Iraq and Afghanistan - out of the frying pan...

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One of the most popular placards on any Stop the War demonstration in the past few years has been Socialist Worker's image of George W Bush with the slogan "World's #1 Terrorist". It's not just the change of name that makes that redundant after 20 January.

Barack Obama stood on a platform of withdrawing US troops from Iraq. His candidacy expressed the widespread opposition to the Iraq war across the US. In fact, Obama's success in getting himself on the ticket as the Democratic Party candidate was itself due in large part to anti-war feelings.

While exit polls showed that 63 percent said the economy was the major issue concerning voters, the second most important issue was the war in Iraq.

Great expectations accompany Obama's election. It is all the more galling then that Hillary Clinton - who campaigned in the primaries as someone who was much tougher in defence of US imperialism than Obama and who voted for and supported the Iraq war - looks like she will be his secretary of state.

Obama is faced with a very serious situation: two failed wars, the collapse of the pro-Western government in Somalia, and the return of inter-imperialist rivalry in the Caucasus. He has tried to compensate for US unpopularity internationally by declaring that he will close Camp Delta in Guantanamo Bay.
Obama's opposition to the Iraq war dates back to 2002 when he made a speech at an anti-war rally in Chicago. But even there he made it clear that he's not against all wars. Indeed, his policy is for greater aggression and US troop involvement in Afghanistan.

In this he is at one with mainstream opinion in the governing circles of the imperialist powers. They have never overcome the combination of resistance at home and among Iraqis to the war from its inception. They want to withdraw many US and British troops, but leave permanent bases, military advisers and trainers for the Iraqi army, businessmen and privatisers, and an army of private security guards. And they had great difficulty concluding the Status of Forces agreement with the Iraqi government. But any withdrawal from Iraq will not be an admission of failure for the "war on terror" - it will be an attempt to divert troops to another unwinnable war in Afghanistan.

There is little popular support for these moves. Resistance, both by the Taliban, their allies and by ordinary Afghans, is increasing all the time. There is serious doubt about whether next year's election can go ahead, and if it does whether President Hamid Karzai would win. There is danger of famine this winter, and the war is spilling over into Pakistan, a highly unstable state with nuclear weapons. In Britain the latest survey conducted for the BBC shows that over two-thirds of people want the troops out within a year.

Obama takes over at a time of great instability in the world with US involvement increasingly contested. US forces have made bombing raids and incursions into Pakistan and Syria in recent weeks, have been complicit in planned coups against governments in Bolivia and Venezuela, and have backed Georgia as a proxy in the summer war in the Caucasus against Russia. We should not see these events as simply the last gasp of the hated neocons and Republican hawks.

Anxiety has greeted Obama's first named adviser, his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, who served in the Israeli army and will give Israel a strong voice at the heart of government. As well as Clinton's appointment other projected advisors include Madeleine Albright who famously said that the price of half a million Iraqi children dead through the effects of sanctions was "worth it". These people represent a different strand of opinion among US imperialism from Bush's advisers, but will be keen to make their mark.

Russia, strongly opposed to the siting of US missiles in eastern Europe, has threatened to place its own missiles in the Kaliningrad pocket between the Baltic states and Poland in response. Robert Gates, the present defence secretary who Obama is planning to keep on, is trying to fast-track Nato membership for the Ukraine which will further destabilise the Caucasus.

Obama will receive much goodwill from around the world. But if he continues with the policies already set in train by the hated Bush - and it looks like he will in a number of areas - then he will rapidly encounter opposition. One of the first chances for that is the mass protest planned in Strasbourg in early April 2009 for Nato's 60th birthday, when Europe has a chance to show its opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and to the new missiles now threatening the continent.