War Drums in Washington or Bush’s Last stand

Instead of listening to the advice of Baker and the Iraq Study Group to seek an exit strategy, Bush prefers to up the stakes, increasing the number of troops in Iraq and threatening both Syria and Iran. He is coming into conflict with the ruling class he is supposed to represent. Herein lies a potential political crisis of major proportions in the USA.

The sound of war drums is once again reverberating in the corridors of power in Washington. Despite all the official denials, there are clear signs that the clique in the White House is seriously contemplating air strikes against Iran.

This website never believed that the USA would invade Iran. If it did so it would be met by an aroused people who would fight to the death to drive them out. Moreover, Iran has a powerful army that would be quite capable of taking on the US forces and giving them a bloody nose. Teheran has recently purchased missiles that would be capable of hitting US warships in the Mediterranean. An attack on Iran would be fraught with unforeseen consequences.

A ground war in Iran is therefore ruled out. But air strikes are another matter. Both Washington and Tel Aviv are alarmed at the prospect of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons, and Saudi Arabia is even more alarmed. George Bush and the right wing clique that advises him are publicly advocating a "first strike" against installations in Iran that they claim are manufacturing nuclear weapons. It is quite likely that at some stage they may well carry out these threats, either directly, or, if they could get away with it, using the Israeli air force.

The real reason for this new belligerency is the fact that they are losing the war in Iraq. Bush is trying to blame Iranian support for the insurgency for all his problems. But this is very far from the truth. With or without Iranian involvement, the insurgency in Iraq is bound to continue to inflict casualties on the US forces.

For his part, Ahmadinejad is playing a dangerous game. He is using the natural anti-imperialist sentiment of the Iranian masses to try to shore up the regime of the mullahs, which after nearly thirty years in power, is deeply unpopular. In order to whip up support, he is trying to base himself on anti-Americanism and hostility towards Israel. The holding of a conference that claimed to prove that the Holocaust was a fraud was an open provocation to Israel, where the ruling class is looking for an excuse to punish Iran and recover some of the prestige it lost when it was given a bloody nose by Hezbollah in the Lebanon.

However, Ahmadinejad's position is not as strong as it may seem. Recent elections showed a fall in support for his hard-line government and a rise in support for the "reformers". He is coming under the pressure of the Islamic clergy who fear pushing the situation too far. They are trying to push him towards a more "moderate" stance and pull him back from the brink. His recent behaviour and statements would seem to confirm that he is bending to this pressure.

Should the situation escalate and Israel did bomb Iran, this would lead to an explosion of anger right across the Middle East and beyond. However, it is not clear that the Israelis themselves would be prepared to do the dirty work for Washington (although the Zionist hawks would love to do it). They are in a difficult position after the debacle in Lebanon last year. Therefore, Bush may have no alternative but to give the order himself.

He has been coming out with contradictory statements, one minute stating he has no intention of attacking Iran, the other making bombastic speeches about how he has to stop both Iran and Syria. This reflects the different pressures he is under in the United States. The fact remains that he is moving the necessary military hardware into the Gulf region that would allow for aerial bombardment of Iran. This fact alone counts for more than a hundred verbal denials on the part of Bush. But if he does bomb Iran, the consequences will be enormous.

Defeat in Iraq

We have to remember that the US army only invaded Iraq when it was already on its knees, bled white by years of sanctions, and with its armed forces seriously weakened. From a strictly military point of view, the result of a US-led invasion of Iraq was never in doubt. The coalition forces stormed into Baghdad with relative ease. Even so, what seemed to be a relatively easy victory has turned into a nightmare for the USA. With 150,000 troops armed with all the most modern and sophisticated weaponry, backed up with satellite surveillance, the US forces have completely failed in their objective. Iraq is now in a state of absolute chaos.

The cost for the USA is extremely high and rising all the time. The Americans have already lost more than 3,000 dead and have suffered thousands of wounded. As for the number of Iraqi casualties, nobody knows what the real situation is, but some estimates have put it as high as half a million. This is known, in the cold blooded jargon of the Pentagon, as "collateral damage."

The aim of this war - like every imperialist war - is simply stated: plunder. The right wing clique around George Bush talked big about "introducing democracy into the Middle East" - talk that now is met only by ironic smirks in the corridors of Congress. In reality, behind the smiling face of "American democracy" was (and always is) the voracious greed of the big monopolies, the oil barons (with close links to George Bush and family, as well as Condoleezza Rice) and big contractor firms like Halliburton (with close links to Dick Cheney).

George W, this Texan backwoodsman, immediately surrounded himself with people in his own image: died-in-the-wool reactionaries like Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney. They had a clique of advisers, right-wing religious bigots and free market fanatics, like John Bolton and Paul Wolfowitz. The last-named has now been rewarded for services rendered by being made Chairman of the World Bank, in which role he recently acquired worldwide fame for appearing in a Turkish mosque with holes in his socks.

The problem with the Republican Right, however, is not so much holes in their socks as holes in their brains. From the very beginning this little clique of right-wing religious fanatics had a firm control over the thinking of the President (insofar as one can appropriately use this term to describe the activities that transpire within the cranium of George W Bush).

A man of no discernable education, whose intellectual horizons do not seem to go far beyond the boundaries of his Texan ranch and whose knowledge of world literature does not go far beyond the First Book of Genesis, he readily listened to the macabre fantasies of this gang of charlatans and crooks, especially when they mentioned the magic word oil.

Long before the eleventh of September, it is well known that this gang had worked out a plan to attack Iraq. This had nothing to do with Al Qaeda (who were then absent from Iraq) or weapons of mass destruction (which did not exist), and certainly were not the product of any burning desire to help the Iraqi people to restore democracy. Behind all the beautiful phrases we will find the naked self-interest of the big monopolies, greedy to lay hands on the oil of Iraq.

However, since in politics, greed for profit does not tend to inspire much enthusiasm with the public, or arouse in it that fighting spirit necessary to procure support for, or at least passive acquiescence in, a war, other motivating factors must be found. For the ruling clique in Washington, the events of the eleventh of September came like manna from Heaven. Overnight they were provided with the necessary excuse to put into practice plans that they had already hatched behind the backs of the American people.

Bush's personal ambition

The main motivation for the brutal onslaught on Iraq was both economic and political: the desire to seize and loot the huge Iraqi oil reserves, and the determination to crush a regime that was not prepared to "play ball" with the aims of US imperialism in the strategically vital Middle East. However, for George W Bush there was undoubtedly an additional motivation, of a more personal nature.

George W's father had presided over the First Gulf War, which succeeded in its immediate object (driving Iraq out of Kuwait) but not in the real objective - the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. At that time the strategists of Capital in Washington considered the possibility of invading Iraq and discounted it. They thought the risks were too great. So the US army halted at the fringes of Iraq. They looked into the abyss - and drew back. This was considered by the apostles of the Republican right as an act of unpardonable weakness, bordering on high treason.

Now they had a willing pupil in the White House and they were not about to throw the opportunity away. "Don't be a wimp, like your dad," they whispered in George W's attentive ear. "You can succeed where he failed. You can do it. America is great! God is on our side. Let's go for it!" And George W listened. In his breast there burned an unquenchable thirst for glory, to do something great for America. Goddammit! "To go down in the history books!" On this last score we do not doubt he will get his wish - though not exactly in the way he wanted.

Personally, George W Bush is a coward and a weakling. He evaded military service during the Vietnam War. But like all cowards and weaklings, he likes to project the image of a strong man. Hence the absurd charade when he appeared dressed in military fatigues (although he was an army deserter) and flak jacket (although there was no flak anywhere in sight) on board a US warship (could they not find a suitable landing place?) to announce to the cheering sailors: "Mission accomplished".

Only four years later the mission is very far from accomplished. On the contrary, the mission has ended in ignominious failure and Bush is scrambling to rescue something from the wreckage, while publicly shouting that victory is still possible (it is doubtful that even he now believes this).

US ruling class becoming alarmed

Not even the richest power on earth can tolerate for long such a haemorrhage of blood, sweat and gold. Four years after the invasion, more than 3,000 US soldiers have been killed, and more than $300 billion spent. The last congressional elections showed clearly that most Americans have lost hope and want to leave Iraq. But George W Bush thinks otherwise. He remains firmly convinced that "victory" is just around the corner, and that the Middle East is still anxiously awaiting the blessings of American democracy.

The ruling class of the United States is now becoming alarmed. In an attempt to inject some element of rational thinking into the procedure, it arranged the setting up of a special commission on Iraq (the Iraq Study Group) co-chaired by James Baker, a former secretary of state. This was a bipartisan commission headed by a veteran statesman who is a more reliable representative of the American Establishment than the present incumbent of the White House.

What the Iraq Study Group recommended makes at least a little sense from the standpoint of US imperialism. In effect, it said: "We must accept facts: we have lost the war in Iraq. It is futile to continue an unwinnable conflict. Let us cut our losses and pull out as soon as possible. Of course, we cannot do this immediately because that would mean chaos. We must build up a stable Iraqi government, state and army. That means we must have a coalition government. This is only possible if we also get help from Syria and Iran. We must therefore start building bridges with these states."

Yes, from the standpoint of US imperialism, this was very good advice. What was George Bush's reaction? He ignored the "managed withdrawal" strategy advocated by the Iraq Study Group, instead he advanced the theory of the "surge", an idea proposed by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a right-wing think-tank, and strongly backed by Jack Keane, a retired four-star general and former deputy chief of staff of the army.

General Keane was the force behind an AEI report called "Choosing Victory: A Plan for Success in Iraq", written by Frederick Kagan, a military academic, and issued on January 5th. This called for an even bigger surge of about 35,000 troops. Security, Mr Kagan wrote, was the precondition for a political solution, not the other way around. Only by offering credible protection could the Americans undermine the militias. But in fact, no security can be guaranteed even by three times that number. And these right wing lunatics overlook the small detail that the US army is already severely overstretched.

In a nationally televised address on January 10th the President announced that he would send more than 20,000 extra troops to Iraq, mostly to help Iraqi forces in their new campaign to secure Baghdad. Some 4,000 additional troops would be destined for the violent western province of Anbar. American units will be "embedded" within Iraqi formations to help them hold neighbourhoods wrested from armed groups. The new military effort will be bolstered with economic, political and diplomatic measures. American commanders and officials will be given greater authority to spend money, a ‘reconstruction co-ordinator' will be appointed in Baghdad, and the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, will be held firmly to a set of political ‘benchmarks'".

In other words, Bush put two fingers up to Baker and the Iraq Study Group. He turned down bipartisan calls to reach a deal with Iran and Syria. Instead, he accused those countries of being the cause of the violence in Iraq. He confirmed the deployment of an extra carrier strike group and Patriot anti-missile batteries to the Middle East. This was a warning that he is not only willing to intensify the US military involvement in Iraq, but is also giving himself the option of a military strike against Iran.

Tehran's nuclear programme

The excuse for this is the suspected development of nuclear weapons by Teheran. It is fairly obvious that the Iranians are indeed trying to develop nuclear technology. Teheran argues that this is for peaceful uses. Maybe so, but it is hard to see why a country that is sitting on vast reserves of oil and gas should need to develop nuclear energy. If it were a question of developing alternative sources of energy, it has plenty of sunshine for solar energy. Therefore, the acquisition of nuclear energy must be connected with military aims.

This is the cause of much righteous anger in Washington, Paris, London and Tel Aviv. Yet all the aforesaid nations possess nuclear weapons. So their objection cannot be based on any moral or pacifistic reasons. They do not object to nuclear weapons in principle. Oh no, they only object to other people possessing such things. So passionate is their dislike of other nations possessing nuclear weapons that George Bush and his pet poodle in number ten Downing Street (a devoutly religious man with a passionate attachment to Britain's nuclear weapons) invaded Iraq - a supposedly sovereign state - because they "suspected" (or said that they suspected) that it was harbouring "weapons of mass destruction."

We all now know that this was a lie. Iraq did not possess any such weapons. Maybe if it had, the aggressors who have torn the country to shreds and reduced it to rubble, would have thought twice before invading it. Certainly, the Americans have not tried to invade North Korea, which openly thumbs its nose at Washington and publicly boasts about its nuclear arsenal. Washington grumbles and mutters threats - and does nothing. Like all bullies US imperialism only attacks the weak, but avoids taking on any country that shows it is able and willing to defend itself.

The lessons of all this were not lost on Teheran. If Saddam Hussein was defeated, at least in part, because he did not have the feared weapons of mass destruction, then it would be wise to get some and the sooner the better. From the standpoint of morality, this may be all very regrettable, but from a military point of view, the logic is impeccable. Unfortunately, the recent experience of Iraq shows that the world is not run strictly according to the rules of morality, and that arms do play a certain role in the way of the world.

Majority of Iraqis want US troops out

The plain fact is that the Americans have been defeated in Iraq, not because of outside interference - whether from Syria, Iran or anywhere else - but because the overwhelming majority of Iraqis do not want them there. This fact is shown in every opinion poll and in every interview with people on the streets of Baghdad and Basra. The reply is the same whether those who are asked are Shiites or Sunnis: "We want the invaders to leave."

Yet George W Bush, in his infinite wisdom, has decided that the real blame for the insurgency lies in Damascus and Teheran. He promises to "stop interference by Iran and Syria, and to destroy their networks", but he says nothing about the gross interference of Americans in the internal affairs of Iraq. He does not mention the fact that, four years after the brutal violation of its national sovereignty by the USA and its allies, Iraq is still an occupied country with no will of its own, unable to decide its own destiny. The blame for this tragedy lies, not at the door of Syria and Iran, but with the United States, Britain and the other so-called "coalition allies" - that is, partners in crime.

Incredibly, it seems that Bush, instead of learning his lesson, is preparing to repeat his original blunder on an even bigger scale. He is constantly provoking Iran, looking for a pretext to take some kind of military action. Thus, on January 11th American troops raided an Iranian consular office in northern Iraq. More recently, he has claimed that over a hundred US servicemen have been killed in Iraq by weapons manufactured in Iran and that he has "proof" of this. These statements remind us forcibly of the kind of wild claims about weapons of mass destruction that were used to prepare world public opinion for the rape of Iraq.

In his January speech, Mr Bush admitted he had made "mistakes" (unspecified), but then went on to accept that more Americans were likely to die, and told his audience not to expect a "surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship". The war, he said, was part of "the decisive ideological struggle of our time". Failure would bring catastrophe: the fall of the Iraqi government, "mass killings on an unimaginable scale", the strengthening of radical Islam across the Middle East, danger for moderate governments, the creation of a terrorist safe haven and an Iran emboldened to build atomic bombs.

Having thus soothed the nerves of the American nation, the President went on triumphantly to present his solution: he has decided to redouble the war effort, sending over 20,000 new troops to Iraq.

Memories of Richard Nixon

This kind of behaviour strikingly recalls that of Richard Nixon in the latter years of his Presidency. When it was already clear to the strategists of Capital that the War in Vietnam was a lost cause, and it was necessary to find an exit strategy, Nixon stubbornly decided to fight on and even spread the war to Cambodia, where US forces were engaged in a secret war with the "communist" guerrillas.

This led to an upsurge of protest in the United States and a general radicalisation, especially of the youth with revolutionary overtones. The mood of the American soldiers in Vietnam was openly rebellious, with frequent cases of insubordination and even the murder of officers. One US general even compared the mood of the US soldiers to that of the garrison in Petrograd in 1917.

Faced with this situation, the US ruling class decided to get rid of Nixon, who they saw was unbalanced and out of control. The Establishment has ways and means of doing this without having recourse to an election. They engineered a scandal - the notorious Watergate Scandal - to bring about what was, in effect, a palace coup.

This had nothing to do with the somewhat trivial issues raised at the Watergate Trial that only dealt with the kind of minor skulduggery that goes on all the time behind the scenes of American politics. Nixon was removed for far more important reasons: he was removed because he was an adventurer who had overreached himself and gotten out of the control of the Establishment - that is, the Boards of Directors of the big banks and monopolies who really run America.

Just like Nixon, Mr Bush now finds himself almost alone. His only base of support consists of the clique of right wing fanatics in the White House. It was obviously they who convinced him to ignore the advice of the Iraq Study Group (that is, to go against the Establishment). It was they who advised him against any deal with Syria and Iran. John Bolton, the biggest loudmouth in this right-wing gang, is now belligerently demanding action against Iran. In other words, they are pushing the USA towards the abyss.

This insane conduct is now causing alarm in military circles. General John Abizaid, the head of Central Command that oversees American strategy in Iraq and Afghanistan, has effectively rejected the idea of a "surge" of forces. Only three months ago, he told a Senate hearing that raising troop levels by 20,000 would have only a "temporary effect" on security. But it would delay the day Iraqi forces could take control and, if prolonged, would place an unbearable strain on American ground forces that are already stretched beyond the limits of endurance.

In the past, George W Bush always said he would defer to his military commanders, but this time he did not take their advice. Instead, he dismissed General Abizaid and reshuffled key figures in his Iraq team. General John Casey, the commander in Iraq, has been "kicked upstairs" to become the army chief of staff. The ambassador to Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, has been sent to the United Nations.

Winning hearts and minds... at gunpoint!

Baghdad, Iraq's most populous city, with 6million inhabitants of all sects, is now in the grip of a bloody sectarian war that daily claims the lives of dozens or hundreds of innocent people. It was US imperialism that created the conditions for this carnage, when it based itself on the Shia population against the Sunni-based Saddam Hussein regime. It created a Frankenstein monster that has now got out of control - just as it did previously with Bin Laden and the Taliban.

The Americans have tried to pursue the so-called "oil-spot" strategy - establishing areas of stability that would, with time, expand. In some rural towns where American forces can monitor access routes and where it can enlist the support of tribal chiefs through bribery, it may have had some success. But in the teeming backstreets and markets of Baghdad, it is doomed to failure. Last summer's joint American-Iraqi operation, codenamed "Together Forward", was followed by the most vicious round of killing ever seen in the city.

The strategists of the surge like General Keane, confidently assure us that "this time it is going to be completely different." How often have we heard such expressions before? It is the psychology of a gambler who has lost every penny but still believes that he can recoup all his losses and make a fortune with one last desperate throw.

General Keane's proposals suppose substantially more troops-five more American brigades in Baghdad to add to the four currently there, and 18 (smaller) Iraqi army and police brigades. This, he says, will allow American forces not only to clear neighbourhoods of insurgents, but also stay behind and make sure that economic development follows immediately. The Iraqis will be immediately reassured by the presence of even more foreign soldiers ready to break down their front doors at three in the morning, in addition to the blessings of an infinite number of consultants and constructors on lucrative contracts from Halliburton and co.

The real novelty in this new doctrine is that American soldiers will no longer be engaged in anti-insurgency as heretofore. They will henceforth be carrying out "armed social work". So, after battering down your front door in the early hours of the morning, arresting every male old enough to hold a rifle and scaring the life out of all the women and children, they will then produce identification cards which prove conclusively that what has just occurred is not violent repression but really only "armed social work". This would have provided marvellous material for a film by the Marx brothers, if only the subject were not so serious.

The troops' priority should be to win the support and trust of civilians, says General Keane, and thereby obtain the intelligence essential to identify the enemy. But just a minute! Have we not heard all this before? Indeed we have! Those of us with long enough memories will recall that in Vietnam the declared aim of the American occupying forces was to "win the hearts and minds" of the Vietnamese and so undermine the support for the insurgents. This aim was accomplished by such gentle methods of persuasion as forcing whole communities at gunpoint to enter concentration camps known as "armed villages", which created such a flood of goodwill towards the Americans that it led to a huge increase in the numbers of volunteers fleeing to the ranks of the guerrillas. We have no doubt whatever that General Keane's "armed social work" will have a similar effect in Iraq.

In any case, the whole idea is preposterous. The truth is that the Americans lack the numbers, and the Iraqis lack the ability, to hold any areas, let alone rebuild them. The Economist (January 13, 2007) comments:

"Counter-insurgency requires ‘vast resources' of manpower and much stamina in America, says the manual. Decades after expunging the idea of ‘small wars' from their textbooks after the trauma of Vietnam, American officers are relearning the lessons the hard way.

"At the heart of counter-insurgency doctrine is the idea of winning over the uncommitted ‘passive' majority. But after so much killing, and the shattering of hopes, there may not be many fence-sitters left in Baghdad. Iraqi polls are unreliable, but they show a trend of growing support for killing Americans. One survey in September found that 61% of Iraqis-including a majority of Shias and almost all Sunnis-approved of attacks on coalition forces.

"More American troops may or may not bring greater security. But they will offer more targets for insurgents to shoot at, and reinforce many Iraqis' resentment of the occupation. More civilians could get killed, whether by error, carelessness, or worse. One British general with experience in Iraq believes no amount of extra American troops will solve the problem. ‘It may look quiet when the Humvees go past during the day, but the militias will be back at night, murdering and intimidating'."

The US army's own counter-insurgency manual recommends a saturation strategy of 20-25 members of security forces for every 1,000 civilians: the kind of ratio used when NATO soldiers entered Kosovo in 1999. For a country the size of Iraq, that means 535,000-670,000 soldiers and policemen. The American-led coalition invaded Iraq with fewer than 200,000 men and women. Today there are just 150,000 American, British and other troops.

The Economist continues: "Even counting Iraqi security forces, the total still falls short at 473,000-and that ignores their weaknesses. Many members of the Iraqi security forces are routinely absent, the army is only partly capable of carrying out its tasks, and the police force is often corrupt and infiltrated by militias."

In order to make any difference, Bush would need an occupying force of half a million SS troops, willing to commit any atrocity against the population. But he does not have such an instrument. On the contrary, the US army is seriously overstretched. The USA has inherited the role that Britain played in the 19th century - that of world policeman. But that was in the period of the ascent of capitalism, and Britain won handsome profits from exploiting its colonies in Africa and Asia. Now things are very different.

Epoch of imperialist decay

We are in the epoch of imperialist decay. This is expressed in universal turbulence and instability on a global scale. One war follows another and terrorism spreads like an uncontrollable epidemic. These are symptoms of the underlying sickness of the capitalist system on a world scale. Far from benefiting from its economic and military superiority, which makes the might of the Roman Empire look like child's play, America finds its world role an ever more intolerable burden.

Apart from the colossal drain on its resources, there is the question of the political effects at home and the effects on the morale of its armed forces. The Economist strikes a warning note:

"The tempo of troop rotations in Iraq and Afghanistan is already in breach of the Pentagon's guidelines: two years at home for every year of operations abroad for the full-time army, and six years' relief for reserve citizen-soldiers who make up nearly half the current strength in Iraq. Equipment is being lost in battle or worn out much faster than anticipated. A bigger army would help, but it will take years to recruit and train new combat units.

"Nobody knows how much strain the ground forces can bear. Commanders worry about any sign of damage to morale, such as anecdotal evidence of rising divorce rates among servicemen. A poll in the Military Times last month found falling support for the war. Just 41% approved of the decision to go into Iraq, compared with 56% the previous year. Last June Ehren Watada, an army first lieutenant, became the first commissioned officer to refuse to serve in Iraq. He said the war was ‘not only morally wrong but a horrible breach of American law'."

Despite the strains on the American forces described above, Bush has decided to stretch the army even more. The "surge" will be achieved by extending the service of troops in Iraq, speeding up the deployment of forces scheduled to arrive later this year, and calling up a fresh batch of reservists for duty in 2008. General Keane insists that his "surge" can be sustained for up to two years. This is a very risky strategy, and one that can have unforeseen consequences. The situation has not yet reached the extremes of the Vietnam war but it is heading in that direction.

The Economist concludes: "The risk is that, as in the past, the insurgents will just wait for the Americans to go away, or shift the killing to areas where there are fewer soldiers." The main problem is that the insurgents have the support of the population and can melt away and reappear before the Americans have a chance to act. The insurgents are usually indistinguishable from the ordinary Iraqis and there are no clearly defined front lines. This means that there will inevitably be more atrocities against the civilian population and this will create even greater hatred against the foreign invaders and more recruits for the insurgents. For every fighter the Americans kill, there will be five, ten or twenty to take his or her place.

The situation is further complicated by the bloody sectarian strife between Sunnis and Shias. The flames of this nightmare were fanned by the Americans in the first place. By encouraging the formerly oppressed Shias to turn against their Sunni masters, they created a favourable atmosphere for the establishment of Shia militias. By setting up a government dominated by their allies, the Shias and Kurds, they created a feeling among the Sunnis that they were being excluded and marginalised from power. This created the basis for the present sectarian strife.

Mr Bush says that Iraqi and American forces will have a "green light" to go anywhere in Baghdad. But even the slightly deranged General Keane does not think it would be wise for the moment to try to enter Sadr City, the bastion of Muqtada al-Sadr, the militant Shia cleric and leader of the anti-American Mahdi Army.

All that the elections have achieved is to enshrine the country's ethnic divisions in its politics. And every day America is losing its means of influence. The hapless Maliki government has failed to achieve any of the targets set by Washington: the sharing of oil revenues fairly, spending $10 billion on reconstruction, holding provincial elections, revising the federal constitution and the "de-Baathification" process. This is all meaningless when the real power is being disputed every day on the streets of Baghdad between the US forces and the insurgents. The government is suspended in mid-air.

Frustrated at the obvious impasse, Bush now tries to blame Iran for all his troubles in Iraq. It is clear that Iran is intervening on the side of the Shias in Iraq and has probably sent weapons to help them. It is equally certain that Saudi Arabia has been helping the Sunnis and is sending arms and money. The reactionary Saudi monarchy is terrified that the collapse of Iraq will lead to an enormous increase in the power of Iran in the region. But since George Bush and his family are on excellent terms with the Saudi ruling clique, he does not consider it convenient to point an accusing finger at the House of Saud.

Serious political crisis brewing in USA

Sooner or later this situation will lead to a serious political crisis in the USA. Already the Democrat-controlled Congress is trying to put pressure on Bush. Theoretically, it could deny him the money to wage the war. But this would lead to a full-blown constitutional crisis in the USA, and the Democrats usually have cold feet when push comes to shove. However, it is clear that an ever-growing section of the ruling class is becoming weary of Bush's adventurist tactics and ever more fearful of the long-term consequences for America.

Congress has used its power of the purse in the past, such as in the last couple of years of the Vietnam war. This has its dangers. It could allow the Republicans to accuse the Democrats of treason when the war is lost. For the moment, they are considering only a symbolic "non-binding vote" of protest that would, in the words of Senator Joseph Biden, "demonstrate to the president he's on his own". They might also be moved to block the increase in troop numbers in Iraq. They have insisted that the President consult congress before starting anything in Iran.

The big business interests that really control the USA are not concerned with small details like democracy. They normally prefer a bourgeois parliamentary democracy because it is the most economical system for them. It allows them to run the country quietly, while nobody notices it.

The majority of American citizens have the delusion that they actually decide who governs them, when in practice the Democrats and Republicans are only two wings of the same ruling class that owns Congress, just as it owns the land, the banks and big corporations, the newspapers, and radio and television companies.

As a rule the big capitalists prefer the Republicans, the natural party of Big Business and therefore, the natural party of government. The Republicans stand (or used to stand) for cheap government, low taxes, less government interference in business, a strong dollar, balanced budgets. This is the kind of programme Big Business - especially finance capital - likes. But occasionally, a Republican government can get into trouble. Then Big Business calls on the services of its reserve party - the Democrats. It shifts nimbly from the right foot to the left foot, without for a single moment relinquishing a single atom of its power over the affairs of the nation.

Therefore, when George W Bush came to power (by highly questionable methods), the champagne bottles were undoubtedly popping in Wall Street. Here was a President in their very image of the American ruling class: crude, ignorant, narrow minded, provincial. All right, so he can hardly put two sentences together, but after all, he is one of ours. He made all the right noises: tax cuts, make the poor work, cut wasteful state expenditure (i.e. welfare) and so on. Oh, this was music to their ears! And when he ordered the invasion of Iraq, this also seemed good for Business at the time, and as everybody knows, what is good for Business is good for America.

But now things have changed. The war did not work out as planned and is already deeply unpopular in the USA. Many Republicans are now expressing doubt about the war. The only Republican candidate to give vocal support to the "surge" is right winger John McCain. Other candidates, some more, some less, are calling for a withdrawal. But Bush remains obdurate. He has refused to accept the verdict of the Iraq Study Group and is acting against the collective interests of the ruling class. This will seal his fate.

It is possible that Bush may not even last the next two years. The ruling class will ditch him without ceremony if he continues to drag America into further military adventures. He may suddenly develop an "illness" after some spectacular defeat, or the press will uncover some scandal (there must be plenty of evidence in the files of the FBI and CIA) that will implicate the top Republicans and force a series of resignations, making it impossible for Bush to continue. In the last analysis, they may decide to impeach him. In any case, George W Bush is finished.

The fall of Bush will open the floodgates in the USA. Already there is a powerful undercurrent of discontent in US society, where real wages have stagnated or fallen in the middle of a boom, large sections of the youth have been radicalised by the war, there is widespread scepticism in government and an increasing questioning of the whole social system.

In this context, the Establishment is preparing to shift from the right boot to the left. The sudden rise of the "radical" African-American candidate Barack Obama is designed to attract the votes of the discontented Americans and restore the tarnished image of the two-party (in reality one-party) system. But this is probably the last time they can get away with this old trick. Whichever faction of the ruling class wins the next elections, nothing will be solved. The stage will be set for a stormy period in the USA and the world.

London, February 15, 2007

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