Iraq and the crisis in the western alliance

The long awaited Blix report to the UN has solved nothing. It is worded in such a way that anyone can use it to argue for immediate attack on Iraq or… for more inspections! Thus the United Nations is demonstrating once again that it can solve nothing. The real decisions will be taken by the major powers, in this case the United States, the only real superpower on the planet.

Introduction

The long awaited Blix report to the UN has solved nothing. It is worded in such a way that anyone can use it to argue for immediate attack on Iraq or… for more inspections! The headlines read ‘No weapons of mass destruction seen’. But Blix added that many proscribed materials remain unaccounted for. In his typically ambiguous fashion Blix stated that, "Another matter and one of great significance is that many proscribed weapons and items are not accounted for. One must not jump to the conclusion that they exist. However that possibility is not excluded. If they exist, they should be presented for destruction." As some commentators have already said, Blix’s conclusions can be used both by the USA and Britain on the one side and France, Germany and Russia on the other.

Thus the United Nations is demonstrating once again that it can solve nothing. The real decisions will be taken by the major powers, in this case the United States, the only real superpower on the planet. Us officials have in fact already announced that elite Special Operations troops are already operating inside Iraqi territory in preparation for the imminent invasion. This latest turn of events shows quite clearly that we cannot count on the UN to stop this war. Only the organised labour movement can really do anything to stop the imperialists, and that is through the traditional methods of the working class, with strike action to stop the movement of troops and military hardware, to take up the struggle at home against one’s own capitalists. It is the only way.

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Like a heavy boulder dropped in a lake, the crisis over Iraq is making gigantic waves. This crisis has acted as a powerful catalyst that has activated all the contradictions that have accumulated on a world scale over the last decade. The result is a general instability, which has an increasingly explosive character.

The collapse of the USSR has created a new and dangerous situation all over the world. The sudden emergence of the USA as the world’s only super power has unsettled everything. In addition to this, the ruling clique in Washington is convinced that America can now do anything it wants: it can and must intervene everywhere without any limits. It can tear up treaties and trample over the rights of sovereign governments. And anyone who dares to stand in its path must be removed by force. That is the sum total of its wisdom, philosophy and perspectives.

The hypocritical Mr. Blix

Hans Blix, the chief weapons inspector, is a master in the art of diplomacy. And the first rule of diplomacy is: "No matter what you say, say nothing". Having just read Mr. Blix’s statement to the Security Council, I cannot resist quoting the old proverb: "The mountain has laboured and brought forth a mouse." For Hans Blix has found - precisely nothing.

Blix first reported back to the UN Security Council on January 27, when he concluded that Iraq "appears not to have come to a genuine acceptance... of the disarmament that was demanded of it," the fragile unity of the Security Council has dissolved. America and Britain argue that without immediate and full compliance, Iraq will be in further breach of its UN obligations, and force must be applied. But France and Germany, abetted by Russia and China - for different reasons and to different degrees - are resisting the move to war.

Now the latest report of the arms inspectors has been presented to the Security Council. The eyes of the world were fixed on Hans Blix and Mohamed El Baradei, the chief of the UN’s nuclear watchdog. There was never any doubt about what they would say. Whereas most students of diplomacy have to work hard to acquire the necessary degree of cynicism and duplicity, it evidently comes quite naturally to Mr. Blix. With his permanently Sphynx-like expression, he has developed that peculiar brand of smug hypocrisy that is characteristic of the Scandinavian bourgeois into an art form. This crafty old scoundrel forcibly brings to mind the characters in the plays of Ibsen, who cover up their base motives with a superficial semblance of respectability. They are all solid bourgeois citizens - men one can surely trust - until they insert the dagger firmly between your shoulder blades.

A most polished actor, Blix deliberately made a point of sounding optimistic in recent weeks, stating that the Iraqis have been co-operating. He really had no choice in the matter, since there is no doubt that this is the case. They have, for instance, agreed to flights by U2 surveillance aircraft over Iraq and to allow Iraqi scientists to be interviewed unaccompanied. As the moment of truth approaches, Baghdad wants to avoid a war it cannot win. As Dr. Johnson once remarked, there is nothing that concentrates the mind so wonderfully as the prospect of a good hanging.

Mr Blix agreed this week that Iraq's "non-readiness to disarm" remained the key problem. He summoned missile experts to try to determine whether recent Iraqi goings-on, including the importing of missile engines and the testing of missiles beyond permitted ranges, offended against Resolution 1441. They decided they did, although the difference between what is permitted and the actual range of the missiles is just 24 miles. Hardly enough to threaten any of Iraq’s immediate neighbours, let alone New York.

Iraq has now handed the inspectors more documents about its chemical and biological efforts, though there is said to be nothing new in them, and has agreed at last to let U2 intelligence-gathering aircraft fly over Iraq - just as Resolution 1441 demanded. The Iraqi parliament has even passed a resolution prohibiting all weapons of mass destruction. To no avail. All very good, says the charming Mr. Blix, but we still need "active co-operation on substance": that is, the full disclosure of all weapons that the Iraqis say they do not possess.

Mr. Blix could not say that he has found nothing and leave it at that. This would not at all be to the liking of his American paymasters! He must say that although he, properly speaking, found, so to speak, nothing, yet, on the other hand and taking everything into account, this nothing may yet imply that there is, in the last analysis, something, and that this something may, in a manner of speaking, be enough for George W Bush to read anything he likes into this. With the utmost courtesy and diplomatic polish, the charming Mr. Blix leaves the door open for war against Iraq in the future..

The inspectors' report is, naturally, a Jesuitical mishmash - just like their last report in January. This will give some members of the Security Council (France and Germany) the possibility to argue that more time is needed for inspectors to do their work. However, the advocates of war will also be able to seize on the report as a confirmation of their position. They will not hesitate to do so.

All this does not make much difference, since Bush and his clique have decided long ago to invade and occupy Iraq and have not the slightest intention of being diverted from this end. To declare that Baghdad is not complying is a very simple matter. After all, the Iraqis are expected to provide concrete evidence that they no longer have any weapons of mass destruction. How can this be done? If they produce the weapons they are supposed to have, they will be guilty of having them. If they do not, they will be accused of concealing them. No matter what they do will be wrong.

The cheap little farce that was played out on the floor of the Security Council only had interest to the degree that it provided Bush and Blair with the elements of an excuse for their aggressive actions. But with or without an excuse, those actions were already predetermined.

War hysteria

Even while pretending to "consult" the UN, Washington was continuing its relentless military build-up in the Gulf. It is also busy trying to whip up a bellicose mood in the Unite States by the most unscrupulous means. The administration has used a taped recording of Osama bin Laden, urging Muslims to fight alongside the Iraqi regime to whip up support for a war. By linking Iraq with bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist organisation, George Bush's administration is attempting to play upon the fears of Americans in relation to September 11.

The leader of al Qaeda said that Muslims were bound by a common hatred of America and urged suicide attacks against American forces. The tape was broadcast by the Qatar-based al-Jazeera television station on February 11, and American officials fell over themselves in their haste to declare it genuine. Unfortunately for them, bin Laden attacks Saddam’s secular regime and brands him an infidel. However, such details did not prevent the Washington propaganda machine from insisting that the tape "proved" the link between bin Laden and Baghdad.

The latest propaganda circus coincided with a massive build-up in security precautions in America and Britain, which were clearly calculated to spread panic and create a war psychosis in the population. The White House advised that because of fears of an (unspecified) new attack, Americans should keep tape and plastic sheeting available so they can seal off a "safe room" against radiation, biological weapons or chemical gas. In Britain, troops were deployed around London’s Heathrow airport in response to what a government official described as a "specific threat".

George Tenet, the head of the Central Intelligence Agency, claimed that America’s evidence is based on a "solid foundation" and that Iraq-based terrorists with links to al-Qaeda have plotted chemical attacks in Britain, France and Spain. He also said two al-Qaeda associates had been trained in Iraq to use poisons and gases.

Tenet’s remarks are ironic, since it is well known that intelligence officials in both Britain and the USA (including the CIA) are deeply sceptical of a link between Saddam and al-Qaeda. Yet America continues to repeat this baseless accusation with monotonous regularity. They are following the well-worn path of Josef Goebbels, who long ago explained that even the biggest lie will be believed if it is repeated often enough.

By his actions, the warmonger Blair has indeed laid Britain open to the attacks of the terrorist madmen. The danger of new atrocities grows greater by the day. While Bush and Blair foam at the mouth about Saddam Hussein, who really presents no danger to Britain or the USA, bin Laden laughs at them and prepares new terrorist outrages. This rabid reactionary is unconcerned about how many civilians die in London or New York. But then those Christian fundamentalists Bush and Blair are equally unconcerned about civilian casualties in Baghdad.

Let us remind ourselves that the invasion of Afghanistan was supposed to have dealt a mortal blow against terrorism and that this was its central aim. Let us recall that, according to George W Bush, the intention was to get Osama bin Laden "dead or alive". Yet he has not been found, either dead or alive, and continues his campaign against America and her allies. Al Qaeda, which was supposed to have been dismantled after the fall of the Taliban, is now presented as an even greater threat than before. And in the name of this threat, Bush has declared war against Iraq.

No matter what the immediate outcome of the war may be (for the war will be started, irrespective of the fiddling and fussing in the Security Council), we can predict the general consequences with absolute confidence: the result will be more instability, more and bigger convulsions in the Middle East and on a world scale, more chaos, more terrorism and more bloodshed. In short, the world will be a much more dangerous and unpredictable place.

Opposition to the war grows

This weekend massive protest marches will be held in cities in many countries to oppose a war with Iraq. In Australia the first of these has already taken place. The turnout was 150,000, twice as many as the organisers had expected, and the biggest demo of its kind since the Vietnam War. The mood of the people is clearly against the war. And although demonstrations alone will not prevent the war, a massive protest movement will mean big political problems for those leaders who have recklessly plunged the world into a new military adventure. The consequences in the next period will be tremendous. In fact, public opinion in Europe is already completely hostile to war.

In Britain, almost half the population is opposed to war even with a UN resolution. The reason why Blair in particular needs a new resolution from the United Nations Security Council is that the overwhelming majority of the British people are opposed to his warmongering policy. On the eve of Blix’s report, 60 percent of them thought that the case about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction had not been made. And incredibly, after all the barrage of government propaganda, a mere 9 percent thought that Britain should go to war without a new UN resolution - as opposed to 22 percent in January and 34 percent last September.

The position of Bush, in reality, is not much firmer. In the USA also there is no enthusiasm for war with Iraq, except for a small minority of religious right fundamentalists and ultra-Republican lunatics. The opinion polls show this. While it is true that a substantial majority at the moment support military action to oust Saddam Hussein, if there is no UN backing for military action, the opinions are more or less evenly divided for and against. This is not a very strong base upon which to proceed.

This was the reason for the latest pantomime. The security alerts in the USA and Britain are merely part of a cynical plan to justify military action against Iraq and to soften up public opinion in preparation for the first strikes. It seems to have had some effect in convincing many Americans that Saddam and al-Qaeda as one and the same enemy. This is all Bush needs to order an invasion by an American-led "coalition of the willing"- even without UN backing. And this now appears to be the most likely scenario.

But new problems are emerging all the time, which are hindering Bush’s attempts to mobilise for war. Deep splits have opened up within NATO. Therefore America is anxious to build a powerful case to invade Iraq even without a new UN resolution authorising it to do so.

France and Germany

The question of Iraq is putting enormous strain on the transatlantic alliance, NATO and the European Union. Here too we see some significant shifts, especially in relation to Germany. Until now, France has always stood up to America more than Germany has. But Schröder, too, has recently stressed that this is an issue of "European sovereignty" - in other words, Germany is opposed to a situation where America alone should be able to determine the course of events. France and Germany both worry about America's claim to a right to pre-emptive action anywhere in the world.

The tension between the USA and Germany expressed itself as a public shouting match between Joska Fischer, the German foreign minister and Donald Rumsfeld in Munich. The Americans regarded as sabotage the decision - made by Germany's chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, without consulting anyone else - to rule out any German participation in military action, even under a UN mandate. Schroeder is trying to recover some popularity by playing up the war issue. But there is another, more important element in the equation. The German people have seen quite enough of war in the past, and do not want to be dragged into an American-led adventure in the Middle East. Therefore, Germany has drawn closer to France.

In the case of France, its concerns about the power of the USA are not new, but date at least from De Gaulle’s time, since when it has sought to counter American influence in world affairs by building a strong, united Europe as a counterweight. Even now, France does not belong to NATO’s military structure. It has been the main mover in the plan for the creation of an EU rapid-reaction force. In theory, this force is supposed to complement a similar force NATO is setting up. But in practice it is an attempt to set up an exclusively European alternative to the alliance. The reason for this is clear: the French (and not only the French) do not trust the Americans to represent their interests - and they are quite right about this.

The conduct of France reflects the conflict between its interests on a world scale and those of the USA. France, as always. wishes to assert its interests, above all in the Middle East, where in the past it was one of the key imperialist powers. On the other hand it wants to re-establish its leading role in Europe. In this it has been greatly helped by the fact that Germany also opposes the war. However, the two cases are different. Unlike Germany, France has not ruled out the use of force entirely, but like Germany it worries about the effect of a conflict on the Middle East, about the economic impact at home, and about the impact of a war on Muslims, 4m-5m of whom live in France.

These antagonisms are now expressed in an open clash in the Security Council. Even before Blix delivered his latest report, America and Britain were drafting a resolution of their own, which will say the time has now come to use force. In answer the French recommend, as an alternative to war and a way to contain Iraq, a doubling or tripling of the number of inspectors there at any given time; extra surveillance aircraft, to be sent by France and Russia; extra experts and translators; and more personnel not just to secure the inspectors' bases, but to monitor and "freeze" sites under inspection. All these enhancements, the paper said, would "compel Iraq to co-operate."

Decision taken

In reality all the manoeuvring in the UN is quite irrelevant. The decision to go to war has been made long ago. The only reason why Bush was prepared to delay was that his forces were not yet in position. Bush will be prepared to give a little more time to the arms inspectors, partly to assist the manoeuvres of his diplomats in the UN who will try to get the French to retreat, but mainly because the US military probably require a little more time themselves to prepare the attack. However, the time is strictly limited. With some 200,000 troops either already in the Gulf region or on their way, a war could be only weeks away.

Of course, it would suit Bush very well if he could get a new resolution through the Security Council. And for Blair, given the colossal opposition to the war in Britain, this is really a matter of life and death. And it is not impossible that such a resolution might be passed. For this, nine votes out of 15 need to be cast in favour and no veto used. The ten non-permanent members of the council serve on a rotating basis. Presently these are Germany - which joined with France to force a split over Iraq within NATO - Angola, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chile, Guinea, Mexico, Pakistan, Syria and Spain.

It is possible that no resolution will be put to a vote straight away, but that the council will await the outcome of an emergency summit of the European Union's leaders in Brussels on Monday February 17th. This will give a breathing space for frantic diplomatic activity to try to get some agreement. Secret deals may be concluded concerning future contracts and access to Iraqi oil. The cracks may be papers over at least enough to allow France to abstain and not to use the veto.

The White House declared on February 12th that it was busy discussing the wording of a new resolution. Of the 15 council members, only five hold a veto (America, Britain, China, France and Russia). According to the (German) chairman of the Security Council, 11 of the 15 council members support extending inspections, rather than resorting to force. But in situations like this, minds can change surprisingly easily. In order to pass, any resolution must win nine votes and no vetoes. And though Russia and China have aligned themselves with France and Germany for now, arguing that all peaceful solutions must be tried first, that can change.

There will be plenty of scope for diplomatic arm-twisting and direct and indirect bribery before a decision is made on any further resolutions, and countries like Russia and China can be expected to change their tune on the basis of a suitably tempting offer from Washington. The Economist comments:

"Those less inclined to believe in Mr Chirac's self-professed high-mindedness see France as merely a spoiler. They note that France and Russia both have considerable economic interests in Iraq. Russia is owed some $8 billion in past debts. And both French and Russian companies have been striking oil deals with Mr Hussein's regime, although agreements cannot be implemented while Iraq remains under UN sanctions. This week Iraq cancelled a production-sharing agreement with Lukoil, a Russian company, possibly in retaliation for earlier comments by President Vladimir Putin that Russia could yet toughen its stance if Iraq hampered the weapons inspectors."

So it is still not ruled out that Bush and Blair may get their second resolution after all. Even France, when the moment of truth finally arrives, may decide to take the hero’s way out and abstain. It is hardly likely to use its veto (although it can't be ruled out), knowing that if it did, America would go to war anyway.

Such an outcome is still possible. Yet the NATO crisis—sparked by France, Germany and Belgium blocking plans to strengthen Turkey's defences in preparation for war—casts a long shadow over the proceedings. The dissident countries argued they are prepared to defend Turkey, but planning for it now would imply that war is a foregone conclusion.

The split in NATO

The row in NATO is unprecedented. It broke out ostensibly over America’s call for "contingency plans" to defend Turkey in the light of the looming American-led invasion of Iraq. America wants NATO to start planning the deployment in Turkey of AWACS airborne early-warning radars, Patriot missile-defence systems and anti-biological and anti-chemical warfare units. But the plan ran into the fierce opposition of France, Germany and Belgium, They object that even planning such measures would imply that NATO accepted the inevitability of war and thus might undermine the final efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the conflict with Iraq.

Belgium’s foreign minister, Louis Michel, complained that America’s proposal goes beyond simply planning the defence of Turkey and includes preparing to defend American forces across Europe and seeking replacements for those NATO peacekeeping troops in the Balkans that might soon be sent to Iraq. Lord Robertson. NATO’s general secretary, suggested as a compromise withdrawing these elements. However, the French foreign ministry stated that this would not be enough to overcome its objections.

Turkey finds itself in a difficult position. The USA needs to use bases in Turkey to conduct its operations in northern Iraq where it intends to use the Kurds to attack the Iraqi army. But there is massive domestic public opposition to an American-led war in Turkey, and even more so to any Turkish involvement in it. Turkey is vulnerable to any Iraqi reprisal attacks. On the other hand, the destabilising effects on Kurdish parts of Turkey if the Kurds in northern Iraq were to use the fall of Saddam Hussein’s regime as a pretext to create a Kurdish state.

If NATO refuses to help Turkey, it will be forced to seek bilateral defence guarantees with America and other willing parties. But if the crisis reaches this point, it would completely destroy NATO’s credibility as a collective defence alliance. Even if it does not come to that, the reluctance of three important member countries to respond promptly to a security threat against another has already put the future of NATO into question.

Turkey is the only NATO country that borders Iraq, so it will be in most danger when war breaks out. After the veto on preparing its defences, Ankara has invoked Article Four of the North Atlantic Treaty. Article Four requires the allies to consult each other "when in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the parties is threatened". This is the first time since it was signed in 1949 that any member state has invoked this article. This fact alone underlines the seriousness of the rift in NATO.

In attempt to reach an agreement on February 12, ambassadors from the 19 member countries were called to a third successive day of emergency meetings at NATO headquarters in Brussels, at which the secretary-general, Robertson, presented new compromise proposals. But they were cold-shouldered by France, which along with Germany and Belgium had vetoed America’s request two days earlier.

Far from healing the rift, the differences have become even more serious, and the tone of the argument more bitter and venomous. According to informed sources, the Americans were "apoplectic" with rage. Donald Rumsfeld, America’s defence secretary, said the position of France was "breathtaking" and gave a warning that they would be "judged by other NATO countries". This means that the imperialists in Washington are hell-bent on war and will tolerate no dissent.

As a result, NATO has been plunged into the worst crisis in the alliance’s 54-year history. Initially, Robertson attempted to play down the crisis in NATO, saying that there were no disagreements over whether it should prepare to defend Turkey, just over when to start preparing. Now he has been forced to change his tune. He admits that failure to agree on the issue would have "serious implications".

In saying this he is only echoing the words of America’s ambassador to NATO, Nicholas Burns, who says the alliance (like the United Nations!) is suffering a "crisis of credibility". The arrogance shown by these people is really quite breathtaking. For them, all those countries and institutions that do not blindly accept the dictates of Washington are "not credible". Thus, the only credible thing on earth is the muscle and firepower of US imperialism. And so the only way to make the Doubting Thomases believe, is by using this might as massively as possible and as soon as possible.

A bull in a china shop

A key factor in all this has been the crude bullying tactics of the Bush administration. The Bush administration conducts its diplomacy with all the finesse of a bull in a china shop. Rumsfeld has dismissively called the Franco-German axis "old Europe". He seems to believe that all this fuss is the result of the ill will and malevolence of individual politicians in Paris and Berlin. In fact, the present crisis has deep roots. The question of war with Iraq is only the immediate cause of the split within NATO, but the worries among some European members of the alliance run deeper. They flow from a position where, freed from fear of the USSR, the American imperialists have assumed the right to act unilaterally, throwing their weight around, and completely ignoring the opinions of their supposed "allies".

Since the September 11, and even before that, America seems to be continually on the rampage, demanding that everyone accept its impositions without question. This has been counterproductive. The European bourgeois were already smarting at the way they were railroaded into the war in Kosovo. Now they fear being pushed into a new operation of uncertain consequences, where their interests will not be served. And they are digging their heels in. The French and German governments were enraged by America’s manoeuvring in Europe. The Economist reports:

"France and Germany were incensed when, two weeks ago, Britain, Italy, Spain and a clutch of other European governments (followed by ten more from eastern and south-eastern Europe) affirmed their backing for America. Since the EU had issued a joint, and more restrained, statement on Iraq only a few days earlier, this was seen as treachery in Paris and Berlin."

The opposition from Paris and Berlin will not change Bush’s plans, but has made life much more difficult for him and even more difficult for his pet poodle in London. Here we see how the individual qualities of political leaders can affect world politics. George W Bush is himself responsible for this mess - with a little help from friends like the equally obtuse Donald Rumsfeld.

Not long ago it seemed likely that Chirac, as has happened in the past, would make a few speeches critical of US policy, and then at the last moment, withdraw his opposition. However, this is now by no means certain. The US administration and their supporters on the religious right have reacted to the European criticisms like rabid dogs foaming at the mouth. They have spared no insult in their attacks against the French in particular. Some leading US politicians are even proposing retaliation against French products like mineral water and wine. They also propose pulling some US troops out of Germany. Thus, instead of defusing a diplomatic crisis, they cheerfully pour petrol on the flames.

This introduces a new element into the equation. Far from convincing the French to drop their opposition to war, they will make it far more difficult for Chirac to back down. His anti-war stand has been very popular in France, where he is riding high in the opinion polls. If he tries to change course now he will lose massively at home. And for what? The stage is therefore set for a bitter clash in the Security Council. China and Russia, at least for the present, are backing France.

The future of Europe, NATO and the UN

After the fall of the Soviet Union, the whole balance of forces on a world scale has been transformed. This is reflected in the so-called UN. This was never the prototype of a world government, as the reformists foolishly imagined, but only a forum where the imperialists could sometimes resolve secondary matters, but never anything serious. In general it played a reactionary role, as in Korea and the Congo.

However, as long as the USSR existed it was possible to some extent for the ex-colonial countries of Africa, Asia and the Middle East to obtain certain concessions by balancing between the USA and the USSR. The illusion was created of a so-called bloc of unaligned countries that could play a role in world politics, and specifically in the UN. In reality, this was only a temporary phenomenon that has now been completely liquidated. America rules the roost and will not tolerate any interference with the untrammelled employment of its colossal power. Never in history have the words "independence" and "sovereignty" had such a hollow ring.

Those who continue to sow illusions in the UN are playing a most negative role. Appeals to the UN are worse than useless. This is now clear to all with eyes to see. The UN is just an assembly of capitalist governments and acts in accordance, not with the dictates of morality and justice, but with the vested interests of the capitalist class of each national state. It is like a gigantic brothel where governments sell themselves and each other to the highest bidder. And a brothel is perhaps not the best place to look for morality and justice.

The USA plays the part of the keeper of this institution, since it pays most of the bills. This fact should not be overlooked! In general, it will always get what it wants. But if it cannot, it will merely ignore the decisions. And if this happens too often, the very future of the UN will be in doubt.

Even more than the UN a question mark now hangs over the future of NATO. With the disappearance of the Warsaw Pact, some new justification for NATO was required. The terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001, seemed to offer an excuse to keep NATO alive. Yet the so-called war against global terrorism is essentially run by the USA in its own way and in its own interests.

The war in Afghanistan was not officially a NATO operation, though most member countries sent troops. And Washington only called on NATO to support their war in Iraq as an afterthought, because of the peculiar problems of Turkey. There was never any question of the Europeans being admitted as allies on an equal footing. Their role is to say "amen" to everything that comes from the White House and the Pentagon, and to provide money and troops whenever asked to do so.

This is not a role the French and Germans particularly relish. They are still quite powerful countries their own right, and have traditionally dominated Europe. Britain, on the other hand, has long ago lost its leading position in the world and is reduced to the position of the satellite of US imperialism. Tony Blair - the archetype of an English lackey - seems to relish the role of bowing and cringing before Bush, hoping for an approving nod or a condescending word of praise. But the French and Germans have far higher aspirations. In the attitude and demeanour of these politicians on the stage of world politics we can see a faithful refection of the real balance of forces.

The American imperialists have not lost their hope of bringing Europe under their control, despite everything. They have a faithful stooge in London, who can be trusted to do their bidding at all times. They also have a lever in the countries of Eastern Europe, whom they are assiduously courting as a counterweight to the "old Europe" (i.e., Germany and France).

The American imperialists calculate that the seven former Eastern Bloc countries that are due to join NATO next year, and three Balkan nations have been invited to apply, will support the USA. But this is not clear. Germany has a powerful economic leverage in these countries. Moreover, Eastern Europe is as split as the west. Russia - now a NATO observer - is at present leaning towards the Franco-German line. On the other hand, Poland (a full member since 1999) recently joined Britain and six other countries in signing a letter backing America’s position.

The idea that the small states of southern and Eastern Europe could be used by America and Britain as a counterweight to France and Germany is laughable. The EU was the creation of France and Germany and is nothing without them. In addition, the Germans pay most of the bills. These pretensions will soon be punctured.

The present crisis shows that beneath the façade of unity, there are deep fractures both within the EU and between Europe and America. Already we have seen a series of protectionist conflicts between the EU and the USA over steel, bananas and agriculture. As the crisis deepens, there will be other, even more serious conflicts. The rupture between Europe and America in foreign policy and specifically Iraq is only the tip of a very large and menacing iceberg. Whatever happens in the immediate period, the cracks between Europe and the USA will grow into an abyss.