Written by Workers' Alternative Sunday, 12 September 2010 01:03
Nine years ago the whole was shocked by the dramatic suicide attacks on the Twin Towers in New York. That event was subsequently used as an excuse to increase massively spending on arms, to invade Afghanistan and Iraq and step up military operations in other parts of the world, all encapsulated in the idea of the “war on terror”. Today the world, far from being a safer place, has become more unstable, more dangerous. This is a clear symptom of the sickness that afflicts capitalism in its senile phase.
Nine years ago tomorrow the whole world looked on aghast as the Twin Towers collapsed in a cloud of dust and rubble. The shock waves of that event are still shaking the world. In the first 24 hours, the effect was to stun public opinion in the USA. For a country that never experienced the horrors of bombing during the Second World War, the unexpectedness of the attack was frightening in the extreme.
Overnight the attack destroyed the myth of invulnerability of the United States. There was a sense of panic. Nobody knew what to expect next. The government itself appeared to be shocked into a state of apathetic impotence. When he learned the news as he read a story to children in a kindergarten, George W Bush, the most powerful man in the world, gave the impression of total incomprehension and paralysis of the will. Instead of returning to Washington to provide leadership, he spent the next few hours circulating aimlessly in the safety of the Presidential plane.
In the middle of all this hysteria, people conveniently forgot about the astonishing failure of the intelligence community to predict the 9/11 attack. Despite the vast sums of public money at their disposal, and the huge array of advanced technology at their disposal, the CIA and other agencies provided only vague warnings that were no use at all to detect and prevent the attack.
In the article that I wrote on the eleventh of September, only a couple of hours after the attack, I considered the hypothesis that the intelligence services must have known that something was being prepared but did nothing to stop it. Later, on learning the full extent of the disaster, it seemed less likely that the American ruling class would knowingly inflict such a disaster on its own country.
Subsequently a whole conspiracy theory industry has grown up around this issue. As a Marxist, I am no friend of conspiracy theories that attempt to explain history in terms of the plans of malignant or beneficial individuals and groups. In general, these “explanations”, which are always of an idealist, if not utterly mystical, character, explain nothing at all.
However, to this day many questions remain unanswered. It is an established fact that US intelligence paid no attention whatsoever to the threat from Saudi Arabia, a country with which the US state and especially the oil industry (including the Bush family) have very close ties. Many people have drawn attention to the fact that immediately after the attack members of the Bin Laden family were allowed to leave the country without even being questioned by the police.
It is impossible to know what goes on in the murky world of espionage and counter-espionage. But it is known that the US intelligence services have had close links with the Saudi regime for a long time, and also with Bin Laden. It is almost unthinkable that nobody knew anything about a terrorist plan of such vast dimensions. The most likely explanation is that US intelligence knew that some kind of terrorist act was being planned, but were not necessarily aware of the scale of it. A terrorist act on a smaller scale would have suited their purpose very well. So they took no action. But the results probably went far beyond their calculations.
In the prevailing confusion, nobody recalled the embarrassing fact that Al Qaeda itself was set up by the CIA in order to fight against the Soviet army in Afghanistan, or that Bin Laden, the son of a Saudi millionaire, was working for Pakistani and American intelligence during the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Bin Laden had learned all his tricks from the CIA and knew very well how to launch attacks without warning the intended target. The only reason he has escaped detection all these years is that he is still being protected by the ISI, Pakistan’s military intelligence, which is working as a state within the state.
Is it conceivable that there were elements in the administration who would knowingly have accepted the destruction of the Twin Towers in order to further their plans? It is no more inconceivable than the fact that President FD Roosevelt knowingly allowed the Japanese air force to bomb Pearl Harbor in order to further his plans to get the United States to enter the Second World War when the majority of US public opinion was against it.
The first question that is asked when investigating a crime is: cui bono – who gains? Those who gained most from the events of 9/11 were the military-industrial complex, the Pentagon and the big corporations like Halliburton that have lucrative contracts with the state and the arms industry, the most aggressive, reactionary and right-wing circles of US imperialism, the Republican right wing, and George W Bush.
The immediate effect was to encourage the most aggressive and reactionary circles of the ruling class, personified by George W Bush to launch a violent offensive on a world scale. After 9/11 the Pentagon was immediately given $250 billion to build 2,800 new joint strike fighter planes. And this was merely a modest advance for the vast sums that have subsequently been handed over to the US military. These are fabulous sums that, if they were put to productive purposes, could transform the lives of the peoples, not only of the USA but of the world.
In this context it is quite amusing to read the hypocritical denunciations made by Bush and Blair against Iraq for its alleged possession of weapons of mass destruction. In fact, the USA currently holds by far the biggest arsenal of such weapons, including 22,827 nuclear warheads, and unknown stocks of chemical and bacteriological weapons also.
Stunned by the effects of the attack, public opinion in the United States was pushed behind the Bush administration and its war machine. Civil rights were sharply curtailed under the pretext of anti-terrorism legislation. There was massive investment in “homeland security”. That all these things suited the purposes of the reactionary clique around George W Bush is as clear as daylight.
The “enemy without”
Although the collapse of the USSR was the motive for great rejoicing in the West, it was extremely inconvenient for the Pentagon and the Military Industrial Complex because it deprived them of just such an excuse to justify the colossal sums spent by the USA on armaments. They required a substitute for the “Red menace” and they now found it in “Islamic extremism”.
George Bush junior had to “do something” that gave the appearance of decisive leadership, if only to eliminate from the public consciousness the painful images of incompetence, stupidity and cowardice that were transmitted to the nation’s television. The President decided that it was necessary to declare war on somebody.
He began with the invasion of Afghanistan. This appeared to be an easy target. Here the participation of US forces was almost entirely limited to aerial bombardment of Taliban positions. The fighting on the ground was done by the Northern Alliance, acting as the local agents of US imperialism. Faced with this onslaught, the Taliban withdrew their forces from the towns and cities, only to regroup in the rural Pushtoon areas from where they have never been dislodged and from where they have organized a highly effective guerrilla war ever since.
The 9/11 attack was launched by Saudi citizens and organized by Al Qaeda which was led by a Saudi citizen and was financed by Saudi money and backed by Saudi Wahabis. But these facts did not prevent the President of the USA from launching an attack on Iraq, which had nothing whatsoever to do either with 9/11 or Al Qaeda. However, from the beginning, the real target in Bush’s sights was oil-rich Iraq.
The Bush administration had been planning an attack against Iraq for some time. They merely used the 9/11 attack to provide an excuse for putting these plans into action. In his state of the nation speech, Bush spoke of an “axis of evil” and named Iraq, Iran and North Korea, “The USA,” he said “will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.”
In order to justify what was an act of naked aggression, Iraq was accused of having weapons of mass destruction. It had none. After 9/11 Bush and Rumsfeld, aided and abetted by Tony Blair, played on the fears and paranoia produced by the attack to suggest that Al Qaeda was planning to use nuclear and/or chemical and bacteriological weapons against the United States. The evidence for these claims was minimal, but they deliberately whipped up hysteria on the well-known principle of “the enemy without”.
On the basis of this flimsy excuse, the USA and its allies have sent their forces to invade the territories of other countries, not only Iraq and Afghanistan but smaller operations in Somalia and elsewhere. It has conducted a global covert campaign against Al Qaeda and other radical jihadi groups. The excuse for these actions has been the existence of an alleged Islamic threat to the United States.
“Guns before butter”
The eleventh of September provided Bush and the most reactionary circles in Washington with the perfect excuse to launch a huge programme of arms expenditure, although in fact this programme was already decided upon in advance. American arms spending experienced the biggest increase in 20 years. Washington has earmarked huge amounts of money for projects such as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and cyber-warfare, and every conceivable weapon of mass destruction.
In terms of nuclear weapon arsenals, SIPRI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, estimated that some 8,100 nuclear warheads are operational in the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France, India, Pakistan and Israel. Although that is 300 fewer than a year earlier, around 2,000 of them were still "on high alert," or ready to be launched within minutes, it said. The USA was top of the list of the world's biggest 10 arms buyers in 2009, spending $661bn on military equipment.
President Obama likes to lecture the world on the importance of peace, and disarmament – for everybody except the USA, that is. If we examine the figures, we see that global spending has risen by nearly 50% over the past decade according to a recent report by SIPRI. Of the total increase more than half was accounted for by the USA.
The imperialists are following to the letter the infamous prescription of Goering: “Guns will make us great. Butter will only make us fat.” All over the world, governments are warning citizens that they will need to cut public services, but the doctrine of austerity has no effect on military budgets. In 2009 $1.5 trillion was spent on weapons, an annual increase in real terms of 5.9%, according to this report. These figures indicate what the future holds for humanity under capitalism.
The USA, with just 4 percent of the world’s population, possesses more than a quarter of the world’s wealth. It accounts for 37 percent of world military expenditure and 40 percent of world arms production – including the most modern and technologically advanced weapons of mass destruction. No other power comes anywhere near this military power. The USA spends more than anybody else in arms, but it is now followed by China (spending an estimated $100bn), then, at some distance, by France ($63.9bn), Britain ($58.3bn), Russia (an estimated $53.3bn) and Japan ($51.8bn).
However, the fastest increase in arms spending occurred in Asia. China registered the largest increase in military expenditure, followed by India. The Chinese have developed the most modern and sophisticated weapons, including the launching of satellites, which have a clearly military significance. The recent clash between North and South Korea over the sinking of a South Korean ship and the constant tensions between China and Taiwan underline the danger of future conflicts in one of the key areas of the world economy.
British imperialism, now a shadow of its former self, is compelled to reduce its arsenal more in consonance with the size of its wallet. The Tory-Liberal coalition is expected to make cuts in the number of F35 Joint Strike Fighters proposed for the Royal Navy's two planned large aircraft carriers. But it has not cancelled the immensely expensive (and completely useless) Trident nuclear submarine programme. After all, the Americans might object!
The balance sheet of the “war on terror”
In theory the United States (and its allies) has been at war for the last nine years – a “war against terror”. In reality, however, this was no war at all. From the very beginning the military means employed were out of all proportion to the real threat. The truth is that the threat posed by Al Qaeda has been grotesquely exaggerated. That organisation did not have the resources to mount other operations on the scale of 9/11. No other such attack has been attempted since, despite all the noisy propaganda on both sides.
The primary mission was declared to be that of defeating Al Qaeda, together with the capture of its leader Osama Bin Laden. But such an objective was really on the level of a police action. These aims could not be achieved by sending big armies to the other end of the world. Armies are for fighting armies. And Al Qaeda is not an army.
The real meaning of the actions of the USA in relation to Iraq was that by so doing America claimed the right to intervene militarily anywhere it chooses, to interfere in the internal affairs of any state and to overthrow any government that is not to its liking. Bush was saying, in effect: “Do as we say or we will bomb you!” “Do what we want, or we will invade you!” The so-called Bush Doctrine tore up the whole system of world relations and diplomacy that had been in place since the Treaty of Westphalia in the 17th century.
The concrete expression of the Bush Doctrine was invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. But instead of being a triumphant manifestation of the power of US imperialism, these have shown up its limitations. After 9/11 the United States became absorbed by a single region, the area between the Mediterranean and the Hindu Kush. It played with the aspirations of ethnic and religious groups, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, with disastrous results in both cases. Imperialism has always used the national question for its own ends, cynically using small nations as so much small change.
As a result, the USA is overstretched. Russia went to war with Georgia in 2008, and Georgia is an American ally. But the United States did not have the forces with which to make any kind of intervention. Almost every day new bush fires are breaking out everywhere, as we see in Somalia. They cannot deal with all of them!
Washington has not achieved any of its declared aims in the “war against terror”. Bin Laden has not been captured. The threat of terrorism is greater than it was before. The invasion of Iraq was a bungled adventure that has ended, just as we predicted, in a humiliating withdrawal of the US army. Apart from thousands of US soldiers killed and wounded, the war was costing the USA two billion dollars every week.
True, they succeeded in eliminating Saddam Hussein. But this has caused more problems than it has solved. Iraq is in a bloody mess. Before the invasion Al Qaeda had no bases in Iraq. Now it has plenty of them. The only thing they have achieved is to increase the instability throughout the Middle East. At any moment new conflicts and wars can break out, threatening the stability of the unstable Arab regimes of Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia.
Despite the increasingly desperate attempts of Obama to broker a deal, the Palestinian question is unresolved. It remains a running sore. The recent incident of Israeli troops attacking a ship in international waters and killing unarmed people is a graphic reminder of this. This is a nightmare scenario for Washington, which is attempting – without success – to pressurise the Israelis into making concessions to the right wing of the Palestinian leadership (Mahmoud Abbas).
The only justification for the war in Afghanistan is that Al Qaeda launched its attacks on the United States from there. But that is no longer the case, since Al Qaeda can launch attacks from Yemen, Somalia or other countries. In fact, it is not clear whether Al Qaeda is capable of launching such attacks any longer. In any case, the war in Afghanistan no longer has any point. General David Petraeus was sent to Afghanistan with the aim of winning the war. But the question is no longer whether the United States can win or not. Nobody knows what “victory” in this war means.
Despite having overthrown the Taliban and invaded the country, nothing has been solved. To date they have not realised a single one of their declared aims. They have not killed or captured Mullah Omar. They have not destroyed Al Qaeda, which is constantly engaged in new terrorist attacks (Bali, Mombassa, Kenya, Somalia…).
The situation in Afghanistan is even worse than before the US invaded. There is a weak puppet government in Kabul, which is entirely dependent on the US army and would not last 24 hours without it. They do not control the rest of the country, which is in a state of indescribable chaos. They cannot withdraw from Afghanistan without provoking an immediate collapse.
Sooner or later, however, they will have to leave Afghanistan in an even bigger mess than Iraq. Instead of stabilising the situation in the region, they have completely destabilised it. The chaos is spreading from Afghanistan to Pakistan, which is now in a state of chaos. The Afghan inferno in turn has exacerbated the tensions between India and Pakistan, which, let us recall, are both nuclear powers.
The U.S. hypocritically cloaked its strategy of eliminating actual or potential enemies in the language of “democracy” and “human rights”. In reality, the aggressive military policy of the USA has been accompanied by systematic attacks on democratic rights. Gore Vidal, the greatest living American writer, has said that the measures taken by Bush to limit the Bill of Rights constitute the destruction of the Republican Constitution. Guantanamo Bay has entered the lexicon of international infamy a synonym for the systematic and brutal violation of human rights.
The so-called war on terror has led to a strengthening of the military-police apparatus and an undermining of democratic rights, not just in the USA but in many other countries. It has provided the excuse for an assault on democracy everywhere. Civilised people who would normally demand respect for democratic rights have been persuaded to tolerate such aberrations as kidnappings, torture, assassinations, the bombing of civilian targets and the systematic violation of national sovereignty – all on the basis of a so-called global war on terrorism.
The truth is that over the last nine years most of the terrorist acts have been perpetrated by imperialism against people who have nothing to do with terrorism. The so-called war on terror has acted as the most effective recruiting sergeant for terrorism. A whole generation of youth from Islamic countries has been pushed in the direction of Al Qaeda and other jihadist organizations, not just in Pakistan but in Britain and the USA itself. In the nine years since 9/11, instead of being a more peaceful and secure place, the world has never been more insecure, unstable and dangerous.
Socialism is the only way out!
Some naïve people deplore the conduct of the USA, on the grounds that it is illegal and immoral. But since when have the relations between states been governed by legal and ethical concerns? Solon of Athens long ago answered these arguments when he said: “The law is like a spider’s web: the small are caught and the great tear it up.”
Sentimental pacifists weep and wail about the horrors of war and violence. “What a terrible world we live in!” Yes, it is a terrible world but the horrors of war and violence will not disappear because of the complaints of the pacifists. War is a product of the contradictions of the capitalist system and the horrors we see every day on our television screens are only the outward symptoms of a disease.
In order to eliminate the symptoms it is first necessary to make a correct diagnosis of the disease. The symptoms we see are well known to students of history. They recur regularly in periods when a socio-economic system has outlived its usefulness and become an obstacle to human progress. We see very similar symptoms in the period of the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, and also in the period of the decay of feudalism.
To many people living in such periods the calamities that appear on all sides herald the End of the World. It is no accident that early Christianity, the rise of which coincided with the terminal decline of Roman slave society, was based on the idea that the end of the world was nigh. But what the Book of Revelations anticipated was not the end of the world but only the end of slave society, which finally collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions. The barbarians merely gave it a final shove and the whole rotten and decaying edifice collapsed.
The terminal crisis of capitalism will produce even greater horrors than those experienced by Roman society in the last three centuries of its existence. The bankruptcy of capitalism is expressed literally, not metaphorically, in the colossal and insoluble public debts of the USA and every other nation. In its period of senility, capitalism has become entirely parasitic. The bloated and unproductive financial system is sucking the life blood out of the productive economy, draining it of its vital force and even that does not satisfy the bloodsuckers.
In order to pay the debts of the banks, society as a whole is called on to make sacrifices. Those who create the wealth of society are informed that they must sacrifice all the gains that they have won over the last fifty years. That is to say, they must sacrifice those elements of a semi-civilised existence they possess. But the sacrifice is unequal. Nobody asks the bankers to sacrifice. And while the shortage of cash compels them to make some reduction in arms spending, it remains as a further colossal drain on the wealth of nations.
At a time when the working class is being told there is no more money for schools, hospitals and pensions, we are also told that immense sums are still needed for bombs, tanks, satellites and warplanes. But it is clear that one thing excludes the other. The working class must oppose wasteful arms expenditure, counterpoising a programme of useful public works: not more guns and tanks but more hospitals, houses, schools and nursery schools are what are needed.
The vast productive potential that exists on a world scale is being held back by the narrow limitations of private ownership of the means of production and the nation state. A socialist planned economy would eliminate this appalling waste and lay the basis for a rapid development of the productive forces and an unparalleled increase in living standards. Instead of discussing how to cut pensions and wages, we would be in a position to introduce a programme of social reforms that would put all the gains of the past in the shade.
The fight for world socialism and a socialist world federation is the fight for a world without wars. We stand for a world without frontiers and tariff barriers, a world without passports and visas. We are fighting for a world in which the barbarities of war and terrorism will be only a bad dream of the past, a world in which the colossal productive potential of the planet will be realised through a harmonious socialist plan of production on an international scale.
Does this seem so difficult? But is it not far more difficult to accept the present situation of unemployment, cuts, wars, mass starvation and all the other horrors that capitalism has prepared for the peoples of the world? The fight for world socialism is not a utopia but the only realistic way out of the blind alley into which senile capitalism has plunged the human race. Humanity needs a new perspective. The perspective of a socialist new world order is the only perspective worth fighting for in the first decade of the 21st century.
London, September 10, 2010