Seven years ago, the world was shocked by the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre. The explosions that destroyed the Twin Towers did not only rock the city of New York. The shock waves from this explosion caused a fundamental shift in world politics. The American people were psychologically prepared for a more aggressive foreign policy, severe restrictions on their civil liberties, increased powers of state repression and a further boost to military spending.
But seven years later a radically different picture presents itself. Gone is the old confidence of the imperialists. The mightiest power in the history of the world finds itself bogged down in a war in Iraq that has cost the lives of more than 4,000 US soldiers and at least 35,000 wounded (unofficial estimates put the figure at 100,000). The occupation of Iraq has cost the USA billions of dollars since the invasion. According to one estimate the total cost of the war could be as much as 3-5 trillion dollars (originally the White House estimated the war would cost between 50-60 billions). Not even the wealthiest country in the world can tolerate such a haemorrhage of blood and gold for long.
The Pentagon is spending nearly five billion dollars a month in Iraq and Afghanistan. In Vietnam they spent 111 billion during eight years (1964-72). Adjusted for inflation this would be more than 494 billion dollars, an average of 61.8 billion a year. But then they had half a million troops in Vietnam, whereas in Iraq and Afghanistan there are only 150,000. Then the troops were low paid draftees, whereas now they are professional soldiers, better trained and better equipped, but also better paid. And to these figures must be added large amounts of money for reconstruction.
In Afghanistan they are also fighting a losing battle. This morning a US military spokesman admitted that the war there was not going well. The Afghans hate the foreign occupying forces for the indiscriminate bombing of civilians. Sooner or later they will be compelled to abandon the attempt to control Afghanistan, just as the British did over a century earlier. They will be forced to resort to the same "solution" as the representatives of Her Britannic Majesty, namely, bribing tribal chiefs. This is something they could have done from the beginning, and saved themselves a lot of trouble. It would have been the sensible thing to do, but common sense is not a quality one associates with Bush, Rumsfeld and Cheney.
The "Bush Doctrine"
The fall of the USSR led to a situation that has no parallel in world history. In the past there were always two, three or more Great Powers vying for supremacy, which tended to cancel each other out, arriving at a certain balance of power. But with the collapse of Russian power, there was only one world super power - the United States of America, which, in the words of Shakespeare, "bestrode the world like a Colossus."
With colossal power came colossal arrogance. The rulers of the USA saw themselves as the masters of the entire planet. And with the election of George W Bush to the White House, matters immediately took a turn for the worse. This ignorant and narrow-minded reactionary may not have read many books apart from the Bible, but he has evidently seen many films starring John Wayne, in which the Good always triumphs over the Bad and the Seventh Cavalry always appears at the last moment to defeat the Indians.
The eleventh of September was not the cause of the aggressive imperialist policy adopted by Bush. That was already worked out before he even set foot in the Oval Office, as was the invasion of Iraq. But it gave him the excuse he needed to carry out the aggressive policy of world domination that has found a "theoretical" justification in the so-called Bush Doctrine. This doctrine is quite unprecedented insofar as it tears up the whole notion of national sovereignty upon which international diplomacy has been based since the Treaty of Westphalia in the Seventeenth Century. This basically states that no state can interfere in the internal affairs of another state or use the latter as an excuse for wars and invasions.
This was precisely what Bush and Blair did in Iraq. They used the excuse of dictatorship and the alleged presence of weapons of mass destruction to justify a criminal act of aggression against what was supposed to be a sovereign state. The reason they declared war on Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with humanitarian or democratic motives, or, if it comes to that, with the bombing of the World Trade Centre. There has never been the slightest proof of Iraqi involvement in that affair. Nor was there any link between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda. In fact, there would have been far stronger argument for invading Saudi Arabia on both counts.
As for the argument that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction capable of hitting Western targets - this was a monstrous invention - a lie that was exposed immediately after the fall of Baghdad. The presence of large reserves of oil was a not unimportant factor in the calculations of the imperialists. But it was not the only reason. If they had wanted to they could have got hold of Iraqi oil by other, more economical, means. But they chose war. The main reason the imperialists decided to destroy Saddam Hussein was that he was not prepared to do what they wanted him to do. The policy of the US imperialists in the first decade of the 21st century is very simple: Do as we say or we will bomb you! Do as we say or we will invade you. It is a return to the old gunboat diplomacy pursued by British imperialism in the past, but on a far vaster scale.
Imperialism and the "right to self-determination"
After the fall of the USSR, Washington became a staunch defender of the "the right of self determination" for the republics of what was still then a sovereign state called Yugoslavia. Using the excuse of this "sacred and inviolable principle", the USA, under the banner of NATO, intervened militarily in the Balkans to supervise the dismembering of Yugoslavia. This criminal act, which was against the interests of the working people of all the republics, would have been unthinkable while the Soviet Union existed. But with the collapse of the USSR and the movement towards capitalism in Russia, the latter was unable to intervene.
Yeltsin, and the gang of crooks that surrounded him in the Kremlin, played a despicable role. While the generals in Moscow seethed with anger and indignation, NATO and its American masters were allowed to get away with murder in Yugoslavia (naturally, only for humanitarian reasons). As a sop to Moscow, Washington maintained a discreet (relative) silence about its bloody invasion of Chechnya. This was a question of honour among thieves, or, as the old saying goes, "you scratch my back and I'll scratch yours". This is really the most sacred and inviolable principle of all bourgeois diplomacy.
Since Russia was perceived to be weak, and since weakness always invites aggression, Washington's boldness grew and grew. The Americans became positively insolent in their attitude to Russia. Not satisfied with the disbandment of the Russian-led Warsaw Pact, they took the unprecedented step of inviting former allies of Russia in Eastern Europe to join NATO, and several did so. Slowly but surely, Russia's borders in the West were being ringed by members of a hostile military alliance. And all the soothing speeches and reassurances from Washington could not hide this fact.
As in Yugoslavia, so in Iraq the imperialists made use of the right of self-determination to undermine and overthrow a regime that was not to their liking. And here again we see that the so-called right of self-determination on the lips of the imperialists is merely a hypocritical lie and a fraud. The USA roused the Shia and Kurdish population against the government in Baghdad. This was not difficult to do in view of the oppressive policies of the Saddam Hussein regime. But let us remember that they also roused the Shias in the South of Iraq in 1990 - and then left them to their fate once America's immediate interests had been served by the withdrawal of the Iraqi army from Kuwait. The purpose of the exercise was not to help the Shias or Kurds but to cynically make use of their plight to throw dust in the eyes of world public opinion and thus facilitate their manoeuvres in the region. After the second war that led to the invasion and occupation of Iraq, the Shias have come to understand the crude reality of the attitude of Washington towards them. Tomorrow the Kurds of northern Iraq will learn the same lesson.
Five years after the invasion Iraq is still a bloody mess. Some four million Iraqis have fled the country or remain displaced from their homes within it. Hundreds are still being killed every month. The violence and bloodshed has now spread to the northern area controlled by the Kurds, especially in ethnically mixed cities like Kirkuk and Mosul. And no solution is in sight on such questions as how to manage the oil and distribute its revenue. The Americans have thus created a monster that they will not be able to control. The only outcome will be a nightmare of ethnic conflicts on a huge scale, which might even end in the disintegration of Iraq itself. This will be the cause of future wars, with the neighbouring states of Turkey, Syria and Iran getting embroiled in the conflict. That is the poisonous gift that imperialism has made to the peoples of this unhappy region.
The latest and most blatant provocation was the move to install US nuclear missiles in the Czech Republic and Poland. This was allegedly aimed at - Iran! But this feeble excuse did not impress the Russians, who warned the West that they would target their own missiles against the Czech Republic and Poland. It seems quite likely that this latest act of aggression was an important factor in provoking the Russian military action in the Caucasus. The Russian generals had had enough and were determined to deliver a stinging blow to Washington that would send a very clear message to its satellites and would-be aspirants to NATO membership.
The war in Georgia
Seven years after September 11 the war in Georgia represents yet another turning point in world relations. Like a heavy rock thrown into a lake it has caused waves that will affect the whole world. Overnight the overweening arrogance of US imperialism, which had learned to look complacently at the entire planet as its sphere of influence, was been dealt a hard knock from which it may not recover. At one stroke, the Russians have obtained an easy victory, not only against Georgia but, more importantly, against the USA. It opens up an entirely new stage in the confrontation between Russia and the West.
Why did Saakashvili invade? Moscow puts all the responsibility for the war on Saakashvili's adventurism in attacking South Ossetia. It is an irrefutable fact that the Georgian leader is an adventurist who played with fire in August and got his fingers badly burnt. Even his allies in Washington do not deny this. But only a blind person would be unable to see that all sides of the conflict were ready to war a long time ago - military, politically and morally. That applies both to Georgia and Russia. But US imperialism was also involved up to the hilt.
Saakashvili depends on the forces that brought him to the power. What are these forces? In the first place, American imperialism, but also to some extent the Georgian refugees from Abkhazia and partly also from Ossetia. There are 250,000 refugees in a country with a population of about four million people. In Tblisi perhaps every tenth person is a refugee. For a country with inefficient agriculture and rudimentary industry this is an unbearable situation. The conditions of the mass of Georgians are intolerable. Officially 13% of the population are unemployed. The real number, however, is much greater and in the capital Tblisi this statistics are worse still.
Most Abkhazian refugees in the past were prosperous people, small businessmen, employees working for the tourist industry and rich peasants who did well in the USSR. Today those people are lumpenproletarians and impoverished small traders. These people twice changed political the regime in Tblisi. They were behind the overthrow of Gamsakhurdia. At the time, this was called a "putsch", but the subsequent overthrow of Shevarnadze (which was orchestrated by Washington) was baptized the "rose revolution" in the West, and roses, as we know, are very sweet things.
Behind the new boss in Tblisi stood the Georgian militarists and chauvinists who wanted war. They had expected Shevarnadze to satisfy this desire, but got tired of waiting and instead decided to ditch him and bring Saakashvili to power. What was the result of this? The weak national economy was burdened with an impossible military budget - more a billion dollars per year, that is, one third of the national budget and one tenth of total GDP. This "rose revolution" did not smell so sweet for the masses after all.
The policy of Saakashvili was a policy of "guns before butter" and the full burden of this fell on the shoulders of the Georgian workers and peasants who found themselves not just without butter but bread also. The mass demonstrations on the streets of Tblisi last December served notice on Saakashvili that the patience of the people was being exhausted. The only way to prop up his regime was through a foreign adventure that would divert the people's attention from their most pressing problems. Saakashvili began by provoking a trade and immigration war with Russia - a most dangerous game! For such things usually end in war. For this they received the enthusiastic backing of Washington. In its war preparation the Georgian government fully depended on American advisers.
This was the same tactic adopted by US imperialism in the Balkans. Let us remember that in the mid 1990s private American companies trained the Croatian army. This US backing was what enabled the Croat forces to capture Srpska Krajina in just two days and to expel the entire Serbian population. After this, Croatia successfully applied to join NATO and that made its territorial annexations almost irreversible. This example was clearly what the Georgian leadership was aiming to emulate. There was only one problem. Victory was only possible on condition of Russia non-intervention. In their madness, the rulers in Tblisi believed that the USA could guarantee this. After all, did they not successfully keep Russia out of Yugoslavia?
For his own reasons (which do not necessarily coincide with the interests of US imperialism) Saakashvili was in a hurry to take on the Ossetians. On August 7th he ordered the shelling of South Ossetia's capital. Why did he do this? It is clear that he did not expect Russia to react as it did, or he would never have started. His over-confidence was obviously related to his alliance with the USA. At the very least, he felt protected by Big Brother. The Pentagon may have been using Georgia to probe Russia's perimeter to test how far they could go without provoking a serious military response. The Americans probably thought that South Ossetia would be an easy target. This was a tiny and unviable state - an artificial creation of Moscow, ruled by a corrupt gangster regime whose main role seemed to be to provoke Georgia. Would Russia bother to defend it?
At all events, American intelligence clearly sent the wrong signals to Tblisi. How could the CIA make such a serious mistake? On the face of it, it would appear impossible. But it must be borne in mind that intelligence agencies also make mistakes, and the CIA has made more than a few in the past. It is quite possible that the Pentagon had the idea of testing Russia's resolve by probing its periphery to see how far NATO could go without provoking a military response. It is also possible that the CIA did not expect such a response, basing themselves on past experience. If so, they miscalculated very badly.
One way or another, US imperialism had a hand in this affair. It built up the Georgian army and it was behind Saakashvili, encouraging him to "stand up to the Russians." Maybe they did not expect him to take them literally and to launch the attack in August. Certainly some of them cursed him afterwards. But by all their actions the Americans were preparing an explosion. The fuse was just waiting to be lit.
Putin was preparing for this war long ago. The evacuation of children from Tskhinvali started three days before the Georgian army commenced its bombardment and assault on the town. Tskhinvali had been bombed before but this was the first time a systematic evacuation took place. This shows that the attack was expected and that Russia had prepared for the conflict with Georgia well in advance. It had handed out Russian passports to Ossetians, which gave it the excuse to intervene in order to defend its "citizens". Moreover, it is inconceivable that the Russian secret service was not informed about Saakashvili's plans. And if they did know could not the Russian leadership have prevented this war? Of course, they could have. A couple of diplomatic notes from Moscow backed up by the threat of military intervention would have concentrated minds in Tblisi wonderfully. But nothing of the sort was done. The Russians were waiting patiently for the attack like a spider waiting for a fly to fall into its web.
From all this it is clear that this war is just another example of shameless power politics. The results that flow from it will just be to increase instability throughout the Caucasus. There is now a new wave of refugees - this time Georgians fleeing from South Ossetia. Yet another wave of refugees came from Abkhazia, where the authorities took advantage of the defeat of the Georgian army to launch an offensive of their own, seizing other bits of Georgian territory that they claim is rightfully theirs. This means a new wave of bitterness and hatred, to add to the poisoned well of chauvinistic and revanchist moods in society. This is the corrosive soil upon which wars and terrorism are born and nourished.
Victims and aggressors
The Americans have repeatedly denied any involvement in the war, but this is patently false. The USA built the Georgian army, and has numerous advisers in Georgia. It is unthinkable that the Georgian army would have moved without the knowledge and permission of its paymasters in the Pentagon. No puppet will dance unless the puppet master pulls the strings. It is, however, likely that the initiative came from Saakashvili himself. It is also possible that only some elements in the US hierarchy knew about this and supported it, whilst others either did not know or were opposed to it as a risky venture.
With incredible insolence, after the outbreak of hostilities, Washington blamed Russia for the conflict and defended "poor little Georgia". The American spokesmen rubbished the Russian claims of genocide, arguing that the death toll was "less than 200". It is impossible to verify the figures (Russia claims there are 2,000 killed or missing). But there is no doubt about the murderous intent of the bombardment of Tskhinvali. If the Georgian advance had not been stopped in its tracks by the Russian army, the killing would have gone on. The protests of the West and its hypocritical defence of Georgia as the "injured party" are misleading. Georgia is not a harmless and innocent state as the Western media likes to portray it. In the early 1990s, Georgia's nationalistic leaders committed atrocities in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Later, it is true, more than 200,000 Georgians were driven out of Abkhazia when Russia backed Abkhazia militarily. Nevertheless, the vicious face of Georgian bourgeois nationalism was seen once again in the brutal bombardment of Tskhinvali.
The Americans, no doubt, expected the Georgian army to put up a better fight. But they must have been disappointed. The Russian army cut through the Georgian forces like a hot knife through butter. The Georgian troops, who had shown such bravery shelling harmless civilians in Tskhinvali, fled without putting up any serious resistance to the enemy forces, which rapidly advanced through Georgian territory, capturing Gori without effort. If they had wanted to, they could have entered Tblisi itself. But this clearly was not part of the plan. The Russians had shown who was boss. They had humiliated not only the Georgian army but also the Americans who stood behind them. The latter had to stand by, gnashing their teeth in impotence, while the Russians calmly entered Georgian military bases, carting away American arms and equipment, and anything else that was not nailed to the floor.
The Russian advance has been accompanied by the expulsion of Georgians from South Ossetia. Most of this dirty work seems to have been carried out by so-called Ossetian militias (that is, chauvinist gangs) and other "irregulars" who have systematically destroyed Georgian villages. As a result thousands of Georgian families (mainly ordinary peasants) have been displaced by South Ossetians. This is the same ugly face of "ethnic cleansing" to which we have become accustomed after the breakup of Yugoslavia. This is the price the poor people have to pay for the crimes of the bourgeois chauvinists and the cynical Great Power politics of the different imperialist governments that stand behind them and use them as pawns in a dirty game.
Having smashed the Georgian army and advanced almost to the outskirts of Tblisi, the Russian army halted. From Moscow's point of view, this was quite sufficient - for now. It was not necessary to take Tblisi, as the Russians had already made their point. They had taken their revenge for the repeated humiliations imposed on them by Washington in Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Iraq. They had drawn a line in the sand marked: "thus far and no further!" However, in this deadly game of chess the Kremlin has not yet made its last move. Putin wants to get rid of Saakashvili. He will almost certainly succeed. Saakashvili will undoubtedly be held to account by voters for his decision to launch his Ossetian adventure on 7 August. He will probably be removed.
This will be yet another victory for the Kremlin. Whoever replaces Saakashvili will deal with a new influx of impoverished refugees, as well as a legacy of destroyed factories, bridges and roads. New burdens will be placed on the population, and these burdens will be made much worse by the inevitable strengthening of militarism and massive expenditure on "defence". The road to war spells nothing but misery for the masses everywhere.
Hypocrisy of the imperialists
Russia lost no time in recognizing the "independence" of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. The Abkhazians and Ossetians celebrated on the streets. Finally they had received their reward for living under Russian protection for 15 years. But in fact this "independence" is entirely bogus. Neither of these small statelets has a sufficient material basis for genuine independence. They will end up being incorporated in the Russian Federation, where they will find that living under Big Brother in Moscow is not a lot better than living under the control of Tblisi. In either case, they will not enjoy genuine self-determination.
The West is refusing to recognize the new states. This will not bother Moscow very much. Nor will the accusation that Russia is being "inconsistent" in continuing to insist that Kosovo's independence from Serbia is still illegal. It is probably true that part of the reason for this is its wish to avoid setting a precedent for Chechnya or other restive republics within Russia. But so what? International politics are not determined by the rules of formal logic but by self-interest that expresses itself in diplomatic manoeuvring backed up by brute force.
The Economist writes:
"In principle, sub-national states should sometimes be able to secede, but South Ossetia and Abkhazia clearly do not qualify. Neither enclave has properly consulted its people, including huge numbers of Georgian refugees. Nor has there been a long, hard effort to find a negotiated settlement. Mr Saakashvili should stop promising to regain control of the enclaves, and the West should insist on the case for international peacekeepers. But Russia's aggression in Georgia must not be rewarded by conceding the enclaves' independence. That really could set a dangerous precedent, in Ukraine, Moldova and-not least-inside Russia itself."
This is blatant hypocrisy. The imperialists have always justified their aggressive actions by referring to the right of nations to self-determination. In reality, however, small nations like Georgia, Ossetia and Kosovo are merely small change in imperialist diplomacy. According to the selfish interests of great powers at one moment the right of self-determination is loudly proclaimed to be something sacred and inviolable. The next day, however, when a rival state invokes the same "sacred and inviolable principle" to justify interfering in the internal affairs of another state, they immediately invoke a different "sacred and inviolable principle" - namely, the defence of national integrity. Thus, the Americans and their allies contrived to destroy the national integrity of Yugoslavia, and in the process caused a series of bloody wars costing thousands of innocent lives, yet now sternly demand that Russia must respect the territorial integrity of Georgia.
The imperialists have indignantly denounced Russia's intervention in Georgia as an act of aggression against a sovereign state. But all this is just so much blather, empty rhetoric and stinking hypocrisy. George Bush accused Russia of "bullying and intimidation" and demanded that it withdraw its troops from Georgia. "Moscow must honour its commitment to withdraw its invading forces from all Georgian territory," while the invading forces of the USA remain firmly entrenched in Iraq and Afghanistan. Such behaviour was unacceptable among civilized states in the 21st century, he said, and somehow contrived to keep a straight face when he said it.
Since US imperialism is the biggest bully in the world, it is hardly in a position to lecture anyone on the subject of ethical conduct in world affairs. And Mr. Bush conveniently overlooks the fact that the USA and its NATO allies have repeatedly violated the sovereignty of other countries. As Russia's president, Dmitry Medvedev, correctly argued, "You cannot have one rule for some and another rule for others." For its part, the West indignantly denies the comparison with Kosovo. It is repeatedly claimed that Russia's recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia "cannot be justified by a bogus comparison to Kosovo". For example, The Economist editorial dated Aug 28th 2008 carried the title South Ossetia is not Kosovo. The very fact that this statement is repeated so often and with such vehemence is an indication of its falseness.
Why is the case of Georgia different to that of Kosovo? The Economist enlightens us: "In Georgia's enclaves, Russian forces have acted as self-interested troublemakers, not as neutral peacekeepers." But the US imperialists and their allies have consistently acted out of the most cynical self-interest everywhere. They are the biggest troublemakers in the world - a fact that even a blind man can see. Have we already forgotten the role of German imperialism in encouraging the criminal break-up of Yugoslavia? Why did they do this? Was it out of tender concern for the right of self-determination for the Slovenes and Croats? Only a simpleton could believe such a thing. No, they were manoeuvring to establish themselves as a power in the Balkans as they had been before the Second World War. In other words they were acting precisely as self-interested troublemakers.
Why did the US imperialists intervene in Yugoslavia? Was it really to uphold the national rights of the Kosovars? No, they were cynically taking advantage of the weakness of Russia to get into a former Soviet sphere of influence and to overthrow Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic, not because he oppressed the Kosovo Albanians, but because he was not prepared to do what Washington wanted. The case was exactly the same with Saddam Hussein - a former US ally who had inconveniently turned against his master and was out of control. And what other description can one use to describe the actions of the US imperialists in Iraq than self-interested troublemakers?
Of course, no self-interested troublemakers in history would ever dream of admitting their real motives. No! The most sordid and cynical actions have always been justified in terms of the most beautiful ideals and humanitarian motives. That is precisely the role of diplomacy: to turn the victim into the aggressor and the aggressor into the victim, to turn the wolf into the lamb and the lamb into the wolf. That is what diplomats are paid for!
When the US imperialists invaded Cuba in order to turn it into their first colony, they did so with the declared motive of liberating the Cuban people from the Spanish yoke. Later, in the First World War, the British fought with the Germans in order to defend "poor little Belgium" against the evil "Huns", conveniently forgetting that this same "poor little Belgium" was the brutal master of millions of colonial slaves in the Congo. Even Adolf Hitler waged his wars of aggression under the banner of the most inspiring humanitarian aims: namely, to save the poor suffering Sudetenland German minority from the cruel oppression of the Czechs. And who can forget that wonderful "war for democracy" waged by these selfless American imperialists in Vietnam? The list is endless. And still there are simple souls who are taken in by this!
Saakashvili's decision to send the Georgian army into South Ossetia on August 7th resulted in many civilian deaths. There have been many reports of atrocities against Ossetian villages and the Western media have not denied these, while arguing feebly that this "does not constitute ethnic cleansing" - a somewhat academic distinction from the standpoint of the Ossetians. Despite this, Washington and the EU persist in their support for Saakashvili. This reminds one of what they used to say about Somoza the dictator of Nicaragua: "he is a son of a bitch, but he is our son of a bitch".
- Seven years after 9/11: The invasion of Georgia – A turning point in world relations (Part Two) by Alan Woods (September 11, 2008)
- War in South Ossetia – a Socialist Federation of the Caucasus is the only way out by Tom Rollings and Francesco Merli (August 15, 2008)
- Georgia’s “peaceful revolution” heralds new conflicts by Alan Woods (November 24, 2003)
- Georgia's "Rose Revolution" by Bakar Berekashvili (December 25, 2003)
- September 11 and the total failure of Bush’s adventures by Fred Weston (September 11, 2007)
- US Suicide Bombing - Terrorism Aids Reaction by Alan Woods (September 11, 2001)
- The first war of the 21st century by Alan Woods (September 21, 2001)
- 9/11 and the Functions of the ‘War on Terror’ by Nadim al-Mahjoub (september 11, 2006)
- 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)
- Thoughts on the dawn of a New Year by Alan Woods (January 7, 2008)