Thursday, March 16, 2006

Iraq: this is part of a pattern. Part IV

"Under the government of Saddam Hussein, Iraq used its oil resources to build an economy that had many features of a socialist economy:

"free education through university;

"state-owned enterprises;

"subsidies to keep the prices of necessities low;

"a full-employment policy;

"and a healthcare system that was the envy of the Middle East.

"These achievements were secured by rejecting the model of an economy open to exploitation by the corporations of advanced capitalist countries, like the United States."

"The tribunal, then, is a not ploy to justify the invasion after the fact, but a means of justifying the neutralization of potential rallying points against the occupation."

"The Anglo-American military partnership undermines the development of the European Union as an economic bloc backed by a unified European military alliance with the military muscle to compete with the United States to monopolize resources, markets and access to cheap labor."

"Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, General Electric and other US corporate titans reap billions of dollars in profits by producing arms and the machinery of war for, and providing services to, the Pentagon."

"Israel is widely believed to have 200 nuclear weapons.Against this formidable arsenal, Iran could not possibly destroy Israel; it could only guarantee its own annihilation.

"Against the vastly more formidable US arsenal, a nuclear equipped Iran is not a threat; it is only a country the Pentagon would have to think twice about attacking."

The following extract is taken from

The Real Reason for the Tribunal

What is the tribunal’s purpose?

The answer is fairly obvious, if you think through the problem from the perspective of the people who engineered the take-over of Iraq.

But the answer, contrary to the view favored in many left-wing circles, isn’t that the tribunal is a Machiavellian ploy to justify the assault on Iraq by finding Saddam Hussein guilty of crimes against humanity.

There are too many problems with this view.

First, Washington no longer has to justify the invasion. The invasion is over, a fait accompli.

If Washington has a PR problem, the problem isn’t justifying what it did three years ago, but managing opposition at home to the continued presence of US occupation forces in Iraq.

Declaring Saddam Hussein guilty of crimes against humanity does nothing to further this cause.

Second, Saddam Hussein was long ago declared guilty of crimes against humanity in the only court that matters in securing public consent for war: the court of public opinion.

That such prominent left-wing critics of US foreign policy and the war on Iraq as Noam Chomsky can declare the ousted Iraqi president to be a monster should make it clear that the job of criminalizing Hussein is unnecessary; he’s as reviled on the left as he is on the right.

The tribunal, if its purpose is to present Hussein as a monster, simply belabors a point already made and widely accepted as true.

Third, if the purpose is to depict Hussein as a monster to justify his ouster, why also try other high-ranking members of his government, none of whom anyone but a few people outside of the Middle East had ever heard of before they became faces on a deck of playing cards?

It’s enough to criminalize Saddam Hussein, who, in the public mind, as dictator, is solely responsible for all that happened in Iraq.

Dragging anonymous figures before the court, from the standpoint of justifying the ouster of Saddam Hussein, is superfluous.

That the tribunal’s charges extend well beyond Hussein, to touch other key members of his government, offers a hint as to the tribunal’s real purpose.

Put yourself in the shoes of a planner working in the US State Department. US troops are about to march into Iraq. If the initial resistance of Iraq’s military is overcome, and your invading forces conquer the centers of power, what do you do with the members of the toppled regime? You can’t allow them their freedom, to lead quiet lives under the new order, because they won’t lead quiet lives. They’ll become rallying points for resistance. You can’t allow them to go into exile, for resistance movements can be organized and directed from outside the country, and probably with greater ease than they can be from within, where room to maneuver is limited.

There is only one option: to neutralize the central figures of the toppled government so they cannot use their authority, contacts, resources, and organizational skills to lead a backlash to undermine the new order, and restore the old.

To accomplish this goal, high-ranking government officials must be targeted in the initial assault.

If they escape death, they must be hunted down. If they are caught, they must be rendered hors de combat, either by being consigned to a life term of imprisonment, or executed.

To do otherwise risks imperiling the entire enterprise of invasion, conquest and regime change.

The next problem for our US State Department planner becomes how to justify the imprisonment and execution of members of the old regime. On what grounds are they to be held? On what grounds are they to be executed?

This is tricky because there’s no real legal basis to throw key figures of the old government into jail and no legal basis on which to execute them.

Defying US demands to open your country to exploitation by US transnational corporations or being a potential rallying point for a post-invasion resistance, are hardly formal crimes.

Accordingly, in the absence of a legal basis for the neutralization of the old government’s high-ranking members, one must be created.

In the case of the UN Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, which was trying the ousted Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic until his death this month, the UN Security Council, under US and British pressure, simply over-stepped its bounds, and arrogated onto itself the legal authority to try key figures on the losing side of the NATO war on Yugoslavia.

In doing so, it arbitrarily declared itself a sovereign power, with authority over the former Yugoslavia.

To prevent further missteps in this direction, the UN created the International Criminal Court, based on the consent of participating countries, which voluntarily invest the court with authority by agreeing to be bound by its decisions.

In this way, authority to try those accused of crimes against humanity is not assumed arbitrarily as a right.

However, the United States refuses to support the court, and actively works to undermine it, by threatening the withdrawal of economic and military aid to countries that don’t agree to refrain from sending US citizens wanted by the court to The Hague to stand trial.

From Washington’s perspective, any court that isn’t under its control, operating to secure its interests, is intolerable.

To create a legal basis for the imprisonment and possible execution of the key figures of the toppled Iraqi government, the US occupation authority created a set of laws to establish a tribunal to try Saddam Hussein and other key members of the toppled regime.

Essentially, the tribunal retroactively defines as crimes certain previous actions of the Iraqi government, which may have been legal under the laws of the old regime, in much the same way the Nuremberg Tribunal retroactively defined as crimes only the class of atrocities the Nazis had uniquely carried out (e.g., the Holocaust), and not those also carried out by the Allies (e.g., strategic bombing of civilians), to provide a legal basis for the imprisonment and execution of the key surviving members of the Nazi hierarchy.

Similarly, the tribunal in Iraq is tailored to provide a legal foundation for the imprisonment and possible execution of the key members of the Ba’athist hierarchy.

Just as Washington fit the intelligence to its pro-war policy to justify a land invasion, the laws establishing the tribunal have fit a legal basis to the policy of eliminating members of Iraq’s toppled government.

The tribunal, then, is a not ploy to justify the invasion after the fact, but a means of justifying the neutralization of potential rallying points against the occupation.

The Forces that Compelled the Invasion

The United States and Britain, and other advanced capitalist countries, are societies built around business; that is, their organizing principle is the pursuit of profit.

The governments of these countries, as is fitting of business societies, operate to facilitate the profit making of businesses generally, and especially of the largest businesses.

This is so because the concentration of wealth in large corporations means that they uniquely have the resources to monopolize the financing of political campaigns, to carry on vigorous lobbying, and to place representatives in key positions of the state.

They are also able to deter governments from pursuing anti-private property policies, by announcing massive layoffs, by going on investment strikes, by moving operations to other jurisdictions, by launching visible negative publicity campaigns against the government, and by the actual or threatened withdrawal of campaign financing to block re-election of the government’s key elected personnel.

The ability of large corporations as a group to tip a country into economic crisis, either as a deliberate pressure tactic or as the outcome of a rational economic response to policies that encroach upon corporate interests, ensures that progressive, socialist and even communist (e.g., Yugoslavia) governments that operate within the logic of the capitalist system are constrained to follow policies that facilitate profit-making.

This applies not only to domestic policy, but to foreign policy, as well.

The principal goal of the foreign policy of a business society is to secure export and investment opportunities for its corporations, and those countries which are equipped with formidable armed forces and the apparatus of covert intervention, will use these assets to extort, or take by force, the profit-making opportunities they demand foreign countries grant their corporations.

Because the foreign policy of all business societies is organized around the securing of opportunities for their major corporations to accumulate capital, there is an unremitting competition among them for access to export markets, cheap labor and raw materials.

To the degree they can, they seek to monopolize these advantages for the exclusive benefit of their own business communities at the expense of those of competing countries.

In the 20th century, this competition broke out into devastating world wars, which allowed the United States to reap huge profits as a supplier of goods and materiel to the combatants, only entering the wars at the last moment to dictate the terms of peace to weakened and exhausted combatants.

As a result, the US was able to become the hegemonic power in the world, incorporating the weakened German, Japanese and British imperialisms into its own imperialist bloc.

The subordination of these countries to US leadership, does not, however, eliminate the competition; it only forces it to be played out in other ways.

The motive force of profit making, which lies at the heart of the competition, hasn’t been eliminated.

But the chances of any US-challenger prevailing in a war against the United States are slim.

Consequently, overt military conflict is avoided by the weaker powers, in favor of war by other, largely diplomatic, means.

However, given a rough parity in military strength, war would be a real possibility.

For Britain, whose power to dominate the world was weakened by WWII and the rise of its competitor, the United States, the pursuit of profit-making opportunities on behalf of its corporations has been yoked to an alliance with the United States, with Britain serving as junior partner.

The Anglo-American military partnership undermines the development of the European Union as an economic bloc backed by a unified European military alliance with the military muscle to compete with the United States to monopolize resources, markets and access to cheap labor.

In return, Britain is rewarded by Washington, granted a share of the spoils of US-led conquests of such countries as Iraq.

The allure of Iraq to the United States, and to Britain, is the country’s vast oil reserves.

Neither country especially needs these reserves for its own consumption.

The United States produces half of the oil it consumes from domestic sources, and the bulk of the remainder comes from its neighbors, Canada and Mexico.

Britain has the advantage of access to North Sea oil.

But France, Spain, Germany, China and Japan, depend heavily on oil imports from the Middle East.

Washington and London don’t want control over Iraq’s oil resources to establish security of supply to fuel their own economies, but to secure profit-making opportunities for US and British oil firms.

This could only be done by forcing out the government of Saddam Hussein, which was hostile to US and British investment, and replacing it with one subordinate to Washington, which would re-write the Iraqi constitution to open up the country’s oil fields to domination by US and British corporations.

It’s tempting to come up with a single motive to explain the US-British take-over of Iraq, but while the impetus of securing profit-making opportunities for US and British oil companies was probably central to the decision-making of US planners, it’s unlikely that it was the only, or even the chief, factor.

Instead, it seems more likely that a complex of forces and motives impelled the US toward war on Iraq.

One such factor is the necessity of destroying a counterexample to the self-serving trade and investment policies the US prescribes for less-developed countries.

Under the government of Saddam Hussein, Iraq used its oil resources to build an economy that had many features of a socialist economy: free education through university; state-owned enterprises; subsidies to keep the prices of necessities low; a full-employment policy; and a healthcare system that was the envy of the Middle East.

These achievements were secured by rejecting the model of an economy open to exploitation by the corporations of advanced capitalist countries, like the United States.

Iraq’s constitution, for example, defined Iraq’s oil resources as the property of the people of Iraq, not as resources the oil majors of the US, Britain and other advanced capitalist powers could claim title to and exploit for their own narrow aims.

As a model for how a post-colonial society could develop, Iraq was an anathema to the governments of the First World, for Iraq’s economic nationalist policies negated the very goal to which the foreign policy of the advanced capitalist countries is directed: securing profit-making opportunities for their own corporations.

Iraq rejected this model, adopting a set of counter-policies, which together with the country’s native petroleum wealth, allowed it to thrive, while Third World countries that accepted the self-serving prescriptions of the First World for how a Third World country should develop, remained mired in poverty and thwarted in their development.

Were all Third World countries to follow in Iraq’s footsteps, the corporations of the First World would be doubly disadvantaged.

First, they would incur the cost of lost opportunity, and second, Third World enterprises, developing behind protective barriers, might grow large enough to challenge their First World counterparts.

For governments imbued by their economies with the mission of promoting the profit-making opportunities of their corporate communities, the prospect is intolerable.

The solution is to crush the counter-example, and in the process, to send a warning to other countries inspired to follow the same path: develop outside the self-serving parameters we set, and we’ll crush you.

Two other motives for the US to wage war on Iraq are related to the centrality of militarism and arms production to the profitability of companies operating within the US economy. Lockheed-Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, General Electric and other US corporate titans reap billions of dollars in profits by producing arms and the machinery of war for, and providing services to, the Pentagon.

Their profitability depends on a credible case being made for the existence of omnipresent threats to the security of the United States to justify continued Pentagon orders, and on the regular fighting of wars to deplete inventories of missiles, bombs and equipment, to generate replacement orders.

These corporations can use their extensive resources to mount public relations campaigns to warn of threats posed by foreign countries or movements, fund think tanks and scholars to make the case that the US is under threat, and lobby the US Congress to ensure the flow of Pentagon orders continues unabated.

US corporations that stand to receive contracts to rebuild the damaged and destroyed infrastructure of countries that have been targets of US attacks may also press their resources into service to lobby politicians for military intervention.

George Shultz, who is connected to the US engineering giant Bechtel, used his connections as secretary of state in the Reagan administration to lobby the Bush administration to invade Iraq. Bechtel received reconstruction contracts after the invasion.

Massive US state spending on the military and war also provides jobs to numberless Americans, who might otherwise find themselves on the streets, with no means of support.

As such, it keeps at bay the persistent problems of intolerably high unemployment, and the incessant threat of economic crisis, to which advanced capitalist economies are inherently prone.

A related motive is to strengthen the US military presence in the Middle East.

The US operates a vast system of military bases around the world, in scores of countries, to “defend US interests,” that is, to protect US foreign investments from expropriation by nationalizing governments, to ensure that countries within the US orbit maintain a US-business-friendly investment and trade climate, and to discourage competitors from encroaching on the US sphere of interest.

This system of military bases acts as a constant threat to governments that might dare to risk the pursuit of anti-private property policies, to other advanced capitalist countries that might seek to extend their domain, and to serve as launch pads for attacks on other countries, to the expand the domain in which US corporations are free to operate.

A permanent military presence in Iraq provides the US with facilities to safeguard the investment of the US oil majors in the region, and to threaten, and possibly launch, an attack on Iran.Finally, all advanced capitalist states are driven to use their resources to try to monopolize opportunities for their transnational corporations to make profits.

Pre-invasion Iraq had all the hallmarks of a country US planners would have targeted for regime change, even if it didn’t have vast reserves of oil, because the government of Saddam Hussein had largely walled the country off from US capital.

All Third World countries the US state regards as economically unfree, that is, that block, limit, or impose performance requirements on foreign investment, deploy trade barriers, or intervene in domestic markets to achieve public policy goals at the expense of the potential profits of US corporations, are subject to threat, destabilization, economic warfare and military intervention by the US state.

These countries include: Cuba, which restricts and imposes performance criteria on foreign investment; Belarus, whose economy is largely state-owned and follows policies of import suppression and export promotion; Venezuela, whose government controls key sectors of the economy, limiting US investment opportunities; Zimbabwe, which promotes majority Zimbabwean participation in new ventures, and pushes for eventual transition of foreign investment to local ownership; north Korea, which prohibits most foreign investment and controls all imports and exports; and Iran, which prohibits private ownership of power generation, postal services, telecommunications and large-scale industry, restricts foreign ownership in the petroleum sector, mandates that the banking sector remain in state hands, and uses its ownership stake in over 1,500 companies to meet social policy goals.

Washington is actively trying to replace the governments of each of these countries with governments that will throw open their economies to penetration by US capital, preferably on monopoly terms.

Iraq then, is not unique.

No ad hoc explanation need be invoked to account for why Iraq has been subject to economic strangulation, strategic bombing and occupation.

It can be posited as a law that advanced capitalist states are driven by the logic of their economies to secure profit-making opportunities, and that they use the resources at their disposal to extort those opportunities, or take them by force, from unwilling countries. Iraq is simply the most conspicuous current manifestation of the working out of the logic of that law.

What’s Next?

The cycle begins anew, this time with Iran at the center.

The deceptions, to those whose minds have not been poisoned by years of indoctrination into the cult of US or British moral authority by the mass media, schools and governments of these states, are as plain as ever.

It’s as if the US president, the British prime minister, and their advisors, aren’t even trying, figuring Americans and Britons will believe anything their leaders tell them.

Many do.

The alarm has been sounded: Iran’s civilian nuclear energy program is a cover for a secret nuclear weapons program.

Iran must, accordingly, be deprived of the right to enrich uranium, even if it pledges to operate within the safeguards established by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and to grant UN inspectors a level of access to its nuclear facilities exceeding that other countries are willing to allow.

Two questions are critical.

What evidence is there to back up the allegations of the notoriously untruthful Bush administration that Tehran is pursuing a secret weapons program?

Not a jot.

Is there are reason, nevertheless, to believe that Iran would be well-served by building a nuclear weapons capability?


A nuclear arsenal, even a modest one, would allow Iran to create a Mexican standoff to deter the United States (or Israel, on Washington’s behalf) from using the threat of war or military intervention to compel compliance with demands that the country’s economically nationalist policies be thrown aside in favor of an open door for US capital.

Once George Bush declared Iran to be part of an “axis of evil,” and then invaded Iraq, (one of the other states said to be part of the same axis), pressure on Iran to develop a nuclear weapons program as a defensive measure increased, especially considering the positive model north Korea’s ambiguous possession of a nuclear weapons capability provides in restraining Washington’s hand in carrying through on its threats to attack the DPRK.

However, whether Iran is pursuing a secret weapons program, or will in the future, is a moot point.

But what is clear, is that the warning that an Iran in possession of a few warheads stands as a direct military threat to the United States and Israel borders on the absurd.

Israel is widely believed to have 200 nuclear weapons.

Against this formidable arsenal, Iran could not possibly destroy Israel; it could only guarantee its own annihilation.

Against the vastly more formidable US arsenal, a nuclear equipped Iran is not a threat; it is only a country the Pentagon would have to think twice about attacking.

The scenario of an Iran in possession of nuclear weapons deciding to furnish a national liberation group with a warhead is more difficult to deal with from the standpoint of conventional military confrontation, and may be regarded in Washington as a more pressing concern than the comic book scenario of Tehran launching a warhead at Europe or Tel Aviv out of pure malice.

But Washington’s desired preemption of this possibility is motivated, not by concern over the lives of numberless people dying in a non-conventional attack carried out by groups that have no state-affiliation, but in monopolizing weapons of mass destruction so that the domination and national oppression these groups react against can continue without interruption.

The analogy is an occupying force seeking to monopolize access to arms, to reduce the chances its occupation will be challenged in any effective form.

So long as there is oppression, there will be resistance.

It’s na├»ve to think Washington is oblivious to the connection between its actions and the retaliatory actions it demonizes as terrorism.

The connection is clear.

However, the US state cannot, as a matter of choice, simply stop acting in ways that victimize weak countries, ways that impel partisans of those countries to strike back.

Washington is under a structural compulsion to pursue a predatory foreign policy, which means it can’t deal with the backlash its foreign policy generates by choosing to pursue a different path (a non-interventionist or “democratic” foreign policy.)

Imperialism is the only option it can pursue so long as the organizing principle of US society is the pursuit of profit. It must, then, use force to limit the backlash as best it can.

Conflict is inevitable, and it’s the only path through which the US imperialist bloc can pursue its foreign policy and the only path through which its opponents can defeat it.

For purposes of building support for a war, the US state prefers to spin fantastical tales of Tehran seeking to covertly develop nuclear weapons to “wipe Israel off the map,” presumably in a direct nuclear attack on the Zionist state.

The “wipe Israel off the map” line, attributed to Iran’s president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, is twisted to give it a sinister meaning: that Iran seeks to destroy every man, women and child living in Israel.

This isn’t the case.

What Ahmadinejad would like to wipe off the map is Israel as an idea, that of a Jewish state based on the expulsion of Palestinians and discrimination against Arabs who remain in Israel; Zionism, in other words.

Interpreting Ahmadinejad’s words as a promised campaign of genocide to be carried out against Israeli Jews is tantamount to saying anyone who called for the Third Reich to be wiped off the face of the map was calling for the genocide of Germans.

This deliberate, demagogic misinterpretation serves a purpose: to build public support for a war on Iran.

If an attack on Iran comes, by US cruise missiles or B2s or Israeli warplanes carrying US–supplied bunker busters to penetrate deep into the earth to cripple Iran’s fledging subterranean nuclear power industry, the fundamental reasons for the attack will remain hidden.

But the main forces that drive the US to war will be the same as those that compelled the US, with British assistance, to attack Iraq: to replace an economically nationalist regime that has largely walled off the country from US and British capital, and is developing outside the self-serving parameters established by Washington.

There will also be subsidiary factors, unique to Iran, which add or detract from these forces (e.g., the link between Iran and pro-Palestinian groups which threatens the viability of a country that acts as an enforcer in the Middle East on behalf of US interests.)

If an attack comes, it will only be a military manifestation of an aggression already begun, one based now on the threat of the use of force, diplomatic pressure and the fomenting of internal subversion.

This is part of a pattern that reaches back to the founding of the US, and has characterized the behavior of all advanced capitalist states.

If the aggressions now being undertaken by Washington against Iran escalate to war, we shouldn’t be shocked.

It has been done before.


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