Magazine of Socialist Action in Australia

Middle East: End imperialist aggression!

Reading Time: 10 minutes

The brutal occupations and conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Palestinian territories continue, causing great suffering to millions of people. Imperialist military might is also threatened against Iran, for daring to pursue its own goals in the region and domestically. In this article some questions are posed on these offensives and threats, which are responded to by Peter Taaffe from the Socialist Party.

The Iraqi people are still suffering enormously from US military occupation and devastated infrastructure. Will their situation improve when the foreign troops are withdrawn?

There is likely to be very little improvement in the catastrophic situation facing the Iraqi people. The US-led invasion of five years ago was supposed to have liberated Iraq from the ‘dark days’ of Saddam Hussein. But as the ancient Roman historian Tacitus once said: “They have created a desolation and called it peace.” Today, there is an estimated 20-30% unemployment rate and a further 50% are ‘underemployed’. Power cuts are the norm, with areas of Baghdad having as little as one hour a day of power and some neighbourhoods going without any electricity for five days!

The US has spent $650 billion allegedly to ‘liberate’ a nation of 25 million people. But, as Alan Greenspan has recently admitted: “Everyone knows the Iraq war is largely about oil” – a naked grab for the third largest conventional oil reserves in the world by western oil giants. The ‘independent’ Maliki government in Baghdad has just handed over 75% of its oil assets.

The ‘surge’ of Bush and his military pro-consul Petraeus is supposed to have ushered in conditions for the withdrawal of foreign troops. But nothing of the kind will take place. In April, a ‘strategic framework document’ was leaked that showed that the US intends to “conduct military operations in Iraq and to retain individuals when necessary for imperative reasons of security indefinitely”.

This led to massive protests in Iraq, which even compelled the Maliki government – a stooge government ultimately dependent on the weapons of US imperialism and its allies – to squeak that there would be troop withdrawals in a “general time horizon”. But Maliki has accepted that these troops will not go back to the US where they belong but will be stationed in 20 to 30 bases in or around Iraq.

Therefore, the Iraqi people, five million of whom are now internal or external refugees, can have no hope of real improvements under Maliki or any other capitalist Iraqi government, dependent as these governments will be on the bayonets of US imperialism. The American troops should be withdrawn immediately, as should the British and Australian troops there.

The US has deliberately perpetuated sectarian divisions, courting the Sunni militia groups who are now more than 100,000 strong, with money and promises of integration into an “Iraqi security structure”. They have also encouraged an inter-Shia civil war between the followers of Muqtada al-Sadr – a Shia sectarian group that encompasses the majority of poorer Shias – against the more openly pro-US capitalist leaders like Maliki and the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council, formerly SCIRI.

It is this and not the “success of the surge” which has resulted in the fall in the number of deaths in Iraq this year. Yet “this still makes Iraq the most dangerous country in the world” (Patrick Cockburn, London Review of Books).

The only force capable of straddling the sectarian divide is the working class and its organisations, weak though they are at present. Out of working class organisations uniting Shias, Sunnis and Kurds, will come a real alternative for the overwhelming majority of the Iraqi people. Only a federation – a socialist one drawing in all the workers and poor – could stop the widening of the sectarian divide, which could, even now, result in the complete centrifugal disintegration of the country.

US president Bush has made it clear that he favours a US or Israeli military attack on Iran, but he is leaving office soon. Do you think Iran will be attacked despite this?

As Iraq has shown, and now Georgia, the Bush regime will stop at nothing to enhance its own position and that of US imperialism, even at the cost of death and destruction on an unprecedented scale. An element in the attack of Georgian president Saakashvili on South Ossetia was undoubtedly the encouragement given to him by the Bush regime, hoping this would enhance McCain’s ‘security’ credentials in the US presidential race.

In June, 100 Israeli jets flew across the Mediterranean in what was seen as a dry run for an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Unless Iran ‘comes to heel’ and stops its nuclear enrichment programme – which it claims is entirely peaceful – the threats of a strike against it are maintained by the US and its Middle East proxy, the Israeli ruling class.

For the strategic interests of US imperialism, an attack on Iran would be massively counterproductive. Iranian spokespersons bluntly stated that it would evoke a big counter-attack; the Straits of Hormuz would be blocked – the outlet for oil tankers leaving the Persian Gulf – leading to a spiralling rise in oil prices, which in turn would aggravate enormously the present world economic crisis of capitalism.

The American military top brass opposes a strike because they realise they cannot fight two wars at present, in Iraq and Afghanistan, never mind a new ‘front’ in Iran. But the Bush regime has been partially out of the control of the US ‘establishment’; witness its attack on Iraq that even the tops of the Republican Party opposed at the time.

Also, the Israeli regime is saying in effect to the US: ‘Take action soon or we could’. This is a nightmare situation with highly unstable regimes that could blunder – as unlikely as this appears at present – into a nuclear exchange with massive implications for the region and the world. It is the most dangerous situation involving nuclear weapons since the Cuban missile crisis in the early 1960s and, in a sense, is more unstable than then.

During the ‘cold war’ – the clash between the different social systems of capitalism and Stalinism – the military doctrine was ‘MAD’ (Mutually Assured Destruction). This was recognition that a pre-emptive nuclear attack would provoke retaliation in which nobody would win and human civilisation would be buried under a nuclear holocaust.

Moreover, there were restraints, particularly through the democratic rights of the working class, which held back capitalist governments – in the US and Britain – from proceeding in this direction. These constraints do not exist in the Middle East. This allowed Rafsanjani, the former Iranian president, to declare in 2001: “The use of a single atomic bomb has the power to destroy Israel completely, while it would only cause partial damage to the Islamic world”. As if US imperialism would stand by and see Israel destroyed under another ‘holocaust’, this time a nuclear one!

While it is generally agreed that Iran does not yet possess a nuclear weapon, according to a leaked US defence briefing, Israel possesses between 60 and 80 nuclear bombs, some estimates putting the total at 100. Yet the demand is for Iran to ‘disarm’!

The Bush regime is running out of time, it is true, to launch or instigate such an attack but the urge to do so is still there. Therefore, the peoples of the world, led by the labour movement, must be vigilant, publicise what is taking place and threaten mass demonstrations worldwide, in order to stay the hands of the ‘Doctor Strangeloves’, whether they reside in Washington, Tel Aviv or Tehran, who threaten to drag us into a nuclear abyss.

The Israeli regime is expanding and building new Jewish settlements, fences and roads in Palestinian Authority areas. So are they determined to prevent a peace deal and a Palestinian state?

The Israeli bureau of statistics reported that Israel’s housing ministry began work on 433 new houses in the West Bank between January and May this year compared to 240 in the same period of 2007. Moreover, there is a big increase in the projected number of settlements for the next period. This has stoked resentment amongst the Palestinian population and hampered the US-led efforts to reach a ‘peace deal’ by the end of this year. Even US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice was compelled to condemn the Israeli government, urging it to halt construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, areas Israel occupied during the 1967 war.

The new settlements go together with around 600 Israeli checkpoints or barriers in the West Bank, all flying in the face of a supposed commitment to the peace process. The West Bank has been carved up into walled reservations and an obscene wall will run eight metres high for 400 miles north to south. This has already taken 10% of the West Bank’s land which before the 1967 war belonged to Jordan. Then there are the unspeakable conditions in Gaza, which is the biggest open-air prison in the world, for 1.5 million people.

This bloody conflict has had a massive effect on Israeli society, to the disadvantage of the working class and the poor. Until now, the Israeli capitalists have claimed that the threat of war, and defence spending, have not affected economic growth (5.3% last year), but that is changing. One in every five Israeli families is now ranked as poor against one in ten in the 1970s. There have been savage attacks on public expenditure, including on child allowances and unemployment compensation, by governments since 2001.

Olmert, the increasingly discredited Israeli prime minister, recently expressed the dilemma facing the Israeli state: “If the day comes when the two-state solution collapses and we face a South African-style struggle for equal voting rights… the state of Israel is finished.” It was this fear that motivated Sharon, and now Olmert, to seek a ‘peace deal’.

Palestinians, largely intellectuals and sections of the middle class, have also resurrected the idea of a ‘bi-national state’. The Palestinian Strategy Study Group stated: “Although many Palestinians may still prefer a genuine negotiated two-state solution, a failure of the present Annapolis initiative will greatly strengthen those who argue against this.”

Fear of Palestinians in the occupied territories being in the same state as Israelis – with the implicit fear that the greater birth rate of Palestinians will ultimately give them a majority – mean efforts for a ‘peace deal’ by the Israeli regime will continue. But they have no chance of lasting success on a capitalist basis. A viable capitalist separate state for the Palestinians is a utopian dream. The Oslo accords gave only a small portion of historic Palestine to the Palestinian people, and Olmert’s proposed re-division of Palestine would leave just 10% for a Palestinian state! This would be a bantustan.

Through sheer exhaustion, an interim arrangement cannot be ruled out but it would not solve the national problem, for either the Palestinians or the Israelis. The idea of a genuine two-state solution, of a socialist Palestine and a socialist Israel within a socialist confederation of the Middle East, is the only way forward out of the bloody trap for both Jews and Palestinians.

The right wing Islamic Taliban are on the rise again in Afghanistan and more foreign troops are being sent in. Could the Taliban return to power and the imperialist troops be forced out?

Seven years ago, the full military might of US imperialism and their military allies stormed into Afghanistan to ‘wipe out the Taliban once and forever’. They are not only back, but recently have strengthened their position. The Karzai government’s writ does not run beyond Kabul, the capital city, and even there he and his government are not safe.

‘Security’ is worsening and Afghanistan’s ‘democracy’ scarcely exists, particularly for the oppressed, including Afghani women. Suicide bombings are up 600% since 2005, insurgent attacks by 400%. Herat, once considered a city safe from the Taliban and ‘lawlessness’, is now a centre of kidnapping. The indiscriminate air campaign of the US and its allies has widened the circle of discontent that exists with foreign occupation and has played into the hands of the Taliban.

Moreover, the proclaimed aim of the invasion of Afghanistan was not to establish ‘democracy’ but to capture or kill the leaders of al-Qa’ida. That remains to be achieved. In despair, a western official confessed to the Financial Times: “If we could get a moderately civilised and effective military dictatorship, we’d be very lucky indeed”.

The present military deployment of western capitalism in Afghanistan is utterly incapable of defeating the Taliban. Now, US military experts have declared that it would take a minimum of 300,000 troops to contain the Taliban. Barack Obama has signed up to a programme of transferring US troops from Iraq to Afghanistan. Bush pre-empted him by doing just that recently. But this will not result in a victory. No more than similar military incursions historically, by Genghis Khan or Alexander the Great, succeeded in one of the most difficult mountain terrains on the globe.

Despite the massive deployment of military hardware and the waste of treasure of the US, British and Australian people in particular, this is an unwinnable war. The Taliban, moreover, have become increasingly infiltrated by embittered Islamic fundamentalists from Pakistan. They were, in any case, a creation of the Pakistani intelligence agency, the ISI.

It is therefore possible that the Taliban, at the cost of terrible bloodshed and suffering of the Afghan population, could over a period of time compel the US, Britain and other countries to withdraw. The deaths of soldiers will not be forever tolerated by public opinion in the US, Britain, Australia and elsewhere.

The return of the Taliban would be a catastrophe for the Afghan workers and peasants. It would mean a return to the middle ages for millions and usher in a warlord regime for the entire country. The labour movement and socialists in the west should support progressive forces in the country, particularly the weak but nevertheless important socialist and left forces, towards uniting the different nationalities in the struggle for a socialist Afghanistan.

The Socialist Party often says that there will be no end to wars in the Middle East and elsewhere, or to poverty, on the basis of capitalism. Why is this, and how would socialism solve the problems?

Wars or the prospect of wars are not the product, in the main, of the whims of individuals. They are the result of the world being divided by a class-ridden system, capitalism, and the main imperialist powers of the US, Britain, France, etc, struggling for control of the world’s resources and markets.

Lenin once said that capitalism is “horror without end”, particularly of wars. That has been the case even since the end of the Second World War. There were colonial wars with millions of victims, for instance in the 30-years war in Vietnam, firstly against the French and then against the US.

However, with the collapse of Stalinism and, with it, unfortunately, the planned economies which went with this, we were told by capitalist spokespersons that the threat of war, if not completely abolished would be severely diminished. The dream of ‘turning swords into ploughshares’ would be realised in a new period of ‘amity and collaboration’. Socialists, particularly Marxists around The Socialist Party and CWI, argued against these fairy tales. Inevitably, the struggle between the different capitalist powers, and within the capitalist powers between the classes, would revive.

The roots of the class struggle lie in the battle between the different classes over the division of the surplus created by the labour of the working class. In a period of growth of production – a larger cake – it is possible that this struggle can be muted although it never disappears. Equally, on the basis of capitalist growth, while jostling between the capitalist powers takes place, it is possible for them to collaborate.

But just as classes clash ferociously sometimes over a diminishing ‘pie’, so do nations. Declarations that it is necessary for the ‘international community’ – read the banding together of the rich and powerful on a world scale – to have ‘mutual understanding’, go out of the window when the vital interests of the different capitalist powers are at stake.

This threat of war in the modern era, largely of regional wars and even of ‘proxy wars’, with the major powers manipulating in the background, is inevitable so long as capitalism continues. Poverty and suffering of the majority of the world’s population – particularly in the neo-colonial world – will continue so long as capitalism remains.

However, a socialist and democratic world would mean that the struggle over resources would be replaced with solidarity and the sharing of the world’s treasure and wealth to the benefit of the many and not the few. There will be problems, but these will be solved by discussion, debate and collaboration and not by force of arms, which is the ultimate ‘argument’ of capitalism and their representatives.