Wednesday, January 10, 2007
What Do They Want From Iraq? posted by Richard SeymourI was interviewing a prominent British academic the other day, shan't say who or what for, but one of the topics I broached was Iraq. To many, it looks very much like an almost colonial adventure, whereas the long-term strategy of the US has traditionally been to get client-regimes in power, and then maintain domination through market-transactions. The phrase 'neocolonialism' is frequently associated with the occupation of Iraq, and not only from the radical left. The construction of fourteen permanent bases, the sewing up of the oil contracts, and the 104 acre embassy in Baghdad are pointed to as instances of this. So, had the US ruling class changed its strategy?
The answer was that the administration really believed it would be possible not only to have a client-state, but a pro-American political system with a real social base, the only one of its kind in the Gulf region, and one with a size and potential economic value that would make it a real power in the region. It would be unlike the subterranean dictatorship in Saudi Arabia, because the assumption was that the Shi'ites would be a very potent popular base of support for the occupiers and that people like Chalabi and Allawi could deliver that for them. The fact that Iraq had a long history of secularism, it was assumed, would make it easier. The benefits of doing this successfully hardly need spelling out.
The point about bases and the embassy is a traditional American idea: you protect a regime with the bases, and with the embassy you ensure it does what you want. The ensign of American power all over the world is 'lily-pad', whose implicit promise of forceful intervention guarantees safety to a loyal regime and destruction to a disloyal one. That is not the really new development: what was new was the ambition with which they sought to transform Iraq society, and therefore the whole balance of power in the Middle East. The basis of this conviction was the triumphalism over Eastern Europe, the facility and speed with which they had effected a total transformation of those societies. The US executive is surrounded by experts in social engineering, people who know how to reconfigure a state socialist regime (or so they thought).
Well, that didn't work out too well, and now it's more or less official that they're sending 20,000 extra troops to Iraq. Nouri al-Maliki, recently so despondent about his inability to be "strong", has welcomed the troops and vowed to "crack down" on behalf of the US. The Bush administration will settle at this point for a terror-state, provided there is no chance of General Petraeus being the last man off the roof of the embassy. Because they control hardly any of Iraq, and the strategy now is to control it through targeted applications of extreme force. Indeed, the terror is already picking up inside Iraq: a US-led attack on Haifa Street in Baghdad killed fifty people only yesterday, taking the total toll there since Saturday to 130. The death squads are doing their work, with bodies continuing to appear all over Iraq. However, escalation is a risky strategy for a couple of reasons. For one thing, if the intention is in any way to move against al-Sadr, it could potentially galvanise a rapprochement between the Mahdi Army and the Sunni forces, who have been alienated of late. Secondly - and this is for the first time in ages - the US antiwar movement is being reignited. Mass demonstrations are planned across America within 24 hours of Bush's announcement, and Democrats who really wanted to support the "surge" and concentrate on some centrist domestic issues are under pressure. The American ruling class is split on escalation, some fearing the kind of defeat sustained in Vietnam. The more aggressive wing behind Bush is confident that a sudden cataclysm in Iraq, and perhaps even an expansion of the war into Iran, can recoup those losses. What happens next depends crucially on what the American antiwar movement does: the divisions in the ruling class present a huge opportunity for them. But it also depends to a large extent on the difficulties faced by the British government. I note, for instance, that Gordon Brown has recently made a preposterous, utterly utterly absurd, last ditch attempt to position himself to the left of Blair on foreign policy. There is no mystery here - everytime you look at a poll on this government's popularity, the phrase "new low" comes up, and the words "war", "Iraq" and "Bush" are never far behind. The decision to renew Britain's weapons of mass destruction programme isn't very popular either. So, one thing those of us in the UK can do to help our American brothers and sisters is to turn out en masse for the February 24th demonstration, demanding both the withdrawal of troops and the end of Trident.