We’re beginning to see the outlines of Bush’s military strategy in Iraq. It’s not withdrawal. Bush intends to prevail.
While at some point he may bring 10,000 or 20,000 or even 50,000 troops home, he has no intention of ending this war.
Left to his own volition, he will still have about 100,000 U.S. troops in Iraq on the day he leaves office.
At the Naval Academy on November 30, Bush’s message was unmistakable: “We will never back down, we will never give in, and we will never accept anything less than complete victory.”
In case anyone missed the point, Bush vowed: “To all who wear the uniform, I make you this pledge: America will not run in the face of bombers and assassins so long as I am your commander in chief.”
Problem is, Bush has turned Iraq into a laboratory for bombers and assassins.
“We have lost the hearts and minds of the Iraqi people.” Representative John Murtha
And the longer the United States remains there, the more those bombers and assassins will reproduce and do their dirty business.
Bush offered nothing convincing by way of strategy. Though a banner above him read “Plan for Victory,” and though that slogan was then emblazoned at least a dozen times behind the podium, Bush’s plan is the same old, same old: Get Iraqis to do the killing for us. “Our goal is to train enough Iraqi forces so they carry the fight,” he said.
But they haven’t been getting the job done up to now, and there’s no reason to suspect they’ll be able to do so down the road.
What’s more, insurgents have infiltrated some of those Iraqi units. No wonder it’s hard for them to operate as trusty proxies.
On the political front, Bush was equally obtuse.
He foolishly asserted that “Sunni rejectionists” are “increasingly isolated” by Sunnis who are joining the political process. This is wishful thinking of the most dangerous sort. In some parts of Sunni Iraq, an overwhelming number of people have been boycotting the political process, and as they see Iraqi military units abducting, torturing, and murdering Sunnis, they will increasingly resist the new government.
“Iraqi forces are earning the trust of their countrymen,” Bush said, but they are earning the enmity of the Sunnis.
He offered no clue as to how many of the 160,000 U.S. troops he might withdraw. And he mocked the idea of a timetable for withdrawal, though even leading Shiite groups—as well as a majority of Americans—are in favor of it.
Prevailing in Iraq is answering “history’s call,” he said, and he believes he’s answering God’s call, too. (“History has an ebb and flow of justice, but history also has a visible direction, set by liberty and the Author of Liberty,” he said in his 2005 Inaugural Address.)
It is Bush the missionary who will not leave Iraq; to do so, in his mind, would be to go against God’s will.
Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Bush also fear that leaving Iraq would embolden Al Qaeda. It’s not an idle concern.
Yet Al Qaeda relishes the Iraq War, and recognizes that it boosts recruiting. If the United States were to pull out of Iraq, Al Qaeda would likely not be strong enough to wrest control of the country from Shiites, Kurds, and those Sunnis who are in league with it only until U.S. troops leave. For instance, several insurgent groups have already sent out feelers for a negotiated settlement with the Iraqi government. Such a settlement could be predicated on the withdrawal of U.S. troops, and then a more united country could go after Al Qaeda remnants, who lose popular support every time they blow up Iraqi civilians.
But Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld are not solely concerned about Al Qaeda. Their motivations include the control of oil, the privatization of Iraq’s economy, the establishment of permanent U.S. military bases, the projection of U.S. power, and the reputation of America’s military.
Bush’s stated approach, and the one laid out in the Pentagon’s “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq,” doesn’t tell the whole story. But it’s instructive nonetheless. It defines victory in the longer term the following way: “Iraq is peaceful, united, stable, and secure, well integrated into the international community, and a full partner in the global war on terror.”
If Bush is going to keep U.S. troops there until that happens, we’ve got a long time to wait.
The document acknowledges that. “Terrorism and insurgencies historically take many years to defeat,” it says, under a section entitled “Victory Will Take Time.” It adds: “Iraq is likely to struggle with some level of violence for many years to come.” And it states in boldfaced type that “no war has ever been won on a timetable—and neither will this one.”
“The President wants to have it both ways. He won’t change his underlying approach, an open-ended military commitment. . . . But he can read the polls, so he wants to be perceived as doing something new and different, in order to rescue his Administration from political oblivion. But repackaging a Twinkie doesn’t improve its nutritional value.”Representative Lynn Woolsey
It barely waves at one of the central problems, however, and that is “discontent with the Coalition presence,” which it blames largely on Moqtada Al-Sadr. It even talks of exposing “the falsity of enemy propaganda that Iraq is ‘under occupation.’ ” Since the vast majority of Iraqis believes the United States is an occupying force, this will be a difficult task. “A Coalition Provisional Authority-sponsored poll in May 2004 showed that 92 percent of Iraqis viewed the invaders as ‘occupiers’ rather than ‘liberators,’ ” Edward S. Herman noted in Z Magazine.
The document says the United States has a three-track approach for victory: political, security, and economic. While it points to a lot of progress on the political track, the security and economic tracks are all torn up.
The document betrays U.S. motives for Iraq’s economy, incidentally, when it states that Iraq must reduce its “massive subsidy programs” and “attract new investment.” Privatization, or what it calls “market reform” and “the promotion of Iraq’s private sector,” is the linchpin of the U.S. strategy. Ironically, the Pentagon expects privatization to “decrease unemployment that makes some Iraqis more vulnerable to terrorist or insurgent recruiting.” But by cutting off subsidies on basic items like food and fuel, privatization is likely to make the everyday lives of Iraqis more miserable and thus more susceptible to the siren song of the insurgents. The authors of the document dimly recognize this. Under “Continued Challenges in the Economic Sphere,” they write about the problem of “balancing the need for economic reform—particularly of bloated fuel and food subsidies—with political realities.”
Bush’s “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” leaves out what may be its two bloodiest pillars: a heightened air war and, on the ground, rampant death squad activity.
As Seymour Hersh notes in the November 5 issue of The New Yorker, the Pentagon plans on shifting from a reliance on U.S. troops to a reliance on U.S. bombers.
“Departing American troops will be replaced by American airpower,” Hersh writes. “Quick, deadly strikes by U.S. warplanes are seen as a way to improve dramatically the combat capability of even the weakest Iraqi combat units.”
Already, “the tempo of American bombing seems to have increased,” Hersh reports. And he cites a Pentagon press release that notes that one Marine aircraft unit alone has “dropped more than 500,000 tons of ordnance.”
This could lead to a much higher civilian death toll in Iraq, which is now at least 27,000, according to Iraqbodycount.net, and perhaps more than 100,000, according to the October 2004 Johns Hopkins University study published in The Lancet.
U.S. bombers could become tools of vindictive Iraqis who want to settle scores, Hersh says, since Iraqis may ultimately have the ability to call in the bombs on targets of their own choosing.
While all this will be going on from the air, on the ground, we’re likely to see the Salvador Option: The use of death squads to abduct, torture, and kill any Sunni suspected of being part of the resistance.
“Some Sunni males have been found dead in ditches and fields, with bullet holes in their temples, acid burns on their skin, and holes in their bodies apparently made by electric drills,” The New York Times reported in a front-page story on November 29.
Several Shiite militias are alleged to be engaging in death squad activity, and the possibility that the Iraqi government itself is in league with these militias cannot be denied. Nor can it be denied that the Iraqi government itself is engaging in the brutalization of Sunnis. On November 17, The New York Times revealed that the Iraqi interior ministry was holding 173 mostly Sunni prisoners in a secret prison where many of them had been tortured.
“Shiite Muslim militia members have infiltrated Iraq’s police force and are carrying out sectarian killings under the color of law,” the Los Angeles Times reported on November 29. They are doing so with the knowledge of the interior minister.
“An August 18 police operations report addressed to Interior Minister Bayan Jabr, who has ties to the Badr militia, listed the names of fourteen Sunni Arab men arrested during a predawn sweep,” the LA Times story noted. “Six weeks later, their bodies were discovered near the Iranian border, badly decomposed. All of the corpses showed signs of torture, and each still wore handcuffs and had been shot three times in the back of the head, Baghdad morgue officials said.” (A morgue official told the paper that his staff sometimes unlock the handcuffs and “return them to the police.”)
Pentagon officials have denounced this death squad activity. And it was U.S. forces that raided the secret prison in the first place and brought it to light.
But while the U.S. government denounces the activity with one hand, it may be assisting it with the other.
Agents of the U.S. government may have been involved in the torture at the detention center. “The U.S. military is investigating whether police officers who worked at the secret prison were trained by American interrogation experts,” according to the LA Times.
“What is worse than soldiers dying in vain is even more soldiers dying in vain.”Retired Lieutenant General Robert G. Gard and Retired Brigadier General John Johns
Now no one in the Bush Administration is likely to own up to condoning death squad activity, but the Salvador Option has been on the table for quite a while. In a story in The New York Times Magazine on May 1, reporter Peter Maass wrote at length about what he called the “Salvadorization of Iraq.” He discussed how Iraqi commandos, “with American forces in an advisory role,” have taken the dirty war to the insurgents.
“The template for Iraq today is not Vietnam . . . but El Salvador, where a rightwing government backed by the United States fought a leftist insurgency,” Maass wrote. He noted that “the cost was high—more than 70,000 people were killed, most of them civilians, in a country with a population of just six million. Most of the killing and torturing was done by the army and the rightwing death squads affiliated with it.”
Those death squads, as Allan Nairn reported for The Progressive in 1984, were funded and trained by the CIA.
Cheney and Rumsfeld have been trumpeting the Salvador Option for some time now.
During the 2004 Vice Presidential debate, Cheney said, “Twenty years ago, we had a similar situation in El Salvador. . . . And today, El Salvador is a whale of a lot better.”
Donald Rumsfeld said virtually the same thing right after the election. “The Iraqi people can find much to admire in El Salvador’s recent history,” Rumsfeld said in San Salvador on November 11, 2004.
Cheney and Rumsfeld implicitly were putting their seal of approval on the tens of thousands of civilians the Salvadoran military and its death squads tortured and murdered.
Rumsfeld even invoked the murdered Salvadorans to bless the U.S. invasion of Iraq. “For millions of Salvadorans back then, peace and prosperity was little more than a distant hope,” he said in San Salvador. “In that struggle for freedom, many lives were lost. I think they would be proud to know that . . . soldiers from a peaceful and democratic El Salvador are today fighting alongside U.S. and coalition forces to help to secure freedom and prosperity for the people of Iraq.”
Bush, for his part, is so ga-ga with messianic delusions that he doesn’t care about the deaths along the way, Hersh contends. “He doesn’t feel any pain,” one former defense official told Hersh. “Bush is a believer in the adage, ‘People may suffer and die but the Church advances.’ ”
As citizens, we must rally opposition in our own communities and engage in nonviolent protest that is disruptive enough to jam the gears of the war machine.
Nothing less will bring the troops home.