Issue 280 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published December 2003 Copyright © Socialist Review
The hypocrisy of George Bush and Tony Blair's denunciations of terrorism is stunning. They condemn the 'utter contempt for human life' shown by the Istanbul bombers, even as they command their armies to drop 500-pound bombs onto cities, bulldoze houses and shoot unarmed civilians at checkpoints. This is the reality of Operation Iron Hammer, the 'reconstruction' of occupied Iraq.
It is a tribute to the anti-war movement that the hawks were not able to exploit the tragedy in Turkey--that Bush's visit to London was marked by the biggest workday protest in living memory. Demonstrators understood that terrorist attacks made it more, not less, appropriate to oppose the world's leading state terrorist and his accomplice in Downing Street. For Blair told us--despite his intelligence services coming to the opposite conclusion--that invading Iraq would make the world a safer place. But the anti-war movement's forecasts have been confirmed--Iraq, which had no links to Al Qaida before the invasion, is now a focus for anger at imperialism. The dominant expression of this anger has been the mass protests that have swept the world and the legitimate resistance of the Iraqi people to occupying armies, rather than the counterproductive attacks against wider western targets. The source of the violence is the neoliberal warlords, and it is they who must be held to account.
Countless polls show that Bush and Blair are already suffering from a political blowback over the war. Bush's surprise visit to US troops in Iraq last month was a calculated attempt to regain that lost popularity, but it was also notable for being the first visit by a US president to a war zone since Richard Nixon flew to Vietnam in 1969. The comparison is an uncomfortable one for the Bush administration--which has already lost as many troops in the first eight months in Iraq as died in the first three years of that conflict. The 'Mission accomplished' banner that decorated the aircraft carrier Bush visited on 1 May is now nowhere to be seen. The new buzzword is 'Iraqification'--the creation of an Iraqi facade to the continuing occupation. The word is instructive. The 'Vietnamisation' of the Vietnam War heralded no increase in democracy, but actually intensified the war as the US ruling class attempted, without success, to pull itself out of the quagmire without losing face. We should remain alert to the possibility that the US neoconservatives will lash out in such a way by extending their war in the Middle East or elsewhere just as Nixon did into Laos and Cambodia.
New Labour's domestic agenda is similarly vicious. Even Michael Howard--who tried to force refugees into penury while home secretary--baulked at David Blunkett's obscene plan to snatch asylum seekers' children. This is part of a general offensive against civil liberties. The proposed Civil Contingencies Bill would add to the range of arbitrary powers already available to the state. Under the guise of 'anti-terrorism', acts liable to cause 'political or economic disruption'--easily applicable to strikes and demonstrations--could be banned.
The potential counterweight was glimpsed when postal workers' wildcat strikes--illegal under anti trade union laws--sent their government-appointed bosses into abject retreat. These are not the forces of Middle England--which we are told decide the balance of British politics--they are an inspiring example of what is possible when working class people take mass collective action. Such lessons should be at the heart of uniting the currents to the left of Labour into a campaigning force.