Times are changing, again


by Jean Bricmont

In 1967, Israel defeated in six days five Arab countries and grabbed the part of historic Palestine that it had not taken in 1948. Apparently under the impression that this quick and brilliant victory greatly increased regional stability and world peace, and showed the way to reduce terrorism and anti-Semitism, American leaders, after September 11, undertook to try to duplicate that feat, but on a larger scale, in a country not of 3 but of 25 million inhabitants. That is why, a year ago, they committed what was judged at Nuremberg the supreme crime, the crime that contains and allows all the others, the crime against peace. In clear opposition to the United Nations and world public opinion, they invaded a country that did not represent any threat to their security, having been devastated by twelve years of one of the most cruel embargoes in history.

The pretexts invoked for the aggression collapse one after another : there were no WMD and no links with terrorism (before the invasion). The last argument, democracy and human rights, although easy to make fun of in light of the recent pictures of " abuse " of prisoners, is worth discussing in some detail. The real problem faced by the US in Iraq is not due to mistakes done in the " reconstruction " (although many mistakes were made), but to the fact that, on the one hand, the rhetoric used by the US makes it difficult for them to impose a dictatorship right away in Iraq, and on the other hand that it is impossible for them to accept even a moderately democratic regime there. Why ? A democratic government tends to respond at least somewhat to the desires of its population and, judging from the opinions in the Arab world, there are three things that the Iraqis are likely to desire and that are unacceptable to the US. First, that they effectively control their oil (the quantity produced and the prices) ; second, that all US bases in Iraq be dismantled (the more democratic countries are, the less enthusiastic they tend to be with respect to having foreign bases on their soil). And finally, and most importantly, that their government construct an effective military counterweight to Zionist hegemony in the region, including, if necessary, nuclear weapons. After all, Britain and France were " democratic " when they acquired nuclear weapons to respond to a perceived Soviet threat, and the majority of their population was certainly not opposed. But there were never any direct wars between the Soviet Union and those countries (unlike between Iraq and Israel) and it would have been unthinkable for the Soviet Union to bomb a nuclear reactor in France (as Israel did in Iraq). But, needless to say, the US cannot possibly leave Iraq in the hands of a government that would even dream of enacting any such policies. On the other hand, they can`t make sure that elections won`t produce such a government. What the US could have hoped to do was to impose a neo-colonial regime, as they did when they conquered the Philippines a century ago. But there have been some minor events since then, such as worldwide revolts against Western colonialism, and it is not clear that such a programme is feasible today.

Actually, things don`t quite go as advertised. Hundreds of soldiers killed, thousands maimed for life, widespread demoralization, including in ruling circles. Optimists argue that this is not Vietnam. Well, not yet ; but the resistance is more diverse and has less clearly political goals than in Vietnam, which may make negotiations all the more difficult for the Americans ; besides, other comparisons are possible : the resistance in France certainly did not have, a year after the German invasion of 1940, the strength of the Iraqi resistance today. That the American " liberators " encounter more resistance and less collaboration than the Nazis should give pause to the supporters of humanitarian interventions. Moreover, the resistance to the invasion has already brought lots of changes in the world, and is likely to bring quite a few more.

First of all, and maybe the most important and negative consequence of the invasion, but which is likely to have long-lasting effects, is a deep hatred for Americans in large parts of the world, and even more for Israelis and Jews, seen, at least in most of the Muslim world, as pulling the strings of US policy. But that is exactly why wars are so dangerous (they fuel desire for revenge and hatred) and why the whole notion of humanitarian war is so insane.

More positively, the resistance has blocked the US army for the time being ; just after the fall of Baghdad, the question was : who is next, Iran, Syria, Cuba, North Korea ? Now all these regimes can more or less rest in peace ; they will be subverted by the usual means, but not invaded.

The divide between Europe and the US grows deeper. That is not just due to the war ; the extreme arrogance of American leaders has helped considerably in that respect. Whether it will lead to a rearmament of Europe and a resurgence of European imperialism, a program encouraged by the social-democrats (who, like the US Democrats, fuel militarism in the name of our " values ") or to a more positive issue remains to be seen.

Incidentally, it is thanks to the Iraqi resistance that the Democrats have a chance of winning the presidential election (of course, if elected, they`ll thank the Iraqis by trying to crush them). Without that, Bush could claim another great victory in the war against terror. The same could be said about the anti-war movement that would be thrown into oblivion if things did not go so badly for the US in Iraq.

If the situation further deteriorates, then it may well be that the huge intellectual industry (thousands of courses, books, special chairs in universities, etc.) set up after the Vietnam war to build an ideology justifying " humanitarian interventions " by the rich countries into the internal affairs of the poor ones, will fall into disrepute. That in itself would be a major change, opening possibilities for a radical rethinking of the relationship between us and the rest of the world.

Moreover, US leaders may finally understand that support for Israel costs them much more than it`s worth. In the Arab and the Muslim world, there is a large comprador bourgeoisie that is extremely willing to collaborate with the US but is prevented from doing so, at least too openly, because of US commitment to Zionism. This should be, in the eyes of any rational imperialist, a more important factor than a few hundreds of thousands of fanatics occupying the West Bank and Gaza. But since it is difficult to even raise that issue in the US media, it may take a quagmire like Iraq, whose invasion would be much helped by pro-American Arab states if it weren`t for Israel, for the obvious truth to be perceived. It would be one of the many ironies of history if this war, which has been so intensely supported by the Zionists, should lead to their eventual downfall.

It is an unfortunate truth about human history that social systems, no matter how unjust, tend to reproduce themselves and that change emerges only from crises, for example when ruling circles get themselves defeated or bogged down in unwinnable wars, and when ordinary people no longer believe the blatant lies fed to them. One can think of the Paris Commune after the defeat of Napoleon at Sedan, the Russian and other revolutions and changes in Europe after World War I, the emancipation from European colonialism after the self-destruction of Europe in two world wars, the social progress following the defeat of fascism and of the reactionary circles linked with it, or the events of the sixties during the Vietnam war.

If the unthinkable happens, namely if the US is actually chased out of Iraq (which will no doubt take several years and a lot of blood), then much bigger changes are to be expected. Since World War II, the whole world system is based on the premise that progressive social changes, wherever they might occur, will be opposed by the US, first diplomatically and economically, then by sabotage, propaganda and, if necessary, military intervention. A real defeat in Iraq, and the concomitant humiliation of the US rulers, may lead to a retreat into some form of isolationism, as well as to major social conflicts within the US, which would open enormous possibilities for social change in the world. But it could also lead to major disasters, endless religious wars or widespread terrorism.

Therefore, the left should put Iraq as its first priority. In particular, everything should be made to undermine the war effort from behind the lines. There should be no collaboration whatsoever with the occupation, even under the guise of reconstruction or of the UN (the Iraqi resistance rejects a UN-led occupation). Use the election to vote for a clearly anti-war candidate, rather than swallowing the anybody-but-Bush argument. Kerry may actually prove to be far worse than Bush with respect to the war, precisely because he may do what he says he will do, namely send more troops, get the European allies on his side (many of which are only waiting for a " decent " American president to rally round), and wage the war more efficiently. The left should also use the situation created by the war to raise deeper and deeper questions about the kind of society that we live in and that leads to such catastrophes : stress the dependence on oil of our economic miracles, of course, but also the total subservience of the " free press " to the wishes of the government and the deep racism implicit in the thinking of those who engineered the war.

Somewhat before the outbreak of World War I, Lenin said that the emperors (of Russia, Austria etc.) would not give the socialists the gift of war. But that is exactly what they did, and as a result the said emperors went into the dustbin of history while the name of Lenin is known to more people than a few historians studying sectarian Marxist groups in Tsarist Russia. Now, an alliance of neo-conservatives, radical Zionists and crazy Christians has given the gift of war -- but it is not yet clear to whom : Islamists, anti-Semites, the global left ? We should be aware of both the opportunities and the dangers.

Bricmont Jean
Louvain la Neuve, Belgium