Head for the Exits, Now!

Imagine a steer in the stockyards hollering to his fellows, “We need a phased withdrawal from the slaughterhouse, starting in four to six months. The timetable should not be overly rigid. But there should be no more equivocation.” Back and forth among the steers the debate meanders on. Some say, “To withdraw now” would be to “display weakness”. Others talk about a carrot and stick approach. Then the men come out with electric prods and shock them up the chute.

The way you end a slaughter is by no longer feeding it. Every general, either American or British, with the guts to speak honestly over the past couple of years has said the same thing: the foreign occupation of Iraq by American and British troops is feeding the violence.

Iraq is not on the “edge of civil war”. It is in the midst of it. There is no Iraqi government. There are Sunni militias and Shia militias inflicting savagery on each other in the awful spiral of reprisal killings familiar from Northern Ireland and Lebanon in the 1970s. Iraq has become Chechnya, headed into that abyss from the day the US invaded in 2003. It’s been a steep price to inflict on the Iraqi people for the pleasure of seeing Saddam Hussein die abruptly at the end of a rope.

If the US is scheduled for any role, beyond swift withdrawal, it certainly won’t be as “honest broker”, lecturing fractious sectarians on how to behave properly, like Teacher in some schoolhouse on the prairie. It was always been in the US interest to curb the possibility of the Shia controlling much of Iraq, including most of the oil. By one miscalculation after another, precisely that specter is fast becoming a reality. For months outgoing ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad tried to improve the Sunni position, and it is clear enough that in its covert operations the US has been in touch with the Sunni resistance.

If some Sunni substitute for Saddam stepped up to the plate the US would welcome him and propel him into power, but it is too late for such a course. As Henry Kissinger said earlier this week, the war is lost. This is the man who — if we are to believe Bob Woodward’s latest narrative — has been advising Bush and Cheney that there could be no more Vietnams, that the war in Iraq could not be lost without humiliating consequences for America’s status as the number # 1 bully on the block. When Kissinger says a war is lost, you can reckon that it is.

Democrats, put in charge of Congress next January by voters who turned against the war, are now split on what to do. The 80 or so members of the House who favor swift withdrawal got a swift rebuff when Steny Hoyer won the House Majority leader position at a canter from Jack Murtha, humiliating House majority whip Nancy Pelosi in the process. But there are still maneuvers to have Murtha capture a significant role in brokering the rapid exit strategy he stunned Washington by advocating a year ago.

Next came Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, who never opens his mouth without testing the wind with a supersensitive finger to test the tolerance levels of respectable opinion. In Chicago on Monday he said there are no good options left in Iraq, but that it “remains possible to salvage an acceptable outcome to this long and misguided war.”

This time Obama plumped for the “four to six months” option for “phased redeployment”, though the schedule should not be “overly rigid”, to give–so the senator said — commanders on the ground flexibility to protect the troops or adapt to changing political arrangements in the Iraqi government. Then there followed the familiar agenda for America as stern, disinterested broker: “economic pressure” should be applied to makie Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds sit down and forge a lasting peace. “No more coddling, no more equivocation.”

It sounds great as a clip on the Evening News, provoking another freshet of talk about Obama as presidential candidate. Substantively it means absolutely nothing. What “economic pressure” is he talking about, what “coddling”, in ruined, looted Iraq? It’s all the language of fantasy.

The only time reality enters into Obama’s and Democrats’ foreign policy advisories is when the subject of Israel comes up. Then there’s no lofty talk about “No more coddling”, but the utterly predictable green light for Israel to do exactly what it wants–which is at present to reduce Gaza to sub-Chechnyian levels and murder families in Beit Hanoun: this is a Darfur America really could stop but instead is sponsoring and cheering on, to its eternal shame.

The Palestinians are effectively defenseless, even as the US Congress cheers Israel on. What political Washington cannot yet quite comprehend is that Iraq is not Palestine; cannot be lectured and given schedules. America is not controlling events in Iraq. If the Shia choose to cut supply lines from Kuwait up to the northern part of the country, the US forces would be in deep, deep trouble. When the Democrats take over Congress in January, they should vote to end funding for anything in Iraq except withdrawing US forces immediately. If they don’t, there’s nothing but downsides, including without doubt a Third Party peace candidacy that could well cost them the White House in 2008, or–who knows–the return of Al Gore as the peace candidate, now that Russ Feingold has quit the field. Perhaps that’s what Obama was trying to head off.

ALEXANDER COCKBURN and Jeffrey St. Clair’s new book, End Times: the Death of the Fourth Estate, will be published in February by CounterPunch Books / AK Press.




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

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