The United States government is preparing a new war on Iraq. A section of the Bush administration, reflecting a section of the US ruling class, has long been pursuing an assault on Iraq to overthrow the regime of Sadaam Hussein. It will come as no surprise to anyone that this group is intimately associated with the oil and, to a lesser extent, the military industries. Vice President and former Defense Secretary and chief of Halliburton Corporation Dick Cheney is the main representative of these interests in the administration.
Halliburton, at a nominal market value of over 18 billion dollars, is the largest oil supply company in the world. It has also become a leading construction contractor for the US military since the Bush administration took office. If Chevron-Texaco (which named a ship after Bush’s National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice) needs parts in Nigeria or new oil wells in the arctic wilderness, Halliburton is there. The runways that launch American bombing sorties on Afghan wedding parties and the prisoner camp in occupied Cuba are built by Halliburton.
This is not a conspiracy, nor is it a coincidence — it is how American capitalism works. The government sees its primary role to defend and extend American corporate interests. There is a constant revolving door between government and business in the US. This, of course, is not a uniquely American reality but one shared with all the capitalist governments of the world.
Utilizing the bellicose mood of the post-September 11th political atmosphere, the US right wing has made a concerted effort to win the government to launching a new Gulf War. The hawks have been in the ascendancy since the early spring, though not without contradictions and real opposition from parts of the ruling class, government, and military who fear some of the consequences of a new war. These consequences include the prospect of a jump in oil prices and the inflationary pressure that would put on the already troubled economy; the further destabilization of a region already seething from the “War on Terrorism”, continued sanctions on Iraq, and US patronage of Israel; and strains on an increasingly active “volunteer” army’s resources, to name a few.
The forces advocating a new war also have divisions among them. Some of them want revenge for their own failure to dislodge Sadaam Hussein in the last war and his continued existence in power after all the attempts made over the last decade to isolate and replace him. This looks and sounds a bit like the red-faced rage of the schoolyard bully whose attempts at intimidation go unheeded. He cannot remain the bully if others refuse to be bullied.
Another motivation is that the US has awfully little to show in its “War on Terrorism”. Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden have, so far, been unwilling to offer up their corpses for a trophy photo. Though the imperialists have clearly won many gains in Afghanistan, the all-looking-and-no-finding war seems to have powered down without many of the big issues being resolved in their favor. A war on Iraq would deflect charges of being “soft” on Al Qaeda and the Axis of Evil from the far right of American politics and, coincidently, some Democrats. When other enemies prove too elusive, Sadaam’s nefarious star tends to rise in the US government’s psyche. They seem to wilt without an enemy to compare to Hitler.
Another motivation is oil, and not just the oil within the borders of Iraq. While strictly economic aims are sometimes simplistically laid out as the primary reasons behind US war policy, and all the proponents of war have a combination of reasons for their advocacy, it would be foolish to underestimate the power of oil interests in shaping American policy. Competition among the imperialist powers over access to and control of oil has increased since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
One reason for this is that the previously off-limits resources of the former Soviet Union have opened up, leading to a new “Great Game” for the riches of the Central Asian states (now conveniently hosting US military bases for the war in neighboring Afghanistan) and the Caspian Sea. Why leave all that oil to the Russians and the Central Asians? The privatization of the old state energy companies is a potential windfall of many billions of dollars for American oil interests, provided that the new companies partner with US ones and upgrade their facilities with the parts and know-how of the Halliburton Corporation.
Another reason is that the old equilibrium between the imperialist powers facing a common Soviet threat has broken down, meaning that each is more likely to pursue its own energy goals, including direct access to oil. This is what is at the heart of France’s opposition to the sanctions on Iraq. While many countries buy oil from the Iraq Petrochemical Company (IPC, nationalized in 1972), France is the only Western power which has partial ownership in the IPC. The sanctions prevent them from fully exploiting that relationship.
The US and Britain, with four of the top five oil companies in the world between them, were frozen out of investment in the IPC and therefore out of control over 10 percent of the world’s oil, which is produced by Iraq. Is it really any surprise then that these two countries are the most adamant about continuing the sanctions and now about going to war, whatever the consequences for the Iraqi people?
Japan and Germany have almost no indigenous oil resources, so the second and third largest economies in the world have to buy their way into the oil market. While their wealth provides them access, they are still confined militarily to their own countries as a consequence of World War II. Thus they remain beholding to the US to protect their oil access. For the US, control of oil means power over its friends, who are also its rivals. In the largest gas bill in history the US made Germany and Japan cough up tens of billions of dollars for their Kuwaiti oil in the last Gulf War. Recession and political problems at home make Germany and Japan much less willing to do this again.
The more mercenary warmongers in the US government see control over oil as the starting point of their policy, rather than the regime of Sadaam Hussein. When they look at maps of the world they see resources and zones of influence, rather than countries and people. With all that has happened in the last decade they see an urgent need to reshape parts of the world in their own interests and, by virtue of being the only superpower, almost the ordained obligation to do so.
This attitude is not new with the Bush administration. The “humanitarian” interventions of the Clinton administration were rooted in the same arrogant view, which holds that the Middle East is too important to be left to its people. The goal of this patrician group is to impose a Pax Americana on the region. The costs and consequences of such brutal folly can only be guessed at, but the destruction Israel is inflicting on the Palestinians is a good place to start.
Iraqi oil is part of the motivation. Oil in general is a greater motivation. But the root of the cowboy attitude of the current US government is the nature of capitalism and imperialism in general, whoever practices it. That is, the violent imposition of the interests of the few, the rulers of the capitalist “great powers”, on the vast majority of the world’s people. The ruined lives of the many underlie the profit and the power of the few.
We, the working people of the world, are not simply “exploited masses” to be pitied. We are a power who, by fighting for our own interests, fights for the liberation of all humanity. Crisis are currently shaking continents from the consequences of the last twenty years of Neo-Liberal’s crusade.
From Jakarta and Buenos Aires, from Johannesburg and Jenin, from Seattle and Genoa people have marched under the banner “Another World is Possible”. It is time to give that world a name; socialism, and in the face of still another American war set about, urgently, to change this world. For the common, rational, and shared utilization of what nature, finitely, has endowed the planet, that is, for socialism.
Working people, the “exploited masses” also exist in the US, though usually more silently than in the rest of the world. US workers need to enter this struggle with their own voices rather than those voices who would speak for them. That the US has decided on war does not make it inevitable, and the louder we are now the greater chance we have to prevent it. Should they succeed in launching their war we will oppose them. If they triumph in their plans we will demonstrate the perfidy of their victory and use the lessons learned to resist the next war, which we are sure will come. Wars are in the nature of imperialism and we must press home this reality- to defeat war it is necessary to defeat capitalism.
Matt Siegfried writes for the Irish magazine Forthwrite. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org