The rat, among mammals, is one of the most successful animals on the planet. Cunning, ruthless, competitive and above all adaptable — it is able to change its habits quickly as needed to accommodate the situation it finds itself in.
When it comes to foreign policy, the US government is swarming with rats.
Just look at the situation in Iraq. The US invaded the country in 2003, claiming it was a rogue nation that had, or was trying to develop, “weapons of mass destruction.” When it became clear that this was a lie, or at best, simply not true, the stated motive for the invasion was changed to “regime change,” and the goal became “bringing democracy to Iraq.”
The US and the key US corporate news organizations loved Maliki when his party won the largest block of seats in the first parliamentary election in 2006 and he became prime minister. As the Washington Post’s David Ignatius crowed at the time, after the votes were in, “The most important fact about Maliki’s election is that it’s a modest declaration of independence from Iran.” Ignatius quickly went to the US ambassador at the time, Zalmay Khalilzad, for a comment, and Khalilzad, a neoconservative linked to the National Endowment for Democracy, obligingly told him, “His reputation is as someone who is independent of Iran.”
Khalilzad had worked assiduously (almost rat-like, one might say) behind the scenes to build a coalition of Kurds, Sunnis and Shia politicians opposed to the incumbent prime minister Ibrahim al-Jafari (who was seen as Iran’s man), in order to back Maliki’s ascendancy.
In 2010, the US again backed Maliki, supporting him for a second term even though the initial results of the voting gave a plurality to his challenger Ayad Allawi. Using heavy-handed tactics and his control of the judiciary, Maliki essentially stole that election,. He did this with the approval of the US Embassy which, in 2010, was still, if not controlling the country, a major player.
Shift to the present Iraq national elections. The US, during the campaign, was clearly backing Maliki’s virtually assured re-election as prime minister. Indeed, an April 30 article in the New York Times — a steadfast voice for the Washington foreign policy establishment, hailed the parliamentary voting underway as a triumph. As reporters tim Arango and Duraid Adnan wrote:
“Millions of Iraqis voted for a new Parliament on Wednesday, defying threats from Islamist extremists, in an election that was carried out, by Iraq’s brutal standards, in remarkable peace…
“The election, the first nationwide vote since the departure of American troops more than two years ago, was seen as a referendum on Nuri Kamal al-Maliki’s eight years as prime minister as he seeks his third term amid a growing Sunni insurgency that has brought the country to the edge of a new civil war.”
On May 19, after the votes were all counted (at least those in Shia regions), the Washington Post, another stalwart backer of the US foreign policy establishment, reported on the victory of Maliki’s party in the elections saying:
“The US Embassy in the capital welcomed the result, calling it ‘another milestone in the democratic development of Iraq.’”
But along the way to Maliki’s re-election plurality, something happened: a lightning-fast military campaign by Sunni insurgents, backed by a population that was furious over several years of violent attack and repression by Maliki’s police and military, and an opportunistic separatist move by Kurds in the north, suddenly put even Baghdad at risk.
Suddenly the rats in Washington, seeing their “man in Baghdad” as vulnerable, and their rickety construct in Iraq as facing collapse, aren’t so committed to democracy in the place, and are “adapting” to a new political environment.
As the Wall Street Journal reported this week:
“WASHINGTON—The Obama administration is signaling that it wants a new government in Iraq without Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, convinced the Shiite leader is unable to reconcile with the nation’s Sunni minority and stabilize a volatile political landscape. The U.S. administration is indicating it wants Iraq’s political parties to form a new government without Mr. Maliki as he tries to assemble a ruling coalition following elections…”
Democracy for Iraq? Oh that was so yesterday. Today the issue is combating the Sunni insurgency, and keeping Iran from gaining further influence over Baghdad.
Whatever one’s opinion of Maliki — and the truth is he has been a fairly typical Middle East strongman, brutally surpressing the Sunni minority on behalf of his Shia backers, and also playing hard-ball even against those Shia politicians who would be his rivals, including having them arrested — betrayal of allies noble and vile has of course been a long tradition in Washington. So has dropping any pretense of supporting democratic elections. The US backed elections in the Palestinian territories until Hamas won handily in Gaza, at which point Washington just stopped talking about democracy there, and backed Israel’s policy of turning the place into the world’s biggest concentration camp, starved of water, fuel and food.
In Ukraine, the US backed so-called “orange revolutions” and democratic elections until it decided to back a right-wing coup that drove the elected prime minister out of the country.
As the US continues to find itself increasingly challenged around the globe by countries that feel less and less intimidated by an overstretched US military, and as the dollar keeps losing ground as a reserve currency, making economic sanctions less and less potent as a tool of coercion, the rats in Foggy Bottom and the White House will have to become increasingly adaptive if they hope to continue to infest the globe as they have since the days of the Cold War.
Dave Lindorff is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, an online newspaper collective, and is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).