With 11 September 2001, they got their Pearl Harbor.
Yet one of the strongest indications of the strategic reasoning
behind the invasion of Iraq comes from the fact that the propaganda
explosion set off when the planes hit the World Trade Center did
not make preparing the Iraq invasion as easy as these men hoped,
and yet they went ahead anyway.
Never before in history has the launching of
any war been more opposed than this one. On 15 February 2003,
many millions of people in hundreds of cities took to the streets
to express what no one can deny represented the will of the vast
majority of the world's people. UK Prime Minister Tony Blair staked
the survival of his government on his ability to trample on British
public opinion. While the Bush government did initially profit
by casting itself as defender of the victims of 11 September,
even in the US a great many people in the middle classes began
to see through this as the invasion of Iraq took shape. Instead
of a post Pearl Harbor-like apparent national unity, Bush had
to face an anti-war movement of a magnitude not seen since the
last days of the US's losing war in Vietnam, a movement which
took years to develop.
Despite Bush's bluster about a "coalition
of the willing", the more the US and UK moved toward invasion,
the more isolated they became internationally. Eventually they
had to withdraw their motion before the UN Security Council rather
than suffer the humiliation of defeat. The vast majority of governments
took an oppositional stance. In the end, the grand coalition consisted
of the US, UK, Australia and Poland, with cheering (but no troops
until after the invasion) from Spain, Italy, Japan and a handful
of smaller countries.
There is every indication that in their arrogance,
these men expected to be able to bully other countries to go along
with them and the UN to give them its approval and cover. Some
people, seeing the tide turning against the warmongers, thought
that Bush and Blair would have to reconsider. Dissenting prominent
figures in the US and British ruling classes warned that this
war could be a disaster for imperialist interests. The world front
of reactionaries was in great disarray, and to some people it
seemed that this alone might stay the hands of the invaders, or
at least make them hesitate.
At the UN, as France's representative argued that
the weapons inspectors should be given more time, Bush's Colin
Powell responded by doing everything in his power to paint a picture
of imminent danger, including lies about a nexus between Saddam
Hussein and al-Qaeda. Blair warned that Saddam could deploy unconventional
weapons "in 45 minutes", implying that London and New
York were literally in Saddam's sights. It is now clear to all
that these men were in a hurry to start a war for entirely different
reasons. For one thing, Bush and Blair knew that the inspectors
would eventually expose their deceit. More importantly, the longer
the invasion was delayed, the more their domestic and international
political situation would deteriorate.
Their solution to opposition to the war was to
launch it anyway and present the world with a fait accompli. Their
message to the people of the world was that their opinion doesn't
count. The people of the US and UK were thrust into war whether
they liked it or not, then told that it was time to support "their"
troops or be considered traitors.
You could say that the US looked deep into the
eyes of the governments that opposed them and called their bluff.
Angry and potentially explosive public opinion played an enormous
role in preventing the US from forming the kind of coalition it
sought. It stiffened the resistance of governments like France
and Germany that opposed the US for their own imperialist reasons,
and hindered governments like Spain and Japan from sending troops.
Yet, in the end, France, Germany and Russia clashed with the US
at the UN but did nothing to actually prevent the war. Germany
allowed the US to use military bases on its soil as indispensable
staging areas. France allowed equally important US military overflights
through French airspace. In fact, the only government to put any
concrete obstacles in the way of the US invasion was Turkey, and
that was most unwillingly.
Overwhelming opposition to the war in Turkey made
the members of parliament fearful for their regime and at times
their own future, leading to a refusal to authorise US use of
Turkish bases for the invasion. If the US-owned Turkish military
had openly overruled the Turkish parliament, that would have brought
even more trouble by threatening the stability of a key regime
whose importance to the US has only increased with the invasion.
The US was forced to load its troops on ships and take them to
Iraq the long way, through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal
and on to the Gulf, instead of sending some of them crashing across
the border on trucks and other vehicles from bases in Turkey.
The failure of the US to invade Iraq from the north as well as
the south was a major victory for the global resistance movement.
This lent even greater importance to the role
of Egypt. Despite massive popular opposition to the war in the
Arab world's most populous country (manifested in both government-sponsored
and government-tolerated rallies, and illegal, violently suppressed
street demonstrations), and despite the Mubarak government's public
show of support for the French-led position, Egypt gave the US
what it needed most at that moment - it let US warships use the
Suez Canal. There was never much question it would do otherwise,
since that regime depends on the US for its existence, and the
US might well have seized the Canal if it had to. But Mubarak's
act of self-exposure--- amidst a level of political ferment not
seen in Egypt in decades, at a moment when Arab eyes were turned
toward this country---will not be soon forgotten.
How should we sum up the fact that the anti-war
movement, as powerful as it was, did not stop the war? It is impossible
to say what would have happened if anti-imperialist and revolutionary
forces had been able to play a more decisive role on a world level,
if the people had been clearer on what was at stake and the goals
of the struggle, and the forms of struggle had consequently more
often overflowed "normal" boundaries.
In fact, one of the anti-war movement's great
weaknesses was that, especially in the Western countries, many
people believed --- or wanted to believe --- that the display
of the "popular will" alone could prove decisive. Yet
the strength of the anti-war movement forced governments from
Washington to Cairo to pay a price in a certain loss of legitimacy,
and the final amount of that bill is still mounting. The fact
that Bush and Blair rushed on heedless of international and national
public opinion, relying on their state power and justifying their
conduct by what have now been exposed as forgeries and lies, did
much to lay bare the real nature of their so-called "democratic"
rule and blast the post-11 September acquiescence and passivity
they hoped to build in their respective countries. The imperialists
themselves seemed determined to prove the truth of Mao's teaching,
"Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."
Clearly they would not listen to reason or the people, and whatever
promises they may have made to get elected were no longer on offer.
Political cynics argue that "victory pardons
deceit". There is some truth to this: the people's political
memory may smoulder bitterly, but the reactionary stability achieved
by victory can tend to make the people feel powerless. But if
the war itself does not end and victory is not in sight, then
this situation only underlines the deceit and gives an acuteness
to the bitterness and a desire to act. If Bush and Blair's war
were not going so badly, would the popular indignation around
the "weapons of mass destruction" hoax have the same
power? In fact, would the ruling class functionaries who have
stepped forward to point out some of the lies have dared open
their mouths at all?
Whether or not the people could have held back
the US-led invasion at that time, the course of events as they
did happen provides powerful evidence that the US and its allies,
along with their rivals, are part of a single, world-wide imperialist
system, and that the forces compelling them toward war cannot
be finally turned back once and for all without putting an end
to that system. One of the strongest lessons from this period
is the need to build conscious resistance and global organisation
that can unite and help guide the struggles of the people on the
basis of that understanding.
A Revealing Occupation
The conduct of the war itself reveals its aims.
The toppling of the regime --- the goal of this war according
to Bush's defenders --- proved to be only the start of a far more
fiercely fought and protracted conflict. Even Saddam's capture
in December brought no relief for the occupiers.
If the basic conflict were really the invaders
versus Saddam "deadenders", as Rumsfeld put it, maybe
the US could solve it. But the basic contradiction is between
the occupiers and the people. From early on, the occupiers trained
their guns on anti-occupation demonstrators, most notably in Falluja,
where they fired on crowds twice, and most recently in Habbariya,
also in central Iraq's "Sunni triangle". They did the
same thing time and again to the poor of Sadr City in Baghdad,
and in Basra and Amarah in the south, three Shia Arab areas where
Saddam was particularly hated.
The occupiers' tactics involve a mix of Special
Forces units, sniper teams, torture and other low-intensity warfare
tactics to seek out and kill guerrillas at any cost, and massive
use of combined ground and air "Operation Hammer" style
raids to intimidate and punish whole villages and neighbourhoods
suspected of anti-occupation sympathies. The occupiers pound neighbourhoods
with aircraft, mortar and artillery fire. They invade homes and
at roadblocks shoot whole families dead.
Critics point out that the US's reliance on armoured
warfare and sheer firepower is a "blunt instrument"
that cannot root out determined guerrillas, but this is missing
the point. US commanders have had to grasp something about what
they are up against. A US general first told a reporter that the
guerrillas in the town of Falluja number 20,000; then he corrected
himself and said, "Probably there are 1,000 people out there
ready to attack us and kill us and another 19,000 or so really,
really don't like us." This points to a huge problem for
the imperialists: military intelligence, which depends on who
the masses tell what. Here the Iraqi resistance's advantage over
the Americans is as lopsided as the US's advantage in firepower.
The imperialist way of dealing with this, when they can't root
out the guerrillas, is to terrorise the population as a whole.
As the New York Times summarised, "The new strategy must
punish not only the guerrillas but teach ordinary Iraqis the price
of not co-operating."
Abu Ghraib, where the old regime kept political
prisoners, is now full of anti-occupation inmates. In all, the
US is said to be holding about 10,000 "security detainees",
who have no rights whatsoever. Few have any charges against them
and even fewer have seen a courtroom. Even the American authorities
admit that some of them are being held as hostages to get others
to co-operate. Their families are never told where their loved
ones are or what might happen to them. "Bagging" prisoners
- fastening cloth or canvas over their heads and handcuffing them
with their arms behind their backs - is standard procedure for
all suspects, family members of suspects and anyone else who might
be usefully "interrogated". US and British troops have
been caught torturing and murdering prisoners in several incidents
that have been fully documented.
So far all this has generated more opposition
Representing the Bush government's position, a
US ambassador contends that the armed resistance "is pretty
much confined to the Sunni Triangle, and 20 per cent of Iraq's
population. A wider focus would reveal a different picture."
Mark Danner, an American writer who travelled to Iraq last October
replied, "First, though Sunni Arabs are indeed thought to
constitute roughly 20 per cent of the total population of Iraq,
the so-called Sunni Triangle, which encompasses Baghdad itself,
probably includes more than a third of Iraq's population, and
perhaps much more. Secondly, as any newspaper reader knows, since
October the ambit of the attacks has been steadily spreading,
until 'no more than 60 per cent', according to one intelligence
official I spoke to, now take place in the Sunni Triangle - which
is to say, four in ten of these attacks, and perhaps more, take
place in cities like Mosul [in Kurdistan] and Karbala [in the
Shia-majority region south of Baghdad], whose inhabitants, in
the ambassador's words, 'mostly accept us'.'' 5
The situation for the occupiers is symbolised
by Saddam International airport in Baghdad, whose fall in April
marked the end of his regime. They changed the name, but they
haven't been able to make it a standard business destination,
as the authorities bragged they would in no time. Nine months
later, commercial flights remain impossible. Guerrillas regularly
fire at military aircraft, seriously damaging three in three months.
All flights are considered dangerous. Instead of bustling with
international investors and other eager civilians, the cavernous
airport complex serves as yet another US military detention centre.
In short, while the US found it easy to topple
a reactionary regime, they have found it much harder to impose
their will on a people. The current rotation of fresh troops into
Iraq amounts to an admission that massive numbers of US soldiers
will be there for the foreseeable future. 6 While US military
planners would like to reduce the troop level from the current
level of 132,000 to 50,000, they say, they are giving equal weight
to the possibilities that their present strength might have to
be maintained or increased. Note that the only scenarios the Pentagon
is contemplating involve reducing, maintaining or expanding troop
levels. There are no even hypothetical plans to withdraw US troops
Only Strategic Aims Could Explain their Stubbornness
Even if the Iraqi resistance were to diminish,
the US wants to keep many troops there as long as it can. The
five US aircraft carrier groups (each with more warplanes than
most countries) remaining within reach of Iraq are not there just
to bomb and strafe people's houses. They are there to achieve
Events have made it very clear that simply grabbing
Iraq's oil for the enrichment of corporations close to Bush is
not at all what this war was and is about. Above all because of
the armed resistance, the American authorities have not been able
to reach even the relatively low level of oil production Saddam
was able to maintain despite the American-led embargo. The occupation
runs on petrol from Kuwait. Because of the devastating legacy
of the 12-year embargo that made it impossible to obtain spare
parts and new equipment, Iraq's wells and pipelines are in desperate
need of repair. Even the underground oil layers themselves are
said to be in danger of collapse through excessive and inappropriate
exploitation. None of the necessary investment is conceivable
in the midst of today's war of resistance.
There is no profit bonanza anywhere in sight for
the US ruling class as a whole. Instead, the continuing cost of
this occupation is a very major problem for the US, which had
hoped it would pay for itself. Yet there is no suggestion that
Iraq's unprofitability, at least for now, will lead the US to
abandon the occupation. This emphasises the US's geopolitical
and strategic aims.
As historian Arno Mayer wrote, "The Great
War [First World War] confirmed that in times of war and peace
oil was, in the words of the then-French Premier Georges Clemenceau,
'as necessary as blood', particularly for imperial Europe and
the United States --- what we know as the 'first world'[sic].
After the Second World War the United States supplanted Great
Britain as the dominant power in the greater Middle East. The
inability of London and Paris to pre-empt Egypt's seizure of the
Suez Canal in 1956 not only confirmed their demise as world powers,
it affirmed the consolidation of America's military and economic
hegemony in Mesopotamia and Arabia. With this region's oil resources
of greater importance today than ever before, the White House
is not about to permit any challenge to its domination of the
Middle East, which is vital to Washington's imperial reach, including
its leverage over the other economies of the first world as well
as that of China. As part of the new power arrangements, Washington
means to give privileged access to Middle Eastern oil to the United
Kingdom, to the disadvantage of France and Germany, which, along
with Belgium, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg, are the core of
the authentic 'New Europe', whose economy bids fair to one day
challenge America's economic and dollar primacy... At this juncture
Iraq is not an end in itself: for the United States Iraq is a
pawn, a way station in the evolving geopolitics and geo-economics
of its imperial power." 7
The strongest evidence of Iraq's place in American
dreams of a single world empire is this: the occupation has turned
out to be far more difficult and dangerous than any of Bush's
inner circle dreamed, yet few voices among the US ruling class,
and not many more in the UK, are calling for the occupiers to
cut their losses and go home.
What It Would Take to Win
What went wrong for the invaders? Perhaps the
planners really did believe that sufficient numbers of Iraqis
would welcome the occupation to make direct rule viable. Maybe
they did think that the UN would be forced to go along with the
invasion, and that this would create helpful political conditions
inside and outside Iraq. They seemed to have been convinced that
France and other countries would send enough troops so that the
US and UK would not have to assume the burden all but alone.8
But it seems that the most important source of the occupation's
present difficulties lies in the US's own plans for a "post-Saddam
Iraq". They thought the invasion would prove them invincible,
and that once the Iraqi people saw that, few would dare resist
them. To put it another way, they underestimated the people.
The armed resistance is clearly an expression
of mass sentiment and a mass movement. That is a point in common
with Vietnam. But the difference between the Iraqi resistance
and the Vietnam war is not only one of scale. At this point, there
has not emerged a level of warfare that could actually wipe out
whole units of occupation troops and endanger the occupiers with
military defeat, nor even the prospect of this at this time. The
Iraqi people have armed and determined crowds and brave guerrilla
fighters, but no army. This is related to a deeper problem: so
far, the Iraqi resistance has been unable to offer a programme
for a different future for Iraq.
All wars of liberation and revolutionary armed
forces inevitably start small and build their strength through
protracted fighting. Iraq has given fresh proof that a relatively
weak force can disrupt and wear down a larger force. As history
has shown many times, from the first successful slave revolution
in Haiti at the dawn of the nineteenth century to the Chinese
revolution led by Mao Tsetung, also to some extent in the anti-colonial
wars of the 1950s and 1960s, and now, in a promising way, the
people's war in Nepal, in the course of fighting, a guerrilla
force can eventually grow into an army and become strong enough
to defeat an initially far more powerful army, if the cause is
just and the war is fought in such a way as to rely on the people.
The Iraqi guerrilla forces lack both a leadership that is able
to formulate strategic goals that can unite the people and a corresponding
military strategy and tactics. A leading line and organisation,
which could only mean a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist vanguard, that
could give material expression to the unity of interests of the
people of the country, the region and the world could ultimately
change the equation entirely.
Victory over the US requires a material shift
in the balance of forces, and nothing less. To make that clear,
it's worth criticising the following: "For the insurgents
fighting the US forces in Iraq, the American 'centre of gravity'-what
they must destroy to win --- is nothing less, as one American
operations officer told me, than 'the will of the American people',"
says the writer Danner in the exchange with the US ambassador.
The US commander in Iraq Ricardo Sanchez said something very similar:
"I really believe that the only way we are going to lose
here is if we walk away from it like we did in Vietnam. If the
political will fails, and the support of the American public fails,
that's the only way we can lose."
It is true that in a war of national liberation,
unlike a war between imperialists, "for the insurgents to
succeed they need not defeat 'the world's ablest military,"
as Danner says, in the sense of completely crushing its ability
to fight, as the US did, for instance, with Germany in the Second
World War. But this is a one-sided and un-materialist way to look
at things, and with regard to what happened in Vietnam it amounts
to a lie. The anti-war movement in the US and the world did play
a very important role in narrowing the US ruling class's options
in that war. Yet the opposition to the war did not emerge from
people's thought processes alone; it rose in direct relation to
the Vietnamese people's battering of the US occupation forces.
If some ruling class figures and finally the mainstream of US
rulers (including Nixon) "lost their nerve" and decided
to "walk away from it", it was because they recognised
that within the parameters of the situation as it existed, including
the opposition to the war in the US and the international state
of affairs, they had no hope of winning, and if they didn't pull
out the situation could only continue to deteriorate.
That situation was not created by the press, contrary
to what Danner believes ("the road to that centre of gravity
runs through the eyes, and the cameras and pens, of the press").
Although what it reports definitely does matter, what the media
(especially the big outlets owned and controlled by the monopoly
capitalists) feels obligated to say or dares say in the first
place principally reflects its overall considerations.
This point is central in understanding Iraq's
future. While politicians have to pretend concern, American military
officers, especially when addressing a restricted audience, brag
that they can sustain their present level of losses indefinitely.
Strictly speaking, how can that be denied? To make a point similar
to our earlier argument about the anti-war movement on the eve
of the invasion, these imperialists are not going to pull out
of Iraq unless they are forced to, in this case by some combination
(interaction) of a higher level of Iraqi armed resistance, resistance
to the war internationally, including in the US and "coalition"
countries, and other world events.
Stabilising the Occupation:
Forward to the Past
There are plenty of reactionary theoreticians
and counter-insurgency specialists who understand that this kind
of a war must be fought in the political sphere as well as militarily.
Their reasoning is that even if they stomp all over the Iraqi
people's national sentiments, they can still buy off some people.
Undoubtedly they can, just as occupiers around the world from
time immemorial have purchased a few and terrorised others.
The US has gone back and forth on what legal form
to give the occupation, whether to rule Iraq directly or through
Iraqis. It's hard to know how much these sudden switches were
due to policy disputes and how much they were based on whatever
seemed practical at any given moment. But the upshot is that the
US has not yet found the solution.
Although the Iraqi government was in contact with
the CIA on the eve of the invasion and offered to surrender to
every one of Bush's demands, the US needed the invasion itself
more than it needed to overthrow Saddam. In the early days of
the war, the word from Washington was that the US planned to remove
"the dirty dozen" - Saddam and his closest aides - and
keep the Iraqi army and bureaucracy intact. Then this policy was
reversed and General Jay Gardner, the first US
governor of Iraq was unceremoniously removed.
In May 2003, the US occupation chief, Paul Bremer, dissolved Iraq's
army and talked about banning leading members of Saddam's Baath
Party from the US-imposed government.
Within a few months, as its difficulties increased,
the US shifted course again and began reconstituting Saddam's
secret police (the Mukhabarat), starting with its foreign intelligence
operations and following up with the domestic political repression
service, with its system of files on all Iraqis. Then it began
rebuilding Saddam's army, in some cases swallowing old units intact
and in general relying on men who were Saddam's soldiers until
the last. Officially, former Saddam officers retain their ranks
up to the level of lieutenant colonel, those who command the battalions,
the largest units at present, although the US employs higher-level
former officers in other ways.
Now the occupiers say they intend to build up
an army of 40,000 men, along with police, militia, guards and
other armed forces totalling another 160,000. The first battalion
of this new army was put through a brief training programme on
how to serve the Americans and sent out into the streets toward
the end of 2003. Within weeks, the unit was down to half strength
through resignations and desertions. The occupation authorities
reacted by adding a hardship bonus that doubled the pay of the
lowest ranks and set out to train a second of the 27 battalions
they plan to organise.
US policy towards these men is mired in contradictions.
The US only gives them small arms because it's worried they will
turn over or sell more powerful weapons to the resistance. But
the poorly armed puppet troops then become soft targets for
resistance forces - and they haved indeed been hit hard. They
are also scorned and despised by the masses as sell-outs.
The deeper problem for the US is that money alone
is not always enough to make people want to die for the privilege
of being humiliated by oppressors. Local mercenaries can be helpful
for an occupying imperialist army, but it is difficult for them
to replace it. The US tried very hard to build a Vietnamese puppet
army, but failed to successfully "Vietnamise" the war.
No rule can succeed without a social (class) base.
As imperialism does in every country in the world it seeks to
dominate, no matter in what form, the US is trying to build an
alliance of class forces whose interests overlap with those of
American capital. They are working to pull together a coalition
of the most backward forces among all the ethnic groups, including
tribal leaders, religious authorities and other feudal elements,
along with comprador capitalists like fraudster financier Ahmed
Chalabi, head of the Iraqi National Congress, and former Baathist
army and Mukhabarat generals and officials such as those in the
Iraqi National Accord. All of these men have in common that they
are national sell-outs with more to gain from an alliance with
imperialism and a privileged place in the occupation structure
than from the country's development. What American pundits call
"nation building" is more like nation destroying.
The US seems to consider that the most viable
of these forces (in terms of having any popular support) are the
leaders of the two Kurdish parties, Patriotic Union of Kurdistan
(PUK) leader Jalal Talabani and his rival, Kurdistan Democratic
Party (KDP) leader Massoud Barzani. It remains to be seen how
long these betrayers can mislead the Kurdish masses. [See the
article on Turkey and Kurdistan in this issue.]
Shia leader Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani wants to
hold elections, since under the circumstances those most likely
to vote are his supporters, but an American henchman legitimised
through a few ballot boxes is no more "democratic" than
a hand-picked henchman.9 The Council's members were all appointed
by the US, and the squabbles among them reflect conflicting reactionary
interests and not any attempt to challenge the basic relationship
with the US. In January, Iraq's Governing Council cancelled Iraq's
decades-old "family law" upholding certain rights for
women, and voted to replace it with Islamic law (Sharia), which
would submit women to the same hateful restrictions as in Iran.
Perhaps in this way, these men can claim that they are champions
of Islam and not just US flunkies, as though there were any contradiction
between the two.
The location alone of the Governing Council tells
its position: bunkered alongside the invaders' Coalition Provisional
Authority in Saddam's former Republican Palace that now comprises
the Green Zone, the few square kilometres of Iraq under the tightest
American control, although even there the occupiers and collaborators
are vulnerable to mortar rounds. The degree to which these politicians
will ever get to decide anything can be seen in Bremer's open
involvement in setting the limits for what is to be allowed in
the "new Iraq"- with a view towards forging this assortment
of petty exploiters and oppressors into a real, country-wide criminal
enterprise "farsighted" enough to serve the higher interests
of the US.
The millions of dollars in cash at the disposal
of US field commanders for "civilian construction projects"
like building schools are not mainly intended to impress middle-class
parents, although that may be a hoped-for by-product. Contracts
are awarded not to the lowest bidder, but the best politically
connected and "co-operative" companies, often in the
hands of clan authorities. This not only buys their loyalty, but
also enables them to increase their own power and influence through
their control of hiring. Operating on the same principle on a
national level, some US authorities are putting out the idea of
(re)creating an Iraqi state-owned petroleum company. Like the
rest of the class structure the US is trying to build up to root
its control of Iraqi society, this is truly going forward to the
past. After all, in the Iraq Britain created and Saddam eventually
inherited, like so many other countries, the creation of a class
of bureaucrat capitalists, the fusion of feudal and state power,
whose core in this case was made up of men who controlled the
income from exploiting and selling the country's oil and other
state-owned businesses, was a vital part of the glue that kept
together the motley assortment of ruling reactionaries. It also
ensured that the country would remain dependent on the imperialists
and their world market.
The Iraqi resistance and the refusal of the US's
rivals to recognise the legitimacy of the occupation may have
pushed the US towards a transition away from open, direct rule
(a country "run by a governor appointed in Washington",
as we put it in AWTW 2002/29) much sooner than expected. But
the question of whether or not Iraq remains an American neocolony
does not depend on whether or not they cobble together some sort
of government by some Iraqis. As the colonial experience of all
powers has shown, that development was inevitable.
Despite the planned handover of formal authority
to an Iraqi regime by next July, real Iraqi sovereignty is not
part of the US plan. The scheme, as of this writing, is for municipal
and provincial administrators appointed by US army officers (and
recently weeded for loyalty and effectiveness) to pick delegates
to hold an assembly to choose a government under which the US
occupation forces will continue to hold the real political, economic
and military power. Chalabi explained it this way: "We will
have the US forces here, but they will change from occupiers to
a force that is here at the invitation of the Iraqi government."
An American general, putting it less diplomatically, said that
the idea is to "put an Iraqi face on security". Rumsfeld
was even more blunt: "It does not mean that we would physically
leave the country any sooner."
Imperialist Critics and Rivals
The fact that some of Bush's political rivals
and critics accuse him of using the "sovereignty" handover
to "cut and run" in Iraq shows how solidly the mainstream
of the US ruling class is united around the necessity of a long-term
occupation. As much as some opposition politicians criticise Bush
and Blair for their making a mess of the war, the only way out
now, almost all agree, is to figure out how to win it.10 Failure,
they believe, is not an option.
Curiously --- or maybe not --- this is also the
line amongst the US's imperialist rivals as well. French government
spokespersons have regularly denied American accusations that
they want to see the US lose in Iraq. Russia's Putin said the
same thing very explicitly. It's true that neither country was
unhappy with Saddam - in fact, Saddam's willingness to do business
with France, Russia and Germany was a big part of why the US was
unable to stand the status quo. The French ruling class does not
want to see the US win, in the sense of achieving its aims in
Iraq and being able to use its control of Middle Eastern oil against
its rivals. France is probably pleased by America's troubles.
But the French imperialists very clearly don't want to see the
US driven out, since the French are in no position to replace
them, or to see even long-term instability in Iraq, with all the
consequences that would have for French interests in the region
and the world.
This doesn't mean that the contradictions between
these powers have diminished since the diplomatic fireworks of
the UN debates. On the contrary, Bush's National Security Advisor
Condoleezza Rice is said to have described US policy as "Forgive
Russia, ignore Germany, punish France".11 A December front-page
headline in the authoritative French daily Le Monde described
US-French relations as "disguised warfare".
The US's main charge against France is undeniably
true, although no crime from anything other than an American monopoly
capitalist viewpoint: it is aiming to build an anti-American counterweight.
These rivalries place the US and other imperialist countries on
a collision course.12 Chirac's invitation to German Chancellor
Gerhard Schroeder to celebrate D-Day at his side is just one indication
of how fast the world is changing. Sooner or later, the US's
rivals, as powerful economically as America, will certainly try
to bring their military abilities into line with their wealth.
But for now, the limits to France and Europe's contention with
the US are set by lack of military capability, both to openly
challenge the US and to police the Third World themselves.
Bush's imperial project, it must be recognised,
is to use the US's unprecedentedly lopsided military power to
subordinate the US's imperialist rivals, not necessarily to crush
them (although it would certainly intervene militarily if and
when any rivals seem too threatening). His main weapon right now
is the US's ability, based on military power, to organise a global
network of political and economic relationships for the benefit
of all the imperialists. In other words, to use the unequal balance
of military power to enforce unequal relations on a world scale.
Like Rome in some ways - an empire beneficial to all exploiters
who join it, but which cannot survive without the hegemony of