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Peter Hadden

Gulf Crisis

Opens up periods of upheavals internationally

(September 1990)

From Militant, September 1990.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.

The crisis in the Gulf is escalating towards war. The build-up of military forces, the biggest military mobilisation since World War II, is itself a factor which makes war more likely.

Led by US imperialism, a huge armada of warships from 10 countries has been assembled in the region. 40,000 US ground troops are in place with a further 45,000 on the way and more being mobilised. With Apache helicopter gunships, F15s, Tornado air-to-air fighters, B52 bombers, the new Stealth bomber, Cruise missiles etc. US Imperialism is confronting Saddam Hussein with its most modem and most lethal fire-power. All this comes at a colossal cost – an estimated $14,000 per minute.


According to an Economist editorial (25 August 1990) this is being done “to guard the principle that aggression across borders must never succeed”. George Bush skips over the memory of Vietnam and recalls the second World War by comparing Saddam to Hitler. Bush, Thatcher and their like crow about “civilised values” “the rights of small nations” and so on.

Every such word from the lips of these people drips with hypocrisy. The imperialist powers have no concern what-so-ever about the rights of small nations. They forget that aggression across borders is precisely their stock in trade. US Imperialism did not hesitate to invade Panama and Grenada. In relation to Iraq they have short memories. When Saddam Hussein last moved troops across his borders, invading Iran, the Western powers responded by backing him, supplying weaponry to sustain him in the war.


There was no Western blockade against Iraq at that time. Similarity no Western power has ever moved a resolution at the United Nations demanding that troops be sent to the Middle East to force the Israelis to quit the territories they invaded and annexed, Iraqi style, in 1967 – Gaza and the West Bank.

The same Economist editorial in urging war, claims as its justification, “If America beats Iraq, the entire Arab world has a chance of at last moving towards democracy” ... Pure Cant! US troops have not been sent to defend the rights of the Arab masses who live and work in these Gulf states. They are there to enrich themselves on the oil wealth of the region.

In Saudi Arabia the ruling Al Saud dynasty contains some 7,000 princes, almost all millionaires. The masses are denied basic rights – there are no political parties and no unions.

Right to vote

Of the 1.9 million population of Kuwait only 60,000 property owners who can trace their families to pre-1920 have the right to vote. The 60% non-Kuwaitis were given no rights whatsoever. Among these were 300,000 Palestinians who found themselves accorded no more freedoms in this Arab Kingdom than exist for the Palestinians in Israel. The stated goal of the US intervention is to restore the Al Sabah monarch to his throne and to his riches and the population to the position of servitude as before.

“Opposition to aggression”, “Democracy” – these have nothing whatsoever to do with the US presence. “Oil” and “Profits” – they have everything. By invading Kuwait, Saddam Hussein took control of 20%of the oil of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). If he were to seize the oil wells of Saudi Arabia he would double his share of OPECs output to 40%.

While OPECs share of world oil output fell dramatically until the mid-1980s (In 1985 it was 38%) recently it has risen. It now stands at 45%. Meanwhile American oil production has declined. The US now imports half its oil. A situation whereby Iraq could have a virtually controlling influence in the OPEC cartel would be absolutely intolerable for the US and for world capitalism. This is why yesterday’s ally, Saddam Hussein, is being presented as to-day’s monster, an Arab Hitler. This is why US troops were so hastily dispatched to defend the oil wealth of Saudi Arabia.


The UN resolutions backing sanctions and in reality supporting the war preparations of the US, were backed by both Russia and China. The Stalinist bureaucracy, especially in Moscow, are now capitulating to the capitalists on all fronts. They fear instability and recession in the West. An adviser to the Soviet parliament on International Affairs, explained Russia’s compliance with sanctions to the Wall Street Journal (8 August 1990) “We are extremely interested in safeguarding the business situation in the US. It is in our interests to safeguard it so that the West can continue to supply us with aid and investment. ” He might have added also that a recession in the West would upset the plans of Gorbachev to restore capitalism in Russia.

To lay bare the real reasons for the present military build-up by the West is in no way to lend even an ounce of support to Saddam Hussein. Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait will bring no more benefits to the Iraqi masses than did Saddam’s last adventure, against Iran.

Economic problems

Iraq faces mounting economic problems. On the one side there is the huge foreign debt of 65-80 billion dollars built up during the war against Iran. To service this debt costs 3.5 billion dollars each year. On the other side the fall in the price of oil has meant a drop in revenue. In 1980, Iraq earned 26 billion dollars from oil exports. Last year the figure was 14 billion dollars.

Food shortages, soaring inflation, a crumbling infra-structure and widespread corruption have given rise to discontent at home. Saddam’s response to opposition has always been to ruthlessly crush it Trade unions have been banned. The Kurdish minority have faced genocide, including the use of poison gas.

However such methods cannot succeed indefinitely. Fearing a mass uprising or a coup to depose him, Saddam sought a way out and a way to save his own skin by seizing Kuwait, with the vast oil and financial wealth and its direct access to the Gulf. Saddam now presents himself as the new champion of Arab nationalism, a new Nasser. In reality he offers nothing to the Arab masses except rhetoric on the one side and repression on the other.

The Arabs are really one people with a common language, culture and identity. With the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after World War 1 they were divided into what were then entirely artificial nation states by British and French Imperialism in particular. Their entire history since then has demonstrated the impossibility of overcoming these divisions on the basis of capitalism. Many Arab rulers, Nasser included, have made attempts to merge existing states in the name of Arab unity – and all have failed. The only capitalist merger possible is Hussein Style. With tanks.

Only on the basis of socialism can the Arabs break free both from the economic stranglehold of Imperialism and from the grip of local autocrats. A socialist federation alone can bring unity and peace to the Arabs and Jewish masses. A socialist outcome was entirely possible especially in the decades after World War II. Then the Communist Party emerged as a powerful force in many countries including Iraq. But the Stalinist leaders of the Communist Parties abandoned any independent class position and embraced the Arab nationalists. Thus the revolution, such as the Iraqi revolution of 1958,were side tracked and defeated.

In Iraq the result was the crushing of the CP and a right-wing coup in 1968 which prepared the way for Saddam Hussein. Marxists stand for the over-throw of Saddam and with him for the overthrow of the Sheiks. Kings, autocrats and despots who rule in virtually every Arab country from the Gulf across the Maghreb to Morocco.

However the task of ousting these rulers cannot be given to Imperialism. After all the Western powers installed many of them in the first place. The US want to remove Saddam because he has fallen foul of their wishes, but only to replace him with a no less despotic but more pliant puppet of the West. The task of overthrowing Saddam Hussein and his like belongs to the Arab masses led by the working class.


While a continued stalemate and military stand-off is a possibility for a period, war is an increasingly real prospect. From the standpoint of US Imperialism a stalemate which would leave the Iraqis in Kuwait and Hussein in Baghdad would be an expensive an unsatisfactory outcome. If the trade embargo does not bring Hussein to his knees or if the US cannot engineer a coup to topple him in Baghdad, and Hussein’s increased popularity following the invasion of Kuwait makes this less likely, the US will be forced to look to a military settlement.

Even if war is avoided now a new Middle East war is inevitable at a certain stage unless capitalism and all feudal remnants are overthrown. The strengthening of Saddam Hussein whose missiles can strike Israel, the destablising of other Arab countries notably Jordan, the new influx of 15,000 Russian immigrants a month into Israel – all these are factors pointing towards war at some stage.

War now, arising from the present conflict, is more likely. It would not be difficult for the US to engineer an incident to justify going to war. The result would be a bloody conflict which would threaten to engulf the region, possibly drawing in other countries including Israel and with dramatic consequences for the whole Arab world.

America has air superiority and superiority in missiles and missile defence systems. It has the capacity to reduce Iraq to the Stone Age as it did with its saturation bombing of Cambodia. However even the limited objective of dislodging Iraq from Kuwait would involve fierce fighting on the ground. An invasion of Iraq with its million-strong army would be a colossal military undertaking, and would necessitate a far greater military build-up than has been achieved so far.

Whatever the immediate outcome of a war. even if US objectives of ousting Saddam Hussein and installing a client regime in Baghdad were achieved. the one certain result would be further destabilisation of the entire Arab world.

The threatening presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia has already sparked deep resentment among the Arab masses. In the occupied territories of the expanded Israeli state Palestinians have daily been demonstrating opposition to America and support for Saddam. In Jordan, where the population is 60% Palestinian, there is fierce and outspoken opposition to every concession made by King Hussein to the demands of Imperialism for a blockade. Sanctions, if imposed, would cost Jordan an estimated $3 million a day. With its 16% unemployment set to rise in the event of a blockade, with a large influx of refugees from Iraq and with rising Arab nationalism, it would take very little to spark off a movement which would overthrow King Hussein.


Across the Magreb there have been demonstrations against US imperialism. Opposition parties in Morocco have denounced King Hussein’s support for the US. Tens of thousands have demonstrated in Tunis. Everywhere there are volunteers offering to fight for Iraq.

The present anti-American feeling would be as nothing compared to what would develop in the event of US aggression against Iraq. Under those circumstances even the compliant Mubarak government in Egypt could be toppled. Because of the absence of any class alternative, what at bottom would be a movement of opposition to Imperialism and to poverty and backwardness, would likely find its expression in the form of Arab nationalism and Islamic fundamentalism. The political processes in the entire region would be enormously complicated. Ultimately Imperialism could find itself without a secure and stable foothold anywhere in the Arab world. The short term military expedient could turn into a much longer term military involvement, costing more in terms of lives and dollars than ever initially intended.

The effects of the Gulf crisis will be felt far beyond the borders of the region. Oil prices have risen to around $30 per barrel. With or without a war they will stay high for a period. Every sector of the world will feel the consequences. Non-oil producers in the underdeveloped world will be hit disproportionately hard. At the time of the first oil hike in 1973, the underdeveloped world accounted for 18% of world oil consumption. Today the figure has risen to 28%. Some like Brazil and Turkey have depended on Iraq and Kuwait for their supplies.

For some underdeveloped countries it will be a double blow. Dearer oil will mean higher expenditure while the exodus of foreign workers from Iraq and Kuwait will mean the loss of essential remittances. 180,000 Indians and 100,000 Pakistanis work in Kuwait and Iraq. Both receive 40% of their oil from these two countries.

Mubarak regime

The export of the guest workers can be the export of revolution. Each year Egyptians in the Gulf slates send back billions of dollars in remittances. Six million people in Egypt depend on this money. The return of even a proportion of these workers will mean the removal of one more prop from under the Mubarak regime.

East European countries are already preparing for the painful loss of cheap and subsidized Russian oil. To pay hard currency prices at $18 or so a barrel was bad enough. Now with impending war in the Gulf, they see money which they had hoped would be used to restructure their economies being spent instead on airplane fuel, tanks and missiles. Meanwhile the oil price has risen to crippling levels for them. At 30 dollars a barrel, Czechoslovakia last year would have had to spend 90% of all its hard currency earnings from imports just to pay its oil bill.

While the Gulf crisis complicates the already difficult process of capitalist restoration in the East, it brings recession in the West ever closer. If the oil price does not trigger recession it will at the very least cut the rate of growth of the US, Japanese and Western European economies.

New period

The dramatic developments since Iraqi tanks rolled across the sands into Kuwait on August 2nd are symptomatic of the new period of world history now opening up.

Only a few months ago the capitalists – surveying the wreckage of Stalinism in Eastern Europe were exultant at the final triumph of their system. Capitalism, they declared, was the ultimate in human evolution. It would bring peace, democracy and plenty to the planet.

How quickly such false notions are shattered by the cruel blows of history! Today the realities of capitalism; poverty on the one side, political instability and bloody conflict on the other, are becoming apparent especially in the colonial world.

War, as threatened in the Middle East or between India and Pakistan over Kashmir; civil war and a descent to barbarism as in Sri Lanka and now Liberia; coups such as only a few weeks ago in newly “democratic” Pakistan – this is the ugly reality of capitalism. What exists in the colonial world today is merely a sharpened image of what will develop in the advanced capitalist countries and also the Stalinist world, unless a way out is found.

The lesson of the Middle East is that the working class can only rely on their own strength. their own organisations and their own independent socialist ideas. The choice of Imperialism or Hussein is a choice between tyrants and not a choice workers can make. Instead they must choose the other options – independent class struggle against Imperialist domination, against Arab despots and exploiters and for a socialist federation of all Arab states and Israel and a world socialist federation.


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Last updated: 30 August 2016