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Defend Iraq Against Imperialist Attack!

Defeat Desert Storm!


[Feb. 1, 1991 statement. Copied from ]


With the end of the Cold War, "free world" leaders proclaimed a new era of international peace and cooperation. On January 16, this "new world order" announced its arrival with a murderous rain of bombs and missiles on Baghdad. George Bush and his coalition partners claim that Operation Desert Storm is intended to defend the sanctity of international borders. Between the initial dispatch of American troops to "defend" Saudi Arabia and the initiation of hostilities four months later, the American people were subjected to an orchestrated media barrage by government officials, military officers, senators and congressmen, think-tank "experts" and servile journalistic hacks, promoting the idea that somehow the preservation of the House of Sabah, Kuwait’s reactionary feudalist ruling family, is essential to the American way of life. The only dispute among the various coalition partners, as between Republicans and Democrats in the U.S., was over tactics: the White House hawks favored bombing Iraq on Jan. 16, whereas the "doves" advocated giving sanctions more time to strangle Iraq.


Despite the near-unanimous support for the attack on Iraq among the world’s capitalist rulers, massive antiwar demonstrations in America and around the world show that millions do not believe George Bush or his accomplices. Washington’s professions of international morality are transparently hypocritical. The United States government is the butcher of Vietnam, the financier of the brutal Zionist occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the instigator of a ten year contra war against Nicaragua, the paymaster of the death-squad regimes of El Salvador and Guatemala and the invader of Grenada and Panama.


In explaining Bush’s real motives in the Persian Gulf, we as Marxists are guided by a premise that sets us apart from liberals of every shade: the United States government, like every other capitalist government, acts not according to the general popular will, but rather in the interests of a tiny minority that owns the factories, banks and corporations. Elections and parliamentary institutions may at times constrain the capitalists but do not prevent them from exercising their class rule; they have at their disposal billions of dollars with which to bribe politicians and manipulate public opinion, and will not stop short of violence should these gentler methods fail. All appeals to patriotism and the "national interest," not to mention the purely fictitious construct of international law, are nothing but ideological subterfuges to gain the acquiescence of the millions who are periodically called upon to sacrifice, fight and die for the sake of capitalist profits.


Oil: Fuel of Empire


What ruling class interests prompted George Bush to unleash the largest concentration of military might since World War II? In her 19 December New York Times column, Flora Lewis, who often reflects the thinking of the CIA, commented: "What provoked the Persian Gulf crisis is money, oil money. It is prudish to deny that..." The popular anti-war chant "No Blood for Oil!" reflects the widespread recognition that oil is an important motive for the war. Ever since the rise of Western imperialism in the latter part of the nineteenth century, the major capitalist powers have depended upon "underdeveloped" countries for markets, sources of cheap labor and raw materials. And oil, more than any other single commodity, is the fuel of empire.


Until World War I the Ottoman Empire controlled most of the Middle East. The 24 October New York Times noted, "with its defeat in World War I, Turkey lost its claim to the empire, and British administrators carved much of the Arabian Peninsula into the nations now known as Kuwait, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. That division left Iraq without a natural Persian Gulf port..." Iraq has traditionally rejected the legitimacy of the British decision regarding Kuwait.


The U.S. stepped into Britain’s imperial jackboots in the region after World War II. American dominance in the Arab world was cemented through a series of carefully-cultivated alliances. Foremost among Washington’s Middle Eastern clients is Israel; the state-of-the-art Zionist military machine, heavily subsidized by the U.S., serves as a powerful deterrent to Arab nationalist aspirations. The U.S. has also established a tight relationship with the oil-rich sheikdoms of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, whose ruling families wear an anti-Zionist mask for home consumption, but are politically and militarily dependent on Washington. It was these three states that broke ranks with the OPEC cartel to cut the price of oil to the West. They also deposit billions in petrodollars (dollars earned from oil exports) every year in British and U.S. banks. When Ronald Reagan needed secret funding for the Nicaraguan contras, he turned to the Saudis. Saddam Hussein, on the other hand, heads a regime that has never been a close American ally. His takeover of Kuwait underscored Iraq’s long-declared ambition to lead the Arab world, while threatening American imperialism with the prospect that the oil and vital shipping lanes of the Persian Gulf might fall into less reliable hands.


Yet oil is only part of the picture. The U.S. imports only 11 percent of its petroleum from the Middle East, and this supply was never really threatened. As one Iraqi diplomat pointed out, his people can neither drink their oil nor irrigate their soil with it; it must be sold on the international market. Even if Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait had raised oil prices, it would not have cost the U.S. anything like the $l00 billion price tag on Operation Desert Storm.


Saddam Hussein, moreover, is no anti-imperialist fighter. Throughout the eight-year Iran/Iraq war, the U.S. tilted toward Iraq as a counterweight to the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Teheran, supplying bank credits and arms to Hussein. Saddled with an enormous war debt, Hussein had been leaning on Kuwait for almost a year without serious objections from the U.S. State Department. A week before the invasion, April Glaspie, the American ambassador to Baghdad, told Hussein: "We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreements with Kuwait"(Village Voice, 22 January). So when Hussein marched into Kuwait last August, he expected the U.S. to look the other way.


When Washington objected to the takeover, Iraq was willing to compromise. Noam Chomsky reported that in a 23 August approach to the U.S.:


"made public by Knut Royce in Newsday on October 29, [Iraq] offered to withdraw from Kuwait and allow foreigners to leave in return for the lifting of sanctions, guaranteed access to the Gulf, and full control of the Rumailah oil field ‘that extends slightly into Kuwaiti territory from Iraq.’ There was no demand that the U.S. withdraw from Saudi Arabia, or other preconditions."


But Bush wasn’t interested in any deals. Saddam Hussein faced a choice between abject capitulation or a fight to the finish.


The fact that the Persian Gulf contains a major portion of the world’s oil supplies explains why the U.S. is not indifferent to Hussein’s power grab. Yet oil alone cannot account for such a high-stakes gamble by America’s rulers. They are well aware that Iraq is not Grenada or Panama. Why, with ample room left for the exertion of diplomatic and economic pressure, did Bush decide upon a step that could give rise to massive opposition at home, and ignite the entire Arab world in a firestorm of anti-American hatred? The answer lies in the shifting balance of power among the major imperialists.


Inter-Imperialist Rivalry and Bush’s "New World Order"


The United States emerged from World War II as the world’s hegemonic capitalist power. Over the past quarter century, however, American supremacy has steadily eroded. The turning point came with the humiliating defeat of the American war machine in Vietnam. Since then, the U.S. ruling class and its policy makers have been obsessed with overcoming the so-called Vietnam syndrome. One great obstacle stood in the way of this goal: the economic and military might of America’s chief global rival, the Soviet Union.


As Trotskyists, we are adamant opponents of the ruling Soviet bureaucracy, which expropriated the Soviet working class politically, and exterminated the original leaders of the October Revolution. The anti-working class Kremlin bureaucrats have undermined the USSR’s planned economy, and betrayed countless revolutionary and anti-colonial movements in pursuit of narrow diplomatic advantage. Yet, despite its treachery, the Stalinist ruling caste rests upon the non-capitalist economic foundations created by the revolution of 1917. For over seventy years the USSR has been the object of the unrelenting hostility of the capitalist world. This is not because the Soviet Union was "undemocratic," but because capitalist exploitation was abolished within its borders. At times imperialist hostility compelled the Soviet bureaucracy to find points of support in revolutionary and national liberation movements around the world. The survival of the Cuban revolution, the victory of the Vietnamese masses, and the successful struggles against Portuguese colonial rule in Angola and Mozambique were helped by Soviet aid and/or the threat of Soviet military intervention. American aggression against Iraq, on the other hand, is facilitated by the process of capitalist restoration underway in Eastern Europe, and Mikhail Gorbachev’s wholesale capitulation to the U.S. in the international arena. The Kremlin’s craven support for U.S. policy throughout the Gulf crisis adds a new crime to the disgraceful annals of Stalinism.


U.S. "victory" in the Cold War is a product of the internal contradictions of the USSR—not renewed American strength. At the very moment the U.S. claims to have triumphed over its archenemy, the American economy is in the biggest shambles since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Once the world’s leading creditor nation, the U.S. now finds itself the largest debtor. As banks fail, unemployment lines lengthen and millions of homeless people roam the streets, the American Dream of universal prosperity, so mythologized around the world, is fading fast. The U.S. claims credit for victory over "communism," but its German and Japanese capitalist competitors are best positioned to reap the spoils.


But the U.S. does not intend to relinquish its supremacy. The Pentagon still commands the most awesome arsenal of destruction on the planet. The more the position of the U.S. in the international economic order slips, the more America’s rulers feel driven to compensate by naked force. The more markets they lose for cars, computers and high-definition TVs, the more they are compelled to assert their superiority with B-52s and cruise missiles. This, as much as any immediate threat to oil supplies, explains the disproportionate ferocity of the U.S. response to Saddam Hussein.


Unlike the U.S., Germany and Japan import most of their oil from the Persian Gulf. Domination of the Gulf gives the U.S. considerable leverage in the intensifying economic struggle with its two principal capitalist rivals. The assault on Iraq simultaneously warns other neocolonial regimes of the blood-price to be paid for challenging the imperialist status quo.


In 1945 the U.S. proclaimed the American Century with the atomic bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The present hail of death over Iraq serves notice to the world that U.S. imperialism is not about to abandon the number-one spot quietly.


Defend Iraq Against Imperialist Attack!


Through the smoke and fire of war in the Persian Gulf the outlines of Bush’s "new world order" are becoming clearer. Its broad contours resemble those of the old world order that existed between the two world wars: global capitalist economic contraction, heightened inter-imperialist rivalry, a frenzied grab for "spheres of influence" in the neocolonies and renewed militarism, this time multiplied by the immense destructive power of modern technology and nuclear weapons. The main victims of this "new order" in every imperialist country will be the working class. In the U.S. the effects will be felt especially by blacks and minorities who are called upon to die in disproportionate numbers for imperialism abroad, while sinking deeper into poverty at home. The impoverished masses of the Third World, from the shanty towns of Latin America to the sweatshops of the Philippines, will suffer more acutely than anyone else. As Marxist revolutionaries we oppose the masters of this new order, and side with its victims. And the chief victim in the current hostilities is Iraq. While the imperialist oppressors weep torrents of tears over the fate of Kuwait, we do not defend the sovereignty of this petty sheikdom (which one observer remarked was less a country than an "oil well with a flag"). Kuwait is not a nation—it is a creation of imperialism. Marxists are equally hostile to Kuwait’s emir and Baghdad’s Ba’thist rulers. But Kuwait is not the issue—the massive U.S. blitzkrieg mounted against Iraq poses the question of the defense of a neocolonial country against imperialism.


After the massive high-tech terror bombing of Baghdad commenced, Hussein replied with a few Scud missiles aimed at Tel Aviv and Riyadh. The pro-imperialist media, which dismisses Iraqi civilian casualties from U.S. bombing as the unavoidable byproduct of war, has shown great concern over the much smaller number of Saudi and Israeli casualties from the Scud attacks. The Western media has reported, without comment, the refusal of the racist Zionists to use the vaunted Patriot missiles to intercept Scuds headed toward the Palestinian population of the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Responsibility for all civilian, as well as military, casualties lies squarely with Bush, who launched this cruel war of aggression in the first place.


Iraq’s missile attacks are militarily insignificant, but could be potent politically. Besides boosting Iraqi morale, they are intended to draw Israel into the conflict, a development that could split the U.S.-led coalition. The Scuds scored a propaganda victory for Hussein by deflating American boasts that Iraq’s missile bases had been knocked out by the first wave of bombing. The television coverage by panicked correspondents in Riyadh and Tel Aviv of continuing Iraqi missile sightings doused expectations among the allied populations that a cheap, quick victory was at hand.


The attempt by the imperialist media to portray Hussein as another Hitler, bent on world conquest, is a lie worthy of Hitler himself. Saddam is a small regional capitalist despot in an area of the world repeatedly invaded, carved up and rendered dependent upon a single commodity (oil) by Western imperialism.


We defend Iraq without illusions regarding Saddam Hussein. He is a bloody tyrant whose path to power was paved with the corpses of thousands of Iraqi Communists and Kurds (an Iraqi national minority). We have no doubt that we would be among the first to face his torture chambers and firing squads if we were in Iraq today. Yet the fact remains that the U.S.-led attack on Iraq is a colonial war waged to preserve a grossly inequitable international economic hierarchy that funnels wealth from every corner of the planet into the pockets of a tiny stratum of millionaires. Marxists defend "Third World" nations and peoples against imperialist aggression regardless of the nature of the oppressed country’s political regime.


The small-time dictators of the Middle East (the Husseins, Qaddafis and Assads, along with the rest of the sheiks, emirs, mullahs and colonels) are oppressors who must be swept from power. This however, is a task for the working class and oppressed of the Middle East, not the U.S.-led imperialist coalition, which millions of Arabs correctly perceive as a far more dangerous enemy. U.S. aggression against Iraq strengthens rather than weakens the ties of the Iraqi masses to Saddam Hussein, who can now pose as the champion of the Arab and Muslim peoples against the imperialist invaders and their Zionist allies. A defeat for the American-led imperialist coalition would help lay the basis for the Arab workers and oppressed to settle accounts with their homegrown butchers.


For Labor Strikes Against the War!


During the Reagan years in America the rich became richer while the middle layers were pinched and real income for poor and working people fell dramatically. The imperialist war against Iraq will only intensify attacks on working-class living standards. The entire U.S. financial system is in a precarious state. The massive government bail-out of the looted American savings and loan institutions, combined with a soaring national debt and a growing trade deficit, is aggravating the effects of the current economic downturn.


Bush hopes to pay for his Gulf War by leaning on his imperialist partners/rivals as well as extorting billions from America’s Saudi and Kuwaiti clients. But the bulk of the money will come from savage cuts in domestic social expenditures and higher taxes on the working class. Waging war on Iraq means opening a "second front" against the poor and working people at home. It also means increased government repression. The capitalist media have accepted wholesale military censorship with barely a whimper. If the war drags on and opposition mounts, the American and allied governments—which have already begun the harassment of Palestinian, Iraqi and other Arab nationals—may initiate a generalized assault on democratic rights in an attempt to quash protest and dissent.


The immediate material interests of American workers are inextricably bound up with a struggle against the imperialist war in the Gulf. To defend its own living standards the working class must intervene against the war. The corrupt pro-imperialist parasites who lead the American labor movement have repeatedly demonstrated their incapacity and unwillingness to initiate any serious struggles to protect their base. Instead of resisting the assaults of the bosses, they preach reliance on the Democratic Party of racism and imperialist war. Despite a few tactical quibbles, the Democrats have backed Bush at every stage in his criminal assault against the Iraqi people.


Class-conscious trade unionists must seek to connect defensive struggles over wages and working conditions to political initiatives against the war. The outbreak of labor strikes against the war in the U.S. and its imperialist allies could bring the murderous crusade against Iraq to a grinding halt and kick off a wave of struggles to regain the ground lost in the past two decades. In the U.S., such a perspective requires a clear commitment to the political independence of the working class from the twin parties of American capitalism. In the other imperialist countries, the call for labor strikes cuts against the nationalism of the social-democrats and labor bureaucrats whose opposition to the war is permeated with anti-American chauvinism and a desire to see their own rulers pursue a more "independent" foreign policy.


Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators have filled the streets of the cities of the imperialist coalition in recent weeks to oppose the war on Iraq and demand peace. Revolutionaries also oppose this war, but we know that wars of aggression will continue as long as the resources of the world remain in the hands of a tiny minority of exploiters. That is why we are committed to building an international party of workers revolution, dedicated to freeing the productive capacity of humanity from the irrationality of capitalist competition and the endless struggle for division and redivision of spheres of influence. By establishing a rational global division of labor based on production for human need, not private profit, socialism will use the technical and material capacity of civilization to eradicate hunger, poverty, social oppression and war.


This may seem a distant goal amid the thunder of imperialist guns. Yet the oppressed and exploited of the earth have accomplished monumental tasks in the not-so-distant past. Hitler’s thousand-year Third Reich was buried in the snows of Stalingrad; the American military machine came apart in the jungles of Vietnam. All who want to see a just and equitable future for humanity must spare no effort to ensure that Bush’s "new world order" meets a similar fate in the sands of the Arabian desert.


1 February 1991