1990s >> 1999 >> no-1136-april-1999

World View: ‘Whither Iraq?’ & ‘Exit Oskar the Pink’


    * Whither Iraq?
    * Exit Oskar the pink

Whither Iraq?

In a letter last November to Sir John Weston at the Permanent Mission of the UK at the UN, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark lambasted the sanctions decimating Iraqi society as a “violation of the Genocide Convention”. Iraq, he argued posed no real threat to the region and the idea that it did was a “false fantasy created by the US to justify its vast military presence in the region, to dominate the oil resources and to contain Islam”.

Weston’s comments were not unique. He was quite simply echoing what others have been saying for some time, most notably Richard Halliday, whose high-profile resignation as head of the UN’s humanitarian relief programme in Iraq alarmed the warmongers in Washington and London.

Speaking through the Guardian in late February, Halliday voiced his belief that the military threat from Iraq was greatly exaggerated, a “cop-out”, before criticising the West for 8 years of sanctions that have crippled Iraq far greater than any aerial bombardment endured by the country.

Halliday has pointed out that the sanctions violate the Geneva Convention as well as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Rights of the Child, that they have seriously disrupted the quality of life in Iraq and debased a general high standard of behaviour practised by the common Iraqi people.

If the bombing of Iraq no longer makes front-page news—the 8 March US attack, for instance, only made page 12 of the Guardian under “News in brief”—then it can well be imagined that the common people elsewhere, particularly in Britain and the US, know little or nothing of the 1.2 million children who died as a result of the UN sanctions against Iraq between August 1990 and August 1997, or of the 6,000 who continue to die each week as a result of malnutrition and disease.

While the bombing of Iraqi sites has become an almost daily occurrence for the warplanes of Globocop and its lobotomised sidekick, the UK, the sanctions are the real weapons that continue to blight the lives of the Iraqi people.

Infant mortality rates have increased six-fold since 1996. Fifty percent of the Iraqi population has no access to clean water and the majority exist on a starvation diet, while sanitation has become a luxury.

Iraq’s per capita income has dropped from $2,900 a year to $60 a year and inflation has increased to unparalleled levels. According to the FAO, the price of wheat flour, once part of the staple Iraqi diet, has gone up 1.16 million percent since 1990. The health service is in ruins with surgery often conducted in unsterile conditions and with no anaesthetic because of the embargo on supplies.

Medical necessities are not all that is prohibited by Security Council export restrictions. The list also includes children’s clothing, adhesive tape, books, dolls, spectacles, bags and footballs—the kind of everyday items the more ingenious Iraqis could use to knock US F16s out of the skies!

Meanwhile the aerial bombardment of Iraqi targets continues apace. Missile attacks are now almost daily occurrences and have been since Operation Desert Fox back in December of last year—incidentally the biggest USA/UK joint attack in the region since the Gulf War eight years ago and one that even the less cynical could not fail to notice came as we were expected to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

As he accepted his presidential nomination in 1988, George Bush had this to say:

“This has been called the American Century because in it we were the dominant force for good in the world. Now we are on the verge of a new century and what country’s name will be bear? I say it will be another American Century.”

These words, better than all the cant that has been used to justify US aggression has against Iraq, best sum up the real US mission in the Gulf. The US, and Britain for that matter—which never got used to losing its world power status after World War II—are defending no moral high ground. They police the no-fly zones on behalf of no neighbour of Saddam and certainly do not defend us from someone who threatens global peace.

The US attacks are being carried out to remind us of their military prowess and at the bequest of their corporate elite. They are bombing Iraq to remind anyone watching that the 21st century—like the one we are witnessing coming to a close—will be ruled by force and that it will be they, the US, who will be calling the shots.

You don’t have to read many books by Noam Chomsky, Howard Zinn and ES Herman to realise the US has been, and still is, the number one rogue state this century, bullying its way across the international stage, imposing their will on anyone not tough enough to stand their corner. A cursory look at the black eyes dished out in the past 50 years by the US and its sidekick is enough to tell us which foot the boot will be on in the coming century.

Why Iraq? Well in place of the “Communist threat” what other propaganda framework best serves US interests and kills two birds with one stone? Saddam, as the unpredictable madman the US has conditioned us to believe he is, has to be punished. He thus provides the US with a perfect pretext for keeping the military machine alert on “our” behalf and to further condition us to accept similar US-led responses in the future. Moreover, the US presence gives Washington tighter control over the region’s oil supplies—something the US state department refers to as the “greatest material prize in world history”.

With a world shortage of not only oil but also water predicted for the 21st century, and with both resources high up on the agenda of all Middle East countries, it’s a certainty the coming century will see, if anything, an increased US presence in the region and a more aggressive stance on the international stage.



Exit Oskar the pink

In March the man the Sun once called the most dangerous man in Europe resigned as Germany’s Finance Minister. The Sun—or rather Rupert Murdoch as a capitalist himself—didn’t like him because they thought he had plans to increase direct taxes on profits in Britain up to the same level as in Germany.

Oskar Lafontaine was chairman of the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) which returned to power in October after years in opposition. Politicians who are out of office for long periods often loose their grip on capitalist reality—that governments must nurture profits and provide an environment in which they can flourish since they are what makes capitalism go round—and imagine that governments can work wonders simply by political will.

Sometimes, when returned to power after years in the wilderness, they try to put this mistaken idea into practice. The classic example was the French leftwing government, with Communist Party participation, that came into office when Mitterrand was first elected President in 1981. They really believed that they could “relaunch the economy” by “increasing popular consumption” and so they brought in measures to increase the minimum wage (which in France affects all wages since they are tied to it) and social benefits.

The result wasn’t long in coming. Instead of economic growth being relaunched, inflation increased, leading to three devaluations of the franc in as many years. Within a year the new government adapted its policies to capitalist reality; they clawed back the reforms they had introduced and imposed austerity as a means of shifting the balance back from consumption to profits. They had learned the hard way that you cannot run capitalism in the interests of the excluded majority.

Since, with Kohl winning election after election, the SPD had been out of power for fifteen years, the big question after their September 1998 election victory was: would they make the same mistake as the first Mitterrand government, especially as they were in coalition with the Greens who also had ideas which if seriously pursued would threaten profits?

Oskar Lafontaine had written a book in which he proposed, as a way of getting Germany out of the current crisis, that wages and salaries should go up in line with productivity. He repeated this in newspaper articles and interviews after the SPD election victory. Since this would result in wages and salaries going up faster than they had been, it was equivalent to the policy pursued by the 1981 French government. And the thinking behind it was the same: if wage and salary earners had more to spend this would create more markets, so stimulating the economy to grow again.

In the event this turned out to be just another electoral promise but it earned Lafontaine the reputation of being “Red Oskar”. Red used to signify revolutionary and has always been the fetish colour of Socialists. But there was nothing revolutionary about Lafontaine’s ideas. He was merely putting forward the orthodox Keynesian nostrum that in a period of economic stagnation you should increase spending. Of course by the end of the 1970s Keynesianism had proved to be an utter failure on this point, as Marxists had foreseen years previously. But it is a measure of the very narrow margin of manoeuvre of reformists these days that even milk-and-water Keynesian reformism is denounced as “revolutionary” and “red”.

Although, as Finance Minister, Lafontaine never tried to implement his idea of tying wages and salaries to productivity he did introduce some new direct taxes on profits and he kept on calling on the European Central Bank to reduce interest rates. He believed that this would help Germany out of the crisis (even though in Japan interest rates are less than 1 percent and they’re still in the economic doldrums). For a Finance Minister to repeatedly call for a lowering of the interest rate was seen as out of order or even counterproductive. The ECB, which fixes the minimum short-term lending rate for the whole of Euroland, had to refuse such calls just to prove it did not give in to political pressure.

It was this that was the immediate cause of Lafontaine’s downfall. The interest rate reduction which he and the rest of the German government wanted was being held up by his political interference making it difficult for the Bank to do this. So pressure was bought to bear and he left politics to spend more time with his family. Yet another reformist politician bit the dust. Good, or rather good as long as it helps workers in Germany and elsewhere realise that reformism is a dead-end.


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