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For the first time ever in recent US history, there appears to be a public debate among our rulers on the pros and cons of launching an unprovoked war. The debate does not address the morality of such an action, and everyone agrees on a few basic premises: the United States, as the leader of the democratic world, has a duty to defend itself and to act unilaterally; this responsibility is especially heavy after September 11; Saddam Hussein’s regime is a threat to world peace, and in particular to the United States, and therefore must be removed. How to accomplish this, and to what degree the US government can act on its own, are in question. Beyond dispute—in “respectable” discourse, anyway—are the premises underlying the saber rattling. The first premise is easy enough to dismiss: the notion of the United States as champion of human rights and liberty is transparently absurd once we examine Washington’s record. Biological warfare and mass murder in Hiroshima, Korea, Vietnam; support for genocidal regimes in Indonesia and Guatemala, and tyrants from Haiti to the Philippines to Zaire; dozens of invasions of its Latin American neighbors. What of Hussein’s presumed threat to his neighbors and to the world? Subtly acknowledging the paucity of evidence of Iraqi illegal arms manufacturing, Donald Rumsfeld has said, “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” Former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Wesley Clark said last month, “Those who favor this attack now will tell you candidly, and privately, that it is probably true that Saddam Hussein is no threat to the United States.” Scott Ritter, who was head of the UN inspections team in Iraq in the mid-1990s, said in July that the Bush propaganda campaign is “built on a bed of lies…There has been nothing presented that makes the case that Iraq possesses these weapons, has links to international terror, or poses a threat to the US worthy of war.” From the perspective of the US government, Hussein’s crime is acting independently of Washington while sitting on sizeable oil reserves. His real crimes, such as poison gas attacks against Iraqi Kurds and Iranian soldiers, provoked no outcry from his erstwhile friends in the White House and in London—it was only his unpredictability that earned him the enmity of Uncle Sam, as he learned to his surprise after invading Kuwait in 1990. As in Yugoslavia in 1999 and Afghanistan last year, US diplomacy now seeks to avert any potential “outbreak of peace.” The return of UN inspectors would get in the way of an attack, and therefore is undesirable to US policymakers. So the US government pursues two tracks: to discourage any efforts to bring inspectors back, and to declare that “the policy of the United States is ‘regime change,’ with or without inspectors,” according to Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer. The Bush administration is driven in part by its domestic political and economic problems, which may determine the timing of an attack. But the need to resolve the “unfinished business” of the 1991 Gulf War has more to do with the long-term necessity to control the political and economic destiny of the region—and therefore its most important resource, oil. War drive The US government has of course seized upon September 11 as a rationale for war on Iraq, despite the inconvenient fact that Iraq had no connection to the attacks or to al-Qaeda. War in Iraq is seen as central to strengthening the ability of the United States to prosecute its boundless “war on terrorism” and to asserting, in the strongest way possible, Washington’s “right” to military aggression. Massive profits to the major arms producers are a side benefit. Who will stand in the way of the warmakers? Some leading Democrats have appealed to Bush for “more proof” of Hussein’s arms programs. But these appeals are simply motivated by the hope that Bush will offer a stronger pretext for war—some Democrats are also a little squeamish over the obvious violations of international law implicit in US plans. Western European governments and leading politicians have no higher scruples than Bush and his crowd, and cannot be counted on as a deterrent to US aggression, despite the public misgivings of a few statesmen. They have their own interests to pursue—France is in a position to profit from trade with Iraq, while German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder hopes to pick up a few votes for his troubled reelection campaign by criticizing US policy. Much of the ambivalence expressed in elite opinion stems from fear of a potential disaster—not for the Iraqi people, who do not enter into these debates, but for long-term imperialist interests. A massive, expensive, sustained military commitment would probably be required to not only oust Hussein but to install and defend a pro-US regime. Various unknown forces could be set in motion that may boomerang on the US—among the more likely consequences, corrupt pro-US regimes would be severely undermined. Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, one of Washington’s more compliant friends in the region, recently fretted that “not one Arab leader will be able to control the angry outburst of the masses.” None of this is likely to deter the US drive to war. Despite the use of the first anniversary of September 11 to promote warfare and nationalism, however, there are signs that 9/11 can no longer be invoked with complete success by cynical politicians, and that more people in this country are becoming critical and beginning to consider the cost to humanity of the war on terror. Educating and mobilizing people, and uniting the various struggles that are provoked by an inhumane economic and social system are our only hope of halting the engines of war. If we are to prevent another massive crime against the Iraqi people, we’ll have to follow the example of the protestors who confronted Bush in Portland, Oregon in August with banners declaring “Drop Bush, Not Bombs.” We can start by bringing a strong anti-war message to the demonstrations against the World Bank/IMF in Washington, DC at the end of September and prepare for a concerted campaign of mass mobilization combined with direct action and civil disobedience to stop the war before it starts. We need to make sure that our opposition is too loud for Bush to ignore.