Nos. 33 & 34, December 2002
The following is a brief summary of the themes explored in this issue.
US imperialism has announced its intention to launch an invasion of Iraq and to change the regime there. The impending invasion is the culmination of US efforts for the last decade.
The 1991 US attack on Iraq in the name of evacuating Kuwait not only caused a terrible immediate loss of life but systematically and deliberately devastated the entire civilian infrastructure of Iraq. Eleven years of sanctions already have wreaked unparalleled devastation in the countrys economic life and effected what a senior UN official termed genocide by systematically starving the country of elementary needs. Iraq is not free to spend the earnings from sale of its own oil in the way it wishes. No-fly zones and repeated bombings devoid of all legal cover have violated the countrys sovereignty and security. Under US-UK protection, pro-US Kurdish forces hold sway in northern Iraq. In the guise of weapons inspection, brazen espionage has been carried out by the US, UK and Israel.
Now, however, we are about to witness a major new development, with far-reaching consequences: the direct imperialist occupation of the whole of Iraq. Further, it is widely reported in the American press that the United States plans to use the invasion of Iraq as a launching pad for a drastic re-shaping of West Asia. The Bush administration is actively considering invading various countries and replacing regimes in the entire regionIran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Lebanon are among the countries to be targeted. This is to be accompanied by Israel carrying out some form of final solution to the Palestinian questionwhether in the form of mass eviction or colonisation.
The justifications US imperialism is advancing for the impending assault on Iraq are absurd, often contradictory. Unlike in the case of the 1991 Gulf War or the 2001 bombing and invasion of Afghanistan, this time the US lacks even the fig-leaf of an excuse for its aggression. The major American and British media corporations have once again come forward as footsoldiers in the campaign.
Apart from the UK and Israel, countries in the rest of the world have either opposed the planned assault or at least attempted to distance themselves from it; public opinion outside the US and Israel is set against the war, and even within the highly indoctrinated US is rapidly shifting; indeed the world, including the US, has seen a remarkable wave of protest before the start of the war. Most significantly, there are signs that a long-delayed popular upsurge is imminent in West Asia. While various Arab client states have under US pressure now muted their opposition, and some will offer facilities for the assault, they evidently fear the wrath of their own people. It is clear that for the US rulers the entire operation will entail not only huge expenditures but grave political risks. Yet they are determined to press on.
Although some voices of caution were sounded at first among senior strategic experts and political figures in the US, there now appears to be broad consensus among the US ruling classes regarding this extraordinary adventurism and unilateral aggression. The manner in which the US President was able to ram through Congress his demand for sweeping and open-ended war powers makes clear that the corporate sector as a whole (not only the oil companies) is vitally interested in the war. It is significant that despite recession and economic uncertainty, despite deepening budget and balance of payments deficits, the US is willing to foot the bill for a massive, open-ended military operation. Evidently US corporations believe the potential reward will justify the war; or that the failure to go to war will have grave consequences for them.
It is more or less publicly acknowledged that the immediate reward is a massive oil grab, of a scale not witnessed since the days of colonialism. Caspian prospects pale in comparison with Iraqi oil wealth. Iraq has the worlds second largest reserves (at present 115 billion barrels, but long-delayed exploration may take that figure to 220-250 billion barrels). Moreover, its oil is, along with that of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran, by far the cheapest to extract. The US is quite openly offering the French and Russians, who have giant contracts with the present regime that cannot be realised under sanctions, slices of the post-invasion cake in exchange for their approval in the Security Council.
Control of petroleum resources and pipeline routes is obviously a central consideration in US imperialist designs worldwidenote the long-term installation of US forces from Afghanistan through Central Asia to the Balkans; the entry of US troops in the Philippines and the pressure on Indonesia to involve the US in a campaign against Islamic fundamentalists in the region; the drive for US military intervention in Colombia and the attempt to oust Chaves in Venezuela. (The systematic drive by the US in northern Latin America has close parallels with its campaign in West Asia.) The US is particularly anxious to install a large contingent of troops near Saudi Arabia, anticipating the collapse of, or drastic change in, the regime there. Saudi Arabia has the worlds greatest stock of oil wealth. Indeed the US is contemplating using the invasion of Iraq as the springboard for a drastic political cleansing of the entire region, along the lines of the process long underway in the Balkans and continuing in Afghanistan-Pakistan. Indeed it is even willing to provoke, by its invasion of Iraq, uprisings in other states of the region, in order to provide it with an occasion to invade those states. All this is not speculation, but has been explicitly spelled out in various policy documents authored by or commissioned by those now in charge of the US military and foreign policy.
Linked to the above is a further, strategic, dimension to the US aggressive designs. Not only is the US increasingly dependent on West Asian oil for its own consumption; its capture of West Asian oil is also intended to secure its supremacy among imperialist powers.
The global crisis of overproduction is showing up the underlying weakness of the US real economy, as a result of which US trade and budget deficits are galloping. The euro now poses a credible alternative to the status of the dollar as the global reserve currency, threatening the USs crucial ability to fund its deficits by soaking up the worlds savings. The US anticipates that the capture of Iraq, and whatever else it has in store for the region, will directly benefit its corporations (oil, arms, engineering, financial) even as it shuts out the corporations from other imperialist countries. Further, it intends to prevent the bulk of petroleum trade being conducted in euros, and thus maintain the dollars supremacy. In a broader sense, it believes that such a re-assertion of its supremacy (in military terms and in control of strategic resources) will prevent the emergence of any serious imperialist challenger such as the EU. In that sense the present campaign is in line with the Pentagons 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, which called for preventing any other major power from acquiring the strength to develop into a challenger to the USs solitary supremacy. (A European foothold even in Iran could bring about a euro-based oil economy; this perhaps explains the puzzling inclusion of Iran in the axis of evil.)
For these very reasons, the US is facing more serious opposition from France, Germany and Russia in relation to Iraq than on any strategic issue in the past. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union no imperialist power has had the military muscle to oppose US unilateralism, and other powers have focussed instead on getting their minor share of the spoils of the former Soviet empire and the intensified plunder of the Third World. However, these powers see that the present campaign is intended precisely to shut them out of contention for equal status with the US in the long term as well. Contention for such status is the very reason for the EUs existence.
At the same time direct control over the regions petroleum resources will give the US another important lever to use against China, which will become considerably more dependent on petroleum imports during the next decade. The US also sees capitalist China as a potential threat to its plans for domination of East and Southeast Asia. The US has taken various steps to block Chinas plans to obtain independent (i.e., not controlled by the US), stable access to West Asian oil or Caspian oil. The US has already installed its military throughout oil- and gas-rich Central Asia; now it is in the process of doing so in vastly richer West Asia.
Although certain circumstances have led the US to navigate a resolution on Iraq through the UN Security Council, the US has now openly declared the death of the UN system, for what it was worth: this was the content of Bushs speech to the UN, where he declared that it would be irrelevant unless it rubber-stamped US supremacy. The new doctrine is contained in the US National Security Strategy document, which declares the right of American pre-emptive strike against emerging or potential threats, and warns that it is willing to act unilaterally if other imperialist powers do not follow its lead. In line with the new doctrine, the US is systematically revising the existing international consensus on use of nuclear weapons.
In order carry out its plan, the US, already over-extended, will have to extend itself even further. Not only has it rapidly multiplied its military outposts and involvements across the world, from the Philippines to Asia (Central, South and West) to Latin America, but it has taken on the status of a direct occupier in Afghanistan, and evidently intends to do so in at least Iraq. Thus it both spreads its forces thin and calls forth much fiercer nationalist resistance than under the indirect rule common in the neo-colonial order. Anticipating the heavy costs of their new mission, intellectual hacks of the US and UK ruling classes are busy preparing theoretical justifications for a new bout of colonialism. At the same time the internal repressive apparatus is being strengthened in the US and panic, submission to authority and other elements of fascism are being manufactured.
The simultaneous emergence of worldwide popular opposition
and resistance, opposition from other imperialist powers, and profound
weakness in the US economy suggest that events will not develop as US
We wish to acknowledge the help of Jacob Levich -- writer, editor, and activist from Queens, New York, and a veritable goldmine of insights and information -- in the preparation of this issue of Aspects.
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