Issue 266 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 2002 Copyright © Socialist Review
August was a bad month for hawks. Despite the best efforts of the Bush and Blair governments to continue their preparations for war without public scrutiny or debate, increasingly loud and anxious voices continued to be raised about exactly why the US and Britain were proposing to attack Iraq. These voices included a great number of trade unionists, Labour MPs and anti-war activists, but they also encompassed some of those who have been enthusiastic warmongers in the past. James Baker, key adviser to Bush Sr, is only the latest to have counselled caution.
The swell of opposition is a recognition that little or nothing has been achieved over the past year's 'war on terror'. There is nothing approaching a political solution to the problems of the Middle East. The situation of the Palestinians is worse than a year ago. Discontent in countries such as Saudi Arabia has grown. The inadequacies of regime change are evident in Afghanistan where the overthrow of the Taliban has not led to a safer or more liberal society. The threat of terrorism is as great as ever, since none of the problems which give rise to it in the first place have been addressed. Instead there is widespread fear that an attack on Saddam Hussein will deepen the world's problems, not solve them. This is why, even at the highest echelons of US and British society, there is such reluctance to engage in all-out war in the Middle East.
Despite these reservations, and despite opinion polls which are showing growing majorities of anti-war sentiment and, even in the US, are showing a much bigger anti-war minority than previously over the past year, all the signs are that the Bush government plans to go ahead. Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld have made this clear. To back down would make it look too weak, and it also has the military resources for war. But its political resources are something different. Entering a war while US opinion is divided and world opinion is nearly all hostile to such a move is a very dangerous option.
Tony Blair is in an equally invidious position. He can hardly be enthusiastic for war, but will not break from his doglike devotion to George Bush. He will try to take Britain into the war in the face of opposition from much of his cabinet, from large numbers of Labour MPs, from substantial numbers of trade unionists and Labour activists. He has made no case for such a war and cannot really do so--the 'dossier' enumerating Saddam's crimes has still not been produced and it appears to amount to old or unsubstantiated accusations, or to speculation.
Blair's isolation on this question will become more apparent at this month's TUC conference, where Iraq is on the agenda for debate, at the mass demonstration due to take place on 28 September in London, and on the days following in Blackpool at Labour's annual conference. Blair is so far refusing to debate or allow a parliamentary vote on the question, which can only build up more opposition. And he is very weak on the domestic agenda. Last year Blair was at the TUC conference when 11 September took place. The events deferred the political row which was brewing over New Labour's domestic agenda. They will not be deferred for another year.
Within the coming weeks we will see industrial action from firefighters, FE lecturers and other groups of workers against low pay and privatisation. These, coupled with mass opposition to the war, and the building of a large British contingent to the European Social Forum in Florence in November, can ensure that Blair is facing a hot autumn indeed.