Chris Harman


Protest shakes the warmongers

(15 March 2003)

Comment; Socialist Worker, No.1842, 15 March 2003.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Worker Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Chris Harman argues that anti-war activity can make a difference

THE GLOBAL movement against war on Iraq continues to go from strength to strength. In Britain it is tearing New Labour apart. But there are people who are asking, “What can it achieve? Bush is going to go to war anyway, whatever anyone else thinks.” The argument is mistaken on a number of counts. First, despite Bush’s bluster, key sections of the US ruling class are worried about going to war without some cover from other governments.

That is why Bush has ignored his own instincts, allowing Colin Powell to spend months of effort and billions of dollars in trying to blackmail and bribe other states to back him.

All commentators say that Bush will find it very difficult if he has go to war without Tony Blair being able to deliver him British support. And as the influential Financial Times writer Philip Stephens wrote on Monday, “It is startling to hear that those closest to Blair declare that, if things go badly, the coming days and weeks could overturn his premiership. That is precisely what is being acknowledged in Downing Street.”

If Blair were to fall, it would upset all of Bush’s calculations. It would be a hammer blow against Bush’s attempt to say he has wide-ranging international support.

Second, even if we cannot stop Bush raining death on Iraq, we can make it more difficult for him to sustain the slaughter. There have been occasions in the last 20 years when the US went into some other country with all guns blazing – and then left with its tail between its legs.

This happened in Iran when the US had to abort a military attack after its helicopters crashed, in Lebanon when US marines withdrew after their barracks was blown up, in Somalia when US troops were killed by enraged people in Mogadishu. Above all, it happened in Vietnam.

The US was forced to abandon the bloodiest war it had ever waged because of two factors.

On the one hand there was the heroic resistance of the Vietnamese fighters. On the other there was the impact of the anti-war movement. No one can foresee how the fighting might go in Iraq. The US’s armed forces are many times more powerful than Iraq’s – which is one reason why Saddam Hussein cannot be a threat to any other country.

But this does not rule out them getting bogged down in bloody street fighting in Baghdad and other cities. If this happens, the US administration will be very worried about the reaction in other Arab countries.

Mainstream journalists tell the same story for all those countries. Tyrannical governments with little popular support want to please their powerful friend in the White House. But they are afraid of doing so too openly in case discontent explodes beneath them. They fear being driven out just as similar discontent drove out the Shah of Iran 24 years ago.

The worldwide character of the anti-war movement means that action in any one country encourages action elsewhere. Protests in Italy, Britain, Spain and the US reinforce each other. Together they are providing enormous encouragement to those fighting the pro-US regimes in the Arab world.

What we do here is helping to ignite opposition in the very Middle East countries from which the US hopes to launch its troops and horrific weaponry. The long term consequences of the war across the Middle East worry the substantial section of the US ruling class who are not happy about George Bush’s methods, although they agree with his goal of US capitalist domination of the world.

They believe that far from making things easier for them in the Middle East, the war will make things more difficult. Even if US troops take Baghdad within a week, they ask, what happens next? There are problems on the horizon which could last for years. How does the US deal with armed resistance from groups who have supported Saddam Hussein?

How does it stop the Kurds upsetting Turkey by trying to form a state of their own? How does it stop the Turks igniting a Kurdish revolt against the US and its allies by seizing the oil city of Mosul on the pretext that the majority of the city’s inhabitants are Turkish speakers?

How does the US stop that other member of Bush’s “axis of evil”, Iran, increasing its influence among the Shia majority in the south of the country? How, above all, do they stop the majority of Iraqis of all sorts seeing the US takeover of their country as a new colonial occupation and fighting against it? And how do they stop the US getting bogged down in a war to crush these forces which it cannot win?

The bigger the international protests now, the more difficult Bush is going to find it to deal with all these problems. And this, in turn, will make it difficult to fulfil his avowed aim of still more horrendous wars against the peoples of all those countries that make it onto his “axis of evil” list.

Last updated on 13 December 2009