The news of the moment is that the western alliance is now deeply fractured on the question of war with Iraq. As the moment of truth draws closer, the divisions within the Security Council are growing. On January 22, France and Germany both pledged to try to prevent a war, even if that meant not supporting America in a UN vote. Germany has declared that it would not back a resolution proposing military action against Iraq. "Our people can count on the German and French governments combining our powers and efforts to keep the peace, prevent war and maintain security," Germany's chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, wrote on January 22 in the Berliner Zeitung. Later, Mr Schröder stood next to France's president, Jacques Chirac, at an event in Paris, where Mr Chirac said that France agreed with Germany's position on Iraq.
In an angry response, Donald Rumsfeld attacked France and Germany as "old Europe". In his extraordinary outburst, Rumsfeld stated that the centre of gravity of Europe was moving East - thus drawing attention to the fact that the USA is manoeuvring to get the support of the Eastern European states - Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic - as a pro-American Trojan horse within the EU. This has further incensed the French and Germans. It tells them in so many words that the USA intends to do what it wants - with or without the Europeans.
Does this negate what I wrote in my last article concerning the position of France and Russia? Not at all. It was always clear that the French, Russians and Germans were opposed to the policy of the USA in relation to Iraq. They have different interests and therefore different policies. That was never in doubt. But the point is that this will not deflect the American imperialists from carrying out their declared aims. It merely creates additional complications for Bush and co., which they would prefer not to have, but in the last analysis, will brush aside as a man brushes an irritating fly. Moreover, in the last analysis, the French and Russians will have to withdraw their opposition - or else be exposed before the whole world as impotent and irrelevant people who talk a lot and do nothing. In addition, there is the little matter of post-war oil contracts to consider…
To believe that this will be enough to prevent a war would be naïve in the extreme. The decision to attack Iraq was taken long ago in Washington and will not be reversed because it displeases politicians in Paris, Moscow and Berlin. Of course, George Bush says the decision to launch a military strike has not yet been taken, but with more than 150,000 troops massing in the Gulf, it would be foolish to attach the slightest credence to these assertions. On the contrary, everything points to an attack being imminent. Indeed, Russian officials say they have information that the attack will begin from mid-February. We have no reason to doubt this.
Russia has warned America against commencing military action while the inspectors want to continue their searches. But Moscow is under no illusions about the effects of such warnings. A high-ranking Russian military source, quoted on Russia's Interfax news service, stated: "According to the information we have, the operation is planned for the second half of February." He added that the campaign was expected to last about a month and that the main objective was to seize control of Iraq's oilfields. Since Russia has big interests in Iraqi oil, this is a mater of considerable concern! However, since Russia has no intention of confronting the US army in Iraq, such concern does not bother George Bush or his generals very much.
A number of countries are pressing for the UN inspectors to be given more time to search Iraq for evidence of weapons of mass destruction. According to Mohamed El Baradei, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the inspectors need "quite a few months" to complete their work. "I am pleading for the inspection process to take its course," he said.
France and Germany, for example, are, so far, united in their support of the inspectors. France has hinted that as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, along with America, Britain, China and Russia, it might even use its veto against any resolution authorising the use of force against Iraq. The French say that the evidence uncovered so far by the weapons inspectors does not justify it. This is quite correct, but also quite irrelevant, since the intention all along has been to eliminate Saddam Hussein and install a pro-US puppet regime in Baghdad.
The discontent is greatest in the Middle East. Turkey, a member of NATO, has profound misgivings and is hosting a regional meeting of foreign ministers from countries that include Syria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Given the extremely unstable situation in Turkey, the government in Ankara is deeply worried about a war in Iraq, but at the end of the day will support the USA - in return for certain concessions.
The Turkish bourgeois, as we have explained, have their eyes on the oilfields in Kirkuk and Mosul. The fact that the Kurds claim this as part of their own territory does not concern them. If the Kurds occupy the oilfields, the Turkish army will be sent to seize them. That will be just a small part of the fun and games that will follow an American invasion of Iraq. It is a finished recipe for chaos throughout the region. That is why the Arab regimes (and also Iran) are unhappy. But then, their happiness or the lack of it is not a determining factor in the calculations of the Pentagon.
The splits in the camp of the "allies" are, of course, very serious, reflecting a growing sense of panic in Arab capitals. Panic, yes - but also a weary sense of fatalism. The conference of Middle Eastern states in Turkey has laid bare the disarray, confusion and impotence of these regimes to decide anything. They make a lot of noise but in reality they know that their destiny is no longer in their own hands. Everything is being decided in Washington.
Mr Bush's impatience for military action grows more palpable by the day, if not by the hour. "How much more time do we need to be sure he is not disarming? This looks to me like the re-run of a bad movie and I'm not interested in watching it," he snarls. The conclusion is self-evident. If the Americans think they will not get a satisfactory vote in the Security Council (satisfactory to them, of course) they will not even try to get a UN mandate for military action, but will instead lead their own campaign to topple Saddam Hussein with the support of Britain and any other allies prepared to back them.
Hans Blix, the chief inspector, is supposed to present a progress report to the Security Council at the end of January. Mr Blix has been hoping that he will be allowed to present another report to the Security Council in February. But if the Russians are right, the weapons inspectors do not have much time left. After two months of searching, the inspectors have not uncovered any clear evidence, which would be necessary to convince the world that Iraq still has nuclear, chemical and biological weapons programmes.
To imagine that the USA would be prepared to waste time waiting for Mr. Blix and his friends to find "evidence" of something which the Americans regard as an established fact is absurd. Washington already considers Iraq to be in breach of its UN commitments, a theme which Mr Bush will reiterate in his State of the Union address on Tuesday January 28. The following day, the Security Council will convene to consider its response to the inspectors' report. None of this will have a decisive effect on the plans of the USA.
The requirements of diplomacy are now entering into conflict with the demands of the military. And in such conflicts, the military tends to win. It does not require much intelligence to see why. To keep 150,000 soldiers in a state of enforced inactivity in the heat of the desert for months on end is not a serious proposition because of the damaging effect on morale. Therefore the prediction that hostilities will commence some time in the next month is probably accurate. The only reason they have been prepared to wait as long as they have is that they had not yet got all their troops into position. Once the military build-up in the Gulf has reached a critical mass, the time for diplomacy will be over and the services of Mr. Blix will no longer be required.
Two days after the Security Council meeting, Mr Bush will hold discussions with his ventriloquist's dummy, Tony Blair, at his Camp David retreat. Since ventriloquists' dummies do not tend to argue very much, it should be an amicable affair. Blair, who is faced with growing opposition at home and would probably himself prefer to avoid a war, is now claiming that the pressure being piled on Iraq is already having an effect on Saddam's regime. "They are rattled, they are weakening," he told the British Parliament. The British are walking uncomfortably on a tightrope. They have sent a large number of troops - one quarter of the British army - to the Gulf and, as usual, are slavishly following the dictates of the latest occupant of the White House, although the war is deeply unpopular with the British public and especially within the Labour Party.
Despite everything Blair remains publicly firm in his support for Bush. This openly bourgeois politician, who every day sounds more like a Tory on all questions, has tied himself to the chariot of US imperialism and cannot extricate himself. Really, the capacity for self-delusion of this man knows no bounds. He talks of a "special relationship" with America, when the real relationship is between master and lackey. He has even deluded himself that he, and not George W Bush, is the real leader of the coalition! It is, of course, the case that a master will sometimes listen to the advice of his servant. However, such advice must be strictly limited to such matters as the colour of his tie, but never extends to big investment decisions - or wars with Iraq. As one political commentator put it: "Here we have a charging rhino with Blair on its back, shouting: 'I'm riding this!' But instead of riding, he is just being bumped up and down."
As America and Britain continue with their massive military build-up, the Camp David meeting will clearly be a council of war in which Bush will decide everything and Blair will say: "Amen". But all is not well for Mr. Blair. Support for the war in Britain is steadily falling. At least a hundred Labour MPs are threatening to revolt on the war issue. Tony Blair is beginning to feel the fire under his backside. Once the war breaks out there will be huge opposition in Britain as in the rest of Europe and the USA itself.
It is necessary to mobilise all the forces of the international labour movement against the war! Already train drivers in Britain have refused to move arms shipments for Iraq. In Belgium there is a movement to prevent the use of ports for weapons destined for the Gulf. Mass demonstrations have been organised from Washington to Rome. The movement must be generalised and intensified!No to the war against Iraq!
No war but the class war!