From the Ashes of Victory

Against the Current, No. 32, May/June 1991

The Editors

VICTORY: ON THE ROAD north from Kuwait City, a helpless fleeing convoy of Iraqi soldiers, no longer a fighting force by any definition, probably intermingled with Kuwaiti civilian hostages, lies shattered by U.S. bombers and gunships. How many are dead in that single massacre-10,000? 20,000? They died after the war was in every military sense over, but before George Bush’s cease-fire proclamation.

Victory: The physical infrastructure of the cities of Iraq lies in ruins, pulverized by the laser-guided smart bombs and the fifteen thousand pound dumb bombs of the United States. Ten thousand or more Iraqi civilians are dead, hundreds of thousands are threatened by plagues on the scale of the Dark Ages. Total Iraqi deaths are guesstimated at well over 100,000, heavily concentrated among the “front-line” cannon fodder who were barely-trained teen-aged conscripts and over-aged remobilized reservists.

Victory: Kuwait, southern Iraq and northern Saudi Arabia are blanketed by the soot of some 600 fires from oil fields. Some were bombed by the Allies, most were dynamited by the retreating Iraqis after it became clear that the Bush administration would not allow a withdrawal on terms agreed by Iraq and the USSR. By making clear that no Iraqi withdrawal would be allowed on terms other than total U.S. victory, George Bush precipitated what may be the greatest single-event ecological catastrophe of all time, if it proves true that the fires will burn for two years.

Victory: Political legitimacy returns to Kuwait as the absolute monarchy reclaims its throne. In the poor neighborhoods, those who suffered and resisted a brutal and murderous Iraqi occupation now live without water and electricity while workers install gold bathroom fixtures in the royal palace. The regime declares martial law to better facilitate repression against those sections of the indigenous resistance movement who demand democracy in the newly liberated Kuwait Palestinian neighborhoods have been living in terror of imminent death or expulsion; many other foreign workers (long-time residents without citizenship) are being deported en masse.

Victory: The media of the United States kiss the boots of General Norman Schwarzkopf, who quite openly and honestly boasts that the press served during the war as the crucial front for the mobilizing and disinforming of the public National euphoria—intense although short-lived like a crack high, as African-American poet June Jordan observes—sweeps over America in celebration of the successful slaughter: The troops slowly begin to come home to a society that is rotting at its core, as state and city governments slash budgets and wipe out the most minimal of services and even basic welfare. “Leading economic indicators” forecast recovery, while unemployment in the real world rises monthly and ever-growing (particularly young African-American) sectors of the population are cut off from the prospect of obtaining decent jobs—ever.

Then came the popular rebellions in northern and southern Iraq. Not surprisingly, even after all the Bush administration’s demonization of its former friend Sad-dam Hussein, it never intended that the task of removing him might be carried out by the Iraqi people themselves. Though the United States slaughtered Iraqi conscript troops, it left enough of the Republican Guard intact to carry out substantial massacres of both the Shia and Kurdish populations.

Several objectives are thereby secured. The killing of thousands of civilians by U.S. bombing is forgotten as the Ba’thist army, impotent to defend the country against imperialism, goes back to what it does best the genocide of the Kurds. Washington allows the regime to succeed in crushing the revolt, leaving it then vulnerable to a coup to install a client dictatorship that will know its place in the New World Order. That new regime will be less likely to face effective popular resistance, since the Kurdish and Shia movements will have been—for now—drowned in blood. The crushing of the Kurds will be especially welcome for the Turkish regime, which is threatened by the revolutionary specter of Kurdish struggle.

After Desert Slaughter, What Next?

Like many others, the editors of Against the Current had feared from the beginning of the Gulf crisis that the U.S. administration was bent on war, with the aim of essentially destroying the independent power of Iraq. We feared that the Iraqi ruling clique, with its seizure of Kuwait—an anti-democratic and unjustified act, even though provoked by the Kuwaiti rulers’ theft of Iraqi oil and by Washington’s apparent advance signals of approval—had brought not only Iraq but the Arab world to the brink of its greatest disaster since 1967, if not 1948.

The results are everything we and others feared, and even worse. True, because the Iraqi regime proved to be totally overmatched in technology and even more totally militarily incompetent, U.S. casualties in the war turned out to be literally one percent of what was expected. Yet the celebrations of this one-sided slaughter underscore the real national disgrace: The United States has literally destroyed a country of eighteen million people and reduced Iraq’s population to “collateral damage.”

The only possible progressive result of this totally cynical imperialist slaughter would be for the Iraqi people to reach their own verdict, not only on Saddam Hussein but on George Bush as well. This is especially true of the Iraqi Kurds, who twice in fifteen years have been left defenseless against Ba’thist massacres when they thought Washington was supporting them. There is also the possible resurgence of a movement for democracy in Kuwait, a development that would threaten the al-Sabahs and seriously alarm the pro-American Saudi royal house. Despite its military successes, the United States may still find “stability” an elusive project.

The war also leaves deep popular anger throughout the Arab world against the slaughter of the Iraqi people. This revulsion at the roots of Arab society (not among its rulers, who hardly care) is now the only real defense for the Palestinian people against the new U.S.- Israeli onsIaught. The highly touted Baker-Bush initiative seems to have as its main purposes (a) removing any possibility of a European initiative, (b) stopping any motion toward an international conference and a Palestinian state, (c) forcing the Palestinians to renounce their leadership, the Palestine Liberation Organization and (d) bribing the Israelis to allow a Bantustan-like “autonomy” for the West Bank and Gaza while settling up to a million new Russian immigrants, many of them in the Occupied Territories. Anti-war forces in the United States must now put special attention on defending the human rights and the right of national self-determination of the Palestinians, not in the hope of short-term victory but to help enable the Palestinians to continue their intifada in extremely difficult circumstances.

There is also the movement in the United States, those who marched against the war both before and after it began, those who now have the basic human decency to be disgusted by the obscene official celebrations of genocide The antiwar movement has been defeated—of that there can be no doubt—but It should not see itself as a failure. The sheer pace of events gave it no chance. It could not prevent or stop this ward but in six months it produced a breadth of mobilization that surpassed anyone’s expectations. The immediate period of massive and growing mobilizations is clearly over, there remain, however, campus and community antiwar committees and coalitions that can continue to organize to Bring the Troops Home Now, to oppose U.S. military presence in the Gulf, to educate and organize in defense of Palestinian rights.

Viewed in historic context, this anti-war movement was in some respects the most advanced in a very long time. It came together around the issues of peace with justice in the Middle East, a stunning contrast with peace movements during earlier Middle East wars (1982 and 1967) that refused to touch Middle East issues or even banned any mention of them at mass raffles. The Gulf war and its aftermath are a bitter moment for the movement and for basic human decency. The struggle it spawned, however, must and will continue.

We must demand the immediate unconditional end of the embargo against Iraq and oppose so-Called “reparations.” The embargo is literally killing people; reparations will impoverish the people of Iraq for another generation, enriching the emir of Kuwait in the name of punishing the crimes of the very same Iraqi regime that continues to murder its own population with Washington’s connivance!

Most important for action now is the war at home: capitalism’s war on those who pay for the bombs that incinerated civilians and soldiers in Iraq. The children in the United States who die because their mothers couldn’t get pie-natal care or drug treatment The Medicaid patients who cannot get treatment because doctors won’t take Medicaid anymore (it pays too little). Tens of millions of victims of state and city budget cuts passed down by the federal government as it ends the programs that fund local sew-ices. Workers in closed auto plants for whom the recession may never end.

George Bush’s victory in the Gulf is a dirty victory. A victory of lies, of deceit, of hypocrisy, of glorified criminality: in short, the very model of a major imperialist victory. But let it never be said, a cheap victory. Not for the people of the Middle East And not for us. We have the destruction of Baghdad and Basra, the slaughter of the Kurds, the eco-holocaust of the oil well fires, and the deepening misery of the cities of the United States to prove it.

May-June 1991, ATC 32