Unwon Hearts and Minds

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Review of 'Bush in Babylon', Tariq Ali, Verso £13 and 'The New Mandarins of American Power', Alex Callinicos, Polity £12.99

Richard Perle, self styled 'Prince of Darkness' and close adviser of George Bush, recently admitted that the invasion of Iraq was illegal. At around the same time news leaked that Saddam Hussein desperately tried to sue for peace just before the war began. Both reinforce the most damning fact of all - that the US and Britain were determined to go to war last March regardless of the circumstances.

The war had nothing to do with any imminent threat from weapons of mass destruction, with humanitarian intervention, or with combating terrorism. It had everything to do with US and British strategic interests in the region. These books are indispensable in understanding why. Both are written in polemical style by longstanding socialists and anti-war activists and make a devastating case against the war and the occupation.

Tariq Ali's Bush in Babylon draws on poetry, personal reminiscence and history to demonstrate the role of imperialism in the history of Iraq. Unlike many western and Iraqi apologists for the colonial occupation, he shows that there has always been a strong strand of left wing politics in Iraq, and that the choice facing the Iraqi people does not have to be Saddam Hussein's dictatorship or US rule. The Ba'ath Party only consolidated its rule after fighting the Communists and the left. Democracy is not a gift from the US but something Iraqis have always striven for and often been denied, including, as now, by western rulers.

That democracy is very much at the bottom of the west's priorities comes through very strongly in Alex Callinicos's book. He demonstrates that the Bush doctrine is connected with the spread of neoliberalism and global capital. The US has supported many past dictators - including Saddam Hussein - and continues to do so where it wants to protect its economic interests. So the Karimov regime in Uzbekistan was the lucky recipient of $189 million US aid in 2002 despite interning up to 7,000 political prisoners, practising torture and rigging trials. Callinicos also shows the connection between free market 'democracy' and privatisation, and quotes Arundhati Roy as saying, 'Democracy has become Empire's euphemism for neoliberal capitalism.'

In the long and dishonourable history of imperialism, humanitarian arguments have long hidden the real aim of using military might to smooth the path for investment and new markets, both by crushing domestic populations and intimidating potential rivals from snatching their own share of the spoils. The US has this aim, but has been less successful than it might hope in carrying it through. Here both books are confident that it is in trouble.

Its ability to intervene militarily is not matched by an equal ability to intervene economically. And its military intervention will not win over hearts and minds. We have gone from the prospect of jubilant Iraqi liberation to Operation Iron Hammer in a matter of months. Two forces have stood up to the Americans - the Iraqi resistance, which appears to be growing by the day, and the anti-war movement internationally. The millions who marched in February made a political statement and were ignored by their governments. The march against Bush last month represented a hardening of attitudes which have only begun to make themselves felt. With luck both Bush and Blair will fall victim to this growing political opposition.

Alex Callinicos stresses the need to link the huge anti-war movement in the west and especially in Britain with the fight against capitalism. Tariq Ali demonstrates that the Iraqi people have a history of fighting imperialism. It is impossible here to do justice to both books - they are essential reading for those who have fought against war over the past two years and who see it as the defining issue of our age.