WHEN US forces captured Baghdad many people drew the conclusion that they were all-powerful. That was certainly the view of those around George Bush, who thought their military victory in Iraq would allow them to tell any other power what to do. It was also a conclusion accepted by some on the left. Every day that passes shows how wrong that view is, and points to US weakness, not strength.
The bomb attack on the United Nations compound in Baghdad last week shows that resistance in Iraq to occupation is growing and becoming more coordinated. The shooting of three British military policemen at the end of last week only heightened the sense of crisis. So too does the continuing, and almost daily, killing of US troops.
The rising resistance has cracked open all the divisions between the US and other powers, and within the US state itself, that grew in the run-up to the invasion.
In the wake of last week’s bombing, US Secretary of State Colin Powell rushed to try to get greater involvement from the UN and from other states in occupying Iraq. This is from the same US government that relished snubbing other powers on the UN Security Council in the run-up to war and declared only it and Britain would oversee the occupation.
The invasion of Iraq was a key test of the wider strategy to secure US global dominance dreamt up by the hawks in the Bush administration. It rested on showing the US could ‘go it alone’ with a minimal use of ground troops.
The message, spelled out by US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, was that the US state had the power and will to intervene in several areas of the world simultaneously.
In May Rumsfeld slapped down the then army chief of staff General Eric K Shinseki, who predicted hundreds of thousands of troops would be needed to quell opposition in Iraq. Hardline ideologues, such as Rumsfeld’s deputy Paul Wolfowitz, believed the sight of the Stars and Stripes would lead to Iraqis flocking to a new pro-US regime which could be installed quickly.
So they set about occupying Iraq with only 130,000 US troops and just 22,000 from other countries, overwhelmingly from Britain. The attacks on US and British troops since Bush announced ‘mission accomplished’ in April have blown the warmongers’ pretensions apart.
‘YOU NEED at least half a million troops to police this country effectively, which we do not have,’ says defence expert Michael Yardley. That underlies the drive by a section of the US government to try to get other states to put troops into Iraq. But all wings of the US state are committed to keeping control of the occupation.
So attempts to get a new UN resolution are already bogged down in diplomatic conflicts between the US and other major states. Some of those states want ‘more of a UN role’ in Iraq. By that they mean a slice of influence in Iraq and the Middle East for countries other than the US.
But it is precisely association with the US’s occupation that is making UN and even aid agency officials a target in Iraq. Former UN humanitarian aid coordinator in Iraq Denis Halliday says, ‘The UN has been drawn into being an arm of the US-a division of the state department.’ Too much is at stake for the US state for it to withdraw from Iraq lightly. But four months into the occupation one thing is certain. The wider strategy of asserting global US power is bleeding to death in Iraq.
A SECOND pillar of US strategy in the Middle East is also falling apart. Last week’s bombing in Jerusalem came in response to the Israeli government’s decision to abandon even the pretence of taking George Bush’s ‘road map’ for Palestine seriously.
The ‘road map’ was designed to get Palestinian surrender in return for the most minimal concessions from Israel. For the US it was critical to getting governments in the Middle East and elsewhere to go along with its occupation of Iraq and increased presence in the region.
But Israel’s ultra-hawkish prime minister, Ariel Sharon, is not even prepared to allow the Palestinians a mini-state covering 10 percent of historic Palestine. The murder of Hamas leader Ismail Abu Shanab last week was the final part of the Israeli government’s effort to renew war in the Middle East. Abu Shanab had romped home in important elections in Gaza. He used the opportunity to declare he was for a ‘practical solution for us to have a state alongside Israel’.
This was not the message Israel’s Ariel Sharon wanted to hear. He authorised the assassination to put an end to even minor concessions to the Palestinians. Over the last two months of ceasefire, the Israeli government has returned to a policy of so called ‘targeted assassinations’-murdering leading Palestinians. It has continued to construct an obscene wall around the West Bank.
It has also allowed more illegal settlements to be built on Palestinian land. The US response has been mild criticism of some Israeli policies combined with stepping up the pressure on Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas.
So after Israel’s assassination of Abu Shanab last week the US merely called on Israel to ‘take into account the effect that actions they take have on the peace process’. But they demanded that Abbas take ‘immediate steps to dismantle terrorist capabilities’.
Some figures in the US government so strongly back the most right wing forces in Israel that they want to see Israel expand its power as part of a US strategy of dominating the Middle East.
Others want Israel to make a few concessions so the US can gain some credibility as a peacemaker. But none of them are prepared to put serious pressure on Ariel Sharon’s government, which believes it can destroy Palestinian aspirations through force.
The percentage of historic Palestine that the ‘road map’ envisaged forming a Palestinian state, an amount which Israel’s prime minister Ariel Sharon is not even prepared to contemplate.
THE DILEMMA facing US strategy does not mean it will automatically hold back from widening the ‘war on terror’. Talks in the Chinese capital, Beijing, this week showed how the US is having to seek cooperation with other states in the region to try to get its way over North Korea.
But its demands for regime change and its military manoeuvres are increasing tensions at the same time. Donald Rumsfeld has not given up on the dream of outright global dominance. He is pushing through a reorganisation of the US army to allow it to intervene more freely.
He is like a gambling junkie whose response to a setback is to go for more risky bets. But the quagmire in Iraq and Palestine creates a space to push back that war drive. States such as Japan and Thailand-US allies-say they are now reluctant to send troops to Iraq. Poland has redeployed its small number of troops away from ‘high risk’ areas around Baghdad.
The Spanish government-a solid supporter of the war-is under pressure to pull its 744 troops out after one was shot dead last week. Public opposition to the occupation is growing in Britain and in the US. The global anti-war movement shook our rulers on 15 February.
The international day of action on 27 September is a chance to squeeze them further.
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