The Logic of Withdrawal
(This essay is adapted from ANTHONY ARNOVE’s January 29th testimony before Congress’s "Out Now Caucus," chaired by Rep. Lynn Woolsey and Rep. Maxine Waters.)
The title of my book is borrowed from Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal, written in 1967 by the historian Howard Zinn.
In his book, Zinn argued the U.S. should pull out of Vietnam immediately and unconditionally. The consequences of not heading this call were enormous: tens of thousands of U.S. troops and millions in Indochina paid the price of the escalation and expansion of the war.
There are differences between Vietnam and Iraq. But there are all too many similarities. I fear we are in a moment analogous to the period after the Tet Offensive, when the U.S. faced defeat in Vietnam, but rather than retreat escalated the war and expanded it to Laos and Cambodia, using arguments much like the ones we now hear in this administration’s threats against Iran and Syria.
In my book, I make eight basic points that I will briefly summarize here.
1. The U.S. has no business to be in Iraq today. The Bush administration launched the invasion of Iraq on false premises, claiming it was preempting the threat posed to the U.S. by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and its links to al-Qaeda. Today we know the full extent of manipulation of intelligence that was used to start a war that was not defensive but offensive in nature.
2. The U.S. is not bringing democracy to Iraq. In fact, the U.S. occupation is denying the will of the Iraqi people. Iraqis have made it clear that no matter how much they are happy to see Saddam Hussein gone, they see U.S. troops as occupiers not liberators. Iraqis feel less safe as a result of our presence; believe we are the main source of instability; and say we are fueling sectarian conflict rather than diminishing it. The U.S. occupation – not al-Qaeda or Iran – is the reason for the insurgency.
3. The U.S. is not making the world safer by staying. Instead, we have made the world more unstable and dangerous. We have established a principle that countries may wage preemptive war, and in the process have sparked an intensified global arms race, including a nuclear arms race.
4. The U.S. is not preventing civil war. Iraq is already in a civil war, one exacerbated by our presence. This August, the Bush administration sent 14,000 additional troops into Baghdad. The result? A surge in violence and sectarianism. The additional 21,500 troops will only pour more fuel on the fire.
5. The U.S. is not confronting terrorism by staying. The main enemy that the U.S. confronts in Iraq is not al-Qaeda or foreign-backed terrorist groups but the very people we claim to have liberated.
6. The U.S. is not honoring those who died in Iraq by continuing the occupation. Now more than 3,000 U.S. troops have died. More than 22,000 have been wounded. The Iraqi death toll is far higher. Each additional death and injury only compounds the senseless tragedy we have seen so far.
7. The U.S. is not rebuilding Iraq. Despite the billions of dollars Congress has allocated for reconstruction efforts, contractors such as Bechtel and KBR have failed to restore electricity or access to safe water to pre-invasion levels. Unemployment has skyrocketed. Inflation is spiraling, putting basic necessities out of reach of Iraqis. Hospitals are in shambles. Iraq today is the world’s worst refugee crisis.
8. The U.S. is not fulfilling its obligation to the Iraqi people by staying. To those who argue we broke it, so we must fix it: rather than fixing Iraq, we are only breaking it further. There are many ways we can help Iraqis: withdraw; pay reparations – not only for the harm and suffering caused by our invasion and occupation, but for the years of sanctions, which hurt only the most vulnerable in Iraqi society, and all the years Washington armed and backed Saddam Hussein as he carried out his worst abuses; renounce our military bases; help the Iraqi refugees we have abandoned; and ensure the vast revenue from Iraq’s oil industry benefits Iraqis rather than ballooning the profits of Western oil giants.
The other night, on 60 Minutes, President Bush said "Everybody was wrong on weapons of mass destruction." Yet millions of us who protested this war before it started were right, and were ignored. We did not have access to any special intelligence. We simply used our intelligence. And today we have the intelligence to know that each day we continue the occupation of Iraq, the situation gets worse. Every time we have been told "we are turning the corner," the situation gets worse. And we have the intelligence to know that you cannot oppose the war, as some Democrats have proclaimed, and yet fund this war. To those who say we cannot withdraw "precipitously," there is nothing precipitous about pulling out after four years of occupying another country against its will. And to those who say we are abandoning the troops, the best way to support the troops is to bring them home now.
ANTHONY ARNOVE is the author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal, just published in an updated paperback edition in the American Empire Project Series by Metropolitan Books, with a foreword by Howard Zinn.