Issue 257 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published November 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review
The war against terrorism launched by US president George Bush, and his roving ambassador Tony Blair, has lost any clear direction that it once might have had. It is also losing support. Many of the supposed allies, especially in the Middle East, are at best half-hearted in their support. They see a futile war which shows no immediate sign of succeeding in its stated aim of capturing Osama Bin Laden, but which is resulting in a humanitarian tragedy for millions of Afghans and growing instability across a whole number of countries, including Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
Rulers everywhere are also taken aback by the scale of opposition to the war. The London demonstration on 13 October which attracted 50,000 people made government ministers and MPs sit up and listen. It even forced the Guardian to admit that its usual policy was not to report marches, but that in this case it had made a mistake.
The Labour government's policy is rebounding on it as well. The Blairites who police the party have been thrown onto the defensive. Stephen Byers' spin doctor, Jo Moore, wrote an e-mail as people were dying in New York saying that this was a good day to bury bad news. This cynicism has been characterised as a momentary lapse, and she has kept her job. But when Shrewsbury MP Paul Marsden spoke at the anti-war demo, he was hauled in by Labour whip Hilary Armstrong and told that war was not a matter of conscience.
Although polls show a majority in favour of war, there are signs that this majority is dwindling. Many people are horrified at the bombing of innocent civilians in Afghanistan, and at the prospect of the conflict widening. There is also increasing scepticism at the motives of the richest countries in the world. Why do they condemn terror everywhere but allow Ariel Sharon's government to send tanks into Palestinian towns? Why are so many US allies repressive dictatorships? Will the pursuit of Bin Laden simply result in him becoming a hero to much of the world?
The pro-war lobby is now on the defensive. It expected the arguments for endless war to be easy after 11 September. But this is the third war prosecuted by the imperial powers in a decade. Each one has represented a learning curve--many people now know that they tell lies about civilian casualties, that they demonise particular leaders and governments, and that they leave the regions in which they intervene in devastation. Perhaps most importantly, many people suspect their motives--oil in the Gulf, and Caspian oil pipelines that go through the Balkans and Afghanistan are now seen to have played a role in all these wars.
Finally, many people were already unhappy with global capitalism before this war. Governments are using the cover of this war to wage war on us. Although they have convinced some of those who opposed them to suspend their opposition, they cannot do so indefinitely. The danger for Tony Blair's government is that many of the discontents against it can be focused on opposition to the war. If this happens, it can find itself in real trouble.
The London demonstration had the spirit of the anti-capitalist demonstrations. The test for the movement now is extending the mobilisation for the 18 November demonstration, which means making sure that reserves of support in the Muslim community, and especially in the trade unions, are there in force.
Blair claims a special relationship with US imperialism. It is the duty of those who oppose the war here to make their voices heard around the world.