Declare victory and get out

Published on Online Journal, by Nicolas J S Davies, June 26, 2008.

As Americans cast their hopes and fears into the wishing-well of the U.S. presidential election, the United States is squandering the best chance it may ever get to withdraw its military and civilian occupation forces from Iraq on relatively favorable terms.

In 1991, President George Bush Senior avoided the trap of a land invasion of Iraq. One of his senior advisers told him that sooner or later the Iraqis would insist on holding elections, which “our guys will lose.” Twelve years later, Bush II and Cheney launched their desperate effort to reverse the nationalization of the global oil industry and to establish the aggressive and illegal use of U.S. military power as a dominant force in the 21st century. Whether you view this as a risky decision or a serious war crime depends on the relative value you attach to American wealth and human life …

… Whatever happens on the Iraqi side, American leaders must understand that their original goals in Iraq are not and will never be achievable. As long as U.S. forces, officials and contractors remain in Iraq, they will always meet political opposition and armed resistance. They will never be welcome. How could they be after what they have done to these people and their country? The best chance for any sort of mutually beneficial or profitable relationship in the future lies in seizing this moment to begin a complete withdrawal of occupation forces from the country, including all U.S. troops, contractors and civilian officials. Once its sovereignty has been restored, Iraq will undoubtedly form close relationships with other countries in the region, China and Russia — anybody but the United States. But mutual interests will eventually lead to at least a normalization of relations. Sincere apologies and substantial reparations will help this process more than anything the US can do from its present illegitimate position.

Senator Obama’s campaign website declares, “He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats.” Under other circumstances, this might sound reasonable. But the new U.S. Embassy in Baghdad is not a legitimate embassy, and its thousand-plus staff are not diplomatic envoys to a sovereign country. The so-called embassy is a 104-acre fortified compound enclosing a corner of the four-square-mile Green Zone. It is 10 times the size of any legitimate embassy in the world. This is in fact the jewel in the crown of the network of American bases in Iraq, the headquarters of the US occupation, from which American advisers plan to maintain their influence over this and subsequent Iraqi governments.

The American occupation headquarters cost $736 million to build. Thousands of construction workers were lured, mostly from South Asia, by false promises of jobs in Dubai. Their plane tickets were taken away in Kuwait as they were loaded onto unmarked, aging chartered planes headed for Baghdad. Supervisors described workers being “treated like animals,” beaten regularly and given dangerously inadequate healthcare that resulted in at least two deaths. Workers who escaped were rounded up and incarcerated, but 375 Pakistanis were finally sent home after they went on strike in June 2006.

The United States has also spent $5.6 billion on military construction at its other bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, plus an additional $1.8 billion now allocated for 2009. The embassy is the first of these bases that should be evacuated and handed back to Iraq, eliminating any pretext for Obama to leave behind a “residual force” that would continue the occupation on a smaller scale. The United States didn’t pay a penny for the land in the first place — it was a gift from Allawi’s interim government. And State Department employees are only now moving into the new offices and apartment buildings, so it would be both practical and diplomatic to quietly abandon this folly now rather than later, along with the roughly 265 other US bases in Iraq.

A persistent feature of the “tragedy of American diplomacy,” as William Appleman Williams called it, has been the hubris that has blinded American officials to opportunities like the one they are squandering in Iraq today. In Century of War in 1994, Kolko described the “institutional myopia” by which “options and decisions that are intrinsically dangerous and irrational become not merely plausible but the only form of reasoning about war and diplomacy that is possible in official circles.”

In Washington, this institutional myopia has been compounded since the end of the Cold War by missed opportunities, delusional thinking and vested interests. The opportunity for nuclear disarmament and a more peaceful world has been squandered in favor of an unprecedented and unprovoked military build-up and the opportunistic use of U.S. military superiority to threaten and attack other countries. The tragic consequences of this historic failure have become much clearer during the eight years of the Bush-Cheney regime. And yet neither major candidate in this year’s presidential election has presented a plan to finally retire the Cold War military-industrial complex before it wreaks even more havoc. Nor has either of them presented a new vision, however overdue, of a legitimate role that the United States could play in a peaceful post-Cold War world. (full text).

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