The End of the Occupation… or the End of Bush?
On Monday, June 28, the U.S.-led coalition occupying Iraq handed over nominal authority to a new government of handpicked stooges. This exercise was presented as the reestablishment of “Iraqi sovereignty.” But the fact that the transfer ceremony was held in absolute secrecy two days ahead of schedule in order to wrong-foot Iraqi insurgents allegedly planning major disruptions is far more telling about the real situation in Iraq.
Along with the arraignment of Saddam Hussein three days later in front of an Iraqi judge, the handover gave George Bush a couple of good news days, at least domestically. But there is no reason to believe that the new regime will have any more authority among ordinary Iraqis than the Iraqi Governing Council it replaces. The new prime minister, Iyad Allawi, has been on the CIA payroll for many years, and in a recent poll Iraqis rated him 16th out of 17 possible leaders. The person in last place was the new president, Ghazi Ajil al-Yawar.
More importantly, the U.S. still has 138,000 troops in Iraq, and Allawi’s government will not be giving them, or the other foreign troops, orders. Furthermore, while the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) may be dissolved and Paul Bremer has left the country, no key decision will be made by the Iraqis without checking it first with the U.S. ambassador, John Negroponte. The new U.S. embassy in Baghdad, with 1,600 staff, is the largest in the world and, regardless of what is said to the contrary, this is where the real authority is in Iraq.
On top of that, the CPA issued a whole series of edicts that the new government inherits, including permission for unhindered foreign investment in the oil industry and minimal taxes on the rich. This is the reality behind claims of a new “democratic” dawn in Iraq.
U.S. Occupation Sinking in the Mire
Even from the point of view of imperialist policy, the “handover” in Iraq is simply a desperate attempt to draw attention away from the deteriorating situation there. The number of attacks by insurgents has increased sharply in recent months and shows no signs of abating in the wake of the handover. Within the U.S. establishment, including the military, a number of very sharp criticisms are now being openly aired about the complete debacle facing the U.S.
A June 28 New York Times article, entitled “In Anger, Ordinary Iraqis Are Joining the Insurgency,” quotes American commanders in the field who see the insurgents gaining strength and sophistication. While the Bush administration blames attacks on Hussein loyalists and the Jordanian terrorist Abu Masab al-Zarqawi, the authors conclude that “much of the insurgency reflects street-level anger at the lack of progress in Iraq.”
Indeed, after over a year of occupation, unemployment remains at 60% in many areas, blackouts remain common in Baghdad, and the lack of clean water in working-class areas of the city and backed up raw sewage could lead to outbreaks of disease. This is to say nothing of the widespread use of torture in Iraqi prisons and the daily humiliations of searches and harassment by foreign troops.
The American ruling class faces deeply unappetizing choices in Iraq. Pulling out would be an enormous blow to their “prestige,” or to put it another way, their ability to bully and intimidate the rest of the planet. Furthermore, they risk having the world’s second largest supply of oil fall into “unfriendly” hands. This is what the specter of another “Vietnam” means to them.
However, if they stay, they risk becoming even more mired in Iraq. It is hard to see how “free” elections in January 2005 would produce an outcome to their liking. But if elections are postponed or cancelled, mass support for the insurgency will only grow.
As socialists, we don’t care one bit about the “prestige” of U.S. imperialism. We do care about the 855 American soldiers and the tens of thousands of Iraqis who have lost their lives because of this colonial adventure. Absolutely nothing good can come of continuing the occupation. This is why we say: Bring the troops home now!
Bush Feels the Heat
The disaster in Iraq is threatening to fatally undermine the Bush presidency. According to a New York Times/CBS poll at the end of June, 60% of respondents say they disapproved of Bush’s policy in Iraq and no less than 40% say the U.S. should withdraw “as soon as possible.” As reported on page 7, two of the three largest trade unions in the country have now taken a strong anti-war and anti-occupation stand.
But the situation in Iraq is hardly the only factor undermining Bush. Despite the claims of “recovery,” most ordinary Americans are deeply unhappy about the state of the economy, understanding all too well that what jobs are being created are mostly low-paid. The latest data also shows the recent spurt in job growth slowing sharply. With the dollar beginning to slide sharply again on foreign exchange markets and many other indicators pointing toward a stalling of the recovery, Bush could be in for even bigger difficulties.
Overall, only 42% of the public now says they approve of the way Bush is doing his job, the lowest figure since the start of his presidency, while 51% disapprove. During the past 25 years, presidents with approval ratings lower than 50% at this stage of an election year have always gone on to lose.
Another measure of the growing anti-Bush mood is the enormous popularity of Michael Moore’s new hard-hitting film Fahrenheit 9/11, which set a record for a documentary by netting $24 million during its first weekend in American cinemas. Contrary to some reports that only paid-up “liberals” are attending the movie, anecdotal evidence indicates that many Bush supporters are going to see the movie and coming out quite shaken. Many are also going to see the movie in military towns.
In fact, the only reason why Bush may still be president come November 2 is because of the inability of the Democratic Party to put up a real challenge or alternative to his right-wing agenda. After seeing off Howard Dean in the primaries with the help of a demolition job by the media, John Kerry has moved his campaign to the “center,” that is, to the right.
The purpose of Kerry’s exercise appears to have been to fundraise and gain support in corporate America as a “safe pair of hands” for their interests. He has succeeded in these goals but has wound up looking a lot like Bush-Lite, advocating increasing the number of troops in Iraq and reducing corporate taxes. But this pro-corporate, pro-imperialist message is not a front; it is the true face of the Democratic Party. No wonder, therefore, that in most polls he remains neck and neck with Bush, or only marginally ahead.
If the campaign remains tight in the fall, Kerry may well strike a more populist pose, which may fool some people. But a larger number will wind up voting for him, “holding their noses,” just to get Bush out.
What is really needed in the United States is a new political force, basing itself on the interests of working people, women, youth, people of color, immigrants – indeed the vast majority of ordinary Americans – rather than the interests of the rich. Such a force will be created through the struggles that have already begun, like the mass movement against war abroad, and the even bigger struggles to come against the ruling class’s reactionary war against the working class at home.
In this presidential election, however, there is a candidate, Ralph Nader, who is giving voice to this anger, who calls for an end to the occupation and a better deal for workers. A strong vote for Nader would register the desire of millions of Americans for real change and an end to imperialist adventures once and for all.
Justice #39, July-August 2004