12 September 2006
How lucky we are: looking back five years
Looking back on the aftermath of the 11th September attacks on the USA, it is hard to realise today just how lucky we are. Things could have turned out so differently. . .
First of all we need to remember just how sympathetic the world was to the Americans' plight. The headline in Le Monde summed up opinion in the capitalist world rather nicely when it said that "We are all Americans". For socialists and anti-globalists, that headline struck at our very vitals.
The fear was that the Americans would create a coalition of western states that would dominate the planet for the rest of our lifetimes. All talk of alternative, collectivist strategies would be doomed to failure, drowned out in a cacophony of a thousand private television and radio stations, all broadcasting the same crap.
Matters were made even worse by the memory of the large coalition that the Americans had created in 1999 to destroy Yugoslavia; doing the same to the wretched inhabitants of Afghanistan seemed a simple task.
It was simple, and that was the start of American capitals' problems. The Taliban fled from Karbul so quickly that the war seemed to be over before it had properly begun. The world seemed to be at America's feet, and they made the mistake that Germany had made in 1941. They started another war before the first one had been completed.
Withdrawing American and British troops from Afghanistan to prepare for the war against Iraq gave the Afghans the space they needed to regroup. Would they have done it anyway? We shall never know for certain, but the answer is probably yes, but it would have taken them a lot longer.
Invading Iraq is what broke America. The country was attacked not because it had dangerous weapons, but because it didn't. Iraq seemed weak and an occupation was "doable" to use a concept of the time. Unfortunately for the USA the Iraqis refused to go quietly and once their rag-tag army had been removed they adopted an aggressive policy of guerrilla war that has kept the American army tied down, unwilling to stay but unable to leave.
The hubris that led American policymakers to attack Iraq also led them to ignore the very countries that the USA had relied on in its previous attacks on Yugoslavia and Afghanistan. France, Germany and Russia refused to support the attack on Iraq, leading senior Americans to dismiss them as cowards and traitors to the cause. Thus western relations began to sour, which was the first bit of good news that the rest of us had seen for many a long year.
In Latin America, the nationalist left began to not only rise, it began to offer economic alternatives to the globalised development model that the Americans could not counter because they simply did not have the resources: Iraq dominated everything.
Turning to the UK, Iraq has pretty much destroyed Tony Blair's leadership. That is not to say that Nu-Labour will end with Blair, but we are far closer to seeing its end than we were in the aftermath of the 11th September. It is at least possible to talk about a Labour strategy that involves traditional Labour policies, today, and that small fact owes everything to America's blind stupidity in the two years after the attacks.
Do we owe everything to George W. Bush? Yes, that is pretty much the answer. Had this chimpanzee not been in the White House, another, more nuanced president would not have wasted the goodwill that Europe had for the USA with an attack on Iraq. Had that happened, the Americans might, just might, have been able to conquer Afghanistan completely and then they could have continued on to Iraq in their own good time - perhaps taking the European powers with them.
Under such a scenario Latin America would not have dared to try and break free from Washington's orbit, and Tony Blair today would still command respect instead of derision in Great Britain.
It could all have been so different, and we are very lucky indeed that things turned out the way they have. Good luck and blind chance are all we have to thank for the disarray that we see in the formerly united ranks of the capitalist enemy today.