Red and Black Notes article written 2 years into the invasion of Iraq, looking at what was then happening with the occupation.
At the height of the Vietnam War, singer Edwin Starr asked, "War! What is it good for? Absolutely nothing." While the question is still important, we should also ask about the war in Iraq, who is it good for?
Certainly not the countless thousands of Iraqi casualties stemming from the U.S. invasion; not the civilians in Barcelona, Bali, London and other points caught up in this sprawling global conflict; not even the 20,000 dead or injured U.S. troops; while George Bush benefited through a successful re-election strategy, the U.S. has largely failed in its aims in the invasion of Iraq. If anything, the war has shown the widening cracks in the entire capitalist structure.
Prior to the war, various theories were advanced for Washington's motives: Cheap oil; a U.S. beachhead in the Middle East; settling a score with Saddam Hussein left over from the first Gulf War; disciplining the rest of the Western bloc. While there may have been some truth in each of these, Red & Black Notes argued at the time that the real reason was from problems in the debt-crippled U.S. economy. A successful Iraqi campaign which would grant the U.S. control over oil resources and increase its presence in the region would do much to restore international capital's confidence in the U.S. economy at the expense of its rivals. But it's all gone wrong.
The U.S. has demonstrated that there is no military power capable of resisting it in conventional warfare, but the war has also showed the weakness of U.S. military power in non-conventional warfare. Instead of being greeted as liberators for overthrowing a brutal dictator, the U.S. presence has served as a lighting rod for discontent, not helped by the various brutalities its soldiers are committing.
While the beachhead goal is still theoretically achievable, the longer the U.S. remains in Iraq, the greater the possibility of the destabilization of the entire region. As to the U.S.'s musings about bringing 'democracy' to Syria and Iran, in actuality, the last thing the U.S. wants is to become involved in a broader conflict; not least because its erstwhile allies in the region, deeply unpopular among their own people, fear that the anti-U.S. movements will engulf them as well. (Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf seems the most likely loser if the war continues)
To make matters worse, the U.S. economy has both gained and lost from wildly accelerating oil prices, but has also been battered by Hurricanes Katrina, and now Rita. The U.S. probably should have moved to guard its economy from Weather of Mass Destruction rather than anything Iraq could create.
The problem the U.S. finds itself in is one of its own making. While it is unable to defeat the insurgency, it's unable to extricate itself from the situation without the fear that the entire structure will collapse and everything will be swept away. Saddam Hussein was a tyrant, but he was hardly the expansionist threat to the U.S. painted by the Bush administration and a complaint media, forays into Iran and Kuwait notwithstanding. Remember, Hussein's appeals to pan-Arabism largely fell on deaf ears. Yet it is the logic of capitalism which has forced this engagement.
Ironically, those who stand to gain most from the invasion now are the leaders of the insurgency: the sections of the Iraqi ruling groups which were threatened by the fall of Hussein.
What is the insurgency? In section of the left, the insurgency has been prettified and depicted as a heroic, national liberation movement akin to the Palestinian Intifada. But unlike the sympathetic images of children with rocks against soldiers with automatic weapons, the "Iraqi Intifada" has featured massive civilian casualties inflicted by the insurgents, and gruesome beheadings. If the murder of civilians in London in July was an anti-working class atrocity, how it is different from the September 14 bombing in Baghdad which killed 114 day labourers looking for work? Hardly the stuff of heroes.
The insurgents are former members of the Ba'ath party, religious fundamentalists, and supporters of various militias, but all have in common their desire to impose a new capitalist order in Iraq. It is unlikely that the insurgency can militarily defeat the U.S., but it can impose stinging blows, which may force the U.S. to reconsider its options. Of course, the U.S. is well aware of the effectiveness of this tactic, having used guerilla armies to strike at its enemies as recently as the 1980's in Nicaragua and Afghanistan.
However, it is possible that U.S. defeat is not the insurgents' goal, only to strike a deal and to increase the power of the Sunni elites in danger of losing the privileges they enjoyed under Saddam Hussein to the Kurdish and Shiite majority.
The perspective largely absent from the mainstream media and all too often leftist public opinion is that of the working class. It is often forgotten that demonstrations, strikes, and protests have all continued during the U.S. presence. And it is only the struggles of the global working class that can resist imperialism, can ultimately solve the problems of Iraq, the Middle East region and the entire world through the destruction of capitalism, and establish a global community fit for humans to live in.
September 24, 2005.
This statement was distributed at the September 24, 2005 anti-war demonstration in Toronto and has been archived on libcom.org from the Red and Black Notes website.