Rumsfeld’s Sovereignty Shell Game


During his recent visit to Abu Gharaib, Mr. Rumsfeld told those US soldiers who were allowed to see him that troops from other countries would be joining them soon in their debacle. As anyone who has followed this war knows, this has been one of the ongoing fables from the Pentagon since before the occupation began and its veracity is even less likely in light of the current situation in that country. Rumsfeld also told the GIs (who were cleared by security before they were commanded to go to the photo op-don’t want the boss to have to face dissension from the troops) that they would be the next ‘greatest generation”-a reference to the characterization of World War II GIs currently popular among pro-military Americans. Now, not only is this a stretch of the imagination, it could be considered a slight (if not a direct insult) to the memory of those men who died in Europe and the Pacific. This ongoing attempt by the war’s champions to equate the disaster in Iraq with the struggle against fascism is, to say the least, embarrassing.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, a slight difference of opinion erupted on May 13th between two US officials over the future of the occupation. According to the Associated Press, legislators were first told by Undersecretary of State Marc Grossman that occupation forces would leave if asked to do so by the “new” governing authority that the US plans to put into place on July 1, 2004. Within minutes, however, this statement was nullified by Grossman and another State Department official who said that this was definitely not the case and that the US would decide when it was time for the occupying troops to leave. In other words, the US-appointed “sovereign” government will be in no more control of the US military and its actions than the prisoners in Abu Gharaib.

Now, if the members of the US-appointed government were politically smart, one of the first public statements they would make on July 1st would be one that demanded that the US and other occupying forces leave Iraq within a given time, say thirty days. Such an action would not only put the Americans on notice, it would also lend some credence to the puppet government’s authority. After all, if this made in America government was willing to place itself firmly on the side of the majority of Iraqis who want the US out immediately, Iraqis might be willing to support its existence until elections are held. Of course, any statement that demanded the withdrawal of US troops would probably end much of Washington’s support for the government that issued said demand. In addition, it would put the Iraqi “Authority” in between the Iraqi people and its US paymasters.

Would the new “sovereign” council do something like this? Not according to the State Department. Colin Powell and his minions insist over the dead bodies piling up in Iraq that this new government wants the US military there. Unmentioned in that statement is the fact that most of the “leaders” in America’s new handpicked “authority” need the US military for protection, so of course they don’t want them to go. On the other hand, a few other members, who might actually represent legitimate elements of Iraqi society, would probably fare better in terms of their support by demanding that the occupiers leave. Nonetheless, Mr. Powell and his cohorts at the State Department don’t “anticipate” any such request and expect a close partnership. Unsaid here is that those who do want the US to get out will most likely be removed from their posts, through verbal or physical force (remember Mr. Diem of southern Vietnam?) In fact, according to a recent piece in the Wall Street Journal, this has already begun, with various Iraqi administrators losing their positions or having their powers assumed by US officials or other Iraqis who are more willing to comply with US demands-in essence, leaving little room for independent-thinking Iraqis of any persuasion to have a role in their new government.

Perhaps the most important word in the above paragraph is the word “leaders.” I say this for a couple of reasons: first, because I wonder exactly which Iraqis these leaders are leading? It certainly isn’t the Iraqis in Falluja, Sadr City, Basra, Najaf, and a dozen other places in Iraq. Indeed, if one is to believe the most recent polls of Iraqi citizens, these leaders are “leading” hardly anyone. Polls suggest that over 80% of all Iraqis want the occupiers to leave immediately and let the Iraqi people design their own government. That is hardly a mandate for continued US military presence in the country. Secondly, this statement reveals once again Washington’s reliance on Iraqis who have little support in their own country. Just as they have done in past attempts to recreate foreign political societies in their own image, the US government is only talking to locals who say what it wants to hear. That’s because Washington is never truly interested in helping people in other countries create a government that represents that country’s interests; its true goal is creating governments that will assist US business interests.

Usually, that requires a US military presence. In a place like Iraq, where most of the population wants the US out and enough of that population is willing to fight to achieve that goal, that means that a state of war will exist until the US leaves or until it quashes the insurgency. The likelihood of the latter is much more remote than that of the former. Because of that, those handpicked leaders who lead virtually no one better hope there’s a plane waiting for them when events finally force them to leave.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what Mr. Powell or anyone else in the State Department thinks, as George Bush made clear in his radio address on Saturday, May 16, 2004. During the course of this weekly event that nobody but the media seems to listen to, Bush told his radio audience: Our forces will remain in Iraq to assist the Iraqi people until Iraqis can secure their own country.” Even though Pentagon favorite Ahmed Chalabi is on record as saying this refusal to cede genuine sovereignty to any Iraq regime will only make things worse for the Americans, Washington is going ahead with its plans to retain control of those things that matter most in Iraq-the military and the oil. Although Iraqi officers in the US-created security forces will be able to organize and train the new army, an edict issued by Overseer Paul Bremer in March contains a paragraph that gives operational control of those Iraqi forces to US commanders. What this means is that only the US can order the Iraqi forces in or out of combat.

As for the oil revenues-those that exist (which are in much smaller amounts than hoped for by the US before the war, mostly because of sabotage by the resistance) are currently placed into a Federal Reserve Bank of New York account, which is controlled by the United States. Although Iraqis hope to have control over the expenditures after June 30th, US administrators are demanding that the US maintains their current control through the current international board that is chosen and controlled by Washington. Even Chalabi has a problem with the existing scenario, although one could assume (given his past passion for the quick and illegal dollar) that this concern has little to do with helping out his fellow Iraqis and much to do with some scheme he has for skimming a portion of those revenues for himself.

In six weeks, there will be a considerable amount of fanfare in Baghdad as new “made in America” flags are raised and soldiers with a lot of ribbons on their chest salute each other. Speeches full of flowery words about independence and freedom will be given. Donald Rumsfeld will smile one of his demonic grins (unless he’s been sacrificed to the cause by then), Dubya will smirk while he prays, John Kerry will provide the assent of the loyal “opposition,” and nothing will change for the Iraqis. Washington will still be the real seat of power in Iraq. Like a dealer in the ancient shell game, it is Washington who has the control.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is being republished by Verso.

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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. He has a new book, titled Nowhere Land: Journeys Through a Broken Nation coming out in Spring 2024.   He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: