While US tanks were bringing to Baghdad the benefits of American civilization--the sacking of the city's hospitals, universities, museums and libraries-- newspapers around the globe were also reporting on the spread of the deadly SARS virus. These two events may seem to be entirely unrelated, but they are not. They are instead part of a single process. If that process of destruction is not stopped by mass working-class movements, it will result in not only the collapse of civilization, but in the death of hundreds of millions in every nation in the world.
The policies of the US government not only in Iraq, but throughout the world, aim at extracting an ever-increasing amount of wealth to prop up capitalist corporations and a capitalist financial system that totters on the verge of bankruptcy. These policies aim at controlling workers everywhere to ensure that there is no effective resistance to this looting. But in the process these policies are destroying the basis for not only civilization, but for survival, creating the ideal conditions for epidemics like SARS. If this process is not stopped, such epidemics will, either in the short run, or, inevitably over the course of the coming years, cut like the Black Death through all humanity, not sparing even the all-powerful United States.
Part I: Destruction, control and looting
There can be no doubt that the looting of Iraq's hospitals and universities, and the world-famous Museum of Antiquities, as well as the burning to the ground of the National Library and other libraries was the result of a deliberate American policy, not of carelessness. The US Army, moving with impunity through Baghdad, did in fact protect against looters the building that they valued--the Ministry of Oil-- and they did it with just a squad of troops. Fifty such squads-- 2% of the US troops in the city-- would have protected all the hospital, universities and the precious National Museum and Library. On April 10 and 11, as the looting raged, Iraqi doctors, educators and museum curators begged US troops to stop the sack of the city. Instead, as the New York Times reported, the troops waved armed looters, bearing their loot, through US check points, while stopping those who had arms but no loot.
This is really no secret. US soldiers openly told reporters that they had orders not to stop looters (except at the Oil Ministry). When asked
about the looting of the National Museums, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld laughed it off, asking "My goodness, who would have thought they had that many vases in the country?" and showing to the world his deep contempt for the culture and civilization of ten thousand years that the Museum had displayed. Nor was it a secret that the Museum looters, appearing simultaneously with American troops, were equipped with professional cutting equipment not even available in Iraq.
But why would the US encourage such looting? Clearly, one motivation is to make the Iraqi population entirely dependant on the occupying army. With hospitals stripped bare, sick Iraqis are begging US soldiers to let them come to the few US military field hospitals that have been set up. The US forces as well appear as the immediate alternative to the looters, as the forces of law and order.
The terror and destruction wrought by the US-sanctioned looting also made it easier for the Americans to establish the "authorized opposition", an essential aspect of the strategy of control. Islamic fundamentalist militias, allowed to patrol in certain areas of Baghdad, swiftly took over many of the attacked hospitals, offering protective services and even offering to pay staff wages. Iraqis are thus offered dependence on the fundamentalists as the only alternative to dependence on the Americans. The US would like nothing more than to have the only opposition to American rule to be those who would imitate the Taliban.
The destruction of the universities, the Museum and the National and Islamic Libraries also greatly increases the control the US exercises over the minds of the Iraqis. Libraries, universities and museums, are dangerous places for those who conquer. Through them come dangerous ideas from the past--a book about the history of imperialism, an inspiring lecture, the sweep of civilizations rising and falling. And of course, ideas come in via the Internet through university and library computers.
Far better for the US to wipe the past clean, to destroy any evidence of Mesopotamia's proud past, its struggles under colonial rulers, the triumphs and defeats of its workers. Far better to have all the information available channeled though US-controlled TV and radio channels.
But equally or more important is the economic motivation for this destruction, which should be familiar to those who live anywhere in the world, including in the US. In Latin America, in Africa, in Asia, in Russia and East Europe, the prescription of the IMF has everywhere been the same--gut public services, gut education, gut hospitals and health services, add fees to make them less available, privatize them AND direct the money saved to paying the debt to US banks, funded by exports to the United States. All over the world, hospitals, schools, libraries and museums have been shuttered or crippled by the IMF, as wealth flows to the great imperial center.
In the United States itself, we see the same policies on a lesser scale. As money flows from the government to arms producers, to the corporations wallowing in "reconstruction contracts" or directly to the capitalists in the form of tax cuts, support for health, education, libraries and museums are slashed. Across the United States basic health services, especially for the poorest, are eliminated, teachers are laid off, university fees increased, library hours reduced.
But everywhere these policies are meeting with greater and greater working class resistance. In Latin America especially opposition has toppled several governments. In Iraq it is far easier to let the authorized looters "zero out" the hospitals, schools, library and museums. Then the generous Americans can build up from zero to a far more modest level--a miserable, almost nonexistent level-- that is so much harder for the capitalists to achieve by cutting back existing serves.
This is the ultimate goal of the Global War of Conquest the United States began in Afghanistan and has continued in Iraq. For three years, markets have been contracting, profits shrinking, bankruptcies mounting as the fraud-backed bubble of the '90's burst. The threat to capitalists is that as companies can not cover their debts, they start to sell their assets, leading to a collapse of asset values (a Crash), global price deflation and a melt-down of their fortunes as in the 1930's. To prevent this, and to maintain profits in a shrinking market, capitalists must slash public expenditure, slash wages, slash anything that is an expense of maintaining a work force and funnel the money saved into corporate profits. When ordinary political means are no longer sufficient to do this, as the mass resistance to the IMF policies in Latin America is demonstrating, force must be used--an endless series of wars that levels the infrastructure of whole countries and reduces their workforces to penury.(For a fuller explanation of the reasons for this crisis
Within capitalism there is no end to this cycle, because as workers' wages and public services are slashed, the market for goods shrinks further, threatening a new round of price deflation and a new melt-down of profits, to which the only cure is another battle, another crushing of a nation's past, present and future-- as in Iraq. .