Five years after 11 September 2001, George Bush and his advisers continue to affirm that they are engaged in a global “long war” against terrorism.
This statement has elements of both truth and falsehood. The US isn’t waging war for democracy - rather 9/11 provided the Republican right with the opportunity they had been seeking to use their military power to entrench the global dominance of the US. Tightening the US’s grip on the Middle East by seizing Iraq was a crucial step in this process.
The war Bush & Co unleashed on the world isn’t yet on the scale of those in Korea and Vietnam, let alone that of the Second World War. So far it has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives, not millions or tens of millions. But the neoconservatives in the US are right when they say it is a global war with different fronts. The trouble for them is that they are losing on all these fronts.
In Afghanistan, the first of these fronts, a revitalised Taliban is on the offensive. Thanks to the folly of Tony Blair and John Reid, the British troops they sent to relieve the US are scattered across southern Afghanistan, under siege from well armed and motivated guerrillas.
In Iraq, the biggest front to date, the US is fighting and losing a counter-insurgency war against the disparate collection of guerrilla groups that sprang up within months of the invasion in March 2003.
The chief of intelligence of the US marine corps recently filed a report on the situation in the key western province of Anbar. One army officer summarised it as saying, “We haven’t been defeated militarily but we have been defeated politically - and that’s where wars are won and lost.”
The Washington Post, which leaked this report, points out that in the lead up to the fifth anniversary of 9/11, Bush stopped claiming that the US was making progress in Iraq “in favour of the contention that things could be even worse”.
Divide and rule
To contain the resistance the US occupation adopted a strategy of divide and rule in Iraq, allying itself to the political representatives of the Shia Muslim majority, who were oppressed under Saddam Hussein. This has unleashed vicious sectarian killing among Shia and Sunni Muslims that could cause Iraq to disintegrate.
This US strategy has also had the unwelcome consequence of strengthening neighbouring Iran. The Islamist regime in Iran has close links with the Shia politicians who dominate the US’s client regime in Iraq.
Iran has been the number one enemy of the US in the Middle East ever since the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah. In an attempt to shift the regional balance of forces back in their favour, leading figures in the Bush administration have been pressing for “regime change” in Iran.
Just as former US president Richard Nixon sought to win the war in Vietnam by escalating the conflict and invading Cambodia in April 1970, so the Bush administration is seeking to escape from the trap it built for itself in Iraq by spreading the war.
Israel’s 33-day war against Lebanon this summer was part of this strategy. Had Israel succeeded in its aim of destroying Hizbollah, the Lebanese Islamist national liberation movement, this would have removed a key ally of Iran and isolated its regime.
Seymour Hersh wrote last month in the New Yorker that Bush was “convinced” that a successful Israeli bombing campaign against Hizbollah could “serve as a prelude to a potential pre-emptive US attack to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations”.
In fact, of course, Israel’s air and ground campaign against Hizbollah failed, at a terrible cost to the Lebanese people. This was the first military defeat Israel has suffered since the state was founded in 1948. But it was also a defeat for the Bush administration.
So the balance sheet of the “long war” offers us hope. The greatest military power in history is losing on all fronts. But these defeats may make the Bush gang more dangerous. It may press ahead with its plans to attack Iran. We need to continue building the anti-war movement worldwide.