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WHAT WE THINK
Torture photos push U.S. occupation of Iraq deeper into crisis
Beginning of the end?

May 14, 2004 | Page 3

THE SICKENING photos from inside the U.S. torture rooms in Iraq have revealed the essence of Washington's occupation of Iraq--a drive to subjugate an entire people to the American empire. It was the moment when Washington's last remaining justification for the war--that the Iraqi people were "liberated" from the rule of a dictator--was shattered.

The political fallout may well mark the beginning of the end for the U.S. in Iraq. Former NATO military chief and one-time Democratic presidential contender Wesley Clark estimated a "two-to-one chance of a catastrophic early end to this mission. That means the Iraqi people will simply say, 'We want the Americans out of here.' You'll see a large outpouring of public animosity in Baghdad and elsewhere, a million Iraqis demonstrating in the streets of Baghdad against us."

Even if the U.S. manages to keep its claws in Iraq, the crisis for Washington's foreign policy goes far beyond the Middle East. "We are in danger of losing something much more important than just the war in Iraq," wrote New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman. "We are in danger of losing America as an instrument of moral authority and inspiration in the world. I have never known a time in my life when America and its president were more hated around the world than today."

When hacks like Friedman discuss the "moral authority and inspiration" of the U.S., what they really mean is Washington's aility to crush its enemies in order to bully the rest of the world--supposed allies in Europe included--into line. The conquest of Iraq was intended to achieve that aim--and consolidate Washington's dominance as the world's only superpower.

A year ago, the debate in Washington was whether the U.S. military should go on to conquer Syria or target Iran next in its mission to "remake the Middle East" into a free-trade zone of U.S. puppet regimes. It's hard to overstate the scale of the political change since then.

First, the U.S. military was stretched by the Iraqi resistance, which has only grown stronger as fury over American rule has spread. Next, Bush's pro-war cabal was politically discredited by the failure to find weapons of mass destruction and its inability to establish a credible "sovereign" government in Iraq. Now, the torture scandal has revealed the U.S. ideological justification of "liberation" as a smokescreen for imperial conquest.

The photos from Abu Ghraib would have caused worldwide outrage under any circumstances, but their political impact was magnified a thousand-fold by the scale of the resistance to the occupation within Iraq. The failed siege of Falluja last month--which ended with the U.S. making a deal with a former Baathist general so that it could retreat--and increased casualties among U.S. soldiers were already sending shock waves through the Pentagon and the Washington political establishment.

Now the torture scandal makes it clear to the world just why Iraqis are fighting back so fiercely--and why they'll keep doing so until the U.S. is gone. In their failing efforts to crush the resistance, U.S. military commanders are using tactics perfected by the Israeli occupation of Palestine--house-to-house combat, roundups of suspected fighters, bombardment by tanks and planes in densely populated civilian areas, and, of course, the torture of prisoners.

Incredibly, the Bush administration is still trying to explain the Iraqi resistance away as "foreign fighters" and "former regime elements" and "religious extremists." But the torture, humiliation--and, according to investigators, murder--of uncounted numbers of defenseless people is explanation enough for why Iraqis are taking up arms against the U.S. invaders.

That's why Washington finds itself with the dilemma faced by every imperial power in the past: whether to prolong their rule over a conquered people through ever-greater force--or face the inevitable and get out. Some voices in the U.S. foreign policy establishment are already calling on Washington to admit failure and withdraw--such as the former head of the National Security Agency chief, retired Lt. Gen. William Odom.

But Iraq is at the heart of U.S. strategy to dominate the world through control of the country's oil and its strategic position in the entire Middle East. That's a goal shared by the entire U.S. ruling class. It may accept alternative tactics to attain that goal--and maybe even a new occupant in the White House come November--but it won't surrender a crucial outpost of U.S. imperialism in Iraq without a much bigger fight.

That's why Bush's rival for the presidency, Sen. John Kerry, refuses to call for a pullout of U.S. troops. Likewise, when Bush abandoned the pretence that the U.S. is an "honest broker" between Israel and the Palestinians, Kerry went along immediately with Bush's blank check for Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

Kerry is frank in his efforts to sell himself to Corporate America as a more competent person to advance the interests U.S. imperialism, vowing not to "cut and run" in Iraq. Thus, the young antiwar Vietnam veteran who said before the Senate in 1971, "How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?" is today asking more troops to die for oil and empire. Support for John Kerry undermines our task--stepping up our efforts to demand an end to the occupation.

Millions of people who reluctantly went along with the war--or even supported it--have been forced to confront the horror that the U.S. brought to Iraq. According to opinion polls, about half of people in the U.S. think that America should get out of Iraq as soon as possible.

Some critics of the Bush administration at home and abroad are looking for ways to "fix" the occupation--through a greater role for the United Nations, or reforming the policies of U.S. military authorities. But the torture scandal shows what happens in a military occupation of a conquered people--brutal subjugation through force. It can't be reformed, fixed or made humane--still less be used to install "freedom" and "democracy."

The Iraqi people are fighting the U.S. occupation in order to determine their own future--and they have every right to do so. We have to step up the demand to get the U.S. out of Iraq--now--and end this nightmare.

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