FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Will the US Seize the Opportunity for Troop Withdrawal?

by RAY McGOVERN

Former CIA analyst

The surprising degree of consensus reached by the main Iraqi factions at the Arab-League orchestrated Reconciliation Conference in Cairo last weekend sharply undercuts the unilateral, guns-and-puppets approach of the Bush administration to the deteriorating situation in Iraq. The common demand, by Shia and Kurds as well as Sunnis, for a timetable for withdrawal of occupation forces demolishes the administration’s argument that setting such a timetable would be a huge mistake. Who would know better-the Iraqis or the ideologues advising Bush?
Withdrawal of Occupation Forces

From the final communiqué:

“We demand the withdrawal of foreign forces in accordance with a timetable, and the establishment of a national and immediate program for rebuilding the armed forces…that will allow them to guard Iraq’s borders and to get control of the security situation…”

It is no accident that pride of place is given to the demand for withdrawal and that rebuilding the armed forces comes second. The Bush administration has insisted that it must be the other way around; i.e. e., that rebuilding the Iraqi army is precondition for withdrawal.

Also no accident was the conference decision to differentiate sharply between “legitimate” resistance and terrorism, and to avoid condemning violence against occupation troops:

“Though resistance is a legitimate right for all people, terrorism does not represent resistance. Therefore, we condemn terrorism and acts of violence, killing and kidnapping targeting Iraqi citizens and humanitarian, civil, government institutions, national resources and houses of worship.”

For good measure, the final communiqué also demanded “an immediate end to arbitrary raids and arrests without a documented judicial order,” release of all “innocent detainees,” and investigation of “allegations of torture of prisoners.”

The communiqué’s feisty tone was facilitated by the conspicuous and unexplained absence of US representatives. By shunning the conference, administration officials missed the beginning of a process that has within it the seeds of real progress toward peace. In addition to over 100 Shia, Sunni and Kurdish participants, the conference was attended by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iran, but no US officials. The gathering was strongly supported not only by the Arab League but also by the UN, EU, and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.

All in all, the various Iraqi factions, including interim government officials, displayed unusual willingness to make the compromises necessary to reach consensus on key issues-like ending the occupation. Key Sunni leader Saleh Mutyla had set the tone shortly before the conference, even though the US chose that time to launch “Operation Steel Curtain,” the largest foray into Sunni territory this year. Mutyla nonetheless indicated that the resistance would agree to a ceasefire in exchange for US withdrawal.

Reaching out to the Sunni

One main purpose of the Reconciliation Conference was to engage the Sunni parties in the political process, and several of the Sunni participants have close ties with nationalist Sunni insurgents. Agreement that resistance is a “legitimate right” and the decision not to apply the word “terrorism” to attacks on occupation forces were two significant olive branches held out to the Sunnis. In recognizing the right to resist the occupation, the conference severely undercut Bush administration attempts to paint Sunnis as Saddam loyalists or al-Qaeda collaborators. In contrast, the Sunnis were made to feel like full-fledged partners in this newly begun search for a peaceful solution sans occupation.

Underscoring that point, Iraqi Interim President Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, made an unprecedented offer:

“If those who describe themselves as Iraqi resistance want to contact me, they are welcome…I am committed to listen to them, even those who are criminals…”

…and from Washington? Pouting

The administration’s initial reaction seemed designed to put Talabani and other negotiation-welcoming Iraqi officials in their place. On Monday, addressing the issue of troop withdrawal, State department spokesperson Justin Higgins said:

“Multinational forces are present in Iraq under a mandate from the U. N. Security Council. As President Bush has said, the coalition remains committed to helping the Iraqi people achieve security and stability as they rebuild their country. We will stay as long as it takes to achieve those goals and no longer.”

Tuesday, another State Department spokesperson sang the same mantra. She also gave lip service to US support for “the ongoing transitional political process in Iraq,” but offered no explanation as to why Secretary Condoleezza Rice decided not to send representatives to the conference in Cairo. Is she still taking instruction from what former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff calls the “Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal?”

With a full-fledged peace conference scheduled for February, and elections in mid-December, Washington has little time to waste if it wants to influence the peace process begun at the Reconciliation Conference in Cairo. The demand for the withdrawal of occupation troops creates an opening. But with the “cabal” and neo-conservative policymakers still in charge, and jittery Democrats only slowly seeing the light, it is doubtful that the administration will seize the opportunity-even though doing so would probably enhance Republican chances in next year’s mid-term elections.

This may change, however, because other pressures are mounting. America’s front-line Army and Marine battalion commanders in Iraq have gone behind Rumsfeld’s back to spill their guts to Senate Armed Forces Committee Chair John Warner. And Congressman John Murtha, retired Marine and a leading defense advocate on the Hill, has introduced a bill calling for troop withdrawal “as soon as practicable.”

Taken together, that initiative, the mini-mutiny among field-grade officers, and the outcome of the Cairo conference could conceivably break the Gordian knot in Congress. In calling for withdrawal, Murtha has made a critical bridge from the hawkish center to a majority of Americans and to progressives on the Hill.

A New Chapter? Maybe

These recent events could open up a new chapter in the history of this war. Iraqi politics, U.S. public opinion and military necessity all argue for the US to lend its support to the national reconciliation process. Yet, even faced with such an obvious chance to climb out of the Iraq quagmire, there is still little sign that the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal will be able to veer from the prevailing predilection to self-destruct.

It remains sad fact that the president’s current advisors are the same ones who brought us Iraq-and for reasons other than those given. It will take very strong pressure to get them to relinquish their twin vision of permanent military bases in Iraq and predominant influence over what happens to the oil there. The president is not likely to argue with the ideologues around him, nor has he shown any willingness to broaden the circle of his advisors. The only realistic hope may lie in the chance those Republican congressional candidates who already have beads of sweat on their foreheads can break through the White House palace guard and argue persuasively against the increasingly obvious folly of “staying the course.”

Current Straws in the Wind

It is too early to tell whether there is any substance behind recent statements by senior US officials expressing hope that US forces can be withdrawn sooner rather than later. The only straw in the wind with possible substance seems to be the unexplained delay in deploying the 1st infantry division brigade from Fort Riley that was earlier earmarked for arrival in Iraq before the December 15 election.

For all intents and purposes, the administration position remains the same. Lt. Gen. John Vines, commander of coalition forces in Iraq, keeps warning of the consequences of a “precipitous pull-out,” repeating: “I’m not going to get into a timetable. It will be driven by conditions on the ground.”

But, you say, Secretary Rice told FOX news on Tuesday “those days are going to be coming fairly soon when Iraqis are going to be more and more capable of carrying out the functions to secure their own future.” Is there not hope to be found in this? Might this be PR preparation for a drawdown sooner than foreshadowed in earlier, more rigid statements?

Not necessarily. By all indications Rice continues to take orders from the Cheney-Rumsfeld cabal. She is as weak a secretary of state as her predecessor. Even if she let herself be persuaded by seasoned professionals at State that, in present circumstances. she ought to be pressing for a troop drawdown driven by bargaining at the negotiating table rather than “conditions on the ground,” she would almost certainly feel it necessary to get permission from the cabal before taking this novel idea to the president. She would probably even have to get them to sign off on any plan to send official representatives to the February meeting in Cairo, should she come to realize that it makes sense for the US to insert itself into the emerging political process with Iraqi and other key players.

As for Rumsfeld’s relatively optimistic spin on recent talk shows, there is little to suggest that this has any purpose other than to assuage growing pro-withdrawal sentiment in Congress and the population at large.
RAY McGOVERN is a member of the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). He worked as a CIA analyst for 27 years, and now works for Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. He is a contributor to Cockburn and St. Clair’s Imperial Crusades: Iraq, Afghanistan and Yugoslavia.

He can be reached at: rrmcgovern@aol.com

An earlier version of this article appeared on TomPaine.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ray McGovern was an Army officer and CIA analyst for almost 30 year. He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press). He can be reached at: rrmcgovern@gmail.com. A version of this article first appeared on Consortiumnews.com.  

More articles by:
Weekend Edition
June 24, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Pilger
A Blow for Peace and Democracy: Why the British Said No to Europe
Pepe Escobar
Goodbye to All That: Why the UK Left the EU
Michael Hudson
Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun
Andrew Levine
Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?
Kshama Sawant
Beyond Bernie: Still Not With Her
Mike Whitney
¡Basta Ya, Brussels! British Voters Reject EU Corporate Slavestate
Tariq Ali
Panic in the House: Brexit as Revolt Against the Political Establishment
Paul Street
Miranda, Obama, and Hamilton: an Orwellian Ménage à Trois for the Neoliberal Age
Ellen Brown
The War on Weed is Winding Down, But Will Monsanto Emerge the Winner?
Gary Leupp
Why God Created the Two-Party System
Conn Hallinan
Brexit Vote: a Very British Affair (But Spain May Rock the Continent)
Ruth Fowler
England, My England
Jeffrey St. Clair
Lines Written on the Occasion of Bernie Sanders’ Announcement of His Intention to Vote for Hillary Clinton
Norman Pollack
Fissures in World Capitalism: the British Vote
Paul Bentley
Mercenary Logic: 12 Dead in Kabul
Binoy Kampmark
Parting Is Such Sweet Joy: Brexit Prevails!
Elliot Sperber
Show Me Your Papers: Supreme Court Legalizes Arbitrary Searches
Jan Oberg
The Brexit Shock: Now It’s All Up in the Air
Nauman Sadiq
Brexit: a Victory for Britain’s Working Class
Brian Cloughley
Murder by Drone: Killing Taxi Drivers in the Name of Freedom
Ramzy Baroud
How Israel Uses Water as a Weapon of War
Brad Evans – Henry Giroux
The Violence of Forgetting
Ben Debney
Homophobia and the Conservative Victim Complex
Margaret Kimberley
The Orlando Massacre and US Foreign Policy
David Rosen
Americans Work Too Long for Too Little
Murray Dobbin
Do We Really Want a War With Russia?
Kathy Kelly
What’s at Stake
Louis Yako
I Have Nothing “Newsworthy” to Report this Week
Pete Dolack
Killing Ourselves With Technology
David Krieger
The 10 Worst Acts of the Nuclear Age
Lamont Lilly
Movement for Black Lives Yields New Targets of the State
Martha Rosenberg
A Hated Industry Fights Back
Robert Fantina
Hillary, Gloria and Jill: a Brief Look at Alternatives
Chris Doyle
No Fireworks: Bicentennial Summer and the Decline of American Ideals
Michael Doliner
Beyond Dangerous: the Politics of Climate
Colin Todhunter
Modi, Monsanto, Bayer and Cargill: Doing Business or Corporate Imperialism?
Steve Church
Brexit: a Rush for the Exits!
Matthew Koehler
Mega Corporation Gobbles Up Slightly Less-Mega Corporation; Chops Jobs to Increase Profits; Blames Enviros. Film at 11.
David Green
Rape Culture, The Hunting Ground, and Amy Goodman: a Critical Perspective
Ed Kemmick
Truckin’: Pro Driver Dispenses Wisdom, Rules of the Road
Alessandro Bianchi
“China Will React if Provoked Again: You Risk the War”: Interview with Andre Vltchek
Christy Rodgers
Biophilia as Extreme Sport
Missy Comley Beattie
At Liberty
Ron Jacobs
Is Everything Permitted?
Cesar Chelala
The Sad Truth About Messi
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail