wsws

George W Bush inadvertently tells the truth about the Iraq War
Patrick Martin, WSWS, May 20 2022

Speaking at his presidential center in Dallas Wednesday night, former President George W. Bush engaged in what is sometimes described as a “gaffe,” speaking a political truth by mistake. Condemning the actions of Putin in Ukraine, he attributed the Russian invasion to the “decision of one man to launch a wholly unjustified and brutal invasion of Iraq.” Realizing his mistake, he continued, “of the Ukraine,” then muttered, “Iraq too, anyway.” He shook his head as members of his well-heeled and friendly audience laughed, then joked about his age, 75, before returning to his remarks blasting Putin and hailing US military support for Zelensky. A brief Twitter video of this key moment in his speech has gone viral, with more than 23m people watching it on Thursday alone, and social media has been filled with sarcastic commentary and occasional declarations that Bush is a war criminal and guilty of the very same crimes that he attributes to Putin.

It is worse than that, however, far worse. As bad as the consequences of Putin’s reactionary invasion have been for the people of Ukraine, they pale by comparison to the systematic destruction of an entire society in Iraq, carried out twice over, first by Bush 41 and then by Bush 43. The US bombing campaign against Iraq in Jan-Feb 1991, ordered by Bush 41, resulted in 110k sorties by US, British and other allied warplanes, which dropped nearly 90k tons of bombs on an essentially defenseless country. This is four times the total tonnage of bombs dropped by the Allied powers in all of WW2 in all theaters of the war, deluging a country only slightly larger than Germany alone. The combined effect of the bombing and the four-day ground assault, more of a mopping up operation than actual combat, was to reduce an Iraq military force of 620k to only 20k organized troops. At least 200k were killed outright, many on the notorious “Highway of Death” between Kuwait and the city of Basra in southern Iraq. In the words of the Bulletin newspaper, US forerunner of the WSWS:

The four days of ground war were the bloodiest four days mankind has seen since Aug 6-9 1945, when US imperialism incinerated hundreds of thousands of Japanese in the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

A 2013 volume, Genocide in Iraq, The Case Against the UNSC and Member States, by Abd’ul-Haq and Tarik al-Ani (Clarity Press, UK) details the impact of the US bombing during Desert Storm:

  • 85% of all power generation was destroyed, which left only two of Iraq’s 20 electricity generating plants functioning, generating less than 4% of the pre-war output of 9 Gw.
  • Almost half of Iraq’s 900k telephone lines had been destroyed, with 14 central exchanges irreparably damaged and 13 more put out of service indefinitely.
  • Iraq’s eight major multipurpose dams were repeatedly hit and heavily damaged.
  • Four of Iraq’s seven major water pumping stations were destroyed, and 31 municipal water and sewage facilities were hit with bombs and missiles, 20 in Baghdad alone.
  • The bombing targets included 139 bridges, 26 in Basra alone.
  • Iraq’s baby milk powder factory at Abu Ghraib, the only such factory in the whole region, was attacked three times, on Jan 20, 21 and 22, 1991.
  • Grain silos and farms were attacked across the country, decimating over 30% of the sheep and cattle herds and destroying the country’s poultry production.
  • The US bombed 28 civilian hospitals and 52 community health centers.
  • A major hypodermic syringe facility in Hilla was destroyed by laser-guided rockets.
  • A total of 676 schools were attacked, completely destroying 38 of them, eight of which were university facilities.
  • In Baghdad alone 25 mosques were bombed, with another 31 mosques bombed elsewhere in the country.

This was not war against Saddam Hussein and his armed forces over the occupation of Kuwait. It was war against the Iraqi people as a whole, against the entire country and its ability to survive as a functioning society. This was followed by 12 years of economic sanctions so severe that an estimated 500k Iraqi children died prematurely because of malnutrition, diseases caused by the destruction of water and sanitation systems, and the impact of the bombing and blockade on health care, particularly the lack of access to medicine. Then came the 2003 invasion of Iraq by Bush 43, in which more Iraqi soldiers were annihilated, more civilian targets were bombed, particularly in cities like Baghdad, and whatever infrastructure had been rebuilt since 1991 was destroyed a second time.

The WSWS and the SEP opposed the Iraq war from the very beginning, condemning the support for the war, not only by the Bush administration and the Republican right, but by the bulk of the Democratic Party. It was the leading Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, then-Senator Joe Biden, who played a central role in pushing through the AUMF that provided a congressional rubber-stamp for the illegal invasion. In a series of articles in May 2007, the WSWS summed up the devastation inflicted by the US conquest and occupation of Iraq, branding it “sociocide,” the deliberate destruction of an entire society, and pointing out that under both Bush and his father, American imperialism had carried out crimes of the type previously associated only with fascist regimes. We wrote:

Iraq, once among the most advanced countries of the region, has been reduced, in terms of basic economic and social indices, to the level of the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa. What is involved is the systematic destruction of an entire society through the unleashing of violence and criminality on a scale not seen since Hitler’s armies ravaged Europe in the Second World War. Less than a third of the population nationwide has access to clean drinking water, and just 19 percent have a functioning sewage system. Both the water and sewage systems were damaged heavily by US bombardments in the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 2003 invasion…

On average, Iraqis receive only eight hours of electricity a day, with even worse conditions in Baghdad, where most of the capital’s seven million people get only six hours or less of service daily. We noted the 150% increase in the infant mortality rate from 1990 to 2005. Half of all Iraq’s children were suffering from malnutrition; only one-third were attending school. Half of Iraq’s doctors had fled the country. Per capita GDP was half that of 1980, and Iraq’s state-owned industries had been privatized and shut down, with the loss of half a million jobs, by an ideologically motivated campaign of the Iraq occupation authority set up by the US in Baghdad. The WSWS concluded:

The premeditated destruction of an entire society carried out on the basis of lies and in pursuit of the financial and geo-strategic interests of America’s ruling elite constitutes a war crime of historic proportions, punishable under the same statutes and on the basis of the same principles as those used to condemn leading figures of Germany’s Third Reich at Nuremberg. Those responsible for launching the war in Iraq consist not merely of the right-wing Republican cabal grouped around Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz. They include also the Democrats who enabled this war, the heads of US energy conglomerates and finance houses that hoped to profit from it and the chiefs of the media monopolies that promoted it. All of these layers, constituting the political establishment and financial aristocracy of the US, are guilty of the same fundamental crime for which the Nazis were prosecuted nearly 60 years ago: the plotting and waging of a war of aggression. It is from this principal crime that all the multiple crimes and horrors inflicted upon the Iraqi people have flowed.

It is not a matter of justifying Putin’s reactionary attack on Ukraine to point out that the war he launched has produced nothing like the level of destruction inflicted by the US in Iraq. This may be a significant factor in the limited military gains of the war, at least so far. Also, Ukraine is being heavily armed by all the NATO powers, while Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, certainly in 2003, was completely isolated and without allies. In 1991, Bush’s father decided to limit the war to the ejection of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. He rejected suggestions from some aides to send US forces northward all the way to Baghdad and oust Saddam Hussein, considering it too risky, because Iraq was then allied to the Soviet Union. The senior Bush did not want to do anything that might interrupt the ongoing disintegration of the USSR, which was a far higher priority for Washington. By 2003, no such restraint existed on the aggressive operations of American imperialism.

While the American and European corporate media howls for war crimes charges against Putin and denounces the war in Ukraine as “genocide,” the architects of immeasurably greater crimes in Iraq enjoy comfortable retirements, speaking engagements, lucrative consulting jobs and high-level state and media positions. Bush, Cheney and Tony Blair are only the first names on a long and ghastly list. The scale of the killing and destruction carried out by the US in Iraq dwarfs Russia’s actions in Ukraine. All over the world, workers are entering into social struggle. They must take up as central demands not only the struggle against war but the demand that those, like Bush, guilty for the destruction of entire societies be held to account.

The scale of the killing and destruction carried out by the US in Iraq dwarfs a thousand-fold what Russia has done in Ukraine. Three decades of unending war in the Middle East and Central Asia, in which the Iraq War stands out for its blatant illegality and homicidal brutality, has developed into a direct conflict of the US and NATO powers against Russia. Having killed 1 million people in Iraq, the strategists of American imperialism are contemplating and discussing a world war that would involve the deaths of tens of millions. The working class, as it enters into struggle throughout the world, must connect the fight against inequality and exploitation to the the fight against war. It will hold accountable all those responsible for the crimes of imperialism, past and present.

Biden administration pushes for NATO accession of Finland, Sweden, as Senate passes $40b aid package for Ukraine
Clara Weiss, WSWS, May 18 2022

Following the defeat of the Ukrainian army in Mariupol on Tuesday, a city of great strategic significance in the Ukraine war, the American ruling class is taking further steps to prolong and expand its proxy war with Russia in Eastern Europe. On Thursday, the Senate voted 86-11 in favor of a massive $40b aid package for Ukraine. All votes against the bill came from the Republican right. The bill brings the total US aid for Ukraine in just over the past two months to $54b. It has been rammed through above all by the Democrats, all of whom support the unprecedented US arming of Ukraine’s army and fascist forces and the stifling of any public discussion about its implications. Once Biden signs the bill, it will go into effect. A few hours before the Senate vote, Biden held a joint press conference with Finland’s President Sauli Niinistö and Sweden’s Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson, both of whom had just applied for NATO accession. In the press conference, Biden provided yet another display of the extraordinary recklessness and arrogance that now dominate the highest levels of the American state.

Following objections by Turkey, a NATO member, against the accession of Finland and Sweden and warnings by the Kremlin that Russia will be forced to respond with appropriate “military technical means” to such a step, Biden effectively declared that the US will do everything to ensure the fastest possible accession of both countries to the military alliance. The US president emphasized that both countries had the “the full, total, complete backing” from the US for their membership requests. He also all but acknowledged that Washington had been the principal driving force behind the move of Finland and Sweden to join NATO. According to Biden, discussions with Finland’s Sauli Niinistö already took place last December; further meetings took place in the weeks leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and then again in March. “We’ve consulted closely at every stage,” the US president stated. Clearly, the plans for Finland and Sweden to join the alliance had been made well before Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, an invasion that NATO has worked to provoke for years and is now exploiting the long-awaited pretext to realize plans for massive rearmaments and a direct military confrontation with Russia.

Biden thanked Democratic Party leaders for helping “to move this to the Senate as quickly as possible” and announced that the White House would submit a bill to Congress later that day to approve the request by Sweden and Finland. He also reiterated that the US was committed to Article 5 of the NATO treaty which obliges all NATO countries to help a member in case of a military attack. The US will “defend every inch of NATO territory,” Biden said. The US president stressed that Finland’s and Sweden’s request to join NATO underscored that “NATO’s door remains open.” For years, Ukraine has sought admission to the alliance. A guarantee that NATO not admit Ukraine was one of the main security guarantees that the oligarchic Putin regime demanded and was denied before it decided to invade Ukraine. Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, for his part, stressed that the Finnish army was “one of the strongest in Europe,” while Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson promised that military spending in her country would “reach 2% of GDP as soon as practically possible.” Both indicated that they counted on their countries joining NATO in a “swift” process and said that they were in the process of conducting negotiations with all NATO members, including Turkey, now and over “the coming days.”

The Senate vote and the demonstrative press conference on Thursday are calculated moves to further escalate the NATO proxy war in Ukraine in the wake of Russia’s seizure of the strategic port city of Mariupol in the southeast of the country. Mariupol had been under siege by Russian forces for almost three months with both Russia and Ukraine focusing much of their military fighting power on gaining control over the city. The neo-Nazi Azov Battalion, which has been fully integrated into the Ukrainian army, played the central role in the Ukrainian military’s combat operations against Russian troops and were the last to surrender at the Azovstal factory. Now, according to Russian press reports, over 1,800 Azov fighters have surrendered. The Putin regime, which itself appeals to Russian far-right forces and Great Russian chauvinism, is exploiting its military victory in Mariupol to bolster its own war propaganda, in which the Kremlin falsely portrays its reactionary war for security guarantees from the imperialist powers as a fight against fascism.

The victory in Mariupol also strengthens Russia’s military and strategic position after three months in which the Russian army has suffered catastrophic military losses, including thousands of soldiers, several generals and the flagship of its Black Sea fleet, the Moskva. With control over Mariupol, Russia can establish a land bridge in eastern Ukraine, connecting the Crimean Peninsula in the Black Sea, which Russia annexed in Mar 2014 after the US-backed coup in Kiev in February, and the territories around Donetsk and Lugansk, where fighting still continues to range. From both a military but also a political standpoint, the loss of Mariupol is thus a significant blow to the Kiev regime and its war strategy. As of 2020, far-right paramilitary forces made up some 104k troops or 40% of the Ukrainian army. Azov, which has been headquartered in Mariupol since 2014, is by far the largest of them.

The Azov Battalion has also played a major role in the propaganda of the Kiev regime and the imperialist powers which have consistently portrayed them as “heroes” and the best defenders of Ukraine. Now, the pro-imperialist media is doubling down on the legitimization of these Hitler-admiring fascists. The WaPo on Thursday ran a editorial declaring that the Azov Battalion had been “reformed” and that they “deserve the accolades they are receiving from their government.” In fact, the neo-Nazi orientation of the Azov Battalion is beyond dispute. It openly places itself in the tradition of the Nazi collaborators of the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists, which murdered tens of thousands of Jews and Poles in WW2 and uses symbols and emblems that hail back to Nazi formations like the SS. The founder of the Azov Battalion, Andrei Biletsky, publicly called for a “crusade of the white nations of the world against the Semitic-led subhumans.”

It is not despite but because of the Azov Battalion’s fascist orientation that they have been built up by the Ukrainian state and the imperialist powers as shock troops in the war against Russia. Fascists from around the world have been encouraged to join Azov in Ukraine, and a good portion of the tens of billions of NATO weapons and tanks that have been pouring into the Ukrainian army are ending up in their hands. With the push for the NATO accession of Sweden and Finland and the gigantic $40b aid package, Washington is signaling unambiguously that the response of US imperialism to this setback is not a return to the negotiating table but a further escalation of its proxy war with Russia. Commenting on the implications of the expansion of NATO to Scandinavia, Nikita Liponuv noted in the Kremlin think tank magazine Russia in Global Affairs:

Russia has for many years warned Finland and Sweden publicly and privately about the military-political consequences of joining the alliance. With Finland and Sweden in NATO, the Baltic Sea will effectively become territory controlled by NATO. The alliance’s border with Russia will double in size. The entire region is becoming another theater of confrontation between Russia and the West. In the long run, we can forget about a nuclear-free Northern Europe. The accession of the two Nordic countries to the alliance will affect the politico-military situation not only in Europe, but also in the Arctic: Seven of the eight permanent members of the Arctic Council will represent NATO. The trend among Western Arctic powers to increase defense spending and military buildup in the High North, which began even before the escalation of the Ukrainian crisis, will continue and may intensify.

Biden sends US troops back into Somalia
Alex Findijs, WSWS, May 20 2022

US Marines at Baledogle Military Airfield in Somalia in 2020

The Biden administration has ordered the redeployment of 450 US soldiers to Somalia at the request of the Pentagon. Government officials state the decision is aimed at countering the advances of al-Shabab, which controls much of the countryside in southern and central Somalia. Biden’s decision is a reversal of a Trump administration order to remove 700 US soldiers from the country and deploy them to neighboring countries in Jan 2021. Trump portrayed the action as part of his campaign promise to roll back US involvement in “forever wars,” though US troops continued to conduct military activities inside of Somalia from their new bases in Kenya and Djibouti. The stated goal of the redeployment is to target a dozen leaders of al-Shabab, which is considered a terrorist organization by the US government, and to “maximize the safety and effectiveness of our forces and enable them to provide more efficient support to our partners,” according to a spox for the NSC in an interview with the NYT.

Al-Shabab has been engaged in military confrontations with the central Somali government for over 15 years and has been the target of repeated US military operations and airstrikes. Having consolidated control over large parts of the country, the organization is believed to have 5k to 10k armed fighters and close ties to Al Qaeda. Several deadly bombings have been linked to the group, including a truck bombing in the capital Mogadishu in 2017 that killed at least 587 people. Capitalizing on the violent tactics and al-Shabab and other groups, the US has used the threat of terrorism to justify military involvement in the impoverished East African country for 30 years. According to CNN, a senior Biden administration official argued that al-Shabab had the “intent and capability to target Americans.” However, it should be noted such concern for the safety of American citizens was not shown to the Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, a dual US and Palestinian citizen assassinated by Israeli forces last week.

The US has been militarily involved in Somalia since 1992 when it ostensibly deployed troops to protect UN aid workers. Bush 41 deployed 25k US troops to the country that had descended into fierce conflict between rival clans after the overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. The Bush and Clinton administrations understood the strategic importance of Somalia for controlling trade through the Suez Canal and Red Sea. Up to $700 billion in maritime shipping passes by Somalia every year, encompassing nearly all trade between Europe and Asia. Seeking to establish US control over the region amid the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the US imperialism sought to impose its domination through military force. The campaign resulted in disaster, however, when the Battle of Mogadishu ended in the deaths of 19 US soldiers and hundreds of Somalis, including civilians, in Oct 1993. Better known as the “Black Hawk Down” incident, the failure of the US to control local warlords resulted in a drawback of direct US involvement. For the next 15 years US imperialism took on a reserved role in Somali politics. However, the rise of al-Shabab in the mid-2000s prompted the US to steadily increase its military involvement throughout the Bush, Obama and Trump administrations. Obama authorized multiple airstrikes against top al-Shabab leaders and the Trump administration increased troop deployments up to 700 soldiers before announcing his plan to withdraw them.

Significantly, reporting of Biden’s decision corresponds with the election of Hassan Sheikh Mohamud as president of Somalia, who was sworn in this Monday. Returning for a second term after his previous term from 2012 to 2017, Mohamud’s election ends a 15-month period of crisis after outgoing President Mohamed Abdulahi Farmaajo attempted to extend his term by two years, throwing the country into further violent clashes between rival clans and political groups. Farmaajo was defeated by Mohamud by a vote of 110 to 214 in the legislature. Somalia’s elections do not include the 15m people who live in the country. Instead, clan elders select delegates to represent them in parliamentary elections. The parliament then elects the president itself without any direct input from the general populace. Effectively, only 101 people have the right to vote in federal elections. Mohamud is a member of the Hawiye, one of the five largest and most politically influential clans in Somalia. He also leads the Union for Peace and Development Party, which currently controls a majority in both legislative chambers, securing his victory.

In an insult to the very concept of democracy, the US State Dept issued a statement congratulating “the people of Somalia on the conclusion of their national electoral process.” It continued by congratulating Mohamud on his election and encouraged him to “prioritize strengthening democratic governance and institutions.” How Mohamud is supposed to strengthen something that does not exist is unclear. Despite claiming to be defending democracy in Ukraine, the US is not concerned with democracy in Somalia as long as its leaders are beholden to its imperialist aims. Mohamud was voted out of office in 2017 due to the intense levels of corruption and political infighting. Despite this, his return to office was facilitated by the US, which took action to sanction Somali officials by restricting visas on the grounds that they were “undermining the democratic process in the country.” International donors also threatened to withdraw $400m in loans from the IMF unless Farmaajo ceased his efforts to stall new elections. The US now has its favored puppet, but it will not solve the intense social crisis in Somalia. Severe drought and decades of war have displaced hundreds of thousands and left 6m people in acute food insecurity, including 1.4m children. The US/NATO war against Russia in Ukraine has worsened the situation in Somalia, which relies on exports from both countries for 90% of its wheat supply.

Such conditions are what allow al-Shabab to persist, even thrive, despite regular attacks by the US, Somali government and African Union forces. Al-Shabab has consolidated its power to operate effectively as its own state. It collects taxes, runs its own courts, organized a COVID-19 medical care site and has even issued a ban on single-use plastic bags in areas it occupies. According to Omar Mahmood, a senior Somalia analyst at the International Crisis Group, al-Shabab is now often capable of “providing services that are more competitive than the federal government.” The fact that US imperialism is not concerned with even attempting to alleviate these conditions is shown by the fact that three successive administrations have conducted military operations within Somalia without any clearly stated plan or end goal. Now US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is calling for a “persistent US military presence in Somalia” indicating that the US does not intend to leave anytime soon. The ultimate goal of the US is to strengthen its hold on the geostrategic region in its pursuit of a confrontation with China. Should war with China break out, the US could use Somalia as a chokepoint for shutting down Chinese trade through the Suez Canal to Europe. The claims of countering al-Shabab is merely conducive to this end.

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