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Bush visit to UK bolsters imperialist ‘war on terror’
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A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 67/No. 43December 8, 2003


Save the dates! December 13-14 in New York City:
Red Saturday of volunteer work and Public Meeting:
‘The Bipartisan War Party, Working-Class Resistance,
and Building the Communist Movement.’

lead article
Bush visit to UK bolsters
imperialist ‘war on terror’
‘Stop Bush’ protests, marked by nationalism, aid British rulers

Top, U.S. president George Bush at London press conference with British prime minister Anthony Blair November 20, where both vowed to stay course on occupation of Iraq. Bottom, protest in London on same day, billed by organizers as action to "Stop Bush," drew 100,000. Marchers focused their fire on Washington, letting British rulers off hook.

LONDON—The November 19-21 state visit by U.S. president George Bush to the United Kingdom served to bolster the imperialist foreign policy aims of Washington and London, carried out under the banner of the “war on terrorism.” Bush and Labour prime minister Anthony Blair affirmed this course of strengthening the position of the U.S. and British ruling classes relative to their imperialist competitors in the world, including through the use of military force.

In a keynote speech in London on the first day of his trip, Bush defended what he called the “three pillars” of U.S. foreign policy. One “pillar,” he said, is “the willingness of free nations…to restrain aggression and evil by force”—that is, using military means against governments targeted by Washington, as in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Another “pillar” is the use of international organizations, especially the NATO military alliance, to advance the goals of the U.S. rulers.

The third “pillar” cited by the U.S. president was “the global expansion of democracy.” He said, “We cannot rely exclusively on military power to assure our long-term security.”

Bush indicated that Washington’s goal is not to establish dictatorships but to press for certain benchmarks of bourgeois democracy in a way that will advance the U.S. rulers’ dominance in the Mideast politically, not just militarily. These include elections, religious freedom, freedom of the press, and “new protections for women.” Clearly referring to Saudi Arabia and other countries, he added, “We will expect a higher standard from our friends in the region.” Meeting such standards, of course, makes the job of U.S. imperialism more complex than simply imposing completely subservient regimes.

The success of the U.S. president’s trip was only reinforced by the anti-American, pro-British tone of the demonstrations in the United Kingdom, organized by the Stop the War Coalition and other forces around the theme “Stop Bush.” Focusing their fire on the U.S. government and portraying Blair as a mere “puppet” of Washington, they buttressed the nationalist framework of the British rulers’ efforts to assert their own imperialist interests in the world.

During his visit, Bush gave the streets to the opposition, not carrying out a major motorcade or many public appearances. The anti-Bush protests, however, were smaller than earlier peace actions.

In the first full state visit ever by a U.S. president to the United Kingdom, Bush joined with Blair in highlighting the “special relationship” between the two governments. Since the post-World War II period, the phrase “special relationship” has been used to refer to the long-term strategic military alliance and economic ties between the wealthy ruling families on either side of the Atlantic. Because of their declining world role, Britain’s rulers have relied on this alliance to give them extra clout in their rivalry with other imperialist powers in Europe.

London currently has 9,000 troops in the imperialist occupation force in Iraq—the largest contingent after the 130,000 U.S. troops.

After the United Kingdom, the imperialist power that has aligned itself most closely with Washington is Italy, one of the governments that have received the short end of the stick as members of the European Union, which is dominated by German and French imperialism. With 3,000 soldiers, Rome has the third-largest number of troops in Iraq, followed by 2,350 from Poland, 1,650 from Ukraine, 1,254 from Spain, 1,100 from the Netherlands, and 800 from Australia.  
Visit fuels big-business debate
Bush’s visit fueled an ongoing debate among capitalist politicians and in the big-business press here around Britain’s relations with Europe and the United States. It reflected the divisions in the British ruling class over how to shore up the place of British imperialism in the world—between those who favor closer ties to the European Union, which is dominated by Berlin and Paris, and those who advocate adhering more strictly to the role of remaining Washington’s junior partner.

The debate intensified when, on the second day of Bush’s visit, two bombs exploded in Istanbul, Turkey, outside the British consulate and the offices of the British bank HSBC killing the British consul general and 26 others. A statement purporting to come from a unit of al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks. The bombings pushed the Turkish rulers more toward Washington’s camp.

Joined by Bush at a press conference that day, Blair used the bombings to underline his support for British participation in future U.S.-led wars waged in the name of fighting “terrorism.” He declared, “There must be no holding back in the face of this menace, in attacking it wherever and whenever we can and in defeating it utterly.” Arguing for the continued deployment of British forces in Iraq and elsewhere, Blair emphasized, “We stay until the job gets done…done in Iraq, done elsewhere in the world.”

In hand-wringing editorials, newspapers critical of the Blair government warned about the perils of this course, but offered no alternative policy. In a November 21 editorial entitled “Reaping the whirlwind,” the liberal, pro-Europe Guardian said, “This does not look like a war that is being won. It looks like a conflict that is in serious danger of escalating out of control.” The editors called for a “radical review of policy.” The paper complained in a subsequent editorial that “our national interests are now worse off.”

The Independent lambasted Blair for getting “nothing” out of his talks with Bush—“Nothing on the British detainees at Guantánamo Bay. Nothing on steel tariffs.” The U.S. government imposed protectionist tariffs on European steel last year, and the European Union has threatened to retaliate by mid-December on $2.2 billion of U.S. exports if Washington refuses to repeal them. Bush has said he is considering the issue.

In contrast, the Daily Telegraph said it was important that “Bush was in London this week, reinforcing our enduring ties with America.” The Times praised the U.S. president for his “carefully structured” speech outlining the “three pillars” of U.S. foreign policy in the Mideast. The right-wing Sun hailed the Bush visit as a “big success.” It added, “The Bush-Blair partnership is as solid as a rock and is a vital asset in these dangerous times…. This nation will not be cowed by the Istanbul bomb outrage.”  
‘Stop Bush’ protests
A series of protests were organized by the Stop The War coalition and other groups around the theme “Stop Bush.” The British nationalist, anti-American theme of these protests was underlined at the November 20 demonstration of more than 100,000 people that rallied in Trafalgar Square. A 20-foot effigy of Bush was toppled to the ground in imitation of the bringing down of a large statue of Saddam Hussein when invading U.S.-British forces took over Baghdad in April. TV coverage of the rally also showed demonstrators burning a U.S. flag.

Demonstrators carried signs referring to Blair as Bush’s “poodle” and reading, “Troops out now—Stop the organ grinder and his monkey,” with the prime minister of the British imperialist state portrayed as Bush’s monkey.

Referring to the Istanbul bombings, Lindsay German, convener of the Stop The War Coalition, said, “I don’t think it can be any coincidence that these attacks have come against British targets on the day that George Bush is visiting London.” Her argument repeated a commonly heard nationalist theme that “Bush’s war” is hurting “our interests” by making Britain vulnerable to “terrorism.”

A half-page ad in the November 20 issue of The Times entitled “An Open Letter to President George W. Bush,” sponsored by a campaign called Our World Our Say, stated, “These protestors are not extremists. They are managers, builders, artists and stockbrokers.” It said that as a result of Bush’s policies the United Kingdom had become “one of the world’s foremost targets of fundamentalist hatred.”

The right-wing Daily Telegraph editorialized sympathetically about the demonstrators, stating, “Most of the marchers were decent people—even if we happen to think they are misguided.” John Hayes, a millionaire with more than 100 employees, told the paper, “I’m here because I think we are playing into the hands of terrorists with this occupation of Iraq.”

Current and former figures within the Labour Party were prominent in the debate. The mayor of London, Kenneth Livingstone, who was expelled from the Labour Party three years ago but is expected to rejoin in time for the mayoral elections next year, said in an interview with The Ecologist magazine that Bush was “the greatest threat to human life on this planet that we’ve probably ever seen.”

Quoted in the press a few days before Bush’s arrival in London, former foreign secretary Robin Cook said, “If the state visit takes on the character of the U.S. boss visiting his wholly owned British subsidiary, it will do further damage to relations with the Bush administration.” Another former cabinet minister, Clare Short, who resigned from the government after the war, urged people to protest because Bush had “made the world more dangerous.”

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