|Number 498||December 27, 2011|
This Week: The So-Called War in Iraq
The media has been filled with stories about the "end" of the "war" in Iraq. I put the word "war" in quotation marks because it hasn't been a "war" for years; it's been an occupation. I put the word "end" in quotation marks for reasons that I'll explain this week and next.
Usually I reserve the last issue of a calendar year for the Nygaard Notes Year In Review. I'm not sure what I'll do this year, but I want to finish this mini-series on Iraq while people are still thinking about it. (We are still thinking about it, aren't we?) So the Year in Review will probably appear in early January instead of late December. I think that will still be timely, and will still be useful for me (as I assess the overall body of work), and for new readers (as they find out what happened before they came on board). Hopefully it will be interesting for regular readers as well; I always try to make it so. It's one of those New Year's things.
For now, though, let's have a look at the occupation of Iraq and what it might mean for those who wish for peace in the New Year, and every year.
On December 11th the Washington Post ran a front-page article headlined "Slain Civilians Taint U.S. Legacy in Iraq." (I don't know what legacy they're talking about, but it must be positive if it can be "tainted.") The article talks about some families in a town called Haditha. The Post notes that "It was here, on Nov. 19, 2005, that a group of Marines went on a shooting spree in which 24 Iraqi civilians were killed."
Retired U.S. Col. Peter Mansoor, speaking of "the six civilians shot dead by his soldiers," told the Times, "I'm sure those families will never forgive the killings. But when you look at it from the soldiers' point of view, it was justified."
The Anizi family is the only family still residing in their Haditha home that was visited by the Marines in 2005. Recalling that day when "four male relatives were gunned down in a back bedroom by two Marines," a man named Yusuf, "the only surviving brother of the victims, who was away at the time," uttered this week's "Quote" of the Week. Speaking of those who killed his family members, and perhaps of other USAmericans as well, Yusuf made a simple statement to the Times:
"They are barbarians."
As if to underline Yusuf's words, the Post notes that none of the U.S. soldiers have ever been convicted of anything and "Exactly how many Iraqis were killed by Americans may never be known."
On the Opinion/Editorial page of the December 19th New York Times appeared an essay headlined "States of Conflict: A Final Update," in which the authors published a chart of statistics from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. These charts have been appearing for the past eight years, but now, "with the end of the war in Iraq officially announced last week, this will be the last of the series."
The chart, and the text accompanying the chart, was written by two senior members of the ever-so-establishment Brookings Institution—they've been cited in major U.S. newspapers literally thousands of times in the past year. Two comments in particular reveal the distorted thinking that characterizes standard U.S. propaganda regarding our wars of occupation.
Comment #1: Speaking of Iraq, which they say "has presented the most extreme swings" in violence, the authors remark that "In the months after the invasion, the country was relatively quiet—at least on the surface—but then it exploded in violence. Since 2007, however, war-related violence has declined more than tenfold, even as the role of United States forces has gradually shrunk." (I'm sure they meant to say "declined by more than 90 percent.")
Later on, speaking of "a major increase in troop levels" in Afghanistan under Bush/Obama, the authors remark that "The fruits of those efforts are finally emerging—nationwide, there were 20 percent fewer insurgent attacks in the latter part of 2011 than in the same months of 2010. But that statistic masks the fact that, in the east of the country near the Pakistani border, there were actually 20 percent more insurgent attacks in that period."
Note the phrasing in Comment #1: Violence has declined "even as the role of the United States has shrunk." Apparently, despite the fact that the U.S. "role" is the role of an occupying army, the authors expected to see an increase in violence as the "role" of the occupier shrinks. If it's true, as I believe, that a large part of the "violence" in Iraq is driven by resistance to the occupation, then one would expect the violence to decrease as the withdrawal of the occupation force approaches and its role is reduced. And this is exactly what appears to be the case. That is, it's not that violence has declined even as the role of the U.S. has shrunk, but rather that the violence has declined because the role of the occupying army has shrunk. And, once the occupation is formally over, we can expect the forces unleashed by the occupation to create more violence, as control of the country remains unsettled.
Now, for Comment #2, which has to do with Afghanistan. After claiming that 2003 was "relatively peaceful," the authors note that there was "a major increase in troop levels" under Bush and "to a greater extent President Obama." Then they say, "The fruits of those efforts are finally emerging—nationwide, there were 20 percent fewer insurgent attacks in the latter part of 2011 than in the same months of 2010. But that statistic masks the fact that, in the east of the country near the Pakistani border, there were actually 20 percent more insurgent attacks in that period."
So, again, these mainstream commentators appear to think that the decrease in violence is due to an escalation in U.S. military force. But, one may ask, why the increase in violence in the East? Here let me note a story that appeared in the London Telegraph in the latter part of 2011 (October 18th), which noted that "U.S. forces are massing on the Pakistan border in eastern Afghanistan amid reports of an imminent drone missile offensive..." Putting two and two together, it appears that what we are seeing is an increase in violence in the very area where the occupying army is massing its forces.
Again, this is exactly what one might expect if one understands the "violence" to have something to do with resisting a foreign occupation. Yet this pattern seems to surprise these researchers.
The reason that the work of these Brookings Institution researchers has received such prominent placement in the nation's Newspaper of Record for these many years is, I think, due to the fact that it so closely adheres to the dominant mythology in this country in regard to U.S. warmaking. And that mythology holds that the United States, when it attacks and occupies another country, is the victim, and the country being attacked is the aggressor.
And so is the story of a U.S. attack portrayed as a story of a U.S. defense, and the resulting violence that is directed at the United States thus is rendered irrational, and is attributed to some inexplicable hatred, or to ancient tribal animosities, or to anti-American ideology, or something equally barbaric and uncivilized.
And what is one to do with such people? If we believe that we have such an "enemy," then we will be more likely to accept the idea that there is only one language that such people understand. And that is the language of violence, a language that the United States—with a military budget almost as large as the rest of the world combined—understands all too well.
The authors of the Brookings article conclude by saying that "On balance, it has been an extremely painful and costly decade. But it does seem possible to conclude, with cautious optimism, that America is somewhat safer. And we are certainly closer than ever to ending our current round of overseas wars."
And there we have the most basic myth about Iraq: That the U.S. attack on and occupation of that country had something to do with making the United States "safer." The related idea that supports that myth is the idea that safety is the goal of the "current round of overseas wars." Those who wish to promote the end of not just the "current round" of wars, but all overseas wars, need to see beyond this mythology. The next article offers a glimpse of the real goals of the U.S. in the Middle East.
A November 17th poll by the Pew Research Center found that 56 percent of USAmericans "say the United States has mostly succeeded in achieving its goals in Iraq." Remarkably, the 57-page report on the poll nowhere attempts to say what those goals might be!
It's impossible to know which of the various goals that have been put forward over the years might have been on the minds of poll respondents. Were they thinking of the ludicrous "weapons of mass destruction" argument? Or perhaps the even-more ludicrous attempt to link Iraq to the attacks on September 11th 2001? The first goal mentioned by Vice President Joe Biden, in his December 1st visit to Iraq, was to "defeat a tyrant." Maybe that's what the poll respondents had in mind. All of these goals are built on the myth that U.S. policy is about making people "safer." But now, as the U.S. officially declares an "end" to whatever it is we've been doing in Iraq, there seems to be a growing understanding that, while the other goals have come and gone, one goal has been constant.
The Washington Post noted on December 11th that "one of the chief goals of the war [was] to nurture a strategic ally in the heart of the Middle East." The Associated Press on December 17th noted that "In the beginning, it all looked simple: topple Saddam Hussein, destroy his purported weapons of mass destruction and lay the foundation for a pro-Western government in the heart of the Arab world." And Anthony Cordesman and three co-authors, speaking for the influential Center for Strategic and International Studies on December 20th, stated that "America's main goal in Iraq" is "to create a stable democratic Iraq that can defeat the remaining extremist and insurgent elements, defend against foreign threats, sustain an able civil society, and emerge as a stable power friendly to the US and its Gulf allies." [Emphasis added.]
(Yes, this respected commentator actually said that the goal of the foreign power that has been occupying Iraq for eight years was help it "defend against foreign threats." Amazing.)
So the goal that has remained constant as other goals have risen and fallen is the goal of creating a "strategic ally" with a "friendly" "pro-Western government in the heart of the Arab world." It remains to be seen if this goal has been, or will be, met. A devastating war followed by eight years of military occupation doesn't seem like a good way to create friends. But if U.S. goals are larger than Iraq, and if the strategy is about power instead of friendship, then things get a little clearer. The term "neocolonialism"—when a great power replaces direct governance of a subordinate state with less-formal control—seems to apply here.
It was on October 21st that President Obama announced that U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the year. It took less than 24 hours for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to alert the world that the U.S. intends to continue its efforts to dominate the region by whatever means remain at its disposal. Speaking to the press in Tajikistan, Clinton reminded a global audience that the U.S. "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..."
(Yes, she really did say that the country that the U.S. invaded and then occupied for eight years should be "free from outside interference." The transcript does not mention any laughter being heard.)
The next day Secretary Clinton, speaking on ABC's "This Week," reminded the U.S. audience that "we're not going to have bases in Iraq, but we have bases elsewhere" in the region. True enough. The U.S. maintains at least 40 bases in countries in the immediate vicinity of Iraq—pretty much everywhere but Iran, in fact. See a very revealing map HERE.
On the same day that Secretary Clinton was speaking, another Secretary was also speaking, this one halfway around the world in Indonesia. Secretary of War ("Defense") Leon Panetta was speaking to the assembled press about Iraq when he said, "I should point out that we're going to maintain, as we do now, a significant force in that region of the world. We have about 40,000 troops in that region, about 23,000 in Kuwait, along with a large number of troops in other countries as well..."
One week after those comments, readers of the Sunday New York Times were presented with a major front-page article with this headline: "U.S. Is Planning Buildup in Gulf After Iraq Exit." The article began, "The Obama administration plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf after it withdraws the remaining troops from Iraq this year..." These plans have "gained new urgency" since President Obama's announcement of troop withdrawals from Iraq, so that "the Pentagon is now drawing up an alternative" to a continuation of the formal occupation of Iraq.
"The administration is . . . seeking to expand military ties with the six nations in the Gulf Cooperation Council—Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Oman. While the United States has close bilateral military relationships with each, the administration and the military are trying to foster a new 'security architecture' for the Persian Gulf that would integrate air and naval patrols and missile defense." (Bear in mind that anything the U.S. does is, by definition, "defense.") Notes the Times, "In addition to negotiations over maintaining a ground combat presence in Kuwait, the United States is considering sending more naval warships through international waters in the region." More "defense," one imagines.
Having a "security architecture" in the oil-rich Middle East has always been the goal of U.S. planners. The occupation of Iraq was but a tactic intended to achieve this larger goal, and the much-ballyhooed "withdrawal" of U.S. combat forces should be seen in this light. Meanwhile, the Empire struggles to maintain control of the region, which all but guarantees that conditions are being developed that will pave the way for the next round of overseas wars, even as the current round appears to be winding down.
Thus the U.S. "withdrawal" from Iraq can be seen as a relatively minor tactical adjustment in the larger chess game that is U.S. Imperial policy in the region.
To be continued in the next Nygaard Notes...