A WORLD TO WIN    #30   (2004)


US Power and Its Limits:
America's Global Rampage Two Years On

By Fatima Resolušao

It has been little more than two years since the US seized upon the pretext of the 11 September 2001 attacks and set out to make the twenty-first century "the new American century". The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan was meant as a prelude to an even more momentous step, the seizure of Iraq, in the drive to create a single global empire on an unprecedented scale.

As we wrote in late 2002, when preparations for the US-led assault began to reach a climax, "The US is seeking to transform Iraq from a country economically dependent on imperialism but able to negotiate with several imperialist powers, to a neocolony entirely& or perhaps an outright colony, run by a governor appointed in Washington... This 'New Iraq'... would be a lynchpin in a newly configured Middle East, a 'Greater Middle East from North Africa to Afghanistan and Pakistan', as a recent article by two former Clinton advisors turned Bush theorists put it.

"In this new configuration, economically, Iraq's vast oil reserves would give the US a stranglehold on the oil needs of any would-be rival. Militarily, the vast permanent military build-up there, virtually turning Iraq into a gigantic military base, could bend and smash any wayward regimes. This new 'Greater Middle East' would in turn be key to a newly configured world - an American world. With the war on Afghanistan, the US grabbed one end of this part of the global map; with the war on Iraq it means to nail down the other even more crucial part."

Has this analysis turned out to be correct? If so, then in this light, how should we evaluate the results of this first phase of the US's "war on the world"?

In that article, we tried to answer the question "why Iraq?" One advance of 2003 is that Bush's own answer to that question has been thoroughly discredited. "The Iraqi regime and its weapons of mass destruction represent a clear threat to world security" - these words are now all but universally admitted to be untrue. 1

Former Bush cabinet member Paul O'Neill recently revealed that Bush's henchmen began planning the invasion of Iraq "within days" of entering the White House in January 2001. The strategy for the Iraq invasion was finalised in August 2002; it was not until the following October that the CIA produced the National Intelligence Estimate that provided the Bush government with the (false) weapons of mass destruction claims used to justify the invasion. 2

Actually, the plan to invade Iraq goes back even further. A 1997 document entitled Statement of Principles of the Project for a New American Century was unambiguous: "As the twentieth century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world's pre-eminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favourable to American principles and interests?... The history of the twentieth century should have taught us that it is important to shape circumstances before crises emerge, and to meet threats before they become dire. The history of this century should have taught us to embrace the cause of American leadership."

This paper was signed by George W. Bush's brother Jeb and the men who now form his inner circle, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Wolfowitz. A statement from the same group a year later outlined the first step in this direction: "removing Saddam Hussein and his regime from power. That now needs to become the aim of American foreign policy".

Further, they called for a military build-up to enable the US to "Fight and decisively win multiple simultaneous major theatre wars" that are "large scale" and "spread across the globe". Then they warned, "The process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalysing event - like a new Pearl Harbor."3

Obstacles to War

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. 4

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 and resistance.

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 from Iraq.

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 regional aims.

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 Rome.

Chaos and Necessity

To some extent chaos has been part of the plan.

The plan, after all, was not to maintain the status quo but to blow it up and fit the pieces back together in a new way. This is key to understanding why the US launched a global rampage, and why they cannot conceive of turning back.

During the first US-led invasion of Iraq in 1991, Bush's father halted the war before Saddam's army was destroyed and the regime toppled for fear that the situation (especially Iraq's people) would get out of hand. At that time, for reasons explained in AWTW 2002/28, the US was not able or did not feel required to take over Iraq directly itself. This time the invasion went all the way and to some extent things have got out of hand: in Iraq the old ruling alliance of exploiters was destroyed and a new one is yet to be rebuilt; in the region contradictions in neighbouring countries are becoming increasingly volatile; and in the world as a whole old networks of imperialist relations are being challenged by imperialist rivalry on the one hand, whilst on the other hand these events are dragging different sections of the masses in many countries into political life or even into a state of political ferment.

At least some of the people around Bush expected this and are not deterred. In this high-stakes gamble, they are aware of the problems and dangers but believe they can solve them by charging ahead and "staying the course", as they like to say, amid shouting and gunfire. Their plan is all or nothing, not just quantitative successes. In other words, they know it is not possible to first establish a stable Iraq and then move on to the region and the world. Their plan is to recast the region and the world as quickly as possible and then go back and pick up the pieces, building local and global stability on that basis. They tried to deal with opposition to the war by launching it, and they will try to handle the various kinds of opposition and obstacles they now face by more aggression and interference. They are counting on this to intimidate the world.

Of course, there are priorities, and the obstacles the US has encountered in Iraq may slow down the pace of preparing for interventions in other regions, some of which, ironically, like North Korea, turn out to be less urgent than Bush presented them when he gave his "axis of evil" speech. But they can't stop and they won't stop. We cannot underestimate either the problems and limits they are encountering nor their unbending necessity to go forward with their project no matter what the cost.

General Shinseki was rebuked for predicting that the Iraqi occupation would require several hundred thousand troops for years to come, and yet he turned out to be the most far-sighted of Bush's generals, armchair and otherwise. Iraq has spelled the end of the US's "zero deaths" policy of waging war whilst avoiding risking American lives. The January 2004 death in a shot-down Blackhawk helicopter of an American GI who had escaped alive from the infamous 1993 "Blackhawk Down" incident in Mogadishu is emblematic of that shift. The Bush administration flaunts its stoic attitude toward the almost 600 American deaths in Iraq. This war may also show the limits of the "Rumsfeld doctrine" of waging wars on the cheap, in human terms, or at least American humans, by relying more on technology than soldiers. Obviously this is a very major question in terms of the US's global project. There is increasing concern among some of Bush's reactionary critics that the US will need a far larger army to deal with the chaos American military intervention has already begun to stir up.

Of the US Army's ten active duty divisions, eight have units that have either just returned from Iraq or Afghanistan, or are on their way. Current military planning is for many of those just brought home to be sent back after a year of retraining, re-equipment and rest. Despite his known preference for a smaller but more "agile" and "deployable" armed forces, Rumsfeld has just signed emergency orders to expand as soon as possible the number of US armed forces to over half a million, about eight per cent over current legal limitations. In addition, thousands of soldiers are to be replaced by civilian employees. Combat soldiers are in such short supply that the Pentagon issued "stop-loss orders" preventing thousands of troops from leaving the service at the end of their contractual term of enlistment. In principle, this is a crack in the "voluntary" nature of the US armed forces, which have so far been able to rely on economic compulsion and social pressure to recruit.

"If the war on terror is a real war", one pro-war Bush critic asked rhetorically, "why don't we act like it?" This means a whole society shifted onto a war footing, including the possible reintroduction of large-scale conscription. So far, the Bush administration has preferred to combine appeals to patriotism and sacrifice with soothing reassurances that the life style many Americans are used to is what he is defending, not ending. But the real world will have its say in what happens next.

The Global Shadow of Guantanamo

The persistence of Guantanamo should tell us something about how far they are willing to go in pursuit of their aims. Their answer to chaos is repression.

Guantanamo is only the most notorious of a whole network of large and small US prisons, from Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan to Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, and into the Caribbean, not to mention dungeons in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and other countries where America's captives are held and tortured under CIA direction. Guantanamo, it turns out, was not just a temporary expedient linked to the invasion of Afghanistan. Two years on, the number of men being held there has gone up, not down, and new prisoners are still being brought in.

Three children, ages 13 to 15 (the youngest was only 11 when he was arrested) were released from Guantanamo in January 2004, not because the US decided imprisoning children is wrong - an unspecified number of teenagers, who are currently 16 and 17 years old, are still being held, in violation of international law - but because they no longer had any "interrogation value". Of three US citizens in isolation in military gaols in the US itself, the government recently agreed to let one see a lawyer for the same reason, not because they concede their prisoners have any rights, but because they were finished "interrogating" him. Most of the 1,200 men rounded up without charges in the US after 11 September were held in secret. None were indicted for anything relevant to the 11 September attacks. Even now, aside from the roughly 100 hit with other criminal charges, the US refuses to release the names and other details about those who were arrested or say who was deported, released or is still being held.

The principle they are defending is that anywhere in the world they have the right to hold anyone they want in total isolation as long as they want, with no charges or any public accounting, and to interrogate people in isolation until they break without having to bother with legal niceties. The state's interests are openly posed as absolute, and the people's rights are to be reviewed and judged in that light. Of course, the US government, like other contemporary imperialist bourgeois democracies, has long used violence to enforce the dictatorship of the monopoly capitalists, from beating up strikers to murdering revolu tionaries. But now even the stated rules of the game are shifting.

In the name of the "war on terrorism", America's spy computers are gobbling up databases not only on air passengers but on all inhabitants of countries around the world. American security authorities effectively run some 20 seaports in Europe and elsewhere. World financial information is similarly being streamed through Yankee checkpoints. "They hate our freedom," says Bush, trying to explain resistance to the US in Iraq and elsewhere, but the US is the world's most flagrant human rights violator. The US imperialist ruling class is stretching to establish a world unbounded by any laws other than its own.

Two Dangers

The plan for "a new American century" has not unfolded in a straight line. Iraq has turned out to be more of a handful than Bush's inner circle expected; the reorganisation of the US armed forces has turned out to be too complicated to carry out in wartime; and they may not be able to follow the invasion of Iraq with another military action at as quick a tempo as we implied in our earlier articles. But even if they may not find it a good idea, right now, especially amid the American presidential campaign, to repeat their warnings that the "war on terror" (of which the Iraq war is only one part) will last a whole generation, they are not backing off their plan.

With ongoing war in Iraq but an apparent lull in terms of the US's global aggression, a kind of "intense calm" has set in (to borrow Lenin's words concerning the moments of apparent lull in the run-up to the October Revolution). Greater and even more tumultuous storms are on the horizon and the imperialists are preparing new crimes.

The people's forces also have to prepare for new rounds of struggle.

It would be a big mistake to let the temporary pause in the US imperialists' "war on the world" lull us to sleep about the dangers that lie ahead. Yet it would be just as dangerous and criminal if we failed to see the strategic weaknesses that the last two years have already begun to bring to light.

Most of all, Iraq itself has shown both the US's power, and the limits to its power. To restate the lesson we drew from our critique of the Iraqi resistance but this time put it positively, if disparate Iraqi guerrilla organisations, despite their limited outlook (so far at least), have been able to stand up to the most powerful military in history, then what, in that country and region, could be accomplished by bringing into play the full potential of a war that relies on the masses and represents the interests of the vast majority of the people in the world?

In shattering the old order in the Middle East, the US has unleashed powerful forces it ultimately may or may not be able to control. The American occupation of Iraq and the US support for Israel are supposed to be pillars of US control in the Middle East, and yet they are also the main sources of disorder in the region. The third military pillar, Turkey, and Egypt, have been anything but stabilised by the Iraq war. What the Communist Party of Iran (Marxist-Leninist-Maoist)'s organ Haghighat number 12 has said about that country applies to more than one long-standing, imperialist-dependent, deeply exposed and hated regime in the Middle East: the question is not whether or not they will be able to survive, but how they will fall. "The best [possibility] is that the masses, led by clear revolutionary slogans, play the biggest role in overthrowing the regime." If for the US seizing this region is key for their plans for world domination, the development of revolution here could be equally key to a whole different world outcome.

Further, people's wars led by the revolutionary proletariat and its Maoist parties are advancing in several countries, most notably Nepal. The People's War in Nepal is an expression of the contradiction between the imperialists and the people of the oppressed countries they dominate. This contradiction is also expressing itself in the US grab for Iraq and in many other ways, and is playing the principal role in bringing the world to a boil. The same compulsions that have launched the imperialists, and the US in particular, on such a dangerous gamble are also affecting the mood and activity of the masses and intensifying conditions for revolution in many countries. Genuine people's war under the leadership of a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist party is the way forward for the people in Iraq, the Middle East and the world over. Nepal may not be at the centre of world contradictions right now, but revolution intensifying throughout South Asia would surely become a major geopolitical factor.

The situation, for instance, in many countries of Latin America is also increasingly explosive - and Latin America is far from what today might seem the eye of the storm. As has become all the more apparent, the US cannot intervene everywhere at once. In fact, the resistance of the people of the world and especially the resistance of the Iraqi people has already, to some extent, changed the conditions in which the imperialists' offensive is unfolding. Nor do they have all the time in the world. For instance, whilst the US is tied up in Iraq, the other end of the "Greater Middle East", Afghanistan, is increasingly proving itself not at all "nailed down" in the US imperial order.

Within the imperialist countries themselves, the war has stripped off some of the trappings that often hide bourgeois dictatorship, which has enraged a growing section of the people and further heightened the contradiction between the imperialists and the revolutionary proletariat and its allies among the masses who are opposed to this war. It is not impossible that the consequences of the US's "war on the world" could hasten the advent of revolutionary situations in the imperialist heartlands.

"Today's world is in a state of revolutionary disarray," as Henry Kissinger put it. The present world situation is becoming increasingly intolerable for all classes. No halfway solution is possible. The world is being shaken by enormous contradictions, and this won't stop until they are resolved, one way or another, at least for a time, either at the expense of the people or through great advances in their liberation. Until then, the wheel will continue to spin. No one can predict how long the world will be in a state where one order is being shattered and another has yet to be erected. But as long as it lasts there is likely to be an unprecedented window of opportunity for revolutionary advance on a global level, the likes of which are rarely seen.

The revolutionary possibilities and the difficulties and dangers this situation poses for the people are two sides of the same coin, different manifestations of the same underlying contradictions. One cannot exist without the other.

This situation places very heavy responsibilities on the shoulders of the world's revolutionary forces, and in the first place on the Maoists, whose thoroughly revolutionary outlook, understanding and leadership have been proven all the more necessary by the events of the last few short years.


1. The issue of the US/UK governments' lies to "their own people" shouldn't be allowed to hide their greater crimes against the Iraqi people. The US/UK anti-war academics organisation Iraq Body Count (iraqbodycount.org) estimated total civilian deaths as a minimum of 7,968 and a maximum of 9,801 between the start of the bombing and 9 January 2004. Most, although not all, were killed by occupation troops. Estimates of the number of Iraqis who died due to the 12-year UN embargo run from a half million to one million.

2. See Scott Ritter, "Not everyone got it wrong on Iraq's weapons", International Herald Tribune, 6 February 2004. The former chief UN weapons inspector in Iraq points out that his paper concluding "it can be fairly stated that Iraq was qualitatively disarmed at the time the inspectors were withdrawn [in December 1998]", along with similar reports by his predecessor Rolf Ekeus and strong indications to that effect by his successor Hans Blix, were all ignored.

3. Japanese bombers sank American warships stationed in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in 1941, shortly after the US Navy moved to cut off Japan's oil supplies. Some historians contend that the US authorities had at least some inkling of this surprise attack but decided to let it happen to create the impression of a just ("defensive") war and a wave of patriotic fever.

4. The prohibition was only on ground troops. The US's giant Incirlik airbase was never closed. Along with US bases in Germany, Incirlik is part of a logistical triangle on which the US occupation of Iraq still depends - as way stations for troop rotation and supplies, medical evacuation, etc. In January 2004, the Turkish government authorised the US to use Incrlik to move hundreds of thousands of troops in and out of Iraq. This time parliament was not asked.

5. Exchange between US Ambassador (retired) Hume Horan Berkley, the recently-resigned senior American counsellor to the occupation Coalition Provisional Authority, and journalism professor Mark Danner in letters in The New York Review of Books, 12 February 2004.

6. Between January 2004 and the end of May, some 250,000 soldiers are to be rotated in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan. This is the biggest movement of its kind since the Second World War.

7. Monthly Review (monthlyreview.org), March 2003.

8. In addition to the 132,000 regular troops in Iraq, the US also has Special Forces counter-insurgency soldiers whose numbers are secret. The UK has a total of 12,000 troops. Other countries supplied another 12,000 in all - less than a quarter of what the US asked for. Some of the latter are supposedly non-combat forces and none are stationed in what are considered high-risk zones, although they have suffered 36 combat deaths anyway. British troops, also far less involved in combat than the US, have had 56 deaths. In addition to the officially reported 496 American dead, over 10,000 US soldiers have been evacuated for medical reasons. (Figures as of 13 January 2004.)

9. Although it is ironic that Saddam could hold elections but Bremer considers them "impractical" in Iraq.

10. Even Howard Dean, considered the most "anti-war" of the Democratic Party contenders to run against Bush in the presidential elections, said, "Now that we're there we can't leave." As the Revolutionary Worker, voice of the Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, points out, "This is not an anti-war stand. It is a pro-war stand - even if it comes with angry and mocking denunciations of Bush."

11. In some accounts she supposedly said, "buy Russia". Whatever other efforts the US is making toward Russia, the US still maintains, over Russian objections, military bases ringing that country's southern underbelly, and has carefully courted the three Baltic states, now in NATO, whose airfields are within a three minute flight of Saint Petersburg.

12. Iraq and the Middle East is far from all that is at stake between the US and France. For instance, in December Powell travelled to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia in the highest-level US visit in a decade - hot on the heels of the first conference of European and North African governments in several decades. Powell offered doubled military support and quadrupled economic aid to Morocco. This incursion into traditional French territory was followed the next month with an agreement for US troops and military contractors to be sent into four countries in France's sphere of influence in West Africa.