls, and in certain areas it has sought to implement a vicious dictatorship.
In seeking to counter the growth of ISIS, Obama has devised a strategy that fits in with the broader aims of the U.S. within the region. Obama’s plan – collaborating with other western governments and U.S.-friendly regimes in the region – is to work through existing fighters in the civil war, backing them up with training, supplies, and air strikes. Sending in U.S. troops on the ground has not been ruled out either, through Obama says it has.
The U.S. has been looking for rebel Syrian groups it can work through since the start of the civil war. A concerted effort was previously made to back the Free Syrian Army (FSA), a loose coalition of opposition groups. But the FSA has been almost completely sidelined by the growth of ISIS. It is reported that one of the American citizens beheaded was not captured by ISIS, but by another, less hardline rebel Syrian group, which then sold its captive to ISIS to ransom off. The head official from a U.S.-backed liaison office was recently kidnapped by Syrian rebel groups during a meeting.
A New “Cold War”
The U.S. is also increasingly clashing with other countries internationally. The Ukrainian conflict shows capitalist Russia’s demand and ability to play a role regionally, as well as its willingness to clash with the U.S. and the European Union.
The crisis in the Ukraine turned from a people’s uprising into a civil war of different nationalist, pro-capitalist groups under the influence of different powers seeking regional dominance. The lack of a working-class-based leadership left the vacuum for these pro-capitalist and even far-right and fascist groups to capture the momentum and try to set their agenda.
The result is a decline into a civil war and instability in Europe, last seen during the Yugoslav wars.
Developing Conflicts With China
China has also been keen to extend its influence internationally, and the $400 billion Russia-China gas deal brings together two of the international opponents of the U.S. The disaster of Iraq will only reinforce the weakening of U.S. power internationally.
While the U.S. economy is creeping forward with a weak recovery which overwhelmingly benefits the rich, the world economy is stumbling into new crisis. The Eurozone never really left the Great Recession following the shockwaves of 2007 and 2008, and is now sliding back, with 0% growth in the recent quarter.
China is increasing its restrictions on foreign companies, which is cutting into the export outlet for manufacturers with excess capacity, such as European car companies. China itself is suffering the effects of a real-estate bubble and a financial bubble of “zombie banks.”
China appears less able to play the role of the locomotive for the rest of global economy.
On top of these economic problems, huge changes on a world scale are developing that are having enormous political and economic repercussions. As the U.S. economy has been getting weaker compared to its rivals, U.S. imperialism is no longer able to easily set the agenda.
But the clashes between the governments of the U.S., China, Russia, and regional forces such as Iran represent, at root, clashes over who gets to profit off the backs of workers worldwide. These divisions internationally are played out over the bodies of workers and the poor.
None of these forces is interested in raising living standards and guaranteeing stability.
Recently, thousands of Iranian miners took strike action, and many of the leaders are facing imprisonment. During the Israeli slaughter in Gaza, a march of thousands of Palestinians showed the potential for a mass antiwar movement – and terrified the U.S. and Israeli regimes enough to force an intensification of ceasefire negotiations.
It’s when workers and poor people organize that a real challenge to war and exploitation can develop.
At the moment, these forces are more hidden and pushed back. However, the Arab Spring with its repercussions worldwide, the close interactions of young people and workers around the globe within Occupy, the “enraged” and “Indignados” in Europe – all of this shows how quickly an inspiring movement can change events. And, in the Middle East, despite the decline into civil wars and bloody divisions, this setback for the masses is temporary and new uprisings are being prepared by the lack of any alternative capitalism and imperialism have to offer.
To end oppression, exploitation, and war, we need to end the rule of big business. It is our duty to fight capitalism and war here in the U.S., in the heart of imperialism. The success of socialist Kshama Sawant in Seattle´s city council race last year encouraged activists all around the globe. Movements in the U.S. have huge repercussions and will help to rebuild the resistance of workers and young people internationally. The fight for a socialist America in a socialist world, to stop the capitalist war machine and to fight to end exploitation and oppression – that’s the contribution we can offer to end the history of slaughter and begin to build a new era of international solidarity.
1980 to 1988: Iran-Iraq war. U.S. government backs Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, turning a blind eye to his use of chemical weapons.
January, 1991: Beginning of Gulf War. U.S. and coalition forces attack Iraq in response to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Thousands of retreating Iraqi soldiers slaughtered on the “Highway of Death.”
1991 to 2003: U.S. establishes no-fly zone in the north of Iraq to provide security for Kurdish population, applies sanctions to the Iraqi economy.
1998: Clinton orders the bombing of Iraq, aimed at “military targets.”
September 11, 2001: Bombing of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon building by Al-Qaeda results in U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
March, 2003: Invasion of Iraq by George Bush on pretense that Iraq possesses “weapons of mass destruction,” which later proves to be false. Subsequent U.S. occupation of Iraq which lasts until 2013.
2006 to 2007: Iraqi Civil War erupts in opposition to U.S. occupation. This is fueled by the shutting out of the Sunni population from power and creating an Iraqi government that is dominated by Shia forces. Although this is the height of the civil war, insurgent movements have been continuous since 2003.
January, 2011: Arab Spring begins with mass protests and the overthrow of the government of Tunisia. Mass protests begin in Egypt and result in the resignation of the dictator Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Protests break out in a number of Arab countries, including Syria.
2011 to Present: Mass revolts in Syria result in brutal repression by Assad regime. This develops into an ongoing civil war.
2013 to Present: Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) begins to emerge as a strong radical Islamic group in the civil war in Syria. In 2014 it expands, fighting into Sunni areas of northern Iraq and taking control of the major city of Mosul.