Even though it has been announced that some 40,000 troops will leave Iraq by the end of 2011, and despite White House claims that “President Obama Has Ended the War in Iraq,” we, regrettably, do not see The War as ending. Iraq is, or was, only one theater—a particularly misguided, costly, and tragic one—in the larger War on Terror that has already expanded into Pakistan and threatens Iran, not to mention Yemen and other nations being struck without warning by Predator drone missiles.
The following surveys how the announced “withdrawal” is not an end “as promised” to an unpopular quagmire, but rather a strategic relocation of forces in an ongoing hundred years’ war for access to oil, natural gas, and other natural resources (and maybe good old “full spectrum dominance” while we’re at it?).
[ See illustrated version at Levees Not War.org ]
“In August  a British official close to the Bush team told Newsweek: ‘Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.’ ”Where’s That “Mission Accomplished” Feeling?
—Paul Krugman, “Things to Come,” March 18, 2003
On Friday, Oct. 21, President Obama announced that “as promised,” by the end of this year, 2011, the last remaining U.S. forces (about 39,000) will leave Iraq and be home in time for the holidays.
A few hours ago I spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. I reaffirmed that the United States keeps its commitments. He spoke of the determination of the Iraqi people to forge their own future. We are in full agreement about how to move forward. So today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.The U.S.–Iraq status of forces agreement (2008) worked out between Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki and the George W. Bush administration had provided for continued U.S. military presence of some 50,000 “advise and assist brigades” for security and training until the end of 2011, with a possible extension if negotiated.
As WhiteHouse.gov puts it, “President Obama Has Ended the War in Iraq.” Some 90,000 American combat brigades were withdrawn between early 2009 and August 2010 (see “As Combat Troops Leave Iraq, Where’s Our National Security?”); many were redeployed to Afghanistan. On Sept. 1, 2010, Operation Iraqi Freedom ended and Operation New Dawn commenced.
This month Prime Minister Maliki decided to have all U.S. troops leave by Dec. 31, 2011. By doing so, he would remove a political liability for himself and a social and political irritant, but would also forgo a potential stabilizing force in case of an outbreak of civil war—or of invasion by a foreign power, such as Iran. But the Americans are already negotiating to send a new round of military trainers to Iraq in 2012, along with equipment specialists for the weapons systems the U.S. hopes to sell, and to base a large contingency force nearby in Kuwait (see below). Thus the New Dawn.
Republican reaction to the president’s Oct. 21 announcement was mixed: G.O.P. presidential candidates and senators McCain and Graham denounced the withdrawal; other Republicans expressed approval, relief, or said nothing. (McCain this month recommended U.S. military action against Syria, like that against Libya, “to protect civilian lives.”) For an Iraq war veterans’ perspective on the announced withdrawal, see the statement from Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. (IAVA is on our blogroll, bottom left.)
Now that the “cakewalk” we were promised is ending, we have to ask of the George W. Bush foreign policy team (many of whom Mitt Romney wants to hire) and in particular those in Congress who voted to authorize military force against Saddam Hussein in October 2002: Where’s that “Mission Accomplished” feeling?
And where is our national security? How’s that workin’ out?
And to what kind of economy and job prospects are these soldiers returning—those who don’t have to turn right around and go fight in Afghanistan? What “job creators” will hire them? While they were risking their lives amid hardships and dangers that most of us can hardly imagine, what has become of their One Nation Under God? Fortunately for some of them, Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden are leading a Veterans Jobs initiative to press the private sector to commit to hiring 100,000 veterans and their spouses by the end of 2013. That’s not very many jobs, but if it succeeds at all, it will help.
The Freedom and the Damage Done
Regrettably, even though it has been announced that some 40,000 troops like Stratego game board pieces will be returned to home base for a while, and despite the claims of a White House in reelection mode, we and many others do not see The War as ending. Iraq is, or was, only one theater—a particularly misguided, costly, and tragic one—in the larger War on Terror that has in effect already expanded into Pakistan and (hey, why not?) threatens Iran (“Tensions Flare As G.I.s Take Fire Out of Pakistan”; “Iran Reacts to Pressure from America”). The United States is not moving from its strategic positions in the Middle East and Central Asia. And the financial costs to the United States, which may reach $3 to 5 trillion, are still being paid, and will paid for decades to come.
Indeed, beyond the financial cost, the damage done to the American economy, the psychic harm to our citizens, both combatant and noncombatant, and to the nation’s culture and political system, are incalculable. If you close your eyes and listen with your heart in the way a psychic or a shaman is able to listen, you might hear a great howl of agony resounding from the nation’s soul, a scream or roar as of a wounded giant that shakes the forests and mountainsides and echoes down the skyscraper canyons of Wall Street, bouncing off the concentric rings of the Pentagon, from all the needless pain inflicted, from the death groans of shattered, burned, eviscerated soldiers who will never come back, and those who are damaged for life, inside and out, in the veterans’ hospitals. And though we turn our iPods or TVs up to full blast, the roars and screams of pain could not be drowned out. If, that is, we could hear them at all. That we cannot hear the howls and cries doesn’t mean they’re not there to be heard.
And then, even harder for us to imagine, is all the pain and destruction suffered by the people of Iraq, the bereft families of the more than 100,000 killed; the massive destabilization of political systems and relations in the Middle East; and the shattering of the ancient social systems, culture, and archaeological heritage, all symbolized by the looting of the National Museum and the torching of books and Korans in the National Library in Baghdad (“stuff happens,” shrugged Donald Rumsfeld), plus the damage to the archaeological heritage in Nineveh, Ur, Babylon, and other sites of irreplaceable relics of the cradle of human civilization around the Tigris and Euphrates with an archaeological record going back 7,000 years that includes the cultures of the Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Chaldeans, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Parthians, Sassanids, and Muslims. (See Chalmers Johnson, “The Smash of Civilizations,” and Frank Rich, “And Now: ‘Operation Iraqi Looting’.”)
A Post-Iraq Presence to Protect Persian Gulf from “Outside Interference”
A week after the president’s announcement of the troop withdrawal, the New York Times (Oct. 30) reports that the Obama administration “plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf. . . . That repositioning could include new combat forces in Kuwait able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.” The plans, says the Times, have been under discussion for months. At least.
“Back to the future.” Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, Central Command’s chief of staff “said the command was focusing on smaller but highly capable deployments and training partnerships with regional militaries. ‘We are kind of thinking of going back to the way it was before we had a “boots on the ground” presence,’ General Horst said. ‘I think it is healthy. I think it is efficient. I think it is practical.’ ”
“We will have a robust continuing presence throughout the region, which is proof of our ongoing commitment to Iraq and to the future of that region, which holds such promise and should be freed from outside interference to continue on a pathway to democracy.” —Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton“Outside interference”? Might that refer to neighboring Iran? And the United States is, what, local?
Since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Iran’s influence in the region has grown while Iraq, once a counter-balancing power, was crushed by Operation Iraqi Freedom. (Nice work, neocons.) Sunni Muslims, including Saddam Hussein and most of the Ba’ath Party he led, were a minority in Iraq but ran the government. Now they are out of power there, as they are in Afghanistan, and 90% majority Shiite Iran has benefited from the American invasions on both its eastern and western borders (see map). The “war on terror” thus far has only strengthened Iran, which has a larger economy than Saudi Arabia or Egypt.
But the United States has plans for Iran and the region generally.
Juan Cole, whose blog “Informed Comment“ is indispensable for understanding the U.S. role in the Middle East, writes in “US Out of Iraq, But Peace Remains Elusive”:
The US is entering an age of perpetual drone wars. The US is hitting targets in Yemen and the tribal belt in Pakistan. . . . The US is also arming Israel to the teeth and stoking an arms race in the Middle East. . . .Robert Dreyfuss reports in The Nation that from the president, secretary of state, and defense secretary on down, “U.S. officials are unanimous in declaring that they intend to go back to the negotiating table to make sure that the United States can send some military trainers and equipment specialists to Iraq in 2012, to help Iraq learn how to use the high-tech weapons Washington hopes to sell to Iraq in the future.”
US sanctions on Iran are becoming so severe as to constitute a blockade, which in international law [is] an act of war. The war party in the US is salivating for that war with Tehran, which is halfway begun as we speak, and it is freely acknowledged as a goal by most Republican presidential candidates.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had a blunt message for Iran:
Iran would be badly miscalculating if they did not look at the entire region and all of our presence in many countries in the region, both in bases [and] in training, with NATO allies, like Turkey.Defense Secretary Leon Panetta—or is he still CIA director?—added for Iran’s consideration the fact that the U.S. has normal, friendly (i.e., arms sales and military training) relationships with many nations in the Persian Gulf region:
. . . when we talk about normal relationships in that part of the world, we have a number of them in the region, and they vary in number. For example, in Bahrain I think, you know, we’ve got almost 5,000 troops that we have in Bahrain. We’ve got . . . almost 3,000 in the UAE [United Arab Emirates] and about 7,500 in Qatar.Since at least this summer Panetta, who became SecDef July 1, 2011, has also been warning Iran not to interfere with Iraq, and has been blaming the Iranians for the rise in violence in Iraq. On a visit to Iraq in early July, he said the U.S. is “very concerned about Iran and the weapons they are providing to extremists here in Iraq.” More recently (Oct. 11), the U.S. is accusing Iran (accurately, it sounds like) of plotting the assassination of the Saudi ambassador to the United States, Adel al-Jubeir. Steve Clemons of The Washington Note blog, a sober, reliable source who is well plugged in to foreign affairs in Washington and not prone to exaggeration, writes, “This is a serious situation—and this kind of assassination is the sort that could lead to an unexpected cascade of events that could draw the U.S. and other powers into a consequential conflagration in the Middle East.”
The New Hundred Years’ War Is Still Young
Regarding the departure of U.S. forces from Iraq, we would like to hear a similar announcement about the 100,000+ troops and contractors in Afghanistan, where the U.S. has been at war since October 2001. But even if massive numbers of troops are one day pulled out of that quagmire, the U.S. presence from the Persian Gulf to Central Asia will remain, for geostrategic reasons—as a bulwark against expansion by China or Russia or both toward the oil and natural gas reserves in Central Asia (see below). Burgeoning India, too, needs fuel. The War on Terror is a Hundred Years’ war, at least.
Readers of Levees Not War know that we have been opposed to war on Iraq since the very beginning—before the beginning. We joined hundreds of thousands of anti-war protesters in marches in New York City and Washington in 2003, 2004, 2005 . . . and as recently as this month, where many signs at the Occupy Wall Street march called for an end to the wars, and all the war spending, so that, at long last, after so many billions (mis)spent, national security can begin here at home through reinvestment in jobs programs, social services, infrastructure, etc. But that use of the federal treasury does not seem to be on the agenda.
The national treasury—individual taxpayers’ dollars, while corporations evade taxation—will continue to be redirected away from investment on Americans’ education, housing, health care, infrastructure. The U.S. armed forces will continue to serve as bodyguards for the interests of U.S.-based multinational corporations such as ConocoPhillips and ExxonMobil (which, like many other American corporations, do not pay taxes to the U.S. Treasury).
This is how the future looks from here. The citizens of the United States are war-weary, exhausted by economic anxiety, turned off by toxic bickering between the two major political parties—paralyzed, impotent, and unresponsive to people’s needs—and have little confidence in their own government or economy (“New Poll Finds a Deep Distrust of Government”).
Is it any wonder, then, that Occupy Wall Street / 99 Percent protests have sprung up all over the nation, and that related protests have taken place in over 900 cities on four continents? “Almost half of the public thinks the sentiment at the root of the Occupy movement generally reflects the views of most Americans,” according to a new New York Times/CBS poll, which found “Americans’ distrust of government at its highest level ever.” Pollsters found that “89 percent of Americans say they distrust government to do the right thing, . . . 74 percent say the country is on the wrong track and 84 percent disapprove of Congress.”
“Everything is for the wealthy. This used to be a lovely country, but everything is sliding.” —Jo Waters, 87, of Pleasanton, Calif.The war is ending (so to speak) and everyone is too tired, or too skeptical, to celebrate. Or too busy, working too many jobs, trying to make ends meet, or too busy looking for a job, or too tired of finding no job. Or more interested in protesting economic inequality by taking to the streets, the public parks. The Occupy movement is not going to be dispersed, not by the Oakland police or any other force. Maybe the troops coming home can be rehired as cops (not if Republicans can help it) or as private security forces to protect the banks. We expect, however, that more of the veterans are likely to be in the streets and parks with their fellow 99 percenters—such as (USMC) Sgt. Shamar Thomas of New York, the big, angry Iraq war vet in this YouTube video who yells at about 30 uniformed cops near Times Square for the NYPD’s having used excessive force on unarmed Occupy Wall Street protesters toward the end of the Oct. 5 march from City Hall to Zuccotti Park.
“It doesn’t make you tough to hurt these people! . . . Leave these people alone! They’re U.S. citizens. Stop hurting these people! . . . This is not a war zone! . . . These cops are hurting people that I fought to protect.”*