September 19, 2007
The Baker-Hamilton Report has come and gone. The Petraeus Report has come and gone. Nothing has changed. There is no exit. More to the point, there is no plan for an exit. Give credit to Cheney and Bush. They do what they please, and get away with it. They are blinkered and we are bamboozled. The White House is staying the course, muddling through, like jingo John Bull during the Boer War.
Senator Chuck Hagel summarized the Cheney-Bush Iraq policy a few days ago on television: “…it’s dishonest, it’s hypocritical, it’s dangerous and irresponsible…. This war policy, where we are today, and the continuation of this policy is the biggest foreign policy blunder in the history of our country.”
Alas, Hagel is retiring from the Senate and has taken a pass on running for President. He may be discouraged. The exisiting “me too” Republican presidential contenders are marching off a cliff in unison. How can they be so silly? These amazing boneheads support the White House to the hilt on Iraq, with the notable exception of Dr. Ron Paul. If nothing else, Chuck Hagel should be there to provide backup for Paul. He needs a kindred spirit to combat the forces of myopia and the status quo. In particular, Giuliani, McCain, Fred Thompson and Duncan Hunter need to be denounced and debunked. Their views on Iraq and “the war on terror” are dangerous nonsense. Hagel is best prepared to do that.
When I contemplate an exit strategy, I think back to October of 2003 and to Tom Engelhardt’s essay “The Time of Withdrawal” on Tomdispatch.com, an annex of the Nation magazine. Englehardt was among the first calling for a troop withdrawal from Iraq, seven months after the invasion. It is striking how the parameters of the Iraq controversy have so little changed since then. Here’s a sample:
“Right now in the mainstream, with the exception of a few columnists like James Carroll of the Boston Globe and Bob Herbert of the New York Times, and the odd intellectual figure like the economist Jeffrey Sachs, withdrawal is not yet on anyone’s agenda. The Democratic [2004 Presidential] candidates, Kucinich aside, are criticizing how we got into the war without suggesting ways to get out any time soon…
“It’s time for us to do our best not just to put withdrawal on the American agenda as a slogan but to give it some thought and content.
“We are not and never have been the solution to the problem of Iraq, but a significant part of the problem.
“How this [withdrawal] might be done and whom Iraq would be handed off to must be considered as well. Would the UN take some responsibility for Iraq or, for that matter, the Arab League? I don’t know. All I know is that if the will to withdraw, and withdraw quickly, is there, withdrawal is what will happen.
“I do think it would be a mistake for any of us to claim that we know what would happen during a genuine withdrawal. It could indeed be a terrible mess or simply a true horror. Iraq could split in three “ an embattled Kurdish semi-democracy in the north (under the ominous shadow of Turkey), a Sunni dictatorship in the center, and a harsh Islamic Republic in the South. There could be bloodshed or civil war…
”All of that is speculation. But what we can see is what a long-term horror an American occupation and reconstruction of Iraq is likely to turn out to be. We can see the rising death toll; we can read about the civilians slain; we can note the mini-gulag set up there. We can mull over the greed and corruption in what passes for ‘reconstruction.’ All this we know. [My emphasis.] The rest is possibility.”
To keep the withdrawal idea on the table and promote discussion, Tom solicited ideas from readers, and devoted an entire issue of Tomdispatch to them, entitled “From the mailbag: responses to ‘The Time of Withdrawal’” on November 6th, 2003.
One was from the eminent MIT professor, Noam Chomsky: “Good article, but the proposal has one big problem…. If the U.S. withdraws, then there was no point invading. The U.S. would be leaving without imposing a client regime and placing military bases right at the heart of the oil-producing regions….”
That appears to make sense. It may be the only definition you will ever get as to what Cheney and Bush actually mean when they use the term “victory” with respect to Iraq. Victory in Iraq means (a) a client state, (b) permanent military bases in Iraq, to add to those already in Kuwait and in the Gulf sheikdoms, from which to “police” and lord it over the Arabs. On the surface, without (a) and (b), the whole enterprise of Iraq would appear to be pointless, even mysterious, unless there is some other factor in the background, a political motive involved, which Chomsky fails to note or is avoiding.
My two cents were added at the end of the dispatch. Tom categorized the contribution as “A kind of grim early epitaph for our latest Iraq war.” Here it is:
“Since there is no legal basis for the U.S. occupation of Iraq, one might think a withdrawal would be easier. But the opposite may be true. Remember, there was no surrender signed by the Saddam regime or his generals—like with Germany and Japan in WWII—and hence no transfer of power.
“Since there are no WMD and Bush has admitted that Iraq was not involved in the 9/11 terrorist attack upon the United States, there was no threat to the national security of the United States posed by this third world country whose infrastructure and civilian population had been decimated by sanctions throughout the Clinton Administration and whose armed forces had been reduced by 2/3rds since the attempted annexation of Kuwait.
“Therefore, the stated premise for the Bush Administration’s attack upon Iraq was false. In addition, there was no declaration of war by the Congress or authorization by the UN Security Council to attack. This was strictly a Presidential war. Offhand, I would say reparations are in order for the damage done to the targeted country. But no American president wants to admit that his administration was wrong or lied. I can’t think of any who ever did with respect to foreign policy. These circumstances would immensely complicate a withdrawal from Iraq by the Bush Administration.
“A withdrawal of whatever kind would of necessity have to come under another a false smokescreen of some sort, just like the going in. Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus. The bottom line for undertaking this adventure was the perception by the Bush inner circle that it could be easily done, easily gotten away with, and that it would be good politics for 2004—a continuation of the “patriotism card” which suckered-punched the Democrats in the 2002 midterm elections. It has not worked out that way.
“If it had, a very significant withdrawal would be in the cards prior to November 2004. But now Bush is stuck with a failed policy based on false premises, which policy is blowing up in his face. To withdraw pre-November 2004 would be to admit failure. For political reasons, Bush can’t do that. He has got to maintain multiple fictions, just like LBJ did. Any withdrawal pre or post November 2004 will be followed by a civil war. Mission accomplished. In fact, a civil war could get underway during the American occupation itself. Welcome to the 21st Century.”
Fast forward to May 4th, 2004 and William Pfaff’s column in the International Herald Tribune entitled “An Exit Strategy Based on Iraqi Nationalism”. From his long-time headquarters in Paris, Pfaff has had plenty to say about the Cheney-Bush antics in foreign policy, and most of it has been devastating. From the start, his analysis has been at odds with the “neocon” hustlers on the other side of the Atlantic; Pfaff remains unimpressed with the prevailing wisdom on both sides of the Atlantic. As such, he is a wonderful antidote to the “neocons” and to the whole Washington foreign policy establishment, to which the “neocons” are, after all, just the most rabid component.
In a few choice sentences, Pfaff deconstructs the “neocon” pet assumptions and reclaims common sense: “…the current violent resistance to the United States is an inevitable reaction against foreign military occupation…. The notion that American forces are essential to ‘stabilize’ Iraq is an illusion. American forces destabilize Iraq—as Iraqis themselves keep trying to explain to Americans.”
Pfaff ends by quoting General William Odom, director of the National Security Agency under Reagan, who now teaches at Yale and Georgetown: “Odom wants a unilateral American declaration that it will completely withdraw U.S. troops within six months – regardless of what happens in Iraq, or of what the United Nations and the international community do to deal with the situation. That is drastic action. It also is essential, since as Odom says, ‘we have failed; the issue is how high a price we’re going to pay.’”
Pfaff wrote this particular column in the summer of 2004. We have just finished with the summer of 2007. There is no exit. Meanwhile, the price Uncle Sam is paying in blood and treasure in Iraq has become a tsunami. Yet, let’s face it, there is minimal outrage in America about the whole affair. It has been accepted. That is curious.
The creepy folks who orchestrated this war, largely to inflate their egos and to further a private agenda, have not been called to account. As part of the same crusade to nowhere, Cheney and Bush are threatening to launch a new war against Iran, which would augment the current quagmire, next door in Iraq. Congress appears completely unconcerned. Indeed, most of the 2008 presidential candidates of both parties have given the White House a free pass to initiate hostilities. How can they be so obtuse? To a remarkable extent, it is business as usual. What is going on here?