Iraq-satiated Democrats face a formidable political challenge: If they win in November, can they extricate the country from Bush’s illegal war, which apparently can’t be won by US military forces and has drained material and psychic resources?
Obama and Clinton promise to withdraw the troops–well, most combat forces by 2010. They don’t say what they’ll do with the 180,000 "contractors" the US pays to do jobs soldiers once did, or how to deal with the super-Walmart sized embassy, still under construction. Indeed, few ask the question: Why do we need such an obscene and dominating structure if we’re leaving? Nor have we seen plans to meet the issue of the future of US bases in Iraq, or how to include Iraq’s neighbors, those most concerned (Syria and Iran), with post occupation stabilization.
All American political aspirants use the word "peace" in the same way as people say "bless you" when you sneeze: such words mean nothing. Just recall how 13 colonies transformed themselves into an empire. It took only a century of conquest – of Indian land and Mexican and Spanish territory. That’s one example of a peace loving people!
McCain is a maverick because he admits implicitly that war forms a basic thread in American culture. He says he’ll keep US troops in Iraq indefinitely, until we win (whatever that means). He extols the glorious military that hasn’t won a war against an enemy that fought back since World War II – and even then, thanks to the Soviet forces. The arms makers, the Halliburtons and Blackwaters of the country, love this kind of talk – as do their stockholders.
The axioms of US politics vitiate honest dialogue on war and empire. Distortion appears thanks to the media stenographers as daily news. Bush, who will say anything, praises himself for making progress in Iraq. One must translate that word as "wreaking five years of death and destruction." Wiping his usual Alfred E. Newman smirk from his turned down mouth, he praised "progress" in Iraq and challenged Democrats who call for troop withdrawals. "No matter what shortcomings these critics diagnose, their prescription is always the same: retreat," Bush said. (USA Today March 27)
His optimism clashed with facts when in late March fighting erupted in Basra and rioting in Baghdad. With US encouragement, the Iraqi government launched a military offensive in Basra to undermine Moktada al Sadr, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s political rival. The Prime Minister faction feared his would lose in the provincial elections in October because the public hates his government. They have done nothing to provide water supply, housing or jobs for poor Iraqis. Maliki’s coalition did, however, line its own pockets. The attack failed. The US-trained army had to rely on US air and ground support to rescue them from Sadr’s militias. So much for the success of Bush’s surge! Violence in Iraq escalated.
Almost five years after he claimed to have accomplished mission (May 1, 2003), Bush still pats himself on the back. He deposed Saddam Hussein, who "killed his own people." Bush’s puppet government just killed hundreds of Iraqis in Basra. Bush does not see contradictions.
If the US withdraws, he warns, a parade of horrors will ensue –the old yawner we heard about dominoes falling in Asia if we pulled out of Vietnam. We’re still waiting for the sound of those tumbling chips as the City Bank building dominates the skyline of Ho Chi Minh City. Bush and Cheney repeat vague disaster scenarios. Their media outlets (Fox and CNN, for examples) reiterate the nonsense almost as often as commercials.
The public said no to this war in the 2006 congressional election, and in every poll. Dick Cheney says: "so?" His and Bush’s "get-Saddam" obsession has cost 4,000 US soldiers’ lives, plus upwards of 30,000 wounded . The final costs will run into trillions of dollars.
Incidentally, neither Hillary nor Barack refer to the colossal toll in Iraqi lives. Bush’s policies have cost Washington immense prestige and credibility. Their lies and deceptions may convince a small minority, but most of the world recognizes Iraq as an unmitigated disaster. It has led to increased regional tensions, and contributed to US economic malaise as well. Can a Democrat recoup the global solidarity generated after 9/11? Or, has anti-Americanism become so ubiquitous in the world that Bush’s deeds cannot be undone by a "nicer guy" regime?
Bush still claims Iraqis are better off because of his invasion. Strangely enough, most Iraqis can’t yet see the benefits from ongoing death, destruction, torture, prison and exile. Bush seems to think that taking those factors into account shows a short term perspective on their part.
"The challenge before us," he wrote, "is whether we respond to al-Qaeda’s barbarism by running away, as it hopes we do — abandoning the future of Iraq, the Middle East and ultimately our own security to the very people responsible for last week’s atrocities — or whether we stand and fight. To me, there is only one choice that protects America’s security — and that is to stand, and fight, and win." (Washington Post, April 26, 2007)
Imagine, Bush still sneaks in and out of Baghdad when he visits to lecture his puppets. When Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited, he rode around Iraq with little protection and got the kind of warm welcome Bush must pray for.
Bush’s insistence that he’s fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq so he doesn’t have to fight them here collides with facts uncovered by on the scene journalists Patrick Cockburn (The Independent) and Ned Parker (Los Angeles Times). They estimate Al Qaeda’s presence contributes a minute part of Iraq’s daily violence. (The 2006 Iraq Study Group report supports their conclusions.) Ironically, Al Qaeda didn’t exist in Iraq until after Bush invaded.
Given the public skepticism about the war and the declining economy, the Democrats’ November electoral task should be easy. But wait! They control both Houses and didn’t cut off Iraq War funds. One agonizing anti-war Member said, "We don’t have the votes to end it. The Joe Liebermans and Blue Dogs make it impossible," referring to the former Democrat – now Independent — from Connecticut who echoes Bush by blaming the Iraqi insurgency on Al Qaeda. In 1994, conservative House Democrats formed The Blue Dog Coalition to represent more hawkish positions and stronger anti-tax stands.
In looking for ways out, why don’t Democrats leaders simply repeat the Iraq Study Group’s recommendation? Iraq’s eastern and western neighbors, Iran and Syria, should become leading participants in helping to stabilize Iraq after US troops depart. "Given the ability of Iran and Syria to influence events within Iraq and their interest in avoiding chaos in Iraq, the United States should try to engage them constructively," said the report.
The solution is obvious, yet arm chair pundits and Solons wring their hands. If the US pulls, civil war may erupt in Iraq. Hey, civil war broke out when Shia v. Shia fought each other in Basra. The clashes there should have forever exploded the myth that Iraq suffers only from a Shiite-Sunni or Kurd-Turkuman-Christian feud.
The White House mischaracterized al Maliki’s attack as aimed at criminals and terrorists. The flimsy lie was exposed and even with US military help, government forces lost. Indeed, had not Sadr called a cease fire (purportedly, thanks to Iran), Maliki’s humiliation would have been worse. The Basra conflagration dramatizes the lies that Bush and Cheney tell and the media repeats about the value of the surge and progress in Iraq. It also underlined the main fact of US occupation: it has destroyed the integrity of Iraqi society. The longer we remain, the more difficult it will become to re-glue the elements of that country into some cohesive mass.
Al Qaeda has not sponsored the anti-U.S. insurgency in Iraq. The US presence has brought death, destruction and misery to Iraqis. That’s why we’re hated.
The Dems could use facts to show flaws in Bush argument for staying his bloody course. They could posit withdrawal afrom Iraq as a stabilizing move – a change from threatening war and demanding US-style democratization. (Recall the January 2006 Palestinian elections in Gaza; free and fair and under Israeli occupation. Hamas won. Since the wrong Party won, Bush said the elections didn’t count. Such behavior doesn’t auger well for the US as broker for an Israeli-Palestinian peace.)
"To leave Iraq," said my colleague, "just go." He forgot that such a bold move might require the invention of the spinal transplant.
Landau is an Institute for Policy Studies fellow and winner of the "best activist video" award from the San Francisco Vide Fest for WE DON’T PLAY GOLF HERE (available on dvd from [email protected]