Either Way, They Lose

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By sending thousands more troops to Baghdad, Bush and the neocons have shown their inability to accept defeat but, argues Chris Nineham, the move will expand tensions at home.

Just when it seemed things couldn't get any worse for the US establishment, George Bush's antics have taken panic and division in Washington to new levels. His rejection of the Iraq Study Group report has put Bush on collision course with a cross section of the elder statesmen of the US ruling class including James Baker, the man responsible for ensuring that Bush's dubious election was upheld at the end of 2000.

Commitment to troop surge has led Bush into confrontation with much of the top brass too. He has sacked General Casey - the key military architect of the occupation - on the grounds that he was too fixated on withdrawal. This has forced more military critics to come out of the closet. Ex Nato commander Wesley Clarke immediately went public with an attack on the escalation saying it would "put more American troops in harm's way, further undercut US forces' morale and risk further alienation of elements of the Iraqi populace".

Pressure on the US military is already a real worry. Recruitment has become so difficult that the army has raised the maximum entry age to 40 and lowered the mental threshold to "category three" - "one level above imbecility" according to a former chief of staff. Soldiers are losing confidence in the whole enterprise. More seriously, a recent poll shows only 13 percent of US troops in Iraq think the US is very likely to succeed.

Bush's turn signals the ascendancy of the neocon hardcore just at a time when their policies are utterly discredited among most sections of the US population. US commentators agree that the mid-term election results were a rejection of the war. Growing military casualties are alienating people in the white, small town interior that the Republicans like to call their own. Less than one in ten say they support sending more troops. Every night now there is a highly charged roll call of US dead in Iraq at the end of Jim Lehrer's popular Newshour television programme.

Bush's decisions appear baffling, but they reflect a bleak position. Like a losing chess player, he doesn't have any good moves left. Withdrawing from Iraq now would be a more thoroughgoing humiliation than even the withdrawal from Saigon in Vietnam in 1975, sending, in the Economist magazine's words, "a desperately unhelpful message about US power right around the world".

Even increasing troop numbers isn't a credible alternative. The plan appears to be to take on the Mehdi Army of Shia cleric Moqtada Al Sadr in its stronghold of north Baghdad. As Patrick Cockburn and many others have argued, the numbers of troops being discussed are hopelessly inadequate. But more fundamentally, given the central role the Sadrists are playing in Iraqi politics, the plan doesn't make political sense. It is almost certain to increase problems on the ground.

More than anything else, Bush's intransigence is a sign that he meant what he said about a "long war". The attacks on Somalia and the repeated leaks about the likelihood of Israeli attacks on Iran are further indications that the "war on terror" is hard wired into the current situation.

As Socialist Review has argued from the start, the attacks on Afghanistan and Iraq were not just misguided reactions to 9/11. They were part of a war for imperial influence driven by growing competition in the world economy and the US's relative economic decline. The British establishment, which accepted the role of junior partner in Iraq, now finds itself tied to a more and more desperate and barbarous project.

Tony Blair's big problem is just about to become Gordon Brown's. Brown's reactions so far display all his characteristic cowardice. At a recent press conference apparently designed to flag up his independence from Washington, Brown wailed "I think everyone who knows me knows that I have worked very closely with both parties in America over the years." His recent comments on troop withdrawal were so hedged that they were almost comically faint hearted: "I believe it is true to say that by the end of the year there may be thousands less in Iraq than there are now." Some independence.

But the new level of crisis in Washington and London gives the anti-war movement a big opening. Apart from the specifics of the way we were conned into war, it is precisely the prospect of Britain being tied to the US imperial project in the long term that most enrages people. The Trident nuclear missiles replacement programme is a symbol of this, and it is also a symbol of the massive waste this policy will produce. Just the £25 billion start up costs for a Trident replacement would pay for 120,000 new nurses annually for ten years.

Even the pro-war press in Britain can't stomach Bush's plans to increase troop numbers. No one finds it credible, and so the New Labour warmongers who just can't find it in themselves to oppose the US are utterly isolated. In these circumstances the movement needs to go on the offensive. We have a chance to inflict real damage on the whole war project. We need broad anti-war campaigns in every area, systematic lobbying of MPs over Trident and for the withdrawal of troops, culminating in an enormous turn out for the Stop the War demonstration on 24 February.


Chris Nineham is an officer of the Stop The War Coalition