‘Why, Exactly, Did We Go to War in Iraq?’
By the Editors
Both liberal and conservative commentators now appear to hold President Bush and his administration responsible for the catastrophic consequences of the Iraq war. To be sure, Bush is guilty as charged, but making him and his party solely responsible serves to cover up for the real criminals: the entire capitalist political establishment. This includes the liberal wing of the ruling class, headed by the New York Times and the Democratic Party
In an op-ed column in the October 23 edition of the Times, Frank Rich attempts to build a case that places all blame on the Bush administration and ends his opening paragraph with the following question: “Why, exactly, did we go to war in Iraq?”
Rich places all blame on the hard-cop wing of the capitalist government, President George W. Bush and the Republican Party. Except for valid parenthetical comments such as making things “more secure for Israel and uninterrupted oil production,” he argues that they launched the war on Iraq mainly to improve their chances to win elections and to reap new profits for the likes of Republican billionaires like Vice-President Richard B. Cheney.
But Rich says not a word about the complicity of the bipartisan Congress and the capitalist mass media monopoly who led the cheering section for the war against Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction”!
Let’s put the blame exactly where it belongs
Republicans, of course, are also major players in the hard-cop/soft-cop game called capitalist democracy. In fact, one dyed-in-the-wool representative of the capitalist establishment, Paul Craig Roberts, who served as Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, does a good job diverting all responsibility for the crimes and misdemeanors of the profit system, and places it all on Bush, with nary a mention of his political party. Mr. Roberts has gone so far as to call for the impeachment of President Bush.
In an article titled “Impeach Bush Now” (CounterPunch, September 6, 2005), Roberts writes:
The raison d’etre of the Bush administration’s war in the Middle East is in order to protect America from terrorism and to ensure America’s oil supply. On both counts, the Bush administration has failed catastrophically.
Bush’s single-minded focus on the “war against terrorism” has compounded a natural disaster and turned it into the greatest calamity in American history. The United States has lost its largest and most strategic port and thousands of lives, and 80 percent of one of America’s most historic cities is under water.
If terrorists had achieved this result, it would rank as the greatest terrorist success in history.
Roberts’s attack on the Bush administration goes beyond many of those who criticize Bush from a liberal perspective. Besides calling for his impeachment, Roberts shows his true colors by faulting Bush for his “catastrophic” failure to successfully “ensure America’s oil supply.”
Ironically, this conservative capitalist politician, whose views are colored by his libertarian view of capitalist politics, tells more of the truth than most of his counterparts to his left, who also hold Bush and his party solely responsible for the war on Iraq. But, more significantly, he condemns Bush’s policy because of its unsuccessful outcome.
And like his liberal friends, he blames Bush and Bush alone, only in order to deflect criticism from the capitalist power structure at large, which has backed Bush to the hilt. But now that Iraq has long since become a quagmire, his partners-in-crime, liberal and conservative, are simply trying to duck responsibility for having made “Bush’s war” possible!
Despite his motives, Roberts’s more far-reaching criticism of the Bush administration serves to bolster the more fundamental criticisms of U.S.-led world imperialism. This criticism is voiced by the most consistent anti-capitalist critics on the hard left and by millions of people who do not necessarily consider themselves to be left-wing critics of the capitalist status quo—at least not yet!
Millions around the world have been marching in protest, carrying countless hand-printed signs, since before the invasion of Iraq, bearing with the simple words, “No Blood for Oil!”
What exactly Bush hoped to accomplish in Iraq
Along with getting its hands on Iraq’s huge deposits of the dwindling supply of fossil fuels, the U.S. had hoped to establish another military base of power in the Middle East, a base second only to its powerful surrogate military force in Israeli-occupied Palestine. Had Bush’s gamble succeeded, it would have greatly reinforced U.S. power in the region against growing Arab and Muslim insurrection. But, it was also designed to strengthen the competitive position of American capitalism against its strongest competitors in the intensifying struggle for access to world markets for surplus goods and idle capital.
Besides, the U.S. needed to reinforce its multi-billion dollar investment in the creation of the state of Israel, which was being destabilized and threatened by the Palestinian Intifada which continues to radicalize the Muslim world.
The Palestinian Intifada, a mass insurgency by indigenous peoples against the Israeli Zionist oppressor, has given a powerful impetus to the anti-imperialist masses in the Muslim world and elsewhere against their most hated and feared American imperialist oppressor. Also threatened by the rising anti-imperialist mass movement are imperialism’s puppet governments throughout the Middle East and beyond.
From Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, the governments dominated by their imperialist overlords have become increasingly reluctant to stick their necks out too far in the service of the Yankee Goliath. They have good reason to fear that the U.S. assault on Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan is driving their discontented masses into the arms of militant Muslim and other anti-imperialist insurgencies in their own countries.
In addition to the U.S. attempt to take over the world’s largest proven deposits of oil and gas in the Middle East, capitalist America had hoped to transform Iraq into a powerful military base of support against all guerrilla uprisings in the region.
Furthermore, by securing Iraq as another powerful U.S. military base, it would have also opened a path toward the re-conquest of Iran, which had freed itself from domination by American imperialism’s Iranian puppet regime headed by Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. This incipient social revolution, initially led by working-class leftists, was overthrown by a Muslim theocracy in 1979. The term for such an upheaval is political, not social, revolution. It’s an important distinction, since, on the one hand, certain political revolutions, such as the Palestinian Intifada, are steps in the right direction. What is really needed is the overthrow of capitalism in Palestine, Israel, Iraq, Iran and many other neo-colonies.
Bush raises the stakes
So confident of American military power was the Bush administration and the ruling class at large, that they raised the stakes of their Iraqi gamble in two ways:
First, they reduced their chances for success by deciding, as the New York Times once put it, to “fight a war on the cheap”—that is, with barely half the troop strength some of the ruling elites’ most experienced generals had argued were indispensable for a successful pacification of an inevitable insurgency.
In contrast, some 500,000 U.S. troops had been sent to Saudi Arabia for the first Iraq war in 1990-91. But America was much less financially crippled back then than it is now, and could afford the expense of sending enough troops to guarantee a successful outcome.
And second, so powerful did they think they had become, that the Bush administration decided to go it alone by launching its conquest and occupation of Iraq with only the help of its British junior partner. That is, the U.S. attacked without the military and material assistance of two of its most powerful and long-term imperialist allies—France and Germany.
This decision was a radical departure from U.S. policy throughout the period of the Cold War and its immediate aftermath—the Yugoslav War. At that time, while America’s imperialist allies did not contribute troops to all these wars, it was still imperative to the cause of world imperialism that America’s own special interests be subordinated to the need for unity against a powerful Soviet adversary. This time, however, they went to war for their own narrower reasons that were in direct conflict with the interests of at least two of its most powerful imperialist allies as well as its former Cold War adversaries in China and Russia.
However, as it turned out, in relying primarily on U.S./British military power, their combined force proved to be inadequate to the task. What they failed to fully appreciate was the very different Middle East that had been created by Zionist Israel in its increasingly desperate attempt to solve the “Palestinian problem”—a method similar in principle to Hitler’s solution of the “Jewish question” in the ghettoes of Poland.
But just as the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto rose up in rebellion, so too have the people of Palestine arisen with unexpected fury against the Zionist army of occupation.
In other words, the Palestinian Intifada has changed the Middle East by reawakening, re-inspiring and re-energizing the anti-colonial revolution. And because Israeli crimes are financed and backed militarily, diplomatically and politically by American imperialism, the U.S. superpower has become Public Enemy Number One in the eyes of the peoples of the Middle East and far beyond.
It’s no wonder, then, that the U.S. preemptive war on Iraq turned out to be a colossal misadventure. In fact, even with total imperialist support there was no guarantee that the Iraqi venture could have succeeded in the face of the very different world that exists today.
It now appears to the American ruling class that they are betwixt and between an unwinnable war on the one side, and economic and financial bankruptcy on the other. But the U.S. ruling class appears determined to “stay the course” in Iraq because, as they see it; it not only means losing what they had bet so heavily to gain, but it also means losing much of what they had in the bank before the Iraqi misadventure was launched—including the dissipating delusion of omnipotence!
In a sense, they can’t retreat and face a military defeat that dwarfs the one they suffered in Vietnam. But either way, their prospects appear dismal!
Why Bush’s critics went along with his Iraqi adventure
Important sectors of the American power structure warned the faction supporting Bush that it was vitally important to get the sanction of the UN Security Council before invading Iraq.
What stood in the way—but was never mentioned in the mass media—was the Bush administration’s plan to deny France and Germany their “fair share” of Iraqi and Middle-Eastern oil. The Times, in fact, had urged the Bush administration to improve the chances of military success in Iraq by offering a suitable compromise to these two major European powers. Either the Bush administration rejected it outright, or the concessions that might have been offered were considered by the Europeans to be insufficient.
Bush’s neoconservative-dominated brain trust undoubtedly had argued with other leaders of the ruling class, that under the prevailing circumstances—mounting budget deficits, growing balance of payments deficits and a dangerously weakening dollar—a decision to go it alone, rather than with two of its most important military allies, seemed to be a risk worth taking.
Additionally, in a world so dependent on fossil fuels to turn the wheels of industry, gaining strategic control over all Middle-Eastern oil would have given American capitalism a significant advantage over its competitors in what has become a sharpening inter-imperialist struggle for a larger share of the world market place, which increases in scope but shrinks in substance—a dynamic consequence of the objective laws of capitalist economy.
However, in order to properly answer the question of exactly why the U.S. went to war in Iraq, we have to take a closer look at the fundamental reasons that explain why the U.S. economy is in such big trouble.
How exactly does post-World War II capitalism work?
An indication of the depths already reached by the global economic crisis was the Bush administration’s attempt—unsuccessful for the moment—to invest a major portion of the Social Security Trust Fund in the stock market.
When he failed to convince present and future Social Security beneficiaries that stocks were a better way to preserve their social safety net, Bush abandoned his argument for “preserving the value” of the trillion-dollar Trust Fund and about-faced, admitting what many already knew, that there “really is no Trust Fund, just IOUs that future generations will have to pay!” (A White House-issued statement by President Bush, April 5, 2005.)
The Bush administration’s get-rich-quick scheme to “save Social Security for America’s working people” was just a gigantic lie—“cut from the whole cloth.” Not only is the Trust Fund empty; but putting that much of non-existent Social Security Trust Funds into the stock market would require borrowing it from moneylenders and adding billions or trillions of dollars more in IOUs owed by the U.S. Treasury to the Fund!
In the meantime, however, monthly Social Security checks are being steadily reduced, workers must work more years before being eligible to receive smaller “full benefits,” and all benefits are reduced further by dollars that regularly buy less than they did the year before.
It’s no accident that the mass media simply reported the arguments between factions of the ruling class but never challenged, or even questioned the claim that there were indeed trillions of dollars of workers’ hard-earned wages deducted from their paychecks held in trust for them in the U.S. Treasury!
If we were to add up the debits and subtract them from the credits of what might be described as Capitalist America Inc., we could only conclude that if it were a privately owned corporation it would have long ago been forced into bankruptcy.
Scratching the surface of the global economic crisis
There is another side to consider to fully appreciate the destructive force of the debt time-bomb ticking away beneath what was once the world’s only economic superpower.
The U.S. Federal government routinely pays interest on Federal Treasury bonds and other IOUs, but only in theory, not in practice. It’s really something akin to a magician’s hand-is-quicker-than-the-eye trick. Here’s how it works:
The U.S. government has for many years been going through the motions of paying interest on its debt. But while homeowners’ and other working people pay interest on their mortgages, credit cards and other debts, they pay their monthly installments with hard-earned cash from their wages, salaries and savings accounts. But as fast as the government pays regular installments on its debts, it borrows by “selling” Treasury notes to its many lenders! That’s what America’s steadily rising balance of payments deficit really means, the deficits become part of the growing number of IOUs in the U.S. Treasury.
But, why, it might be asked, do governments, like Japan for many years and now China, and all other major U.S. trading partners, keep buying up U.S. debts?
In a world monetary system in which currencies are no longer convertible to gold on demand, no one really knows the value of any nation’s paper money, or the real worth of multi-billion-dollar corporations like Enron and other recent corporate fatalities. And the size of the U.S. economy is such that it is in a position to make “an offer” to buy U.S. Treasury notes to its biggest trading partners “that they can’t refuse” in amounts proportional to the size of their exports to American consumers.
In other words, America’s biggest trading partners like China and Japan, for instance, must finance the U.S. economy by buying U.S. Treasury notes, payable in purely paper dollars, whose value relative to all other currencies is in the final analysis based on how much faith one has in the value of one nation’s currency relative to all others.
Thus the outstanding U.S. Public Debt, as of this writing, was over eight trillion dollars and rising by the hour. And if we also take into account the outstanding private debt of corporate America, it would appear to be at least equal if not a multiple of the public debt.
Strangely enough, the fact that the exponential expansion of debt made possible by the separation of the world monetary system from its historic base in gold would inevitably become unrepayable, was predicted by the system’s main architect, the noted English economist, John Maynard Keynes. He was the first to admit that sooner or later the steadily accumulating debt would become impossible to repay or even to continue servicing. That is, he conceded when challenged, that there must come a time when paying interest on the amount borrowed can no longer be maintained—much less, paying off the principal.
But he made a convincing case that separating currency from gold was the only way to extend capitalism’s lease on life. Besides, he consoled his peers by cynically noting “by that time, we’ll all be dead.” And true to his words, he and all those that put his plan into effect are dead.
James Grant, editor of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer, explains the difference between paper money based on gold versus plain paper money with simple eloquence: “Not since the Nixon years has a holder of dollars had the privilege of exchanging them for a statutory weight in gold…the dollar is a piece of paper, or electronic impulse, of no intrinsic value. It is legal tender whose value is ultimately determined by the confidence of the people who hold it…the post-1971 dollar is purely faith-based.” (Reported in the New York Times, October 26.) 1
This is exactly why we went to war in Iraq—the U.S. ruling class’ futile effort to save its sinking system. But that’s not the end of our story. We need to say a brief word about the only way this conflict can be resolved.
Who will foreclose on bankrupt capitalism’s debts?
Unlike those of us who work for a living, whose heavily mortgaged homes, maxed-out credit cards and other legal obligations are foreclosed when we can’t pay our debts; it stands to reason that neither the bankers of the world, nor the U.S. government as creditor, can or will foreclose on itself as debtor or evict itself from its “home.” Only another force, independent of the U.S. government, can do that.
Happily, there is a force that can “foreclose” on the U.S. or any other government; and that of course is the working class. This power, however, is insufficient for the overthrow of the capitalist state and its bodies of armed men. For that, the working class needs to win over to its side all victims of capitalist injustice by earning the right to be seen as the champion of all the oppressed.
And then, as has been proven many times since the Paris Commune, the workers can lead the human race toward the revolutionary overthrow of the existing social order and its ruling capitalist class.
11971 was the year that President Nixon ended the convertibility of paper dollars into gold because U.S. Treasury vaults in Fort Knox, which in 1945 had contained most of the world’s supply of gold, had been emptied. And instead, an amount greater than the inflation-adjusted worth of gold in dollars—accumulated by all other nations since 1945 and by 1971—was far greater than the gold it no longer possessed. That is, in real money, the richest country in the world—in terms of its productive power—was bankrupt. Thus ever since, the worth of all currencies has been “purely faith-based,” And no one really knows the value of the dollars, marks or yen they hold until the iron laws of the market suddenly expose their real worth and crisis ensues.