Aug 03 2003

Blair, Bush and the Iraqi occupation: reality bites

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 05&06RCN @ 2:56 pm

With a secure and supplicant Iraq still a long way off, Nick Clarke looks at the reality that faces Bush and his War on Terror and Blair and his weapons of mass destruction.

On May 1st, President Bush announced the official end of the second war with Iraq. Four months later, barely a day fails to go by without another serious armed assault on the occupying forces. It’s becoming a cliché, but more US and UK forces have been killed during the peace than during the war. And still those elusive Iraqi WMD have not been found. Blair and his coterie still attempt to convince an increasingly sceptical British public that they are out there somewhere. The Labour government still stands by the internationally discredited hoax that Iraq was trying to buy nuclear material from the African state of Niger. On the other hand, Bush and his ideologues have given up pretending that WMDs were their primary cause for the invasion.

Labour’s smoking gun

It should not be under-estimated what effect those mythical WMD’s are having on the governments of the coalitionUK, USA, Australia and Spain. There are now official enquiries taking place in all these countries reflecting the returning mood of popular and vocal scepticism that existed in those countries (and many others) in the days leading up to the invasion. Although sounding increasingly desperate, Blair insists they will be found. This is despite the fact that coalition forces have captured most of the deck of cards – the 55 most wanted sons and daughters of the Baathist regime. Surely one of them would have revealed their location in exchange for a comfortable and anonymous exile Nazi-style? This, together with 200,000 occupying troops roaming the country and of course the wide range of surveillance options targeted on Iraq, means that they are either bloody well hidden or these WMD do not exist in any state of readiness (45 minutes or other), or in quantities that could be effective.

While the limited remit of Hutton’s enquiry into the tragic death of Dr Kelly has thrown some light onto the murkier workings of government and the way it treats its employees, it has succeeded in deflecting from the central issues of where are the promised WMDs and did the government deliberately mislead the people. Alistair Campbell’s feud with journalist, Andrew Gilligan, and the BBC was a great diversion from Labour’s own smoking gun. Unfortunately David Kelly’s death was the collateral damage that had to be sustained for Blair and Labours’ survival. It is perhaps ironic that while Campbell attacked Gilligan for not verifying his source’s statements regarding the misleading 45 minutes, the intelligence on the 45 minute claim was second-hand, unverified hearsay.

While it is satisfying to see some of the smugness wiped off the face of New Labour at Hutton’s enquiry, we should be under no illusions that its conclusions will lay bare the truth of why Blair took us to war. Although only in its preliminary stages at the time of writing, it is likely it will produce some recommendations about the government’s treatment of civil servants and the responsibility of the media, in particular the BBC, but it is unlikely to lift the moral cover for Labour’s imperialist intervention.

WMD used against the Iraqi people

It must not be forgotten that WMD, by the tonne-load, were used in this war by the USAF and the RAF. Uranium tipped ordnance – very real WMD – litter the country polluting the land and the water, threatening the health of the ordinary people of Iraq. No less destructive, to the unsuspecting Iraqi who accidentally disturbs one, are the hordes of unexploded cluster bombs lying hidden across the country. On top of this there is also the scarcity of clean drinking water, food and healthcare. All this on a people that have suffered the brutal dictatorship of Saddam and a decade of UN sanctions.

The US’s pledge to bring civilisation, freedom and security to Iraq is an obscene joke; and they are starting to feel the heat. US casualties are multiplying day by day. Not only are the numbers of dead increasing, but over 500 have been injured since the official end of operations. There are British casualties too. However, coalition forces are covered in body armour and have technologically advanced firepower. The vast majority of Iraqis have no such protection, including those civilians caught in US indiscriminate shooting after their forces have come under attack. How many ordinary Iraqis have been injured, killed or detained by the occupying forces since the start of the war?

US climbdown

The optimism of the Bush administration is wearing thinner and thinner. The devastating bomb attacks on the Jordanian embassy and the UN headquarters, both in Baghdad, and the killing of over 100 people, including a leading Shiite cleric, in Najaf are just the most high profile examples of the failure of US security.

Bush’s popularity is just starting to ebb. As the next US presidential elections move nearer Democratic contenders are starting to become a bit braver, struggling free from the bi-partisan consensus that has existed in the two years since 9/11. They are trying to get noticed by criticising Bush over his foreign policy and on economic issues. The cost of pursuing the war on terrorism is not going to be cheap and it is the American working class who will end up paying for it either in tax dollars or through active service. The US is back-pedalling, after originally claiming they would go it alone if necessary. They are now looking to share the burden of the Iraqi occupation. A resolution, approved by Bush, will be put before the UN Security Council calling for the creation of a multi-national force, and looking for more foreign financial contributions to rebuild the country. Through tentative talks at the UN they are trying to convince other countries to commit more resources, both military and economic, although they will want to retain command. No doubt the horse trading will revolve around construction and service contracts that will be allocated in exchange for such aid.

This will be a huge climb down for the Bush administration and its leading hawks such as Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the annual cost of the US military occupation at between $8 billion and $29 billion, depending on the number of troops required. However with escalating budget deficits at home, Bush is desperate to procure financial contributions from other states. The obvious candidates are France, Germany and Russia – countries that the US government verbally abused after they failed to support the war. It will be interesting to see if imperialist equilibrium is restored to the UN Security Council.

Impact of the War on Terror

Even beyond Iraq’s borders, Bush and Blair’s global ‘war on terror’ has been a failure. In Afghanistan, the Taliban have been regrouping. There have been some major clashes between them and the Afghan army, backed up by US forces. US military power has still failed to crush this medieval force. US soldiers are being killed and injured here too. Hamid Karzai’s authority barely reaches the outskirts of Kabul and the much heralded reconstruction has not been delivered, as international focus shifted to the more lucrative pickings of Iraq.

Advocates of Islamic supremacism, coordinated by al-Qaeda, have continued to carry out attacks throughout the world from Indonesia to East Africa, from Russia to Morocco, killing injuring and terrorising thousands. Many commentators now report followers of many of al-Qaeda’s satellites joining the jihad on Iraqi soil to confront the US military machine.

The impact of 9/11 cannot be underestimated. Repressive powers have been significantly increased in the UK and US. These have taken the form of the Anti Terrorism Crime and Security Act, the Asylum Bill and the Patriot Act, which have had a huge impact on democratic rights and civil liberties in both countries. In the US, the vilification of celebrity opponents of the war and state intimidation of ordinary anti-war activists are everyday occurrences, under the guise of anti terrorism. The state can now search your library records with impunity! In the aftermath of any significant incident, officialdom’s first thought is to confirm or deny terrorist involvement. Witness the recent massive power cuts that affected the US and Canada’s eastern seaboard, followed a few days later by a similar incident that affected London. The first question asked was – terrorist attack? However, it appears that both were caused by chronic under-investment in public utilities by the profitplundering private sector. Ah, the benefits of privatisation and free trade!

The failure to stabilise and subjugate Iraq and the Iraqi people has also dampened the expectations of those who thought a swift victory in Iraq would resolve the Palestinian war in Zionism’s favour. Instead those following Bush’s Road Map have lost their way as Sharon’s government attempts to derail it by continuing to execute those Palestinian activists who fight back. This at a time when Hamas and Islamic Jihad had called a unilateral ceasefire. Again the US government tasted a big slice of humble pie as it approached Arafat, who they side-lined and humiliated, to try and broker a further ceasefire. However the US and Israel are adamant that they have a veto over the appointment of a Prime Ministerial replacement for Mahmoud Abbas – and they have the audacity to lecture others on democracy. No doubt the Iraqis will be expected to abide by similar guidelines when elections are held under US rule.

Across the globe we see imperialist concessions being withdrawn as part of the War on Terror. For example, the Indonesian military has ended the tentative ceasefire in Aceh and stepped up repression once more; Colombia is under a state of emergency, having its own Plan drawn up by the US and implemented by President Uribe; Spain’s Aznar government has banned Batasuna (the Basque nationalist party); and the British government continues to postpone democratic elections to the Stormont Assembly in Northern Ireland.

Where now for the anti-war movement?

Internationally the anti-war movement has to continue to raise the slogans of all occupying troops out of Iraq and self-determination for the Iraqi people. In Britain the movement has a special responsibility because it is our ruling class that is riding shotgun for US imperialism, hoping to get the scraps and left-overs, like some loyal canine. The manipulation and deceit of the Blair administration contributed to Dr Kelly’s death. The Labour government must continue to be challenged on the uncomfortable questions over WMD. They must not be allowed to forget that their primary reason for war was a hoax that led to the death and injury of thousands of Iraqis, destroying their country. At the same time it has resulted in the death and maiming of hundreds of working class squaddies.

It is over issues such as the war in Iraq that the bankruptcy of British parliamentary democracy is exposed to the full glare of public attention. Parliament’s failure to bring to account the government is highlighted by the farce over dishonest dossiers and vanishing WMDs. Nor must Jack McConnell’s supine role as Scotland’s First Minister be forgotten. He relayed Blair’s lies to the Scottish Parliament, finding all too willing support amongst New Labour MSPs. The Hutton enquiry has given a small glimpse of the secrecy that pervades British bourgeois democracy. It illustrates its limitations and the class interests it upholds. Something of the political role of the intelligence community, in the shape of John Scarlett, the Joint Intelligence Committee and other little-publicised bodies with an array of initials, has been revealed. The anti war movement must not neglect this denial of democracy as an area of concern.

Socialists must be at the forefront of arguing for genuine, active, participatory democracy. Transparency and openness are key ingredients in any working class organisation – trade union, tenants association or political party. They should also be a pre-requisite of any public body, especially government.

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One Response to “Blair, Bush and the Iraqi occupation: reality bites”

  1. Emancipation & Liberation » Emancipation & Liberation, Issue 5 and 6, Autumn 2003 says:

    […] Blair, Bush and the Iraqi occupation: reality bites, Nick Clarke […]

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