MIA: History: ETOL: Newspapers & Periodicals: International Socialist Review: Issue 21

International Socialist Review, January–February 2002


From the editors


From International Socialist Review, Issue 21, January–February 2002.
Downloaded with thanks from the ISR Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.


Our last issue filled most of its pages addressing the war against Afghanistan.

Since then, the U.S. government has gained a speedy victory in the first phase of its ongoing war. But the orgy of celebration disguises underlying problems that have already begun to emerge.

The period we have entered over the past months is one of volatility and instability–economically, politically, and militarily. Not only is the U.S. economy mired in recession, but the world economy faces recession for the first time since the mid-1970s.

Bush’s skewed spending priorities, pushed post-September 11, have only exacerbated the growing bitterness over the economic inequality that characterizes U.S. society.

The Enron scandal is already revealing the way in which the intersection of politics and economics can potentially undermine the presidency.

Moreover, the economic collapse and revolt in Argentina bring once again to the fore the bankruptcy of the corporate globalizers’ agenda.

With this issue of the International Socialist Review, we continue to examine the consequences of the new U.S. war on terrorism at home and abroad–the attempt to use the war on terror as the rationale to buttress and further U.S. interests.

We also take up questions within the antiwar movement that we believe must be addressed to make it more effective in taking on the warmongers.

We also cover the crisis and revolt in Argentina. Greg Palast discusses the role of the IMF in accelerating Argentina’s crisis; James Petras describes the character of the movement that led to the dramatic events of December 19–20, 2001; and Tom Lewis explains the background to Argentina’s revolt.

As we publish this issue, we look forward to the protests during the week of January 30–February 5 at the World Economic Forum in New York, and also the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre, Brazil. These events will give the movement an opportunity to overcome the disorientation that the September 11 attacks produced among many activists.

Already there are signs of revival in the movement against corporate globalization. The interaction between the economic crisis and the war is making it crucial for activists to develop an understanding of the connection between U.S. economic and military domination. This will help the movement find its legs again.

* * *

The war abroad

The victory in Afghanistan was both military and ideological. Within the space of two months, the U.S. dragooned most of the world’s governments into its “coalition against terrorism,” routed the Taliban government, smashed much of the al-Qaeda apparatus, and installed a friendly government in Afghanistan. It won a military victory with U.S. firepower and an ideological victory with scenes of Afghans celebrating the Taliban’s defeat.

As the war winds down into a “mop up” operation, the U.S. may face problems in shaping the situation completely to its will. But it will take away a clear sense of victory, with massive popular support behind it. A belligerent U.S. ruling class now believes it can reorder the world to do America’s bidding. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer urged Bush and Co. along:

The psychology in the region is now one of fear and deep respect for American power. Now is the time to use it to deter, defeat, or destroy the other regimes in the area that are host to radical Islamic terrorism.

Hence Stage Two. No, not Iraq yet. It surely is the worst terrorist threat, but because it is the worst and the most difficult, it will require more planning, and more political and military preparation. Now is the time to go for the low-hanging fruit: giving the Philippines assistance in crushing their own al Qaeda guerrillas. Telling the thugs running Sudan, Syria, Libya and Yemen to cease and desist, to shut down the training camps, to cough up the terrorists–”or else,” as the president so delicately puts it.

And then on to Iraq.

As the propagandists of the right get dizzy with success, it’s worth considering what the B-52s left behind in Afghanistan. A country that was already devastated is even more so. The government that Washington installed parallels almost to the person the government of warlords, thugs, and drug dealers that ran the country before the Taliban took over in 1996.

U.S. bombs almost certainly killed more Afghan civilians than the numbers who died in the September 11 attacks, according to a careful analysis by University of New Hampshire professor Marc Herold. Hundreds of thousands remain on the verge of starvation. After laying waste to Afghanistan, the economic aid promised by the U.S. and the “international community” has slowed to a trickle. “The response so far is absolutely scandalous,” a diplomat in Kabul told the Financial Times. “It is discouraging people and its is worrying what is going to occur in terms of the international response.”

If the U.S. was short on resources for the Afghan government, perhaps it was because it devoted them to continued bombing and to building half a dozen military bases inside the country. The U.S. ignored repeated calls from the Afghan government to halt the bombing–which only goes to show who really calls the shots in Afghanistan. From its bases in Afghanistan and its newly established footholds in the Central Asian states, the U.S. has achieved geopolitical aims that it has sought for a decade. Now that the U.S. has what it wants in the region, the talk about “feeding starving Afghans,” “liberating Afghan women,” and “taking back their country from the Taliban” can be forgotten.

Beyond the borders of Afghanistan, Bush’s “war on terrorism” has given license to regimes around the world to attack internal oppositions under the guise of “fighting terrorism.” For example, Russia continues its scorched-earth campaign against Chechen rebels with the West’s blessing. But even in countries that haven’t the remotest connection to Islamic fundamentalism, governments have used Bush’s war to attack their foes. In Bolivia, the government charged trade union leader Oscar Olivera and several of his comrades with “sedition, conspiracy, incitement to public disturbance, and criminal association.” Olivera is no more a terrorist than Martin Luther King was. His big crime was having led a mass movement in 2000 that defeated government plans to privatize the country’s water. In Colombia, the Pastrana government is using the war on terrorism to step up its war against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, and the Bush administration is discussing how to increase its support for counterinsurgency operations there.

The most serious developments to emerge from the Pandora’s box Bush opened have taken place in Palestine and South Asia. Declaring Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat “our bin Laden,” Israel’s war criminal, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, has stepped up Israel’s campaign of assassinations, bombardments, and house demolitions against Palestinians. The U.S. has given Israel the green light.

But the U.S. is alarmed at the prospect of a war between India and Pakistan, which India characterizes as a response to Islamic terrorism. Following a December 13 attack on India’s parliament, India declared war on Pakistani “terror.” Reading from the U.S. script, India accused–without offering a shred of proof–Pakistan-backed militant groups of sponsoring the attack. It mobilized nearly 1 million troops to its border with Pakistan. Indian defense officials casually discussed plans to use tactical nuclear weapons. All of this was certainly more than the U.S. bargained for when Bush warned the world’s governments that they were either “with us, or with the terrorists.” As the International Socialist Review went to press, the U.S. was scrambling to avert an India-Pakistan war.

This is the world that Bush’s war on terrorism has left behind. Instead of making the world more secure, this war has already spawned more war and destruction. Instead of addressing the poverty that leaves billions hungry and desperate, the U.S. sends bombers. As the U.S. moves on in search of “low-hanging fruit,” it will leave more destruction in its wake.

* * *

Assault on Civil Rights

The war at home

WHILE BUSH’S war in Afghanistan appeared to be winding down, his war at home was only just beginning.

The extent to which President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft have shredded constitutional protections is breathtaking. Creating military tribunals for so-called terrorism suspects with the stroke of his pen, Bush appointed himself judge, jury, and executioner to potentially anyone in the world who is not a U.S. citizen. Shortly thereafter, Ashcroft announced plans to lift restrictions on FBI and CIA spying on domestic political and religious organizations.

In a hurry to use its new powers, the FBI has already “visited” such national security threats as a Houston art museum accused of displaying “anti-

American material”; a young activist in Raleigh, North Carolina, who had a satirical poster of Bush on her college dorm wall; and a retired phone company worker who criticized Bush at his San Francisco gym. But more serious crackdowns on dissent are sure to follow.

Before a cowering Senate Judiciary Committee in December, Ashcroft offered no apologies. Instead, in his best imitation of Joe McCarthy yet, he proclaimed that anyone who criticizes his methods is “giving aid and comfort” to terrorists.

Despite all of these repressive measures, the government has little to show for its crusade. Of the hundreds of Arab men held virtually incommunicado for months, only a handful have been charged with any crime more serious than some violation of immigration law as we went to press. By January, the government had announced a new roundup of 6,000 visa holders it wanted to deport.

At the same time, the Bush administration seemed unable to find the perpetrators of the most serious terrorist attack after September 11–the anthrax mailings that killed five people. This may be a case of government incompetence, but it’s more likely a case of selective investigation. When the anthrax attacks were panicking the country in October, a parade of so-called terrorism experts filled editorial pages and television screens with assertions that the attacks had the fingerprints of al-Qaeda or Iraq. Even Bush said that he “wouldn’t put it past” bin Laden or Saddam Hussein to try to kill Americans with anthrax.

Most bioterrorism experts without an ax to grind said the attacks bore the hallmarks of domestic terrorists. By late December, even the Bush administration had to concede as much. In addition, the U.S. Army had to admit that it had been manufacturing, since 1992, the “weaponized” variety of anthrax used in the mailings.

The focus on “evildoers” had its uses for Bush and Co., however. At the height of the anthrax hysteria, a panicky Congress pushed through the USA PATRIOT Act, the worst attack on civil liberties since the FBI ran COINTELPRO operations against radicals in the 1960s. What’s more, the focus on the likes of bin Laden and Saddam Hussein diverted attention from what should have been a bombshell revelation: The U.S. military admitted to manufacturing weapons of mass destruction that it said it hadn’t manufactured since 1969.

An investigation of the most likely suspects in the anthrax case, such as the far-right outfits that terrorize abortion providers, might have brought the feds a little too close for comfort for the likes of Ashcroft. Before losing his U.S. Senate seat to a dead man in 2000, Ashcroft tested the waters as a presidential candidate for the Christian Right. He received $26,500 from AmeriVision, a Christian Right fund-raiser, according to a Salon magazine investigation. In addition to Ashcroft’s presidential campaign, AmeriVision funded Prisoners of Christ, a support organization for anti-abortion zealots who have been imprisoned for bombing clinics and murdering abortion providers.

If anything exceeded the seriousness of Bush’s attacks on civil liberties, it was the shamelessness with which the administration and its corporate cronies continued to push their self-serving agenda. Under the guise of a recession-fighting “stimulus package,” Bush signaled his willingness to open wide the spigots of corporate welfare. Not content to shovel out $15 billion in aid to the airline industry and $22 billion in a sweetheart plane-leasing deal to Boeing–corporations that have laid off about 150,000 workers since September 11–Bush now wants the government to refund tax money to a list of top-ranking U.S. corporations. In the understatement of the year, Dirk Van Dongen, president of the National Association of Wholesaler-Distributors, told the Wall Street Journal, “There is a general feeling George W. Bush has been a great president for the business community.”

Bush and his supporters have had few scruples about invoking the “war on terrorism” to defend the most naked handouts to big business. As we went to press, Bush was readying regulations that would undermine crucial parts of the Clean Air Act applied to energy producers. These changes are crucial to the war on terrorism, the administration insists, because they will aid in developing non-Mideast sources of energy. In December, House Republicans also wielded the “national security” club to win one-vote passage of another corporate handout: trade promotion, or “fast-track,” authority. To big business, sacrifice is for suckers and patriotism is just another marketing angle.

The White House and its media toadies have sounded calls for national unity behind Bush’s program, virtually equating any criticism of Bush’s right-wing agenda with support for terrorism. The Republican Party even ran an ad in South Dakota depicting Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle side by side with Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Never mind that Daschle helped Bush to push the airline bailout and the USA PATRIOT Act through Congress. Since Daschle doesn’t support drilling for oil in the Alaska National Wildlife Refuge, the ad contends, he’s in Saddam’s pocket.

This political spin has grown more hysterical because Bush and his handlers know that Bush’s high approval ratings can only go down. In opinion polls, worries about the recession and the economy have recently displaced worries about terrorism. “The economy is Bush’s soft underside,” Republican pollster Bill McInturff told the Los Angeles Times. “[Bush’s] father lost [the 1992 election] because he had a kind of patrician, ‘let them eat cake’ attitude. He’s sworn not to let the same thing happen to him.” But that may be a difficult charge for Bush’s handlers to keep.

Bush has countered his father’s passivity in the face of recession with Clinton-like “I feel your pain” expressions of concern and a fanatical pursuit of tax cuts for the rich and handouts to big business. He’s banking on the fact that his media acolytes won’t notice that he plans a banquet for Corporate America while throwing a few bones to unemployed workers. He’s also getting a hand from the Democrats, whose 2002 election pitch seems to be “vote for us for a balanced budget.” If anything is guaranteed to give Bush and the GOP a free ride, it’s Democrats sounding like lobbyists for the banking industry while workers continue to get hammered.

As Corporate America lined up at the trough, it sent more workers to the unemployment line. In just the last few months, standard-bearers of American capitalism such as LTV and Bethlehem Steel went under. In a spectacular collapse, the white-collar crime syndicate known as Enron imploded, leaving 15,000 workers–stripped of their retirement savings–on the street. General Motors and Ford announced nearly 40,000 layoffs–in addition to job cuts already announced. The unemployment rate has spiked 41 percent since Bush took office.

The social inequalities of the 1990s will only worsen in a recession. Even if the economy begins to rebound next year, unemployment will continue to increase. The recession will deal some devastating defeats to unions, which were unprepared to take advantage even of the boom years. But it will also make other groups of workers fight harder.

School districts, city halls, and state universities will try to push through cuts in essential programs. Meanwhile, the lifetime limits in former president Bill Clinton’s welfare reform are taking effect now in states around the country–just as the effects of the recession take hold. The U.S. will now experience the full impact of the shredded safety net.

These developments will heighten the issue of class inequality in all areas of U.S. society. It will be harder to sell corporate giveaways as necessary concessions to national unity. More people will ask why their Social Security or Medicare has to be sacrificed for the Pentagon or corporate welfare. The issues of class inequality, the American injustice system, and others that moved people before September 11 will reemerge in a sharper way.

It’s up to activists in workplaces and communities to respond to this challenge by building the struggles that will draw a line against Bush’s one-sided class war on working people.

Last updated on 9 August 2022