Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!
We don’t run corporate ads. We don’t shake our readers down for money every month or every quarter like some other sites out there. We provide our site for free to all, but the bandwidth we pay to do so doesn’t come cheap. A generous donor is matching all donations of $100 or more! So please donate now to double your punch!
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Will Bush Quit Iraq?

“Any appearance of a permanent occupation of Iraq by the US] will both undermine domestic support here in the United States and play directly into the hands of those in the Middle East who — however wrongly — suspect us of imperial design.” So spoke former secretary of State James Baker last week in a speech at Rice University in Houston.

There are few heavier hitters in Bush country than Baker, secretary of state when Bush Sr went to war on Iraq in 1991 and the architect of Bush Jr’s stolen election in 2000. A few days earlier Brent Scowcroft, another veteran of Bush Sr’s administration, raised once more, as he had in 2002, doubts about Bush Jr’s Iraq strategy.

There’s plenty of high-level talk of possible American withdrawal after Iraq’s elections at the end of this month. A retired American general is now in Iraq to assess the situation. Even so, to bet that the United States might cut and run from the mess in Iraq is, in an historical perspective, a risky option. The traditional pacing of imperial adventures ­ even misadventures ­ does not include many pell-mell retreats. Where has the US actually left behind military bases? Iran, the Philippines, Panama, Vietnam. They still haven’t left Cuba, Germany, Japan, South Korea, Guam, the Marshall Islands, et al.)

The speediest withdrawal was probably the one that followed President Reagan’s decision in February, 1984 to pull a US marine force out of Lebanon after a disastrous 16-month deployment that included the blowing up of 241 US marines in their barracks by a truck bomb.

But by comparison with the huge US deployment in Iraq the Lebanon operation was minor, though there is one instructive parallel, in terms of imperial hubris. The advocates of the Lebanese deployment in Reagan’s time pointed back to Eisenhower’s successful dispatch of US marines to Lebanon in 1958, as an auspicious precedent.

Looking back at the routing of Saddam’s army in 1991 those urging invasion of Iraq in 2002 and 2003 said that history would not only see a repetition of that victory but the consummation that Bush Sr would not permit, the eviction of Saddam and rearrangement of Iraq’s internal politics.

The consequence of that hubris is already securely lodged in the annals of imperial discomfiture. After nearly two years eight US divisions can barely guard their own internal lines of communication or the road to Baghdad airport. There’s talk of organizing dearth squads on the old Salvadoran model run by the CIA, but it’s way too late for that option.

The casualty list swells with each day that passes; over 10,000 dead and maimed American troops.The torture scandals have been as devastating to America’s international reputation as was the My Lai massacre in Vietnam. No one expects the situation to improve militarily and the prospect of civil war in Iraq looms. The war is politically unpopular here, as local newspapers and tv news stations carry weekly news of local boys killed or maimed.

The US army is cracking under the strain, in part because of one of the legacies of the Vietnam experience. Creighton Abrams and other US generals restructured the army to make it heavily dependent on reserves. Among their motives was the idea that presidents would find it harder to commit the forces to extended wars.

That particular chicken has now come home to roost: no less than 40 per cent of the US forces now in Iraq are made up of national guard and reserves, most of them bitterly resentful of having been corralled into long tours in Iraq with no release in sight. Last month, the general who heads the army reserves stated bleakly in a memo to his superiors that his units were “rapidly degenerating into a ‘broken’ force”.

New recruitment to the reserves and to the army has plummeted, for obvious reasons. The generals want out, before the war destroys the US Army.

The cost of the war is already huge: $200 billion by the end of this fiscal year is the forecast of Chuck Spinney, a former Pentagon analyst. America is trying to finance this with its cheap dollar, but that is raising other political problems.

Politically, there will never be a more opportune time to start a withdrawal. Bush was reelected with a solid majority. Unlike Kerry, he does not have to establish his warmongering credentials. Republicans rule both chambers of Congress and the midterm elections are nearly two years in the future.

The political establishment is split. James Baker certainly speaks for the oil industry, and most of corporate America thinks America has problems far more pressing than Iraq. The libertarian, and old conservative wing of the Republican Party has never liked this war.

But the Israel lobby, which pitched the war to Bush and got America into it, is still deeply committed and retains considerable power both in the government, the Congress and the para-government of Institutes, Centers and Think-tanks that throttle Washington like kudzu.

The great dread of the Israel lobby back in the early 1970s was that withdrawal from Vietnam might presage withdrawal of support for Israel. Withdrawal from Iraq would be seen by the same lobby as a huge setback and the Sharon government is no doubt pondering scenarios ­ maybe a Tonkin Gulf type incident involving Iran, perhaps an attack on its reactor ­ to ensure withdrawal is postponed. All the leaks and consequent news stories ­ notably one by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker ­ about intelligence sorties by US or Israeli units in western Iran, and possible attack on Iran later this year reflect the ferocious debate going inside the Bush administration. As in 2002 the strategy of the war party is to maintain tension, and to fan the flames.

Bush himself has a huge stake in being able to claim some sort of “success” in Iraq, so it all depends on how the Iraq elections play out. If somehow the White House can claim that Iraq has now been led towards the “democratic” path then decorous retreat is conceivable. If the resistance makes further strides, if the Shia turn on the US, then retreat will be inevitable, with the only other option to the US being a draft here and a US force four times its present size. The war would become the all-consuming theme of Bush’s second term.

It would be rational for the United States to start withdrawal in a month or two. But we are not dealing with rationality. Gabriel Kolko, America’s greatest historian of war, put it well, in this reflection on “intelligence” ande Vietnam:

“The state’s intelligence mechanisms are constrained by a larger structural and ideological environment and by the inherent irrationality of a foreign policy which foredooms any effort to base action on informed insight to a chimera. Even when the insight is exact, and knowledge is far greater than ignorance, political and social boundaries usually place decisive limits on the application of ‘rationality’ to actions. The political and ideological imperatives and interests define the nature of ‘relevant’ truths. Intelligence’s pretension to being objective is a hoax because those parts of it that do not reconfirm the power structure’s interests and predetermined policies are ignored and discarded. There are innumerable reasons we must conclude this Even more important is the entire experience with Iraq and the U.S.’ failed confrontation with the Islamic world for over half a century. To expect the U.S. to behave other than as it has is to cultivate serious illusions and delude oneself.

“The system, in a word, is irrational. We saw it in Vietnam and we are seeing it today in Iraq.”

 

More articles by:

Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

Weekend Edition
October 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Jason Hirthler
The Pieties of the Liberal Class
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Day in My Life at CounterPunch
Paul Street
“Male Energy,” Authoritarian Whiteness and Creeping Fascism in the Age of Trump
Nick Pemberton
Reflections on Chomsky’s Voting Strategy: Why The Democratic Party Can’t Be Saved
John Davis
The Last History of the United States
Yigal Bronner
The Road to Khan al-Akhmar
Robert Hunziker
The Negan Syndrome
Andrew Levine
Democrats Ahead: Progressives Beware
Rannie Amiri
There is No “Proxy War” in Yemen
David Rosen
America’s Lost Souls: the 21st Century Lumpen-Proletariat?
Joseph Natoli
The Age of Misrepresentations
Ron Jacobs
History Is Not Kind
John Laforge
White House Radiation: Weakened Regulations Would Save Industry Billions
Ramzy Baroud
The UN ‘Sheriff’: Nikki Haley Elevated Israel, Damaged US Standing
Robert Fantina
Trump, Human Rights and the Middle East
Anthony Pahnke – Jim Goodman
NAFTA 2.0 Will Help Corporations More Than Farmers
Jill Richardson
Identity Crisis: Elizabeth Warren’s Claims Cherokee Heritage
Sam Husseini
The Most Strategic Midterm Race: Elder Challenges Hoyer
Maria Foscarinis – John Tharp
The Criminalization of Homelessness
Robert Fisk
The Story of the Armenian Legion: a Dark Tale of Anger and Revenge
Jacques R. Pauwels
Dinner With Marx in the House of the Swan
Dave Lindorff
US ‘Outrage’ over Slaying of US Residents Depends on the Nation Responsible
Ricardo Vaz
How Many Yemenis is a DC Pundit Worth?
Elliot Sperber
Build More Gardens, Phase out Cars
Chris Gilbert
In the Wake of Nepal’s Incomplete Revolution: Dispatch by a Far-Flung Bolivarian 
Muhammad Othman
Let Us Bray
Gerry Brown
Are Chinese Municipal $6 Trillion (40 Trillion Yuan) Hidden Debts Posing Titanic Risks?
Rev. William Alberts
Judge Kavanaugh’s Defenders Doth Protest Too Much
Ralph Nader
Unmasking Phony Values Campaigns by the Corporatists
Victor Grossman
A Big Rally and a Bavarian Vote
James Bovard
Groped at the Airport: Congress Must End TSA’s Sexual Assaults on Women
Jeff Roby
Florida After Hurricane Michael: the Sad State of the Unheeded Planner
Wim Laven
Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
Bradley Kaye
The Policy of Policing
Wim Laven
The Catholic Church Fails Sexual Abuse Victims
Kevin Cashman
One Year After Hurricane Maria: Employment in Puerto Rico is Down by 26,000
Dr. Hakim Young
Nonviolent Afghans Bring a Breath of Fresh Air
Karl Grossman
Irving Like vs. Big Nuke
Dan Corjescu
The New Politics of Climate Change
John Carter
The Plight of the Pyrenees: the Abandoned Guard Dogs of the West
Ted Rall
Brett Kavanaugh and the Politics of Emotion-Shaming
Graham Peebles
Sharing is Key to a New Economic and Democratic Order
Ed Rampell
The Advocates
Louis Proyect
The Education Business
David Yearsley
Shock-and-Awe Inside Oracle Arena
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail