Chris Harman


Not what Bush’s gang expected

(5 April 2003)

Comment, Socialist Worker, No.1845, 5 April 2003.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Worker Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Chris Harman looks at the political lessons from the war so far

WHATEVER THE eventual outcome, the war’s first two weeks saw a defeat for those who pushed most vehemently for unleashing the barbarity – the hard core around Bush and Rumsfeld in the White House. That is the significance of the criticisms of Donald Rumsfeld’s – and Tony Blair’s – strategy by high placed US and British generals.

The war is not just about oil. It is above all about showing to the rest of the world that US capitalism can use military might whenever and wherever it likes to impose its will without any great cost to itself. The military strategy pushed by the Project for the New American Century neo-conservatives around Rumsfeld followed from this aim. If the US could beat Iraq with fewer than half the troops and far less international backing than in the Gulf War of 1991, then no one in the world would dare stand up to its demands.

Hence their almost unbounded faith that they could successfully carry out the dash to Baghdad. Hence too their insistence that the people of Basra would rise up and greet as liberators those who could not speak their language, knew nothing of their traditions and whose first action was to raise the US flag. Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Richard Perle and the rest have been arguing for years that the US could wage two or three wars at once if necessary by cutting back on heavily armoured land forces and relying on airpower and light troops. This was going to be the great proof of their case. Quick victory would allow them to move on to the other states on Bush’s “axis of evil” list – Iran, Syria, North Korea, and, not so far in the distance, Cuba, Venezuela and, eventually, China.

Anyone is deluded who argues, as Robin Cook and Glenda Jackson now do, that although the war is wrong, somehow a quick victory for US and British troops would now be the quickest way to bring the bloodshed to an end. It would, in fact, be the prelude unleashing more barbarity on a wider scale.

It would mean the US strutting round the world as it did in the 1950s and 1960s, before its defeat in Vietnam. It imposed dictatorships in one place, removed elected governments that carried through reforms in another, armed right wing paramilitary thugs to torture and kill in a third, a fourth and a fifth. But there has been no quick victory and there is unlikely to be one.

Right across the Middle East the war is rightly seen as a war of imperialist occupation. Iraqi Shias and left wingers, who have every reason to hate Saddam Hussein, are fighting against the invasion rather than welcoming Bush and Blair’s armies. The Independent’s Robert Fisk reports from Baghdad that the first suicide attack on those armies was by a middle aged Shia.

A US spokesman, of course, called this “terrorism”, as though giving your life to fight an invading army could ever fall into that category. In reality, as Fisk points out, it suggests there are perhaps organisations “fighting back of which the Americans and the Iraqis know nothing”.

The US has shown its own fear of any such development by threatening Iran if it allows exiled Shia forces to cross the border into Iraq. What terrifies it is the huge upsurge of resistance. And its response is bound to make that resistance grow.

So while the US and British armies wait outside Baghdad and Basra for ships carrying heavy armour to wend their way round the Arabian peninsula, their commanders are hitting out ever more indiscriminately at Iraqi civilian targets.

This can only further feed bitterness. It is not surprising that suddenly, last weekend, commentators began to use the V word that has haunted the US military for 30 years – Vietnam. The US military were convinced in the 1960s that they had enough military might to crush opposition in that country. And they did win one set-piece military confrontation after another. They even succeeded, eventually, in smashing militarily the great Tet uprising of spring 1968.

But they could not stop the growth of resistance inside Vietnam and of an unparalleled movement against the war internationally. They finally had to scuttle from the country in May 1975 – and to refrain from direct military intervention elsewhere until the invasion of the minuscule Caribbean island of Grenada in 1983.

The Vietnamese government commented on the Iraq war last week. “With a huge war machine, the US government will gain in military terms. However, it cannot avoid a political failure.” That is, for me, a too pessimistic conclusion. The political backlash from the war can so destabilise those governments allied to the US, above all in the Middle East, as to deny the Bush gang any of the gains they expected. The protest movement across the world has helped fuel the mood of resistance in the Middle East.

It has also shown that resistance to the New American Century does not just come from Muslims but from socialists, trade unionists, atheists, Christians, non-Zionist Jews – anyone who wants a better world.

Together we have opposed the war. And together we should rejoice if Bush, Rumsfeld and Blair meet their Vietnam in the deserts of Iraq.

Last updated on 13 December 2009