Gilbert Achcar

From: rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU
Date: Sat Apr 19 2003 - 12:46:02 EDT

From: "IIRE"
 Sent: Wednesday, April 16, 2003 10:04 AM
 Subject: [SLDRTY-L]: Gilbert Achcar over de val van Bagdad

 Letter to a slightly depressed antiwar activist

 Dear Friend,

 I don't think that the disappointment that you've felt at the news of
 the Iraqi regime's collapse is warranted.

 Of course I can understand it. The main thing that saddened you was
 the fact that this collapse has enabled the vultures in Washington
 and London to deck the carrion-filled halls. This was a semi-colonial
 war that the tandem Bush and Blair (let's call them B2 - it suits
 them well to call them after a bomber!) waged in defiance of a clear
 majority of world public opinion. Yet now they can declare it a "war
 of liberation" inspired by democratic ideals. Yes, that's infuriating!
 But remember the predictions that we've been making for months and
 months. They can be summed up in a few hypotheses:

1) That B{ush)2's easiest task would be overthrowing Saddam Hussein's
 regime, which they could defeat without too much trouble. Their real
 problems would begin afterwards.

 2) That they dared to defy public opinion because they counted on the
  spectacle of Iraqi crowds celebrating Saddam Hussein's fall to win
 over public opinion. We had to be prepared for this spectacle. Given
 how hated the Baathist dictatorship was - with good reason - it was

 3) B2 are adventurers, gamblers; they went to war betting on a
 best-case scenario. They bet on taking over the bulk of the Iraqi
 state apparatus, particularly the army, on its turning against Saddam
 Hussein, and on their being able to use it to control Iraq after
 their victory. But the most likely outcome was that their
 intervention - which would begin with an attempt to liquidate Saddam
 Hussein and the occupation of the Iraqi oil fields - would lead to
 the collapse of the state apparatus and would result in a vast chaos
 marked by bloody score-settling.

 All these hypotheses have been verified. Nothing that has happened,
 in the last analysis, should have surprised you; everything was
 predictable. Let's take a closer look at the events of the last few

 1) The "victory"
  On the one side we had a "coalition" between the world's main
 military power, which accounts on its own for more than 40 percent of
 world military expenditures, and a major vassal power. On the other
 side we had a Third World country, two-thirds of whose armed forces
 had been destroyed in 1991, the other third of which had been worn
 away through the ensuing years by an embargo that interfered with
 maintaining its weaponry, and all this further aggravated by several
 years of UN-supervised disarmament. How could anybody be surprised in
 these circumstances at the Iraqi rout?
 This same regime had already suffered a crushing defeat in 1991 with
 the collapse of Iraqi forces in Kuwait and Southern Iraq. True, this
 time Washington's goal was to take the cities and occupy the whole
 country; admittedly, that was a harder goal to achieve. But in the
 meantime the country had been bled white, exhausted by more than
 twenty years of wars, bombings and embargo. This is the country that
 Washington set out to conquer. And in 2003 as in 1991, the great
 majority of the Iraqis who were supposed to carry out the orders from
 Baghdad hated the Baathist regime. How could anybody expect a popular
 mobilization in conditions like these!

 What was surprising in fact was not the rapid victory by US and
 British troops, but the resistance that the Iraqi regime's troops put
 up in the first days of the offensive. Remember, all the commentators
 joined at first in sneering at the predictions of a speedy victory.
 Many believed that the quagmire predicted in 1991 was now finally
 becoming reality. They were mistaken about the reasons for the
 initial resistance. It was due to the fact that the ground offensive
 was launched at the same time as the intensive bombing campaign,
 whereas in 1991 Washington had subjected the Iraqi army to more than
 five weeks of savage bombing before sending its troops into action.
 This meant that the regime's forces were still ready to fight at the
 moment when the ground offensive began - much more than in 1991, when
 the Iraqi troops that had survived the bombings were exhausted and
 dazed, and surrendered en masse to the coalition troops.

 The regime's forces, nothing more! Anyone who confused hat happened
 in Iraq with genuine popular resistance, anyone who confused the
 regime's troops' defence of Baghdad with the people's defence of
 Beirut during the Israeli army siege in 1982, made a big mistake
 about the military prospects as well as about the Iraqi people's
 relationship to Saddam Hussein's tyrannical regime. The main setback
 for the Pentagon's plan was in any event the fact that the
 "opportunistic" bombings on the offensive's first day missed their
 target: Saddam Hussein. And the end of Saddam Hussein's role as
 commander-in-chief probably directly provoked the sped-up collapse of
 the defence of Baghdad, whether he was killed by a bomb or sneaked
 off. In such a centralized, personalized dictatorship, getting rid of
 the dictator is enough to destroy the regime's foundations once they
 are put under intense pressure.

 2) The reactions in Iraq
 How could anybody be surprised at the Iraqi people's relief and joy
 when they learned of the dictatorship's fall? I felt genuine relief
 myself, even though I had never experienced what the Iraqis had. The
 Iraqi Baathist dictatorship took power in July 1968, when I was in
 the midst of my own radicalization, like much of my generation in
 many parts of the world. The new regime's first priority was to crush
 the Iraqi expression of that radicalization, whose catalyst in the
 Middle East had been the Arab regimes' defeat by Israeli aggression
 in June 1967.

 The reign of terror established in Baghdad proceeded to ruthlessly
 crush the guerrilla front opened in southern Iraq by the Guevarist
 Khaled Ahmed Zaki as well as the left-wing split from the Iraqi CP.
 The new putschists quickly earned a reputation as the region's most
 vicious regime. Iraqi militants knew that they were better off dying
 in combat with the regime's forces than being arrested and dying
 under torture of unrivalled cruelty. The Baathist regime crushed the
 Iraqi left, the largest component of the Arab left, in blood and gore.

 It thus contributed in its way to preparing the ground for the
 hegemony of Islamic fundamentalism over Middle Eastern popular
 protest movements. Of all the dictators who have been compared to
 Hitler in the past half-century, generally in the most tendentious
 way and for propagandist ends, Saddam Hussein is the one who most
 closely fit the bill - not only in terms of his regime's domestic
 characteristics (minus Nazism's ideologically mobilized mass base)
 but also in terms of an expansionist drive fuelled by blind

 For 35 years I have been waiting and hoping for the fall of this
 horrible regime! So I was relieved when it finally fell, as were
 millions of Iraqi men and women. Nor was the Iraqi people's relief
 surprising; it was completely predictable. What was surprising, at
 least for Washington and London, was the lukewarm welcome, often
 edged with hostility, that Arab Iraqis gave their troops - including
 in the Shiite South, which they thought they had won over.

 This is not hard to understand either. What Washington and London
 failed to grasp is that this people, which had so many reasons to
 hate Saddam Hussein, has even more reasons to hate them. Iraqis
 remember how the coalition abandoned them to Saddam Hussein in 1991.
 They are still suffering from the twelve years of genocidal embargo
 imposed by Washington and London with the complicity of their UN
 Security Council partners. And they could not welcome as liberators
 the US, the main oppressor of the Middle East and sponsor of the
 state of Israel, or the tag-along British colonizers of yesteryear
 who had left such bitter memories behind them.

 As a result of this fact, the Iraqis' expressions of joy were quie
 restrained. Washington had to resort to propaganda tricks in order to
 give the impression that the US-British coalition troops were being
 welcomed as "liberators." Hailed they were, but above all by the
 looters, who with their booty in hand had the most reason to find
 "Bush very good." The occupation troops deliberately gave these
 plunderers "free" rein, on the orders of "unlawful commanders" who
 thought they were securing the occupation against popular hostility
 and in the end increased it considerably. (The only public building
 in Baghdad that was well guarded was the Ministry of Oil, just as the
 only "secured" areas in Iraq were the oil fields.) The new invaders
 became responsible for a sack of Baghdad that will linger in
 historical memory as the modern equivalent of the 13th-century sack
 of Baghdad during the Mongol invasion.

 The only part of the Iraqi population that allied with the occupied
 troops and massively expressed joy at their presence has been the
 Kurds. Once more the leaderships of Iraqi Kurdistan have demonstrated
 their sempiternal short-sightedness, having so often cast their lot
 with very poor allies: Israel, the Shah of Iran, the Turkish
 government, the Iranian mullahs - even Saddam Hussein! They have not
 had the sense to avoid compromising themselves with an occupation
 force destined to become an object of resentment for Arab Iraqis, the
 only ally that will make a decisive difference in the end to the
 future of Iraqi Kurdistan. It would be disastrous for the Kurds for
 their leaders to confirm their image as devoted partners of the
 occupying powers. The US and Britain have in fact no intention of
 defending the Kurdish people's right to self-determination. They will
 not hesitate to sacrifice Iraq's Kurds if that serves their purpose
 of consolidating their hold on the country.

 3) Controlling Iraq, dominating the world
 The small-scale looters of Iraq's cities have at this early date
 already singularly complicated the task of the big-scale looters, the
 occupying powers. Each passing day confirms how difficult it will be
 for B2 to control Iraq in face of a population that cordially detests
 them. Confidence man Ahmed Chalabi and his handful of mercenaries
 brought along in the US troops' baggage are certainly not capable of
 changing this situation.

 The US' problem is that - to a far greater extent than in Germany or
 Japan after 1945, when it could make use of whole layers of the old
 regime's state apparatus (including in Japan the emperor himself) -
 they will find nothing more reliable in Iraq than the leftovers from
 Saddam Hussein's apparatus. Only the servants of the old regime have
 in sufficient numbers the degree of moral degradation required to put
 themselves at the occupiers' devoted service. They alone will be
 inclined to serve the country's new masters, with all the more
 enthusiasm because they will be saving their skins while slaking
 their thirst for power. This will make the occupation all the more
 hateful for the great majority of Iraqis.

 As it extends its presence in the Arab world further and further, the
 US is stretching its troops too thin. The hatred that it evokes in
 all Middle Eastern countries and throughout the Islamic world has
 already blown up in its face several times; 11 September 2001 was
 only the most spectacular, deadliest manifestation so far of this
 hatred. The occupation of Iraq will push the general resentment to
 extremes; it will speed up the decomposition of the regional order
 backed by Washington. There will be no Pax Americana. Rather there
 will be another step downwards towards barbarism, with the chief
 barbarism of Washington and its allies sustaining the opposite
 barbarism of religious fanaticism - as long as no new progressive
 forces emerge in this part of the world.
 The project of building a global empire dominated by the US by means
 of brute force is inexorably doomed to failure. In this respect
 Washington has at this early stage already suffered major political
 reverses, contrary to the impression that its military victory in
 Iraq might temporarily give. Never since the end of the Cold War has
 US hegemony been so widely challenged in the world; never has the
 consensus around this hegemony been so lacking. This is the case at
 the level of international relations: the grumbling and fractiousness
 of countries that Washington considered its loyal allies have never
 been so widespread. Even the Turkish government refused to let US
 troops pass through its territory. Washington failed to buy it, just
 as it failed to buy enough members of the UN Security Council to get
 nine measly votes for its war on Iraq!

 Admittedly, the existing states are not reliable allies for the
 anti-war movement, nor its allies at all in fact - particularly when
 like France and Russia they behave just as brutally and hatefully in
 their own imperial domains as the US does in its. But this cacophony
 in the system of states associated with the great empire ruled from
 Washington has in a way reflected the other major reverse for the
 imperial project. I refer of course to the emergence of the other
 superpower, "world public opinion," as the New York Times rightly
 labelled it after the demonstrations on 15 February 2003, the biggest
 day of worldwide popular mobilization in history. "World public
 opinion" - or rather the real movement, the anti-war movement; polls
 do not demonstrate.

 During the 1990s many thought that this movement was fated never to
 overcome its notorious weakness. They thought that the Vietnam years
 had essentially been well and truly buried, particularly since
 Washington had learned the lessons of Vietnam and applied them in its
 later wars, starting in Panama (1989). But beginning in the Fall of
 2002, we have seen the breathtaking rise of a new anti-war movement,
 which has quickly set new historic records in several countries and
 even engulfed the US. This fact is absolutely decisive; the key
 mobilization is of course the one that takes place in the US itself.
 The US anti-war movement has not yet the level of its peak in the
 Vietnam years, but it has already distinguished itself by reaching a
 mass scale, in spite of the trauma of September 11 and the Bush
 Administration's exploitation of that trauma.

 Carefully selected images of the so-called "liberation" of Iraq and
 the Pentagon's scripted scenes have impressed many opponents of the
 war. But each passing day shows how right the anti-war movement was.
 The countless deaths, the massive destruction and the pillage of
 Iraq's national wealth constitute a huge tribute imposed on the Iraqi
 people to pay for a "liberation" that is ushering in a foreign
 occupation. As Washington bogs down in a country that cannot be
 hidden from the world - unlike Afghanistan, more chaotic today than
 ever - the anti-war movement will be able to rise to new heights.

 This movement's spectacular growth has only been possible because it
 rested on the foundations of three years of progress by the global
 movement against neo-liberal globalization born in Seattle. These
 dimensions will continue to fuel each other, to strengthen people's
 awareness that neo-liberalism and war are two faces of the same
 system of domination - which must be overthrown.

 14 April 2003
 Gilbert Achcar
 (Translated from French by Peter Drucker. Gilbert Achcar is the
 author of Clash of Barbarisms, 2002, and Eastern Cauldron,
 forthcoming 2003, both from Monthly Review Press, New York)

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