Part of the Problem

Not long after Baghdad fell to American troops, it was already apparent that the United States was part of the problem, not part of the solution, in Iraq; and that, as long as the American military occupied the country, matters would just get worse. Every passing month has only predictably confirmed that reality. There’s no reason to believe that the next year of our military presence will be any less destabilizing than the last.


Of course, as is now notoriously well known, the Bush administration helped such predictions along their un-merry course in a particularly heavy-handed way. At least three crucial aspects of Bush policy created a fatal brew, insuring that the complex situation in Iraq in 2003 would devolve in quick-time into today’s catastrophic tinderbox: First, there was the emphasis the President and his top officials put on the use of force as a primary response to global problems. (On this matter, they were fundamentalists.) Such an approach (when combined with the stripped-down, lean and mean U.S. military-lite Donald Rumsfeld was creating) acted as a recruiting agent for the insurgency that soon followed. Second, there was the deep-seated urge of Bush’s nearest and dearest to plunder the world, which meant, in the case of Iraq, those no-bid, cost-plus contracts to crony corporations which led to an Iraqi “reconstruction” that, in its essential corruption, deconstructed the country. Finally, let’s not forget their deepest urge of all, which was to occupy a key country smack in the middle of the oil heartlands of our planet and not depart. This guaranteed, as certainly as night follows day, both the insurgency that arose in Sunni areas and the angry feelings of Shiites toward their own “liberation.”


It is now a commonplace in Washington to point out that the Bush administration had no exit strategy from Iraq, but to this day few bother to say the obvious: It had no exit strategy because its top officials never planned on or expected to leave that country. That this was so is easy enough to chart via one of the least well-covered subjects of the period, the Pentagon’s determination to build huge, and hugely impressive, permanent military bases (called for a time “enduring camps”) in that country. As we know from a single New York Times front-page piece published just after Baghdad fell, the Pentagon was already planning four such permanent bases then. Among the hundred or so bases, encampments, and outposts of every size constructed since, they have never stopped building and upgrading a small number of them for endless future occupancy, which tells you all you need to know about their present plans to “withdraw” or “draw down” our Iraqi presence.


On all the points above, matters simply continue down their hideous path. The bases are still being built; the looting of Iraq, which never ended, has now extended in an open-armed way to the Iraqis under our tutelage. Just this week, Patrick Cockburn of the British Independent reported that the Iraqi defense ministry is missing more than $1 billion, certainly one of the larger thefts in history, contracted out in a familiarly no-bid way for arms purchases from Poland and Pakistan. These arms were, of course, for the new Iraqi military on which the administration is counting so heavily, and the money is now simply gone. As for a policy of force, the U.S. military, which has just conducted an assault on the largely Turkmen city of Tal Afar, causing, it seems, great damage, is threatening to repeat such operations (modeled in a modest way on the destruction of Falluja last November) in urban areas elsewhere. (“‘You will see the same thing [as at Tal Afar] down along the Euphrates Valley to push back out and restore Iraqi control to the area around Qaim,’ Gen. George W. Casey Jr., the top American commander in Iraq, said in an interview in Baghdad.”) This is, of course, the American version of the infamous Roman Carthaginian solution, meant to bring the Sunni resistance to an intimidated halt. (Don’t count on that.) And in the process, of course, more Americans died, 12 of them in recent days, sending the total of American dead over the 1,900 levee.


The results can be observed from Baghdad to Basra in the Shiite south where the Brits are now in some trouble. Juan Cole at his Informed Comment website (the single must-visit Iraq stop on the Internet) reported recently on the security situation (“sinking like the Titanic” in his phrase) in Baghdad where whole neighborhoods seem to have fallen into the hands of insurgents or Zarqawi followers. We’re not talking here about Tal Afar, or Mosul, but about the Iraqi capital itself which “our” government inside the Green Zone simply does not control. What more do we need to know about how desperate the situation is. Should you want a sense of what that situation feels like up close and personal, check out Baghdad Burning by Riverbend, the remarkable young woman blogger who has just come back on-line after a two-month hiatus, a “vacation” daily lacking in electricity, water, and the other amenities of life in a modern city.


But let’s look on the bright side. A year ago, withdrawal was a subject that simply couldn’t be brought up in a serious way in the mainstream American world. Now, it’s a word everyone is bandying about. In the wake of Katrina, according to a recent New York Times/CBS poll, “52% of people interviewed called for an immediate withdrawal, even if that means abandoning President Bush’s goal of restoring stability to that country.” (A Gallup poll reported that “66 percent of respondents favored the immediate withdrawal of some or all of the U.S. troops in Iraq, a 10 percentage point jump in two weeks.”) In this, they are far ahead of the politicians they’ve elected, whether Democrats or Republicans.


Below, Michael Schwartz makes the case, both simple and sophisticated, for withdrawing quickly from Iraq, but more than that for stopping thinking of the United States as part of the solution –- a bulwark, for instance, against an onrushing civil war — rather than part of the problem. With the antiwar demonstration in Washington DC this weekend, this is a moment to consider just what kinds of pressure for what kinds of solutions we want to bring to bear on this stumbling, if still utterly recalcitrant administration.



[This article first appeared on Tomdispatch.com, a weblog of the Nation Institute, which offers a steady flow of alternate sources, news, and opinion from Tom Engelhardt, long time editor in publishing, co-founder of the American Empire Project and author of The End of Victory Culture.]


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