“American Footprint” in Iraq

The US doesn’t want to leave; its godlike liberal humanitarian mission to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people, marked indelibly on the American conscience, is too noble to be abandoned by any extrinsic considerations, viz., illegal war, defiant intervention, rape, shock-and-awe battleground rules, drone assassination, in sum, those messy things accompanying righteous struggle that only picky minds find objectionable. American principle is being tested today—either keep at it (“it” conveniently never defined in terms of the complex of geopolitical strategy to achieve global hegemony, supplemented by an entrenched militarism structuring the American mind, and the habitual needs for capitalist expansion only seemingly satisfied through a devouring war economy) or admit to cowardice and bring on systemic collapse because not sufficiently aggressive in and toward the world. God loves unilateralism. The Devil sent ISIS to test America’s moral fiber.

So there we are, back at the old stand. Moral vigor requires, create your Enemy in order to vanquish it. Details not wanted, whether torture of the recalcitrant, fabrication of a counterterrorism ideology for justifying wider international goals (OIL between the toes of the footprint, as well as solidifying a wall of geographic-political containment to check presumed Russian-Chinese expansion into the region while at the same time shoring up Israel), even perhaps attempting to reverse history, reactivating colonialism, now that Britain and France are out of the way, by readapting it to what Gallagher and Robinson (in a landmark article) once termed, “noncolonial imperialism,” the advantages of colonialism in terms of commercial-financial penetration while avoiding administrative “burdens” and costs—except of course that military domination is itself a whopping cost and sign of the original article.

Military planning appears focused on ISIS. Poor Gen. Dempsey, as though he didn’t have his hands full enough already with events outside the region, not least, going head-to-head with Russia and China as part of Obama’s all-out pressure to isolate them on the perfidious road to hoped-for dismemberment (or somehow making each tributary to the US). It is amazing how much official attention, echoed by a more-than-willing media, is being devoted to ISIS, the Enemy du jour vital to keeping the whole edifice of monopoly capitalism in full running gear, now including massive surveillance on the home front. Let’s look closer at that preparation with respect to and concentration on ISIS.


One point to make at the outset: Just as yesterday’s release of the extremely important IPCC report on climate change added multiple dimensions to the problem, beyond the obvious physical effects of global warming, to include increase of poverty, competition for scarce resources which could eventuate in war, etc., the US involvement in the Middle East, using the continuing intervention in Iraq as a benchmark (although in fact America is all over the place beginning at least a half-century before the invasion of Iraq), reveals widespread destruction, much of it deliberate, and, at home, the wholesale perversion of the Constitution, and hardly irrelevant to that process, the commission of war crimes with impunity and contempt shown international law and organization. War is more than body counts and dollar amounts; bypassing direct congressional authorization in favor of continuing resolutions, so as to avoid discussion of war policies and expenditures, the bipartisan dedication to obfuscation and government opacity, so well describes the current mood. Obama’s contempt for international law matches and is at one with his contempt for government transparency—to which, in foreign policy especially, he walks in a sea of near-unanimity.

Times reporters Michael Gordon and Eric Schmitt’s article, “Iraqis Prepare ISIS Offensive, With U.S. Help,” (Nov. 3), provides a picture of American military activity in Iraq at this stage, ISIS itself a surrogate for Saddam Hussein’s “weapons of mass destruction,” then, al Qaeda, and now offshoots, of which ISIS can be considered one. (It’s too late to speculate, but had there never been US intervention in Iraq, and Iran before that, and its absolutistic defense of Israel, would there have been an ISIS, or, for that matter, without American bases in Saudi Arabia, bin Laden and al Qaeda?) Ah, the footprint—the reporters begin: “Iraqi security forces, backed by American-led air power and hundreds of advisers, are planning to mount a major spring offensive against Islamic State fighters who have poured into the country from Syria, a campaign that is likely to face an array of logistical and political challenges.” Curiously, these challenges somehow constitute a replay or continuation of the original war paradigm: heavy American presence, training and equipment of Iraqi forces none too willing to engage in combat. (Can one blame them, proxies for advancing US geostrategic interests and exacerbating the country’s internal divisions?)

They write that “the major push [having described putative gains of Iraqi and Kurdish forces], which is being devised with the help of American military planners, will require training three new Iraqi army divisions—more than 20,000 troops—over the coming months.” One US military official (anonymous, as usual) explains in stilted Pentagon jargon: “’It is a balance between letting them develop their own plan and take ownership for it, and ensuring that they don’t stretch themselves too far and outpace their capacity.’” My translation: don’t let them out of our sight, the “balance” being: Do exactly what we tell you. There have been air strikes since summer, but until now, “the longer-term campaign plan has remained under wraps.” This is becoming increasingly revealed, to wit, attack ISIS fighters “with a goal of isolating them in major strongholds like Mosul.” This accomplished (a big order!) and Iraqi troops, Kurdish pesh merga units, and, seemingly from nowhere, Sunni tribes can “take on a weakened foe that has been cut off from its supply lines and reinforcements in Syria, which are subject to American airstrikes.” I am reminded of Robert Burns: “The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men/ Gang aft a-glay.”

Bring on the military brass—Lt. Gen. James Terry, from Kuwait, to oversee US Army forces in the Middle East, and Maj. Gen. Paul Funk II, to “run a subordinate headquarters in Baghdad that will supervise the hundreds of American advisers and trainers working with Iraqi forces.” A lot of activity for a handful of Americans—one suspects hundreds will soon become thousands, supplemented by private contractors. Even Gordon and Schmitt recognize the logic: “As the push to train Iraq’s military gathers momentum, the American footprint is likely to expand from Baghdad and Erbil [US bombing to protect it since last August] to additional outposts, including Al Asad Air Base in Iraq’s embattled Anbar Province in the west, and possibly Taji, 20 miles north of Baghdad.” Sounds like an all-out effort in the making. The fear: in the intervening months to accomplish this, will ISIS “entrench in western and northern Iraq and carry out more killings.”

Time is a factor, which is to say, that as the perceived emergency increases, so does the US escalation of further involvement. For now, the US “does not plan to advise Iraqi forces below the level of a brigade,” (for Iraq, approx. 2,000 troops), yet, the reporters make clear, the enterprise may be more open-ended: “Nor is it clear under what circumstances the White House might allow American advisers to accompany Iraqi units on the battlefield or to call in airstrikes [as Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, indicated might be necessary].” Why not admit the inevitable, escalation? They continue: “Iraq’s recent history suggests that such a battlefield advisory role is likely to be needed,” given its forces’ showing in 2008 in Basra against Shiite militias, “until American commanders sent their troops to advise Iraqi forces below the brigade level and facilitate airstrikes.”

Challenges abound. Someone has to train the Iraqi police, who “will be responsible for protecting areas that have been cleared by the army.” Too, the Shiite militias have to be withdrawn, disbanded, “or have their members integrated into Iraq’s security forces.” And those 5,000 Syrian rebels—their training in Saudi Arabia and Turkey has yet to begin, not to say, the task of “synchronizing the Iraqi campaign” with that effort. The more one probes the more it is obvious that the administration has given thought to the finer points of greater intervention than now admitted. Alistair Baskey, a White House spokesperson, has said that Obama’s initial figure of 1,600 tops for personnel in Iraq was “just the number of troops required for the current missions,” and an unnamed official said “it was likely the number would need to be raised.” (Joe McCarthy had his numbers game, Obama, his.) Planners had drafted the option of 3,500 more personnel, “to expand the advisory effort and speed the push to rebuild the Iraqi military.” As for increases on the Iraqi side, US officials plan to advise “roughly 24,000 troops.” But why stop there, for as they note, “the counterattack plan calls for at least doubling that force by adding three divisions, each of which could range from 8,000 to 12,000 troops.”

Not through yet, however. America is requesting that Australia, Canada, and Norway augment its role in “the training or advisory missions,” to which add, US creation of “new national guard brigades in each of Iraq’s 18 provinces,” for securing “those areas after the Iraqi army has mounted its counteroffensive.” Team Obama thinks, or thinks it thinks, of everything: “The national guard initiative has been promoted by American officials as a way for Sunnis in western and northern Iraq to play a major role in defending their territory, which would ease sectarian frictions.” And after ISIS, what next? Hamas? There’s never a dull moment on the international front—and should there be, we always have dissidents in America to harass, intimidate, destroy, the spirit of crushing an opposition truly knowing no boundaries or bounds.

My New York Times Comment on the Gordon-Schmitt article, same date, follows:

This preparation of Iraqi forces against ISIS, let’s be blunt, is a) a return of the “American footprint” to Iraq, as though hostilities had never ceased; b) is costly, though hidden, beyond public awareness–$580M for airstrikes alone, against ISIS; and c) wholly violates the US Constitution, the Overseas Contingency Operations Budget a backdoor way for financing an illegal war–illegal?, yes, because without congressional authorization for the specific war expansion AND done by continuing resolution.

What is worse, the administration lies about withdrawal or the vast expansion of Executive Power via these sleight-of-hand means of appropriation, I leave for wiser heads to decide. The NYT parallel editorial, “The New War’s Rising Cost,” (Nov. 1), is excellent, but begs the question, “Why New”? This is Obama as usual, an election tomorrow, so why tip our hand about a never- ending intervention. Odierno is quoted in the article, “It’s a three- to four year effort.” Yes, the moment the time-line is extended, we know Obama is reaching into his box of magic tricks to keep alive his war-lust and that of the military and intelligence communities with whom he is so close.

A suppliant Congress merely confirms the bipartisan consensus on war, intervention, assassination, and a contemptuous disregard of the Constitution. Vote ‘em straight tomorrow, Americans–it doesn’t matter which party: military triumphalism is the order of the day.

Norman Pollack has written on Populism. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.

Norman Pollack Ph.D. Harvard, Guggenheim Fellow, early writings on American Populism as a radical movement, prof., activist.. His interests are social theory and the structural analysis of capitalism and fascism. He can be reached at pollackn@msu.edu.