The growing opposition to the war in Iraq here in the US, and the growing strength and success of the various resistance groups fighting against the US occupation in Iraq, have put the Bush Administration in a serious bind, not just at home but in Iraq itself.
Here in the US, of course, there’s the problem of trying to go from “stay the course” and condemning anyone who talks about pulling troops out of Iraq as a traitor, to the political imperative of pulling significant numbers of troops out and getting casualties way down before next November’s congressional elections 11 months hence. That’s going to be a tough one even for Karl Rove to manage.
For one thing, progressive Democratic candidates–and the smell of blood dripping out under the White House door is encouraging more progressives to run and more Democrats running to act more like progressives–are going to pound on the issue of the president’s “flip flop” on Iraq, as well as all those wasted lives on his hands and the $300-billion damage bill. For another, there’s no easy way to cut back on troop strength in Iraq without risking higher casualties along the way. Fewer troops on the ground, for example, will mean fewer people to guard convoys, check out suspected roadside bomb sites, etc.
Any military expert will tell you that retreats are among the hardest maneuvers to conduct safely.
Meanwhile, there is the problem of military morale. It was relatively easy to get the troops all fired up and ready to kill and be killed during the invasion of Iraq. Officers drummed it into the heads of the grunts that they were getting revenge for what Al Qaeda had done to America. It was a lie–Saddam Hussein and Iraqis in general had had nothing to do with the 9-11 attacks–but with nobody to rebut the propaganda, it worked pretty well. Later, there was “overthrowing Saddam” and “building democracy.” Those rallying cries didn’t work so well, and as months turned into years, and hundreds of deaths and thousands of casualties turned into thousands of deaths and tens of thousands of injuries, morale plummeted.
But think what will happen now, once soldiers understand that they are being asked to gradually–ever so gradually–retreat from Iraq, leaving the place in a complete mess, handing the government over to militias, thugs and religious fanatics, all the while being hit with sniper fire, IEDs, mortars and rocket propelled grenades. This will be like Vietnam in 1970, when troops knew it was over and they were being asked to fight and die for nothing except Nixon’s re-election. Now it’s Bush’s and Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s asses that soldiers are being asked to shield with their bodies.
Anyone want to make any predictions about morale and fighting spirit over the next year?
It won’t help matters–and does give some indication about how our troops must be feeling themselves–that our allies have already gotten the message and are starting to say “enough.” Ukraine and Bulgaria, with a combined 1250 troops in Iraq, this week announced plans to pack up and call it quits by mid-month. They’re not ready to sacrifice any more soldiers for a doomed US venture. That’s nearly 1 percent of the “allied” forces in Iraq.
Predictably, there are rumblings from the other major US coalition allies: Britain, Italy, Japan, Poland, South Korea and Australia, all of whose voters are opposed to their governments’ participation in the Iraq War anyway. As an AP article notes, if those countries pull out all or many of their troops, “more than half of the non-American forces in Iraq could be gone by next summer.”
This kind of thing tends to have a snowball effect, too. The end result is likely to be a rush for the exits, which could end up looking a lot like the one on the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Saigon 30 years ago.
DAVE LINDORFF is the author of Killing Time: an Investigation into the Death Row Case of Mumia Abu-Jamal. His new book of CounterPunch columns titled “This Can’t be Happening!” is published by Common Courage Press. Information about both books and other work by Lindorff can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net.
He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org