|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Bush’s war to defend imperialist interests
THE ATTACKS ON New York’s twin towers and on the Pentagon were outrageous atrocities. Perpetrated by a fanatical, clandestine organisation, the attacks will not advance the cause of the oppressed and exploited anywhere. Social change requires conscious, organised, mass struggle by the oppressed themselves, not acts of terror by self-appointed surrogates. Far from inflicting defeat on the capitalist class, terrorist tactics provide the state with a pretext for intensified repression.
The US superpower, bearing out this political axiom, has launched a massive aerial offensive against Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest countries. Already, the US attacks, while aimed against the Taliban regime’s military forces, have inevitably claimed the lives of many civilians, as well as destroying hospitals, power stations and other essential services. This new devastation follows two decades of barbaric civil war. Even at this early stage of the conflict, millions of Afghan people are facing starvation and desperately trying to flee the country.
According to Bush, Blair and other ‘alliance’ leaders, the US attacks are part of a ‘war against terrorism’. The primary motive for the war, however, is the need for the US ruling class to avenge the blow to its prestige and power inflicted on 11 September. Access to the oil reserves of Central Asia is a factor, but not, in our view, the decisive one in the US strategy.
US capitalism operates on a global scale. The primacy of multi-national corporations and US banks rests partly on their massive economic weight, but it also depends on the enforcing role of US-dominated agencies like the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO. Ultimately, however, US economic hegemony relies on the backing of US military power – or the threat posed by its overwhelming military force, the strongest element of its ‘prestige’. This combination of economic, political and military power is designed to facilitate the worldwide access of big business to cheap labour, raw materials and markets, and to maximise corporate profits. These relationships constitute a system of ‘imperialism’, dominated by the US with Britain, Germany, France, Japan, and other advanced capitalist countries as junior partners-in-crime.
The assault on Afghanistan – which may later be extended to other states – is a defence of imperialist interests. It will not eliminate the threat of terrorism or guarantee the future safety and security of citizens in the US, Britain, or elsewhere. The horrific anthrax attacks, the work of as yet unidentified perpetrators, is a warning of the insidious form of terrorist attack that may be used by fanatical or unbalanced individuals or groups with a variety of grievances. Will they be deterred by the carpet-bombing of Taliban forces, or by even the elimination of the al-Qa’ida network? On the contrary, military action by imperialism will vastly multiply the unstable elements in the international chain-reaction of social crisis, political upheaval and armed conflict. The more dispossessed, alienated people there are, the greater the accumulation of grievances, the more individuals there will be who, from despair, will be driven to find a way out through desperate acts of suicidal terrorism.
Military repression – further punishment of the impoverished masses of the neo-colonial countries through imperialist intervention – will not overcome the threat of terrorism. It will not end violent conflicts, like those in Israel-Palestine or Kashmir, which are part of the equation. The resolution of such conflicts and the creation of social harmony require a just social order, the eradication of the economic and social roots of violence. It requires economic security for everyone, with housing, education, health care, and all the things that contribute to a civilised existence. It means the democratic running of society by the overwhelming majority, not autocratic rule by the representatives of capitalists, landlords, tribal leaders, or warlords. Class rule by a minority of exploiters is incompatible with social justice and democracy. Imperialism, however, the most powerful form of capitalism, has always sought to control the semi-developed and poor countries through alliances with indigenous exploiters and militarists. The imperialist powers are organically incapable of resolving the problems of war, civil conflict, and terrorism.
That is why we oppose the war and why we link our opposition to the call for the socialist transformation of society. The anti-war movement in the US, Britain, continental Europe and in many neo-colonial countries is already remarkably strong at this early stage. We believe that opposition will grow as the war, which is likely to be protracted, goes on. More and more protestors are questioning the foundations of the system that has created the conditions of conflict and seeks to surmount its problems through armed repression. There is also growing alarm at the draconian ‘anti-terrorist’ laws now being rushed through in the US, Britain and elsewhere – in reality, anti-democratic measures that require a battle on the home front to defend our hard-won democratic rights.
The US military & political strategy
THE US, DESPITE its enormous resources and military power, faces immense problems in its war against the Taliban, despite the regime’s relatively primitive weaponry. The initial aerial attacks were easy for the US, although they apparently had little military effect and caused many civilian casualties. The editor of Jane’s World’s Armies commented: "We’re hearing some very strange stories out of the Pentagon and US central command, which is supposed to be running operations, that the initial stages of the war were more driven by political rhetoric than military logic". (Daily Telegraph, 31 October) The political leaders of US imperialism are only just beginning to grapple with the ramifications of launching a war against Afghanistan.
Until the end of October, the US appeared reluctant to strike against the Taliban’s front lines and support an offensive by the forces of the Northern Alliance. Intensive efforts were being made to put together a post-Taliban coalition that would include Pashtun groups, including ‘moderate’ Taliban defectors, as well as the Northern Alliance groups drawn from the Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Hazaras. Without such a broad coalition, a new regime would provoke renewed opposition from the majority Pashtun and the outright hostility of Pakistan. Moves to put together such a coalition under the exiled king, Mohammed Sahir, suffered a severe set back with the execution (26 October) by the Taliban of Abdul Haq, a Pashtun leader who was on a US-backed mission into Afghanistan to try to win over wavering elements in the Taliban leadership. The US’s inability to protect Haq will no doubt be a warning to others.
The failure of Haq’s mission was no doubt a factor in the US decision to step up the aerial assault on Taliban forces and to back the Northern Alliance forces for an all-out push to take Mazar-e-Sharif and one or two other northern cities before the winter sets in. A Bush spokesperson said: "Basically, the new thinking is to take those cities that are within reach of Northern Alliance forces without waiting any longer to be sure we can control in advance all the risks of post-war factional rivalries". (International Herald Tribune, 31 October) Control of even one major city, like Mazar, would provide the US with a strategically decisive base. The issue of Afghanistan’s future political order, however, would merely be postponed, as would any agreement with Pakistan, India, Iran, Russian, Turkey, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan – all states that have fuelled the endless civil war by supporting their favourite warlords.
Even with bases within Afghanistan, the US will face a long, highly problematic military campaign to gain decisive control even of key cities and land routes. The political representatives of US imperialism are being forced to recognise that air power alone will not guarantee success. Promoting his recent book, General Wesley Clark, the US commander in the Balkans unceremoniously sacked for his criticism of his political masters, has been hammering home the point: "Air power is very good, but it’s ultimately limited". In Kosova/Kosovo, he said, "Milosevic only conceded when faced with a credible threat of a land offensive and once Russia had made clear it would not oppose it". (Daily Telegraph, 30 October)
So, a major land invasion of Afghanistan? Transporting and supplying a large army in such a remote, inaccessible location poses almost impossible logistical problems. It would be very slow. Once in position, US forces would be subject to the same kind of harassment and attacks that faced the unsuccessful Soviet occupation. The inevitable US casualties would return US imperialism to a Vietnam-type ‘quagmire’, arousing massive opposition at home. Military occupation, moreover, as the former Soviet leaders found out the hard way, does not resolve political conflict.
According to Clark, the US leadership has now formulated a ‘hybrid strategy’, of which he approves, "consisting of a sustained air campaign supplemented by ground operations executed by special operation forces, leading to the elimination of the Taliban and the support it was providing to al-Qa’ida, and ultimately exposing the terrorist network to precision attack from the ground and the air". A plausible strategy? But it is likely that even special operations will require a considerable number of forces to operate effectively in Afghanistan. They will require massive logistical support and, most crucially, are likely to suffer significant casualties. At the moment, a majority of the US public is prepared, in principle, to accept US casualties because of the deaths on 11 September. Nevertheless, US casualties in Afghanistan will inevitable raise questions about the military feasibility and political justification of the operation.
"This", says Clark, "is perhaps the most important political-military struggle in American history and perhaps the most complex". US imperialism has accumulated unprecedented power, but it is operating in a world full of combustible materials. Through the use of force the US may be able to temporarily stabilise the situation in Afghanistan, at enormous cost in resources. But any fragile ‘success’ there is likely to result in the overflow of high octane fuel onto the fires of the Middle East, the South Asian sub-continent, and others further afield.
World economic instability
IF IT WERE not for Afghanistan, the news would be dominated by the deepening slump in the world economy. The deteriorating situation, with no signs of a recovery in sight, is an enormously complicating factor for imperialism.
Finance ministers of the G7, meeting in New York on 6 October, tried to strike an optimistic note, claiming that everything was in place for a ‘robust recovery’. All the economic news, however, has been bad, contradicting their claims. GDP in the US, the locomotive of the world economy, declined by 0.4% at an annualised rate in the third quarter. Industrial production has been declining for over twelve months, the longest continuous decline since 1945. Profits are down, business investment is still falling.
Despite upbeat claims only a few months ago, the German government now admits that GDP growth will be under 1% for 2001. Even the machine tool industry, usually the strongest section of the economy, is in a slump. Japan is lurching into its fourth recession in ten years, with GDP expected to decline by at least 1% during 2001.
The downturn is still deepening in East Asia, spreading from computers and telecomms equipment to other industries and commodity producers. In the third quarter of 2001, Singapore – previously one of the strongest East Asian economies – declined by 5.6% compared to a year ago. Growth in Africa, the poorest of the continents, is slowing while the Latin American economies are stagnating (with an expected overall growth of only 0.8% in 2001). The critical condition of Argentina and Turkey pose a potential threat to the international financial system.
The decline in world trade over the last year has been the sharpest year-to-year change since trade statistics were first systematically tabulated. The WTO predicts, ‘tentatively’, that world trade will grow by about 2% in 2001, compared to over 12% in 2000.
According to OECD estimates issued at the end of October, the world’s 30 largest economies will grow by 1% in 2001 and by 1.2% in 2002. "The message, broadly", commented the Financial Times, "is that we can say goodbye to the hopes of an early recovery in 2002. This had remained the orthodoxy until early summer, although the date of the turn was being increasingly postponed". (20 October)
The outlook for worldwide growth, according to the United Nations, is no better. The UN estimates that the world economy will grow by only 1.4% in 2001 (compared to its earlier forecast of 2.4%). Recovery in 2002 will be ‘dilatory and tepid’, growing by only 2%. The UN’s economists frankly admit that the outlook is ‘gloomy’, and their comments raise doubts about even 2% growth in 2002. The world slowdown, they say, was ‘aggravated and exacerbated’ by the ‘shockwaves’ after 11 September. They warn that business and consumer confidence had been so undermined that the monetary and fiscal policies now being implemented by governments and central banks might have only a limited effect. The attacks "inflicted a sizeable adverse shock on the world economy and may cause significant changes in a number of key determinants in the global economic outlook".
In spite of all this, the Japanese finance minister, Shiokawa, speaking at the New York G7 meeting, told reporters that it was "worth stressing that the fundamentals of the world economy are sound". Perhaps it’s just his sense of humour? This is not just another cyclical recession, but a major world economic downturn, in which unstable economic, social and political factors are interacting to create a general crisis of capitalism. The 11 September attacks and the US military reaction mark the beginning of an entirely new period.
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