End the Middle East War: Mass, Democratic Anti-War Movement Needed Now!

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The escalation of the military offensive in the Gulf is merely the latest phase in a dirty war. George W. Bush, who occupies the White House only because his Daddy’s buddies rigged an election, is merely continuing Daddy’s unfinished business. That business, as just about everybody realises, is oil. The vast bulk of the world’s supply of recoverable oil is in the Middle East and the former Soviet republics of Central Asia. The Texas oil barons want unfettered control of this most valuable of resources, and they have the backing of the most ruthless military machine yet seen. For the peoples of Iraq and the entire region, there is the real possibility of “mass destruction.” More than ever, this points to the urgent need to consolidate the impressive anti-war mobilisations in many parts of the world into a democratic, militant and massive anti-war movement. This is particularly crucial in the U.S.

War without end. There is a tendency to forget that, nearly every day since January 16, 1991, when the Gulf War began, Iraq has suffered a military attack by U.S. and British forces. Twelve years later the nightmare continues. Sanctions which have led directly to the deaths of up to a million children remain in place. The dictator, Saddam Hussein, remains in power, precisely because, despite the rhetoric, the West’s military and economic aggression is not aimed at liberating Iraq — it’s about keeping the oil flowing. Former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright was, in her own words, “comfortable” with the deaths of 50,000 children each year. No doubt she and her replacement, Colin Powell, are less comfortable with pesky democratic demands which get in the way of profits. That’s why the U.S. and its allies have so far propped up almost every tinpot dictator and oligarchy from Morocco to Pakistan. However, a victory in Iraq would be a green light for the U.S. to barge in and assume more direct control over the oilfields. A U.S. stranglehold on oil would inevitably put pressure on the economies of Europe, China and Japan. When imperialists fall out, that means a global war.

World’s leading terrorist organisation. Islamic fundamentalist gangs like Al Queda and Jemayiah Islaamiyah, are only secondary players at best. The ultimate Middle East terrorist group is the government of Israel. An ostensibly secular organisation, it is completely in the grip of Zionist extremists bent on cleansing Palestine of its Indigenous peoples, to be replaced by a fundamentalist “homeland.” Headed by war criminal Ariel Sharon, this settler-state is armed with as many as 30 nuclear weapons, as well as chemical and biological agents. For more than 35 years it has occupied Palestinian territory in breach of international law, displacing millions of people and slaughtering tens of thousands more. It is known to have funded, armed and trained fundamentalist Islamic terrorist outfits. It notoriously collaborated with the apartheid regime in South Africa to bypass anti-racist boycotts in exchange for testing its nuclear arsenal in the South Atlantic. Why is this terrorist machine still permitted to operate? Because the State of Israel was created by Britain — and is backed by the U.S. — precisely to thwart the long overdue anti-imperialist Arab revolution, a revolt that would wrench control of oil production out of the hands of puppet sheiks and transnational corporations. Imperialism backs Israel as a mechanism to permanently destabilise the region. The Gulf War is also part of that strategy.

Past “use-by” date. Saddam Hussein was, until 1990, the willing tool of U.S imperialism. Armed with the best available weaponry, he also acted to destabilise the region. He went to war against Iran on behalf of the West, using chemical weapons supplied by the U.S. military. He terrorised the Kurdish population in the north, again deploying poisons sourced in the U.S. Meanwhile he has ruthlessly smashed opposition among the Arab majority, ensuring a smooth flow of oil to Western petrol stations. By the 1980s Hussein had become too powerful and dangerous. Iraq was on the way to developing a nuclear industry. Its military machine was quite capable of destroying Israel’s “conventional” forces; and Hussein was showing increased tendencies to behave independently. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Hussein was led to believe that the U.S. would look the other way. This was a big mistake. In fact Washington had been casting around for an excuse to get rid of him for some time.

Kuwait was it. In 1991, the crushing defeat by Vietnam still haunted U.S. military chiefs, who had no stomach for a bloody invasion. While the Iraqi people died in their hundreds of thousands, Hussein and his core military machine survived intact — and continue to do so. Twelve years on, Vietnam is a generation away in time. Public opposition in the U.S., while growing, is still somewhat subdued as a result of the “war on terror.” And a bunch of really dangerous rightwing fanatics — many of whom share responsibility for the U.S. military’s biggest defeat in Vietnam — have usurped control of the executive government. Now they wish to exorcise the past, returning to the Cold War doctrine of total U.S. domination of the international economy.

On the one hand, Hussein is unfinished business. On the other he is just a scapegoat. If it were not he, some other former U.S. pet dictator would be the fall guy. And if he is ousted, other one-time U.S. clients will be in the frame. The Saudi Arabian royal family will probably be watching with apprehension.

Weapons of mass confusion. The attacks on the World Trade Centre (WTC) and the Pentagon — whoever was responsible — have proved to be a gold-plated opportunity for capitalist governments everywhere. Democratic rights are under severe threat and the global anti-corporate movement has been undermined. The failure of neo-liberalism has angered and disadvantaged hundreds of millions of workers, peasants and Indigenous people, sick of enduring poverty in the name of super-profits for monopolies.

The mass anti-corporate mobilisations in major cities may not have halted neoliberal attacks, but they were bold symbols of the power of unified mass action. Then came September 11, and the “war on terror.” It’s a well-crafted propaganda campaign, lifted directly from the records of the Cold War. Osama bin Laden substituted for former Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev; Muslims substituted for Communists; Arabs substituted for Russians. And finally, mass hysteria generated by press release. The media, long used to parroting government pronouncements (and each other), can be counted on to keep the population agitated and disoriented. Indiscriminate terrorism is a frightening phenomenon, and there is no escaping the suffering of WTC victims and those devastated by the Bali bombing. The fact is, however, that most terrorism is carried out by States via their military forces. There is far more risk in Australia — and the USA — of being shot by the police than of being blown up by an individual terrorist.

Propaganda is a capitalist weapon used to divide the oppressed and bolster the government. The existence of draconian laws, ostensibly aimed at terrorists, but actually framed with activists in mind, is itself propaganda. It’s not that the laws are there for show — already Indonesian-Australians and others have been targeted. But the fact that a law is “needed” reinforces the sense of unease. Whether it’s Bush’s USA-PATRIOT Act, or Howard’s ASIO Powers Bill, there’s really one main point — to terrorise us! The mass media goes along with this because it boosts the profits of their owners. Opposition politicians fall over themselves to line up to defend “the national interest.” They really mean the capitalists’ interests. The “war on terror” is a war on the poor. It’s high time we primed our own weapons — mass organisation and union militancy.

Regime change begins at home. This slogan, widely used by U.S. anti-war activists, neatly captures the essence of what will stop this war drive cold. It is true that the U.S. — and its junior partner, Australia — were defeated militarily by the North Vietnamese. Yet it is also true that they were politically defeated on the streets.

There’s a flip side: the Iraqi people have slowly been starved and bombed into feudalism for 12 years, because there has not been a mass movement against this ongoing war crime. Iraq was one of the world’s wealthiest countries, at least as far as the Arab population was concerned. It is the right and the duty of the Iraqi peoples — and only them — to topple the dictator Hussein. But with the exiled opposition largely in the pocket of the Bush camp, brutal repression and the debilitating effects of the war, they are in a very weak position. For the liberation of all the Iraqi peoples, Kurds and the Sunni minority included, it is vitally necessary to stop the war, now.

What this means is not only mass demonstrations, but local organising at the grassroots in every community. The Socialist Alliance National Executive has urged all branches to help start local “No War” coalitions in their areas. This is an excellent initiative. The more people organised at the local level, the more likely it is that the movement will be democratic, and more working class in its demands. A key to success would be a rejection of pacifism. Imperialist war is never justified, but class war is. We will never peacefully remove capitalism, because it will hit back with violence when the time comes. Nor will we end the Middle East conflict by confining the movement to Sunday afternoon gatherings in parks. It will be necessary to take to the streets and to make the country all but ungovernable — as occurred in the anti-Vietnam war movement, particularly in the U.S. And a key demand must be “Imperialists out of the Middle East — let the Iraqi people deal with Hussein.”

It would greatly assist if the union movement was mobilised to use its considerable power for the anti-war cause. “Stop Work to Stop the War” is a demand that should be raised in every workplace. Already the state council of the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union has voted to call out its city workforce for a protest rally the day fighting begins. This should be emulated by every union. There’s an old anti-war slogan “not a person nor a gun for imperialist war.” This would be much more easily achieved if the union movement weighed in to prevent provisioning of the SAS and refuelling of the ships and planes.

It is possible to end the war in the Middle East — that is the lesson of the Vietnam conflict. Yet, when we force Howard to pull Australian troops out, we should not return to our houses in premature jubilation. The U.S. military does not need Australian SAS goons or a few fighter jets. No, Sir! To successfully prosecute its military aggression, the U.S. government cannot get by without the irreplaceable Pine Gap spy base, near Alice Springs. “Close Pine Gap” is therefore a key demand, and the movement must not rest until it is achieved.

It is clear that for peace to occur in the Middle East, Palestine must be free from the 70-year war of terrorism by Zionist thugs and their Israeli government successors.

There is no peace without justice, and justice demands that every Israeli soldier, every settlement and every Zionist squatter be withdrawn from Palestinian territory. Justice demands that refugees be allowed home; it demands that billions in reparations be paid by Israel for its illegal actions; and that the Israeli government be stripped of its nukes, poisons and plague bacteria.

War in the Gulf, the genocide of Palestinians and the global “war on terror” are examples of a capitalist class war against the world’s poor. To end that war — and all wars — it will be necessary to end capitalism through a worldwide uprising. But to end this particular bloody conflict, we already have the basic weapons at our disposal. A mass, democratic, militant anti-war movement has succeeded before. We can do it again.

We should treat it as a practice run for when we “change regimes” — permanently!

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