U.S. out of Iraq Now
From the June 2005 Issue
Right now, our first responsibility to the Iraqi people is to stop killing them.The occupation continues to be the main catalyst for Iraq’s carnage. While major combat operations make big headlines, the American military engages in less-publicized routines such as using warplanes to bomb houses, further escalating the war and fueling the insurgency. “The leading cause of violence and loss of innocent life in Iraq is the U.S. military,” says independent journalist Dahr Jamail, who has covered events on the ground for most of the last year. Estimates of the war’s civilian death toll range from 21,000 to 100,000. And overall public health is appreciably worse than when U.S. forces arrived.
Before the invasion, many Iraqi children suffered from malnutrition, and one in eight died before their fifth birthday. Now the prognosis for Iraq’s young is even more dire. “The latest reports show that acute malnutrition among children under five has nearly doubled in the last two years,” UNICEF reported last November.
Then there are U.S. losses—already more than 1,580 deaths and 11,000 serious physical injuries, along with the uncounted psychological damage. Officials in Washington never tire of saying that these casualties are for a noble cause. The same rationales are profusely offered for squandering several billion dollars on the war each month.
But the ostensible beneficiaries of the occupation are eager for American troops to get out of their country. Waged in the name of democracy, the U.S. war disregards the popular will in Iraq. “Now every major poll shows an ever-larger majority of Iraqis want the Americans to leave,” Newsweek reported in January. When a nonviolent protest march by Iraqis—mostly Shiites—filled the streets in central Baghdad on the second anniversary of Saddam Hussein’s overthrow in April, Western news accounts said tens of thousands marched while some Arab media put the number at 300,000. Frequent chants were “No, no to the occupiers” and “No America! No Saddam! Yes to Islam!” Yet we keep hearing that the Pentagon forces must stay for the good of the Iraqi people—as if we’re supposed to believe that the American high command knows better than Iraqis what’s good for them.
What about the danger of civil war? “Nearly every Iraqi I’ve spoken with about the threat of civil war believes that if it occurs, it will happen regardless of whether the U.S. military is in Iraq or not,” replies Jamail, who often reports for Inter Press Service. Freelance journalist David Enders, one of the few other Americans who has done extensive firsthand reporting on present-day Iraqi society, agrees. “There’s going to be score-settling when we leave, and we’ve helped engineer that to some extent,” Enders says. “The less time we spend propping up leaders, the less trouble there will be when we leave.”
It’s impossible to know what would happen in Iraq after an American withdrawal. In the midst of the uncertainties, we should defer to Iraq’s people. From all indications, most believe that the American military presence is counterproductive, preventing them from developing their own ways to solve their country’s problems. The hunger for independence should be respected.
Sincere concerns about a potential bloodbath in the aftermath of a U.S. withdrawal do not justify the open-ended bloodbath that is proceeding under the current occupation—which is on course to last for many years. We should face the fact that the U.S. military’s proven capacity to do enormous harm in Iraq is much greater than its realistic potential to do good.
Contrary to the claim that their presence is needed for humanitarian aid, the U.S. troops are impeding such assistance more than facilitating it. “These efforts would be more of a possibility without a U.S. military presence in Iraq,” Jamail points out. “Most of the attacks on international aid organizations in Iraq have been carried out due to the fact that they were seen as being collaborators with the occupation forces. As I’ve heard many Iraqis say, if there were no foreign military force in their country, the Iraqi resistance would have nobody to attack, and no need to carry out attacks. . . . I’ve seen refugees from Fallujah who had literally nothing decline foreign aid because they thought it might have come from the U.S. military.”
Some Americans seem eager to believe that the U.S. military occupation could coexist with a future reversal of the rapacious economic program that has been imposed on Iraq by the occupation itself. But extreme privatization and U.S. corporate gain are inseparable from the actual goals of the commander in chief. “The fires were still burning in Baghdad when U.S. occupation officials rewrote the investment laws and announced that the country’s state-owned companies would be privatized,” Naomi Klein has noted. With large numbers of U.S. troops deployed in Iraq and U.S.-appointed advisers entrenched in Iraqi ministries for terms of at least several years, it’s farfetched that the Bush Administration would stand by while an Iraqi government moved to undo the basic privatizing measures that the White House has required in no uncertain terms. As a practical matter, withdrawal of U.S. troops would seem to be a necessary precondition for stopping the imperial corporate plunder.
President Bush insists that “our troops will come home when Iraq is capable of defending herself.” Such loftiness resonates inside the U.S. media echo chamber, with mainstream journalists repeatedly declaring that a swift pullout would be irresponsible. Even quite a few American progressives have swallowed that line.
Sometimes, an unspoken assumption among activists is that the occupation of Iraq must be tolerated for tactical reasons—while other issues, especially domestic ones, are more winnable on Capitol Hill. But this attitude means going along with many of the devastating effects of a militarized society: from ravaged budgets for social programs to more authoritarian attitudes and violence in communities across the United States. Those who opt to make peace with war end up enlarging the scope of destruction.
During the 1960s and into the ’70s, a prevailing argument was that swift removal of U.S. troops would be a betrayal of responsibility to the people of South Vietnam. Today, opposition to a quick pullout from Iraq often centers on such fallacies. But part of the standard rationale for persisting with any war of aggression is that it would be unconscionable to withdraw and leave a terrible mess behind. Lyndon B. Johnson, like George W. Bush, righteously denounced the “cut and run” option.
If many of those who opposed the launch of a war can be depended upon later to accept that “we have a responsibility to stay,” the alchemy of invasion and death will reliably turn peace advocates into war advocates as they buy into the “necessity” of ongoing military action. The more that invaders keep their boots on the necks of the occupied, the more the claim can be made that removing those boots would result in murder and mayhem. Predictably, the U.S. military—no matter how many lies greased the wheels for its arrival and no matter how much killing and torture have ensued—can be touted as a force with indispensable deadly might.
The fighters arrayed against the U.S. troops in Iraq are able to gain recruits precisely because of the American military occupation. The U.S. war effort hardly brings “stability” or stops the violence. On the contrary. “Maintaining a military presence in Iraq continues to be the leading source of instability both in that country and throughout the entire region,” Jamail asserts. “Thus, it seems clear that an immediate withdrawal of the U.S. military from Iraq can only help the situation.”
A media myth tells us that getting out of Iraq soon is a sce- nario that remains outside the boundaries of what the U.S. public could take seriously. Most politicians and pundits insist that it’s off the table. But polls have been telling a different story for quite a while now. “According to a recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll taken after the Iraq elections, 59 percent of the public believes the United States should pull its troops out of Iraq in the next year,” Amy Quinn of the Institute for Policy Studies wrote in March. “Yet the ranks of those actively demanding that the President produce an exit strategy from Iraq are slim.”
Some organizations that swelled their membership on the basis of opposition to invading Iraq—most notably the online powerhouse MoveOn—have accepted continuation of the war by refusing to call for swift withdrawal of U.S. troops. MoveOn has failed to support House Concurrent Resolution 35, introduced by Representative Lynn Woolsey, Democrat of California, and initially sponsored by more than two dozen members of the House of Representatives, “expressing the sense of Congress that the President should develop and implement a plan to begin the immediate withdrawal of United States Armed Forces from Iraq.”
In sharp contrast to MoveOn, the fledgling group Progressive Democrats of America has launched a nationwide push for members of Congress to sign on to the Woolsey resolution. The organization gained momentum in mid-April when it led a range of activists at the California Democratic Party’s statewide convention to win approval of a resolution calling for “termination of the occupation at the earliest possible time with the withdrawal of American troops.”
In an early-spring e-mail alert to its more than three million members, MoveOn circulated a petition urging Congress to “insist that America has an exit strategy from Iraq with a timeline, that we do not construct permanent bases in Iraq, and that we end war profiteering by corporations.” But, in effect, President Bush already claims to have an exit strategy along the lines of remaining until “Iraq is capable of defending herself”—whenever that might be. And while it’s all well and good to denounce war profiteering by the likes of Halliburton and Bechtel, demanding reform of a war without demanding an end to the war helps to perpetuate acceptance of the war.
The idea that the war effort in Iraq can morph into a policy of humanistic nation-building is illusionary. The illegal and immoral invasion of Iraq will not—and cannot—segue into a legal or justified military occupation. To believe otherwise is to succumb to what Martin Luther King called “the madness of militarism.”
Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His latest book, “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death,” will be published this summer.