Socialist Worker

War, peace and anti-capitalism

Issue No. 1719

What do socialists say?

War, peace and anti-capitalism

By Chris Harman

"THE HIDDEN hand of the market will never work without the hidden fist. McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas. The hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's technologies to flourish is called the US army, air force, navy and Marine Corps."

So explained Thomas Friedman, a journalist close to the US State Department, in the run-up to the last war in the Middle East in 1991. His words are absolutely relevant today, as US-supplied aircraft, helicopter gunships and tanks again bombard civilians and a new one-sided war seems inevitable.

So are the words of the then US president, George Bush, around the same time. The US, he said, was achieving three great goals. It was re-establishing its industrial dominance internationally, opening the world up to free trade in American goods, and building up its military might so that no other country could challenge it.

Both statements spell out something quite simple, but which it is important that people on the left and in the anti-capitalist movement grasp. There are not two sets of US-dominated international institutions with completely different aims. The idea that bodies like the IMF and World Bank are evil, but that NATO or the US military itself can be a force for good, is false. US presidents may talk about "human rights", "preserving peace" or "stopping genocidal violence" when they intervene in countries thousands of miles away.

But the motives behind such intervention are the same as when the International Monetary Fund squeezes Third World peoples over debt. For the US, economic and military interests are intimately linked. So the US still maintains economic sanctions against three countries-Cuba, Iran and Iraq. The sanctions against Cuba exist because 40 years ago the Cubans had the effrontery to nationalise property belonging to US multinationals. There are sanctions against Iran because 20 years ago it took over some US firms and threw a huge US spy station out of the country.

There are sanctions against Iraq because Saddam Hussein dared to touch the oil wealth of the ruling al Sabah family in Kuwait in 1980. Previously the US had backed him in his long and bloody war against Iran.

More generally, the US's string of military bases and forces around the world are there to keep the world safe for the US multinationals. Whenever the US intervenes militarily, or arms local regimes, anywhere it is for the same reason.

Providing massive aid and weaponry to the Israeli military fits into this general US approach. The settlers from Europe who spearheaded the establishment of the Israeli state 52 years ago did so by grabbing land from the existing Arab population. Such acts of naked colonialism necessarily caused immense bitterness throughout the Arab world. The settlers could only protect themselves from this anger if they found a powerful protector.

The US plays this role. It gives Israel more military assistance than to any other state in the world, provided Israel backs it in opposing any Arab state which threatens US interests, particularly oil interests. In effect it became a watchdog for the US and its oil firms in the Middle East -a very heavily armed watchdog which showed it could do serious damage to any Arab regime that challenged it. Over time this had the effect of driving most of the Arab rulers into the US's hands.

So the Egyptian regime, which tried to stand up to Israel and the US at one time, has become completely dependent on the US in the last 20 years, and has a peace treaty with Israel. Its rulers know that without US support they could easily be overthrown by their own people. This is even more true of the oil- producing states of the Arabian peninsula.

When US government officials-and British New Labour ministers-say they want "peace" in the Middle East, what they really mean is they want to institutionalise a situation in which they can bend everyone in the area to their demands. This applies over oil, but also over opening up countries to the multinationals and imposing neo-liberal policies.

Now their plans are in tatters because the mass of ordinary Palestinians would not put up with being denied their rights. US weapons are being used to kill young people and children. Meanwhile President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright line up with the Israeli killers.

All those who are part of the anti-capitalist movement that has developed across the world should back the Palestinian youth. They are victims of the military aspect of imperialism, just like those dying in Africa from debt policies are victims of its economic aspect. But they are victims who have decided to fight back. And because of that they doubly deserve our solidarity.


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Sat 21 Oct 2000, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1719
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