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Bush’s ‘war on terror’ after Bali

THE BLOODY BOMBING of the Sari Club in Kuta Beach, Bali, on 12 October provoked shock and outrage around the world, especially in Australia, home of most of the victims. Nearly 200 died and at least 300 were injured. This was a completely indiscriminate attack against young people, from Australia and Europe, clubbing while holidaying in Bali. Some local staff and bystanders were also killed or injured. We condemn this indiscriminate bombing, which plays into the hands of imperialism and local reactionary forces.

The attack was probably the work of a right-wing Islamic group, possibly linked with the al-Qa’ida network. Strong suspicions have also been raised about the involvement of Islamic elements of the Indonesian army. Such is the intense anger against imperialism throughout the neo-colonial lands, however, that many are convinced that the CIA was behind the Bali and other attacks, seeking to create a pretext for US intervention. But Bali will complicate the situation for the US, cutting across its immediate strategic priority – military intervention against Iraq.

There are several reasons why the Sari Club should have been targeted. In Indonesia’s sprawling archipelago of 17,000 islands (6,000 inhabited), Bali is remote from the centre of state power. Moreover, a majority of the island’s population are Hindu. The Sari Club itself, with young men and women dancing together and drinking alcohol, is no doubt seen by right-wing Islamists as a symbol of ‘Western decadence’, for them a ‘legitimate target’. Those behind the bombing undoubtedly knew that most of their victims would be from Australia, whose government is closely associated with US imperialism. Australian forces, for instance, went into East Timor before independence, and big Australian firms now dominate its economy. After 11 September, Australia’s right-wing premier, John Howard, fervently aligned himself with Bush’s ‘war against terrorism’, sending special forces to operate alongside the US military in Afghanistan. It is evidently of no consequence to the bombers that most of the clubbers at the Sari come from working-class families and bear no responsibility for the policies of the Howard government or Australia’s regional imperialism.

Right-wing Islamic groups like Jamaah Islamiya and others linked to the al-Qa’ida network are driven by reactionary theocratic aims. They seek to establish states ruled under religious principles that prevailed in the sixth and seventh centuries when Muhammad and his descendents ruled in the Arabian peninsula. Right-wing political Islam has gained in strength, however, not for theological but for social reasons – on account of the catastrophic effects of globalisation – intensified capitalist exploitation of the semi-developed and poor neo-colonial countries. Traditional forms of social life have been thrown into a vortex of change producing extreme inequalities of wealth and increased poverty. Bali itself illustrates the process. Near to Kuta Beach whole villages are employed at a few dollars a month to make luxury jewellery and designer silk garments which are sold at fabulous prices in Europe and America. Land that once made Bali self-sufficient in rice has been increasingly taken over for commercial development linked to the tourist trade. A collapse of tourism as a result of the bombing will have a devastating effect.

Support for right-wing Islamic groups has also been powerfully fuelled by increasing imperialist domination of the world economy and military intervention. Muslims in particular will not forget the deaths of innocent Afghans when US war planes dropped bombs on guests at a wedding party. Well over 3,000 Afghan civilians have been killed since the US intervened in Afghanistan. There is also burning anger at the support of the US and other Western powers for the Israeli state’s aggressive policy towards the Palestinian people.

Neither right-wing Islamic theology nor terrorist methods offer a way forward. On the contrary, they will provoke an even more brutal reaction from imperialism and intensified repression by national rulers. Terrorist attacks also provoke further communal struggle. In Bali, for instance, there could be a violent reaction by Hindu groups against Muslim immigrants to the island whether or not they have any sympathy for Jamaah Islamiah or other groups. Terrorist actions carried out by small groups, funded by sections of the local ruling class and wealthy sponsors in Saudi Arabia, enormously complicate the task of mobilising and organising a mass movement of workers and poor peasants to fight against the ruling class of capitalists and landlords, and against their imperialist backers. The promise of a new Mecca, a blessed social order modelled on the prophet Mohammed’s seventh-century state, is a dangerous mirage. The masses of Indonesia and the whole neo-colonial world need progressive change, not a return to the past. The ‘earthly paradise’ will be achieved only through socialist transformation, the end of landlordism and capitalism, the establishment of a planned economy and workers’ democracy. Mass working-class forces are required, not conspiratorial groups. The weapon required is mass struggle, not indiscriminate terrorist outrages. The appeal must be to international solidarity, not the fomentation of religious, national and communal differences.

Australia’s own 9/11

FOR AUSTRALIA, THE Sari Club bomb is their ‘11 September’. This was the country’s worst peacetime atrocity. Though Australian forces were killed in overseas wars (62,000 in world war one, 40,000 in world war two, 339 in the Korean war and 520 in Vietnam), Australians had generally come to see themselves as blissfully remote from international conflicts. Bali, only four hours flight from Perth in Western Australia, was seen as the ‘safe abroad’, a cheap holiday paradise, especially for young people. With a population of 20 million, there is hardly an area in Australia that has not been devastated by the deaths and casualties at Kuta Beach.

People are angry that John Howard’s government issued no warning to Australians travelling to Bali, despite the fact that the US State Department had issued an advisory notice to Americans. Howard admitted that there was a warning but said that it was too ‘general’ to warrant any action.

But the bloody event has not had the same effect as 9/11 in the US. Prime minister Howard and his right-wing government have not been automatically strengthened by anger at the Bali outrage. Many people are asking the obvious question: are Australians paying the price for Howard’s hard-line support for Bush’s policy on Afghanistan and Iraq? His foreign minister, Alexander Downer, dismissed opponents of an attack on Iraq as ‘fools’. "Get the message", responded a letter writer to the Sydney Morning Herald. "We don’t want you to suck up to George Bush. We don’t want your phoney oil war with Iraq". (15 October)

Even after the bombing, an anti-war demonstration went ahead in Melbourne, with 35,000 participating. Demonstrators observed a minute’s silence for the Bali victims, but their opposition to the war was in no way muted. The consciousness of many sections of Australian workers is different from the US, reflecting the greater weight of the labour movement.

Indonesian instability

THE BALI BOMBING will unavoidably plunge Indonesia into a new phase of crisis. President Megawati Sukarnoputri has been under intense pressure from the US for some time to clamp down on rightwing Islamic parties such as Jemaah Islamiah and paramilitary groups like Laskar Jihad, which are linked to terrorist groups throughout South-East Asia and part of the al-Qa’ida network. Megawati, however, resisted taking action. This was partly because, as a minority party in parliament, Megawati’s Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, a bourgeois-nationalist formation, depends on the acquiescence of the Islamic parties, particularly vice-president Hamzah Haz’s United Development Party, the country’s main Muslim political group.

But Megawati has also avoided a confrontation with the right-wing Islamic groups because they are still covertly backed by the military, which is still a powerful force in Indonesia. Jemaah Islamiah, for instance, originated under the dictator Suharto as an alliance between the military and right-wing Islamic forces. Since Suharto’s overthrow in 1998, the military has continued to give undercover support to groupings like Laskar Jihad, who have played a murderous role in launching communal struggle against Christian and other minorities in the Moluccas, in Aceh, Papua, and other parts of the archipelago. A conspiratorial web links reactionary sections of the army with paramilitary Islamic groups.

Since being elected president in 1999, Megawati has only demonstrated her inability to resolve any of Indonesia’s deep problems. The economy never recovered from the 1997 South-East Asian crisis, and the Bali bombing will undoubtedly hit foreign investment and tourism. Elections provide a flimsy cover for the continuation of state-sponsored repression and corruption. Appealing to nationalism herself, Megawati cannot resolve the continuing conflict or solve the explosive national question. The emergency powers adopted by decree on 12 October will strengthen the military, the very force responsible for decades of violent state terror. Bush was quick to denounce the violence at Kuta Beach, but a succession of US presidents were silent about decades of violent repression in East Timor.

Suharto installed a dictatorship, with US support, through a bloody counter-revolution in 1965-67 that massacred up to a million supporters of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). Regrettably, the leaders of the PKI prepared the way for this defeat, particularly through their mistaken policy of support for supposedly ‘progressive’ nationalists led by the bonapartist Sukarno, promoting the illusion that there could be a path to an ‘anti-imperialist, democratic national revolution’ without the overthrow of the capitalists and landlords. The crisis-torn state of the country today is the legacy of that counter-revolution. Neither the nationalists nor the right-wing Islamic parties have any answers. The problems of the workers and the poor farmers, together with national conflicts, can only be solved by a mass movement of the working class for a socialist change of society.

Al-Qa’ida regrouping

BALI, THOUGH THE most devastating attack, was only one of a series since 11 September 2001 linked to Islamic groups. In Pakistan, 14 people, including eleven French submarine engineers, were killed in a suicide car-bomb attack on a bus in Karachi last May. There was an attack in June on the US consulate in Karachi (killing twelve Pakistanis) and several attacks on Christian churches (in Islamabad, Karachi and Muree).

On 6 October a small boat caused an explosion on a French oil tanker off Yemen (killing one crewman). In Kuwait, on 8 October, two gunmen attacked US forces, killing one marine. These and other attacks suggest that elements of al-Qa’ida have regrouped and changed their tactics. No longer an organisation with a central core as before the overthrow of the Taliban regime, it is operating as a widespread network, mounting local, small-scale operations.

Al-Qa’ida fighters who escaped from Afghanistan have in many cases returned to their home or neighbouring countries, where they are working with local right-wing Islamic groups. They have common objectives: attack Americans and their allies; attack large economic targets symbolic of capitalism or ‘Western decadence’; attack pro-Western rulers and non-Muslim minorities (Christians in Pakistan and Indonesia, Jews in Tunisia).

A US military attack on Iraq would multiply the number of attacks. Unfortunately, there would be many more Balis. As a result of Bush’s ‘war against terrorism’, moreover, the US itself would be more vulnerable to terrorist attack. The director of the CIA, George Tenet, recently told a congressional committee (18 October) that "the threat environment we find ourselves in today is as bad as it was last summer, the summer before September 11. It is serious. They [al-Qa’ida] have reconstituted, they are coming after us, they want to execute attacks". The CIA director, commented the New York Times (21 October), was admitting that "in effect, all the national effort to combat al-Qa’ida over the last year had left the country in as much danger of internal attack as before the destruction of the World Trade Center".

War on Iraq

AFTER FIVE WEEKS of wrangling (as we go to press), the UN Security Council is still deadlocked over the US-British proposal for a single resolution on Iraq. Bush’s enforced detour via the UN has (as we predicted) created serious complications for the US. Russia and France, two permanent members of the Security Council with the power of veto, reject the US’s new draft which warns Iraq of "serious consequences" for its "material breach" of existing resolutions. "They [the US] are trying to smuggle in language that has already been rejected", commented one French diplomat. Bush, moreover, continues to threaten the Security Council itself with "serious consequences" if they do not support the US line. "I believe", Bush said (25 October), "the free world, if we make up our mind to, can disarm this man [Saddam] peacefully. But if not, we have the will and the desire, as do other nations, to disarm Saddam".

The White House has been sending out apparently contradictory signals. The US national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, reiterated Bush’s comment that if Saddam complied with all US demands that might equate to the ‘regime change’ sought by the US, allowing Saddam to remain in office. Yet the White House spokesman, Ari Fleischer (who previously openly appealed to Iraqi officers to assassinate Saddam), said that the notion of such total compliance was ‘the mother of all hypotheticals’. In reality, the US is pressing for conditions that would be impossible for Iraq to meet to the US’s satisfaction – and in any case they are not prepared to take ‘yes’ for an answer. Paradoxically, it is now Saddam who is pressing for weapons inspections and the US that is resisting. In a surprise move Saddam released all political prisoners. This seems partly to disarm US criticism and partly to appease the regime in Iran, with a predominantly Shia population, as most of the prisoners were Shia.

What do the mixed signals from the US administration mean? On one level they are undoubtedly a diplomatic ploy to try to win Security Council support for a US military strike against Iraq. Despite his deep impatience with the Security Council, Bush desperately needs UN legitimacy for international and domestic political reasons. Opinion polls show that a majority of those in the US who support war believe that the US should act with UN support. Even though Bush received decisive support from Congress, which meekly handed to the president its war-making powers, Bush has been forced to promise that he will work through the United Nations. Even in his most belligerent speeches Bush has carefully stated that war may not be necessary and that ‘regime change’ may be achieved peacefully. In reality, these are political ‘escape clauses’ which reflect the serious obstacles in the way of a pre-emptive US strike against Iraq. A key factor will be the outcome of the mid-term elections on 5 November. Because of the cowardly failure of the Democratic party leaders to challenge Bush on Iraq, the deep mood of unease among broad layers of workers and the middle class at the prospect of war and further terrorist attacks in the US has not crystallised into a firm mood of opposition (although there has been a growing wave of anti-war demonstrations). But it is far from certain that Bush’s tactic of presenting himself as a ‘war president’ and playing the patriotic loyalty card will produce Republican control of the Senate and a bigger majority in the House of Representatives. Anger is also growing among workers at the effects of the economic downturn and business scandals.

Apart from difficulties at the UN, the Bush leadership faces growing complications internationally. The French government’s opposition to the US is privately supported by many governments who dare not openly defy the US for fear of the consequences. It is not just an issue of superpower bullying, but fear of the catastrophic long-term consequences of US military intervention in the Gulf. This has been reinforced by revelations of US plans to install a US military government in Iraq. That would destabilise the whole region, and aggravate the problem of international terrorist attacks. France also fears a flood of refugees from Iraq and surrounding areas, and the impact of US intervention in France itself (now home to five to six million Muslims and some 700,000 Jews). Moreover, the Chirac-Raffarin government is feeling the pressure of a strengthening anti-war movement, with a demonstration of over 100,000 in Paris on 4 October.

Russia is also holding out against the US’s draft UN resolution, demanding (according to some reports) a guarantee from the US that it will cover Iraq’s $7 billion debts to Russia as the price for support or at least abstention in the Security Council. However, the seizure of a Moscow theatre with over 700 hostages (and over 70 dead as special forces stormed in), which pulled Putin away from UN negotiations, underlines the unpredictable and horrendous threat posed by terrorist attacks. The Russian state’s prolonged attempt to dominate Chechnya by military force has completely failed to solve the problem.

The Bush leadership has also been shaken by the North Korean regime’s open confession that it possesses nuclear bombs and missiles capable of delivering them. This, of course, has long been an open secret. But a public admission from North Korea poses the question of how the US should react, given that Bush designated North Korea part of the ‘axis of evil’. The US has indicated (with the approval of South Korea, Japan and other regional powers) that it will seek a diplomatic solution to the problem. But if the US is prepared to deploy diplomacy in relation to a state with a nuclear arsenal, why is it threatening military invasion and occupation against Iraq, a state that has no nuclear weapons? Bush’s claims that Iraq could be only months away from producing effective nuclear weapons has been shown to be completely fanciful. Only if Iraq acquired significant amounts of plutonium or weapons-grade uranium or the sophisticated processing equipment required to produce it, could Iraq develop deployable nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, the US’s key ally in Asia, the Pakistan military dictator Musharraf, suffered a setback in the rigged elections he called in an effort to legitimise the effective continuation of his military rule. Making gains in North-West Frontier and Baluchistan, the right-wing Islamic parties now hold the balance of power in Pakistan’s parliament. This presages further political upheavals in Pakistan.

Big demonstrations around the world are a foretaste of the massive anti-war movement that will develop if the US launches a military attack on Iraq. In the US on 8 October tens of thousands demonstrated opposition to a war against Iraq, with over 20,000 in Central Park, New York, 10,000 outside the Federal Building in Los Angeles, and rallies in many other cities throughout the country. The anti-war demonstration in London on 28 September was the biggest anti-war demonstration ever to take place in Britain, with around 400,000 participating. Huge demonstrations have taken place throughout Europe.

The Bush leadership still seems set on a course of military intervention in Iraq. US and British air attacks have been stepped up since the summer. Huge military forces are being mobilised, and plans are being drawn up for US military occupation. Given the serious complications facing Bush internationally and at home, however, it would be a mistake to conclude that war is inevitable. It still seems likely, but nothing is more complicated or unpredictable than war or the path to war.


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