“There will not be a safe place in Baghdad.” Those were the chilling words of an unnamed Pentagon official describing plans for a war against Iraq. Already, 200,000 US soldiers, fighter jets and a Navy armada have been mobilized in the Middle East to attack and occupy Iraq. US forces plan to fire 300 to 400 cruise missiles during the first 24 hours of the assault, more than the number used during the entire 40 days of the first Gulf War, which took the lives of 100-200,000 Iraqis.
Harlan Ullman, a Pentagon adviser, told CBS News that the plan is to: “take [Baghdad] down. By that, I mean you get rid of their power, water … In two, three, four, five days, they are physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted … We want them to quit, we want them not to fight. So that you have this simultaneous effect, rather like the nuclear weapons at Hiroshima, not taking days or weeks, but in minutes.”
This war is a war for oil and the power and prestige of US capitalism. It will be paid for with the lives of tens of thousands of Iraqis and potentially thousands of US troops, and by slashing funding for vital social services in the US such as education and health care. A war will be used to further attack our freedoms and civil liberties, and will provoke a new wave of racist attacks on Arabs and Muslims in the US.
It will trigger worldwide political and economic instability, leading to a growth in both right-wing political Islam and terrorism, and it could tip the fragile global economy into a deep downturn, sending millions of workers to the unemployment lines and on to the streets. The ordinary people of the US, Iraq, and the world have absolutely nothing to gain from this war.
In response to Bush’s war plans, an enormous anti-war movement has emerged in the US and around the globe – the largest anti-war movement in history before a war has even begun. This is a warning to Bush and the ruling class of the political price will pay as events unfold.
But even so, isn’t Saddam a brutal dictator who should be overthrown? Isn’t he hiding weapons of mass destruction that threaten Americans and Iraq’s neighbors? Isn’t he in league with Al Qaeda?
Saddam surely is a vicious tyrant who employs barbaric repression to maintain his rule over the Iraqi people. He clearly still possesses a formidable arsenal of conventional weapons. But his regime does not pose an immediate threat to the US.
Intensive UN weapons inspections have not uncovered any hidden weapons of mass destruction. The Bush leadership has been forced to tone down its claims that Iraq has nuclear weapons, which has been refuted by the weapon inspectors.
Given Saddam’s record, it would be unwise to assume that he has no biological or chemical weapons. However, his weaponry presents much less of a threat now than it did in the 1980s, when the US backed his regime with arms and finance.
Clearly, Washington’s newfound “concern” about weapons of mass destruction and democracy is not the real reason for this war. The US is the main backer of various corrupt monarchies and dictators throughout the Middle East in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Egypt, Pakistan, etc.
Despite numerous claims by the Bush leadership that there is a link between Saddam’s regime and Al Qaeda, they have failed to provide any clear evidence of it. In fact, through off-the-record briefings, elements of the US, UK and French intelligence services have made it clear that they do not believe there is any such link.
Socialists completely oppose terrorism and the 9/11 attacks, which only play into the hands of the most right-wing forces in society. However, invading Iraq will tremendously inflame the seething anger towards the US throughout the Middle East. Because of the political vacuum on the left it will likely strengthen support for Islamic Fundamentalist and terrorist groups, sowing the seeds for many more terrorist outrages.
Terrorism arises from the poverty and oppression created by imperialism and capitalism. It is only by building a powerful workers movement to replace these exploitative systems with socialism that terrorism can be overcome.
Overthrowing Saddam from Above or Below?
Saddam is a brutal dictator who should be overthrown. But Washington has no right to pick and choose who will run the Iraqi government. We can’t trust the US government to remove Saddam out of “humanitarian” motives, when their entire record shows that they only pursue the interests of US corporations. Any new US-backed government in Iraq would be entirely subservient to US interests, and would not represent the needs of the Iraqi people.
The US plans to militarily occupy Iraq, and install US General Tommy Franks as the new dictator of the country – a return to direct colonial rule. The US would then gradually transfer power to a US-appointed, or possibly an UN-appointed, civilian Iraqi government.
The US has no intention of allowing the Iraqi people to democratically decide their fate – what a naïve idea! Would Washington really allow the Iraqi people to vote to kick US troops out of Iraq? Or to nationalize their oil industry so that it could be used to end poverty instead of enriching US oil corporations?
The US has clearly stated that oppressed groups like the Kurds and the Shi’a will be denied the right to establish their own states. The US fears that a Shi’a state would extend the influence of Iran (a US adversary), and that the formation of an independent Kurdistan would destabilize the region by inspiring the oppressed Kurds in Turkey, Syria, and Iran (and other oppressed minorities throughout the region) to demand their rights.
In order to keep its ally Turkey on board, Washington will trade away the national and democratic aspirations of the Kurds like so much small change, while cynically using the Kurds’ oppression as an excuse to overthrow Saddam.
Socialists believe that overthrowing Saddam is the job of the Iraqi people, with the assistance of the international working class. This is the only democratic solution. Only in this way can a new government possibly be formed that can represent the interests of the Iraqi masses rather than foreign powers.
Many question whether it is possible for the Iraqi masses to topple Saddam’s repressive regime. Following the 1991 Gulf War, the Iraqi people rose up against Saddam’s dictatorship. Despite the fact that Bush Sr. had publicly urged Iraqis to rebel, once the uprising began, the US actually assisted Saddam in crushing the revolt, allowing Iraqi helicopters to enter the “no-fly zones” to bomb the rebels. Though US imperialism wanted to see Saddam go, they preferred him to the workers and peasants of Iraq taking independent action and setting a “bad example” to the rest of the impoverished masses in the region.
Profits, Power and Prestige
This war is not about weapons of mass destruction, terrorism, or democracy, but the profits, power, and prestige of American capitalism. The major oil companies have already held secret negotiations over who gets the biggest slice of the oil pie after the war. “Off the record, some officials have even described Iraqi oil as the ‘spoils of war.'” (NY Times, 2/21/03)
The Bush gang believes that it can use a victory in Iraq to redraw the geopolitical map of the vital Middle East region. A pliant puppet regime in Iraq would increase US strategic power and influence in the Middle East, and lessen its reliance on the increasing unstable Saudi monarchy.
They dream that this can lay the basis for a “peace settlement” between Israel and Palestine on Israeli terms. In reality, the war will likely open a more violent phase in the conflict.
Another key factor, interconnected with the questions of oil and strategic power, is the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War. Since 1991, the right wing of the Republican Party has been obsessed with the apparent failure of the US to remove Saddam, and has consistently campaigned to “finish the job.”
Now, with US imperialism temporarily strengthened following 9/11 and its rapid victory in Afghanistan, and the hawkish Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz wing of the Bush administration in the driver’s seat, they see the opportunity to finally solve the “Iraq problem” which they view as a source of annoyance and embarrassment.
As a recent Frontline report confirmed: “Mr. Wolfowitz and his conservative allies never forgave former President George Bush and Mr. Powell, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for ending the gulf war without toppling Saddam Hussein. Days after Sept. 11 they began lobbying the younger Mr. Bush to finish off Mr. Hussein. ‘Long before the rest of us knew… they had convinced the president'” (NY Times, 2/21/03).
Bush has stated his goal of removing Saddam so publicly and forcefully, that he has now staked the political reputation of his administration, as well as the prestige of US imperialism, directly on the line. This has been reinforced by the conflict with France and Germany in the UN, which has become a key question of American prestige.
The massive military mobilization of the past six months has also created a momentum of its own. Henry Kissinger, the senior strategist for US imperialism, explained that: “If the United States marches 200,000 troops into the region and then marches them back out … the credibility of American power … will be gravely, perhaps irreparably impaired” (NY Times, 2/16/03).
Workers to Pay
Lawrence Lindsey, Bush’s former economic adviser, predicted that a war against Iraq could cost $200 billion. Will big oil or arms manufacturers – the ones who will be profiting off a war – be footing the bill in order to contribute their fair share? No way – that’s not how things are done in Washington.
What about Bush paying for it by repealing his massive trillion dollar tax handouts to the super-rich? Don’t bank on that, either.
The Bush gang intends to make ordinary workers and young people pay the price through slashing budgets for social services and education, laying off public sector workers, and raiding social security. This at a time when politicians at the federal, state and local level were already telling us they needed to carry out big budget cuts because “there is no money.” Yet according to Lindsey the $200 billion price tag for a war on Iraq would be “nothing”; he compared the expenditure to a drop in the ocean!
Already workers are starting to be hit in the pocket book for this war, in the form of massive hikes at the gas pumps. “My theory is that they’re stacking up on profits right now” said Kathy Reilly, a minivan driver in Seattle. “I think a lot of it is pure greed” (NY Times, 2/21/03).
And who will be fighting on the frontlines in Iraq? Not the children of the rich and powerful. It will be mainly poor and working class young people, disproportionately people of color, who will do the fighting and dying for oil profits.
Socialists are against a single life, or a single penny of workers’ taxes, being sacrificed for this imperialist war. A victory for big business in Iraq will be used to step up attacks on US workers, just as Bush used 9/11 and the US victory in Afghanistan to attack workers, the environment, women’s rights, affirmative action, etc.
Due to the overwhelming military superiority of the US, and the Iraqi people’s hatred for Saddam’s reactionary dictatorship, the US will probably be able to achieve a rapid victory. But the aftermath and lengthy occupation could prove very costly for US imperialism. Rather than resolving the endemic problems of the region, the US intervention will only prepare the way for increased conflicts and wars.
The Iraqi army and regime may collapse quickly under heavy American bombardment, depending on the attitude of the Iraqi people to the invasion. If, however, there is significant resistance from the Iraqi people and military, US troops could find themselves embroiled in street battles for control of cities like Baghdad, with thousands of civilian casualties. “We still do not know how US forces will be received – will it be with cheers, jeers or shots?” conceded one Pentagon official. “And the fact is, we won’t know until we get there” (NY Times, 2/18/03).
Saddam may to try to launch a missile attack on Israel. If Israel retaliates, it will detonate a crisis in the Arab states and potentially engulf the region in war.
After toppling Saddam, Bush faces the daunting task of carrying out a military occupation. Tens of thousands of US troops could become bogged down in an unpopular occupation with mounting US causalities. Many scenarios could unfold, including a civil war and the splintering of the Iraqi state.
A war on Iraq could be the spark to bring down the rickety edifice of power throughout the region. There is already overwhelming opposition to the US war throughout the Muslim world, which will express itself in mass protests and social upheavals. This will only be greatly reinforced by a US occupation.
The war could trigger the fall of increasingly unpopular US-backed regimes in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt, and bring to power Islamic Fundamentalists. In Pakistan a military coup by Islamic Fundamentalists in the military is possible. This would open up the horrific prospect of an unstable, reactionary, Islamic Fundamentalist government armed with nuclear weapons, going to war against its rival India.
If Bush is unable to get UN backing for his war, he will face an extremely dangerous position. Without UN support, there will be a very large US anti-war movement to what will be perceived as an illegitimate war (along with a truly enormous movement around the world).
To head into a risky war without the support of the population, without UN approval, and with an economy in recession, would be reckless in the extreme. Would Bush proceed under these circumstances? Most likely he would, since he has staked the prestige and credibility of his administration as well as US imperialism directly on the line, and to back down now would mean a shattering blow to his administration.
It is also possible that the US will be able to bully and buy enough votes or abstentions to get UN approval. But even in the best case scenario of a “quick, clean victory,” the US would still need to deal with the nightmare of a long-term military occupation and likely be stuck in a quagmire as repercussions of the war reverberate throughout the region. A drawn-out war or significant US or civilian casualties would detonate an explosive opposition movement within the US.
The war with Iraq is not just the work of one crazed individual – George W. Bush – but rather the logical outcome of a global system of competition for profits and power, a system that puts the needs of the wealthy few before the lives of millions of ordinary people. As long as capitalism remains, we will never rid the planet of war, poverty, or oppression. The Bush administration is only an extreme expression of this inevitable tendency of capitalism. That is why the anti-war movement must not only oppose this war, but also fight for a socialist world that can put an end to the horrors of war and terror.
Socialist Alternative Stands For:
- No US war on Iraq, with or without UN approval
- Money for jobs and education, not war
- No to racism and attacks on civil liberties
- End the sanctions and no-fly zones
- Withdraw all US military forces from the Middle East
- No to “regime change” by the US or UN. Support the Iraqi people’s struggle against Saddam’s dictatorship
- Self-determination for the Kurdish people. Full democratic rights for all national, ethnic and religious minorities
- Take the multinational oil companies exploiting the Middle East’s oil into public ownership. The people of the Middle East should have democratic control over their oil resources, which should be used to meet their needs
- Bring the giant US oil companies into public ownership
- Fight imperialism, capitalism, and landlordism for a democratic and voluntary socialist confederation of the Middle East
Justice #33, February 2003