Although millions of people from Manila to Montreal joined peace rallies on January 18, these may not prevent the US war-machine, fuelled by raw imperial ambition and lust for oil, from attacking Iraq. Americans are now playing a leading role in the peace movement: more than half a million participated in the Washington DC rally, according to media estimates (the DC police initially said 50,000, but revised their figure to 200,000 the next day), while another 200,000 came out in San Francisco. In Canada, more than 15,000 people braved bitterly cold weather to attend a rally in Toronto, and another 20,000 rallied in Montreal. All the rallies were characterised by breadth of participation. On January 24 a CNN poll indicated that 62 percent of Americans would support the war only if it had UN backing.
This mounting opposition is remarkable considering the propaganda to which the US public is subjected, and says much for Americans’ distrust of both their government and their media. The fact that US president Bush and his cabinet remain determined to launch a full-scale attack on Iraq (as opposed to the war of political pressure, sanctions and military operations that has been under way since 1991) shows their real attitude to the people to whom they are supposedly answerable.
Determined opposition is also emerging in other Western countries, particularly France, Russia, China (veto-holding members of the UN security council) and Germany. The report delivered to the Security Council by Hans Blix, head of the UN weapons-inspectorate, on January 27 was inconclusive. It opened by saying that "Iraq has on the whole cooperated rather well so far," but then listed enough question-marks about its weapons-programme for the US to accuse Iraq of being in breach of UN Resolution 1441. How the US will handle this issue remains to be seen; the tone is likely to be set by Bush’s ‘State of the Union’ address on January 28 (after Crescent goes to press). It is unlikely, however, that they will be deflected from their course. Speaking at the World Economic Forum meeting on January 26, US secretary of state Colin Powell has already expressed the US’s willingness to go to war alone, should the UN not provide further legitimation.
Despite US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s claim to have a "coalition of the willing" ready to support the US even without a UN resolution, the reality is that the US is becoming increasingly isolated on this issue. Apart from Britain and Israel, not a single country has come out in total support of the US’s plans. British prime minister Tony Blair is facing a near-revolt in his governing Labour Party, despite his spin-doctors’ claims that he is only supporting Bush in order to moderate Washington’s position. America’s client regimes in the Arab world, meanwhile, are trying to find a resolution to avoid a backlash from their people, should they be forced to support the US’s agenda. Their efforts to persuade Saddam Hussein to go into exile to spare his people this war are unlikely to have much effect; Saddam has never worried about his people before.
It is impossible to make predictions about the future with any certainty, but the US is likely to launch its war some time after mid-February. By then it will have amassed 150,000 troops and at least four aircraft-carrier battle-groups in the region. It is unlikely that Bush will allow this force home without obtaining what he set out to get: regime-change in Baghdad and control of Iraq’s oil. Before the attack, however, we can expect a further demonstration of the US’s manipulative political skills, as the Bush team tries to get UN support. Before Resolution 1441 was passed in November, the US threatened to render the UN irrelevant by ignoring it; that was enough to bring the Security Council into line. If more pressure is needed this time, a flashpoint may be found: a major bust-up in Iraq, or a biological-weapons scare, like the still-unexplained anthrax episode that followed September 11, or even another terrorist incident. Any of these would add to the pressure on the UN, or at least change public opinion in the US sufficiently to enable Washington to by-pass the UN without domestic political fall-out.
People elsewhere would probably not be moved. But Washington knows that few of them have any illusions about the US anyway. The US knows why it is hated worldwide, and doesn’t care as long as it can pursue its agenda with impunity. Such is the reality of the enemy we face, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, everywhere.