The U.S. War for Empire

Contribution to the International Communist Seminar, 2003

By Mick Kelly and Stef Yorek, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, U.S.

For the Bush Administration and U.S. Imperialism, the events of September 11 are serving as a cover – a pretext – for what will no doubt be remembered as some of the greatest crimes of this century. In Iraq, more than a million people died in the first Persian Gulf War and subsequent sanctions. Iraq is now once again in the crosshairs of a Bush Administration.

The cities of Afghanistan are occupied and the U.S. is struggling to maintain its puppets in the face of ongoing resistance by patriotic forces.

U.S. policy makers are seriously contemplating a war on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and have manufactured a "nuclear crisis" on the Korean peninsula. The strength, power and determination of the DPRK give them pause.

In Palestine, the U.S. policy makers have chosen to associate themselves with some of the most extreme elements in the Zionist movement. As a practical matter the White house has moved away from the stated goal of creating a neo-colonial "Palestinian state " and is closer to those that dream of a "transfer" – driving the Palestinians out of Palestine under the banner of a "greater Israel."

In Colombia, the U.S. has opted for a policy of total war on the Colombian revolution. U.S. Special Forces guard the oil pipelines of Occidental Petroleum and serve as bodyguards for President Uribe. In Venezuela, the target is the progressive and patriotic government of Hugo Chavez who withstood a CIA coup attempt and destabilization effort.

In the Philippines, U.S. troops roam the countryside. Military assistance has been sent to the government of Nepal in an attempt to arrest the progress of the people's war. 

Standing reality on its head, the war criminals in the White House and the Pentagon are intensifying their campaign to criminalize the national liberation movements. Specifically, they have branded a host of progressive and revolutionary organizations as terrorists, including the Communist Party of the Philippines, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (along with the Islamist resistance organizations in Palestine).

The dramatic wave of military interventions is accompanied by changes in National Security Doctrine, for example the doctrine of "preemptive strikes", and a new openness to the use of nuclear weapons. 

The so-called "war on terrorism" serves as the leading edge of reaction. Its purpose is to maintain and expand the American empire. It's worth stating that under this rubric, the monopoly capitalists who rule the U.S. have unleashed an offensive against the American people as well. This includes the round up of thousands of Arabs and Muslims, a full-scale attack on democratic rights under the guise of the so-called "Patriot Act", and moves like invoking the Taft Hartley Act (an anti-union law passed during the1950's) to end the dockworker strike.

It is important to note that a number of shifts, particularly in military strategy were underway long before the events of September 11. Over the past decade or so, the context in which U.S. imperialism operates has undergone a number of important changes; such as the end of socialism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, the sharpening inter imperialist rivalry, and growing challenges from the national liberation movements. The pretext provided by September 11 served to accelerate the implementation of war polices and plans that no doubt would have been introduced and implemented over a longer period of time. 

It should also be stated that, in an overall way, U.S. imperialism has been on the decline since the early 1970's. Currently, it is beset by ongoing economic stagnation, which is rooted in a protracted crisis of over production on a world scale. The heightened aggressiveness of the U.S. ruling class internationally does not represent some new found strength. On the contrary it represents a desperate attempt to dominate a world that is breaking free of U.S. domination. 


In the days following September 11, the Bush Administration began talking of a second war with Iraq or to put it more accurately a radical escalation of what in fact is an ongoing war. The repeated attacks in the "no fly zones" over southern and northern Iraq constitute the longest air war waged by the United States since Vietnam. Following the occupation of Afghanistan, Iraq has emerged as Washington's number one target.

Wall Street wants control of Iraq's oil. While they have interests that go beyond either the quantity of oil Iraq currently exports or the fact Iraq has the worlds second largest oil reserves. The essential point is that the world oil market is essentially unitary, therefore placing Iraq's oil extraction capacity in the hands of U.S. oil companies (or their surrogates) would increase their influence on world market prices, providing a challenge to the weak producer cartel – OPEC, and would place the U.S. in a better position to use oil as a tool for inter-imperialist rivalry. 

In addition, for the last 13 years Iraq has served as a pole of anti-imperialism in the Middle East. Of particular importance is Iraq's clear and principled stand on the issue of Palestine. The ongoing resistance of the Iraqi government and people constitute an important positive factor when one considers the balance of forces in the region. 

For the U.S. to expand it's domination of the Mid East, and by extension to use the Middle East as fulcrum point to expand and consolidate its global empire, they need to eliminate the government of Iraq and the resistance of it's people. 

Recognition of the crucial role Iraq plays was noted by a set of ruling class front men well before September 11, 2001. On Jan 26, 1998, in an open letter to then President Clinton, a number of political figures that would gain key posts in the Bush Administration, such as Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, head of the Defense Advisory Board Richard Perle, and Paul Wolfwoitz, called for removing the government of Iraq from power. The stated reasons were protecting Israel and the Arab puppet governments. The letter went on to warn that failure to remove the government headed by Saddam Hussein will mean that "a significant portion of the world's supply of oil will all be put at hazard."

A significant contextual point concerning U.S. threats against Iraq is that; the contradiction between western imperialism and the people's of the Mid East is extremely sharp. The outcome of this struggle will have a real effect on the relative balance of forces between progress and reaction on a world scale. In recent years, the focal point of this contradiction has oscillated between Iraq and Palestine. The determination and duration of the heroic uprising in Palestine, coupled with the steadfast position adopted by Iraq, implies a certain necessity for U.S. imperialism to achieve by military means what cannot be achieved by political means.

Continuity and Change; Death Squad Democrats and a Serial Killer from Texas 

As Marxist-Leninists, we reject the great man theory of history. Some progressives say that Bush behaves the way he does because he is a moron or a psychopath. While both characterizations might well be true, there are some deeper things at work – economic crisis, the movement of class forces within the US, their relationship to other competing blocks of capital (EU and Japan), and most fundamentally; an attempt to defend and expand U.S. empire in the Third World at the expense of the worlds people's.(1)

As evidenced by U.S. military intervention in Colombia and Yugoslavia (or for that matter by U.S. attacks on the Sudan, Iraq (1998) or Afghanistan) there is a line of continuity between the war policies of the Clinton Administration and those of Bush, pre and post September 11. It was the Clinton administration, backed by the two main capitalist political parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, that launched "Plan Colombia,"- a massive military aid package for President Uribe's death squad government. Clinton oversaw a dramatic increase in U.S. military personnel, who fight to block the advance of the national democratic revolution. The Bush Administration has intensified the war, urging the end of peace talks and promoting a policy of "total war."

Likewise the U.S./NATO war on Yugoslavia served as a signpost indicating the direction of American foreign policy. The fact that there was some convergence ("multi-lateralism") between the western imperialist powers should not be allowed to obscure the basic facts. The western powers were (and are) carving up the territories of the former socialist countries. At times they collude and at other times they contend. In the case of Yugoslavia, the patriotic government headed by Slobodan Milosevic stood as a barrier. The U.S. lead NATO forces launched a criminal air war, which targeted Yugoslavia's infrastructure, productive capacity, and military. This was combined with military assistance to local puppets – the Kosovo Liberation Army. In the aftermath of military conflict, western intelligence agencies, especially the U.S. intelligence agencies operating thru fronts like the National Endowment for Democracy – organized a coup with electoral trappings. The result was the final destruction of Yugoslavia and sorry spectacle of war criminals trying a man who led the defense of his country – President Milosevic for "war crimes."

We do not recall the aforementioned points to rehash well-known crimes of U.S. Imperialism. The need to do this is underlined when one examines some of the confusion that exists among left and progressive forces in the United States, and internationally.

There are some people who think that Bush and handful of "hawks" in his administration are the problem and that if a member of the Democratic Party sat in the White House, the U.S. would be far less aggressive i.e. that it would not be pursuing a massive military build up, etc. The solution proposed by a range of revisionist, social democratic, and liberal forces, will be to put a Democrat into office in the next Presidential elections. 

This view ignores the past practice of Democratic Party administrations, that virtually every move in the "war on terrorism" has been endorsed by leading Democratic Party politicians; including the war on Afghanistan and repressive legislation directed at the American people like the U.S. Patriot Act. In addition the debate concerning U.S. moves against Iraq are all predicated on achieving a common objective – the weakening and eventual destruction of Iraq's patriotic government.

The respective bourgeois political parties have ties to different sectors of the ruling class who in turn have different strategies on how to advance the interests of American imperialism. The fact that the expression of contradictions between different groupings of capital has been relatively muted since September 11 does not change this. 

The war policies of the Bush Administration since September 11 represent a modification from those of the Clinton Administration in the preceding decade. Are the changes important? No doubt. Do they represent something qualitatively new? They do not. They are an attempt to consolidate what George Bush's father called a "new world order" in a world where there is no Soviet Union; the fundamental contradictions are sharpening, in the context of persistent economic crisis.

The debates within the Bush Administration are well known, but have been projected in such a way as to create bourgeois democratic illusions, i.e. that that a group of "war hawks" have somehow hijacked American foreign policy and what is needed is a more rational approach, like that of Colin Powell. 

What's true is that a group of self styled "neo-conservatives," many of whom are connected in one way or another with a think tank called the "Project for a New American Century" and are former members of the Reagan Administration, now occupy the commanding heights of foreign policy and military circles. The reason that they have achieved this degree of influence is they were in the right place at the right time – precisely at the moment when U.S imperialism was opting for a more aggressive policy for world domination – they were the best able to serve as the ideologues and planners for a "war with out end." They are an effect – not the cause of the shift of U.S. foreign policy since September 11. 

Fundamental Contradictions Sharpening

The unfolding and interpenetration of the four basic contradictions are shaping U.S. war plans. Some general trends are identifiable as are some broad outlines in U.S. military strategy and plans.

In a number of critical regions the contradiction between the oppressed nations and imperialism, particularly U.S. imperialism is rapidly intensifying. Of particular importance is the Middle East, the Andean region of South America, and in Asia – the growing strength of the National Democratic struggle in the Philippines in addition to the heroic struggles of the people in south Korea and Nepal.

Coupled with the world economic crisis there has been an intensification of the class struggle. For example, in Argentina this has manifested as fierce fight backs against the imposition of neo-liberal economic policies.

The contradictions between the imperialist powers are sharpening. Contrary to what some theorists of globalization predicted, there will be a distinct tendency for the assorted multi-lateral intuitions of imperialism (NATO, World Trade Organization, United Nations, etc.) to become a battleground for contention between the great powers.

The rulers of the United States fear and hate the socialist countries. In the past framework of "containment", the stress was on "peaceful evolution", i.e. the theory that via economic, political, and ideological engagement the socialist countries would be undermined and destroyed. Currently the dominant consensus in the U.S. ruling class is that this approach is inadequate – while "peaceful evolution" will not be abandoned at once, the fact remains that it has not worked. As a result, the overarching tendency is to seek a military solution.

When the Pentagon talks about the emergence of a "significant military competitor" in Asia, the generals are referring to People's China. Along a similar vein, efforts to develop "theater based missile defense systems" are designed to threaten both China and Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Practically speaking, the DPRK is near the top of U.S Imperialism's hit list. Washington is on a course towards war with Peoples' Korea.

Some Points concerning U.S. military strategy 

1) We are entering a period of continuous warfare on a large scale. The U.S is attempting to consolidate its occupation of Afghanistan, will intensify its war on Iraq, step up its intervention in Colombia and the Philippines It has brought the Korean peninsula to the brink of war.

2) For the last decade the Pentagon has been working to carry out a "transformation process" of the U.S. armed forces. This process has been accelerated over the past 2 years. The stated aim of this process is to move from a "threat based" model to a "capabilities based model." The goal is to create military forces that are far more mobile, that utilize more technology, (sensors, percussion gilded munitions, real time battle field information systems), and greater intelligence capacity with a higher level of troop training. 

3) The Pentagon is very concerned with expanding it's ability to base U.S troops through out the world. Planners are especially concerned with Asia. A key military planning document asserts, "Maintaining a stable balance in Asia will be a complex task. The possibility exists that a military competitor with a formidable resource base will emerge in the region. The East Asian littoral – from the Bay of Bengal to the Sea of Japan – represents a particularly challenging area. The distances are vast in the Asian theater. The density of U.S. basing and en route infrastructure is lower than in other critical regions. The United States also has less assurance of access to facilities in the region. This places a premium on securing additional access and infrastructure agreements and on developing systems capable of sustained operations at great distances with minimal theater-based support" To sum this up, they are desperate to regain their bases in the Philippines while expanding to other places.

4) The Pentagon wants the capability to bring down the hammer of U.S. military force at any time, anywhere. That said, we are in a period that represents the culmination of a long-term shift in war planning. Before the fall of the USSR, plans for a large-scale war on the plains of Europe were a central feature of U.S. military policy. Clearly, this is not the case today. The main targets of the U.S. are in the third world and military planning has to address that fact.[2] 

5) The attempt to realize the dream of "New World Order" or a "New American Century" will inevitably sharpen inter-imperialist rivalry, especially with Europe. As a result the U.S. will be pushed towards more reliance on it's own military forces in the period ahead.

6) The socialist countries and the countries where anti-imperialist forces are in power represent the most advanced poles of struggle against U.S. imperialisms. Washington is moving towards a military option in attempting to roll back these advances.

In the face of this specter of a "war without end" the tasks of Marxists – Leninists are clear. This war will remain the leading edge of reaction. Our response must be to first of all to give practical leadership to the movement against imperialist war. To remain on the sidelines and criticize this or that aspect of the movement, amounts to abandoning our essential responsibilities as communists and surrenders the leadership of the movement to opportunists of various hues (social democrats, Trotskyites, etc).

While working to provide practical leadership a number of political and ideological tasks come to the fore. We stand with the people of the world against imperialism and are in solidarity with the forces that are resisting imperialist domination. Building real solidarity between the working people of the U.S. and those people's and governments resisting imperialism is an important priority. 

There is also a task of winning the advanced to Marxism-Leninism and party building. This means working to help the advanced activists in the anti-war movement gain a scientific understanding of why the imperialists do the things they do, and why it is necessary to build communist organization that fights to uproot the existing order of things.


[1] While for communists this point is self evident, for many who are appalled at the ongoing crime spree of U.S. imperialism, this can be less than clear, and many seek explanations in Bush's religious beliefs (i.e. announcing a "crusade" before invading Afghanistan) or variants of conspiracy theory. 

[2] Recently this was crystallized in the debate over the "Crusader" artillery system. While the Crusader system has a lot of support in the arms industry, it has limited applications to the wars the U.S is likely to fight in the near term. Hence it was canceled.