Last week the US House of Representatives voted through another $45 billion for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. That brings the figure spent on US military operations to over $300 billion, a huge sum of money even for the world’s largest military and economic power. A country which cannot provide a free health service, with a president who took away food parcels from the US’s poorest people, is now spending a large portion of its income on war and occupation.
In 2003 when funding for the Iraq war was put at $166 billion, it was estimated that this amounted to a cost of $1,514 per US household — 4 percent of household income for the average family. The sum would also, alternatively, have provided $6,745 for every Iraqi citizen. We do not know how many Iraqis would rather have had that choice, but we do know that many people in the US and Iraq would regard it as a much better way of spending the money.
RAF planes recently were bombing Iraqis in support of the latest US attempt to “root out terrorists” close to the Syrian border. This is hundreds of miles from Britain’s supposed area of operations — the southern area around Basra. These facts have been little reported or remarked upon. This is a product not so much of the fog of war, but of the forgetfulness of war. Erich Maria Remarque named his famous novel about the First World War after a German newspaper headline that proclaimed All Quiet on the Western Front. Today the media which supported the war in its overwhelming majority, and politicians and the establishment who did the same, would like us to consign the story of Iraq to a small column on one of the inside pages.
That is not going to happen. There is too much at stake:
Despite a nominally independent government, Iraq is run politically, economically and militarily by the US and its allies. The occupiers have failed to defeat the resistance, despite the massacre at Fallujah and the repeated onslaughts on different areas. The US has now admitted that it is talking to sections of the resistance — a tacit recognition that it cannot just brand these people as terrorists.
Back in Britain and the US there is increasing recognition not, as Tony Blair insists, that he and Bush sincerely but wrongly believed that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and so went to war on this basis, but that there was an illegal and dishonourable agreement dating back to spring 2002 that Britain would follow the US into a war with Iraq. The Blair government would ensure that this happened by whatever means it could. New revelations in recent weeks — especially about the now leaked Downing Street memo which showed meetings to discuss precisely this duplicity—have helped to galvanise the US anti-war movement. It has lifted that movement from the low point marked by Bush’s re-election.
George Galloway’s appearance before a US senate committee in May, where he decisively rebutted accusations against him and went on the offensive against the warmongers, sent shockwaves round the US. Now some of the US Democrats, previously extremely cautious in criticising the war, are mounting a challenge. Congressman John Conyers held a hearing on the memo and then delivered over half a million signatures on a statement demanding answers to the questions it raised. Congresswoman Maxine Waters put out a statement announcing the formation of a new congressional caucus, saying, “We can no longer keep quiet waiting for our party to speak out against this war.” She is absolutely right. A poll issued in early May showed that 57 percent polled said they did not believe it was worth going to war, against 41 percent who said it was — a big shift since February. Around 56 percent think the war is going “badly” or “very badly”.
Here in Britain the war remains the stain on the Blair government. Its loss of a million votes in the election, the success of RESPECT and other anti-war candidates and the personal unpopularity of Tony Blair, all point to this. But Blair is like the Bourbons before the French Revolution — he learns nothing and forgets nothing. He maintains all of his zeal for the neo-liberal project and is setting about his third term with not a hint of sympathy for the Labour apparatus, from Gordon Brown downwards. His hint of humility on election night did not survive the reappointment of David Blunkett as a minister just a few short hours later.
Now Blair is hosting the G8 summit in Gleneagles with his fellow war criminal Bush and the rest of the world’s richest countries’ leaders. Blair wants to harness public concern about poverty in Africa and corral it towards the type of soundbite protest which our rulers see as a photogenic backdrop to their new carve up of the world. In this, war has no mention — or at least not the imperialist war for which the G8 leaders are responsible. So the abject poverty into which Iraq has been flung by war and sanctions, and the poverty in which Afghanistan remains nearly four years after its war of “liberation”, are ignored by the people who rule these countries in all the essentials.
When we talk about debt cancellation, let’s not mention the more than $30 billion write-off of Iraq’s debt last November in order to speed privatisation and Western capital investment in the run-up to the Iraqi elections. There is little mention either of Paul Wolfowitz’s role — the architect of the disastrous war and invasion of Iraq, now appointed to inflict economic terror on the world’s poorest people as director of the World Bank.
Make Poverty History (MPH), the loose coalition which organised Saturday’s demo, has colluded in this silence by refusing to allow the Stop the War Coalition to affiliate to it. Reasons given were that such an affiliation might damage MPH’s reputation, or that Stop the War was too big and would therefore dominate the event. A refusal to allow the affiliation of the largest mass movement in Britain, which has organised 11 national demos, shows a political refusal to take on a government that has brought poverty and war to the world.
Brown, so keen on this agenda, is the same person who only a few months ago on a visit to Africa proclaimed that Britain had no reason to apologise for its empire. The danger with the MPH attitude is that the protest becomes an uncritical backdrop for the G8, not the critique of its policies and politics that is so sorely needed.
Those who say the war has nothing to do with it are wishing and hoping, but cannot escape the reality. The agenda that brought us poverty, privatisation, a growing gap between rich and poor, and the awful dominance of the market, has also brought us war. The vision of democracy constantly invoked by our rulers takes for granted a peaceful and prosperous world where the only obstacle to a totally harmonious society is the stubborn refusal of its inhabitants to embrace the virtues of the market.
Yet this utopia seems increasingly difficult to attain without resort to war. The increasing competition for new markets and for global dominance takes a military as well as an economic form. The greed of the individual capitalists — in 2003 just months after the invasion it was estimated that one third of Iraq war spending in the US was going to Bush’s campaign donors such as Halliburton — is only a small part of the story. The whole process is geared to opening up new markets—by persuasion if possible, by force if necessary.
Yet in that process they have created an opposition that now stretches around the world. Those who protested in Seattle more than five years ago have now also had to protest at imperialism and at the threats from the state itself. The connections between those fighting are growing as they are forced to take on the different representatives of global capital.