April 13, 2004

The Real Stakes in Iraq

By Stephen Gowans

Sandy Berger and Maqtada al-Sadr may not agree on much, but they do agree on this: America is a divided society.

The only thing is, most Americans don't see it.

Sadr, the Shia cleric who's the figurehead of the Iraqi resistance in Najaf, draws a distinction between Americans, and the people who rule Americans and for the moment, who rule Iraqis, too.

He's called for "the American people to stand beside their brethren, the Iraqi people," who he says, "are suffering an injustice by [American] rulers and [their] occupying army." ("Anti-American Cleric Criticizes Iraq War," AP, April 7, 2004.)

Berger, former US President Bill Clinton's national security advisor, also draws a distinction between Americans and the rulers of Americans (and Iraqis.) Only Berger, a Democrat, doesn't call the rulers, rulers. He calls them "we."

Commenting on the Bush administration's popularity tanking in the face of the rising Iraqi insurgency, Berger remarked: "We have too much at stake in Iraq to lose the American people." ("Bush's low profile questioned as violence flares in Iraq," The Washington Post, April 10, 2004.)

Which invites the question, who is the "we" Berger is referring to?

Since the American people can hardly lose itself, it's clear Berger isn't referring to Americans en masse, but to some subset of the American population of which he regards himself and the Republican administration that is in danger of losing the American people as members.

Which seems pretty close to al-Sadr's idea of American rulers the people behind the occupation of Iraq who, to add Berger's take on it, have a stake in the country.

The question is, what's at stake?

Berger doesn't say, but it seems pretty clear.

Before the Bush administration decided to bring a decade-plus war of sanctions and bombings to a head a decision fully supported by John Kerry, now the presumptive Democrat candidate for president and favorite of Left Americans seeking to stop "Bush's" drive to war it looked like French, German and Russian firms would soon be raking in lucrative business contracts in Iraq at the expense of American corporations.

(By the way, if Bush's drive to war was supported by Kerry, isn't it also Kerry's drive to war?)

The sanctions regime was crumbling, deals were being worked in backrooms, and American (and British) firms, were understandably at the bottom of Saddam's list of companies to do business with.

Threatened with the loss of a veritable El Dorado to European rivals, the Bush administration simply carried through on a strategy that has animated the foreign policies of countless US administrations, both Republican and Democrat: Keep the Americans in, keep the Europeans out, and keep the Iraqis (or the southeast Asians, or Central Americans, or whatever group happens to sit upon resources, markets and investment opportunities coveted by US corporations) down.

Calling this "Bush's" drive to war -- as if it uniquely belongs to Bush and his neo-con advisors -- is utter nonsense, an election year blindness to an outcome that logically follows from aims and objectives long central to the foreign policy of America's ruling class.

So, with the Baathists regime ousted by force, and the country under US control, the tables are turned. Now it is the European companies (British excepted) that are at the bottom of the list, and American firms at the top.

Plus there are huge reconstruction contracts to be awarded, though not to French, German and Russian rivals of US corporations. As Bush explained, American troops did the fighting and dying, so American companies get the contracts.

The plan is that American companies will also run Iraq's electricity grid, water supply system, and telecommunications network. They'll build its schools, and train its teachers, its military and its police. There will be countless opportunities for the profitable investment of capital US capital, not European.

What's more, Iraq is open as an export market for American goods.

And who can forget the oil? Developing Iraq's oil will soak up the capital of America's oil industry, and provide a bonanza of profits.

Which is to say nothing of a rich source of oil being removed from the reach of European rivals, and even more importantly, from the Chinese, whose torrid economic growth, if it is to be sustained, depends on a growing and secure access to oil.

So, yes, "we" have a stake in Iraq, except the stake isn't that of Iraqis or ordinary Americans, but of corporate America and people like Berger and Bush and Kerry who not only represent it, but are a part of it.

For the rest of us, the real stake in Iraq is the resistance.

Sadr urges Americans to "stand with their brethren, the Iraqi people," a vain hope, since Americans are more apt to identify with their ruling class, than with those of a different skin and language and culture with whom they nevertheless share much in common.

This is true, too, even of most Americans who identify themselves as being part of the political Left, who would rather stand with John Kerry, a man whose only fundamental disagreement with the occupation is that it's backed by too few troops.

Still, if Americans really want to stop the drive to war -- an ongoing attribute of US external relations and hardly the anomalous policy of a group of people in power -- they should heed al-Sadr's appeal for solidarity and throw their support behind the Iraqi resistance, not behind a Democratic candidate who's as much a part of war-making and the occupation as Bush himself.

That may seen disloyal, but it's only disloyal to a stratum of the population that sets itself apart, that is, above, the American (and Iraqi, and all other) people, for the purposes of  exploiting their labor and resources and pressing them into service as troops to fight its wars of conquest.

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Stephen Gowans