SocialismToday           Socialist Party magazine

Issue 81 - March 2004

Bush’s Iraq syndrome

"WE WERE ALL wrong", David Kay, chief US WMD-hunter, told the Senate Armed Services Committee (28 January). No actual chemical, biological or nuclear weapons have been found, and there is "no indication of a production process that would have produced [WMD] stockpiles". Saddam’s WMD programme was, after all, just a smoke-and-mirrors illusion.

Kay’s admission shattered the Bush regime’s pretext for war against Iraq. It was unchallengeable confirmation that the war was waged on a false basis. At the same time, the complete falsification of the Bush regime’s claims about Saddam’s alleged weapons of mass destruction undermines the general case for pre-emptive war to prevent the development of WMD.

Initially, secretary of state, Colin Powell, admitted that the absence of weapons stockpiles ‘changes the political calculus’ about whether to go to war. Next day, however, he fell into line with Bush, Rumsfeld and company: ‘The bottom line is this: the president made the right decision’. But the Bush regime’s credibility on WMD has been totally destroyed. Nor has Bush been able to produce any credible evidence of links between Saddam and al-Qa’ida, despite interrogating over 11,000 prisoners in Iraq.

Under the cover of the formula, ‘everyone was wrong’, Bush is trying to spread the blame, especially dumping responsibility onto the intelligence services. But as former weapons inspector, Scott Ritter, replied: "Not everybody got it wrong". (International Herald Tribune, 6 February) Ritter himself consistently cited evidence that Iraq was "fundamentally disarmed" as early as 1996, as the result of US-enforced sanctions and the UN weapons inspections. Ralph Ekeus and Hans Blix, former heads of the UN inspection teams, together with Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the UN atomic weapons inspectors, had the same view.

In reality, the Bush regime, dominated by the neo-conservative hawks like Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz, decided long before 11 September 2001 to launch an invasion of Iraq. Without the mystique of intelligence reports, however, they would never have won support from Congress or public opinion. Many senior intelligence officials were extremely sceptical of the WMD reports and Saddam’s alleged links with al-Qa’ida. "The main problem [before the war]", says Greg Theilmann, the State Department’s top intelligence officer, "was that the senior administration officials have what I call ‘faith-based intelligence’. They knew what they wanted the intelligence to show…" (The Threatening Record, George Tenet, chief of the CIA, is now reminding Bush of all the caveats and qualifications made by the intelligence services. But in truth, Tenet and other senior spooks collaborated with Bush in the public presentation of false and misleading ‘intelligence’.

Bush had no choice but to establish a commission of inquiry. Headed by a right-wing judge and composed of the great and the good, its brief will be strictly to investigate ‘intelligence failures’ rather than the distortion and fabrication of intelligence by the Bush regime. In any case, it will not report until long after November’s presidential election.

Attempts at an official cover up, however, will not work. As in Britain after Lord Hutton’s unbelievable whitewash job, more and more will come out, destroying the Bush administration’s credibility, revelation by revelation.

Distrust, moreover, is contagious. Rejection of the legitimacy of the war, even among many who previously supported Bush’s policy in reaction to 9/11, will crystallise deep dissatisfaction with Bush’s extreme pro-big business, anti-working class policies. Serious representatives of the ruling class are beginning to count the cost of Bush’s reckless policies on the war and the economy. They fear that the deepening of social and political polarisation under Bush will produce a mass revolt against the political establishment and the corrupt system on which it rests.

The Iraq trap

"THE WORLD IS a safer place today and the Iraqi people are far better off for that action [invading Iraq]", US defence secretary, Rumsfeld, recently told the Senate Armed Services Committee (4 February). His claim rings completely hollow. Far from being liberators, US forces are seen as occupiers by the majority. Instead of subsiding, the resistance is steadily growing (see page 12).

Since the beginning of the war, at least 10,433 non-combatant civilians have died (350 since the beginning of this year), according to Iraqi Body Count – and this is probably an under-estimate. (Independent on Sunday, 15 February) Many more have been injured and are dependent on the country’s completely inadequate medical facilities. Over 11,000 prisoners are currently being held by the US’s makeshift prison ‘gulag’.

Schools and hospitals have mostly reopened. "But electricity production, telephone services and the availability of cooking and heating fuels are no better than they were before the invasion. Unemployment remains around 50% even if coalition forces have now helped create some 400,000 jobs. The [new] Iraqi dinar is showing some strength, but a real economic recovery remains a distant prospect". (Military and Economic Trends in Postwar Iraq, New York Times, 11 February) Apart from private security services, most of the jobs created by the occupying authority are associated with reconstruction contracts awarded to big US companies, from which they expect to reap enormous profits.

US forces, moreover, are suffering continuous casualties. 536 US personnel have been killed (12 February) since the beginning of the war, 398 since ‘the end of major hostilities’ on 1 May 2003. Fifty-seven British troops have been killed, 17 Italians, eight Spanish and a dozen from other contingents. The Pentagon has refused to issue official figures for service injuries, but recently admitted that up to mid-December, 10,854 US military personnel had been medically evacuated. During 2003, 2,190 British troops were evacuated for injuries or illness.

Before the US invasion, Rumsfeld boasted that US forces would rapidly smash Saddam and establish a stable, democratic state in Iraq. Oil revenues would make reconstruction self-financing. The Iraqi people, he implied, would be eternally grateful. The reality is very different. The human cost is grotesque, in terms of deaths, injuries and social destruction.

US imperialism is caught in a trap of its own making. Desperate to present the semblance of an exit strategy, Bush has decreed that ‘sovereignty’ will be handed over to some kind of Iraqi authority by 1 July. This has nothing to do with the situation in Iraq, everything to do with the presidential election. Bush is eager to pre-empt further spread of the mass public perception that the occupation will drag on, with mounting US casualties.

With or without prior elections, such a ‘handover’ will be a further source of conflict between the imperialist occupying power and Iraq’s contending political forces – the Shia majority, who believe they should have a dominant position in the new Iraq, the Sunnis, who have been ousted from the dominant position they had under Saddam and earlier regimes, and the Kurds, who are demanding greater autonomy, if not independence, for the North. US plans to control Iraq’s oil and to establish permanent military bases will also face mass opposition.

In reality, a handover at the end of June, whatever its exact form, will not be a US exit strategy, but a sham, a legalistic manoeuvre to camouflage continued US occupation. Bremer’s claim that the US will deliver to the Iraqis "a democratic, unified, stable country at peace with itself" is laughable. More realistically, when asked when he thought US troops might withdraw, the head of US armed forces, general Richard Myers, said: "There is not a range in my own mind. We’re going to have to let events dictate". (International Herald Tribune 20 February)

A one-term president?

"I AM A war president. I make decisions here in the Oval office… with war on my mind". (8 February) Clearly, this is Bush’s strongest card in the presidential campaign. But his ‘war commander’ play has now been matched by the ‘Vietnam war veteran’ card of John Kerry, now most likely to be the Democratic candidate in November.

Kerry’s record as a highly decorated Vietnam commander makes it hard for Republicans to accuse him of disloyalty and cowardice. There could hardly be a stronger contrast to Bush’s privileged access to the elite Air National Guard to avoid Vietnam, followed by still unexplained periods of absence. Yet Kerry also has an anti-war record as a leader of Vietnam Veterans Against the War (VVAW), which he has played up in his campaign. He is getting strong support from the Vietnam generation (over eleven million Americans served in the US military during the war, 2.1 million in Vietnam), who recoiled from the barbarity of the conflict and its corrupting effects at home – as well as from younger opponents of the war.

Through the peculiarities of US electoral politics, dominated by the cartoon-like presentation of personalities on television, Kerry has managed to high-jack the insurgent anti-war, ‘anti-establishment’ campaign of Howard Dean, who appeared to be the front-runner until he lost the first primary in Iowa. This is despite the fact that Kerry voted for the resolution delegating war powers to Bush (which 23 Senators and 133 Representatives voted against), though he voted against the $87bn war appropriation. Despite also that Kerry is a long-standing stalwart of the Democratic establishment, regularly receiving huge amounts from big-business lobbyists. In the media contest, however, Kerry emerged as more ‘electable’ than Dean in the eyes of Democratic voters.

Dean broke away from the Democratic leaders’ cowardly support for Bush’s pre-emptive war policy after 9/11. His anti-war stance evoked strong support from active Democrats, and a wider layer of workers and young people. He expressed anger at Bush’s massive tax handouts to big business and the super-rich. His populist criticism of the Democratic party hierarchy, for their conservatism and connexions with ‘special interests’ (aka big business), found a powerful echo – with over 600,000 signed-up supporters for his primary campaign.

For a wider Democratic electorate, however, Dean failed the ‘electability’ test. An obscure small-state governor, who implemented Clinton-style, fiscally conservative policies in Vermont. Bold, but ‘too strident’, often making unskilful comments on some issues – endlessly replayed as sound-bites on television. Above all, Dean’s ‘electability’ was destroyed by savage attacks by the media, aided and abetted by the Democratic party establishment.

"I want anyone but Bush", says one Democratic voter: "We cannot fool around here, we have got to get rid of Bush". Faced with a crude choice between Bush and a Democratic candidate, Democrats tend to opt for the most ‘electable’, not their personal favourite, but the one seen to have (or said by the media to have) broadest appeal. In Charleston, South Carolina, a local Longshoreman’s [docker’s] leader commented: "You could probably find someone who would line up with your views a little closer, but that candidate couldn’t win. John Kerry can win". (The ‘electability’ contest, The Nation, 23 February) This is the vicious electoral trap set by a presidential election dominated by two big-business parties.

After the Iowa primary, posters appeared in New Hampshire: ‘Dated Dean. Married Kerry’. Kerry has stolen clothes from his rivals: Dean’s anger at the Bush administration, Edwards’s populist appeal to the working poor, Gephardt’s emphasis on healthcare. "Without Mr Dean", commented the Financial Times, "it is hard to see how Mr Kerry would have evolved from the uninspiring Washington politician he was a year ago to the standard bearer of Democratic opposition he is today… For the Democrats, Deanism without Dean may have been just what the doctor ordered". (The Dean Mutiny, 19 February)

Election demagogy aside, however, Kerry is still a big-business politician with no solutions for working people. Despite the ‘Anyone but Bush’ mood, we welcome Ralph Nader’s decision to stand as an independent. From a working-class perspective, it is a favourable development that there will be a radical anti-war, anti-corporate presidential candidate, completely independent from the Democratic party. Even if he attracts fewer votes than the 2.8 million he won in 2000, it is right to warn that there is no way forward via the Democrats, who are totally dominated by big-business interests (as the sinking of Dean’s campaign shows). Nader should appeal to Dean’s supporters, and to the wider anti-war, anti-capitalist movement. Opposition to the occupation of Iraq should, in our view, be to the forefront of his campaign, with a clear call for the immediate withdrawal of US troops. Nader should also take up the burning economic and social issues facing worker, together with trade union rights. A bold Nader campaign could mobilise forces which, beyond November, could play an important role in preparing the way for a radical, anti-capitalist party – long overdue in the US – to provide independent political organisation and representation for the working class.

Economic nemesis?

BUSH’S PROSPECTS FOR a second term are likely to depend on the state of the economy in coming months. Opposition to the occupation of Iraq will undoubtedly grow. But jobs, wages, health benefits and interest rates are the decisive factors for most people. Bush has accordingly pulled out all the stops he has to deliver a short-term boost to growth, regardless of the long-term consequences for US capitalism.

The sharp rise in military and security spending last year, together with tax rebates (modest for most taxpayers), produced a remarkable 8.2% (annualised) growth of GDP in 2003’s third quarter (down to 4% in the fourth quarter). More important, however, was the low-interest-rate, expansionary-money-supply policy implemented by Greenspan, head of the Federal Reserve bank. This sustained the housing bubble, the main prop of the high levels of consumer spending that continued in spite of the recession after 2000. As a result, however, the average family now have record levels of consumer debt, well in excess of their annual income. This is unsustainable, but Bush is praying that the consumer boom will last through November.

Despite Bush’s efforts, however, job prospects have not really improved. In January this year total non-farm employment stood at 130.2 million – the same as January 2003. Around 2.8 million manufacturing jobs have been lost in the last 41 months, replaced by retail and service-sector jobs which mostly pay much less, lack health benefits, and are in many cases part-time and/or temporary. Job creation has been well below the 150,000 a month required to prevent real unemployment falling (official jobless totals have fallen because discouraged workers have stopped looking). Everyday, the news media carry stories of more manufacturing jobs moving to China and call-centre and IT jobs going to India. Only a sustained rise in investment will produce a growth of employment and workers’ real incomes, and as yet there are no real signs of such a recovery.

While providing an immediate boost to the economy, especially the corporate arms and aircraft makers, Bush’s military budget will become a huge burden on US capitalism. His proposed budget raises military spending by 7% to a staggering $401.7bn. This does not include at least another $50bn for the Iraq occupation – which Bush will request only after November. Domestic security is up 9.7% to $30.5bn. Working-class families will soon pay a heavy price for this, as discretionary spending (outside mandatory spending on Social Security, i.e. retirement pensions, and Medicare) will only rise by 0.5%. Unless dramatically modified in Congress, this will mean big cuts in education and environmental programmes, and reduced Federal grants to the states.

Bush’s massive tax cuts to the super-rich (top 5%), the hyper-rich (top 1%) and to big business – tax income has fallen from 20.9% of GDP in 2000 to 15.7% in 2004 – will mean a colossal Federal budget deficit – at least $520bn by current projections. Bush, complains the New York Times (16 February), "is saddling the nation with oppressive liabilities". Bush is presiding over a ‘twin deficit’ situation, where the Federal deficit is complemented by a record trade deficit ($490bn in December). The overall balance of payments deficit ($550bn plus) is the equivalent of 5.5% of GDP. Add to this the US’s net investment liability to the rest of the world – a phenomenal $2.6 trillion (Economic Report of the President 2004, table B-107) – and the world’s greatest ever super-power is also the world’s biggest ever debtor.

Leaders of US capitalism are hoping that a big fall in the value of the dollar against other major currencies will boost US exports and thereby stimulate domestic growth. But a corresponding rise in the euro, yen, pound, etc, could push the world into a new recession – rebounding on the US. Moreover, a weak dollar combined with near-zero interest rates may lead to a flight of capital from the US, making the twin deficits unsustainable. A major gyration of the dollar could provoke a crisis in world financial markets, or even a slump. Letting the dollar slide will not provide an easy way out for US imperialism. (See The fall of the dollar, The Socialist, 28 February)

Syndrome: a concurrence of aliments

‘BY GOD, WE’VE kicked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all’, pronounced president George HW Bush after the 1991 Gulf war. The claim was that US imperialism had overcome the problem of domestic opposition to foreign wars that arose as a reaction to the Vietnam war, with its huge human, economic and social cost.

Bush senior’s claim was premature. The neo-con hawks in his administration, now back in the White House and Pentagon, considered the job only half done. The US, in their view, should have smashed Saddam’s regime, occupied Iraq, and used its military power to impose a new imperial order on the whole Middle East. Only then would the US have really buried the Vietnam syndrome. It was this plan, formulated in the early 1990s, which led to the current occupation of Iraq. Far from abolishing the Vietnam syndrome, however, the Bush hawks have resurrected it under new conditions.

Despite the quick military victory against Saddam, the US is now embroiled in a costly occupation, without major capitalist allies and without any easy exit strategy. Whether the US tries to continue its occupation in spite of growing resistance or pulls out without securing a pro-US regime, imperialism will suffer a loss of power and prestige.

Although it was claimed that oil revenues, under US control, would pay for the invasion and occupation, in reality the Iraq adventure and general US military build-up will impose an enormous burden on US capitalism, aggravating the decline in working class living standards. Weakness in the dominant US capitalist economy will compound the problems of the world economy in the current period of stagnation.

Far from strengthening the hand of US imperialism on the world arena, the Iraq entanglement has enormously complicated its position. The Israel-Palestine conflict is more bitter than ever, a source of destabilisation throughout the Middle East and wider Islamic world. From threatening North Korea with economic collapse and possible invasion, the US has been forced to allow China, Japan and the EU to negotiate a settlement on the regime’s nuclear weapons and relations with its neighbours. Having brushed aside the United Nations in the run up to the invasion of Iraq, the US is now petitioning for UN involvement, hoping that this will bring help from France, Germany and other major powers.

Although Bush swayed public opinion and Congress behind the war, exploiting the reaction to the 9/11 attacks, public support in the US has been steadily undermined by the chaos of the occupation and continuing US casualties. Exposure of the false WMD pretext for war has further eroded the legitimacy of Bush’s policy of pre-emptive war. Saddam’s regime did not pose a ‘clear and present’ danger to the American homeland. If the president cannot be trusted on fundamental issues of war and peace, what can he be trusted on?

The ghost of Vietnam has reappeared with a vengeance. The architect of president Johnson’s Vietnam war strategy, Robert McNamara, recently appeared at a Berkeley seminar also attended by many anti-Vietnam war campaigners. In his retirement, McNamara concluded that the Vietnam war was a monumental mistake for US imperialism. Bush, he says, is now repeating the same mistakes in Iraq: "It’s just wrong what we are doing. It’s morally wrong, it’s politically wrong, it’s economically wrong". (Boston Globe, 24 January)

Moreover, Bush is now likely to face Kerry in November’s election, the Vietnam war syndrome personified. Opinion polls show a sharp decline in support for Bush, and it is now possible that Kerry could win. On the basis of continued US entanglement in Iraq and a floundering US economy, Bush may well face the same fate of his father – defeat as a ‘one-term president’. For Bush, the Vietnam syndrome has become the Iraq syndrome.


Home About Us | Back Issues | Reviews | Links | Contact Us | Subscribe | Search | Top of page