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Iraq, imperialism and the anti-war campaign

The anti-war campaign agitates for withdrawal of all Australian and US troops from Iraq, but this is not a demand for no war in Iraq (although the campaign organisers seem to think that it is), it is a demand that the existing civil war be allowed to continue without the US and Australia backing one side or the other. The fact that the civil war started because of the US invasion does not change this.

It is wildly unlikely, but just possible, that the US would indeed withdraw. They have done something loosely similar in Vietnam, Somalia and Lebanon. Conceivably, it could happen in Iraq. However, Iraqi oil is an enormously rich prize, and the strategic leverage that it would grant to the US over the EU, China and Japan is an even richer prize.

The US invaded Iraq to gain control of the most cheaply accessible large oilfields in the world. It will withdraw only if the insurgency makes the military costs of controlling Iraq (which increase the effective cost of producing the oil) so great that these costs become an intolerable burden on the US capitalist class as a whole, or if popular resistance in the US and throughout their allies produces the same effect.

Almost certainly, the insurgency would have to get much, much worse or popular resistance massively increase, before that point was reached, because the US does not want the oil of Iraq only for the sake of the profits to be gained from it.

They also want it because having control over the two largest oil producers in OPEC (Saudi Arabia and Iraq) would mean that the US would have something approaching a veto over the industrial development of their three main world rivals; China, Japan and the EU.

The justifications for the invasion are entirely hypocritical, both the pre-invasion claims about the weapons of mass destruction, and the post-invasion ones based on the blood-soaked repressiveness of Saddam Hussein’s regime and the story that “We did it to bring democracy to the Iraqis”. We may begin to take Iraqi democracy and sovereignty seriously when the US government is willing to accept an order from an elected Iraqi government that US forces leave Iraq.

The Ba’athist regime was, indeed, one of the world’s worst tyrannies, but that didn’t bother the US while Iraq was a US ally, during, for example, the Iran-Iraq war. The US has no objection to blood-soaked tyrannies, provided that they are useful (meaning profitable, directly or indirectly) to the US ruling class. The chemical and biological WMD, or the facilities for making them, were originally supplied by the US and Western European governments, at a time when there were certainly terrorist outfits headquartered in Baghdad; Abu Nidal’s, for one. So, the possibility that Iraq would pass WMD to terrorists (a possibility that the US and other Western governments helped create), only became a threat when the US needed an excuse for an invasion.  Andrew Wilkie, who was in a position to know, developed the real point:

“Superimposed over specifics like oil, however, was a much bigger issue – the US’s determination to safeguard and enhance its global ideological, economic and military hegemony. This is the big one: the grand strategy of the US to reign supreme permanently, as espoused by the so-called ‘neo-conservatives’ and articulated bluntly in September 2002 in The National Security Strategy of the United States of America. In this quest, Iraq was as much a demonstration as a consequence - an almost theatrical performance against a country consequent enough for people to notice, for reasons alarming enough for people to care, on terms lopsided enough to guarantee a crushing demonstration of US military muscle. Or at least that was the idea.”

However, even if the US did withdraw, then almost certainly, Iraq would not be left to its own blood-letting; there would very probably be other invasions, Turkey and Iran being the obvious candidates, Syria and Saudi Arabia other possibilities.

Even if, through some miracle, there was no further foreign interference in Iraq after a US withdrawal, there is no reason for confidence that the civil war would stop anytime soon or even that it would be less bloody in the absence of US and Australian troops. One of the bloodiest civil wars of the twentieth century occurred only a little over ten years ago, without any obvious interference from the West, except for a French intervention to protect the perpetrators of the genocide; we refer, of course, to Rwanda.

That civil war fed directly into what must be the worst war in the world; in the Congo there have been an estimated 3 million dead and it’s still going on. Almost certainly, the riches that can be looted from Iraq, and the strategic advantage that can be gained from that looting, exceed those that can be had by looting from the Congo; which is one reason why the West is not directly involved in the Congo. (Although all the states surrounding Congo, plus Zimbabwe, are) It is also why Iraq will not be left alone; any state that can see an opportunity to interfere, will.

No one, least of all anti-war demonstrators in Australia, should pretend that any of these possibilities are in any way in the interests of the people of Iraq.

Virtually all the left-wing agitation about Australian foreign policy, and US imperial policy, is based on the underlying assumption (or rather, fantasy), that the natural order of capitalism is a world of independent, sovereign, mutually-respectful nations. What is thought to be necessary to achieve this is that the US stop acting as an imperialist thug, and that Australia stop helping them do it. Nice idea, but capitalism just ain’t like that.

It’s a world system of interdependent, not a worldwide collection of independent ones.

If the US declines as an imperialist power, others will take their place, China being an obvious candidate and, given the Chinese government’s record of racist, genocidal colonialism in Tibet, they may even make the US look moderate by comparison. An obvious target for the first major Chinese imperialist adventure is the group of oil-and-natural-gas-rich states between the Chinese Western border and the Caspian Sea.

Capitalist states (of which China is one) are not moral entities, and their ruling classes do not react to attempts at moral persuasion. They perpetually seek profit and react to what could loosely be called profit-and-loss calculations. If profit requires that they dominate other countries (to the extent that they can), so be it.

The consent of the ruled (us!) is essential to the continued functioning of capitalism (in both its state-capitalist and private-capitalist forms). Our consent, or our resistance, is part of our rulers’ profit-and-loss estimates.

We can make this particular imperialist adventure too difficult or too expensive for the rulers of Australia, which is, after all, a junior partner of US capitalism.

The people of the US and the rest of the world, by huge efforts, could make the Iraq occupation too difficult or too expensive, even for the dominant capitalist power. But as long as we, all of us, consent to the capitalist system as a whole, in other words, so long as we resist only this particular imperialist adventure, then there will be more imperialist adventures, by the US and others, more bloodshed, and more terrorist atrocities.

There will also be more poverty, ecological devastation, and more lives spent on mostly-meaningless work and totally meaningless consumerism.

All that the protest organisers can offer, fundamentally, is the prospect of more problems within capitalism, including more wars caused by imperialist adventures, and by rulers using “ethnic tensions” to grab territory, etc., and more protests against those problems and wars. And so on, and on, and on.

There’s got to be a better way, and there is; abolish capitalism. That’s what we are working for.

The only solution is to work for a world system based on common ownership, and moneyless, free access to wealth. Only then can we have genuinely democratic economies, and therefore genuinely democratic societies. We call this socialism. (which has nothing to do with the deeply repressive and now-failed variant of capitalism invented in the former Soviet Union, and adapted in China, Vietnam, etc.)

The precondition for this society is a majority who understand and want socialism, and understand and reject capitalism. Nothing less than this can give us socialism. Leaders certainly can’t.

Huge efforts are required. Let’s make sure that they are directed towards getting off the treadmill that is capitalism, not towards trying to turn it into something it can’t be.

World Socialist Party of Australia leaflet.