While the recent carnage in Gaza and Lebanon has once again demonstrated both the willingness and the capacity of the Israeli regime to engage in indiscriminate killing and massive destruction in the service of its own imperialist interests, it has also revealed significant weaknesses in Israel’s capacity to overwhelm its Arab adversaries or perhaps even to play the unique role of guarantor of American interests in the region. The inability of the Israeli military to crush Hamas or Hizballah, indeed the ability of those movements to continue to fight, despite the crushing military superiority of the IDF, has revealed a pronounced shift in the military balance in the Middle East, at least to the extent that Israel can no longer control events solely through its superiority in military technology (tanks, air power, smart and cluster bombs). Thus, where Israel sought to deliver a lethal blow to Hizballah in Lebanon by mobilizing a few thousand reservists, it has now learned that hundreds of thousands may be needed in the next round.
While events in the Middle East reveal that the dreams of the Bush administration, and the neo-cons who have shaped American foreign policy of late, concerning an unchallenged Pax Americana in the region are illusory, they in no way constitute defeats for imperialism. Imperialism is inseparable from capitalism in this historic epoch, nothing less than the overturning of the capitalist law of value and its operation can eliminate imperialism. Absent that, the local or even global conflicts that pit one capitalist regime against another, one nationalist political movement against another, are not anti-imperialist, but rather inter-imperialist – new and ever-more horrendous expressions of the barbarism of capitalism in this epoch; conflicts that, by virtue of their ability to bind the masses to nationalist movements or nation-states actually strengthen and consolidate the class rule of capital. Moreover, at the present moment there are no real challenges to American global hegemony, though regional challenges, especially in the Arab-Muslim Middle East and Central Asia, abound. Iran surely aims to become a regional power in the Middle East, and its role as the protector of the Shia of Iraq, Lebanon, and potentially the whole of the Gulf, indicate the breadth of its reach. Syria too has regional interests in both Lebanon and Palestine, and, of course, is determined to reclaim the Golan Heights. The hesitations of NATO countries to commit the military forces needed to contain a resurgent Taliban in southern and eastern Afghanistan, the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran seeking to mobilize the Shia world, and the support for the Ahmadinejad regime on the part of Russia, China, and several European powers, especially France, all with significant trade relations with, and investments, in Iran, as well as the inability of the US to stabilize Iraq, where the bloody struggles between Shi’ite, Sunni and Kurdish militia spin out of control, all reveal the limits to American power in that strategically crucial region.
The ultimate sources of these limits are twofold. First, Washington is powerless against the deepening of capitalism’s global crisis. This context on the one hand reduces the opportunities for productive investment and thereby stimulates capitals to quench their thirst for accumulation through military means; on the other hand, it provides them with cannon fodder in the form of an ever-growing mass of unemployed, frustrated young men. As long as the war does not reach a stage of total destruction, the ability of regional capitals to rally a significant part of the local population behind their aims, compensates to a considerable degree for the lopsided advantage the US and its allies possess in military technology. Second, despite the fact that the working class struggle is defensive and relatively weak, it is not defeated. US capital cannot count on the docile acceptance of the proletariat of whatever course it drags society onto; it is not free to wage war in any way it wants. This too imposes limits to the means and efforts it can deploy to impose its military “solution” on the Middle East.
When one adds to the above problems that Washington now faces, the inability of Israel to impose its will on the Palestinians or to defeat Hizballah, it is tempting to see a shift in the imperialist balance in the Middle East, a resurgence of those imperialist forces that seek to challenge the hegemony of the US in the region. In order to evaluate the imperialist balance in a given period, however, revolutionaries need to look beyond the immediate situation, and place events in a somewhat longer-term perspective. Hizballah’s “victories,” and even its financial and administrative resources devoted to rebuilding the shattered infrastructure of Lebanon, for example, appear to strengthen the hands of Iran and Syria -- Hizballah’s military, political, and financial, backers -- in that country, thereby undercutting the gains that American imperialism made in Lebanon when the Syrian army and intelligence apparatus was compelled to withdraw as a result of the “Cedar Revolution,” and the Siniora regime took power. The ability of Hizballah to unleash direct military operations against Israel, to act with impunity as a state within a state, and the failure of the Israelis to militarily crush Hizballah, seem to indicate a dramatic weakening of those forces in Lebanon that are pro-Western, and a concomitant strengthening of the anti-American political wing of capital there – with a resurgence of Syrian and Iranian domination. However, the situation may be far more complex than it first appears. The financially powerful Sunni regimes, like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, frightened of growing Iranian/Shia influence in the Arab world, are preparing significant aid packages for the reconstruction of Lebanon, so as to compete with Tehran for political influence in Lebanon. Moreover, while the recent warfare has consolidated Hizballah’s control over the 40% of Lebanon’s population that is Shi’ite, to the detriment of the rival Amal movement, it has potentially alienated the 60% of the population that is Sunni, Christian, Druze or non-Arab. Indeed, Wally Jumblatt, the Druze leader has made it clear that he is determined to fight Hizballah for control of the country, and has been unabashed in blaming Hizballah for the massive destruction inflicted on Lebanon. In that respect, Washington is not without strong cards to play in the battle for control of that country. Indeed, the interposition of both the Lebanese army and a French-led UN force south of the Litani river, may, indeed, weaken Hizballah’s power to operate with impunity in south Lebanon, and even limit the flow of weaponry from Syria to the Shi’ite militia. Even the way in which Israel laid waste to Lebanon indicates that it fought with at least one eye on consolidating those local forces opposed to Hizballah for control of Lebanon. The vicious pattern of Israeli bombing of civilian targets indicates that its objectives were exclusively Shia: the villages south of the Litani river, the Bekka valley, and the southern suburbs of Beirut, even as Christian, Sunni, and Druze population centers were carefully spared.
Beyond that, in evaluating the outcome of the recent bloody conflict, revolutionaries would do well to remember that whatever issues may pit Hizballah or Hamas against the interests of Washington or Jerusalem, those two movements constitute powerful bulwarks for capitalism against any possible class movement directed against it. Given their capacity to mobilize the mass of the population behind their religio-nationalist ideologies, Hamas and Hizballah may be among the most formidable ramparts behind which capital, and its barbarism, can take refuge. In that sense, even American imperialism, and its Israeli deputy, may not wish to see the power of Hamas and Hizballah destroyed.
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