The threat of war - Against the great powers' state terrorism - Hands off Iraq!

Nov/Dec 2002

While Western warmongering against Iraq shows no sign of weakening, the great powers' oppressive policies across the world keep backfiring again and again, just as they did in the US with the 11 September attacks.

Indeed, there is a link between the bloody events which took place in October in Bali and Moscow. In both cases the terrorist groups involved were targeting the great powers which they consider responsible for the situation in their countries. In Bali, a club which was used only by Western tourists was attacked in revenge against the suffering caused by Western powers in Indonesia. In Moscow, it was the Russian state which was targeted, because of the ruthless war it is imposing on the Chechen population.

Of course, such terrorist methods are unacceptable from a humanitarian point of view, if only because their victims have no responsibility in the crimes committed by the great powers. Moreover they are politically inefficient. They do not undermine in any way the system of oppression on which the great powers' domination of the world rests. On the contrary, such terrorist methods can only undermine the populations in whose interests they are allegedly used, regardless of the oppression to which these populations are being subjected. Because terrorist attacks are bound to be used by the leaders of the rich countries to rally their own populations behind a more openly repressive policy against the people of the countries they oppress.

Indeed, without the attacks on 11 September, not only would Bush have little support today among the US public, due to his unconvincing election and the subsequent scandals caused by his past as a businessman, but he would probably have been unable to drag the USA into a war against Afghanistan, let alone one against Iraq. Nor would he have been able to tighten the bosses' noose around the necks of the US working class in the way described in another article published in this issue of Class Struggle.

Contrary to what Bush and Blair keep repeating ad nauseam with their "war on terrorism", the real issue is not the terrorism of the poor populations. It is the state terrorism of the great powers which, due to the impoverishment and oppression it imposes on the poor majority of the world, feeds despair and, as a result, terrorism, in its ranks. And this is not only demonstrated by the recent events in Bali and Moscow, but also, already, by the consequences of the US terrorist bombing of Afghanistan.

Bali - behind the "tourist paradise"

The terrorist attack on Bali's Kuta Beach club, which left 184 dead on 12 October, was a stark reminder of the fact that there is more to this "tourist paradise" than meets the eye of a Western visitor.

Behind the exotic lifestyle, bright colours and hectic nightlife of this tiny island, there is a huge country which has suffered enormously under the yoke of imperialism and its local trustees. It should remembered that after WWII, it took four years of a bloody war, first against the British army and then Dutch forces, for this country finally to win its independence.

Less than two decades later, in 1965, the US leaders gave their political and military backing to an army coup led by Suharto. The result was a bloodbath in the ranks of left-wing forces, particularly among Communist Party supporters, which left over one million dead. And if, for the next three decades, Suharto's brutal dictatorship managed to hang on to power, it was largely thanks to US and British military aid.

After Suharto's corrupt dictatorship was finally allowed to disband, the country was hit by another devastating blow coming from the rich countries, in the shape of the 1997 financial crisis. This resulted in a drastic drop in the standard of living for a large part of the population. Factories were left to rust for lack of cash to buy supplies and spare parts. Whole industries virtually disappeared. And to date, Indonesia has still to recover from this crisis.

It is no wonder, therefore, that a deep hatred for Western countries has been stoked up among Indonesians to the point where Islamic fundamentalist groups are able to find recruits for their reactionary policies, as long as these policies appear to be targeting Western interests - wrongly so, because although some package holiday companies may suffer from the Bali bombing, the continuous stream of profits which flows permanently from Indonesia towards the rich countries will not even be dented.

But in addition, it should be said that, like in Afghanistan and Pakistan, US imperialism played a direct role in the emergence of these fundamentalist groups. Indeed, in the 1970s, it was Suharto's US-equipped and trained army which encouraged the development of Jemaah Islamiyah, an armed fundamentalist grouping which is considered today by the CIA as al-Qaeda's local agency. Fundamentalist thugs were used to do the dirty work of the military against nationalist and autonomist groups, particular against Aceh separatists, in Northern Sumatra.

This did not change much after the end of the dictatorship. In 2000, officers in the Indonesian army were accused by government officials of having created Laskar Jihad, until recently the country's largest fundamentalist organisation. The army was also accused of having allowed thousands of heavily armed Laskar Jihad members to cross over into the Moluccas and then Papua, where they embarked on a full-scale offensive against the local non-Muslim majorities. Then, more recently, Laskar Jihad surfaced in Aceh, with the obvious brief to act as an auxiliary force for the military in countering Acehnese separatists. Since the ties between Washington and the Indonesian army have never been severed, the odds are that the CIA is at least aware of the activities of their Indonesian friends, assuming that they did not encourage them to go down that road - which would not be surprising, given the CIA's long-standing predilection for manipulating such reactionary forces for its own ends.

In fact, the Bali bombing could not have happened at a better time for Washington. The US army was forced to abandon its military bases in the region one by one, in the 1990s. But after 11/09, Bush tried to use the pretext of the "war on terrorism" to restore a substantial US military presence.

So far Bush has been successful only in the nearby Philippines, a former US colony, where US troops landed early this year in the Mindanao island to fight a long-established local nationalist guerilla army. US soldiers should have left the Philippines by 31 July. However, not only are their military operations still going on, but following an agreement signed by Bush and the Philippi no government, the US army is now allowed to use every port and airport in the country for the requirements of the "war on terrorism."

In Indonesia, however, the government has resisted Bush's demands for the US army to be granted similar privileges. But how long will this resistance last after the Bali bombing, especially if, as the CIA keeps predicting, other attacks of this kind take place? And if US troops do settle once again in Indonesia, providing a helping hand to the brutal repression of the Indonesian army, how many more volunteers will flock towards the fundamentalist groups, with the illusion that this is the only way to fight the invaders?

Chechnya's war reaches Moscow

At the end of October, in Moscow this time, a theatre audience numbering over 700 was taken hostage by an armed group of Chechen Islamic fundamentalists demanding the withdrawal of Russian troops from their country.

The attackers had not the slightest chance of forcing Putin to withdraw his troops. Putin was not going to allow the Russian state to lose face in an 8-year old war, which has already claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Chechen civilians and Russian conscripts - not even for the sake of saving the lives of hundreds of hostages - The Chechen commando knew this. They consciously took the risk of causing a tragedy without any regard for their hostages, who had no responsibility whatsoever for Putin's policy against Chechnya. But they also took the risk of a backlash against the 500,000 Chechens who live in Moscow. Indeed, Putin was able to use this event as a pretext to launch a huge police operation against them, without meeting any opposition from among the Russian population, at least as far as one can judge from press reports.

In fact, not only did Putin choose not to lose face for the sake of saving the hostages' lives, but he also chose to use this opportunity to boost his image as a "tough" leader who will never bow to terrorism and as a vocal advocate of Bush's "war on terrorism."

No-one can say whether the attackers would have blown up the theatre as they threatened to do and killed all hostages as a result. But Putin had no qualms in taking this risk by ordering his police to attack. Moreover it was the fact that his officials did not even bother to bring with them the antidote required against the anaesthetic gas they were using, which was entirely responsible for the 118 deaths among the hostages - while almost all of the Chechen commando were killed as well.

Such contempt for human life in Moscow on the part of the Russian state speaks volumes about its brutality. It is not hard to imagine how little a Chechen's life may be worth in Chechnya for Russian generals.

Indeed, if the Moscow hostage-taking and the methods used by Putin to bring it to an end were barbaric, the war in Chechnya is infinitely more barbaric. Over the past few years the occasional TV footage has shown the ruins of the Chechen capital, Grozny, in which a whole population is left to survive on nothing, constantly under threat from Russian bombs and shells. And the rest of the country is in the same state. As to the casualties of this war, neither the 80,000 Chechens who are said to have been killed already, nor the 10,000 Russian soldiers who lost their lives on the battlefields, have ever had a say in it.

Putin cynically grabbed the opportunity of the Moscow hostage- taking to include Russia's war against Chechnya in the global "war on terrorism." But the fact is that the Russian state has been taking hostage the entire Chechen population and terrorising it with all the might of its military machine for 8 years. Not because Chechnya represents a threat for Russia, but because of Chechnya's strategic importance for the Russian government, both in political terms - because allowing it to become independent might encourage other Russian autonomous regions to go down the same road - and in economic terms - because of the country's importance for the Russian oil industry.

This only makes the cynical endorsement of Putin's actions by Blair and Straw, in the name of the"war on terrorism", even more despicable. That the Labour government has never been too concerned by the fate of the Chechen population is an open secret, even if it made the occasional remonstration against it. But to justify Putin's murder of the Moscow hostages, by stating as Blair did, that "there is no easy, risk-free, safe solution", meaning that Putin's massacre was a "solution" is merely a hypocritical endorsement of any terrorist method as long as it is used by the repressive machinery of a bona fide Western ally!

The "war on terrorism" is already backfiring

Hardly one year after it began, the "war on terrorism" is already backfiring in Pakistan.

The first general elections since Pakistan's dictator, general Musharraf, seized power in 1999, were held on 10 October. They were subsequently presented as a "great success for democracy" by the US authorities and most Commonwealth observers. Only European Union monitors were more critical of the way the ballot had been organised and suspicious about its results.

This election was rigged first and foremost by the referendum held on 30 April this year, "supported" by 97.7% of voters when Musharraf won the right, not just to remain president for another five years at least, but also to exercise considerable powers allowing him to by-pass both government and parliament if he so chooses. At the time, the result of this referendum was denounced as a farce and a fraud by virtually everyone in Pakistan. Nevertheless, it was meant to stand regardless of the outcome of the general election. However, no-one even mentioned this rigged referendum after 10 October. It is obviously considered vital in Western circles that Musharraf, Bush's loyal supporter in the US attack against Afghanistan, should remain leader, regardless of the shady means he may have used to achieve this.

However, the 10 October election was rigged in many other ways. As usual in Pakistan, the candidates of the main parties were awash with cash to buy votes on election day - and who would blame voters for taking the money when they are so poor and there is no-one to represent their interests among the candidates anyway? But in addition, Musharraf had introduced shortly before the election, the rather eccentric requirement that only candidates with university degrees could stand - thereby depriving more than 95% of the population of the right to stand in the election.

This requirement was in fact less eccentric than it would seem. Its main aim was to stop fundamentalist parties from standing imams as candidates, since most of them come straight from madrassas and never study for recognised degrees. Musharraf must have hoped that this would enough to cut significantly the vote for the MMA, a coalition of the six largest fundamentalist groupings.

As it turned out it did not. Nationally the MMA and two other smaller fundamentalist groups, won an unprecedented 16% in total, when these forces had never before been able before to garner more than 2% of the vote on a national scale. As a result the MMA is now the third largest party in the national assembly with nearly 20% of the seats. It has full control of all government institutions in the North-West Frontier Province, on the Afghan border, around Peshawar. And it is the largest party in the provincial parliament of Baluchistan, where it will form the government jointly with the pro-Musharraf wing of the Muslim League. Only in the two other provinces - Punjab and Sind, admittedly the largest - does the MMA score poorly.

In and of itself, this result does not change the balance of forces fundamentally. Rather it reflects what the real balance of forces was, after Musharraf's endorsement of the US attack on Afghanistan (with the support of all the main parties), pushed those who wanted to express their opposition to this war towards the Islamic fundamentalists. But it does mean that the latter will now be able, at least in the two provinces where they are in total or partial control of the provincial institutions, to use their position to implement their reactionary policies against the population and against women in particular. They will also be able to strengthen their paramilitary satellites, using the provinces' facilities and funds, to police the population in their strongholds and to provide more troops for the "jihad" in Kashmir.

After this, one of these days, the imperialist leaders will suddenly discover that Pakistan has become an "intolerable breeding ground" for Islamic fundamentalist terrorism, because of the strength built up by these by-products of their war in Afghanistan. And they will turn the guns of the "war against terrorism" against their own offshoots, as the US did against the Taliban.

From "terrorism" to Iraq

The "war on terrorism" is merely a cynical cover for enrolling public support in the rich countries behind a more overt enforcement of the great powers' domination over the world. After the US terrorist bombing of the Afghan population, this is now illustrated by the way in which Bush and Blair are stretching the "war on terrorism" to include their war drive against Iraq, despite the fact that, according to Bush's own CIA director George Tenet, Saddam Hussein has nothing to do with terrorism against the US.

For the time being, the US leaders are still involved in protracted negotiations with Russia and France over the wording of the resolution they want the UN Security Council to adopt to enforce arms inspections on Iraq. Although these negotiations are kept secret, it appears that Bush has given some ground. Initially at least, it seems he was hoping to be able to claim victory before the US mid-term election, on 5 November. But now that the deadline has passed, he may well be less keen to make concessions. In any case, this is primarily a politicking exercise. Indeed Bush can always decide, at this point or later, to dispense with UN backing. In which case the so-called "doves", like France and Germany, can be expected to rally behind the US flag, for fear of being sidelined when the time comes to share the loot.

However, for the time being, it is still impossible to say whether Bush's war rhetoric will result in an actual war, let alone a full- scale occupation of Iraq aimed at toppling Saddam Hussein and, in the absence of a credible alternative regime, a US administration to run the country, involving tens of thousands of occupation troops - which is one of the many "plans" leaked to the press by the US military.

But one can only expect the US administration to be considering all the problems that such a war would necessarily involve. Like whether such a war would be accepted by US public opinion, and up to what point, especially if and when body bags start being sent back home. Or whether the hatred created among the Iraqi population by the past twelve years of bombings and economic sanctions, combined with a Western invasion, might result in widespread resistance against US troops, if it does not cause the population to rally behind the regime. They would also be considering whether the collapse Saddam Hussein's regime and its replacement by a locally recruited alternative regime or a US administration in Bagdad, might be able to prevent an explosion among the Iraqi Shia and Kurds, with the potential risk of putting into question the region's existing borders. And whether invading Iraq might trigger violent reactions in the neighbouring Arab countries, thereby threatening long-established pillars of imperialist domination in the Middle-East, such as the monarchy of Saudi Arabia, the new King of Jordan or the Egyptian president.

These are the sort of risks which might force Bush, and therefore Blair, to drop the present rhetoric and propose a "safer" option - although this option may not necessarily be much safer for the Iraqi population, if it involved, for instance, another large-scale bombing campaign. But whether they will, remains an open question for the time being.

That being said, there is a built-in dynamic to such rhetoric: the longer it lasts, the more credible it becomes, especially if resistance to the idea of a war weakens among the public and if the warmongers feel that they stand to lose face and appear weak if they fail to go ahead. And the increasing build-up of US military resources in the Middle-East may be an additional factor in this respect.

What we can see today in Britain illustrates this dynamic. Since the beginning of Bush's rhetorical escalation against Iraq, there has been no change in Blair's policy - total and unconditional willingness to follow Bush right into hell. But more and more steps have been taken towards war.

So, in the last two weeks of October the papers revealed that the MoD was beginning to issue papers to call up army reservists among medical staff. At the same time a number of ships from the Royal Navy, including four minesweepers which are necessary for landing operations, have left Britain for the Gulf. Then there was a minor scandal in the Commons when someone discovered by pure chance that 400 surplus Challenger tanks were to be delivered by the army to Jordan. These tanks would not necessarily be of much use in a war against Iraq, but they would be very useful to help the Jordanian king to crush any civil unrest in Jordan in case of a war against Iraq - a very credible possibility since Jordan is the one Middle-Eastern country which has the most links at a human level with both the Iraqi population and the Palestinians of the Occupied Territories. Finally on 1 November, the press revealed that the RAF base at Fairford was being prepared, together with Diego-Garcia in the Indian Ocean, to receive US B-2 "stealth" bombers.

But perhaps the most telling indication of the attitude of British capital to the war drive was given by Lord Browne, BP's chief executive, when he declared on 29 October: "We have let it be known that the thing we would like to make sure, if Iraq changes regime, is that there should be a level playing field for the selection of oil companies to go in there." He went on to add that BP should be given a prime position since it had discovered most of the country's oil before these assets were nationalised in the 1970s. Yes, this is the dream of British capitalists, to return to the "good old days" when they controlled most of Iraq's economy, particularly most of its oil - and why not to the "good old days of the Empire"?

All this is very far from the alleged crusade of "democracy" against terrorism! But this is precisely the point. Blair only runs in Bush's tow because this is what British capital wants. But for him, the "war on terrorism", whatever form it takes, and the warmongering against Iraq, are merely devices to get the working population of this country to line up behind a drive to strengthen the grip of Britain's big companies on the world's poor countries. This is why it is in the interest of the working class of this country to oppose a policy which is only designed to serve the interests of our exploiters.

2 November 2002