Growing Dread About Iraq
Now that either could win the big race, Obama and Clinton fudge and hedge about withdrawing troops immediately from Iraq. Barack "will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda." (BarackObama.com)
After Iraqi elections on December 15, Ms. Clinton said, "We have to tell this new government we are not going to be there forever, we are going to be withdrawing our young men and women and we expect you to start moving towards stability." But, she added, "immediate withdrawal from Iraq would be a big mistake." (Votehillary.org)
Such statements make me and many millions around the world feel a sense of growing dread. Why can’t an empire withdraw? Ike did from Korea in 1953 and I guess that’s it.
The empire’s officials seem unable to admit the truth about the US’ place in the world–at least in public. The economy sinks into deeper recession while Bush and Congress piss away billions each week on un-winnable wars in Afghanistan and Iran. To create further anxiety, Bush and Cheney periodically threaten war against Iran and occasionally Syria as well.
Prominent Members of Congress don’t stand up and ask: What rewards or protection does the US public get from having bases and troops around the world? From having them die and get wounded? Does the US public feel more secure by possessing thousands of nuclear weapons and aircraft unmatched by any other power? Bush insists that Iraqis (I assume he means those that remain alive haven’t yet fled abroad) delight over Saddam’s demise and take pride in living in a free Iraq. They are not quite free from a US occupying force of several hundred thousand (160,000 troops and more than that number of contractors (mercenaries). Bush might secretly think Iraq is a nation of masochists.
I filmed in Iraq five and a half years ago with a congressional delegation including former South Dakota Senator James Abourezk (SD) and Congressman Nick Rahall (WV), who successfully pleaded — along with many other reasonable people–that Saddam Hussein re-admit the UN weapons inspection team. I thought Saddam’s agreeing to get inspected answered Bush’s escalating demands, the inspectors would do their job and obviously not find any WMD–or else Saddam would not have admitted them. If he possessed WMD he could have used them against invading US troops. Bush and most of the world’s media ignored the obvious. Bush simply pretended that Saddam had not complied. The inspectors did not even have a chance to investigate Secretary of State Colin Powell’s fraudulent power point UN performance, in which he named the location of the deadly weapons. None of these, of course turned out to be true. Powell called his February 23, 2003 speech a permanent "blot" on his record. He understated.
Five years after sending US troops to war, Bush still glories in his monumental stupidity. He boasts about progress, conveniently forgetting his "Mission Accomplished" boast of May 1, 2003.
On March 17, Dick Cheney visited Iraq and declared the 2003 invasion a "successful endeavor." "Shortly after Cheney spoke," reported Reuters, "a woman wearing a suicide vest blew herself up in a cafe in the southern holy Shi’ite city of Kerbala, killing 25 people and wounding 50." Other bombs exploded in Baghdad killing and wounding more Iraqis.
Cheney concluded at a news conference after meeting with the US puppets who govern Iraq that the endeavor "has been well worth the effort." Entering year six, the Bush-Cheney war has cost more than $500 billion; nearly 4,000 US soldiers have died and conservative calculations estimate hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis killed.
In addition, 4 million Iraqis remain displaced, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross. Millions lack clean water and medical care. Unemployment rates are astronomical.
Republican aspirant John McCain, in Iraq, praised the progress: "The surge is working," he said, referring to Bush’s troop build-up. (CNN, March 17)
Such optimism about Iraq becoming less dangerous belies Patrick Cockburn’s on the spot report of how "Gun-waving soldiers first cleared all traffic from the streets. Then four black armored cars, each with three machine gunners on the roof, raced out of a heavily fortified exit from the Green Zone, followed by sand-colored American Humvees and more armored cars. Finally, in the middle of the speeding convoy, we saw six identical bullet proof vehicles with black windows, one of which must have carried Mr. Maliki."
Other newspaper reports offer ample proof of Cockburn’s reporting. I remember, pre-invasion, riding in a car from Baghdad to Najaf, Kerbalah and Babylon as well as to outlying suburbs–without an armed escort.
Yes, of course Saddam was a tyrant. But Iraq remained an integral nation despite his tyranny. I don’t recall any Iraqi introducing him or herself as a Sunni, Shiite, Kurd or Christian. Water flowed and sewage was treated. Business ran smoothly. Yes, no one dared criticize Saddam, but off camera an Iraqi engineer begged me to tell US authorities not to invade. "Saddam is old. His sons are idiots and incapable of taking over. Have patience. We are a 6,000 year old civilization. We will manage the transition."
No arguments would have swayed Bush and Cheney from their war. Five bloody years later , US power and technology has not provided a transition. Cockburn writes: "Five years of occupation have destroyed Iraq as a country. Baghdad is today a collection of hostile Sunni and Shia ghettoes divided by high concrete walls. Different districts even have different national flags. Sunni areas use the old Iraqi flag with the three stars of the Baath party and the Shia wave a newer version, adopted by the Shia-Kurdish government. The Kurds have their own flag."
Only the camouflage of normalcy exists in Iraq. Yes, official reports state that civilian casualties have dropped from 65 dead a day last August to only 26 daily corpses in February. Cockburn points out that "ethnic cleansing has already done its grim work and in much of Baghdad there are no mixed areas left."
By knocking off Saddam and forcing elections, US authorities guaranteed that Chiite and Kurdish (also Shiites) would win. After those predictable victories, poof, like a cartoon lightbulb, the Bushies discovered that Shia leader Muqtada al-Sadr and President Maliki had warm feelings for the religious Iranian leadership. The hated and feared Iranians that Bush accuses of making US-troop-killing bombs and arming Iraqi militias now possessed major influence with the very Iraqi government the US had orchestrated into power. Maliki et. al. warmly welcomed Iranian President Ahmadinejad when he visited Baghdad in early March.
Did Bush and Cheney have no idea what they were getting into? Do supposedly intelligent Senators like Clinton. Obama and McCain not grasp these fundamentals of contemporary Middle Eastern labyrinthine politics?
Instead of winning and leaving, Bush and his Vice decided to occupy and carry out a privatization agenda. He did away with the old bureaucracy and the repressive forces, leaving a vacuum. Since most Iraqis felt relieved to see Saddam 86ed, Bush assumed that US occupation would seem like a godsend. But US forces did not protect Iraqis from thieves, kidnappers and murderers. US troops stood around and watched pillage take place. Bad feelings toward the US presence have only intensified.
Cockburn reported that he drove to the site "whenever there was an American soldier was killed or wounded in Baghdad," and found "cheering crowds standing by the smoking remains of a Humvee or a dark blood stain on the road."
The anti-American focus got lost in the Sunni -Shiite battles that resulted in some Sunnis moving into temporary alliance with the US forces, further dramatizing the fragmentation of Iraq. What a mess! Refugees, hunger, disease, despair amidst ongoing bloodshed.
In US politics these themes fade into vague declarations of "ending the war" at some future point (Clinton and Obama) or staying the course forever (McCain). As each candidate strains to convince the public that he or she has the unique combination of qualities to lead the nation–none dare say empire — they avoid the knottiest issue that will confront the next chief executive: extrication for the sickening quicksand into which Bush has placed the country.
SAUL LANDAU is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow. His new Counterpunch book is A BUSH AND BOTOX WORLD. His new film, WE DON’T PLAY GOLF HERE is available on dvd from firstname.lastname@example.org