(Today, a rarity at the site. Two pieces, officially identified as such
and piled atop each other – think of them like a double-decker bus – each focused
on a different aspect of the Iraq situation as Washington imagines it. First
comes a little "political bedtime story" of mine about how Washington has tried
to "fix" everything but reality itself; then, an important analysis by Michael
Schwartz of just why the withdrawal option, increasingly popular for the American
public, is such poison to Washington's movers and shakers. So dig in. Tom)
"Fixing" the War
by Tom Engelhardt
This is an old tale. Long forgotten. But like
all good political bedtime stories, it's well worth telling again.
Once upon a time, there was a retired general named Paul van Riper. In 1966,
as a young Marine officer and American
adviser in Vietnam, he was wounded in action; he later became the first
president of the Marine Corps University, retired from the Corps as a lieutenant
general, and then took up the task of leading the enemy side in Pentagon war
Over the years, van Riper had developed into a freewheeling military thinker,
given to quoting von Clausewitz and Sun-tzu, and dubious about the ability
of the latest technology to conquer all in its path. If you wanted to wage war,
he thought, it might at least be reasonable to study war seriously (if not go
to war yourself) rather than just fall in love with military power. It seemed
to him that you took a risk any time you dismissed your enemy as without resources
(or a prayer) against your awesome power and imagined your campaign to come
as a surefire "cakewalk."
As he pointed out,
"Many enemies are not frightened by that overwhelming force. They put their
minds to the problem and think through: how can I adapt and avoid that overwhelming
force and yet do damage against the United States?"
As a result, van Riper took the task of simulated enemy commander quite seriously.
He also had a few issues with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's much vaunted
"military transformation," his desire to create a sleek, high-tech, agile military
that would drive everything before it. He thought the Rumsfeld program added
up to just so many "shallow," "fundamentally flawed" slogans. ("There's very
little intellectual content to what they say. … 'Information dominance,' 'network-centric
warfare,' 'focused logistics' – you could fill a book with all of these slogans.")
In July 2002, he got the chance to test that proposition. At the cost of a
quarter-billion dollars, the Pentagon launched the most elaborate war games
in its history, immodestly entitled "Millennium Challenge 02." These involved
all four services in "17 simulation locations and nine live-force training sites."
Officially a war against a fictional country in the Persian Gulf region – but
obviously Iraq – it was specifically scripted to prove the efficacy of the
Rumsfeld-style invasion that the Bush administration had already decided to
Lt. Gen. van Riper commanded the "Red Team" – the Iraqis of this simulation
-– against the "Blue Team," U.S. forces; and, unfortunately for Rumsfeld, he
promptly stepped out of the script. Knowing that sometimes the only effective
response to high-tech warfare was the lowest tech warfare imaginable, he employed
some of the very techniques the Iraqi insurgency would begin to use all-too-successfully
a year or two later.
Such simple devices as, according to the Army
Times, using "motorcycle messengers to transmit orders, negating Blue's
high-tech eavesdropping capabilities," and "issuing attack orders via the morning
call to prayer broadcast from the minarets of his country's mosques." In the
process, van Riper trumped the techies.
"At one point in the game," as Fred
Kaplan of Slate wrote in March 2003, "when Blue's fleet entered the Persian
Gulf, he sank some of the ships with suicide-bombers in speed boats. (At that
point, the managers stopped the game, 'refloated' the Blue fleet, and resumed
play.)" After three or four days, with the Blue Team in obvious disarray, the
game was halted and the rules rescripted. In a quiet protest, van Riper stepped
down as enemy commander.
Millennium Challenge 02 was subsequently written up as a vindication of Rumsfeld's
"military transformation." On that basis – with no one paying more mind to van
Riper (who, this April, called
openly for Rumsfeld's resignation) than to Army Chief of Staff Eric Shinseki
when, in February 2003, he pointed out that hundreds
of thousands of troops would be needed to occupy Iraq, the "transformational"
invasion was launched – with all the predictably catastrophic results now so
The Millennium Challenge 02 war games were already underway when, late that
July, Sir Richard Dearlove, head of MI6 (the British equivalent of the CIA),
returned to London from high-level meetings in Washington to report to Prime
Minister Tony Blair and his top officials. In a secret meeting, he told them
that the decision for war in Iraq had already been made by the Bush administration
and that now, in a memorable phrase, "the intelligence and facts were being
fixed around the policy."
On May 1, 2005, notes from this meeting, dubbed "the
Downing Street Memo," were leaked to the London Sunday Times. Thanks
to that memo and other documents, it's now commonly accepted that the Bush administration
"fixed" the intelligence around their war of choice. But Lt. Gen. van Riper's
forgotten story should remind us that they also "fixed" the war they were planning
Between then and now, when it came to Iraq, there wasn't much that wasn't
"fixed" in a similar manner. Only recently, James A. Baker's Iraq Study Group
the way levels of violence in Iraq were grossly underreported by U.S. intelligence
officials – in one case, only 93 "attacks or significant acts of violence"
being officially recorded on a day when the number was well above 1,000. As
the report politely summed up this particular fix-it-up methodology, "Good policy
is difficult to make when information is systematically collected in a way that
minimizes its discrepancy with policy goals."
But here's the thing: The Iraq Study Group, too – like every other mainstream
gathering of advisers, officials, or pundits – "fixed" the intelligence. Think
of the ISG as the clean-up-crew version of the Blue Team of Millennium Challenge
02. Before they even began, Bush family consigliere Baker and cohorts
ensured that, while the ISG would be filled with notable movers and shakers
from numerous previous administrations, no one on it, nor any expert "team"
advising it would represent the one point of view that a majority of Americans
have by now come
to support – actual withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq on a set timeline.
You would not, for instance, find retired Lt. Gen. William E. Odom, the former
director of the National Security Agency, who has openly called for the U.S.
and run" from Iraq, on the panel. Despite the report's harsh descriptions
of the last three years of failed policy and some perfectly sane negotiation
suggestions, it dismissed the idea of such a withdrawal out of hand – because
such a dismissal was simply built into the group's very make up.
It turns out, of course, that when you control both sides of a war game or
the range of opinion on a panel, you are assured of the results you're going
to get. The problem comes when you only control one side of a situation; and
when, as American commanders learned in the early days of the Korean War and
again in Vietnam, whether due to racism or imperial blindness, you also discount
and disrespect your enemies.
Unfortunately for the Bush administration, it turned out that, while you could
fix the war games and the intelligence, you couldn't be assured of fixing reality
itself, which has a tendency to remain obdurately, passionately, irascibly unconquerable.
Yes, you could ignore reality for a while. (The president, when being told a
few hard Iraqi truths in 2004 by Col. Derek Harvey, the Defense Intelligence
Agency's senior intelligence officer for Iraq, reportedly
turned to his aides and asked, "Is this guy a Democrat?") But you couldn't do
it forever, not when the Lt. Gen. van Ripers of Iraq refused to step aside and
you weren't capable of removing them; not when you couldn't even figure out,
most of the time, who they were. It was then that the fixers first found themselves
in a genuine fix, from which none of Washington's movers and shakers have yet
been willing to extract themselves.
Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's TomDispatch.com ("a regular
antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the
American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission
Unaccomplished: TomDispatch Interviews with American Iconoclasts and Dissenters
(Nation Books), the first collection of TomDispatch interviews.
Copyright 2006 Tom Engelhardt
Why Withdrawal Is Unmentionable
Staying the course with James Baker and the Iraq Study Group
by Michael Schwartz
The report of James A. Baker's Iraq Study Group
has already become a benchmark for Iraq policy, dominating the print and electronic
media for several days after its release, and generating excited commentary
by all manner of leadership types from Washington to London to Baghdad. Even
if most of the commentary continues to be negative,
we can nevertheless look forward to highly publicized policy changes in the
near future that rely for their justification on this report, or on one of the
others recently released, or on those currently being prepared by the Pentagon,
the White House, and the National Security Council.
This is not, however, good news for those of us who want the U.S. to end its
war of conquest in Iraq. Quite the contrary: The ISG report is not an
"exit strategy"; it is a new plan for achieving the Bush administration's imperial
goals in the Middle East.
The ISG report stands out among the present flurry of reevaluations as the
sole evaluation of the war by a group not beholden to the president; as the
only report containing an unadorned negative evaluation of the current situation
(vividly captured in the oft-quoted
phrase "dire and deteriorating"); and as the only public document with unremitting
criticism of the Bush administration's conduct of the war.
It is this very negativity that brings into focus the severely constrained
nature of the debate now underway in Washington – most importantly, the fact
that U.S. withdrawal from Iraq (immediate or otherwise) is simply not going
to be part of the discussion. Besides explicitly stating that withdrawal is
a terrible idea – "our leaving would make [the situation] worse" – the Baker
report is built around the idea that the United States will remain in Iraq for
a very long time.
To put it bluntly, the ISG is not calling on the Bush administration to abandon
its goal of creating a client regime that was supposed to be the key to establishing
the U.S. as the dominant power in the Middle East. Quite the contrary. As its
report states: "We agree with the goal of U.S. policy in Iraq." If you ignore
the text sprinkled with sugarcoated words like "representative government,"
the report essentially demands that the Iraqi government pursue policies shaped
to serve "America's interest and values in the years ahead."
Don't be fooled by this often quoted passage from the report: "By the first
quarter of 2008, subject to unexpected developments in the security situation
on the ground, all combat brigades not necessary for force protection
could be out of Iraq." The ebullient
interpretations of this statement by the media have been misleading in three
different ways. First, the combat brigades mentioned in this passage
less than half of all the troops in Iraq. The military police, the Air Force,
the troops that move the equipment, those assigned to the Green Zone, the soldiers
that order, store, and move supplies, medical personnel, intelligence personnel,
and so on, are not combat personnel; and they add up to considerably more than
70,000 of the approximately 140,000 troops in Iraq at the moment. They will
all have to stay – as well as actual combat forces to protect them and to protect
the new American advisers who are going to flood into the Iraqi army – because
the Iraqi army has none of these units and isn't going to develop them for several
years, if ever.
Second, the ISG wants those "withdrawn" American troops "redeployed," either
inside or outside Iraq. In all likelihood, this will mean that at least some
of them will be stationed in the five
permanent bases inside Iraq that the Bush administration has already spent
billions constructing, and which are small American towns, replete with fast
food restaurants, bus lines, and recreation facilities. There is no other place
to put these redeployed troops in the region, except bases in Kuwait, Qatar,
and the United Arab Emirates, none of which are really suited to, or perhaps
eager to, host a large influx of American troops (guaranteed to be locally unpopular
and a magnet for terrorist attacks).
Third, it's important not to ignore those two modest passages: "subject to
unexpected developments in the security situation on the ground" and "not necessary
for force protection." In other words, if the Iraqi troops meant to replace
the redeployed American ones are failures, then some or all of the troops might
never be redeployed. In addition, even if Iraqi troops did perform well, Americans
might still be deemed necessary to protect the remaining (non-combat) troops
from attack by insurgents and other forces. Given that American troops have
not been able to subdue the Sunni rebellion, which is still on a growth curve,
it is highly unlikely that their Iraqi substitutes will do any better. In other
words, even if the "withdrawal" parts of the Baker report were accepted by the
president, which looks increasingly unlikely, its plan has more holes and qualifications
than Swiss cheese.
Put another way, no proposal at present on the table in Washington is likely
to result in significant reductions even in the portion of American troops defined
as "combat brigades." That is why this statement says that the combat troops
"could be out of Iraq," not "will be out of Iraq" in the first
quarter of 2008.
So, the ISG report contemplates – best case scenario – "a considerable military
presence in the region, with our still significant [at least 70,000 strong]
force in Iraq, and with our powerful air, ground, and naval deployments in Kuwait,
Bahrain, and Qatar…." Given a less-than-optimum scenario, the American presence
in Iraq would assumedly remain much higher, perhaps even approaching current
levels. As if this isn't bad news enough, the report is laced with qualifiers
indicating that the ISG members fear their new strategy might not work, that
"there is no magic formula to solve the problems of Iraq" – a theme that will
certainly be picked up this week as the right
wing of the Republican Party and angry neocons continue to blast at the
Danger to Empire
Why was the Iraq Study Group so reluctant to advocate the withdrawal of American
troops and the abandonment of the Bush administration's goal of pacifying Iraq?
The likely explanation is: Its all-establishment membership (and the teams of
experts that gave it advice) understood that withdrawing from Iraq would be
an imperially momentous decision. It would, in fact, mean the abandonment of
over two decades of American foreign policy in the Middle East. To grasp this,
it's helpful to compare the way most Americans look at the war in Iraq to the
way those in power view it.
Most Americans initially believed that the U.S. went into Iraq to shut down
Saddam Hussein's WMD programs and/or simply to topple a dangerous dictator (or
even a dictator somehow connected to the 9/11 attacks). Of course, had that
really been the case, the Bush administration should have withdrawn almost immediately.
Even today, it could, at least theoretically, withdraw and declare victory the
day after Saddam Hussein is executed, since the WMD and the 9/11 connection
were evanescent. In this scenario, the dismal post-invasion military failure
would represent nothing but the defeat of Bush's personal crusade – articulated
only after the Hussein regime was toppled – to bring American-style democracy
to a benighted land.
Because of this, most people, whether supporters or opponents of the war, expect
each new round of policy debates to at least consider the option of withdrawal;
and many hold out the hope that Bush will finally decide to give up his democratization
pipe dream. Even if Bush is incapable of reading the handwriting on the Iraqi
wall, this analysis encourages us to hope that outside advisers like the ISG
will be "pragmatic" enough to bring the message home to him, before the war
severely undermines our country economically and in terms of how people around
the world think about us.
However, a more realistic look at the original goals of the invasion makes
clear why withdrawal cannot be so easily embraced by anyone loyal to the grandiose
foreign policy goals adopted by the U.S. right after the fall of the Soviet
Union. The real goals of the war in Iraq add up to an extreme version of this
larger vision of a "unipolar world" orbiting around the United States.
The invasion of 2003 reflected the Bush administration's ambition to establish
Iraq as the hub of American imperial dominance in the oil heartlands of the
planet. Unsurprisingly, then, the U.S. military entered Iraq with plans already
in hand to construct and settle into at
least four massive military bases that would become nerve centers for our
military presence in the "arc of instability" extending from Central Asia all
the way into Africa – an "arc" that just happened to contain the bulk of the
world's exportable oil.
The original plan included wresting control
of Iraqi oil from Saddam's hostile Ba'athist government and delivering it
into the hands of the large oil companies through the privatization of new oil
fields and various other special agreements. It was hoped that privatized Iraqi
oil might then break OPEC's hold on the global oil spigot. In the Iraq of the
Bush administration's dreams, the U.S. would be the key player in determining
both the amount of oil pumped and the favored destinations for it. (This ambition
was implicitly seconded by
the Baker commission when it recommended that the U.S. "should assist Iraqi
leaders to reorganize the national oil industry as a commercial enterprise")
All of this, of course, was contingent upon establishing an Iraqi government
that would be a junior partner in American Middle Eastern policy; that, under
the rule of an Ahmed Chalabi or Iyad Allawi, would, for instance, be guaranteed
to support administration campaigns against Iran and Syria. Bush administration
officials have repeatedly underscored this urge, even in the present circumstances,
by attempting, however ineffectively, to limit
the ties of the present Shia-dominated Iraqi government to Iran.
Withdrawal from Iraq would signal the ruin of all these hopes. Without a powerful
American presence, permanent bases would not be welcomed by any regime that
might emerge from the current cauldron in Baghdad; every faction except the
Kurds is adamantly against them. U.S. oil ambitions would prove similarly unviable.
Though J. Paul Bremer, John Negroponte, and Zalmay Khalilzad, our three ambassador-viceroys
in Baghdad, have all pushed through legislation
mandating the privatization of oil (even embedding this policy in the new
constitution), only a handful of top Iraqi politicians have actually embraced
the idea. The religious leaders who control the Sunni militias oppose it, as
do the Sadrists, who are now the dominant faction in the Shia areas. The current
Iraqi government is already making economic treaties with Iran and even sought
to sign a military
alliance with that country that the Americans aborted.
Still Staying the Course
Added to all this, from Lebanon to Pakistan, the administration's political
agenda for the "arc of instability" is now visibly in a state of collapse. This
agenda, of course, predated Bush, going back to the moment in 1991 when the
Soviet Union simply evaporated, leaving an impoverished Russia and a set of
wobbly independent states in its place. While the elder George Bush and Bill
Clinton did not embrace the use of the military as the primary instrument of
foreign policy, they fully supported the goal of American preeminence in the
Middle East and worked very hard to achieve it – through the isolation of Iran,
sanctions against Iraq, various unpublicized military actions against Saddam's
forces, and a ratcheting-upward of permanent basing policies throughout the
Gulf region and Central Asia.
This is the context for the peculiar stance taken by the Iraq Study Group toward
the administration's disaster in Iraq. Coverage has focused on the way the report
labeled the situation as "grave and deteriorating" and on its call for negotiations
with the previously pariah states of Iran and Syria. In itself, the negotiation
proposal is perfectly reasonable and has the side effect of lessening the possibility
that the Bush administration will launch an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities
in the near future.
But no one should imagine that the "new" military strategy proposed by Baker
and his colleagues includes dismissing the original goals of the war. In their
letter of transmittal, ISG co-chairs James Baker and Lee Hamilton declared,
"All options have not been exhausted. We believe it is still possible
to pursue different policies that can give Iraq an opportunity for a better
future, combat terrorism, stabilize a critical region of the world and protect
America's credibility, interests and values."
This statement, couched in typical Washington-speak, reiterates those original
ambitious goals and commits the ISG to a continuing effort to achieve them.
The corpus of the report does nothing to dispel that assertion. Its military
strategy calls for a (certainly quixotic) effort to use Iraqi troops to bring
about the military victory American troops have failed for three years to achieve.
The diplomatic initiatives call for a (certainly quixotic) effort to enlist
the aid of Syria and Iran, as well as Saudi Arabia and other neighbors, in defeating
the insurgency. And the centerpiece of the economic initiatives seeks to accelerate
the process of privatizing oil, the clearest sign of all that Baker and Hamilton
– like Bush and his circle – remain committed to the grand scheme of maintaining
the United States as the dominant force in the region.
Even as the group called on the president to declare that the U.S. "does not
seek permanent military bases in Iraq" once the country is secure, it immediately
hedged this intention by pointing out that we "could consider" temporary bases,
"if the Iraqi government were to request it." Of course, if the Bush administration
were somehow to succeed in stabilizing a compliant client regime, such a regime
would surely request that American troops remain in their "temporary" bases
on a more-or-less permanent basis, since its survival would depend on them.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the ISG report is its embrace of the
Bush administration's imperial attitude toward the Iraqi government. Although
the report repeatedly calls for American "respect" for Iraqi "sovereignty" (an
implicit criticism of the last three years of Iraq policy), it also offers a
series of what are essentially non-negotiable demands that would take an already
weak and less-than-sovereign government and strip it of control over anything
that makes governments into governments.
As a start, the "Iraqi" military would be flooded with 10,000-20,000 new American
"advisers," ensuring that it would continue to be an American-controlled military,
even if a desperately poor and recalcitrant one, into the distant future. In
addition, the ISG offered a detailed program for how oil should be extracted
(and the profits distributed) as well as specific prescriptions for handling
a number of pressing problems, including fiscal policy, militias, the city of
Kirkuk, sectarianism, de-Ba'athification, and a host of other issues that normally
would be decisions for an Iraqi government, not an American advisory panel in
Washington. It is hardly surprising, then, that Iraqi leaders almost immediately
began complaining that the report, for all its bows to "respect," completely
Most striking is the report's 21st (of 79) recommendations, aimed at describing
what the United States should do if the Iraqis fail to satisfactorily fulfill
the many tasks that the ISG has set for them.
"If the Iraqi government does not make substantial progress toward
the achievement of milestones on national reconciliation, security, and governance,
the United States should reduce its political, military, or economic support
for the Iraqi government."
This could be interpreted as a threat that the United States will withdraw
– and the mainstream
media has chosen to interpret it just that way. But why then did Baker and
his colleagues not word this statement differently? ("… the United States should
reduce, and ultimately withdraw, its forces from Iraq.") The phrase "reduce
its political, military, or economic support for the Iraqi government" is probably
better interpreted literally: that if that government fails to satisfy ISG demands,
the U.S. should transfer its "political, military, or economic support" to a
new leadership within Iraq that it feels would be more capable of making "substantial
progress toward" the milestones it has set. In other words, this passage is
more likely a threat of a coup
d'état than a withdrawal strategy – a threat that the façade
of democracy would be stripped away and a "strong man" (or a government of "national
salvation") installed, one that the Bush administration or the ISG believes
could bring the Sunni rebellion to heel.
Here is the unfortunate thing. Evidently, the "grave and deteriorating" situation
in Iraq has not yet deteriorated enough to convince even establishment American
policymakers, who have been on the outside these last years, to follow the lead
of the public (as reflected in the latest
and abandon their soaring ambitions of Middle East domination. If they haven't
done so, imagine where George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are in policy terms. So
far, it seems everyone of power or influence in Washington remains committed
to "staying the course."
Michael Schwartz, professor of sociology and faculty director of the Undergraduate
College of Global Studies at Stony Brook University, has written extensively
on popular protest and insurgency, as well as on American business and government
dynamics. His work on Iraq has appeared on numerous Internet Web sites, including
TomDispatch.com, Asia Times, MotherJones.com, and ZNet; and in print in Contexts,
Against the Current, and Z magazine. His books include Radical
Protest and Social Structure, and Social Policy and the Conservative
Agenda (edited, with Clarence Lo). His e-mail address is Ms42@optonline.net.
Copyright 2006 Michael Schwartz