The American imperialists have learnt a lot from their true ancestors - the Romans. After the Second Punic War, when Rome finally defeated Hannibal and established her superiority in the Mediterranean, she still lived in fear of a revival of Carthage. The war party at Rome was headed by Cato, who, when delivering a speech in the senate, no matter what the subject, always ended with the same phrase: "Delenda est Carthago" - Carthage must be destroyed.
This chilling advice was carried out to the letter. After a three-year siege in which many of its citizens starved to death (an early example of effective sanctions) the city was razed to the ground and the surviving inhabitants sold into slavery. To complete the job, the land on which Carthage stood was sown with salt. In this way the whole world got the message of the fate that awaited anyone who refused to acknowledge the superior values of Roman civilization.
Of course, the world has moved on since then. Slavery is out of fashion. Instead, whole peoples are economically enslaved through the mechanism of the world market. This is called "globalisation". Here the domination of the weak by the strong is achieved by indirect means: the terms of trade and foreign debts. This is so much more economical than the wars and slave hunts of the Romans! But occasionally situations arise where the old Roman methods of wars of conquest and occupation of foreign lands become appropriate. Such is the case of Iraq.
However, even here we note a clear advance over the old methods. The Americans intend to occupy Iraq. There is not the slightest doubt about this. They have even made detailed plans of how the US-run colonial administration will operate, how the imperial governor will reconstruct the shattered infrastructure - beginning with the oilfields, of course. For the aim of American imperialism is not to sow the soil of Iraq with salt and make it barren for all time, but on the contrary to make the desert bloom, and the oil flow - for the greater glory of God and the profits of the US oilmen and the revenues of the US treasury.
The farce of "inspection"
As the deadly game of hide-and-seek with the arms inspection people drags on, there is speculation in some quarters that perhaps matters will not reach the point of a shooting war. Rumsfeld generously offers Saddam Hussein the option of exile in some unnamed destination, hinting that he might thus escape prosecution. Such diplomatic minuets should fool nobody. The only thing that matters here is that the military build-up in the Gulf has practically reached the point of no return.
Saddam Hussein knows that the kind promises of Washington carry very little weight, but are only part of the general diplomatic cover necessary to hide the real intentions of the USA and lull the world, and Iraq, into a false sense of security prior to the commencement of hostilities. He therefore appeared on television on January 17 to warn that anyone who tries to invade his country would be defeated and "forced to commit suicide at the gates of Baghdad".
This fiery rhetoric marked the 12th anniversary of the Gulf war, when Iraq was quickly defeated with the loss of more than 200,000 lives. The Americans are clearly banking on a repeat of the same scenario, but not everyone is so sure. The nervousness of the financial markets worldwide is sufficient proof of this.
"Guilty until proved innocent"
Conscious of their weakness in the face of the world's only superpower, the Iraqis have gone to extraordinary lengths to show their willingness to help United Nations weapons inspectors search for evidence of weapons of mass destruction. To no avail! After more than 200 expeditions, Hans Blix reported at the end of December that they had found nothing, and that they had yet to discover the "smoking gun" that would convince the world of the threat Iraq allegedly poses. On December 31, Kofi Annan stated that he saw no basis for armed intervention against Iraq.
The response of the Americans was to state that, in so many words, the fact that you have found nothing proves that the Iraqis must be hiding something! This logic reminds one of the twisted reasoning that used to be applied in the trials of witches hundreds of years ago. A poor woman was accused of being a witch and subjected to torture to force her to confess. If she refused to confess, the devil was said to be giving her strength, if she fainted, the devil was said to be giving her sleep, and so on, until the unfortunate victim either confessed or died.
The discovery of 11 empty 122mm chemical warheads, all in good condition, served as a convenient pretext for the tormentors of Iraq to renew their hue and cry. These, said a spokesman for the inspectors, were not included in the 12,000-page declaration that Iraq has made about its arms programme. A senior Iraqi official claimed that that is because the warheads were not linked to any banned weapons programme and had simply expired and been packed away in wooden boxes, where they had been forgotten about.
It is quite possible that the Iraqis are telling the truth, as also in the subsequent discovery of a large number of notes in the house of one of their scientists that were likewise not declared. The scientist has protested that these notes could not be connected with a military nuclear programme and included notes for lectures to his students. But that will not help Saddam. The Americans, like the Queen in Alice in Wonderland want to establish a guilty verdict first and hold the trial afterwards. They will accept nothing less!
The inspectors are preparing to present their first formal report on Iraq to the UN Security Council on January 27. Before delivering that report, the UN's chief inspector, Hans Blix, and the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed El Baradei, visited Baghdad, where they warned the Iraqis that the situation is "very tense and very dangerous". To avoid war, Blix says, Iraq must provide credible evidence that it has eliminated its suspected nuclear, chemical and biological programmes.
In a normal trial, it is the task of the prosecutor to prove that the accused is guilty. Here, however, the accused is presumed to be guilty and is required to furnish proof of his innocence! Not only that, he is expected to show the greatest enthusiasm in helping the prosecution to find the necessary proof - that he is, in fact, guilty! Officials in Washington argue that the Iraqis do not have to be in "material breach" of resolutions: in other words, they are guilty until proven innocent.
The actions of US imperialism resemble those of a wild elephant, blundering into every obstacle in the belief that its sheer bulk will suffice to remove them. Unfortunately, this is not always the case! It is interesting to contrast America's tough line on Iraq with its policy towards North Korea, where Mr Bush is promoting diplomacy and has said he would consider food aid and energy shipments if the North Koreans scrap their nuclear-weapons programme. The North Korean regime makes no secret that it possesses nuclear weapons, so the sending of UN arms inspectors is unnecessary. Yet Bush does not threaten to invade North Korea! The reason is obvious. North Korea has a powerful army and nuclear weapons and could do considerable damage in the event of a war. And a bully will always pick on a victim who is smaller and weaker than himself.
The fact is that the ruling clique in Washington long ago (before September 11) made up its mind that Saddam Hussein must be overthrown and Iraq must be occupied. What are the reasons for this stubbornness? There are various: political, strategic, economic and even personal. George W. Bush, who incidentally "won" the last presidential election through a blatant fraud, wishes at all costs to remain in the White House. Since there is just over a year before the next presidential elections, he calculates that a victorious little war would do his chances no harm. After all, just look what the Falklands war did for Margaret Thatcher. The fact that many people will die in such a war is surely a trivial consideration compared to the political future of George W.!
The personal destiny of Mr. Bush would, of course, in itself, be insufficient to justify plunging America into a bloody and (no matter what is said to the contrary) uncertain conflict. There are other, more powerful, reasons of a strategic and economic character.
Since the fall of the USSR, America has emerged as the world's only superpower. It accounts for 37 percent of the world's total arms expenditure and 40 percent of world arms production. No other power comes remotely close to this. The American imperialists have therefore abrogated to themselves the role of the policeman of world capitalism. They have decided to tear up all the old agreements that formed the basis of "international law". Their slogan is "might is right". And they will tolerate no regime that is not willing to accept their domination. That was the meaning of the war in Kosovo, and it is also the meaning of the war against Iraq.
Despite the terrible pounding it took in the last Gulf War, and ten years of barbaric sanctions that have reduced the Iraqi people to beggary and starvation, Iraq remains a formidable power in the region. The USA wants at all costs to destroy this power and thus give a terrible lesson to the peoples of the Middle East and the world at large. See what happens to those who try to stand against us? That is the intended message.
Although it is an over-simplification to characterise the coming war as a "war for oil" (there are other elements in the equation), there cannot be the slightest doubt that oil plays a most important role. The US economy depends heavily on oil, and the biggest available reserves of oil are to be found in the Middle East. George W. Bush comes from a Texan family the wealth of which comes from oil. His Vice-President, Dick Chaney, also has close links to big US oil companies. The oilmen make up the single most powerful group in the US oligarchy and have a determining influence on US policy. Together with the notorious Military Industrial Complex, they have a powerful influence on Washington's foreign policy.
Up till recently the USA was tranquil in the belief that its Middle East oil supplies were guaranteed by a friendly power - Saudi Arabia. The parasitic and degenerate Saudi ruling clique keeps order in its own house with a rod of iron. It is, in fact, a fundamentalist dictatorship that tortures its opponents, discriminates against women and cuts the hands off thieves. This naturally qualifies it for membership of America's coalition of democratic regimes.
While speaking in the name of Allah, the members of the royal house of Saud are notoriously corrupt. These defenders of the Faith and keepers of the Holy Places of Islam drink whisky, drive expensive cars and enjoy themselves with prostitutes. They have succeeded in clinging to power partly through the most savage repression and partly because the vast oil revenues permitted them to give concessions to the population. But this has all ended.
Falling oil revenues have meant falling living standards for most of the Saudi population. The standard of living is now only 20 percent of its level 20 years ago. Unemployment is high and rising, especially among Saudi youth. This means that discontent is increasing to dangerous levels, and it will not be possible to contain the situation by repression alone.
It came as a shock to the Americans that the biggest number of hijackers on the September 11 came neither from Afghanistan nor Iraq, but Saudi Arabia. But in fact this was entirely predictable. The degenerate Saudi ruling clique, conscious of its weakness and isolation from the population, arrived at a deal with the Moslem clerics of the strict Wahhabi sect, giving the latter a virtually free hand to operate in Saudi Arabia, on condition that it encouraged Jihhad (Holy War) outside Saudi borders only.
Reactionary fundamentalist gangsters like Osama bin Laden (who had close links with the Saudi royal family) were actively supported, financed and armed both by the CIA and the Saudi regime, to attack the Soviet forces in Afghanistan. The infrastructure of al Qaida was built up at that time. It was not seen as a problem as long as it confined its activities to killing Russians. But in the end, after the fall of the USSR, al Qaida turned its attentions to America. As sometimes occurs, the mad dog bit the hand that fed it.
It is interesting to note that the CIA so trusted the Saudis that it did not even keep them under surveillance. A CIA defector recently pointed out that the agency did not even bother to keep a file on that country. This astonishing negligence may explain the reason why America's security services were caught off guard on September 11. But now all that has changed.
From blind faith in the Saudi regime, the Americans are becoming increasingly suspicious of it. They fear, with some reason, that the regime is unstable and may be overthrown sooner rather than later. The splits in the royal family lend credence to this interpretation. The loss of Saudi Arabia would be a body-blow to the USA, which is heavily dependent on Saudi oil supplies, which represent the biggest proven reserves in the world.
It is clear that the ruling circles in the USA are actively considering this scenario and preparing for it. The presence of US troops on Saudi soil, allegedly to defend the kingdom against the threat of foreign invasion (from Iraq), is in reality an insurance policy. In the event of the regime being overthrown, the US army would immediately take steps to occupy - not the whole country, which would be a formidable task - but the oilfields, most of which are situated on a narrow coastal strip. This would then be sealed off from the rest of the country, and the Arabs would be left with the sand.
This is where Iraq comes into the picture. Iraq is sitting on the second biggest reserves of oil, after Saudi Arabia. Possession of these valuable reserves would be essential for America if, as is possible, Saudi Arabia became unstable. Moreover, any invasion of Saudi Arabia would have to be launched from Iraq. So the establishment of strong US bases in that country is a strategic necessity. For all of these reasons, the Americans are determined to push for an invasion - and the sooner the better!
The discovery of a handful of empty warheads is unlikely to convince all the members of the Security Council that they should declare Saddam in "material breach" of his obligations, and thus trigger a war. Nor are the various gaps and omissions which the inspectors say exist in Iraq's declaration. Mr Blix says he expects the Security Council to ask him to deliver a further report in February. By then, a trickle of revelations might well have built up into a body of evidence sufficient to show that Iraq is not telling the truth.
In their mad drive to war, however, the US comes up against serious obstacles. The neighbouring regimes are all terrified of the consequences of an American invasion of Iraq. Already a powerful anti-American current is flowing in the Middle East. Saddam has sent a special envoy to hold talks with several Arab leaders, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Syria, which took part in the 1991 military action that drove Iraqi forces from Kuwait, has since rebuilt ties with Iraq and opposes a strike against its neighbour. But these regimes cannot help Iraq. They will be struggling to maintain themselves! The real danger to America comes not from Arab governments and armies but from what they now call "the Arab street" - that is, the masses.
A recent survey showed that in Egypt only six percent of the people are pro-American, while 69 percent were against. In Jordan, 25 percent were pro-American, but a staggering 75 percent were against. Both these regimes are hanging by a thread. A US invasion of Iraq will further destabilise them, provoking a wave of protests throughout the Middle East. Terrorist acts and attacks on Western targets will increase in an infernal cycle of violence. The recent murder of American civilians in the Yemen are a warning of what can happen. Far from being a "war against terrorism", the actions of US imperialism - that is to say, state terrorism, will enormously exacerbate the problem, creating a mood of hatred and bitterness and winning numerous new recruits for terrorist organisations.
Washington's problems are, however, not confined to the Middle East. Europe is becoming restive, irritated by the insolent arrogance of their American "allies". The real reason why Blix and his UN colleagues continue their activities in Iraq is the pressure of several members of the Security Council who are unenthusiastic about the prospect of war - in the first place France. Jacques Chirac, the French president, said on January 17 that the inspectors should have more time and that unilateral action against Iraq would contravene international law. The French imperialists have their own interests in the Middle East and Iraq. They have been assiduously pursuing contracts with oil producers like Iraq and Libya, to the fury of the Americans. It stands to reason that if these lucrative contracts are signed by French companies, they cannot be signed by American ones.
But President George Bush's patience is wearing thin. "Time is running out" for Saddam, he said. "I am sick and tired of games and deception, and that is my view of timetables." This is a warning not only to Baghdad but also to Paris. There is a clear sub-text that reads as follows: "If you oppose us over Iraq, we will go in anyway, and we will make sure that all your contracts are torn up and you will get nothing. If, on the other hand, you support us, you will get some crumbs from the table after we have finished eating." The French, with many a tear and many a sigh, have agreed to support their American "friends", and even to send troops.
As for Russia, Moscow has dispatched its deputy foreign minister to Iraq for - "negotiations on disarmament" (read: Iraq's capitulation). This is an exact replica of Mikhail Gorbachev's diplomacy in the Gulf on the eve of the 1991 Iraq war, when Moscow left the Iraqis in the lurch. Now history is set to repeat itself. The Russians have important oil contracts with Iraq (where most of the installations and machinery came from the USSR), which also owes them a large amount of money. The Americans will have promised the Russians that they will get their money back. How much these promises are worth is another matter!
As the diplomatic comedy show continues, American and British forces are gathering in the Gulf. The really important thing is not the diplomatic games in the UN but the inexorable build-up of troops. For the first time the US has sent in a full division - 11,000 troops. They have set up a command centre in Qatar. For its part, Britain has just announced the departure of 30,000 assault troops (one quarter of the British army) together with tanks and artillery. The aim is to establish a force of 100,000 fighting troops and maybe twice that number of backup forces. The mobilisation of such numbers is not done for the purpose of idle amusement. The troops are there to be used!
It is, of course, possible that the USA will in the end go back to the Security Council to secure a new resolution backing the use of force. They will by now have taken steps to buy off the French and Russians, who will back the resolution, or at any rate will not veto it. If, however, the Americans think they will not get a resolution through the Security Council, they will proceed anyway, arguing that the UN "has already decided" in the previous resolution.
How can Saddam Hussein prove that he does not have any weapons of mass destruction to the complete satisfaction of George W Bush. The answer is quite clear: he cannot. In the very best case the inspectors will return a verdict of "not proven", rather than "not guilty". And, as The Economist correctly pointed out "If America were to attack Iraq on that basis, it would, of course, cause consternation. But at the same time, the logic of war would take over. Even without UN backing, Britain (probably) and France (possibly) would fall in behind America."
Despite all the humming and hawing in London and Washington, and despite all the protestations of Mr. Blix, we are in no doubt that America is hell-bent on war with Iraq, with or without a UN resolution. All the fussing about arms inspection and Security Council resolutions is really an irrelevant farce. If the Americans cannot find any evidence to justify their accusations they will simply invent it. We can expect some provocation or other in the near future. In fact, the Americans and British are bombing Iraqi positions in the so-called no-fly zones all the time. If they attempt to retaliate in self-defence, this will be used as an excuse to launch an all-out attack. This can happen at any time.
Those people who are under the delusion that the UN can halt war are mistaken. Appeals to the UN merely divert attention from what is really going on. War can break out at any time, and sooner than most people expect. The real task is to build a powerful anti-war movement from below. No time must be lost in doing so