The U.S. administration and its closest international ally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, have been on an all-out campaign to whip up the political atmosphere for an assault on Iraq. The arguments are extreme and vague.

It is necessary to crush Iraq, Bush and his cohorts claim, not because of anything the Iraqi regime is doing but because it might acquire “weapons of mass destruction.” But the country has been ruined, and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died as a result of the military attacks and economic sanctions the U.S. and its allies have imposed since 1991.

The entire Muslim world is already seething with rage at the sight of the suffering of the Iraqi people. And the Western imperialist rulers are displaying their total ruthlessness by talking coldly about actions that could result in millions of deaths and the destruction of a people.

Bush proclaims that he has the right and duty to act as he sees fit regardless of the consequences: “Doing nothing about that serious threat is not an option for the United States.” He argues in effect that the U.S. needs to unleash a holocaust to prove its power, and proclaims: “The world must understand its credibility is at stake.”

By “world,” Bush of course means the U.S. rulers. Even Bush’s imperialist allies have been notably unenthusiastic about a full-scale assault on Iraq, and Blair has found himself on the defensive in his own party on the issue.

If a country as impoverished and wrecked as Iraq might acquire “weapons of mass destruction” to wreak revenge on its tormentors, how many other ruined Third World countries might do the same? Why would the threat be limited to Iraq?

In fact, Bush is clearly trying to use the Iraq example as a basis for establishing the right of first strike without warning at any country thought to threaten U.S. interests. Even the Pakistani dictator Musharraf, up until now a firm ally of the U.S., has said that he fears that India could take Bush’s doctrine as a justification for a first strike against Pakistan.

Far from increasing world security, Bush’s war campaign threatens to make the world immediately a far more dangerous place. It is clear in fact that in general the bourgeois politicians and governments are not buying Bush’s arguments for a war on Iraq.

Bush’s real argument, which is not being stated openly, is that the U.S. has the military power to run roughshod not only over the Iraqi people and other Third World peoples but over its imperialist allies as well, whose interests run counter to such a war. That is the proposition that Bush’s “fellow statesmen” are giving way to. And the result cannot be more international collaboration but rather the international rule of terror by a savage top dog.

The very extremity of the Bush administration’s war campaign and its persistence in the face of so much doubt even in its own camp, indicates that its objectives go far beyond Iraq. It aims to establish a new international order in the Middle East and on that basis in the world. This campaign can be the opening guns of the gravest aggression since World War II.

World politics have become overshadowed by the U.S. threat of invading and occupying Iraq. Symptomatically, voices in the Israeli press say that this prospect makes any serious talks with Palestinian leaders impossible. A full-scale U.S. war would turn the entire region upside down. It could open the way for the Zionists to strike far more deadly blows against the Palestinian people, perhaps even expel a large percentage of them.

The implications of a U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq are momentous. It would mean a return to outright colonialism, the occupation of a middle-sized semi-developed country in a strategic area and the imposition of a puppet government. This would be a return to the policy that the U.S. practiced in the 1920s in the Caribbean, with the occupation of Haiti and Nicaragua, but on a much vaster scale.

In this context, it is worth remembering that in the name of establishing “responsible” governments in these Caribbean nations, the U.S. in fact set up police states that lasted for decades, dictatorships no less repressive and corrupt than that of Saddam Hussein, himself a former U.S. protege.

Secondly, the direct subjugation of Iraq would give the United States tight control of Middle Eastern oil and thereby a whip hand over the entire world capitalist economy.

The United States gets only 11 percent of its oil from the Gulf, while its major capitalist rivals, the European Union and Japan, are much more dependent on the region (27 percent for the European Union). Germany, the central economy of the European Union, gets 35 percent of its oil from the Gulf and is also the most vociferous opponent of a U.S. invasion of Iraq.

The European capitalist powers would be losers in a U.S. occupation of Iraq, and this undoubtedly underlies their reluctance to support an American war against the country.

The U.S. administration’s talk of war on Iraq already represents an important political shift, in that the Bush government gave signals it was considering a unilateral operation. This again corresponds to the dreams of the Zionist pundits, who have been cautiously advising the United States to ignore the concerns of its European allies, since they lack the military force to back up an independent policy.

If the United States could successfully wage a unilateral war to subjugate the Middle East and gain control of its oil resources, it would end the contradiction between the unequalled military power of the U.S. and the long-term decline in its economic strength relative to that of its capitalist rivals.

The U.S. threat of unilateral war against Iraq, moreover, comes in the context of deepening crises of all the capitalist economies and increasing tensions among them, as indicated by a recent World Trade Organization decision to fine the U.S. $4 billion for violating its free trade agreements.

Launching a major war against Iraq without strong and firm political support would be an extremely risky endeavor. However, the U.S. imperialist rulers may calculate that they have a historically rare combination of favorable circumstances-the disappearance of Soviet power, the fading of the Iranian regime based on an anti-imperialist revolution in that country, the fact that the anti-imperialist movement in the Middle East appears dominated by Islamists who do not inspire much sympathy in other parts of the world, and the corrupt and brutal character of the Saddam Hussein regime itself.

The U.S. rulers could look forward to an easy victory over the Hussein government if they brought overwhelming force to bear against it. It is not very likely that a corrupt bureaucratic regime maintained by police terror and clique loyalties would fight to the death for the sake of principle. A decisive blow could shatter it, and the oppressiveness of the regime has made it very difficult for a new leadership to emerge from below.

The rapid collapse of Iraq would be a demoralizing blow for the Arab nationalist masses who have no revolutionary leadership to turn to. Washington could hope that their rage would burn out impotently. There is the precedent of the Israeli victory in the June 1967 war, which led to a general demoralization of the Arab people and prepared the way for the capitulation of Egypt to imperialism.

The Zionists, moreover, need a this sort of victory over Arab nationalism to stabilize their hold over Palestine, which they can only do if they can carry out a new massive expulsion of the Palestinian people.

From a successful blitzkrieg against Iraq, the U.S. rulers could not only hope for a historic victory over the anti-imperialist movement in the region and in the Third World in general but clear away many of the obstacles that American formal democracy poses to their operating as the world policeman for capitalism. Thus, Bush has been claiming that he has the right to launch a major war against Iraq on his own without the approval of Congress.

So, the stakes in a U.S. war on Iraq would be extremely high. It is possible that the expected gains are so high that the Bush administration is ready to take very great risks to achieve them. But it is hard to predict what they will do. They probably do not know yet themselves. That could be one reason for the blowing hot and cold that the Bush administration is doing.

The long-term policy of the U.S. toward the Saddam regime has been to try to foment a military coup, and the Washington may well hope that the threat of a massive American attack will prove stronger than the fear by which the Iraqi dictator maintains his control of the military.

A pro-imperialist coup under the shadow of U.S. power would achieve most of Washington’s objectives at a minimum cost and minimum risk. Thus, the U..S. rulers may keep putting off major military moves against Iraq, while reiterating their threats of invasion and occupation, precisely in anticipation of such an event.

On the other hand, given the risks of invading and occupying Iraq, it is obvious that the U.S. rulers are going to do a lot of testing of the waters before they move, even if they are ready to proceed unilaterally at some point.

The Bush administration first insisted that it had the right to strike Iraq without congressional approval. Then, it reassured Congress that it would not act without getting at least some kind of endorsement from them. Likewise it blows hot and cold about the need for support from its allies.

This dance, which the French call a “hesitation waltz,” has already prompted an columnist in the influential Israeli daily Haaretz to characterize the U.S. threats against Iraq as “hot air.” It is possible that they will turn out to be mainly a form of psychological warfare. But there is also the terrible possibility that the U.S. rulers will be so tempted by the prospects of an historic victory for U.S. imperialism and by the arrogance that they derive from their high tech arsenal that they will cast caution to the winds.

The present period is one of testing. And public opinion and the mass opposition to imperialist war and terror are important, potentially decisive factors in this test. Despite its arrogance and reactionary truculence, the Bush administration knows how great a danger public opinion in the U.S. and other imperialist nations is for their plans.

Therefore, it is essential for all defenders of peace and democratic and humane values to make the maximum effort to build protests against Bush’s war threats. Right now the most important of these are the protests scheduled for Oct. 26 demanding no U.S. intervention in Iraq.

If Bush succeeds in his plan, Saddam Hussein will be the least of the losers. The big losers will be the fight for the right of self-determination of the oppressed peoples and for the democratic rights of the peoples of the imperialist countries themselves, including in the first place the people of the United States.

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