Sunday, September 05, 2004

Ambushing the Bush: The Thoughts of Those That Organised

In organising protests against the Bush visit our main goal wasn’t to protest against Bush or his government, but rather to contribute to and continue the two years of anti-war actions against military re-fuelling at Shannon airport. The Bush visit was an opportunity, a symbol of the Irish government’s complicity with war and occupation. It was apt that he used Shannon airport to come here.

The first protest I was at in Shannon, in August 2002 had just 60 to 70 people on it. Since then a similar number of people have been through court over participation in demonstrations, peace camps and direct action at the warport. 150 people took part in a mass trespass on the runway grounds in October 2002, a month before hand a warplane was re-painted, in January 2003 thousands demonstrated at the airport and a peace camp was set up for several weeks, then two planes were disarmed, and there was an attempt at openly repeating the success of the October ’02 trespass. The “Ambush” was about re-kindling this resistance into the long term.

The Bike Tour and Build Up.

On Bloomsday, we’d hooded the Joyce Statue, and hung a placard reading ‘History is the Nightmare from which I am trying to awake, Bush Is Not Welcome’ around his neck. The Saturday before the visit, dressed in a luminous orange boiler suit a la Camp X Ray, I was sweltering in the June heat as we pushed a throne/shopping trolley for Bush around sites of Irish state and corporate complicity. Then there was the Bikes Against Bush Tour, an “organised coincidence” of cyclists free wheeling from Dublin to Shannon over the space of a week.

Needless to say, the sun was gone, and it pissed rain from morning to night for the duration of the cycle. You could say flinging yourself down a hill that took an hour and a half to get up and two minutes to get down was a buzz. But you could also call it suicidal, since the rain had reduced braking power to zilch, and left you wondering if a set of flippers would help. After such a journey, we greeted Shannon, hippies and vegan mush with relished grins.

Peace Camping It On A Traffic Island.

The peace camp was to be located on a large traffic island between two roads, just inside what we believed was going to be the state’s “exclusion zone” for the protests. It was at once an act of defiance, two fingers of resistance to a state security operation designed to deter protest, a signal for protesters to start arriving and a logistical base to organise and coalesce our dissent. Being followed by special branch for the best part of a day can be unnerving, especially when you already know they’ve pulled over a van load of your tents and equipment. With the camp set up, a critical mass of protesters began to arrive in the area.

A police raid gave us ridiculous sight of cops bursting balloons that apparently could have taken down Air Force One. But it wasn’t so funny being dragged out of a car, with several muppets bleating “Section 32, Offences Against the State Act”, while violently grabbing video cameras that were filming the ‘ring of steal’ for an Indymedia documentary (that took place on a journey to pick up some lattes and breakfast rolls in Shannon town centre).

The Friday demo had the welcome support of several hundred Shannon residents. Billed “Reclaim The Skies with Light And Noise”, there was neither light nor noise despite the promise of a Reclaim the Streets type event. It drizzled, and spirits fell as a rather dull, traditional march unfolded. There was too much placard waving, too many never ending speeches from second rate politicians, and not enough sound systems.

We Ambush Bush.

The assembly point for Saturday’s demo was to be Bunratty castle. We had chosen it in order to have a publicised fall back for both the Friday night Anti-war Ireland (AWI) demo and the Saturday Ambush demo. That morning in the peace camp there were two simultaneous meetings, one an assembly of all campers and the second a meeting of delegates from Galway Grassroots, Dublin Grassroots, and the bike tour. We had appointed these delegates with the specific task of mapping out a route for the march, and then seeking general approval for this route. Campers agreed to an assembly point at the camp and a march route up the N18 north -westward in the direction of that section of the N19/N18 blocked off for the Bush entourage. If stopped, the plan was to pick another access way to Shannon Warport.

This meant that we had chosen as our route the same pathway as Bush and the gang. Thus we aimed to simultaneously disrupt the summit, highlight the use of Shannon airport as a pitstop of war, and challenge the state’s security zone - something for all the family as it were. To do so we had to avoid the state-approved road into Shannon (which we had taken at the previous night’s demo). As far as organisation was concerned, decision-making on the day, with as much flexibility as possible, was the only way to go; we couldn’t know beforehand what we were going to face.

In the run up to the Ambush we had discussed the possibility of a much wider exclusion zone, and anticipated the danger that our buses would be stopped and turned back. We also didn’t know how many protesters to expect ourselves. So decisions had to be made on the hoof. We assembled at the peace camp by the Clonmoney fly-over, the head of the march formed by the “Mid-west Against Military Aggression” banner, next to that a cluster of red and black flags, and alas but a solitary green and black. As we headed off up the open road with energy and enthusiasm, our zeal only slightly tempered with a little trepidation, the stock of hooters recently acquired from Catalonia added a celebratory cacophony to the chants of ‘Whose Streets? Our Streets!’.

As we advanced up the Dual Carriageway a desultory attempt was made to stop us, police hurriedly erecting a steel crowd control barrier. A few people ran to its sides, a few more ran to hop over it or push it aside, and we were through, the path cleared for the main body of protesters. As we approached the junction and flyover of the N19/N18, the section of road reserved for the honourable leaders of the free world, a more serious attempt at blocking our path was made. About one hundred riot cops sealed off both lanes of the road. We fanned out across both lanes.

Here we drummed, danced, did street theatre, or wandered about confusedly while probes were made into the adjoining fields. They had little capacity there to stop us on the Shannon side, but advocates of this route didn’t get a critical mass for such an attempt. At this time the phones of the spokespeople started buzzing with the question – ‘Why are you blocking the media?’


It appeared that the American press corps were re-routed from Ennis to Drumoland along our road, this being a means of avoiding the Dublin Catholic Worker/Galway Drummers performance of Macbeth, the various autonomous actions, and the IAWM protest. As it happened the media people who went through Clarecastle, according to the Independent, were delayed for all of 30 seconds, while those who took the detour ran straight into the ambush.

As Colum Kenny wrote in the Sunday Independent: “The Irish organisation of President George Bush’s visit turned into farce yesterday when scores of journalists were kept late for the final press conference. A 15-minute straight journey became a two-hour nightmare as the official buses full of media were brought on a massive detour of Co Clare in order to miss the protestors – only to find that the protestors had outsmarted gardai and blocked the roads.”

The Prime Time special live from Drumoland showed the American press corps running to take their seats, and the press conference delay was headline news across the United States.

Now, as riot police resolutely blocked our path, it was time to find an alternative route, as had been agreed earlier. We turned round and headed back down the N18 in the direction from which we had come, back towards the peace camp.

At Ballycasey Beg, we turned and went cross country through wasteland at the rear of the industrial estate at Smithstown, and reaching a Lufthansa building ran straight into two Irish Army armoured cars. Refusing to be intimidated by armour or lines of balaclava clad riot cops, the mood was festive and celebratory as well as defiant. We expressed our feelings about the ridiculous coercive apparatus unveiled by the Irish state by surrounding and blockading the two armoured cars.

Finally making our way down to Drumgeely, where an IAWM rally was being held, we were somewhat parched, bedraggled and tired from our exertions. The mood was one of exaltation and excitement. Probably the best demonstration in Shannon since the mass trespass on October 12th 2002, or perhaps even the best.

The Chomksy Lite Bit.

The focus on George Bush as an individual obscures how the capitalist world economy itself engenders war and how American administrations headed by Democrats, such as we are likely to have before this year is out, are no often no less bloody than those of their Republican counterparts.

From the perspective of American capital, securing a permanent military enclave in the Gulf region is a paramount goal. As the influential Washington think-tank, the “Project for a New American Century” puts it: “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.”

The reason being, 64% of the world’s known oil reserves lie in the Gulf region. Since the early nineties, with the ending of the Cold War, American “defence” planning documents have openly stated the goal of preventing the emergence of another “great power competitor”. Control of Middle East oil is crucial to this: while America itself is not dependant on these supplies, much of the world is – including Europe and Japan.

The oil producing states are a gold mine, not only from oil itself, but also from the arms their oil rich monarchies purchase from the U.S., plus their investments in land, hotels, and other enterprises in the West. Thus it makes a difference if oil profit is spent on American arms, or invested in New York hotels, as with that of Saudi Arabia, or if it is ploughed into internal development (as has been the case with Iraq and Iran). As the Washington Post put it: “Since 1981, U.S. construction companies and arms suppliers have earned more than $50 billion in Saudi Arabia, according to the Congressional Research Service. More than 30,000 Americans are employed by Saudi companies or joint U.S.-Saudi ventures and U.S. investments in the country reached $4.8 billion in 2000, according to the Commerce Department. The U.S. oil giant Exxon Mobil Corp. recently was chosen by the Saudi government to lead two of three consortiums developing gas projects worth $20 billion to $26 billion.” (Washington Post 21/9/01)

UN sanctions outlawing trade with Iraq had, in recent years, been increasingly flouted, principally by French, Russian and Chinese companies. Foreign oil contracts worth $ 1.1 trillion had been made by the Hussein regime in the last decade. Had sanctions ended without “regime change”, American corporations would have been left out in the cold. This became a powerful impetus for “regime change” in Iraq.

Furthermore, Saudi Arabia, America’s main trading partner and military garrison in the Gulf is no longer stable. Most of the 9/11 attackers were from there, an American “defence” planning document went so far as to describe the country as the “kernel of evil”. Turn Iraq into a playground for American interests and there is less dependence on Saudi Arabia and thus it’s ruling dynasty is more vulnerable to American pressure. The trade sanctions against Iraq during the nineties were in part a means of supporting Saudi Arabia by removing the competition of Iraqi oil from the market.

The world’s oil is traded in dollars, helping to make the dollar the world’s most important currency. Much of the world’s central bank reserves are held in dollars. This allows the U.S. the ability to survive the sort of trade deficit (i.e. to import far more than is exported) and national debt that elsewhere would cause a massive currency devaluation. However parts of OPEC (the consortium of oil producing states), have been moving to the euro in recent years (this had included Iraq), while others are considering doing so. Control of Iraqi oil is a means of breaking OPEC before it moves over to euro.

The alternative explanation that American intervention is motivated by worthy humanitarian concerns and desire for peace and security cannot be reconciled with the reality of American policy. But having dismissed this naïve view, it’s equally important to realise that the war and occupation is not some sort of connivance of a megalomaniac politician with his buddies from the oil industry in a smash and grab raid on Iraq. Rather, this war is a strategic and economic imperative for American capitalism.

The Legacy Of The Democrats.

Thus if Kerry wins in November it will make no difference. One only has to look at the track record of the Clinton administration, in power for most of the years of the sanctions which blocked trade with Iraq. To understand the impact of sanctions you have to appreciate the devastating impact of the 1991 war on the civilian infrastructure. Bombs destroyed it, and then sanctions prevented its repair, by preventing the importation of spare parts and new materials, and also by closing down the economy of the country so much less hard currency was available to fund such imports.

American Department of Defence documents from the period openly discuss the impacts of the bombing of the water supply, electricity network and sanitation services. According to "Effects of Bombing on Disease Occurrence in Baghdad", a Pentagon document: "Food-and waterborne diseases have the greatest potential for outbreaks in the civilian and military population over the next 30 to 60 days. Increased incidence of diseases will be attributable to degradation of normal preventive medicine, waste disposal, water purification/distribution, electricity, and decreased ability to control disease outbreaks. Any urban area in Iraq that has received infrastructure damage will have similar problems."

On May 12 1996, US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was asked about sanctions by Lesley Stahl of CBS television: “We have heard that half a million children have died. I mean, that’s more than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?” Albright replied: “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price, we think the price is worth it.”

Those expecting that a Kerry victory in this year’s American presidential elections will be like a rainbow breaking through the clouds might remember that was Madeleine Albright has been tipped for a post in the Kerry administration.

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