Socialist Worker

Can we defeat the US's evil empire?

by Kevin Ovenden
Issue No. 1789

The world now faces the greatest war machine in history, lashing out at whoever it decides is 'evil'. US military aggression and arrogance are creating opposition among hundreds of millions of people across the world. 'The good news is we're the world's only superpower,' said Joseph Biden, chair of the US Senate's foreign relations committee, last month. 'The bad news is we're the world's only superpower.'

Many of those who went along with the 1991 war against Iraq, the bombardment of the Balkans or the slaughter in Afghanistan now dread George Bush's preparations for an invasion of Iraq. More people than ever realise that more wars beckon unless the US colossus is stopped in its tracks. The question is, can it be? It would be foolish to underestimate the scale of US military power and the ruthlessness of the warmongers in the White House.

Bush's father used the United Nations as cover for the Gulf War. His successor, Bill Clinton, summoned the US-led NATO alliance. Bush junior attacked Afghanistan with his dutiful bag carrier, Tony Blair's government, in tow. That shows the US state's triumphalism and sheer military capacity. But it also shows that even longstanding US allies are backing away from participation in its war drive. The Bush gang gives the impression of not giving a damn whether it has support from other states.

But, for all the bluster, George Bush spent last week touring East Asian states seeking backing for the latest phase of his war. US vice-president Dick Cheney is doing the same in virtually every Arab capital-bullying, bribing and cajoling.

THE US needs the backing, or at least helpful neutrality, of a range of other states for this war. It had the military hardware to rain death upon Afghanistan. But its deployment depended on access to one third of Pakistan's airspace, and bases in Turkey, Uzbekistan and other Central Asian states. Above all, it relied on those repressive state machines-along with the rulers of the Middle East-to control the mass anti-imperialist feeling of their populations.

Opposition to US imperialism can threaten to undermine its clients, or push them to distance themselves from Bush. US and British troops are heading to bases in the Middle East as part of the war drive.

Military bases cause deep resentment. The presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia was crucial to turning Osama Bin Laden against the US. War against Iraq will intensify resentment across the Middle East and other regions of the world. Provoking such opposition is built into the drive by the US's rulers to overcome the legacy of their defeat in Vietnam a quarter of a century ago. Vietnam was not the first US conflict after 1945. The US poured troops into a major war in Korea in the early 1950s. By 1968 it was heavily engaged in trying to crush the Vietnamese national liberation movement.

The US was far and away the world's greatest economic power. It had a higher share of world production than today. All major currencies were linked to the dollar. Military spending was the highest it has been since the Second World War-in absolute terms and as a share of economic output. It had overwhelming technological superiority over the lightly armed Vietnamese forces.

Defeat was as unthinkable for the US's rulers then as it is for George Bush today. But they were defeated. The turning point was the 'Tet Offensive' by Vietnamese guerrillas in January 1968.

It was a military failure, but the sight of US soldiers under fire in the supposedly 'safe' capital, Saigon, shattered the myth of their invincibility. That fired the anti-war movement in the US and across the world. The US state did not call a halt. It sent more troops, and dropped more bombs and chemical weapons. The Vietnamese resisted, despite over two million dead. They felt they had something to fight for. The war dragged on for another seven years, but the US was forced to withdraw in 1975.

VIETNAM WAS a grievous blow to US power. It encouraged other struggles against US-backed regimes. The US ratcheted up arms spending in the early 1980s. It was frightened to deploy its own troops-'the Vietnam syndrome'. Instead it relied largely on proxy forces- paramilitary death squads in Central America or Saddam Hussein's army against Iran.

The huge arms budget forced the USSR to 'spend itself into an early grave' trying to match the US missile for missile. But it also contributed to US economic decline relative to rival Western powers. By the late 1980s many believed that Japan would overtake the US economically. The US's superpower rival, the USSR, collapsed in the early 1990s. The core of the US ruling class saw the opportunity to reverse the military and economic setbacks they had suffered.

This underlies the opening up of world markets to US multinationals and the increasingly frequent US-led wars of the last decade. How far has US power been restored? The US now accounts for about 30 percent of world economic output. That is higher than ten years ago, but well short of the peak after the Second World War, when the figure was 50 percent.

The US economy recovered in the 1990s while its main economic rival, Japan, stagnated. But the US boom never reached the levels of the 1960s and is now over. And the very globalisation championed by the US government stops it from insulating itself against economic crisis elsewhere. US attempts to overcome the Vietnam legacy have brought it mixed results. It has depended for its victories on massed aerial bombardment against regimes deeply unpopular with their populations.

In Afghanistan that was coupled with arming experienced local forces to fight a ground war against a weak shadow of a state. US special forces went in mainly after the Taliban had crumbled. There is still a big reluctance to deploy US infantry in full-scale combat. Somalia is a target precisely because US troops were forced to pull out in 1994 after over 40 were killed. The US-backed Colombian government launched an assault on left wing guerrillas last week.

Politicians in Washington cheered, but the Financial Times reported that many of them feared US forces will end up 'getting bogged down in a jungle war'. The most aggressive US leaders see a new war on Iraq as a chance to overcome the reluctance to deploy ground troops.

But the risk is so great that they are hoping to raise proxy ground forces from Iraqi oppositionists or Kurdish militias from the north of Iraq. That spells problems for Turkey, whose support is crucial to bombing Iraq but which fears Kurdish insurgency may spread from Iraq. This shows how US military action is producing deeper political crises rather than a stable empire.

THE US stands like a bullying sergeant major trying to hold states across the globe in line. But it cannot control what they do. There are debates among the US top brass about the extent to which they should 'go it alone' and risk alienating their allies.

The economy of the European Union is about the size of the US's, but it lacks a single state and army. The US sees China as a 'strategic competitor' which could challenge it within the next two decades.

Weaker states also step out of line. Saddam Hussein did the US's bidding before his invasion of Kuwait threatened US control of world oil supplies. The US could not stop Pakistan and India developing nuclear weapons. It now presides over an increasingly chaotic world where it can be drawn into regional conflicts or face states that turn against it. It faces something else too-popular resistance on every continent not seen for a generation.

There is the truly global anti-capitalist movement that taps the bitterness against neo-liberal policies, corrupt rulers, multinational corporations and capitalism itself.

Anti-capitalism has fed the growing movements against war and imperialism. They can all connect with the mass of workers and the poor who have the power to challenge their own rulers and the US. No one knows how or when. Anti-war activists do not know, but neither does Bush. No one predicted the ongoing revolt in Argentina after four years of grinding recession.

In the 1970s Iran, with its feared security apparatus, seemed least likely to succumb to an uprising. But the pro-US regime fell to a revolution in 1979. We do know that the movements we are building today already have our rulers worried. The bigger the opposition today, the more pressure on our rulers, and the swifter and deeper mass revolts against them will be.


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Features
Sat 2 Mar 2002, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1789
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