Forces behind the war crisis

By Sam Marcy (Sept. 6, 1990)

August 29 — Of all the issues to be considered in connection with the war crisis, the most critical relates to the Aug. 25 UN Security Council resolution. This resolution authorizes a naval blockade against Iraq which can operate as a springboard for a military, air, and naval strike against that country.

As important as this resolution is, equally important is the process by which this decision was made. It was developed over a period of six days and nights of debate in dead secrecy. The council voted 13-0 in favor of the blockade, with only Cuba and Yemen abstaining.

Why the secrecy?

The resolution was based on earlier ones passed by the council on Aug. 6, 7 and 9. All use the term "urgent" or "alarming" to characterize the situation in the Middle East. Obviously, at stake could be the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people. This being the case, why was it necessary to conduct the proceedings in dead secrecy?

Are not the people whose very lives are at stake entitled to hear the deliberations on which the decision was made?

Each one of the 15 countries on the Security Council claims to have parliamentary institutions where matters of war and peace are to be discussed before resorting to military hostilities, not afterwards.

The principal imperialist countries, such as the U.S., Britain, France and Japan, all consider themselves 14-carat pure democracies, where there is endless discussion on many, many issues. They are the "guardians of freedom" all over the world. Yet on this life and death question, the people were not let in on the decision. Nor were the parliamentary institutions.

Take the U.S., which has a constitutional provision that prohibits engaging in war without first getting specific authorization from Congress. Ever since the beginning of the imperialist epoch, the capitalist governments have found it most convenient to disregard that prohibition. Only two senators out of 100 dared to vote against the Tonkin Gulf resolution, the ruse to get the U.S. into the Vietnam War.

War powers usurped by president

Then for almost five years, under the impact of the anti-war movement in the U.S., Congress worked feverishly to plug what were considered loopholes in the constitutional prohibition against the executive branch launching a war without authorization from Congress.

In 1973, a bipartisan effort headed by Senator Jacob Javits pushed through the War Powers Act, which was supposed to prevent the Pentagon and the president from sending masses of U.S. troops into hostile areas or commencing hostilities without congressional approval.

The War Powers Act was meant to be as tight as a drum against any violation of the so-called "co-equal" powers of the different branches of the government. But no president ever agreed to abide by the act. Nixon vetoed it.

Congress overrode the veto. But Reagan invaded Grenada anyway, and earlier sent troops to the Middle East. Over 200 Marines were killed in the Beirut area, but Congress did not take the president to task for his violation of the War Powers Act or the Constitution. Nor did they reprimand Bush for invading Panama.

At this moment, the U.S. has at least 65,000 troops in Saudi Arabia. It has organized a huge naval armada and sent it into hostile territory, and has openly threatened to strike Iraq by air, sea and ground simultaneously, unless its demands are fulfilled by the Iraqi government.

Where has Congress been during this entire period of secret discussion in the UN and a Pentagon military buildup? On vacation. But they could all have easily made themselves available if they had any will to assert their authority.

But their authority in matters of military action is regarded as a joke. The decision was made by the Pentagon, the military-industrial complex, the oil companies and the banks. Those congressional leaders who were called to the White House yesterday dutifully gave their approval and left for the rest of their vacation.

Thus, when it comes to real life and death crises under the ruling capitalist system, decisions are made elsewhere than in the parliamentary institutions, which of course are not even really parliamentary in the working class sense.

Imperialist secret diplomacy

The shift of power from the legislative, so-called popular section, to the executive is characteristic of the evolution of the capitalist state in the imperialist epoch. Secrecy in diplomacy is an integral part of it all. It is astonishing that for six long days and nights the UN Security Council met in secrecy, yet it is altogether normal, part and parcel of the conduct of imperialist diplomacy, which prevails at the UN.

The fact that most of the UN members are not imperialist countries does not seem to matter. They're dragooned into it. Sanctimonious resolutions, most of them without teeth, are passed denouncing Israeli aggressions or condemning South Africa. But they are no sooner passed than they are pigeonholed and forgotten, unless the masses on their own force the issue.

Why were the UN Security Council deliberations so secret? Because they concern a redivision of the world's resources, raw materials, and markets. The interests of the imperialists dictate this be effectuated only in secrecy, to avoid mass anger or even insurrection.

Can we point to any precedents for such sweeping assertions? Indeed we can. A model for secret treaties dividing the world up among imperialist powers was the Sykes-Picot treaty of 1916. It divided much of the world between czarist Russia, France and Britain. It was signed, sealed and delivered in the midst of the most brutal imperialist war to date, at a time when the outcome of the war was still uncertain and when the U.S. had not yet gotten into it.

What czarist Russia got under the terms of the treaty is not relevant to our present discussion, but what France and Britain agreed to among themselves is exceptionally relevant to the current situation in the Middle East. The treaty went into great detail dividing the entire Arabian Peninsula between them. We know this because the Bolsheviks, who had promised to reveal all secret treaties of the czar, made it public. The 1916 treaty between Britain, France, and Russia can be found in the U.S. Library of Congress and the Third World Guide, 1986-87 edition, and is referred to in many encyclopedias.

Malvinas struggle uncovered secret U.S.-British deal

Secret agreements dividing spheres of influence and markets as well as geographical areas of strategic significance are part and parcel of imperialist diplomacy. This was made clear once again when Argentina, when it was still ruled by a repressive military camarilla and faced galloping inflation and widespread political opposition and dissension in its own ranks, undertook an adventure by attempting to take the Malvinas islands (so-called Falklands) from British rule.

Argentina and Britain had been negotiating the islands' return to Argentina for close to two decades, with no progress made. When the Argentine military decided to take the plunge and retake the islands, this greatly upset the reactionary Thatcher regime in Britain, which decided to militarily challenge the Argentine takeover.

This in turn upset General Alexander Haig, who at that time was Secretary of State under the Reagan administration. They had such a chummy relationship with the Argentine fascist military that they forgot the secret agreement the U.S. had with Britain over the Malvinas.

When Haig was called to London, Thatcher virtually read the riot act to him. She recalled to him the specific secret agreement: that when the British needed military support in the North or South Atlantic, and especially those islands, the U.S. was obligated to give not only the necessary intelligence, but also air reconnaissance, satellite photos and other material assistance as needed.

Haig's efforts to persuade Thatcher not to challenge the Argentine military were thwarted when she threatened to break up the agreement altogether, unless Washington supported Britain and lived up to the secret agreement. The Reagan administration, seeing the better part of wisdom, lined up quickly with the Thatcher government against the Argentine military in order to save the alliance, which was far more important to them.

United front based on division of markets

The united front which the imperialists were able to forge for the UN Security Council decision is based on a division of world markets and resources, particularly oil, with exceptional emphasis on the Middle East. Naturally such agreements will not be made public, any more than were the secret agreements which embodied the redivision of the world in the First World War. It took six days, but the imperialists were able to hammer out a united front among themselves, notwithstanding their bitter, irreconcilable rivalries, and corral the others into it by threats, intimidation, and outright corruption, probably with a huge dose of false promises as well.

Beware of phony incidents

For their plans to have even a semblance of credibility and be able to hoodwink world public opinion, it is necessary to create an incident like the shooting of the Archduke of Austria (WWI), the sinking of the Maine (Spanish-American War), or the supposed attack on a U.S. warship in the Gulf of Tonkin. Thus they are projecting an image of Saddam Hussein which can terrify public opinion and lead to hysterical cries, orchestrated by the capitalist press, to bomb Iraq and destroy its government, including Hussein himself.

The complicity of the USSR and China in this is shameful and despicable. We reserve analysis for a later date, except to note that the USSR's participation in supporting an imperialist resolution flows directly from the bourgeois character of the economic reforms in the USSR. So far as China is concerned, it is looking for some measure of relief from the isolation imposed upon it by the U.S. and its imperialist allies ever since Tienanmen Square.

The issue of control and redivision of the wealth of the oppressed people is the essence of all secret agreements over many decades, some of them dating back before the turn of the century. The question immediately arises: If it is the policy of the imperialist governments to enter into secret agreements on how to divide the resources and wealth of oppressed peoples, is it not also right for oppressed people to meet secretly and decide how to counter the plans of the imperialists?

After all, it is only too well known that the Arabian peninsula has for many centuries been colonized, its borders drawn and redrawn by colonialism. There has been no freedom for the people of the Middle East to decide their own future. None have had the opportunity. When they attempted to do so, they met with hostility, obstruction, and ultimately overthrow, as in the case of the Egyptian revolutionary government under Nasser.

Take the example of Iraq itself. Never has there been a free role for the countries of the Middle East to make the transition from feudalism to even a capitalist society. The imposition of restrictions and deliberate obstructions has thwarted the development of bourgeois democratic revolutions in the Middle East. Fear that a socialist revolution will sweep the entire peninsula lies behind the imperialists' strategy. All the borders in the Middle East are the products of imperialist obstruction, either by economic or financial domination, or, when necessary, by military intervention.

The truth of the matter is that the Middle East, and the Arabian peninsula in particular, not only bears the birthmarks of the old feudal system but has been obstructed from reaching the kind of bourgeois democracy and self-determination the European capitalist powers achieved in the 19th century.

How Hussein infuriated imperialists

With each new oil well opened on the Arabian peninsula, the imperialists are more determined than ever that such self-determination should not take place. The imperialists have heaped so much of their bile upon Saddam Hussein not only because of the annexation of Kuwait, but because of other considerations too.

Before occupying Kuwait, Hussein attempted to forge a secret agreement among the Arab states getting their understanding for the return of Kuwait to its historic position as part of Iraq. He did not decide on this plan suddenly and without consultation with other Arab states.

If it is proper for the imperialists to colonize, divide and subdivide the Arab peninsula, why is it not just for the Arab people to plan how to free themselves from colonial domination?

The truth of the matter is that Iraq had been in consultation with the other Arab countries on how it would be possible to get Kuwait out of the stranglehold of the imperialists. They discussed setting down conditions under which the other Arab states could benefit from this at the expense of the imperialists.

The problem, of course, was that such a key country as Egypt gets $2.5 billion in aid each year from the U.S. to maintain its coexistence with Israel and to keep it as a client of U.S. imperialism.

In spite of this obstacle, a plan was in progress. So when the Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, CBS the next day announced that Washington was caught by surprise, that it constituted an intelligence failure and a diplomatic failure at the same time.

It is important to note that Senator Lautenberg from New Jersey happens to be in the Middle East, where he is visiting the key countries in the Arabian peninsula on a so-called independent mission. He discovered, as the imperialist press puts it, that Saddam Hussein was forging a wide conspiracy among the Arab countries to fortify his invasion of Kuwait.

Of course, when the imperialists were conning everyone they could into agreeing with them in secret discussions at the UN, that was the epitome of democracy. But when the oppressed countries get together secretly to oust the imperialists, that's considered a conspiracy.

By the same logic, the slave owners were never in a conspiracy against African people, but when Nat Turner arranged a slave rebellion, that was a conspiracy deserving punishment. Only the form of the struggle has changed.

Anti-war movement must keep its focus

What is the main issue facing the working class, oppressed people, and anti-war movement in this country? It is the struggle against their own capitalist government. This means not allowing the capitalist media to divert their focus with a space-age version of the killing of the archduke, the sinking of the Maine, or the supposed Gulf of Tonkin attack.

All the internecine struggles on the Arabian peninsula are the result of interference and control by the imperialist powers. Natural development is impossible while the wealth of the region flows into the coffers of a handful of imperialist monopolies.

Some circles in the peace movement say, "Well, we also have to condemn Saddam Hussein, who's a dictator, and who illegally occupied Kuwait."

This is to avoid the central issue of our time: the global dominance of U.S. imperialism in order to maintain its superexploitation of oppressed people. To equate the occupation of Kuwait with the U.S. intervention is false and misleading, and covers up the ever growing aggressiveness and expansion of the multinational monopolies, particularly Big Oil with its strategic weight in the state apparatus of the U.S.

The so-called Arab consensus corralled by the U.S. should fool no one. It ranges from clients in their pay like Egypt, to those completely under U.S. control like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, to those who are intimidated like Syria.

Let those promoting these issues in the anti-war movement in the name of concern for the self-determination of small nations take notice of the brutal occupation of the territory of the Mohawk Nation by the Canadian and Quebec authorities. Let's remember that Bush and Mulroney met right while both were plotting their respective interventions against oppressed peoples.

If they're looking for a small nation oppressed by imperialists, why not look at home? Why forget Puerto Rico, Hawaii, Samoa? Why forget the annexation of California, Texas, and Arizona? Were those presidents of the U.S. paragons of peace while Saddam Hussein is the incarnation of war and evil?

Even those who are not class-conscious workers, not Marxists, not for socialist revolution, shouldn't find it that difficult to adhere to the bourgeois democratic demand of self-determination and let the oppressed peoples decide their own affairs without the interference of the U.S.

Last updated: 23 March 2018