"As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly." (Proverbs, 26:11)
Following the publication of my article on Iraq, War Drums in Washington or Bush's Last stand, I received a letter from Dr. Carlos Alzugaray Treto (Head of Department, Coordinator of International and Strategic Studies, Higher Institute of International Relations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs) in Havana, who made the following observations:
"It seemed to me to be all very correct. I agree with 99% of it. Just one clarification concerning the motivations behind the war in Iraq:
"I have arrived at the hypothesis that the ruling class of the USA as a whole considers the demonstrative use of irresistible military force to be a highly effective instrument of its world domination. To try to prove to all its adversaries that, as they say, ‘all resistance is useless'. Although in each case other motives have existed, time after time (Granada 1983, Panama 1989, The Gulf War of 1991, Somalia, Kosovo 1999, Afghanistan 2001, Iraq 2003) they have always picked weak, easily defeated, adversaries and thus to say to these same adversaries, and to others and to the whole world: the United States is invincible (just as in Rambo and other Hollywood movies). That is why the haemorrhaging of the armed forces Iraq, which you describe very well, is so serious for the system of domination. It undermines the credibility of the demonstrative effect of an overwhelming military victory, the key element for power, according to the ruling class as a whole.
"Greetings from Cuba,
The comments of Dr. Carlos Alzugaray Treto are very welcome and can help us to deepen our analysis of the general world situation and the role of the USA.
It is absolutely correct to say that US imperialism, especially since the fall of the USSR has set itself the aim of dominating the whole world and to crush any country that attempts to resist it. Washington's motto is: "Do as we say, or we will bomb you." "Do as we say, or we will invade you." It is also true that the question of oil (which is obviously very important) was not the most important consideration in Washington's decision to invade Iraq, but rather its broader strategic considerations in the Middle East.
However, the purpose of my article was precisely to show that the USA had burnt its fingers in Iraq. Far from realising their strategic, political and economic, objectives, they have suffered a great setback, as Dr. Carlos Alzugaray Treto says. Far from demonstrating their power, they have demonstrated the limits of their power. The results of this will be far-reaching.
However, the main point of my article was to point out that, from the standpoint of US imperialism, it is evident that the invasion of Iraq was a very grave error. The idea (which I have sometimes come across) that all the actions of the imperialists are carefully calculated and conform to an intelligent plan, is incorrect. In any war the importance of leadership is a key factor. In politics as in war, the quality of individual leaders can have a considerable effect.
Of course, such factors enter into the category of historical accident. They cannot affect the outcome of broad historical processes. But they can certainly affect particular phenomena, producing complicated cross-currents, and delaying or accelerating a certain line of development. If it were not for this, history would be a very simple affair, and very easy to predict.
Marxism does not deny the role of the individual in history, but explains that the actions of individual men and women are not merely the result of free will but are determined by the existing material conditions that have been shaped independently of their will and consciousness. The actions of a leader are necessarily limited by the given context. In a favourable objective situation, the mistakes of a leader do not necessarily have serious and lasting effects. In such a period, even a mediocre leader can achieve brilliant results in spite of his limitations. But in an unfavourable historical conjuncture, even a capable leader finds his options reduced and the likelihood of failure correspondingly increases.
The present historical period is the period of capitalism's senile decay. US imperialism, the gendarme of world capitalism, finds itself besieged on all sides. Wars break out continually and terrorism spreads like an uncontrollable epidemic. The USA, it is true, has enormous economic and military resources. But even these resources are not without limit. The constant wars and vast expenditure they entail are sapping the wealth and strength of the USA. In such circumstances, an intelligent leader would use the threat of military intervention to impose the will of the USA on other countries. But it is an elementary proposition of diplomacy that the actual use of military strength must always be the final resort, not the first option. The slogan of the Marine Corps conveys this idea very well: "Speak softly and carry a big stick."
The conduct of Bush and the neo-conservative clique headed by Dick Cheney is not that of wise statesmen but of gangsters, bullies and vulgar adventurers. They imagine that the power of the USA gives it the right to throw its weight around and intervene in the affairs of other countries like a bully in a school playground. But the power of US imperialism is limited. By charging into Iraq and waging a war on false pretences they set in motion a chain of events they did not foresee and over which they have no control.
In the same way that the revolutionary movement depends at critical moments on the quality of the leadership, so the outcome of a war, such as the war in Iraq, can be decisively influenced by the political and military leadership of the bourgeoisie. Bush plunged the US into a military adventure in Iraq. Now it is not a question of if, but rather when they will leave. It is true that even a far-sighted and intelligent leader would be in difficulties. But the present administration in Washington is the most stupid, ignorant and myopic for decades. They understood nothing, foresaw nothing and consequently have ended in a mess. The imperialists will pay a heavy price for the poor quality of their leading men and women!
USA overstretched on a world scale
The USA is undoubtedly the greatest superpower in history but it is now severely overstretched by its world role. As I pointed out in my article, the USA has inherited the role of world policeman from Britain. But in the 19th Century Britain made a lot of money out of plundering its colonies. But that was in a different historical period – the period of the rise of capitalism, when the bourgeoisie, despite its monstrous exploitative and oppressive nature, was still capable of playing a relatively progressive role in developing the productive forces.
The period in which we are living is entirely different. It is the period of imperialist decay. The inability of capitalism to develop the productive forces as it did in the past is the result of the central contradiction between the colossal productive potential of industry, science and technology and the narrow limits imposed by private property and the nation state. This expresses itself in the phenomenon of globalisation, that is, the attempt to exploit to the maximum the world market, which was already predicted by Marx and Engels in the pages of the Communist Manifesto.
However, the advent of globalisation does not signify the elimination of the contradictions of capitalism, only their reproduction on a far bigger scale than the past. Lenin explained that capitalism means war, and his book, Imperialism, the highest Phase of Capitalism, is still the most modern text one can read on the present world situation.
Despite globalisation – or rather because of it – the tensions between nations are not decreasing but increasing to an unprecedented degree. Everywhere one looks one sees new conflicts and wars. This imposes a severe strain on the USA, despite its vast resources. Let us examine for a moment the deployment of US troops on a world scale. The breakdown at the moment is approximately as follows:
Almost 150,000 troops in Iraq (with more on the way)
18,000 in Afghanistan (and this is not enough to control the situation)
20,000 in Japan
19,000 in South Korea
53,000 in Europe (the Russians are asking what for?)
2,000 in Bosnia and Kossovo (where nothing has been solved)
1800 in the Horn of Africa.
And let us not forget the 700 or so marines still occupying a slice of Cuban territory in Guantanamo.
The war in Afghanistan is even more unwinnable than the war in Iraq. Years after proclaiming victory, the US only exercises a shaky control over Kabul, where its puppet Karzai is only kept alive by his American bodyguards. The US and British forces are bogged down in fighting in the south, where the Taliban and others are waging an implacable struggle against the occupying forces.
The Americans and British have not been able to pacify Afghanistan. The parliament (loya jirga) is made up of warlords, drug barons, assorted gangsters and Taliban sympathisers. The imperialists shake their heads and complain that they did not expect the Taliban to put up such a determined resistance. We do not know why they did not expect it, since the whole history of the country shows that the people of Afghanistan do not take kindly to foreign invaders. They defeated the British army in the 19th century, and the Soviet Union, with all its might, was eventually compelled to withdraw. In desperation, the USA invites its NATO "allies" to participate in the war in the South. The latter politely reply: "after you, gentlemen!" As a result of the intervention in Afghanistan, the whole of Central Asia has been destabilized and the Musharraf regime in Pakistan is hanging by a thread.
In addition to the publicly declared military engagements, the USA is also involved in other military activities that are not declared. It was recently revealed that the USA has approximately 1,800 troops in the Horn of Africa, where presumably they have not gone to admire the scenery. The Islamic rebels in Somalia were winning a civil war against a reactionary and corrupt government of warlords, backed by Washington. The USA was clearly behind the intervention of the Ethiopian army, which has temporarily succeeded in defeating the rebels and re-imposing the pro-US warlords in Mogadishu. But since the Somalis will not tolerate the presence of Ethiopian soldiers on their soil for long, the USA will have to increase its military involvement in order to prevent the victory of the rebels. Whoever controls the Horn of Africa controls the entry to the Persian Gulf. The USA has built a big military base in Djibouti, and it is quite likely that Washington will find itself dragged into a new war in the Horn of Africa.
Defeat in Iraq
Four years after the invasion of Iraq, all Bush's plans are in ruins. With almost 150,000 troops he cannot defeat the insurgents. The mood of the population is overwhelmingly hostile to the occupying forces. This was recently confirmed by a poll conducted by the BBC and ABC. This shows a collapse of confidence in the future, a burning hatred of the Coalition forces and a complete lack of trust in the Maliki government. On the fourth anniversary of the invasion, it makes grim reading for the White House. According to the opinion poll most Iraqis now say they were better off under Saddam Hussein. Even the man who appeared on television destroying the statue of Saddam now says he is sorry and wishes the statue – and Saddam – were back!
The U.S. is now desperately trying to create an Iraqi army. They want to establish a firm base that would permit the US army to withdraw, leaving behind a puppet government and an army and police force capable of keeping the situation under control. But how can they? They have split Iraqi society along religious and sectarian lines. They originally made concessions to Shiites, angering the Sunnis. Now, under pressure from the Saudis and fearful of the growing influence of Iran, they are trying to shift the balance towards the Sunnis, bribing some tribal leaders. This has angered the Shiites.
Before the invasion of Iraq, in 2003, Bush, following the advice of the neo-conservative gang, hit upon the brilliant idea that, since Iraq's Shiite majority had been oppressed under Saddam Hussein, the Shiites would provide a solid base of support for the Americans. More thinking elements in the intelligence community warned them about the ties between Iraqi Shiite leaders and Iran. But these warnings went unheeded. Now, suddenly, the White House has woken up to the fact that it is Iran, and not the USA, which has established a solid base inside Iraq and has growing influence over the Shiite population.
The Administration is putting heavy pressure on Prime Minister Maliki to force him to co-operate with the United States army in suppressing radical Shiite militias, such as Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. But if Maliki obliges them, he will merely succeed in signing his own death warrant – politically and perhaps physically. Given the present bloody chaos in Iraq, which is entirely the responsibility of the Americans, the mass of Iraqis, whether Sunni or Shiite, see no alternative but to back the militias that provide them with at least some kind of protection and often are the only source of supply for the basic necessities of life. The Americans are hated; the government is increasingly unpopular and seen as collaborators. If they attack the militias they will rapidly lose even the narrow base of support that it still possesses.
Iraq is not on the brink of a civil war. There is a civil war in Iraq. How else does one describe the daily massacres, the constant ethnic and sectarian cleansing? The displacement of large numbers of people which is taking place in Iraq can lead to the partition of Iraq. It can end in the division of the country into three parts, with Sunni areas, Shiite areas, and Kurdish areas. Even Baghdad might be divided into Sunni and Shiite areas. This would be a nightmare scenario, like the partition of India in 1947. It could only be brought about by the most frightful massacres and bloodshed.
By their actions the US imperialists have destabilized the entire Middle East. Jordan was relatively stable, but no more. If Bush has his way, the same chaos and internal strife we now see in Iraq will spread to Lebanon and Syria, with conflicts between Sunnis, Alawis, Marionite Christians, Druzes and Shiites. The same sectarian madness, once unleashed, would not be easy to contain. It can spread, not only to Jordan but also to Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the countries of North Africa. It would mean new instability and wars.
Bush blunders again
Flexibility is necessary in all wars. Tactics must change with changing circumstances. A general who is inflexible, who works out a battle plan and rigidly sticks to it will certainly lead his army to defeat. Bush has done just that in Iraq. There is an old saying that the people get the leaders they deserve. Without further qualification, this statement is not correct. But it is correct to say that the ruling class in the USA has certainly got the leaders that it deserves. The American bourgeois were originally enthusiastic about Bush, but now all that has changed. They have lost all confidence in the man in the Oval Office. Above all, they have lost all confidence in his ability to win the war in Iraq. That is why they set up the Iraq Study Group, in a desperate attempt to pressurize him to change course. To no avail! He just ignored it.
Bush decided to send a further 21,000 soldiers. But this is not "irresistible military force " but a joke in very bad taste. It will do nothing to change the military situation, but will lead to more US casualties. Whatever they do now will be wrong.
The Economist (13th March, 2007) commented acidly:
"Mr. Bush's new foreign policy is probably best explained as a reaction to events. What he tried before in Iraq did not work, so he is trying something new. He also has to deal with a Democratic Congress that, if ignored, may tie his hands. Some Democrats want to cut off funds for the war. Others favour standing back and letting Mr. Bush take all the blame. John Murtha, a close ally of Nancy Pelosi, the House speaker, foolishly revealed a plan gradually to place so many restrictions on how troops can be deployed that the war would become unwinnable. His party distanced itself from such tactics, which would incense patriotic voters, but has yet to agree on an alternative. Meanwhile, the (wafer-thin) Democratic majority in the Senate is still thinking about rescinding the authorization for the Iraq war it voted on in 2002. Chatting with the Iranians might be intended as a painless way of mollifying Congress-but don't bet on it working."
It goes on: "Michael Rubin, an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, a hawkish think-tank, thinks the shift is small in substance but symbolically important. He sees two dangers. First, Iranian diplomats might make a promise that another part of the Iranian regime might break, which would render further bilateral diplomacy impossible. Second, he thinks Iran is "dangerously overconfident". Leaders in Tehran, few of whom have a feel for American politics, might misread the current anti-war rhetoric in Congress as a sign that America is now too weak politically to frustrate Iran's regional ambitions. That could prompt them to miscalculate and provoke a military clash. ‘The risk of a conflict with Iran has never been higher,' he says."
Splits in the ruling class
The Bush Administration is hell bent on intensifying its military adventure in Iraq and on spreading the chaos and instability to the whole of the Middle East. According to recent reports, it is engaged in clandestine operations, together with Saudi Arabia and Israel, to undermine Iran and Syria. These activities are conducted in secret and are not reported to Congress.
The actions of Bush and Cheney closely resemble those of another adventurer, Richard Nixon, who waged a secret war in Cambodia behind the backs of Congress and the American people. Their dealings with dubious intermediaries – including Sunni extremists in Lebanon with links to al Qaeda – also resemble a more recent scandal. Two decades ago the Reagan Administration sold arms to Iran in order illegally to fund the Nicaraguan Contras in what became known as the Iran-Contra scandal. Even though the programme was eventually exposed, it was carried out quite successfully behind the backs of Congress. Saudi money was involved in this scandal, and it is entirely possible that history is now repeating itself. According to some sources, Negroponte resigned as director of the CIA in part because he did not want a repeat of his experience in the Reagan Administration.
A recent article in The New Yorker (5th March) quotes a Pentagon consultant as saying that there was some difficulty accounting for covert funds: "There are many, many pots of black money, scattered in many places and used all over the world on a variety of missions," he said. The budgetary chaos in Iraq, where billions of dollars are unaccounted for, has made it a vehicle for such transactions, according to these sources.
The CIA is engaged in covert activities all over the world, not just the Middle East. They systematically work to undermine and overthrow governments that they consider inimical to the interests of the United States – that is, to US imperialism and the big monopolies that are behind it. This includes covert operations to assassinate Hugo Chavez, the democratically elected President of Venezuela, and to overthrow the Cuban Revolution under the false flag of "democracy".
In general, the American ruling class is quite content to turn a blind eye to these goings-on. But occasionally, when a particular Administration goes too far and places the interests of US imperialism in danger through foreign adventures, the US Establishment intervenes to clip its wings, or, as with Nixon, remove it from office altogether. There are some signs that the Establishment is becoming concerned about the Bush Administration and taking steps to limit the damage it is causing.
Apart from the effect on the psychology of the troops in Iraq and the people in the USA, it also represents a serious strain on America's resources, which are huge but not unlimited. The original cost of the Iraq war was supposed to be $60 billion. But the bill so far amounts to $350 billions. The war is costing America $2 billion every week, and nobody knows what the final bill will be. One estimate puts it as high as $2 trillion. This will have serious consequences for the US economy, which is already slowing down and threatened with recession. At the same time he is spending ever greater quantities on arms and internal security, the President is demanding deep cuts in social spending on medical care and pensions. This variant on Goehring's policy of "guns before butter" threatens the Republicans with annihilation in the next election.
Things are therefore beginning to stir on Capitol Hill. The Senate Intelligence Committee, headed by Senator Jay Rockefeller, recently organised a hearing on Defense Department intelligence activities. Senator Ron Wyden, of Oregon, a Democrat who is a member of the Intelligence Committee, told Hersh: "The Bush Administration has frequently failed to meet its legal obligation to keep the Intelligence Committee fully and currently informed. Time and again, the answer has been ‘Trust us'." Wyden said, "It is hard for me to trust the Administration."
These words faithfully reflect the attitude of a growing section of the US ruling class. There is now a clear division opening up within the ruling class. But Lenin explained long ago that splits at the top are a symptom of a developing revolutionary crisis. It is true that the USA is still far from such a situation. But in general outline we can already discern the processes that are tending in the direction of a profound social and political crisis. The ruling class is already split and in crisis over the war in Iraq and this is affecting the general mood of society.
The war, the collapse of the house price bubble, the perspective of a recession, the threat to pensions and health care for the elderly – all this is creating a mood of uncertainty about the future, in the middle class as well as the working class, which has no real precedent in the history of the United States since the Second World War. The coming period will be a period of storm and stress on a world scale, which will shake the USA to its foundations. One shock will follow another. In the process the psychology of the masses will be transformed. Explosive events are on the order of the day.