Amid five years of mutual slaughter, thousands of dead, millions of lives ruined and a war that has no end in sight, US president George W. Bush keeps insisting on his victory in Iraq. George W. seems unable to stare reality in the face.
In reality none of the war's proclaimed goals have been achieved: weapons of mass destruction were nowhere to be found; Iraq, instead of magically transforming itself into a puppet bourgeois democracy after the eviction of Saddam Hussein from power, has totally disintegrated and became a hotbed for international terrorism of all sorts. This is while American soldiers and Iraqi citizens lose their lives on a daily basis.
However, from the shortsighted point of view of the major oil companies, which the Bush family comes from, the war seems to be their greatest victory in recent history.
The fact is that the war was never about protecting the world from weapons of mass destruction or bringing democracy to Iraq. The war was about enforcing the rule of the United States, a declining imperialist power and getting control of oil supplies and establishing some kind of control over the whole of the unstable Middle East.
On 19.6.08, the New York Times reported that 36 years after Saddam Hussein nationalized the Iraqi oil fields, the pro-imperialist puppet government in Iraq has granted concessions to all the major world oil companies to "service" Iraqi oil fields again. After 36 years in the cold, they are back: the oil giants Exxon Mobile, Chevron, Total, British Petroleum and Shell have now returned to plunder the most lucrative oil fields in the world. From their narrow perspective, these measures of the present Iraqi government are a welcome step, and for them it makes all the destruction and bloodshed worth it. From this to actually getting the oil flowing is another question.
The true reasons for fighting Iraq
The major western oil companies suffered a setback after Iraq and other oil producing states had nationalised their oil fields. The US government seriously considered military intervention. The Carter administration even responded by setting up a stationary military force that could intervene in the Middle East at short notice. They even contemplated the possibility of invading parts of Saudi Arabia, that area where the oilfields are concentrated, should the regime fall.
However, in that period, the situation in the Middle East was too delicate for such an intervention. During the Cold War, the American attitude toward the Middle East swayed between two extremes. One was the immense importance of controlling Gulf oil for American capitalism and the military machines and modern weaponry that sustain it. The other was the fear that if America were to become too openly aggressive in defending its interests, the Arab masses could become radicalised and leaders could emerge who might turn to the Soviet Union for help.
We also have to remember that Saddam Hussein's Ba'ath Party initially received US support, as it removed the pro-Soviet Abd el-Karim Qasim in the 1963 coup. The US knew perfectly well that if they tried to replace Saddam, his successor might turn out to be even worse for them. On top of that, despite his "mischief" in nationalising the oil fields, Saddam had proven himself as a vital force in guaranteeing imperialist interests in the region. They could count on him to slaughter the communists (which he did), block Iran's anti-Western regime, and help to keep oil prices low.
The final argument against invading Iraq was that the oil companies, even after losing the concessions, were still making massive profits from shipping, refining and marketing oil and oil products. In that period, oil supplies were abundant and the price was on the rise. However, all this was about to change.
Since the late 1980s, all the arguments against war in Iraq and to regain direct control over oil had become irrelevant. First, the fall of the Soviet Union changed the balance of forces in the region. With the Soviets out of the way, the US had become the world's only superpower. An intoxicating feeling of omnipotence swept through all the top ranks in Washington. They felt they now owned the world and that they could do anything they wanted.
Second, as demand for oil increased reserves in oil fields around the world started to go down, while new oil discoveries in the Persian Gulf were still increasing. Persian Gulf oil started to become the most lucrative and abundant oil reserves in the world. Controlling the Gulf thus became much more urgent for American imperialism.
Finally, Saddam Hussein had ceased to function as an agent of "stabilisation" in the Gulf. Faced with the bankruptcy of his country after the costly war with Iran, and furious at the US and his regional neighbours for not providing financial help after fighting Iran for them, Saddam decided to occupy Kuwait. After witnessing Kuwait flooding the oil market and thus reducing oil prices, he knew that by conquering it, he would have greater control over oil prices. He naively thought he could reconcile US fury by reducing oil prices. However, he did not take into consideration who was now in charge of the White House - the Bush family and its very close links to the oil giants - the ones who had their eyes on controlling Iraqi oil again after decades.
The accumulation of these conditions paved the way for the first Gulf War. In that war, while the Soviet Union was still in existence, replacing rebellious leaders by means of direct military intervention was not the option of choice for the US government. In such a delicate matter, it usually preferred to intervene indirectly. It encouraged coups by the local opposition using economic sanctions and covert aid from the CIA. That is how Saddam himself came to power in the first place, together with many other contemptible dictators. This is why during the Clinton administration, there were US and UK attempts to destabilize the regime through sanctions and continuous low-level military attacks, but not through the use of direct military means to oust Saddam from power.
As we have seen, during the time of George W. Bush, a feeling of omnipotence flowed through the veins of the American leaders, and with such important goals at stake, the choice was to intervene directly.
The terrorist attacks in 2001 on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon were just a pretext for something that had been planned long before. According to a testimony of Mr. Paul O'Neill, the former Secretary of the Treasury, the Bush administration started planning an invasion of Iraq almost immediately after being elected. In fact, it was reported on the BBC in 2005 that US officials had started to look among the Iraqi opposition for a successor to Saddam well before September 11.
The big oil companies started operating in Iraq immediately after the US-led invasion, using their own personnel to direct oil extraction, receiving immunity from the local puppet-government. The recent agreement reported in the New York Times is another important step in assuring American and Western control over the oil fields. It made sure that Russia and China would be kept out of Iraq, thus securing American control over the Gulf region and its oil fields - the greatest treasure in the history of humankind.
The complexity of the war's balance sheet
From the shortsighted point of view of the oil giants and their prime butler George W. Bush, the war may look like a victory. However, in reality it is creating new contradictions that can be very damaging for the future of American imperialism.
The American entanglement in Iraq teaches us that the political exponents of the bourgeoisie do not always act according to the interests of the class they are supposed to represent. In terms of how quickly the US forces were able to take Iraq the war was a staggering victory. Now the Bush clique thought they had control of the country and could set about exploiting its huge oil reserves.
However, things have turned out somewhat differently to what Bush had anticipated. From a political perspective, the war has been a staggering defeat. US imperialism has in fact been weakened by the war. The feeling of omnipotence that permeated the US ruling class a few years ago has proven to be unfounded.
They underestimated the power of local resistance and the implications of such a war for the US. Getting bogged down in an unwinnable war in Iraq has severely damaged the ability of the US to intervene elsewhere. It has also had a huge impact on the American masses themselves. The fact that Democratic Party candidate for president, Barack Obama was the first candidate in history to say publicly that he is sometimes ashamed of his country is an indication of how bad things have become. He would never have said such a thing if he did not know for sure that millions of Americans today would sympathise with such a statement. The fact that he raises the idea of a phased withdrawal from Iraq also indicates what the real mood in the USA is.
The American ruling class is trying to get out of the mess it created by blaming everything on one man - George W. Bush. The ongoing common narrative, shared by both Republican and Democratic leaders, is that once Bush leaves everything will start to sort itself out. Even the extremely critical documentary made about the war by the "provocative" commentator Michael Moore goes along with that story. The victory of Obama within the Democratic Party also indicates a desire to see something completely different in the White House. However, what will the response of the American masses be once they see that Obama as President - if he manages to win - will continue to act according to the interests of the US ruling class?
The contradictions that led to the war will still be present after Bush leaves office. The United States will still need to maintain some kind of control over the oil-rich Gulf and keep its competitors, mainly Russia and China, out of the region. The US ruling class are facing a dilemma. As long as Iraq is unstable, the American army cannot leave because then nothing would guarantee the existence of the pro-American regime. At the same time, they cannot win this war.
On the other hand, the longer they stay the more bogged down they get. As more and more US soldiers are killed, together with the growing economic crisis in the USA, the masses will demand more and more that the US administration pulls out of Iraq. US imperialism could end up being forced to pull out of Iraq prematurely. Thus all of the economic "achievements" in controlling the oil fields would be lost.
Thus, it seems that the second Gulf war has produced a contradictory and unstable situation. It weakened US imperialism, while formally strengthening the US oil companies. This contradiction cannot continue for too long. It is clear that by weakening US imperialism militarily there are serious implications for American capital as a whole.
For that reason, the Iraqi war may turn out to be the undoing of the "American empire". And this comes only a few years since US imperialism seemed so powerful and unchallenged on a world scale. The debacle in Iraq has revealed the real underlying weaknesses of US imperialism.
Is Iran next on the imperialist's agenda?
There is another country in the Persian Gulf that slipped out of US domination long ago - Iran. In an ideal situation, controlling Iran along with Iraq and the rest of the Gulf States would definitely complete the picture of US world domination. It would give it control over huge oil reserves. It would break the independent OPEC cartel and would give American capital the almost total ability to control oil prices in its own interests. Profits would also be huge.
At one stage it seemed that Bush was indeed preparing to attack Iran, but the quagmire of Iraq has changed that perspective. IF they are unable to stop the insurgency in Iraq they have no hope of dominating Iran. The failures in Iraq have forced the US ruling class to seriously rethink their whole strategy. Even the obtuse Bush has had to start thinking in terms of the real situation on the ground and not the dream world of his limited cerebral capacities.
Already the Baker Report - or as it is known officially, The Iraq Study Group Report: The Way Forward, A New Approach - back in December 2006 came up with a completely different solution. It suggested reducing US military forces in Iraq to a minimum and involving Iran and Syria in helping to bring the fighting to an end. Bush wasn't too happy with the Report's proposals, but it clearly revealed the thinking of an important section of the US ruling class. They had concluded the war was unwinnable, too expensive and was causing more serious problems than had been anticipated. The contradictions created in Iraq made it impossible for American imperialism to take over Iran directly. The irony of all this is that Iran, which had been classified as one of the world's "rogue regimes" had actually emerged strengthened in the region.
On the basis of this new situation, the prospect of a US attack on Iran receded. Initially there was talk of a US missile strike on Iran's nuclear research facilities, but even this became less and less likely. How to solve this dilemma? Among the Bush entourage an idea emerged that there might a way out of this complexity. The United States could rely on one of its satellite states in the regions to protect its economic goals, while the political burden would be carried by that satellite state.
Can Israel solve the problem?
That satellite state is Israel. Recently, Israeli senior officials have repeatedly and threateningly raised the idea that Israel is very close to taking military steps against Iran, using its nuclear energy projects as the pretext. Moreover, both the incumbent American president and the two candidates have issued clear statements of support for Israel and its "right to defend itself", some saying that the amber light was on for Israel, indicating that could prepare to attack.
In Israel, the state is using the media for propaganda against Iran. The media keeps bombarding the Israeli masses with frightening images of Iran's "crazy", "fanatical" and "anti-Semitic" leaders waving a nuclear arsenal. Even "science" has been recruited for this mission. An Israeli "expert" on Islam with an international reputation, Professor Moshe Sharon, recently stated in an interview to the state-owned radio station, that "according to Shiite principles", Iran, unprovoked, would definitely use atomic weaponry on Israel as soon as it develops a nuclear capability.
A military conflict between Israel and Iran would most definitely result in thousands of victims, if not much more. After losing the war in Lebanon, the Israeli ruling class, and its military chiefs, need to demonstrate that are still a powerful military force. They are building up the illusion, fed by the army bureaucracy, that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) may be incapable of fighting guerrilla forces, but are most capable against a regular army.
The fact that they desire war as a means of distracting attention away from the serious internal crisis Israel is facing, can be seen in the bombing of a Syrian facility not so long ago. The problem was that the Syrians didn't take the bait. They refused to retaliate. Syria would have been the ideal, a sit shares a border with Israel and a conventional war would have been possible. How does Israel fight a conventional war with Iran, with two armies moving against each other across a border? This means that a military conflict between Israel and Iran would be reduced to a bombing campaign.
In any case, a larger part of the Israeli army's training programmes in recent years was about combating terrorist and guerrilla fighters rather than regular armies. Furthermore, the soldiers combat experience has mostly been in policing the Occupied Territories. These soldiers may be experts in bullying, destroying homes, chasing and shooting at Palestinian workers and torturing tied-up prisoners, but their combat training is much more questionable. The army's commissioned ranks are not in a much better shape: consumed with greed and corruption, they care much more about their future political careers and financial investments than about the shape of the army they are commanding, as the previous war against Lebanon revealed.
On top of all this, as the US administration attempts to retie diplomatic relations with Iran, an attack by Israel would not help the situation. It is clear that the US administration and the Israeli ruling class see things differently on this issue. It is enough to recall the "leaking" in the USA that intelligence sources claimed Iran had no nuclear research for military purposes. That was clearly to blunt Bush' ability to convince the US public of the need for air strikes on Iran. Israeli intelligence sources immediately came out with a statement that according to their information Iran did have in place nuclear research programmes for military purposes. Clearly, the interests of US imperialism and those of the Israeli ruling class are not always the same!
Israel, for its own interests, could launch air strikes against Iran. They would claim that this is to stop the nuclear programme. The problem is that Israel cannot stop Iran' nuclear research. At best it can damage it, delay it, slow it down. But that would only convince the Iranians of the need to accelerate their nuclear research programme, as a deterrent against future attacks. So, whichever way it goes, it is not likely that Israel can save America from its contradictions in the Middle East.
The media in Israel is whipping up war frenzy, claiming that Iran is a threat to the very existence of Israel. But even here we have to see that any verbal threats on the part of the Iranian president are really for domestic consumption. The Iranian regime is facing growing internal turmoil, with strikes and student protests. The living conditions of the masses are becoming unbearable. In reality, the conditions for revolution are maturing and the regime is being weakened. Sooner or later it will fall.
Serious bourgeois analysts in then West can see that the regime is weak and they are pushing for a different approach. This involves opening up diplomatic links, entering into "dialogue" with the Iranian regime, opening up its economy, using investment as a means of pressurising the regime into moving in the direction imperialism requires.
In Israel too, there are growing social and economic problems. There is also a crisis at the top with scandal after scandal emerging, involving Olmert himself. The sabre-rattling is thus a useful tool in diverting people's attentions away from the real problems.
The tragedy in Israel is that there is no leadership of the labour movement prepared to offer a real alternative. The leadership of the Israeli labour federation - the Histadrut - has a history of handing the Israeli workers to the state on a silver plate when "national security" issues are raised. On the other hand, the Israeli masses are still convinced that the army is their sole protector against the "barbarian" Arab world. They feel they are surrounded by hostile regimes that only wish to see the end of Israel. In reality that is not true. The despotic Arab rulers find in Israel a useful tool. They can blame it for all the ills that afflict the Arab World. So they mouth condemnation of Israel, while in practice they are allied to the same US imperialism that backs Israel. The case of Saudi Arabia is the most obvious one, but most of the others are in a similar situation.
The situation is a tragic one. The Israel ruling class could drag the nation into another messy military conflict, which would solve none of the problems. The Israeli masses will sooner or later awaken to a new understanding of the true nature of the Israeli state, which is not at all to provide a safe homeland for the Jews. It is in fact a satellite of imperialism in the region, albeit an unstable one.
The interests of the Israeli masses and those of the Zionist ruling class are not the same. The Zionists use the historical fear of the Israeli masses of a new holocaust to keep them within a political straitjacket. To break out of that straitjacket a genuine socialist perspective is required.
- Iraq: Five years after by Alan Woods (March 20, 2008)
- Iraq – five years of hell, five years of failure by Socialist Appeal (March 18, 2008)
- Depleted Uranium: WMD’s in Iraq by Joe Boustead (October 1, 2007)
- Startling revelations about Bush’s foreign policy by Alan Woods (March 22, 2007)
- George Bush’s Middle East Adventure: The chickens come home to roost by Alan Woods (March 21, 2007)
- George W Bush and the Art of War by Alan Woods (March 20, 2007)