George Bush’s decision to send more US troops to Iraq means still more death, devastation and misery for its people.
But it is also pushing the US into its deepest political crisis since the Watergate affair of the mid-1970s drove Richard Nixon from office.
Bush’s move has split the US ruling class down the middle, shows every sign of reigniting the US anti-war movement – and calls for a stepping up of anti-war activity in Britain.
Just four weeks ago the Iraq Study Group report highlighted the disastrous position US imperialism finds itself in. “Staying the course in Iraq” – one of Bush’s favourite expressions – was “not an option”, it warned.
The US was not winning the war. The US military presence was adding to “chaos” in which Iranian influence was growing.
The chaos threatened to spill over to produce “radicalisation of populations, mass movement of populations and regime changes” in other, pro-US, states in the region.
An increase in the number of troops would “hamper” the US’s “ability” to cope with the war in Afghanistan and to “respond to crises around the world”.
And “it could lead to greater polarisation within the US where 66 percent of Americans disapprove of the government’s handling of the war”.
The report was headed by two heavyweights in the US political establishment.
They were Republican James Baker, an architect of US foreign policy during Bush’s father’s presidency, and Lee Hamilton, a Democrat congressman who is on the advisory boards of the CIA and the Homeland Security Council. Their concern was not to bring peace to Iraq but to avoid a repeat of the defeat the US suffered in Vietnam 32 years ago.
Bush has turned his back on the report’s analysis, despite the fact that its pessimism about military prospects has been endorsed by some of his leading generals.
He has replaced those generals with his own placemen and adopted the calls for military escalation coming from vice president Dick Cheney, the American Enterprise Institute and the neoconservative hardliner Frederick Kagan.
Along with this has gone the extension of the “war on terror” to the Horn of Africa with US support for the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia.
Even war with Iran is not ruled out, despite the Baker-Hamilton report urging negotiations with Iran and Syria to stabilise Iraq.
“They believe that by tipping over Iran they would recover their losses in Iraq – like doubling your bet,” a Pentagon consultant told highly respected investigative journalist Seymour Hersh.
Bush is relying on the timidity of the Democrats to get his way. It was millions of anti-war votes that enabled the Democrats to storm to victory in November’s congressional elections.
But almost all the party’s leaders voted for the war and oppose immediate US withdrawal. Hillary Clinton denounced people who made that call during the election campaign. Congressional leader Nancy Pelosi says they will maintain support for the troops already there even if they oppose the sending of more.
This fits with their position of being second party of US capitalism – critical of particular Republican approaches, but shying away from anything that might weaken US imperialism.
But Bush’s plans are causing nightmares among some of the firmest supporters of imperialism. They believe any escalation will come unstuck and transform a defeat into a disastrous rout.
Wesley Clark, the US general who led the war against Serbia, says that Bush’s “surge” in troop levels “will put more American troops in harm’s way”, “further undercut US forces’ morale” and increase Iran’s influence in Iraq.
When a ruling class splits down the middle, it makes it much more difficult for it to suppress popular opposition to what a government is doing.
The problems for Bush in the US are magnified for New Labour in Britain. They have grovelled to US imperialism for five years and are caught on the hook as its plans come unstuck.
Hence the way John Prescott and Gordon Brown made a desperate effort to differentiate themselves from Tony Blair by criticising the manner of Saddam Hussein’s execution.
The Baker report made many opponents of the war feel it was coming to an end.
Bush’s decision to escalate the war will have shocked them, making them even angrier. And the splits at the top of society over the issue will make them feel that their anger can be effective.
It is an anger we have to ensure expresses itself on the streets in massive numbers on the anti-war demonstration in London on Saturday 24 February.
Chris Harman is the editor of the International Socialism journal