Tariq Ali: the north's plunder of the south

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@STANFORD.EDU)
Date: Sat May 24 2003 - 03:20:58 EDT

Business as usual: The UN has capitulated. Now let the north's plunder of
the south begin again

Tariq Ali
Saturday May 24, 2003
The Guardian

Unsurprisingly, the UN security council has capitulated completely,
recognised the occupation of Iraq and approved its re-colonisation by the US
and its bloodshot British adjutant. The timing of the mea culpa by the
"international community" was perfect. Yesterday, senior executives from
more than 1,000 companies gathered in London to bask in the sunshine of the
re- established consensus under the giant umbrella of Bechtel, the American
empire's most favoured construction company. A tiny proportion of the loot
will be shared.

So what happened to the overheated rhetoric of Europe v America? Berlusconi
in Italy and Aznar in Spain - the two most rightwing governments in Europe -
were fitting partners for Blair while the eastern European states, giving a
new meaning to the term "satellite" which they had previously so long
enjoyed, fell as one into line behind Bush.

France and Germany, on the other hand, protested for months that they were
utterly opposed to a US attack on Iraq. Schröder had owed his narrow
re-election to a pledge not to support a war on Baghdad, even were it
authorised by the UN. Chirac, armed with a veto in the security council, was
even more voluble with declarations that any unauthorised assault on Iraq
would never be accepted by France.

Together, Paris and Berlin coaxed Moscow too into expressing its
disagreement with American plans. Even Beijing emitted a few cautious sounds
of demurral. The Franco-German initiatives aroused tremendous excitement and
consternation among diplomatic commentators. Here, surely, was an
unprecedented rift in the Atlantic alliance. What was to become of European
unity, of Nato, of the "international community" itself if such a disastrous
split persisted? Could the very concept of the west survive?

Such apprehensions were quickly allayed. No sooner were Tomahawk missiles
lighting up the nocturnal skyline in Baghdad, and the first Iraqi civilians
cut down by the marines, than Chirac rushed to explain that France would
assure smooth passage of US bombers across its airspace (as it had not done,
under his own premiership, when Reagan attacked Libya), and wished "swift
success" to American arms in Iraq. Germany's cadaver-green foreign minister
Joschka Fischer announced that his government, too, sincerely hoped for the
"rapid collapse" of resistance to the Anglo-American attack. Putin, not to
be outdone, explained to his compatriots that "for economic and political
reasons", Russia could only desire a decisive victory of the US in Iraq.

Washington is still not satisfied. It wants to punish France further. Why
not a ritual public flogging broadcast live by Murdoch TV? A humbled petty
chieftain (Chirac) bending over while an imperial princess (Condoleezza
Rice) administers the whip. Then the leaders of a re-united north could
relax and get on with the business they know best: plundering the south. The
expedition to Baghdad was planned as the first flexing of a new imperial
stance. What better demonstration of the shift to a more offensive strategy
than to make an example of Iraq. If no single reason explains the targeting
of Iraq, there is little mystery about the range of calculations that lay
behind it. Economically, Iraq possesses the second largest reserves of cheap
oil in the world; Baghdad's decision in 2000 to invoice its exports in euros
rather than dollars risked imitation by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and the
Iranian mullahs. Privatisation of the Iraqi wells under US control would
help to weaken Opec.

Strategically, the existence of an independent Arab regime in Baghdad had
always been an irritation to the Israeli military. With the installation of
Republican zealots close to Likud in key positions in Washington, the
elimination of a traditional adversary became an attractive immediate goal
for Jerusalem. Lastly, just as the use of nuclear weapons in Hiroshima and
Nagasaki had once been a pointed demonstration of American might to the
Soviet Union, so today a blitzkrieg rolling swiftly across Iraq would serve
to show the world at large that if the chips are down, the US has, in the
last resort, the means to enforce its will.

The UN has now provided retrospective sanction to a pre-emptive strike. Its
ill-fated predecessor, the League of Nations, at least had the decency to
collapse after its charter was serially raped. Analogies with Hitler's
blitzkrieg of 1940 are drawn without compunction by cheerleaders for the
war. Thus Max Boot in the Financial Times writes: "The French fought hard in
1940 - at first. But eventually the speed and ferocity of the German advance
led to a total collapse. The same thing will happen in Iraq." What took
place in France after 1940 might give pause to these enthusiasts.

The lack of any spontaneous welcome from Shias and the fierce early
resistance of armed irregulars prompted the theory that the Iraqis are a
"sick people" who will need protracted treatment before they can be
entrusted with their own fate (if ever). Such was the line taken by David
Aaronovitch in the Observer. Likewise, George Mellon in the Wall Street
Journal warns: "Iraq won't easily recover from Saddam's terror" - "after
three decades of rule of the Arab equivalent of Murder Inc, Iraq is a very
sick society". To develop an "orderly society" and re-energise (privatise)
the economy will take time, he insists. On the front page of the Sunday
Times, reporter Mark Franchetti quoted an American NCO: "'The Iraqis are a
sick people and we are the chemotherapy,' said Corporal Ryan Dupre. 'I am
starting to hate this country. Wait till I get hold of a friggin' Iraqi. No,
I won't get hold of one. I'll just kill him.' " No doubt the "sick society"
theory will acquire greater sophistication, but it is clear the pretexts are
to hand for a mixture of Guantanamo and Gaza in these newly occupied

If it is futile to look to the UN or Euroland, let alone Russia or China,
for any serious obstacle to American designs in the Middle East, where
should resistance start? First of all, naturally, in the region itself.
There, it is to be hoped that the invaders of Iraq will eventually be
harried out of the country by a growing national reaction to the occupation
regime they install, and that their collaborators may meet the fate of
former Iraqi prime minister Nuri Said before them. Sooner or later, the ring
of corrupt and brutal tyrannies around Iraq will be broken. If there is one
area where the cliche that classical revolutions are a thing of the past is
likely to be proved wrong, it is in the Arab world. The day the Mubarak,
Hashemite, Saudi and other dynasties are swept away by popular wrath,
American - and Israeli - arrogance in the region will be over.

· Tariq Ali's new book, Bush in Babylon: Re-colonising Iraq, will be
published by Verso in the autumn


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