World peace in the balance

Published : Feb 14, 2003 00:00 IST

Anti-war demonstrators march down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C., on their way to the White House on January 19. - NICHOLAS ROBERTS/AFP

Anti-war demonstrators march down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington D.C., on their way to the White House on January 19. - NICHOLAS ROBERTS/AFP

As the United States continues with its extraordinary military mobilisation against Iraq with the subservient complicity of the United Kingdom, there is virtually a global rebellion, from below, against the prospect of the genocide under preparation.

THIS article is being drafted on the afternoon of January 25, a day before the United Nations weapons inspectors are to deliver their preliminary report to the Security Council. Estimates of the number of Iraqi people dead during a decade of lawless siege by the United States-United Kingdom alliance range between one million and a million and a half. U.N. agencies estimate that a full-scale war of the sort that this alliance wants to unleash might kill as many as 10 million people, through direct military action but, even more, through the destruction of the whole structure in which, thanks to the U.N.-supported blockade, virtually the entire Iraqi population tries to survive on food distributed by the same regime, which is now the target of a "regime change" campaign. In the name of the lofty purpose of getting rid of a dictator, this lawless alliance has tried to pass off its designs as something of a benevolent genocide; millions must die so that the U.S. might gift to the remaining Iraqis a `democracy' assembled by its clients who are at present headed by Ahmed Chalabi, a convicted criminal.

Under duress, of course, these benevolent genocidists are quite willing to drop even this pretence. The famed `dove' in the Bush administration, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, was reported as saying on the British Broadcasting Corporation News of January 23: "If it can't be solved peacefully and if the U.N. should fail to act, and I hope that is not the case, then the United States reserves the right to do what it thinks is appropriate to defend its interests." The formulation is worth repeating: the U.S. reserves the right to do what it thinks is appropriate "to defend its interests". International law be damned! The latest twist, however, is that the U.N. is likely to "fail to act," notwithstanding the extraordinary brinksmanship of the unreliable Hans Blix, chief weapons inspector.

France, Russia and China - three of the five countries who command the veto power in the Security Council - have taken the position that (a) the Council must pass a fresh resolution authorising military action if such action is to be taken; (b) the U.S. has so far failed to establish, and the inspectors have not so far produced, any evidence that Iraq has any weapons of mass destruction; and (c) if and when such evidence is produced, military action may emerge as a possible option but even then political solution must be sought first.

Germany, which does not have a veto but is clearly the most powerful European state, has said that it will not vote in favour of a resolution calling for full-scale military invasion of Iraq. "War is proof of failure, everything must be done to avoid it," French President Jacques Chirac is reported to have said. Indicating that there was enough support across the European Union - minus Britain - French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin anounced: "It is important that Europe speak on this issue with a single voice. We are mobilised, we believe war can be avoided." Belgium from within Europe and China from across the seas announced immediately that they held positions similar to that of France - "on the same wave length," was the Belgian Foreign Minister's phrase, while the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said that China would "advocate solving the Iraq question through political and diplomatic means". Not to be left behind, Russia has said that there was no evidence that would justify a full-scale war on Iraq. Russian President Vladimir Putin told U.S President George Bush in a telephone conversation that "the main criterion" in assessing the situation in Iraq should be the weapons inspectors' findings. Meanwhile, The Globe and Mail, the Canadian newspaper, reported on January 24, 2003: " Prime Minister Jean Chretien says the United States has not yet made the case for war with Iraq, and that he has told U.S. President George W. Bush that Canada does not want the United States to attack without a U.N. mandate. Arguing that United Nations weapons inspectors should be given more time, a sceptical Mr. Chretien said yesterday he is not afraid to part company with Canada's closest ally." Strengthened by this strong anti-war position taken in unexpected quarters, a meeting in Turkey of six Muslim countries, which included Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Iran - though, significantly, not Pakistan - declared themselves opposed to a full scale invasion of Iraq at this time and recommended diplomatic solutions.

We shall return to the causes and the likely outcomes of this sudden erosion in the global complicity with the U.S., at least for the present. The extraordinary fact is that the unbridled belligerence of the U.S.-UK alliance continues in the teeth of this erosion. "Germany has been a problem, and France has been a problem," U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said loftily and then dismissed them, with contempt, as just "old Europe"; as if only the statelets of eastern Europe was `new' Europe. As for the loss of support from Canada, which has had a relationship with the U.S. that has been even more slavish than that of Britain, he was equally nonchalant: "It's up to Canada to decide what it wishes to do." Richard Perle, a former Assistant Secretary of Defence who now heads the powerful Defence Policy Board at the Pentagon, said with equal nonchalance that the U.S. would proceed with military action regardless of what the U.N. inspectors find or do not find.

Meanwhile, the extraordinary U.S. military mobilisation continues, with troops pouring into the region around Iraq and reservists across the U.S. being called back to duty. Not to be outdone, and in sharp opposition to the other major E.U. states, the dim-witted Tony Blair has ordered another 26,000 British troops into the war theatre, promising the largest British military action since the equally mindless Suez adventure of 1956, forgetting that that adventure was the one that sent Anthony Eden, the then British Prime Minister, into oblivion. A time may yet come when Blair will have to choose not only between the U.S. and the E.U. but also between his loyalty to Bush and his own political survival in a country where anti-war sentiment is running at over 80 per cent, as it is in France and Germany.

THE issue of the anti-war sentiment brings us back to why dissent has grown so much and so suddenly in the world state system outside the U.S. and the U.K. By far, the most important is a virtually global rebellion, from below, against the prospect of the genocide under preparation. Second, the upsurge in the anti-war sentiment across the globe is supplemented by an impressive showing by the anti-globalisation forces symbolised by the mass congregations of the Social Forums across the globe. The nightmare in the European capitals is that the anti-war movement shall converge fully with the anti-globalisation movement and may bring about a worldwide anti-capitalist, anti-imperialist rebellion of an unprecedented scale and in historically novel political forms. Third, there is a new upsurge of the Left in the political field, quite aside from the anti-war demonstrations and the anti-globalisation congregations but converging with them, as is symbolised by the election of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to the presidency of Brazil.

Fourth, Iraq has cooperated with the U.N. inspectors so thoroughly, throwing open the entire country, that no one who is not already committed to making war at all costs and against all evidence can claim that the failure of the inspectors to produce any credible evidence is owing to the Iraqi regime's intransigence; if they cannot produce hard evidence of weapons of mass destruction, then it is most probable that the capacity to produce such weapons does not - at least, does not any longer - exist. Fifth, North Korea, inadvertently or not, has offered Iraq a reprieve. As the U.S. threatens full destruction of Iraq on the flimsy grounds that Saddam Hussein's regime has (yet unproven) weapons of mass destruction, North Korea has defiantly repudiated the Nulcear Non-Proliferation Treaty and has been at best ambiguous in clarifying whether or not it has the capacity and/or the intention to produce nuclear weapons. This, on top of the fact that the U.S. has been accusing North Korea of supplying nuclear missile technology to Pakistan and Iran. However, the U.S. dare not move against North Korea because South Korea itself will not allow it, let alone Japan or China or Russia. So, the contemplated destruction of Iraq is clearly shown to be possible only because it is so very vulnerable and has only imperialism's clients for its neighbours - clients who are far more supine than even South Korea, which still has a large number of U.S. troops stationed on its soil but has calmly offered to "mediate" in the dispute between the U.S. and North Korea.

Finally, even the prospect of war has sent shock waves through the financial markets of the core countries, including Britain, and no one can tell how far the fall may go in case the U.S.-U.K. crazies actually do what they are promising. These realities were palpable in the contrast between the two world economic forums that were held simultaneously, that of the managers of globalisation in Davos, which sank into pessimism and irrelevance, and that of the anti-globalisation forces in Porto Alegre, which shimmered with enthusiasm and excitement at the level of strength the movement has achieved in a matter of five years or so. Significantly, President Lula, the son of an agricultural worker and himself a legendary trade union leader, was the chief guest at both events, celebrating the expansion of the anti-globalisation forces in Porto Alegre and then telling assembled magnates of global capitalism at Davos that corporate globalisation has little chances of survival and that capitalism would have to reform itself if it is to survive.

Some of these factors deserve further comment. When this author was last in North America, in December 2002, the scale of the anti-war movement was already impressive - indeed, exhilarating. Washington, San Francisco and New York had witnessed the largest anti-war rallies since the Vietnam war and sizeable demonstrations had taken place by then in over 400 lesser cities and small towns in the U.S. This author was impressed by three facts. One, anti-war demonstrations of that size had first occurred in the U.S. during the Vietnam period, three years after John F. Kennedy had first despatched U.S. troops to fight there. Now, it was happening even before a full-scale invasion had begun. Second, these demonstrations were not confined to the larger, more cosmopolitan cities; they enveloped the country as a whole and were taking place in surprising places, some of which had been bastions of right-wing republicanism. Third, and by the same token, these demonstrations were not affairs limited to college and university campuses - though those too were stirring - nor led by or confined to those who had been active against the Vietnam war; although seeing old friends who were again on the move was undoubtedly exciting. What was even more exciting was the palpable fact that the movement was already reaching into what is called in America as "middle America," that is, the general citizenry, not just the college rebels, or the leftists or Left-leaning radicals but the person across the street who saw no reason why any of her compatriots should go and risk their lives in a war that made no sense. However, one also felt (and others felt) that most of the anti-globalisation elements in North America were still not part of this growing anti-war movement.

The more recent anti-war demonstration in Florence, which coincided with the European Social Forum and which brought out 400,000 people, coming after the earlier demonstration in London, which is said to have brought out roughly a quarter of a million people, laid to rest the fear that the anti-war movement and the anti-globalisation movement may remain separate and may even compete with each other. The two had by then converged very substantially. It is in this perspective that the demonstration of January 18 in Washington, which is said to have brought out close to half a million people, along with demonstrations across the rest of the U.S. and the world, gains its historic meaning. By now, Washington alone has seen close to a million people, travelling from as far as New Mexico and Alaska, telling their rulers to back off from a war that is both senseless and immoral. Meanwhile, an anti-war movement of the veterans of America's former wars is also developing. An open letter, signed by 100 war veterans and addressed to the soldiers on duty, asking them to obey not their commanders but their own conscience, is doing the rounds. It is bound to gather thousands of signatures, and the idea of the heroes of previous wars opposing a war-on-the-horizon has historically had great resonance and sympathy among the American people. Even The New York Times was constrained to notice editorially that the anti-war movement had reached what it called "mainstream America." Refusing to recognise the actual size of the demonstrations, the newspaper nevertheless entitled its editorial "A Stirring in the Nation" and acknowledged that "it was impressive for the obvious mainstream roots of the marchers". Never in history had so many citizens of a country that was about to wage war come out into the street to express their protest. (This should, by the way, put us Indians to shame, considering that the streets of our cities witnessed no anti-war demonstrations when our rulers amassed 750,000 troops on the India-Pakistan border and squandered Rs.100,000 crores merely to build the image of the Bharatiya Janata Party as a party that will give us a "strong" India.) It was yet again shown that the late Ho Chi Minh was right when, in his last will and testament, he saluted the American people for their opposition to their country's war against Vietnam.

It was under this pressure that the broader support for the war in America plummeted rapidly and we saw the phenomenon of masses on the move pulling along masses who had not been on the move. Two days after the demonstration, a poll by the television channel ABC, which asked: "Do you believe there is a case for war in Iraq?" showed that 82 per cent thought that there was no such case, only 18 per cent thought there was a case for war. Another poll, conducted between January 16 and 20, also found that Bush's approval ratings had dropped to its lowest level since the period preceding September 11, 2001. For the first time, the poll found approval levels on his handling of the economy coming down to as low as 43 per cent while support for his handling of the Iraq crisis was "down by 6 to 8 percentage points in just six weeks". This mass dissent has forced even the Democratic party to stop playing chicken and start expressing some reservation against at least the more extremist plans of their Far-Right government.

Possibly under this pressure, but also on professional grounds, the dissension between the professionals of the armed forces and the Central Intelligence Agency on the one hand, and the ideologues led by Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz on the other, seems to be growing to the point where there are strong rumours of a split among even the Chiefs of Staff (some of them are said to be arguing that the U.S. is "unprepared" to face the consequences of its "excessive" plans for military action). Advice of this kind might fall on deaf ears, since the civilian core at the highest levels of the U.S. government that wants to make war represents the Far Right politically and the petrodollar-weapondollar complex economically. However, Europe is not ruled by similar forces, and over 80 per cent of the public opinion against the war has had its consequences. Gerhard Shroeder, the German Chancellor, for example, won the elections on an anti-war platform, then tried to wriggle out of it but was then pulled back by the sheer force of public opinion. Not just his party, or the Greens who are his coalition partners, but the German conservatives too are overwhelmingly against following the U.S. lead into a war that might well shake up the planet. For example, in response to Rumsfeld's attack on Germany and France as `Old Europe', the conservative daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung lined up an array of European intellectuals including Habermas, Derrida and Debray to defend "Europe".

However, this European opposition, combined with that of China and Russia, may have other dimensions as well. It has been a matter of much amazement for this author that this opposition did not come earlier, more consistently and more vigorously. I have been convinced for some time that the U.S. race to establish complete monopoly over the combined oil resources of West Asia and the Caspian Sea - as well as the oil resources in such far-flung areas as Venezuela, Nigeria and Indonesia - is directed, at least in part, against its main competitors in the advanced capitalist world itself: the E.U., Japan, China and Russia (in the singular case of China, one would have to say `advancing' rather than already `advanced'). Consequently, I have never understood why these countries do not oppose the U.S. bid for oil resources more forthrightly. It may well be the case that corporate and governmental experts in these respective countries are beginning to understand that their own economic future is at stake, that complete U.S. monopoly over the strategic resource of oil would relegate them to second-class status for any foreseeable future, and that the time to mount the challenge was now, when they have even the masses of West Asia raging against the prospect of U.S. monopoly and the Gulf regimes seem afraid of the consequences of the genocidal blitz being planned by the Anglo-American axis. Furthermore, since these other countries are not driven by the tie between Christian fundamentalist messianism and Zionist expansionism, they might not wish to face the likely terrorism of the terrorised that American state terrorism is likely to bring about among sections of the Arab youth.

AND then, there is the simple fact that money speaks. It speaks to the bankers of Europe more loudly than the voices of the people do. And the noise it makes becomes all the more persuasive when the message it sends is the same that the bankers get from the street. They are the most responsive when the demands of the multitude and demands of money seem to converge. The Independent, a British newspaper, noted on January 24 that "the stock market notched up the longest losing streak in its history yesterday". The FTSE-100 Index of leading shares had by then seen 80 billion wiped off its value since January 13, closing at the perilously low level of 3622.2. At an earlier stage of this slide, the Financial Services Authority, which serves as a watchdog for the City, had warned that if the Index ever falls below the 3500 mark, the decline may well pose problems for a variety of pension funds in which large sections of the salaried strata have their savings and retirement prospects tied up. By all counts, the decline was owing to investor anxiety in the face of war and its possible consequences. Other stock markets, including the U.S. market, experienced declines though not to the same extent. No one knows what will happen in case war breaks out. If the U.S. does not win quickly, financial markets slip dramatically and even pension funds get affected, dissent is likely to grow widely among the articulate middle classes and even among those sectors of the big bourgeoisie that have not invested much in the petrodollar-weapondollar complex. The political future of the Bushes and the Blairs, and of the U.S. Far Right generally, will then be at stake.

The U.S. Far Right has been projecting its own wet dreams as the likely scenario for the war itself as well as what comes after it. In the process, it is also minimising the financial costs of the war. It is certainly the case that a controlled dose of military Keynesianism - let us say, $200 billion ploughed into the war economy - may well boost the investment climate in the sagging U.S. economy. It is also the case that if the U.S. achieves all its war aims, it will monopolise the world's oil resources, will eventually push down oil prices sufficiently to wreck not just the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) but also the Russian economy, and will control the production levels, prices and even access to the world's central raw material resource, of which some 70 per cent seems to be located in the Gulf region and the Caspian Sea Basin.

In the process, vast profits shall accrue not just to the various U.S. corporations but also personally to Bush, Dick Cheney, and Condoleeza Rice, all of whom are involved deeply in the oil- and weapon-producing corporations.

THERE is no certainty, however, that the war will necessarily go that way. In December, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, an international society of scientists, scholars, business people and political figures, released a report assembled by its researchers, which argued that there is no reliable way of estimating the costs of the coming war, which may go up as much as $2 trillion over a decade. Nor is it clear what might happen to Iraqi oil in the foreseeable future. Iraqi oil fields were so intensely aflame as a consequence of the much more limited Gulf War that it took more than eight months to restore a reasonable level of production.

With the whole world put on notice that the U.S.-U.K. forces seek to seize Iraqi oil permanently and even destroy the territorial unity of the country in the process, it is far from clear what kind of defence the Iraqis have prepared, not just in the cities but also around the oil fields.

The British press is rife with rumours that the seizure of the fields has been assigned to British troops, purportedly to refute the claim that it is the U.S. that seeks to take over these resources. It is just as likely that this is the area where casualties are expected to be high and British troops are being called in to do the dirty and dangerous work for the Americans so as to reduce the number of Americans dead.

Nor is it clear what the political fallout in the region would be. In Pakistan, where the populace has never given the fundamentalists any sizeable representation in Parliament, repercussions of the American invasion of Afghanistan were such that these fundamentalists came close to forming a government despite General Musharraf's best efforts to keep them out; a full-scale invasion of Iraq is likely to deliver the country to them altogether. This is complicated by the fact that Pakistan not only has nuclear weapons but is also said to have considerable reserves of oil and gas. "Massive untapped gas reserves are believed to be lying beneath Pakistan's remotest deserts, but they are being held hostage by armed tribal groups demanding a better deal from the central government," Agence France Presse had written just days before September 11, 2001. Will the U.S. invade Pakistan as well, on the pretext of keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of the fundamentalists but in fact to monopolise those untapped gas and oil reserves? Is this part of what Musharraf meant when he warned a few days ago that Pakistan may be the next target after Iraq? And, at what point does the empire overstretch itself, as opposition to its diabolical designs grows across the globe, including among sizeable sections of its own population?

It is said that the Israeli atrocities in Jenin alone have driven thousands of youth, many of them perfectly secular, into the looser networks of the Al Qaeda because it is perceived as actually taking up arms against the Americans. Jordan is said to be on the boil, Saudi monarchy is afraid of its survival, and Hosni Mubarak of Egypt has not only warned of a "firestorm" enveloping West Asia in case of an invasion but also allowed an internationally publicised anti-war conference to take place in Cairo. In the midst of all this, Ariel Sharon is being returned to power in Israel with a broader mandate. Sharon's plans to revamp the maps of the entire region overlap with the plans of the American Far Right. Under the tutelage of these overlapping power centres, the U.S. may well be preparing not for a short excursus with the limited aim of a "regime change" in Baghdad but for something resembling a 30-year war.

It is in this climate of dire danger, as world peace hangs in the balance, that Hans Blix has submitted his interim report to the Security Council. Teams of U.N. inspectors have routinely included U.S. and Israeli agents in the past and Blix himself has been known to work within a framework set by the U.S. More recently, however, the ideologues of the American Far Right, such as Richard Perle, have said harsh things about him. As sharp divisions emerge between the E.U. and the U.S., Blix may find that he is himself a man of divided loyalties. It is too early to say whether his impending report - and his future actions - will reflect the emerging Franco-German agenda or the settled U.S. agenda. That will depend in part on how firm the E.U. leaders are in what they are currently saying.

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