US Imperialism’s Hundred Years War?

Image - McCain: ready for 100 years’ war

Imperialism: Five Years since the Invasion of Iraq

The Costs of the War

Since the US invasion Iraq five years ago this month almost 4000 US military personnel have been killed and another 29 000 wounded. Against that, almost 1 200 000 Iraqis have been killed and 4.5 million Iraqis are refugees. Of these, 2 million are outside the country (60% of them in Syria) and 2.5 million are Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who survive on UN handouts and the remnants of their own dwindling savings.

International aid agencies have recently launched a new appeal for $265 million dollars in aid for these victims. In financial terms, the military cost of the war alone is already over $600 billion for the United States, despite a Bush promise when it started that it would cost no more than $50 billion.

Despite the so-called surge, the number of US personnel killed in Iraq reached a record 901 last year and the number of IDPs continues to grow at 50,000 a month. In January this year, 6 US soldiers were killed in the US Army’s biggest single daily loss since last May.

As retaliation, B-1 bombers and F-16 fighters dropped 40 000 pounds of explosives in the largest air strike since the war began. It is a war that is not going away and hardly any of the so-called “benchmarks” for success laid down by General David Petraeus (current US commander in the Middle East) in his report to Congress have been met. So, apart from untold misery and mayhem, what has five years of invasion and occupation achieved? According to the US Government’s own National Intelligence Executive “the overall terrorist threat due to Islamic terrorism has increased”. It’s not hard to see why. And yet the US political establishment and the media have not even made the war an election issue. The only comment on it has come from the Republican frontrunner John McCain, who when asked if the US occupation of Iraq might last 100 years, replied “It’s fine by me”.

Another American Century?

And really it’s fine by almost the entire US ruling class. A lot is made of the way in which the war started and the fact that it was sought after by the group around Dick Cheney (1) and the neo-conservative Project for a New American Century (PNAC).

This group articulated a sense of insecurity in US ruling circles that victory in the Cold War had not brought the US the victory that it had proclaimed. In fact, quite the reverse. With twin deficits in its budget and its trade balance and a declining dollar, the pillars of US economic power were under threat. In addition, the US’ inability to provide for its own oil consumption had seen oil imports rise from 15% of US needs to 60% in the course of thirty years. The widespread idea that the Twentieth Century had been the “American Century” was undermined by certain uncomfortable economic truths. American power was at its apogee in 1945, when it emerged as the only major power unscarred by war and with a productive apparatus the like of which the word had never seen before. It was easy for the US to impose its terms on the rest of the world and soon did so. The dollar became the currency of international trade and the US government guaranteed the value of every dollar could be covered by the amount of gold held in Fort Knox.

However, when the post-war boom (or third cycle of capitalist accumulation as we call it) came to an end due to the continuing tendency for the rate of profit to fall, the US began to print money to cover its deficits. But these dollars were supposed to be “as good as gold” and the US suddenly found itself facing a situation where the dollar holdings of its allies could actually be called in for gold. If they did that the US would be ruined. In 1971, the US took the momentous decision to end dollar-gold parity and two years later further devalued the dollar (thus devaluing the currency held by other states). A consequence of this was the formation (with US blessing) of the oil cartel OPEC, who hiked up the price of oil (which had declined massively in real terms since 1945). As the US at that point only imported 15% of it oil it also gained competitively against other states.

The US was now not constrained by the gold standard in issuing dollars and now began to print them at will. This did not cause inflation in the US so much as in the rest of the world because the dollar remained the favoured currency for international trade. US trade and budget deficits could thus multiply whilst those who took dollars in the international system were actually baling out the US debt. All this depended on the dollar remaining the currency of international trade, which, to a certain extent, it largely has. The backbone of this were the Arab oil-producing states of the Middle East who accumulated vast amounts of petrodollars which they used to invest back in US firms and Government bonds. It was a nice arrangement for all concerned but it all depended on the dollar remaining the international currency of first resort on the world market. It remains so today, but it has increasingly come under challenge, especially after 1999 when the euro gave the likes of Saddam Hussein an alternative in which to sell their oil. It was no accident that the characters who had made their fortunes in oil were the backbone of PNAC.

It is now public knowledge that this think tank wrote a report entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses a year before 9/11. This report called for the re-establishment of US hegemony and the settling of old scores, such as the continuing question of Saddam Hussein’s refusal to kowtow after the Gulf War. The report already envisaged the occupation of Iraq stating that

while the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.(2)

The attack on the Twin Towers was both timely and a distraction from their real aim.

It was timely for getting the message across that the US was under threat and provided an opportunity for the military response that the neo-cons had been seeking. (3) This is why the Bush regime did not simply demand a war on the Taliban for refusing to hand over Osama Bin Laden but instead came up with the “war on terror”. This war against a concept has been enormously useful to the Bush regime in extending its reach. Not only has it meant that the war can be fought everywhere on the planet where the terror threat is identified, but it also shuts up opposition to it at home.

The distraction for the PNAC clique was that they had to attack Afghanistan before hitting in Iraq. However, they did not let this distraction deflect them for long.

Afghanistan may have been strategically important, even for oil men (since it is a possible conduit for oil pipelines from Central Asia), but the real action was always to be found in the Gulf. Even leading members of the US ruling class have recently been forced to confess the truth. Alan Greenspan, ex-chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, in a published memoir wrote,

I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: that the Iraq war is largely about oil. (4)

But, to hide this simple fact, the US and British Governments has to manufacture a massive amount of lies about the supposed weapons of mass destruction held by Saddam. In the US, a long media campaign, orchestrated by the PNAC, and other neo-con bodies, prepared the US public to identify Saddam Hussein with Osama Bin Laden (despite the fact that Saddam had made it impossible for Al Qaeda to operate in Iraq).

On the international stage, the US adopted the formula “those who are not with us are against us”, and put military and economic pressure on various governments (including Pakistan) to fall behind “the war on terror”.

The Consequences of the War on Terror

Despite all the costs in human and financial terms, it cannot be said that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have achieved what their American architects intended. As we have argued for years now, the aim of extending US hegemony in the world has only led to a situation where it has been called further into question. In Iraq itself

the holding of elections ... has brought Iran’s allies to power in Baghdad. The US and Iran now have the same allies in Baghdad namely the Shiite Da’wa party and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI) whose members make the majority of the government. While aiding its Shiite clients in government, the US, clearly does not want the Shiites to win the civil war since this would strengthen Iran. Hence the US is also arming the Sunni regions militias.
This rearmament of the Sunnis, which is supposedly against Al Qaeda, is regarded with great suspicion by the Shiite government, which fears that these arms will be used against it, and that the US may ultimately back a new Sunni regime. (5)

In short, the US policy is now wrapped up in a huge contradiction. The Cheney solution was simply to apply more military force wherever it was needed. The PNAC group were thus behind preparations to extend the war into Iran. They even had Bush uttering a whole series of threats against Iran to justify a further invasion.

But they ultimately lost. Most of them, like Rumsfeld, were sacked (leaving only Cheney in his original post) because they were the architects of the disaster in Iraq.

The failure of the US to achieve victory in Iraq is also destabilising its regional allies.

The centrifugal forces generated in Iraq have again raised the issue of an independent Kurdistan bringing a furious reaction from the US NATO ally Turkey. Turkey has made a number of military incursions into northern Iraq and has two military bases inside Iraqi Kurdistan. This is bringing Turkey into conflict with the US’s most reliable Iraqi ally, the Kurdish regional authority. Similarly, the Palestinian and Lebanese conflicts with Israel have been sharpened and US allies discredited. To the East, Pakistan has suffered internal conflict because of the US failure in Afghanistan.

The US principal ally, General Musharraf, has been significantly weakened and could now be removed from power following the defeat of his party in the recent election which the US forced on him. Support for the US has been significantly weakened.

Thus a whole host of regional setbacks loom as a consequence of US setbacks in Iraq.

Now that the US is bogged down in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Pentagon is beginning to re-assert control over military strategy. This was why Admiral William Fallon, head of the US Central Command in the Middle East, publicly announced that the US was in no position to attack Iran.

This admission alone is a signal of the complete mess US aggression has ended up in. This is also why Condoleeza Rice is scuttling around the Middle East and Europe trying to mend fences with the US allies to get them involved in US imperialism’s project in the Middle East (and elsewhere). The signs are that she will have her work cut out, since there have already been spats between Robert Gates, the new Defence Secretary and the Germans over their feeble contribution to the war in Afghanistan. Indeed, the NATO alliance is fraying at the edges in Afghanistan as the US demand more troops from its allies whilst the same allies are trying to wriggle out of the war. Evidence of this came when it was revealed at the beginning of this year that two British diplomats had been expelled by the Afghan Government for entering into negotiations with the Taliban without taking the trouble to inform the government they were supposed to be propping up.

It is not just that the US coalition is beginning to unravel. The attempt by the USA to corner the world‘s commodity markets, but most especially that in oil, has also provoked a response from more antagonistic imperialist rivals. In our last issue we reported that what has happened is that the area of direct confrontation between Russia and China and the USA has widened. In Central Asia they have got together to form the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to try to counter US attempts to control the oil and gas of the Caspian Sea. This is now in the process of cosying up to Iran. In December China signed a $2 billion contract with Iran to develop the Yadavaran oil and gas field much to the fury of the US. (6)

The Russians have resumed the building of the Bushehr nuclear power station and have once again decided to support Tehran’s right to enrich uranium under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. China has also been given the rights to develop the largest unexplored reserve of copper in the world in Afghanistan. This willingness to go into war zones or places where humanitarian atrocities are committed daily has meant that Chinese imperialism is now stretching its influence throughout Africa and Central Asia where it is currently coming up directly against US efforts to regain its previous dominance. (7)

In short, the war in Iraq has had the opposite effect to that intended. US use of the military to try to hold on to its global economic dominance has weakened the US, paved the way for other imperialist interests to move into new territories and left its foreign policy in a cul-de-sac. The US can neither withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq nor can it pacify either state. All is not yet lost and the US still hopes to benefit from the new energy law drafted by US oil companies and presented (in English!) to the Iraqi Parliament. Although it has not yet been passed (because the Kurds want control of the oil of Mosul), the Iraqi oil minister said in London (8) that he intended to sidestep the law and invite oil companies to register for prequalification.

In any case, the US and European oil companies already have a foot in the door through the support contracts they have been given with the Iraqi National Oil Company. If US imperialism can retain control of this resource then, it will at least have secured one of its objectives.

However, there can be no military solution in Iraq and no political solution seems likely soon. Hence the question already quoted of occupying Iraq (and Afghanistan?) for another century which was put to Senator McCain. But occupation carries the obvious dangers of a constant bleeding of US forces probably at the hands of militia supported from Iran. This paves the way for further conflicts which could extend right across the Middle East, Central Asia and Africa.

With diminishing oil reserves (not to mention other strategic needs, such as water), the potential for more massacres is enormous unless imperialism (and not just in the USA) is stopped in its tracks.

British Imperialism and the War on Terror

The only state whose government enthusiastically embraced the war on terror was Britain’s. It was the only state to actually join in a full combat role in both Afghanistan and Iraq. The material reasons are not hard to fathom. Britain’s North Sea oil and gas are nearing exhaustion and the British will be left scrambling for fuel within a decade. By 2020, according to the Government, 70% of Britain’s electricity will come from gas and 90% of that will be imported.

At the moment, the alternative to becoming dependent on Russia’s Gazprom is the tanker delivery from Qatar to Milford Haven (which is not yet fully operational).

Alternatives would be useful and Iraq has 110 trillion cubic feet of gas reserves (in addition to its oil reserves). On top of this, British manufacturing has declined dramatically over the last quarter of a century as we have chronicled in this journal, and Britain has become increasingly dependent on the revenue from its activities as a centre of international finance and services. It is only the former that yields the big financial returns and these are largely made in the US. Joining the war in terror was just like joining the speculation in credit default obligations (CDOs), structured investment vehicles (SIVs) which have resulted in the British banks today mirroring the US financial crisis. (9)

In both cases the British have been brought to disaster by following the US lead. Not only have they had to face a financial crisis (which goes well beyond Northern Rock), but they have had to make an ignominious military withdrawal from Basra after years of telling us how wonderful they were in comparison with their US allies. (10)

On top of this, “the war on terror” has actually brought terror to the streets of Britain as Islamic fanatics have sought revenge for the carnage created in the Middle East by British imperialist support for US aggression. The total responsibility of the Labour Government for making life more dangerous for British citizens has never been admitted. But now even Sir Ken McDonald, the Director of Public Prosecutions, has called for an end to the phrase “the war on terror” as it simply giving kudos and self-justification to a few “deluded narcissistic inadequates” who claim to be furthering Islam. His call is likely to fall on deaf ears since the Government has also found the “war on terror” useful for increasing the surveillance power of the state to an extent that would be envied by the former Stalinist states of Eastern Europe.

And this is not the only way in which the hollowness of capitalist democracy’s claim to be “free” has been exposed. When the war against Iraq was clearly going to go ahead there was a huge groundswell of opinion against it. This culminated in the biggest demonstration in British history on February 15th 2003. (11)

British forces leaving Basra
British forces leaving Basra

In spite of this the Government went ahead with the already planned attack and over a million people have since lost their lives. It underlines the fact that peaceful demonstrations and rhetorical speeches do not threaten our rulers enough to halt them in their murderous tracks. It was noticeable that the TUC refused to take any position on the war and thus, despite the exemplary actions of individual groups of workers here and there, there was no call for strike action to halt the war machine. Given the history of the trades unions as mobilisers for the “nation” in two world wars this should not surprise anyone. It simply underlines the fact that a real class fight cannot rely on the existing so-called “workers’ organisation” who long ago made their peace with capital and accepted their role of policeman of the workforce for the British state. In fact, in the Iraq War the unions’ apathy was not challenged because the British working class, in common with the working classes of most advanced capitalist countries have found themselves reeling from the attacks of the capitalist state. The destruction of manufacturing jobs, real wage cuts and the restructuring of the workforce have all but destroyed the cohesion and solidarity of the working class.

Only the International Working Class Can Halt Imperialist War

However, the same capitalist crisis which has provoked this new period of imperialist conflict is also bringing back a new spirit of resistance, which we have seen voiced increasingly over the last few years in strikes and demonstration in various countries, both at the centre and the periphery of the global capitalist system.

In Britain five million public sector workers have just received yet another real wage cut and are preparing to fight. At the moment, they are divided by the unions who don’t intend to let a collective resistance to the cuts develop outside the narrow guild interests of each group. But, as the cuts increase workers will be forced to fight together. From this they can gain in confidence and give other workers the will to fight too. Last year in Britain saw the biggest number of days lost through strikes for a decade. Small beer now but if this trend continues it will change the current assumptions of our ruling class that they can get away with anything, including barbarous war. Ultimately it won’t be demonstrations or speeches which will save humanity, but the united international action of workers everywhere that will halt capitalism’s drive to never-ending war. In so doing we have to recognise that we must get rid of the system in which individual greed spawns massacres for millions. The question for humanity remains the same as that posed by socialists at the start of the last “American century” - socialism or barbarism.


(1) This included the notorious crew of Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Jeb Bush (younger brother of George W. Bush) and Lewis Libby.

(2) The Guardian, 4th December 2003.

(3) In fact, there are now more people than the usual conspiracy theory suspects who demand to know why, despite all intelligence warnings, nothing was done to stop the attack on the World Trade Center in 2000. No-one has yet explained why, after the first plane was known to have been hijacked until the third plane hit the Pentagon, over one and half hours had elapsed without a single US fighter being scrambled. Like Pearl Harbor in 1941, it was the failure of the Government to act on the information provided by its own intelligence service which allowed the provocation that just happened to justify the declaration of war that the ruling class wanted to make anyway.

(4) See Times Online; .

(5) “US Imperialism in Disarray”, Revolutionary Perspectives 44.

(6) This deal provoked an immediate protest from the US. Reported in Financial Times, 21st December 2007.

(7) See, for example, “Zimbabwe - As Economic Collapse Looms the Vultures Gather” in Revolutionary Perspectives 42 and “Behind the Smell of Blood in Darfur Lie Imperialist Interests” in Revolutionary Perspectives 40.

(8) Financial Times, 8th January 2008.

(9) See “Private Equity Scuppered by Sub-prime Fallout” in Revolutionary Perspectives 43 and “Capitalist Financial Crisis - The Worst is Yet to Come” in Revolutionary Perspectives 44.

(10) For the retreat from Basra see “US Imperialism in Disarray” which can be viewed as a web extra to Revolutionary Perspectives 44 on our website.

(11) As anyone who was there knows despite all the official lies that have tried to minimise this. Although in per capita terms, the Chartist demonstration on Kennington Common in 1848 probably will take some beating - but that too demonstrated the resistance of the British ruling class to really responsible government.

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