WHY DO George Bush and Tony Blair want to attack Iraq? Colin Powell gave the official answer to the United Nations last week - Saddam Hussein either has, or plans to develop, weapons of mass destruction. Few really believe this, although Tony Blair certainly says he does. A couple of weeks ago he also suggested taking on North Korea once Saddam Hussein had been 'dealt with'!
The United States wants to attack Iraq, which doesn't have nuclear weapons, not North Korea, which does have nuclear technology. The US security consultants Stratfor recently expressed the real thinking of the Bush administration: 'Invading Iraq is in the US national interest regardless of whether Hussein has a single weapon of mass destruction.'
What then makes the conquest of Iraq so imperative? Oil, critics of the war answer. That's certainly an important part of the explanation, but it needs to be put in a larger context.
Last year the Bush administration outlined a new 'National Security Strategy'. The central idea was that the US should use its military power, not simply to deter potential opponents, but to eliminate threats before they become serious. As the National Security Strategy put it, 'While the US will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self defence by acting pre-emptively.'
This 'Bush doctrine' was developed by a small group of leading officials. They were vice-president Dick Cheney, defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz, and national security adviser Condoleezza Rice. All are veterans of previous Republican Party administrations and prominent figures on the right wing of the ruling party.
Their strategic thinking dates back to the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s, when Bush's father was president. For them, the US's triumph over the Soviet Union simply ushered in a new set of dangers. These aren't represented by petty gangsters like Saddam Hussein or the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il.
The real threat comes from potential 'peer competitors' - states that are capable of rivalling the US either in a region or even on a global scale. Some of these are established economic rivals like Germany and Japan. Others are old military competitors like Russia.
China, whose spectacular economic growth rate is already allowing it to assert itself as a regional power, is an object of particular concern. Wolfowitz wrote a few years ago that China threatens to play the role that Germany did at the end of the 19th century by flexing its economic muscles and destabilising the international system.
Bush's top advisers know that the US's relative economic position is much weaker than its apparently overwhelming military lead over other states suggests. Over time, if other major economies grow more quickly than the US, that lead could shrink or even disappear.
The National Security Strategy warns, 'We are attentive to the possible renewal of old patterns of Great Power competition.' One of Bush's top Middle Eastern advisers has written that, 'It is a vital US interest to be willing to use force if necessary' to 'preclude the rise of another global rival for the indefinite future'.
The National Security Strategy is only slightly more diplomatic. It says, 'Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military build-up in the hopes of surpassing, or equalling, the power of the United States.' The Bush administration wants to use the US's current military supremacy to maintain US capitalism's global domination.
The events of 11 September 2001 offered it the opportunity to pursue this objective in a much more aggressive fashion than would otherwise have been possible. The successful conquest of Iraq would send a message to potential 'peer competitors' not to challenge US power.
It would also serve other economic and political objectives. As soon as Bush took office, vice-president Cheney presided over a review of US energy needs. This confirmed that, if the current ecologically destructive pattern of economic development continues, the US will have to import 65 percent of its oil by 2020. This will make the US increasingly economically dependent on unstable regions like Central Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East.
Hence the spread of US military bases, notably in Central Asia, since 11 September. Iraq has the world's second largest oil reserves. A US-imposed puppet government like the regime in Afghanistan would greatly add to the security of oil supplies.
Saudi Arabia has even larger oil reserves than Iraq. The alliance between the US and the Saudi royal family has been one of the linchpins of Washington's global policy since the Second World War.
But relations between Saudi Arabia and the US are deteriorating. US support for Israel's oppression of the Palestinians has been causing increasing political difficulties for the Saudi dictatorship. The fact that Osama Bin Laden, along with 15 of the 19 hijackers on 11 September, comes from Saudi Arabia has encouraged many on the US Republican right to see the country as part of the 'axis of evil'.
One of them even suggested in a Pentagon briefing last summer that the US should threaten to attack the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia unless the regime bans anti-Israeli propaganda. A US occupation of Iraq would make the US less dependent on Saudi Arabia. It would also hugely increase US power in the Middle East.
As Stratfor puts it, the war 'will be about redefining the status quo in the region. Geopolitically, it will leave countries like Syria and Saudi Arabia completely surrounded by US military forces, and Iran partially surrounded.' There is one last ingredient in the administration's thinking.
Bush himself wrote in the foreword to the National Security Strategy that US-style free market capitalism represents the 'single, sustainable model for national success'. The same document underlines US support for further trade liberalisation through the World Trade Organisation and regional pacts like the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas.
It also says that Russia and China can avoid Great Power conflict so long as they accept 'common values'-those of free market capitalism. Bush and Co want to use US military muscle, not just to perpetuate US domination, but also to promote the neo-liberal model of capitalism. This model has been provoking global revolt ever since the Seattle protests in November 1999. This is a war that sums up everything that is wrong with the world today - capitalist anarchy, imperialist domination and environmental destruction.
Because the war is about increasing US power, most of the other leading states are unhappy about it. This has led to a divide between the US and its British lapdog, on one side, and the two main European powers, France and Germany, on the other. These conflicts are important, but it would be a mistake to rely too heavily on them. In the first place, despite their differences, all the big capitalist states have major interests in common. The European Union is as aggressive in pushing the neo-liberal economic agenda as the US.
Secondly, America's current supremacy means that no one wants to antagonise the US too much. German leader Gerhard Schröder is opposed to war on Iraq, but he hasn't stopped the US using its military bases in Germany. French president Jacques Chirac has sent an aircraft carrier to the Middle East.
The socialist Karl Marx long ago described the capitalist class as 'hostile brothers'. He meant that they fight over their share of the loot but are bound together by the fact that the loot comes from the same source - the exploitation of the working class.
This is true of the world of imperialism in which we live. This is a world dominated by a handful of huge capitalist powers that struggle with each other for economic and military advantage but, along with the weaker capitalist classes, rest on the backs of the world's workers. Rather than rely on the US's rivals to counter Bush's war drive we should look instead to the mass mobilisations in Britain and elsewhere that have helped to create a major political crisis.
Many on the great anti-war demonstrations have been quick to connect their opposition to attacking Iraq to the wider madness of the system. That's where the real hope lies - in building a mass movement that fights not just war, but its roots in capitalism itself.
Voices against war
'One power with a president who has no foresight and cannot think properly is now wanting to plunge the world into a holocaust. All that Bush wants is Iraqi oil. Tony Blair is the foreign minister of the United States. If there is a country that has committed unspeakable atrocities in the world, it is the United States of America.'
'The TUC is bound under its rules to recall the Congress if there is a danger of war. We are calling on the TUC to act on this rule now.'
PAUL MACKNEY leader of the Natfhe union. He spoke at an anti-war press conference this week with Bob Crow (RMT), Billy Hayes (CWU), Mick Rix (Aslef) and Mark Serwotka (PCS)
'The US does not represent liberty but a terrible enemy that sows only war, hunger and destruction.'
GABRIEL GARCIA MARQUEZ, Nobel prize winning author
'Humanity is being driven towards an unprecedented catastrophe. The attack on Iraq is a new imperialist aggression designed to bring about the global hegemony of the US.'
STATEMENT SIGNED BY OVER 200 LATIN AMERICAN INTELLECTUALS