Socialist Worker

The difference a year makes

CHRIS HARMAN looks at how Bush's colonial dreams have gone up in smoke

Issue No. 1896

THE TENTH of April 2003, exactly a year ago, saw the pulling down of Saddam Hussein's statue in Baghdad. The media flashed the image across the world. It was meant to carry the simple message: The US had won and Iraq was on the road to peace and freedom.

Supporters of the war gloated. The anti-war movement had been wrong, they boasted. The overthrow of Saddam had been easy. The Iraqi people saw what was happening as liberation, not occupation. Many opponents of the war were demoralised. Few accepted the talk of liberation. They could not forget the bombs destroying whole neighbourhoods, the thousands of civilian dead, the people with missing limbs and bodies torn apart by shrapnel.

But Bush and Rumsfeld seemed to have shown that the overwhelming armed power of US imperialism could smash resistance anywhere in the world. It seemed only a matter of time before it moved on to the other states on the "axis of evil" list-Syria, Iran, North Korea, Cuba, perhaps Venezuela.

Things are very different on 10 April 2004. The images are not of cheering crowds and triumphant US troops. They are of thousands of Iraqi protesters, many armed, confronting soldiers who cower in their tanks. The troops are ready to pour destruction once more on poor neighbourhoods, but are clearly isolated from and despised by vast masses of people.

Things are very different too within the Bush White House. There is still the bravado, the arrogant talk. But there is no hiding the fact that things are going very wrong for US imperialism-and that this has implications elsewhere in the world beside Iraq.

The whole Bush-Rumsfeld doctrine rested on the assumption that massive military firepower could subdue any country without the deployment of very large numbers of troops. Because of this, they boasted, the US would be able to wage two or more wars in different parts of the world at the same time.

Such logic underlay their construction of growing numbers of military bases across the world. Each base was seen as the potential launching pad for assaults on disobedient, supposedly "rogue", states. It is this strategy which is failing in Iraq. A year after seizing Baghdad the Bush government is finding it cannot hold it securely unless somehow it can get more troops on the ground.

But it does not have the extra troops. Nearly half its operational army is already in Iraq and it is having to rely increasingly on the weekend soldiers of its National Guard-a force it never had to use in Vietnam.

It is scouring the globe for more people prepared to fight for it. The State Department has been begging other countries to help the US out. The impact of the worldwide anti-war movement means few are willing to risk unpopularity at home by sending young men to die for a US colonial venture. The result, crudely, is that what was meant to be the great show of US power a year ago today is a display of US weakness.

Such weakness does not mean the US is going to leave Iraq peacefully. As its reaction to this week's resistance shows, it will use the most barbaric and vicious methods to try to shore up its position. Yet nothing Bush and Rumsfeld can do can banish from the US political establishment its greatest fear-of being forced into a humiliating withdrawal from Iraq just as Nixon and Kissinger were forced to withdraw from Vietnam 29 years ago.

The result is continuing and deepening divisions at the top of US society. There are continual conflicts within the White House between rival groups of Bush advisers. Leading Republican and Democrat members of Congress are questioning Bush's tactics. And more dirt is coming to light about the lies used, on both sides of the Atlantic, to justify the war.

One beneficiary may well be Bush's Democratic Party opponent in November's election, John Kerry. He voted for the war and has made clear he is for keeping US troops in Iraq now.

But he is trying to trade off anti-war sentiment by saying he wants Bush to make concessions to the main European powers, France and Germany, to get their assistance on maintaining the occupation under a United Nations fig leaf. There is little doubt that powerful supporters of US imperialism see this as a line of retreat they may need to adopt if they are not to lose everything in Iraq.

The anti-war movement must not accept this line of argument. It is not John Kerry or the Republican and Democrat Congressional leaders who have caused devastation to Bush's schemes. It is the combination of the worldwide movement against the war on the one hand and the resistance in Iraq on the other.

But the very fact that they talk this way shows how wrong were those who said a year ago the US was all-powerful and that demonstrations were pointless.

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