Joe Biden conferring with Rishi Sunak at Westminster, July 2023. Photo: Flickr/Simon Walker Joe Biden conferring with Rishi Sunak at Westminster, July 2023. Photo: Flickr/Simon Walker

Lindsey German on POTUS abroad and Tories at home

It’s not a sign of US strength but of its failures in the Middle East that it has bombed three countries in as many days.

The attacks on Yemen overnight on Saturday mark another major escalation following the US-backed Israeli assault on Gaza. While the British defence secretary, Grant Shapps, insists it is nothing to do with that conflict, but only about protecting the movement of shipping in the Red Sea, who can seriously believe that?

The Iraqi government has declared there will be ‘disastrous consequences’ following the US military attack on sites in Syria and Iraq. That wasn’t really very hard to predict. The Iraqi government has been demanding that US troops leave their country which, given the way the country has been treated by the US, is the very least it could do. 

In this attack, the US hit 85 targets and killed at least 16 including civilians in Iraq, another 23 in Syria. This was supposedly in response to the killing of 3 US soldiers last week by Iraqi militias. There are a total of 57,000 US troops in the Middle East. They have no business being there and should leave. But can anyone even who justifies them being there even begin to argue that this is a proportionate response?

Instead, these bombings are likely to be another dangerous prelude to a much wider war. The US acts as though it can operate with impunity in the region and that anyone who fights back or opposes it in any way is part of the problem. So with Iran, the US’s major enemy in the Middle East. President Biden said on Friday that the US does not seek conflict in the Middle East, ‘but let all those who might seek to do us harm know this: if you harm an American, we will respond’.

Yet if Iranians, or Iraqis, or Yemenis, or anyone else apply the same logic, they are denounced as ‘terrorists’, ‘rogue states’ or part of an ‘axis of evil’ in the memorable words of George W Bush. So let’s remember a bit of history.

The US and Britain led an illegal and totally unjustified war on Iraq in 2003, supposedly to find ‘weapons of mass destruction’. There were none. The invasion and occupation of Iraq followed years of punitive sanctions and a no-fly zone over part of Iraq. The resistance created by the invasion led to the eventual defeat of the big imperial powers. It also left a country in ruins, and the overthrow of Saddam Hussein created a vacuum which helped to strengthen Iran across the region.

Iran’s revolution in 1979 overthrew the hated Shah, who was perhaps the key US ally in the Middle East. It has never been forgiven by the US, which intervened directly on the side of Iraq in the bloody Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s (before it turned on Saddam and overthrew him). Sanctions, threats of war, and frequent ‘targeted missile strikes’, have all become regular fare for US attacks on Iran. 

We are still living with the consequences of the Iraq war, including the creation of ISIS in occupied Iraq, and repeated interventions by the western powers in Libya, Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

Yet there is not a word of acknowledgement let alone apology or reparations from the US or British governments. Just more of the same policy which created the devastation in the first place. When that is overlaid with the genocide occurring in Gaza, it becomes a highly dangerous situation where war is already escalating, both in Iraq, Yemen – with the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea met with missile strikes – and in Lebanon.

In all these places the BBC ponderously refers to ‘Iranian-backed’ militias or forces, as if it is a surprise that Iran might have allies in the region, just as the US does, or that – like the US – it supplies them with weapons.

The US arms Israel to the hilt and refuses to call for a ceasefire. Is it too difficult for the imperialist powers to understand that this helps to create opposition throughout the Arab world, and that the sight of the killing of Palestinians daily is too much for millions of people?

The unpalatable truth for Biden and Sunak, and for Keir Starmer when he takes office, is that imperialism created this mess, continues to contribute to worsening it, and sees no solution but doing more of it. It is a failed strategy and while US hawks talk of taking out Iran, this is delusional. Saudi Arabia was unable to defeat the Houthis even with nearly a decade of bombing. Iran is a powerful political and military force with major oil resources.

Western imperialism’s  backing of Israel in its war crimes is creating mass opposition. A poll in Time magazine showed support for Israel waning worldwide since October 7th – in the UK net favourability for Israel went from -17.1 to -29.8. Support for the US is declining in many countries because of its backing Israel. The opposition exists across the Middle East and it exists here in Britain – we must widen the Palestine movement to oppose all the reckless escalation of the war we’ve seen this weekend.

Sunak’s domestic policy: if it moves arrest it

The movement remains huge, with another mass demonstration in London – the 8th national since October – one in Edinburgh and many others across the country. But the government and the state is making it harder to demonstrate and those who do so are facing attempts to criminalise their completely legitimate actions, and ever higher levels of state repression. This is at several levels. The London demos are regularly issued with an order under section 12 or 14 of the Public Order Act which prohibits them from occurring in certain areas or stops people from deviating from the route of the march.

Every week there is a prohibition on demonstrating anywhere close to the Israeli embassy in Kensington, surely a unique service to a foreign embassy whose actions are causing outrage around the world. There have been a number of incidents of arrests and harassment of individual activists and socialists, including a SOAS student arrested apparently for a speech made in October. The Islamist organisation Hizb ut-Tahrir has been banned as terrorist. I certainly don’t agree with their politics but they are not terrorists.

The Muslim community is suffering under the Prevent system, not least over the Gaza war. There has been the real or attempted prohibition of discussion in schools and universities, and of slogans and flags. Police are reported as turning up at solidarity meetings in various parts of the country and of trying to dissuade coach companies from taking protesters to the demonstrations.  

My experience as a core participant in the Spycops inquiry shows me that there is a huge amount of surveillance out there, but this takes it to new levels. We have seen rising attacks on civil liberties in recent years but these are some of worst, and we have to push back against them. We cannot allow the police, politicians, and state institutions to penalise protest.  

What do these developments represent? There are several factors. One is that we have a repressive and vicious right-wing government which is trying to restrict protest from trade union rights to boycotting Israel. It is shamefully backed by Keir Starmer which means there is no ‘official’ opposition to these laws. The second factor is the scale of the Palestine movement, which has terrified the government. The third factor is the general crisis on all fronts in British politics, which means domestic discontents over the cost-of-living crisis, the NHS, and corruption, can feed into the wider international issues.

This means that the government wants to criminalise protest and to limit the development of anti-imperialism within the movement. We need to make it clear we are not going to support this kind of state harassment. The acquittal of Greta Thunberg on Thursday over ecology protests is hugely important in challenging the laws and the arbitrary police use of them. We need to recognise that part of our solidarity with the Palestinians must be challenging our government’s attempts to criminalise protest.

This week: It’s the trade union day of solidarity on Wednesday so I’m speaking at a rally in London the night before, joining online meetings and going to a media workers for Palestine demo at the BBC in the evening. I’m also planning to go to Preston on Saturday 10th for a meeting. Hope to see you at any of those. I’m reading the new translation of the Iliad about the Trojan wars which illustrates how bloody war is at any stage of history, sometimes in a bit too graphic detail. Still very good.

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Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.