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Colonizing Iraq: The Obama Doctrine? July 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan.
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Published on Thursday, July 9, 2009 by TomDispatch.com by Michael Schwartz
Here’s how reporters Steven Lee Myers and Marc Santora of the New York Times described the highly touted American withdrawal from Iraq’s cities last week:

“Much of the complicated work of dismantling and removing millions of dollars of equipment from the combat outposts in the city has been done during the dark of night. Gen. Ray Odierno, the overall American commander in Iraq, has ordered that an increasing number of basic operations — transport and re-supply convoys, for example — take place at night, when fewer Iraqis are likely to see that the American withdrawal is not total.”

Acting in the dark of night, in fact, seems to catch the nature of American plans for Iraq in a particularly striking way. Last week, despite the death of Michael Jackson, Iraq made it back into the TV news as Iraqis celebrated a highly publicized American military withdrawal from their cities. Fireworks went off; some Iraqis gathered to dance and cheer; the first military parade since Saddam Hussein’s day took place (in the fortified Green Zone, the country’s ordinary streets still being too dangerous for such things); the U.S. handed back many small bases and outposts; and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki proclaimed a national holiday — “sovereignty day,” he called it.

All of this fit with a script promisingly laid out by President Barack Obama in his 2008 presidential campaign. More recently, in his much praised speech to the students of Egypt’s Cairo University, he promised that the U.S. would keep no bases in Iraq, and would indeed withdraw its military forces from the country by the end of 2011.

Unfortunately, not just for the Iraqis, but for the American public, it’s what’s happening in “the dark” — beyond the glare of lights and TV cameras — that counts. While many critics of the Iraq War have been willing to cut the Obama administration some slack as its foreign policy team and the U.S. military gear up for that definitive withdrawal, something else — something more unsettling — appears to be going on.

And it wasn’t just the president’s hedging over withdrawing American “combat” troops from Iraq – which, in any case, make up as few as one-third of the 130,000 U.S. forces still in the country — now extended from 16 to 19 months. Nor was it the re-labeling of some of them as “advisors” so they could, in fact, stay in the vacated cities, or the redrawing of the boundary lines of the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, to exclude a couple of key bases the Americans weren’t about to give up.

After all, there can be no question that the Obama administration’s policy is indeed to reduce what the Pentagon might call the U.S. military “footprint” in Iraq. To put it another way, Obama’s key officials seem to be opting not for blunt-edged, Bush-style militarism, but for what might be thought of as an administrative push in Iraq, what Vice President Joe Biden has called “a much more aggressive program vis-à-vis the Iraqi government to push it to political reconciliation.”

An anonymous senior State Department official described this new “dark of night” policy recently to Christian Science Monitor reporter Jane Arraf this way: “One of the challenges of that new relationship is how the U.S. can continue to wield influence on key decisions without being seen to do so.”

Without being seen to do so. On this General Odierno and the unnamed official are in agreement. And so, it seems, is Washington. As a result, the crucial thing you can say about the Obama administration’s military and civilian planning so far is this: ignore the headlines, the fireworks, and the briefly cheering crowds of Iraqis on your TV screen. Put all that talk of withdrawal aside for a moment and — if you take a closer look, letting your eyes adjust to the darkness — what is vaguely visible is the silhouette of a new American posture in Iraq. Think of it as the Obama Doctrine. And what it doesn’t look like is the posture of an occupying power preparing to close up shop and head for home.

As your eyes grow accustomed to the darkness, you begin to identify a deepening effort to ensure that Iraq remains a U.S. client state, or, as General Odierno described it to the press on June 30th, “a long-term partner with the United States in the Middle East.” Whether Obama’s national security team can succeed in this is certainly an open question, but, on a first hard look, what seems to be coming into focus shouldn’t be too unfamiliar to students of history. Once upon a time, it used to have a name: colonialism.

Colonialism in Iraq

Traditional colonialism was characterized by three features: ultimate decision-making rested with the occupying power instead of the indigenous client government; the personnel of the colonial administration were governed by different laws and institutions than the colonial population; and the local political economy was shaped to serve the interests of the occupying power. All the features of classic colonialism took shape in the Bush years in Iraq and are now, as far as we can tell, being continued, in some cases even strengthened, in the early months of the Obama era.

The U.S. embassy in Iraq, built by the Bush administration to the tune of $740 million, is by far the largest in the world. It is now populated by more than 1,000 administrators, technicians, and professionals — diplomatic, military, intelligence, and otherwise — though all are regularly, if euphemistically, referred to as “diplomats” in official statements and in the media. This level of staffing — 1,000 administrators for a country of perhaps 30 million — is well above the classic norm for imperial control. Back in the early twentieth century, for instance, Great Britain utilized fewer officials to rule a population of 300 million in its Indian Raj.

Such a concentration of foreign officialdom in such a gigantic regional command center — and no downsizing or withdrawals are yet apparent there — certainly signals Washington’s larger imperial design: to have sufficient administrative labor power on hand to ensure that American advisors remain significantly embedded in Iraqi political decision-making, in its military, and in the key ministries of its (oil-dominated) economy.

From the first moments of the occupation of Iraq, U.S. officials have been sitting in the offices of Iraqi politicians and bureaucrats, providing guidelines, training decision-makers, and brokering domestic disputes. As a consequence, Americans have been involved, directly or indirectly, in virtually all significant government decision-making.

In a recent article, for example, the New York Times reported that U.S. officials are “quietly lobbying” to cancel a mandated nationwide referendum on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated between the United States and Iraq — a referendum that, if defeated, would at least theoretically force the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the country. In another article, the Times reported that embassy officials have “sometimes stepped in to broker peace between warring blocs” in the Iraqi Parliament. In yet another, the military newspaper Stars and Stripes mentioned in passing that an embassy official “advises Iraqis running the $100 million airport” just completed in Najaf. And so it goes.

Segregated Living

Most colonial regimes erect systems in which foreigners involved in occupation duties are served (and disciplined) by an institutional structure separate from the one that governs the indigenous population. In Iraq, the U.S. has been building such a structure since 2003, and the Obama administration shows every sign of extending it.

As in all embassies around the world, U.S. embassy officials are not subject to the laws of the host country. The difference is that, in Iraq, they are not simply stamping visas and the like, but engaged in crucial projects involving them in myriad aspects of daily life and governance, although as an essentially separate caste within Iraqi society. Military personnel are part of this segregated structure: the recently signed SOFA insures that American soldiers will remain virtually untouchable by Iraqi law, even if they kill innocent civilians.

Versions of this immunity extend to everyone associated with the occupation. Private security, construction, and commercial contractors employed by occupation forces are not protected by the SOFA agreement, but are nonetheless shielded from the laws and regulations that apply to normal Iraqi residents. As an Iraq-based FBI official told the New York Times, the obligations of contractors are defined by “new arrangements between Iraq and the United States governing contractors’ legal status.” In a recent case in which five employees of one U.S. contractor were charged with killing another contractor, the case was jointly investigated by Iraqi police and “local representatives of the FBI,” with ultimate jurisdiction negotiated by Iraqi and U.S. embassy officials. The FBI has established a substantial presence in Iraq to carry out these “new arrangements.”

This special handling extends to enterprises servicing the billions of dollars spent every month in Iraq on U.S. contracts. A contractor’s prime responsibility is to follow “guidelines the U.S. military handed down in 2006.” In all this, Iraqi law has a distinctly secondary role. In one apparently typical case, a Kuwaiti contractor hired to feed U.S. soldiers was accused of imprisoning its foreign workers and then, when they protested, sending them home without pay. This case was handled by U.S. officials, not the Iraqi government.

Beyond this legal segregation, the U.S. has also been erecting a segregated infrastructure within Iraq. Most embassies and military bases around the world rely on the host country for food, electricity, water, communications, and daily supplies. Not the U.S. embassy or the five major bases that are at the heart of the American military presence in that country. They all have their own electrical generating and water purification systems, their own dedicated communications, and imported food from outside the country. None, naturally, offer indigenous Iraqi cuisine; the embassy imports ingredients suitable for reasonably upscale American restaurants, and the military bases feature American fast food and chain restaurant fare.

The United States has even created the rudiments of its own transportation system. Iraqis often are delayed when traveling within or between cities, thanks to an occupation-created (and now often Iraqi-manned) maze of checkpoints, cement barriers, and bombed-out streets and roads; on the other hand, U.S. soldiers and officials in certain areas can move around more quickly, thanks to special privileges and segregated facilities.

In the early years of the occupation, large military convoys transporting supplies or soldiers simply took temporary possession of Iraqi highways and streets. Iraqis who didn’t quickly get out of the way were threatened with lethal firepower. To negotiate sometimes hours-long lines at checkpoints, Americans were given special ID cards that “guaranteed swift passage… in a separate lane past waiting Iraqis.” Though the guaranteed “swift passage” was supposed to end with the signing of the SOFA, the system is still operating at many checkpoints, and convoys continue to roar through Iraqi communities with “Iraqi drivers still pulling over en masse.”

Recently, the occupation has also been appropriating various streets and roads for its exclusive use (an idea that may have been borrowed from Israel’s 40-year-old occupation of the West Bank). This innovation has made unconvoyed transportation safer for embassy officials, contractors, and military personnel, while degrading further the Iraqi road system, already in a state of disrepair, by closing useable thoroughfares. Paradoxically, it has also allowed insurgents to plant roadside bombs with the assurance of targeting only foreigners. Such an incident outside Falluja illustrates what have now become Obama-era policies in Iraq:

 

“The Americans were driving along a road used exclusively by the American military and reconstruction teams when a bomb, which local Iraqi security officials described as an improvised explosive device, went off. No Iraqi vehicles, even those of the army and the police, are allowed to use the road where the attack occurred, according to residents. There is a checkpoint only 200 yards from the site of the attack to prevent unauthorized vehicles, the residents said.”

It is unclear whether this road will be handed back to the Iraqis, if and when the base it services is shuttered. Either way, the larger policy appears to be well established — the designation of segregated roads to accommodate the 1,000 diplomats and tens of thousands of soldiers and contractors who implement their policies. And this is only one aspect of a dedicated infrastructure designed to facilitate ongoing U.S. involvement in developing, implementing, and administering political-economic policies in Iraq.

Whose Military Is It?

One way to “free up” the American military for withdrawal would, of course, be if the Iraqi military could manage the pacification mission alone. But don’t expect that any time soon. According to media reports, if all goes well, this isn’t likely to occur for at least a decade. One telltale sign of this is the pervasive presence of American military advisors still embedded in Iraqi combat units. First Lt. Matthew Liebal, for example, “sits every day beside Lt. Col Mohammed Hadi,” the commander of the Iraqi 43rd Army Brigade that patrols eastern Baghdad.

When it comes to the Iraqi military, this sort of supervision won’t be temporary. After all, the military the U.S. helped create in Iraq still lacks, among other things, significant logistical capability, heavy artillery, and an air force. Consequently, U.S. forces transport and re-supply Iraqi troops, position and fire high-caliber ordnance, and supply air support when needed. Since the U.S. military is unwilling to allow Iraqi officers to command American soldiers, they obviously can’t make decisions about firing artillery, launching and directing U.S. Air Force planes, or sending U.S. logistical personnel into war zones. All major Iraqi missions are, then, fated to be accompanied by U.S. advisors and support personnel for an unknown period to come.

The Iraqi military is not expected to get a wing of modern jet fighters (or have the trained pilots to fly them) until at least 2015. This means that, wherever U.S. air power might be stationed, including the massive air base at Balad north of Baghdad, it will, in effect, be the Iraqi air force for the foreseeable future.

Even the simplest policing functions of the military might prove problematic without the American presence. Typically, when an Iraqi battalion commander was asked by New York Times reporter Steven Lee Myers “whether he needed American backup for a criminal arrest, he replied simply, ‘Of course.'” John Snell, an Australian advisor to the U.S. military, was just as blunt, telling an Agence France Presse reporter that, if the United States withdrew its troops, the Iraqi military “would rapidly disintegrate.”

In a World Policy Journal article last winter, John A. Nagl, a military expert and former advisor to General David Petraeus, expressed a commonly held opinion that an independent Iraqi military is likely to be at least a decade away.

Whose Economy Is It?

Terry Barnich, a victim of the previously discussed Falluja roadside bombing, personified the economic embeddedness of the occupation. As the U.S. State Department’s Deputy Director of the Iraq Transition Assistance Office and the top adviser to Iraq’s Electricity Minister, when he died he was “returning from an inspection of a wastewater treatment plant being built in Falluja.”

His dual role as a high official in the policy-making process and the “top advisor” to one of Iraq’s major infrastructural ministries catches the continuing U.S. posture toward Iraq in the early months of the Obama era. Iraq remains, however reluctantly, a client government; significant aspects of ultimate decision-making power still reside with the occupation forces. Note, by the way, that Barnich was evidently not even traveling with Iraqi officials.

The intrusive presence of the Baghdad embassy extends to the all-important oil industry, which today provides 95% of the government’s funds. When it comes to energy, the occupation has long sought to shape policy and transfer operational responsibility from Iraqi state-owned enterprises of the Saddam Hussein years to major international oil companies. In one of its most successful efforts, in 2004, the U.S. delivered an exclusive $1.2 billion contract to reconstruct Iraq’s decrepit southern oil transport facilities (which handle 80% of its oil flow) to KBR, the notorious former subsidiary of Halliburton. Supervision of that famously mismanaged contract, still uncompleted five years later, was allocated to the U.S. Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.

The Iraqi government, in fact, still exerts remarkably little control over “Iraqi” oil revenues. The Development Fund for Iraq (whose revenues are deposited in the Federal Reserve Bank of New York) was established under U.N. auspices just after the invasion and receives 95% of the proceeds from Iraq’s oil sales. All government withdrawals are then overseen by the U.N.-sanctioned International Advisory and Monitoring Board, a U.S.-appointed panel of experts drawn mainly from the global oil and financial industries. The transfer of this oversight function to an Iraqi-appointed body, which was supposed to take place in this January, has been delayed by the Obama administration, which claims that the Iraqi government is not yet ready to take on such a responsibility.

In the meantime, the campaign to transfer administration of core oil operations to the major oil companies continues. Despite the resistance of Iraqi oil workers, the administrators of the two national oil companies, a majority bloc in parliament, and public opinion, the U.S. has continued to pressure the al-Maliki administration to enact an oil law that would mandate licensing devices called production-sharing agreements (PSAs).

If enacted, these PSAs would, without transferring permanent ownership, grant oil companies effective control over Iraq’s oil fields, giving them full discretion to exploit the country’s oil reserves from exploration to sales. U.S. pressure has ranged from ongoing “advice” delivered by American officials stationed in relevant Iraqi ministries to threats to confiscate some or all of the oil monies deposited in the Development Fund.

At the moment, the Iraqi government is attempting to take a more limited step: auctioning management contracts to international oil companies in an effort to increase production at eight existing oil and natural gas fields. While the winning companies would not gain the full discretion to explore, produce, and sell in some of the world’s potentially richest fields, they would at least gain some administrative control over upgrading equipment and extracting oil, possibly for as long as 20 years.

If the auction proves ultimately successful (not at all a certainty, since the first round produced only one as-yet-unsigned agreement), the Iraqi oil industry would become more deeply embedded in the occupation apparatus, no matter what officially happens to American forces in that country. Among other things, the American embassy would almost certainly be responsible for inspecting and guiding the work of the contract-winners, while the U.S. military and private contractors would become guarantors of their on-the-ground security. Fayed al-Nema, the CEO of the South Oil Company, spoke for most of the opponents of such deals when he told Reuters reporter Ahmed Rasheed that the contracts, if approved, would “put the Iraqi economy in chains and shackle its independence for the next 20 years.”

Who Owns Iraq?

In 2007, Alan Greenspan, former head of the Federal Reserve, told Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that “taking Saddam out was essential” — a point he made in his book The Age of Turbulence — because the United States could not afford to be “beholden to potentially unfriendly sources of oil and gas” in Iraq. It’s exactly that sort of thinking that’s still operating in U.S. policy circles: the 2008 National Defense Strategy, for example, calls for the use of American military power to maintain “access to and flow of energy resources vital to the world economy.”

After only five months in office, the Obama administration has already provided significant evidence that, like its predecessor, it remains committed to maintaining that “access to and flow of energy resources” in Iraq, even as it places its major military bet on winning the expanding war in Afghanistan and Pakistan. There can be no question that Washington is now engaged in an effort to significantly reduce its military footprint in Iraq, but without, if all goes well for Washington, reducing its influence.

What this looks like is an attempted twenty-first-century version of colonial domination, possibly on the cheap, as resources are transferred to the Eastern wing of the Greater Middle East. There is, of course, no more a guarantee that this new strategy — perhaps best thought of as colonialism lite or the Obama Doctrine — will succeed than there was for the many failed military-first offensives undertaken by the Bush administration. After all, in the unsettled, still violent atmosphere of Iraq, even the major oil companies have hesitated to rush in and the auctioning of oil contracts has begun to look uncertain, even as other “civilian” initiatives remain, at best, incomplete.

As the Obama administration comes face-to-face with the reality of trying fulfill General Odierno’s ambition of making Iraq into “a long-term partner with the United States in the Middle East” while fighting a major counterinsurgency war in Afghanistan, it may also encounter a familiar dilemma faced by nineteenth-century colonial powers: that without the application of overwhelming military force, the intended colony may drift away toward sovereign independence. If so, then the dreary prediction of Pulitzer Prize-winning military correspondent Thomas Ricks — that the United States is only “halfway through this war” — may prove all too accurate.

Copyright 2009 Michael Schwartz

A professor of sociology at Stony Brook State University, Michael Schwartz is the author of War Without End: The Iraq War in Context (Haymarket Books), which explains how the militarized geopolitics of oil led the U.S. to dismantle the Iraqi state and economy while fueling a sectarian civil war. Schwartz’s work on Iraq has appeared in numerous academic and popular outlets. He is a regular at TomDispatch.com. (An audio interview with him on the situation in Iraq is available by clicking here.) His email address is ms42@optonline.net.

Obama’s Iraq: The Picture of Dorian Gray April 28, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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While the US tries to present a new face, the ugliness of the occupation continues. Now it seems combat troops won’t exactly withdraw from Iraqi cities on June 30.

by Jeremy Scahill

Remember when Barack Obama made that big announcement at Camp Lejeune about how all US combat troops were going to be withdrawn from Iraqi cities by June 30? Liberals jumped around with joy, praising Obama for ending the war so that they could focus on their “good war” in Afghanistan.

Of course, the celebrations were and remain unwarranted. Obama’s Iraq plan is virtually identical to the one on Bush’s table on January 19, 2009. Obama has just rebranded the occupation, sold it to liberals and dropped the term “Global War on Terror” while, for all practical purposes, continuing the Bush era policy (that’s why leading Republicans praised Obama’s plan). In the real world, US military commanders have said they are preparing for an Iraq presence for another 15-20 years, the US embassy is the size of Vatican City, there is no official plan for the withdrawal of contractors and new corporate mercenary contracts are being awarded. The SoFA Agreement between the US and Iraq gives the US the right to extend the occupation indefinitely and to continue intervening militarily in Iraq ad infinitum. All it takes is for the puppets in Baghdad to ask nicely…

In the latest episode of the “Occupation Rebranded” mini-series, President Obama is preparing to scrap the June 30 withdrawal timeline.

As The New York Times reports: “The United States and Iraq will begin negotiating possible exceptions to the June 30 deadline for withdrawing American combat troops from Iraqi cities, focusing on the troubled northern city of Mosul, according to military officials. Some parts of Baghdad also will still have combat troops.”

According to the Times, the US is playing with the definition of the word “city” when speaking of withdrawing combat troops from all cities:

[T]here are no plans to close the Camp Victory base complex, consisting of five bases housing more than 20,000 soldiers, many of them combat troops. Although Victory is only a 15 minute drive from the center of Baghdad and sprawls over both sides of the city’s boundary, Iraqi officials say they have agreed to consider it outside the city.In addition, Forward Operating Base Falcon, which can hold 5,000 combat troops, will also remain after June 30. It is just within Baghdad’s southern city limits. Again, Iraqi officials have classified it as effectively outside Baghdad, so no exception to the agreement needs to be granted, in their view.

Combat troops with the Seventh Field Artillery Regiment will remain in the heart of Baghdad at Camp Prosperity, located near the new American Embassy compound in the Green Zone. In addition to providing a quick reaction force, guarding the embassy and noncombat troops from attack, those soldiers will also continue to support Iraqi troops who are now in nominal charge of maintaining security in the Green Zone.

Camp Victory is of tremendous strategic importance to the US occupation. In addition to the military’s share of Baghdad International Airport, it includes four bases-Victory, Liberty, Striker and Slayer-as well as the US-run prison “Camp Cropper.” That’s where the US keeps its “high value” prisoners. While the US officially handed control of Forward Operating Base Freedom to “Iraqi control,” the US military is keeping the swimming pool.

Meanwhile, future plans are being laid for other US bases. Camp Prosperity is going to house US contractors and other personnel, while at Camp Union III housing is being built for several thousand soldiers, trainers and advisers.

What is abundantly clear is that there are enough cosmetic changes going on in Baghdad intended to make it look like the occupation is ending, while continuing it. Again, from the Times:

The Green Zone was handed over to Iraqi control Jan. 1, when the agreement went into effect. In addition to the United States-Iraqi patrols, most of the security for the Green Zone’s many checkpoints and heavily guarded entry points is still done by the same private contractors who did it prior to Jan. 1.“What you’re seeing is not a change in the numbers, it’s a doctrine change,” said First Sgt. David Moore, a New Jersey National Guardsman with the Joint Area Support Group, which runs the Green Zone. “You’re still going to have fighters. Every U.S. soldier is trained to fight.”

The Iraq occupation is like The Picture of Dorian Gray. No matter what public face the Obama administration attempts to present, it only grows more heinous with each passing day.

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

Obama Should Listen to Iraqis, Not Lecture Them April 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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If Obama just asked Iraqis on his flying visit, he would find they think the US is part of the problem and should leave them to it

by Jonathan Steele

Sandstorms are unpredictable, but in the case of Barack Obama’s rushed trip to Iraq the one that hit Baghdad just as he was landing on Tuesday afternoon was highly unfortunate. US officials were forced to cancel the president’s helicopter flight to the Green Zone to meet Iraqi leaders.

Less sensibly, they decided not to allow Obama to travel the roughly eight-mile journey by road. Their decision illustrated just how insecure the Iraqi capital remains in spite of considerable improvements in the last two years. It also meant that Iraq’s prime minister and president had to take the risk of going to see the foreign visitor rather than the other way round.

The Obama trip had been designed to draw a contrast with George W Bush’s several unannounced visits mainly consisted of talking to US troops. It was also meant to convey an image that Iraq was now a sovereign rather than an occupied and client country. Instead, the truncated four-hour visit’s message was that little had changed in US-Iraqi relations.

Obama’s initial view of the need to invade Iraq was, of course, different from Bush’s. During the election campaign he tossed aside the Bush/Blair mantra that there should be “no artificial timetable” for withdrawing foreign troops. He gave a clear promise that combat troops would leave within 16 months. But Bush was forced to change his line last autumn thanks to growing confidence on the part of Iraq’s prime minister, Nouri al Maliki, and mounting pressure from the Iraqi parliament. They persuaded Bush to sign an agreement for troops to leave Iraq’s cities by July this year, and to leave Iraq altogether by the end of 2011.

So when Obama took office he inherited a US policy that was not so different from what he had had been advocating. Where there has been change, it tends to go in the opposite direction. While broadly sticking to his promise to pull combat troops out in 16 months (the date of August 2010 he now favours is actually 18 months), he has raised serious doubts about sticking to the 2011 deadline. Now he suggests some US forces may stay after that time, for training or counter-terrorism purposes.

More worryingly, Obama is increasingly adopting a narrative of the US presence that sounds like the Bush version. US troops, Bush always used to say, are in Iraq to defend democracy and provide security until the Iraqis are ready to step up to the plate. Obama now says the same, and expresses concern that as US troops start to leave Iraq violence may resume. It’s comforting and paternalistic stuff, designed to paint a picture of neutral peacekeepers nobly holding the ring until the natives grow up or come to their senses.

Undoubtedly, Obama has a difficult role to perform as commander in chief. It’s hardly to be expected that he would tell US troops to their face at the optimistically named Baghdad airport headquarters Camp Victory that they have been risking their lives for nothing. But he could have hinted that while most soldiers did their duty with professionalism and discipline, the political leaders who sent them there were mistaken and ill-informed.

By the same token, it makes domestic political sense for Obama to say he wants to conduct the US withdrawal “in a responsible fashion”. But he should not fall for the Bush-style argument that “I have a responsibility to make sure that, as we bring troops out, we do so in a careful enough way that we don’t see a complete collapse into violence” – the phrase he used to students in Istanbul shortly before flying to Baghdad.

Why doesn’t Obama consult Iraqi opinion? The latest poll, by the BBC and ABC in February, shows that nothing has changed in the longstanding majority view that the occupation forces (British as much as the Americans) have not been a bastion of security. They have been the problem more than the solution. Sixty-nine per cent said they had “done a bad job”. Forty-six per cent think they should leave Iraq before the end of 2011, while 35% said the timetable is right. Less than 20% want them to stay longer. One reason is that Iraqis by a 53% majority view the US as still running the country. Another is that 59% already think Iraqi forces are capable of providing sufficient security.

It is true that sectarian tensions and violence between Sunnis and Shias still exist in Iraq (a phenomenon that was insignificant during Saddam’s era and the previous two or three decades). It is also the case that clashes between the Sunni Awakening Councils and the Shia-dominated army and police have recently broken out, largely because of a hasty government policy of disbanding the councils, many of whom earlier led the anti-US resistance.

But the Iraqi public, and the main parties in parliament, express confidence that violence can be contained. On Tuesday Obama told US troops rather haughtily that it was “time for Iraqis to take responsibility for their country”. He should listen rather than lecture. Iraqis have been trying to give the US that very message for quite some time.

Jonathan Steele is a Guardian columnist, roving foreign correspondent and author. He was the Guardian’s bureau chief in Washington (1975 to 1979) and Moscow (1988 to 1994). In the 80s he reported from southern Africa, central America, Afghanistan, and Eastern Europe. In the 90s he covered Kosovo and the Balkans. Since 9/11 he has reported from Afghanistan and Iraq as well as on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Barack Obama, Iraq and the Big Lie March 1, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in About Barack Obama, About War, Barack Obama, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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By Roger Hollander, March 1, 2009, www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com

 

“Don’t piss on me and try to tell me it’s raining”

Judge Judy

 

Does it matter whether it is a moral and intellectual imbecile like George W. Bush or a brilliant and charismatic intellectual like Barack Obama who employ the Big Lie as a tactic to explain and justify the unjustifiable?

In a posting that appeared in towardfreedom.com on February 18, Joel S. Hirschhorn writes, “Compared to rioting Europeans, Americans seem like docile, drugged out sheep … mesmerized by melodic rhetoric of political messiah Barack Obama.”

(http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1529/1/) (italics added)

 

In an ironic and tragic twist of fate, it now appears that Barack Obama’s mesmerizing and melodic rhetoric has turned out to be a two-edged sword.  The same magic timbre that inspired and motivated millions of America to work day and night for his election in order to end America’s disastrous military adventures in the Middle East is now being put to use to give credibility to the Bush/Cheney worldview of the Iraq War and to thwart the desires, interests and welfare of those very same millions.  The delivery hasn’t changed, but God help us, look at the content (which is what this article is all about).

 

In an article entitled “War Is Over (IF You Want It)” that appears in the current edition of The Nation magazine (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090316/alterman), Eric Alterman calls attention to the radical Republican right strategy of defining the fiasco in Iraq as a “victory.”  He cites, for example, an editorial that appeared in the Wall Street Journal that quotes Bush speech writer Marc Thiessen, “As Mr. Bush leaves office, Iraq is a unified and free country, and our enemies there have suffered a devastating defeat. If his successor does not squander that victory, a free Iraq will one day be to the Middle East what a free South Korea has been to Asia.”  (this parallels the same kind of Big Lie that the radical right has propagated about the Vietnam War, that it could have been won if only the politicians had given the military a free hand – to nuke Hanoi presumably).

 

Alterman goes on to cite other neocons in a similar vein and suggests that this is a conscious and concentrated strategy the purpose of which is to set up President Obama up for failure.  If that is indeed the case, then Obama seems to be willingly and blithely walking into the trap.

 

In his speech given on Friday, February 27 at marine Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, Obama both affirms the neocon revisionist history of the Iraq invasion and occupation and lies blatantly to the American public about the proposed withdrawal.

 

First the latter.  Obama: “Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end …. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.”

A bald faced lie.

Writing in the journal Foreign Policy in Focus on Friday, February 27, (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5910), Phyllis Bennis exposes Obama’s dissimulation about the up to 50,000 allegedly non-combatant troops “left behind.”  Leaving aside the question of why that huge number would be required to “train,equip and advise” (one is reminded of the “advisors” in Vietnam), which even Nancy Pelosi has questioned, Bennis refers to a December New York Times article “describing how military planners believe Obama’s goal of pulling out combat troops ‘could be accomplished at least in part by re-labeling some units, so that those currently counted as combat troops could be ‘re-missioned,’ their efforts redefined as training and support for the Iraqis.’”  She adds, “That would mean a retreat to the lies and deception that characterized this war during Bush years — something President Obama promised to leave behind. It would also mean military resistance in Iraq would continue, leading to more Iraqi and U.S. casualties.”

Along with AlterNet’s Jeremy Scahill (“All Troops Out By 2011? Not So Fast; Why Obama’s Iraq Speech Deserves a Second Look,” (http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/129362/all_troops_out_by_2011_not_so_fast%3B_why_obama%27s_iraq_speech_deserves_a_second_look/), Bettis shows how the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which was adopted by the Iraqi government but never ratified by the United States, and which calls for all U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, is full of loopholes that the Pentagon and presumably the President are ready, willing and able, to employ when the time comes for the helicopters to be evacuating the remaining troops a la Vietnam (in other words, it ain’t gonna happen).

Obama himself (inadvertently, I presume) lets it slip into the speech where he states that he will “retain a transitional force … conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions.”   Such missions can hardly be characterized as anything other than combat missions.  He also telegraphs to both the American people via his warning to the Iraq resistance what his ace-in-the-loophole will be: “But our enemies should be left with no doubt: this plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners, and to succeed.”  It’s that flexibility that we knee-jerk peace-mongers worry about.

Sins of omission can be as deceptive, disingenuous and morally corrupt as sins of commission.  As Bettis points out, Obama neglected to mention the future use of air and naval force in Iraq, the disposition of the more than fifty military bases in Iraq, or the future status of the enormous numbers of mercenaries and contractors (e.g. Dyncorp, Bechtel,  and Blackwater, now Xe).  Nor did refer to the city within a city that is the United States Embassy in Baghdad, the largest embassy in the history of humankind of which you can bet that it wasn’t built to become redundant in a period of a couple of years. Come December 31, 2111, all logic and experience tell us that United States military presence in Iraq will continue to be substantial.  Obama does himself and the nation a disservice by suggesting otherwise.

As for the Bush, Cheney, neocon, and now apparently Obama fairytale version of the United States involvement in Iraq, it is probably true that it is the only one that would have been palatable for obvious reasons to the marines at Camp Lejeune, not to mention the neo-Fascist right that has ruled the country for the past eight years.  But to speak before the country and the entire world and characterize the United States invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, untold misery for millions and the virtual destruction of the Iraq infrastructure, as some kind of a noble venture is to contort reality into nothing less than a Big Lie which can only serve to justify past atrocity and foreshadow future ongoing bloodshed and destruction.

Obama: “We Americans have offered our most precious resource – our young men and women – to work with you to rebuild what was destroyed by despotism; to root out our common enemies; and to seek peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, and for yours.”  Bush could not have said it any better (which is probably why McCain is salivating as we speak).

The Biggest Lie of all comes toward the end of Obama’s speech: “And so I want to be very clear: We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime …We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government …And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life …”

Alleging that “we sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime” contains the truth within a lie.  In making the statement, Obama incredibly admits that the United States government violated the most fundamental precept of the United Nations Charter and international law, to wit, an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation.  But does the President expect the American people and the world to forget about the intentionally false information about nuclear materials and weapons of mass destruction that was fed to the American people and world community as the justification for the invasion in the first place?  In this instance Obama’s Big lie serves to reinforce the Original Big Lie of the Bush administration.  The growing demand for prosecutorial accountability with respect to Bush and Company include, we should remember, not only torture, rendition, illegal wiretapping, etc. but also the crime of lying to the American public and Congress about the grounds for the invasion.

(To put matters into an even broader historical context, I refer readers to Nora Eisenberg’s excellent piece in AlterNet.com where she documents the Big Lie technique that was used to justify the first Gulf War in 1991 where according to a United Nations report the United States Air Force bombed Iraq “back into the Dark Ages.”  “Obama to Announce Iraq Troop Withdrawal,”

http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/128916/why_the_dark_secrets_of_the_first_gulf_war_are_still_haunting_us/)

As for establishing a sovereign government and leaving the Iraqi people the opportunity to have a better life, while the jury may still be out on those counts, the evidence we have to date flies in the face of such empty rhetorical wishful thinking.

Some time ago Bush and the neocons began, ominously, comparing Iraq with South Korea, where the U.S. has had a “successful” military presence for over 50 years.  They neglect, of course, to note the difference, to wit, that South Korea was a military ally of the United States against the North Korean invasion, whereas the U.S. has been bombing the life out of Iraq since 1991 and through its unlawful invasion provoked a near civil war within the country that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis?  Will this South Korea paradigm fiction be the next straw that Obama will need to grasp in order to justify occupation in perpetuity? 

There are two other critical concepts, which are central to the forces that were behind the original invasion and which impulse the continued military occupation, that Obama neglected to mention.  One of them is “war profiteering.”  Wipe out the infrastructure, and then as a pretext for reconstructing it, give billions in untendered contracts to the likes of Dick Cheney’s Haliburton.  And that is not to mention the corporate ghouls who manufacture our weapons of mass destruction.

The other concept, however, is one that virtually every American, not to mention the rest of the world, knows in her or his heart to have been, is, and will continue to be the single most – if not the only – motivating force behind the U.S. military adventure in Iraq.  It can be found in the original but quickly discarded acronym for the mission: Operation  Iraqi  Liberation.

Further Deconstruction of President Obama’s February 27 “Withdrawal from Iraq” Speech

Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against tyranny …”

Deconstruction: Those soldiers who have fought tyranny are living in Canada.

Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against … disorder.”

Deconstruction: Disorder created not only by the current invasion and occupation but also by 19 years of U.S. bombing and economic blockade.  Eisenberg: “We never learned that the government’s goals had changed from expelling Saddam’s forces from Kuwait to destroying Iraq’s infrastructure. Or what a country with a destroyed infrastructure looks like — with most of its electricity, telecommunications, sewage system, dams, railroads and bridges blown away.”

Obama: “Violence has been reduced substantially from the horrific sectarian killing of 2006 and 2007.”

Deconstruction: Sectarian killing and violence that the U.S. invasion and occupation provoked and by which Saddam Hussein’s atrocities pale in comparison.  U.S. inspired violence and killing 2003-2006 conveniently ignored.

Obama: “Al Qaeda in Iraq has been dealt a serious blow by our troops and Iraq’s Security Forces …”

Deconstruction: And has been handed a recruiting opportunity that will dramatically inflate the ranks of revenge-motivated terrorists who will plague us for decades or more.

Obama: “… a transition to full Iraqi responsibility … an Iraq that is sovereign, stable and self-reliant … The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources.”

Deconstruction: An Iraq that is occupied by the U.S. military in perpetuity, in order to ensure the protection of U.S. interests in the region’s natural resources and to ensure the “election” of government’s that maintain Iraq as a client state of the U.S.

Obama: “There are those … who will insist that Iraq’s differences cannot be reconciled without more killing.”

Deconstruction: We don’t insist on more killing we just do it.  Bennis: “And what if the reduction in ground troops is answered with an escalation of U.S. air power? The U.S. appears to be planning to control the skies over Iraq for years to come. That means even more Iraqi civilians being killed by the U.S. military. We need the withdraw all air and naval forces too — something the SOFA agreement mentions, but we have yet to hear anything from the Obama administration. The U.S. has been conducting continuous overflights and regular bombing of Iraq since January 1991 – isn’t 18 years of air war enough?”

Obama: “And as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I promise you that I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary …”

Deconstruction: Necessary to what and to whose ends?

Obama: “What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals.”

Deconstruction: Forget such wishy-washy idealist notions such as actual peace and justice.

Obama: (with respect to) “millions of displaced Iraqis … America has … a moral responsibility – to act.”

Deconstruction: This is another Obama slip up: America has no “moral responsibility” to help those refugees.  It was Saddam who made us create all those refugees.  Right?  We do it out of the goodness of our gas-guzzling hearts.

Obama: “… the United States of America – a nation that exists only because free men and women have bled for it from the beaches of Normandy to the deserts of Anbar; from the mountains of Korea to the streets of Kandahar.”

Deconstruction: Obama gives us jingoistic triumphalistic patriotism, when the American people hunger for a truthful acknowledgement of the past crimes.

One has to ask the question why the entire sub-text, not to mention the practical implications, of Obama’s speech was addressed directly to the radical Republican right, corporate America, and the military-industrial complex.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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