Under Siege and Lashing out
Bush Calls for Endless, Borderless War Without Limits
Revolution #022, November 13, 2005, posted at revcom.us
Under siege in the form of a scandal that has so far led to the indictment of Vice President Cheney's right-hand man, and facing fire from both the public and ruling class critics over the war in Iraq, Bush set out to rally support for the "war on terror" in October. In similar speeches given to the National Endowment on Democracy and to military spouses, Bush demanded a retooled "war on terror" with no boundaries, no deadlines, and no limit to the sacrifices people will be called on to make.
Mass-murdering ex-bomber pilot Senator John McCain, who has complained that Bush isn't selling the "war on terror" properly, applauded this speech for telling people that the forces the U.S. is fighting in Iraq "are the same guys who would be in New York if we don't win in Iraq."
Some Bush critics called the speeches a distraction or diversion from "real issues" at home or abroad. That's not at all the case. The speech, in fact, is a broad, escalated, re-tooled call for a very real open-ended, and endless war on the world.
Other critics correctly pointed out that the speeches repeat the same old lies about why the U.S. invaded and is occupying Iraq. The speech even invokes again, for instance, the lie that the 9/11 hijackers came from Iraq.
But again, there is something much worse and more dangerous reflected in Bush's speech.
War on the World
Bush's speech is not just a defense of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Far from that. It is a call for much more war, against many more targets--some named, some "to be named later." It is a call for much more sacrifice on the part of Americans who will send their children to kill and die to "stop terrorism."
When are we pulling out of Iraq? Don't ask me, Bush warns his audience. Wrong question. Wrong framework. Instead, he demands, compare the "war on terror" to the great struggles of the "civilized world" against Hitler, and especially the "cold war" against the former Soviet Union.1 Don't count the bodies in thousands, Bush demands. Don't count the costs in billions. Don't ask me which countries we will invade before this is all over.
This war, Bush tells the troops (both nearly literally in the case of his address to military spouses, and more broadly in terms of his support base and ruling class critics), a global battle between good and evil. One that will last--as Dick Cheney put it--"for generations."
An Agenda Behind the Madness
Many people have heard, or suspect, that plans for the U.S. invasion of Iraq were sitting on the shelf long before September 11, 2001. This is true. The Downing Street Memo from British intelligence says straight up: the U.S. wants to overthrow Saddam Hussein and "intelligence and facts are being fixed around the policy." But there is a larger, far more drastic and more dangerous agenda in effect, underlying even the occupation of Iraq.
The basic blueprint for war unconstrained by borders, costs, or traditional standards of conduct called for in Bush's speech evolved over decades in ruling class think tanks, going back to the "cold war" between the U.S. and Soviet-led nuclear blocs. 2 This neocon (for neo, or new conservative) approach to global domination is described in James Mann's Rise of the Vulcans:"The underlying assumption was that the United States should not and need not reach an accommodation with any other of the world's major powers."
During the "cold war," the U.S. confronted a rival nuclear superpower bloc, and the prevailing doctrine identified a need for a coalition with countries like France and Germany, as well as China (an alliance influential neocons like Paul Wolfowitz always opposed). But the collapse of the Soviet Union brought the opportunity to "overrule" existing alliances, along with the danger that the disintegrating Soviet bloc would loosen the glue that held the U.S. bloc together. In a way, world events caught up with the neocons and their no-rivals-allowed strategy. Wolfowitz's team put together the "1992 Defense Planning Guidance" that was, as Rise of the Vulcans describes it, "the vision of the United States as the world's sole superpower, actively warding off potential rivals." The key author of this document was none other than recently indicted Cheney chief-of-staff Scooter Libby.
For much of the 90s, however, the neocon agenda was not fully implemented. They fumed at Bush I's decision not to occupy Iraq and overthrow Saddam Hussein in the first Gulf War. To the neocons, the decision to simply bomb Iraq into submission, at the cost of hundreds of thousands of deaths (including the child-killing "sanctions" enforced with zeal by Clinton), was a blown opportunity, and left the door open to rivals. And they saw the Clinton years as wasted time, when the U.S. should have been asserting global dominance in a more focused and belligerent way. With the "election" of Bush II in 2000, the neocons finally were given full reign. And when the events of 9/11 provided the excuse, plans not just for an invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, but for an unprecedented war on the world were pulled off the shelf and put in effect.
Controlling Mideast Oil
The critical flashpoint in the "war on terror" is controlling the Middle East and the tumultuous Central Asian republics, and with that the flow of the world's most strategic oil reserves. This is not just or mainly about fueling the SUV lifestyle of some Americans, but even more strategically imposing control over this region to prevent and preempt the emergence of global rivals or out-of-control regional powers.
Now the Iranian regime, for instance, finds itself at the top of the current "terrorist" list. Control over Iran, a regional power with large oil resources, is essential to locking down control over Mideast oil. And the tremendous difficulties the U.S. has run into in trying to piece together an alliance of compliant comprador (subservient) capitalist forces in Iraq has contributed to growing Iranian strength and influence in Iraq itself, and the region overall. That puts more pressure on the U.S. to "finish the job" in this region, replacing the Iranian regime a necessary next phase.
In the occupation of Iraq, we can see an example of how each move the U.S. makes to implement its wildly ambitious objectives in turn creates new dangers and problems for the people of the world, and for the U.S. as well. The invasion of Iraq turned a country that was causing trouble for the U.S. in the region into a country that--if they pull out now--could cause a traumatic setback for this whole agenda. This --not some sudden attack of altruistic concern over sectarian violence (which they themselves helped provoke)--is why even forces within the U.S. imperialist ruling class like former Bush I adviser Brent Scowcroft, who disagreed with the original decision to occupy Iraq, argue that we "are stuck" in Iraq, and caution that "we cannot pull out."
"Radical Islam" and European Rivals
The "war on terror" is mainly, at this point, aimed at Islamic fundamentalist forces who are associated with terrorist attacks on the U.S. and U.S. interests. These forces do have a following, and an agenda of their own that in some cases involves driving the U.S. and it's interests out of areas of the world where they have strength.3
While these forces pose real problems to U.S. interests in the Middle East, and beyond, they don't have the capital, resources, or the military forces to really string together an empire from "Spain to Indonesia," as Bush claims in his speech. Where these forces come to power, like in Afghanistan under the Taliban, or in Iran, they can only be comprador capitalists--dependent on technology, military force, and capital investment from imperialist countries.4
At the same time, there are rival imperialists hovering over the Middle East and other regions of trouble for US imperialism, like Latin America.5 Islamic fundamentalist forces are something of a wildcard in this rivalry, which expresses itself in behind-the-scenes maneuvering over things like "Iran's nuclear program," which is both enabled by and checked by European powers, and intensive European investment in Iran. In USA Today 2/22/05, an Iranian government spokesman says Europe has 100 billion euros invested in Iran. Like Russian and French investment in Iraq's oil industry before the 2nd Iraq war, Europe's investments in Iran could be trumped by direct U.S. military intervention.
The conflicts between European and U.S. capital are being fought out behind codewords of "diplomatic vs military options," "resolute opposition to terror vs. European half-stepping," spats over treaties and arguments over "working through the United Nations." These conflicts are also expressed more overtly. Reactionary foreign policy adviser Richard Perle says, "There are important elements in France and Germany that don't want the U.S. policy to succeed in Iraq."
All this has created a complex web of aggression and intrigue in the Middle East, and a situation that will not by itself lead to anything good for anyone. But this highly combustible situation also presents dangers for all the oppressive forces in the mix.
Bringing U.S.-Dominated Democracy to the Middle East
A major theme of Bush's speech is painting U.S. imperialism as bringing democracy to the Middle East. In his speech, Bush says, "We're encouraging our friends in the Middle East, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, to take the path of reform, to strengthen their own societies." This is best understood as not simply hypocrisy (and it includes an element of vying for the "high ground" in contention with the European powers), but also as a goal (in opposition to more limited objectives argued for by experts associated with the Bush I regime like Scowcroft) of fundamental, imposed restructuring of the economies and governments of the Middle East. In fact, in a different speech given October 25 to a Republican fundraising event, Bush invoked the restructuring and transformation of Japan after World War II as a model for the scope of changes to be imposed on this region.
Certain democratic reforms, including tightly managed elections, a thin layer of tolerated loyal dissent, or the opening of certain doors to women (who can't even drive in Saudi Arabia) facilitate the exploitation of the resources and people of the Middle East by foreign capital. An important element of that is imposing cultural norms that allow for the introduction of U.S. military bases and the requisite infrastructure into areas with heavy Islamic fundamentalist influence--including open prostitution around those bases and other "benefits" of imperialist-framed modernization. All of this a source of real tension between U.S. objectives and their loyal regimes in the region!
The democracy that U.S. imperialism imposes on the Middle East cannot, of course, include the democratic right of national self-determination, to be free of U.S. military occupation, and U.S.-orchestrated exploitation and plunder by foreign corporations and banks. No one will ever be allowed to vote that away.
And, even as Bush invokes democracy, dissent, tolerance, and rule of law to justify the "war on terror," there is a very sharp and obvious contradiction between those words, and his implementation of a repressive, intolerant and fundamentalist theocracy at home.
Bush has to deal with another equally extreme contradiction in claiming, as he does repeatedly in his speech, that the "war on terror" is not anti-Muslim, and at the same time mobilizing his Christian fascist base to support the war. His Undersecretary of Defense said, about conflict between the US invaders of Somalia (a mostly Muslim nation) that "My god was bigger than his god." And shortly after 9/11, Bush called the war on "terror" a "crusade,"6 (followed of course by: Oops, you can't think I meant that?).
McWorld, Jihad, and Another World Is Possible
The "war on terror," an open-ended, endless war on the world, both enforces real oppression and misery, and brings much more. As it does, it provokes resistance in many forms, not all of them progressive or positive. Under these circumstances, it is a shameful cop-out to point to the obscurantist and oppressive nature of "the other" fundamentalists, and on that basis to not confront and oppose our own--much more dangerous--fundamentalist regime.
Nobel Prize-winning playwright Harold Pinter spoke with important perspective when he said that "The Bush Administration is the most dangerous force that has ever existed. It is more dangerous than Nazi Germany because of the range and depth of its activities and intentions worldwide. I give my full support to the Call to Drive out the Bush Regime."
This "most dangerous" agenda has terrible consequences for the people of the world. It requires domestic repression like the PATRIOT Act and the detention of U.S. citizens without charges simply on the President's say-so. It also involves tremendous risks for the rulers. Listen in on the current debate within the ruling class--these warnings are from Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell:
"I would say that we have courted disaster, in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran, generally with regard to domestic crises like Katrina, Rita and I could go on back, we haven't done very well on anything like that in a long time. And if something comes along that is truly serious, truly serious, something like a nuclear weapon going off in a major American city, or something like a major pandemic, you are going to see the ineptitude of this government in a way that will take you back to the Declaration of Independence. Read it some time again. ... . Read in there what they say about the necessity of people to ... throw off ineptitude or to throw off that which is not doing what the people want it to do. And you're talking about the potential for, I think, real dangerous times if we don't get our act together." (Talk to The American Foundation, October 19).
Bush's new "war on terror" speech is in part a rebuttal to forces in the ruling class who are genuinely concerned about how all this could go terribly wrong for them. It is a call to rally the faithful for the great crusade.And, it is an attempt to reach out beyond his most fanatical base, to repackage the "war on terror" as a war for democracy, liberation, tolerance (!) and progress. To argue that the choices are his way, or "evil Islamic radicalism... militant Jihadism... Islamo-fascism."
All of which highlights the importance of stepping up opposition to the war, and demanding immediate withdrawal now. And, the importance of the struggle for the ouster of the whole Bush regime and its package.
Apply the very criteria Bush uses in his "war on terror" speech to identify "terrorism" and see who best fits his own definition of "terrorists":
"The terrorists" are "unconstrained by any notion of common humanity and the rules of warfare." This from the country that brought the world Guantnamo, Abu Ghraib, the secret torture chambers in Eastern Europe, the outsourcing of torture, and an Attorney General who ruled that the Geneva Convention prohibition against torture is "quaint" and irrelevant.
"The terrorists" want "to enslave whole nations and intimidate the world." Actually, according to Bush's speech, "the terrorists" are out to control a region from Spain to Indonesia, whereas Bush demands the right to enslave and intimidate the whole world.
"The terrorists" leaders come from "wealth and privilege" and have no regard for "poor." Tell this one to the people in the 9th Ward in New Orleans.
"The terrorists" seek "weapons of mass murder."This from the leader of the only country to ever use atomic weapons for mass murder, the country with an arsenal of more than 10,640 nuclear weapons (more than all the next four countries combined).
We could go on and on, but this list should help the critical-minded reader identify which country and which "world leader" it is who embodies terrorism-- even by his own definition.
And if anyone wants to argue that there is a fundamental distinction between terrorist acts carried out by forces who do not control countries, and forces who do, two quick points: First, why is a non-state terrorist worse than a terrorist state? And, if you insist on making that distinction, look at the U.S. record for backing forces like the Contras in Nicaragua, RENAMO in Mozambique, the Colombian "paramilitaries," the Ton Ton Macoutes in Haiti, and let's not forget that former U.S. ally Osama bin Laden when he was causing trouble for the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Beyond the hypocrisy of the world's biggest terrorist calling for a "war on terrorism," a quick comparative look at the "target" vs. "allied" countries in this war, again even using Bush's own definition, makes it clear that who and what is identified as a target in this war has nothing to do with any particular repressive internal measures, development of "weapons of mass destruction," association with September 11, 2001, or any other criteria supposedly driving the "war on terror." As many have pointed out, Saudi Arabia--where most of the 9/11 attackers came from--is an ally in the "war on terror," while Iraq, which had nothing to do with 9/11, became the main target of this war.
Bush's speech puts Iran in the crosshairs of the "war on terror" because, he charges, the country has "ballistic missile programs." Pakistan (along with India) upheld as a model citizen in the "war on terror," has a nuclear arsenal. The list of draconian, brutally repressive regimes in the region that fall into the category of "allies" in the "war on terror" goes on and on, including the three model countries singled out in Bush's speech: Egypt (with its torture chambers full of dissidents), Saudi Arabia (where robbers and adulterers are executed and women who walk on the street unaccompanied are subject to arrest), and, again, Pakistan--a military dictatorship with powerful Islamic fundamentalist influence in the state security apparatus.
The apparently random madness of Bush's "terrorist" and "terrorist allies" hit lists--which not only target states and movements he claims are linked to Islamic fundamentalism but also are aimed at genuine popular revolutionary movements--including the People's War in Nepal--can only be understood this way: "The terrorists" and their "enablers" are whoever pose an impediment to the interests of U.S. imperialism--in particular in the strategic region of the Middle East.
On Bill's Maher's Offer to Richard Perle
On Bill Maher's HBO show Real Time, Maher offered neocon hack Richard Perle a deal: If Perle admitted that Bush and his crew had sold the war on Iraq with lies, Maher would consider the argument that bringing U.S.-defined democracy to the Middle East might be a justifiable or at least an admirable goal.
Perle turned down the deal. But Maher should reflect on the child laborers in democratic Pakistan, the warlord and opium regime of newly democratic Afghanistan, the mass death and torture being rained on newly democratic Iraq, and other "success stories" in bringing U.S. imperialist democracy to the Middle East.
1. The repeated invocation of "the struggle against communism" in Bush's speech is mainly for the purposes of instilling his audiences with a commitment to war on the scale and scope of the cold war. But it also, importantly, serves to paint revolutionary change and socialism and communism in particular with the brush of terrorism, and demands that the oppressed and freedom-loving people of the world accept his verdict that the experience of communist revolution has been one of "shameless cruelty" and "heartless zealotry that led to the gulags, and to the Cultural Revolution, and the killing fields." It is beyond the scope of this article to sort through and refute these anti-communist rants, but the fact that this argument is so central to Bush's speech, including in ruling out the possibility of any option besides his, should alone provoke critical thinkers broadly to re-examine their perceptions about communism. The key starting point in that process is the work of Bob Avakian--see links at revcom.us. And, in engaging in the work of the Set the Record Straight project (thisiscommunism.org).
2. While the Soviet Union of the sixties, seventies, and eighties called itself "socialist," revolutionary communists led by Mao Tsetung identified that capitalism had been restored in the Soviet Union with the coming to power of Khrushchev].
3. Given the historic close relationship between these forces and the US rulers--who hooked up in the alliance of Islamic fundamentalism and US imperialism against the former Soviet Union in Central Asia and other areas--it's impossible to really know the nature of these forces, and to what extent the US still has connections with them. But it is a fact that these forces, broadly speaking, have real contradictions with and conflict with the U.S.
4. These forces, given their position and program, can't, and don't lead any genuine, much less revolutionary resistance to imperialism, and even forms of struggle they promote reflect those very limited and non-progressive aims.
5. In the Middle East and in Latin America, the Europeans are stealing a move from the playbook of U.S. imperialism, which exploited opposition to European colonialism in the 1800s to claim Latin America as its exclusive "backyard" for exploitation at the end of the colonial era.