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Editorial: Weapons of mass destruction - now they tell us

Under the UN Charter, states have to find a legal pretext before they going to war. The pretext that the governments of America and Britain, acting on behalf of their capitalist class, found for going to war against Iraq last year was that the Iraqi state possessed “weapons of mass destruction” that were an immediate threat to America and Britain’s allies and military bases in the Middle East.

It has now turned out that this was a bad choice of pretext as recent official reports in both countries are admitting that the intelligence reports about this were wrong: Iraq did not possess such weapons. We hold no brief for the “intelligence” services but it does seem a little unfair to blame them for telling their political masters what they wanted to hear.

So where does this leave matters?  It’s common knowledge that the real reason America and Britain went to war was oil – to acquire and secure a reliable source of this key fuel to meet the growing demands of capitalist industry in the West. Under the Saddam regime Iraq was not a reliable source and, in any event, its production and the renewal of its equipment was limited by UN sanctions. In addition, America wanted to add to its military bases in the area, to protect Caspian as well as Middle East oil sources. A useful spin-off, though not the cause of the war, was that America could show to other states, such as France, Germany, Russia and China that unlike Britain were not prepared to fall in line, that it was the top dog in the world.

No doubt if Iraq had possessed weapons of mass destruction this would have been a good capitalist reason for going to war, but only because these weapons would have been held by a state which represented a threat to the security of oil supplies. That weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East as such were not the issue can be seen from the fact that no preventive strikes have been planned, or even dreamed of, against the one state in the region known to possess them – Israel – but then Israel is no threat to oil supplies. On the contrary: it was allowed to come into existence and has been propped up by the US precisely to counter such threats from potentially anti-US Arab regimes.

The same goes for the “nasty dictator” argument. Certainly, Saddam was nasty enough, but there are plenty of other nasty regimes in the area, the worst being America’s main ally there, Saudi Arabia, which is still a mediaeval despotism.

Once the war started the outcome was in no doubt: a walk-over for America and Britain. The Saddam regime was overthrown and a friendly puppet regime installed in its place. Saddam himself was eventually captured and a big show trial is planned (at an American military base). The verdict is in no doubt, though the new puppet regime may well shy away from killing him – lest it set a precedent for them should their turn to be overthrown come. This is “victors’ justice” as, technically, Bush and Blair could also be charged with war crimes for going to war without a proper legal basis as well as for murdering and torturing Iraqi prisoners of war. But that’s not going to happen, of course.

The lesson of all this is that wars are fought today over economic matters such as sources of raw materials, trade routes, markets and investment outlets, and strategic points to protect these. Since competition over these is built into capitalism, so is war. But, in order to get popular support for a war, governments have to come up, these days, with plausible “humanitarian” and “democratic” reasons. The homage paid by vice to virtue. Socialists say: don’t be taken in by such propaganda. As long as capitalism lasts there will be wars, threats of war and preparations for war as well as government lies about the reasons for going to war.

Wars and preparations for war mean destruction and waste in a world that is capable of providing enough to provide every man, woman and child on the planet with decent food, clothing, housing, health care, education and all the other amenities of life. But this is not going to happen within the framework of capitalism, with its class ownership and production for profit. It is only going to be possible within the framework of world socialism, where the Earth’s resources will have become the common heritage of all humanity, to be used, under democratic control, to provide for the needs of all.