Revolution #96, July 22, 2007

The Imperialist Debate Over Iraq: How to Best Maintain a Ruthless, Unjust Empire

The essence of what exists in the U.S. is not democracy but capitalism-imperialism and political structures to enforce that capitalism-imperialism.
What the U.S. spreads around the world is not democracy, but imperialism and political structures to enforce that imperialism.

Bob Avakian, Chairman of the RCP,USA

The debate within the U.S. ruling class over how to deal with the war in Iraq heated up this past week—without resolution. The Democrats introduced measures in both the House and Senate calling for scaling back U.S. troop levels, but neither passed with enough votes to override a veto by Bush. Four more proposals are being considered in Congress. Even leading Republican senators are calling for a re-evaluation of the U.S. Iraq strategy. In response, Bush aggressively counter-attacked—demanding that Congress shut up and fund the war. “I don’t think Congress ought to be running the war,” he declared. “I think they ought to be funding the troops.”

This is an argument among imperialists over the strategy and tactics of empire: how to deal with a deteriorating situation in Iraq, and still be able to confront other enemies in the region and keep control of the region as a whole. Bush argues that any retreat in Iraq would gravely weaken the U.S. position in the region. The Democrats counter that Bush’s Iraq strategy has failed and has instead weakened the U.S. grip on a region that is home to over 60% of the world’s energy resources and crucial to U.S. global hegemony. Their argument is that therefore, the U.S. must scale back in Iraq in order to confront an even bigger enemy in Iran and to preserve its grip on the region overall.

In short, both sides in this debate are reactionary, and neither represents the interests of the people. This underscores how crucial it is that another force emerges: a force from outside the halls of power fighting for humanity and determined to halt the unjust and immoral aggression in Iraq, an aggression that has already caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and that threatens to continue without end and spread to other countries.

“Surging” Toward Catastrophe

This debate wasn’t expected to take place until September, when U.S. Commander Gen. David Petraeus is due to report on the state of the U.S. “surge.” But events in Iraq aren’t waiting for September. The U.S. has been “surging” for months. Yet a new government report acknowledged that the Iraqi regime (implanted and imposed by the U.S.) has met only 8 of the 18 “benchmarks” demanded by the U.S., benchmarks aimed at creating a stable, unified client regime which could suppress anti-U.S. resistance and sectarian violence.

Sunni and Shiite factions remain deadlocked over how to share power. And it recently came out that a full year ago, CIA chief Michael Hayden warned that “the inability of the [Iraqi] government to govern seems irreversible.” Hayden said he didn’t see “any milestone or checkpoint where we can turn this thing around....The [Iraqi] government is unable to govern.” (Washington Post, 7/12/07)

Partly as a result of these failures, other contradictions the U.S. faces across the whole region are intensifying. For instance, another intelligence report finds that Al Qaeda and anti-U.S. Islamism is gaining strength across the Muslim world.

So a defeat of enormous, perhaps historic, proportions (a “geopolitical calamity,” Henry Kissinger has called it) is looming larger and larger for the U.S. rulers. This is what is driving the debate in Washington—not concern for the peoples of Iraq and the Middle East. And what makes the debate within the establishment so fractious and intense is that the stakes for them are enormous, yet their options are very limited. The outcome in Iraq will likely have major, possibly unprecedented, consequences for their global power and the very functioning of the political and economic system they rule over. Yet in terms of how the U.S. ruling class perceives their imperialist interests, none of their choices are good, and any could potentially boomerang even more resoundingly than what has already happened with the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Decoding Bush’s Speech: Bald-Faced Lies and Imperialist Truth

Bush’s belligerent July 12 press conference was a mixture of bald-faced lies and distortions mixed with revelations of the actual stakes for the imperialists.

Yet Bush’s lies were largely ignored in the mainstream press. For instance, when Bush was asked if he had regrets about launching the war in Iraq, he said he had been “hoping to resolve the issue diplomatically” but Saddam Hussein “chose the course” to war when he failed to disclose his weapons and disarm. In fact, Saddam Hussein did let inspectors in. He had disarmed. That’s why the U.S. didn’t find any weapons of mass destruction—after having lied about the Iraqi “threat” for months leading up to the war.

Bush said that leaving Iraq could lead to “mass killings on a horrific scale.” But he failed to mention that mass killings are already going on in Iraq on a horrific scale—many of them carried out by the U.S. military. Just days earlier, a damning exposure of atrocities by U.S. military forces in Iraq was published in The Nation. Based on interviews with dozens of Iraq combat vets, “The Other War: Iraq Vets Bear Witness,” by Chris Hedges and Laila Al-Arian ( paints a picture of widespread abuse and murder of Iraqi men, women, and children by U.S. forces. Bush said nothing of these mass killings—nor did the Democrats, nor did the mainstream press.

Mixed in with such lies were revelations of how much the imperialists have riding in Iraq, and the possible consequences for them and their empire. Bush put the war in a regional context, and implicitly threatened Iran, saying: “The fight in Iraq is part of a broader struggle that's unfolding across the region… the same regime in Iran that is pursuing nuclear weapons and threatening to wipe Israel off the map is also providing sophisticated IEDs [improvised explosive devices] to extremists in Iraq who are using them to kill American soldiers. The same Hezbollah terrorists who are waging war against the forces of democracy in Lebanon are training extremists to do the same against coalition forces in Iraq. The same Syrian regime that provides support and sanctuary for Islamic Jihad and Hamas has refused to close its airport in Damascus to suicide bombers headed to Iraq. All these extremist groups would be emboldened by a precipitous American withdrawal, which would confuse and frighten friends and allies in the region.”

All these are real concerns for the U.S. rulers. Dominance in the Middle East, often enforced via Israel and reactionary Arab client regimes, has been a pillar of their global power for decades. Now the debacle in Iraq has fueled anti-U.S. Islamic fundamentalism, a force which is reactionary and offers no hope for the peoples of the region, but which also threatens to unravel the U.S. grip on the whole region. It was not without reason that Iraq's foreign minister, warned that if the U.S. withdraws, “The dangers could be a civil war, dividing the country, regional wars and the collapse of the state.” Washington Post columnist David Ignatius worried: “The violence that is destroying Iraq could spread throughout the region—an inferno stretching across Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Jordan, Syria, and even Egypt and Saudi Arabia—with devastating consequences for global security.” (WP 7/12)

The U.S. rulers don’t oppose Islamic fundamentalism because it’s reactionary or because it interferes with the U.S. “bringing democracy” to the Middle East. The U.S. has never brought self-determination to the region or respected the sovereignty of the countries there. It’s brought imperialism and domination, which has in many ways reinforced Islamic fundamentalism. Now the U.S. is violently attempting to impose its domination even more directly, and this has, in turn, further fueled Islamic fundamentalism. What the people—in the region and globally—need is not either of these outmoded forces, but an entirely different alternative standing for liberation from all forms of oppression—which millions yearn for.

What Are the Democrats’ Concerns?

Those who cling to the hope that the Democrats stand for something better than Bush really should listen to what the Democrats are actually saying and watch what the Democrats are actually doing. The Democrats' words and actions make it clear that their problem with Bush isn’t that he’s persisting in a criminal war—it’s that the war is failing at the goal of defeating the forces threatening U.S. domination in the Middle East—and in fact, in many ways is making things even worse in terms of the U.S. imperialists’ interests.

In a recent interview on the Charlie Rose show (6/14/07), former National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski argued that Bush has “shot America's credibility to hell” and said: “He [Bush] has undermined America's legitimacy to the degree that today, for most people in the world, the symbol of America is not the Statue of Liberty, but Guantánamo. And he has destroyed respect, or even fear of our military power.”

If the U.S. juggernaut was rolling merrily along and Iraq was well on its way to becoming a stable U.S. neo-colony with permanent military bases, a government subservient to the U.S., with an economy wide open to U.S. capital, the U.S. political establishment—Democrats and Republicans both—would be raising champagne toasts to Bush and singing praises to his leadership, while dividing their time between debating which country in the Middle East to attack next and conniving to get in on the looting of Iraq.

But this hasn’t happened. In fact, as things have turned out, continuing the war in Iraq now could seriously undermine strategic goals and interests of U.S. imperialism. And this is what is fueling the current debate in the U.S. ruling class.

Senator Ted Kennedy put it, “The American people have lost faith in the president’s competence in managing the war…at every critical step, the administration has promised calm, but there is no calm.” So now the Democrats want to reconfigure the U.S.’s Iraq strategy in order to better confront Islamic fundamentalism and other threats to the U.S. stranglehold on the Middle East—Iran in particular.

First, the proposal by Democratic Senators Carl Levin and Jack Reed would start withdrawing some U.S. combat forces within three months, and end combat by April 2008, but would leave permanent military bases and thousands of troops in Iraq indefinitely—supposedly to conduct counter-terrorism, train the Iraqi security forces, and protect U.S. infrastructure.

Second, this proposal is part of a bill proposing a staggering $649 billion for the U.S. military—and no one is opposing this huge sum being spent on armed aggression and threats to maintain the U.S. global empire all in the name of waging the “war on terror.” Democrat John Edwards—who is portrayed as being an “anti-war” Democratic presidential candidate, said, “We need a real strategy against terrorism, like the one I have offered. We need to take Al Qaeda in Iraq as seriously as we take terrorism anywhere. As president, I will apply the full extent of our security apparatus to protect our vital interests, to take measures to root out terrorist cells, and to strike swiftly and strongly against those who would do us harm.”

Third, like Bush, the Democrats are increasingly focusing their fire on Iran, and laying the groundwork for a possible military attack. Pro-war Democrat and columnist Thomas Friedman stated that a major reason for wanting to withdraw troops from Iraq was so that the U.S. would be in a better position to attack Iran! He said: “[W]e will restore our deterrence with Iran. Tehran will no longer be able to bleed us through its proxies in Iraq, and we will be much freer to hit Iran—should we ever need to—once we’re out.” (New York Times, 7/11/07)

And while Congress was debating the war in Iraq, there was no debate over threatening Iran. On July 12, the Senate voted 97-0 to censure Iran for what it claimed was complicity in killing U.S. soldiers in Iraq. This very ominous move comes after more than a year of preparations for a possible war on Iran that has included military preparations, covert operations aimed at destabilizing the Iranian government, a concerted campaign to economically and politically isolate Iran’s Islamic Republic, and a propaganda offensive blaming Iran for U.S. losses in Iraq and for supposedly pursuing nuclear weapons. And “regime change” in Iran does seem to be a goal of the Democratic presidential candidates and other major Democratic figures—even those who think it would be a dangerous and disastrous move.

No Core Capable of Opposing Bush

For all the criticism, debate, votes, and complaining, no group has yet emerged within the establishment capable of stopping the Bush regime—in part because even Bush’s Democratic Party critics share many of his concerns and objectives. And their “anti-war” rhetoric is aimed, in part, at mollifying their base of support, which has turned against the war. They fear the mass anger, upheaval, and resistance that could possibly burst through any fissure. They do not want people in the streets. They fear this—and this getting out of control—more than they fear the consequences of the direction things are going.

A Washington Post analysis titled “As the War Debate Heats Up, Stagnant Air Is in the Forecast” offers a sober reality check for those who think (or wish) that Bush is “over,” and just a lame-duck president without any power: “Yet no matter how battered he seems, no matter how unpopular he may be in the polls, President Bush still holds the commanding position in his showdown with Congress over Iraq. Even with Republican defections, as votes in both houses made clear this week, opponents do not have anywhere near the veto-proof majorities needed to wrest leadership of the war. The almost-certain result, according to strategists in both parties, will be at least two more months of anger and posturing but no change in direction.” (7/13/07)

The Democrats rode a wave of disillusionment over the war into Congressional power. Bush’s insistence on continuing the war in the face of last November’s vote has deepened anti-Bush anger. Recent U.S. polls show that 45 percent of the people want Bush impeached and 54 percent want Cheney impeached. At the same time, the Democrats’ failure to halt the war has also angered and disillusioned millions who had supported them. One poll found that only 13 percent approved of the actions of the Democratic-controlled Congress.

There is a great disconnect today between the desires of millions and what the leaders in the government are doing. Millions badly want to see this whole regime brought to a halt and the war ended. Yet the Democrats they voted for not only refuse to impeach Bush and Cheney from office, but “rule it off the table,” and meanwhile carry out what amount to worthless charades around the war.

This poses both a huge challenge and a huge opportunity for those who see how bad the situation is—in Iraq, in the torture chambers, and on so many other fronts. How are we going to act on this “disconnect” and turn dissatisfaction with both Bush and the Democrats into massive political action and resistance that can force the rulers to alter their course? The World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime provides such a vehicle, including with their “Declare Yourself: Wear Orange” campaign. On July 27 this campaign will be launched for people across the country to wear orange—to declare themselves against “unjust war, more lying, more spying and more torture” and the whole Bush agenda. Those who want to see the Bush-Cheney cabal removed from power, their nightmarish program repudiated, and the war ended should “Declare Themselves” and take this campaign out broadly.

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