MIA: History: ETOL: Newspapers & Periodicals: International Socialist Review: Issue 23

International Socialist Review, May–June 2002


How much can Bush get away with?


From International Socialist Review, Issue 23, May–June 2002.
Downloaded with thanks from the ISR Archive.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the ETOL.


ANYONE WHO still believes that George W. Bush’s “war against terrorism” has anything to do with seeking justice for the victims of the September 11 attacks should read Nicholas Lemann’s “The Next World Order” in the March 29 New Yorker.

Bush’s foreign policy advisers are concentrating on “how do you capitalize on these opportunities” that September 11 handed the U.S., National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice told Lemann. September 11 “has started shifting the tectonic plates in international politics. And it’s important to try to seize on that and position American interests and institutions and all of that before they harden again.”

Behind this political science jargon lurks a dangerous imperial plan for U.S. domination. The U.S. is world’s unchallenged superpower that now feels it can openly declare itself the world’s cop. Bush’s advisers–and their dimwit boss–speak openly of “redrawing regional maps, especially in the Middle East” and “replacing governments by force,” Lemann writes.

These imperial goals are not new to the cabal around Bush–especially Vice President Dick Cheney and his top aide Lewis Libby, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. At the end of the Cold War, this crew advocated total U.S. global dominance to “preclude the rise of another global rival for the indefinite future.” The author of those words, an aide to Cheney during the first Bush administration is Zalmay Khalilzad, the second Bush administration’s man in Afghanistan.

Today, they have what they’ve always wanted–a blank check for the Pentagon and a president willing to let them indulge their greatest fantasies for world domination. They have announced a U.S. intention to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states.

And they are perfectly prepared for the U.S. to act alone to try and impose its will on the world. The administration’s recent “unsigning” of its endorsement of the International Criminal Court is symbolic of this arrogance.

In Palestine, they have aided and abetted the Sharon government’s war crimes against the Palestinians. With Bush cheering from the sidelines, the Israeli military massacred hundreds of Palestinians and destroyed much of the basis of Palestinian social life. When the rest of the world reacted in horror to the slaughter in Jenin, the U.S. collaborated with Israel to sink a United Nations investigation at the Jenin refugee camp. Adding insult to injury–and showing his contempt for world opinion–Bush called Sharon a “man of peace.”

If Bush admires Sharon, it’s because he’s got an affinity with the old war criminal. Sharon’s whole career has been based on provoking and fighting wars to extend Israel’s domination over the Palestinians and Arab regimes. Sharon is the embodiment of the Israeli view that “the Arabs only listen to force.” Bush and his team believe the same–not just about the Middle East, but about the entire world.

Despite near universal opposition in the Middle East and among U.S. allies, the U.S. says it will go ahead with plans to invade Iraq and to topple Saddam Hussein. It’s not that Saddam has anything to do with September 11 or other terrorist attacks. The administration’s last hope of connecting Saddam to September 11 dissolved in May, when the CIA and the Czech government shot down longstanding reports of a meeting between a September 11 hijacker and an Iraqi agent in the Czech Republic. The get-Saddam crowd remains undeterred. The Middle East upheaval over Palestine seems to have delayed, but not stopped U.S. plans for an invasion and occupation of Iraq.

For Bush, deposing Saddam means more than just silencing his father’s critics or gaining a whip hand over Middle Eastern oil supplies. Like the Gulf War in 1991, “regime change” in Iraq would signal to anyone that the U.S. can crush any state that doesn’t sign on willingly to Pax Americana.

That was the message Bush administration tried to send Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez. Chavez is hardly the radical his opponents in the country’s elite make him out to be. But he hasn’t shown Bush and his oil industry backers the proper kind of deference. And for this, the U.S. made a fairly open (but fortunately bungled) attempt to overthrow him in a military coup in April. Just as the U.S. support for Sharon’s war crimes in Palestine made a mockery of U.S. pretensions to stand for “human rights,” U.S. scheming with the Venezuelan coup makers showed how little the U.S. cares about democracy.

Bush’s plans will lead to decades of wars and destruction, from Colombia to the Middle East. No doubt, they will make a repeat of September 11 more likely, not less. Moreover, the pursuit of endless war opportunities threatens to suck billions down the Pentagon rat hole and away from important social needs.

But Bush’s plans can–and must–be stopped. Like the first Bush administration, this one could easily unravel. Papa Bush mistook his popularity ratings as an unqualified mandate in 1991, only to find himself out of office after the 1992 presidential elections.

This administration is mistaking its standing in the polls as a blank check to carry through some policies long cherished by the political right, but which are profoundly unpopular. And this is true internationally as well. It is one thing to be the world’s undisputed military and economic superpower. It is another thing to mistake that as a carte blanche to bludgeon the rest of the world into submission. This is both true of other states in the world–including major U.S. allies–and even more so, the mass of the world’s population. So while, the U.S. gave a green light to the military in Venezuela, the mass protests which followed the coup gave smug U.S. officials a black eye. It also united all Latin American governments in denouncing U.S. sponsorship of a military coup.

The Bush administration seems to think it has a blank check at home as a result of September 11. But this is not the case. The huge turnout of protestors at the April 20 antiwar/pro-Palestinian demonstrations marked an important first step. We have to organize that sentiment into a growing movement to stop Bush’s plans to make the world bow down before him.

* * *

A step forward for the antiwar movement

ON APRIL 20, the anti-war movement in the U.S. took an enormous step forward, holding its first national anti-war demonstration since the start of the war against Afghanistan. Park police estimated the crowd at 75,000 demonstrators. Organizers claimed 100,000. Either way, the crowd far surpassed the expected turnout, and solidarity demonstrations held around the country, including a protest of 20,000 in San Francisco, gave the lie to the notion that all Americans uncritically support Bush’s expanding war.

The opposition has been growing since Bush’s January State of the Union Address, when he declared Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “axis of evil”–targets that, by any stretch of the imagination, have no connection whatsoever to the Sept. 11 attacks. Opposition grew further after the Pentagon “leaked” its plans to deploy nuclear weapons against even its non-nuclear enemies, re-igniting a nuclear arms race. And the opposition grows more each time George W. Bush calls Ariel Sharon “a man of peace” as the Israeli Army slaughters its way through the West Bank.

And the Bush administration’s declared support for Israel as the only “democracy” in the Middle East, even while the U.S. was backing a coup against Venezuela’s democratically-elected president, Hugo Chávez Frias, was a stark reminder that Bush himself stole the presidency by disenfranchising thousands of Black Florida voters. Bush’s own arrogance and utter hypocrisy have exposed the U.S.’ real aims in its war on terrorism, and forced those many of those who oppose the war to confront broader political questions and forge solidarity with others in struggle against U.S. world domination.

The strength of the April 20 protest lay not only in its large size, but its political message. The traditional peace movement in the U.S. has, at best, ignored the plight of Palestinians altogether, and often supported Israel. In June, 1982, a million pacifist protesters amassed in New York City to call for peace and nuclear disarmament. Although Israel had invaded Lebanon just two weeks earlier, no mention was made of the U.S. jets flown by Israeli pilots dropping bombs on Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. As left-wing journalist Laura Flanders reflected, “For 20 years, it has been ‘too dangerous’ to speak out. Now we see how dangerous that silence was. April 20 saw a break with a shameful tradition.”

Indeed, the April 20 protest was the largest pro-Palestinian demonstration ever held in the United States. Tens of thousands of Palestinians, many with their entire families in tow, marched side by side with anti-war activists and young college students–united in opposition to the war and in solidarity with the Palestinian struggle. Chants such as, “We are all Palestinians,” and “Bush buys the bullets, Sharon pulls the trigger,” dominated throughout the march.

While those who oppose the war on Afghanistan remain in a small minority, that minority is growing. Moreover, this growing opposition is beginning to reflect itself in opinion polls, in which support for the expanding war and for Israel’s occupation has begun to weaken. Only 56 per cent of Americans think the country is headed “in the right direction,” down 12 percentage points from the 68 per cent measured in January opinion polls–and 36 per cent think the country is headed “down the wrong track,” up seven points from January. The latest Gallup poll shows that the U.S. population is far more concerned about lack of healthcare than about either violent crime or future terror attacks against the U.S. Healthcare topped the list of people’s concerns, at 56 percent, while just 49 percent cited crime and terror attacks. And although Bush decreed that “God Bless America” be sung at the seventh inning break at every baseball game across the country “until further notice,” the song is being scuttled, after widespread complaints from baseball fans–hardly a sign of patriotic frenzy in mainstream opinion. A CNN news poll, taken at the height of Israel’s siege of the West Bank found 60 percent of Americans favor cutting aid to Israel if Israeli troops do not withdraw from the West Bank immediately.

This shift in mainstream opinion is even more significant in the context of the crackdown on civil liberties and the massive round-up and detentions of Arabs and Muslims that have accompanied the Bush administration’s launch of the war on terrorism since Sept. 11. It is no exaggeration to say that the war abroad has been accompanied by a war at home. In January, those who criticize the crackdown were roundly denounced as “aiding the terrorists” by Attorney General John Ashcroft, the official overseeing the crackdown–intentionally bringing back memories of the McCarthy era, when Communists were rounded up and persecuted.

The mass media has fallen into step at every turn, with round-the-clock “crisis” coverage dominating television news that manages to leave out the most pertinent information. The media’s Afghanistan coverage celebrated the air food drops during the bombing, neglecting to mention that the food reached fewer than 1 percent of the 7 million Afghans at risk for starvation–giving a humanitarian gloss to the U.S. bombing campaign. The news media has stopped referring to the “Occupied Territories” in Palestine, opting instead for the “Disputed Territories”–ignoring the Israeli slaughter while focusing incessantly on the violence of Palestinian suicide bombers.

The tide of public opinion is beginning to shift. And, most importantly, the opposition is beginning to grow. There are major hurdles yet to be overcome within the anti-war movement, and within the left generally. On April 20, a global justice protest outside the World Bank drew just 1,500 protesters–a small fraction of its numbers prior to Sept. 11. The anti-war protest itself was plagued by pointless infighting between two sponsoring organizations–resulting in the ludicrous situation in which each coalition held an opening rally (both against the war!) literally across the street from each other.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, the broad left was ill-equipped to counter a war that the U.S. claimed to be launching in its own “self-defense.” It took months for activists to develop the confidence to argue that the war has nothing to do with Sept. 11–that the terrorist attacks merely provided the excuse for the U.S. to launch a war to expand its own global domination. It took the Israeli assault on the West Bank for activists to begin to confront the limitations of the pacifist condemnation of “violence on both sides.” While a great deal of confusion remains, many anti-war activists are beginning to grope toward a more political approach to the war, which can begin to lay the basis for building an anti-imperialist movement in the heart of world imperialism.

* * *

Fascism in France: Beating back Le Pen

IN A development that shocked the world, fascist Jean-Marie Le Pen’s National Front won enough votes to face conservative candidate Jacques Chirac for the presidency of France. Although nearly one out of five French voters voted for Le Pen for president, an overwhelming vote of 82 percent elected Chirac for a five-year term. As ISR went to press, all of the parties were preparing to compete in June parliamentary elections.

The rise of the far right has shown itself a clear and ever-present danger, and all efforts must be made to counter its ideas through argument and mass mobilization. But although support for Le Pen was alarming, it represents less of a mass surge toward fascism than a rejection of the traditional parties of the center.

Not only in France, but also in Italy, Norway, Belgium, Denmark, Portugal, and Britain, far right and fascist parties have been making electoral gains. These parties have shifted in many countries from being seen as the political fringe, to becoming part of the mainstream. Le Pen’s six million votes comes on the heels of successes of Jörg Haider in Austria and the commanding position of ultra-rightists in Belgium and Denmark.

Before his assassination in May, Dutch newcomer Pym Fortuyn’s sounded a now-common theme among Europe’s far-right parties. His message was not only against “foreigners” and “immigrants,” who he demanded learn the “customs” and “language” of the host country, and who are responsible for crime; he also railed against Islam.

Le Pen increased his vote, but only by a few-hundred thousand votes. When combined with his far-right political rival and former NF member Bruno Maigret, the total far-right vote increase over 1997 was about 900,000. One study showed that while Le Pen’s vote among youth went down, it increased among pensioners and small business owners. A number of workers who traditionally voted Communist also switched their vote to Le Pen, who got 38 percent of the unemployed’s vote.

In the first round of presidential elections, support for the far left grew as well. The combined vote of the candidates of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionaire (LCR) and Lutte Ouvrière (LO) grew from just over 5 percent in 1997 to almost 11 percent this time.

Le Pen’s message could be any one of these politicians of the far right: “Massive immigration has only just begun. It is the biggest problem facing France, Europe and probably the world. We risk being submerged.” What helped to make Le Pen and others part of the mainstream is that the mainstream parties accept law and order and immigration as issues that must be “dealt” with. “The circumstances by which an extreme-right party was able to win support must prompt us all to reflect,” said Spain’s interior minister, Mariano Rajoy. “I have been saying for a long time that immigration is an important problem that must be tackled not just by Spain, but by all of Europe.”

But something else is also at work. Jospin was responsible for his own defeat. Elected as an echo of the 1995 public sector general strike that defeated the right-wing government’s attempt to carry out American-style “reform” of the social security system, Jospin implemented much of the right’s “neoliberal” program.

Jospin privatized more industry than any previous prime minister before him. He stressed he was not running as a socialist, and many viewed his campaign as undistinguishable from Chirac’s. In the weeks leading up to the presidential election, Jospin continued with privatizations, selling stakes in Renault, Thomson Multimedia and all of the motorways in the south of France–this last one was a sale carried out under a transport minister who is a member of the Communist Party.

With reformist left parties’ embracing of right wing ideology; their wholesale acceptance of neoliberalism, law and order, and anti-immigration. It is this that has led to disillusionment and confusion, abstention, and a shift, to varying degrees, to both the far right parties and to far left.

In these circumstances, Le Pen was able–albeit from a racist, demagogic vantage-point–to present himself as the opponent of neoliberal privatization, as the candidate opposed to “globalization,” and thereby win a certain number of poor workers’ and unemployed votes that would have previously gone to the Communist Party and the Socialist Party.

This raises the question of a political alternative much more sharply. In the presidential election, the media, the unions and the traditional parties exerted a strong pull to vote for the conservative Chirac–a man implicated in various financial scandals–to defeat Le Pen. “When the house is on fire,” said François Giacalone, a public housing official just outside Paris, “you don’t care too much if the water you put it out with is dirty.”

Thus Chirac–who pathetically got less than 20 percent of the vote in the first election round–was handed a free mandate. It is a mistake to think that an electoral defeat of Le Pen that comes by voting for one of the main parties responsible for the social and economic deterioration of the working class, will be a means to defeat him. Le Pen’s forces will be able to argue that in voting for Chirac, the French people voted themselves more of the same. The problem is not dirty water, but trying to put out the fascist fire with gasoline.

The parties of the center will conclude that more of the same is necessary: adapt to the right, take on its concerns. Chirac is using his new 80 percent “mandate” to do just that. He will now attempt to implement the bosses’ program of cuts and layoffs against the working class that just elected him as the “lesser” of two evils. The Socialist Party, meanwhile, will try and regroup its forces around the Gauche Plurielle (plural left), argue that it is the only alternative, and win over those who broke with them for their conservatism.

The left must break sharply with this approach. If the left is unable to build an alternative, the same cycle will begin again, as increasing disillusion over the policies of the mainstream parties creates an opening for the far right and fascists’ further growth. Today, their main impact is electoral, but their ultimate aim is the build a powerful, violent movement in the streets. Elections are not as critical in this fight as building organizations that can not only mobilize to defeat the fascists in the streets, but present a revolutionary political alternative to the failures of capitalism.

But the story is not over. And here the most heartening development was the huge anti-fascist upsurge in the weeks between the first and second rounds of the presidential election. Young people across France virtually went on strike from school for two weeks to participate in anti-fascist organizing. On May Day, more than 1.3 million workers came out to protest Le Pen.

We have to remember this upsurge, because Chirac’s election will not stem the far right’s growth. Only a mass movement from below–and the building of a new revolutionary party uniting forces on the far left–can offer an alternative to the siren songs of the far right.

Last updated on 15 August 2022