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March 2003 • Vol 3, No. 3 •

Behind the Invasion of Iraq

The following is a selection from Aspects, a publication issued wby the Research Unit for Political Economy in India. It is unsigned.

U.S. imperialism has announced its intention to launch an invasion of Iraq and to change the regime there. The impending invasion is the culmination of U.S. efforts for the last decade.

The 1991 U.S. attack on Iraq in the name of evacuating Kuwait not only caused a terrible immediate loss of life but systematically and deliberately devastated the entire civilian infrastructure of Iraq. Eleven years of sanctions already have wreaked unparalleled devastation in the country’s economic life and effected what a senior UN official termed “genocide” by systematically starving the country of elementary needs. Iraq is not free to spend the earnings from sale of its own oil in the way it wishes. “No-fly zones” and repeated bombings devoid of all legal cover have violated the country’s sovereignty and security. Under U.S.-UK protection, pro-U.S. Kurdish forces hold sway in northern Iraq. In the guise of “weapons inspection,” brazen espionage has been carried out by the U.S., UK and Israel.

Now, however, we are about to witness a major new development, with far-reaching consequences: the direct imperialist occupation of the whole of Iraq. Further, it is widely reported in the American press that the United States plans to use the invasion of Iraq as a launching pad for a drastic re-shaping of West Asia. The Bush administration is actively considering invading various countries and replacing regimes in the entire region—Iran, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Lebanon are among the countries to be targeted. This is to be accompanied by Israel carrying out some form of “final solution” to the Palestinian question—whether in the form of mass eviction or colonization.

The justifications U.S. imperialism is advancing for the impending assault on Iraq are absurd, often contradictory. Unlike in the case of the 1991 Gulf War or the 2001 bombing and invasion of Afghanistan, this time the U.S. lacks even the fig-leaf of an excuse for its aggression. The major American and British media corporations have once again come forward as foot soldiers in the campaign.

Apart from the UK and Israel, countries in the rest of the world have either opposed the planned assault or at least attempted to distance themselves from it; public opinion outside the U.S. and Israel is set against the war, and even within the highly indoctrinated U.S. is rapidly shifting; indeed the world, including the U.S., has seen a remarkable wave of protest before the start of the war. Most significantly, there are signs that a long-delayed popular upsurge is imminent in West Asia. While various Arab client states have under U.S. pressure now muted their opposition, they evidently fear the wrath of their own people. It is clear that for the U.S. rulers the entire operation will entail not only huge expenditures but also grave political risks. Yet they are determined to press on.

Consensus in U.S. ruling classes

Although some voices of caution were sounded at first among senior strategic experts and political figures in the U.S., there now appears to be broad consensus among the U.S. ruling classes regarding this extraordinary adventurism and unilateral aggression. The manner in which the U.S. President was able to ram through Congress his demand for sweeping and open-ended war powers makes clear that the corporate sector as a whole (not only the oil companies) is vitally interested in the war. It is significant that despite recession and economic uncertainty, despite deepening budget and balance of payments deficits, the U.S. is willing to foot the bill for a massive, open-ended military operation. Evidently U.S. corporations believe the potential reward will justify the war; or that the failure to go to war will have grave consequences for them.

It is more or less publicly acknowledged that the immediate reward is a massive oil grab, of a scale not witnessed since the days of colonialism. Caspian prospects pale in comparison with Iraqi oil wealth. Iraq has the world’s second largest reserves (at present 115 billion barrels, but long-delayed exploration may take that figure to 220-250 billion barrels). Moreover, its oil is, along with that of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Iran, by far the cheapest to extract. The U.S. is quite openly offering the French and Russians, who have giant contracts with the present regime that cannot be realized under sanctions, slices of the post-invasion cake in exchange for their approval in the Security Council.

Control of petroleum resources and pipeline routes is obviously a central consideration in U.S. imperialist designs worldwide—note the long-term installation of U.S. forces from Afghanistan through Central Asia to the Balkans; the entry of U.S. troops in the Philippines and the pressure on Indonesia to involve the U.S. in a campaign against Islamic fundamentalists in the region; the drive for U.S. military intervention in Colombia and the attempt to oust Chavez in Venezuela. (The systematic drive by the U.S. in northern Latin America has close parallels with its campaign in West Asia.)

The U.S. is particularly anxious to install a large contingent of troops near Saudi Arabia, anticipating the collapse of, or drastic change in, the regime there. Saudi Arabia has the world’s greatest stock of oil wealth. Indeed the U.S. is contemplating using the invasion of Iraq as the springboard for a drastic political “cleansing” of the entire region, along the lines of the process long underway in the Balkans and continuing in Afghanistan-Pakistan. Indeed it is even willing to provoke, by its invasion of Iraq, uprisings in other states of the region, in order to provide it with an occasion to invade those states. All this is not speculation, but has been explicitly spelled out in various policy documents authored by or commissioned by those now in charge of the U.S. military and foreign policy.

Linked to the above is a further, strategic, dimension to the U.S. aggressive designs. Not only is the U.S. increasingly dependent on West Asian oil for its own consumption; its capture of West Asian oil is also intended to secure its supremacy among imperialist powers.

The global crisis of overproduction is showing up the underlying weakness of the U.S. real economy, as a result of which U.S. trade and budget deficits are galloping. The euro now poses a credible alternative to the status of the dollar as the global reserve currency, threatening the U.S.’s crucial ability to fund its deficits by soaking up the world’s savings. The U.S. anticipates that the capture of Iraq, and whatever else it has in store for the region, will directly benefit its corporations (oil, arms, engineering, financial) even as it shuts out the corporations from other imperialist countries.

A U.S. soldier walks in front of Patriot anti-missile systems deployed in a joint U.S. and Israeli military outpost in Jaffa, south of Tel Aviv March 5, 2003. Israel is preparing to take action against possible chemical or biological agents in the event of an Iraqi missile attack if the U.S. goes to war with Iraq. REUTERS/Nir Elias

Further, it intends to prevent the bulk of petroleum trade being conducted in euros, and thus maintain the dollar’s supremacy. In a broader sense, it believes that such a re-assertion of its supremacy (in military terms and in control of strategic resources) will prevent the emergence of any serious imperialist challenger such as the EU. In that sense the present campaign is in line with the Pentagon’s 1992 Defense Planning Guidance, which called for preventing any other major power from acquiring the strength to develop into a challenger to the U.S.’s solitary supremacy. (A European foothold even in Iran could bring about a euro-based oil economy; this perhaps explains the puzzling inclusion of Iran in the “axis of evil.”)

For these very reasons, the U.S. is facing more serious opposition from France, Germany and Russia in relation to Iraq than on any strategic issue in the past. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union no imperialist power has had the military muscle to oppose U.S. unilateralism, and other powers have focussed instead on getting their minor share of the spoils of the former Soviet empire and the intensified plunder of the Third World. However, these powers see that the present campaign is intended precisely to shut them out of contention for equal status with the U.S. in the long term as well. Contention for such status is the very reason for the EU’s existence.

At the same time direct control over the region’s petroleum resources will give the U.S. another important lever to use against China, which will become considerably more dependent on petroleum imports during the next decade. The U.S. also sees capitalist China as a potential threat to its plans for domination of East and Southeast Asia. The U.S. has taken various steps to block China’s plans to obtain independent (i.e., not controlled by the U.S.), stable access to West Asian oil or Caspian oil. The U.S. has already installed its military throughout oil- and gas-rich Central Asia; now it is in the process of doing so in vastly richer West Asia.

The death of the UN system

Although certain circumstances have led the U.S. to navigate a resolution on Iraq through the UN Security Council, the U.S. has now openly declared the death of the UN system, for what it was worth: this was the content of Bush’s speech to the UN, where he declared that it would be irrelevant unless it rubber-stamped U.S. supremacy. The new doctrine is contained in the U.S. National Security Strategy document, which declares the right of American pre-emptive strike against “emerging” or potential threats, and warns that it is willing to act unilaterally if other imperialist powers do not follow its lead. In line with the new doctrine, the U.S. is systematically revising the existing international consensus on use of nuclear weapons.

In order to carry out its plan, the U.S., already over-extended, will have to extend itself even further. Not only has it rapidly multiplied its military outposts and involve
ments across the world, from the Philippines to Asia (Central, South and West) to Latin America, but it has taken on the status of a direct occupier in Afghanistan, and evidently intends to do so in at least Iraq. Thus it both spreads its forces thin and calls forth much fiercer nationalist resistance than under the indirect rule common in the neo-colonial order. Anticipating the heavy costs of their new mission, intellectual hacks of the U.S. and UK ruling classes are busy preparing theoretical justifications for a new bout of colonialism. At the same time the internal repressive apparatus is being strengthened in the U.S. and panic, submission to authority and other elements of fascism are being manufactured.

The simultaneous emergence of worldwide popular opposition and resistance, opposition from other imperialist powers, and profound weakness in the U.S. economy suggest that events will not develop as U.S. imperialism wishes.

We wish to acknowledge the help of Jacob Levich—writer, editor, and activist from Queens, New York, and a veritable goldmine of insights and information—in the preparation of this issue of Aspects.—Aspects





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