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WHAT WE THINK
Constitution meltdown highlights crisis for the U.S. in Iraq
The crumbling occupation

August 19, 2005 | Page 3

IRAQ'S CONSTITUTIONAL deadlock, rising U.S. war casualties and plummeting approval ratings for George W. Bush have combined to create a wave of panic and defeatism in official Washington.

Even as Bush continues his tough talk in Crawford, Texas, his administration was busy lowering expectations about the Iraq occupation. "We are in a process of absorbing the factors of the situation we're in and shedding the unreality that dominated at the beginning," an anonymous administration official told the Washington Post.

Iraq was supposed to become a shining example of Washington-approved, corporate-dominated "democracy," gratefully providing the U.S. with a huge supply of cheap oil and a launching pad for further wars.

Instead, the U.S. military has been stretched to the breaking point in maintaining the occupation. Repeated troop deployments and the use of National Guard and Reserve forces are crippling the all-volunteer armed forces by shattering morale and driving away potential recruits.

As retired four-star Army Gen. Barry McCaffrey told Time magazine: "The Army's wheels are going to come off in the next 24 months. We are now in a period of considerable strategic peril."

What's more, the U.S. has inadvertently strengthened the hand of another enemy on Bush's "axis of evil"--Iran. One of the main parties in Iraq's new government, the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), fought on the Iranian side during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

SCIRI flexed its muscles twice recently, forcibly deposing the mayor of Baghdad and replacing him with one of its own members. Next, SCIRI leader Abdul-Aziz al-Hakim declared that the new constitution should allow the largely Shiite South to have autonomy in a federal Iraq, potentially creating a de facto Shiite mini-state in the oil-rich southern provinces around Basra to counter Kurdish claims of autonomy in the North, where the rest of Iraq's oil reserves lie.

Washington's strategy in response to the constitution meltdown has been to kick the can down the road. Following postponement of an August 15 deadline, the U.S. kept pressuring the Iraqi ruling parties to agree on something--anything--that can be called a constitution, get it approved in an October referendum, and leave the details to a legislature to be elected by the end of 2005.

Even if the Bush team pulls this off, they can't hide the disarray. As left-wing journalist Tom Engelhardt noted, "a rag-tag bunch of insurgents, now estimated in the tens of thousands, using garage-door openers and cell phones to set off roadside bombs and egg-timers to fire mortars at U.S. bases (lest they be around when the return fire comes in), have fought the U.S. military to at least a draw. We're talking about a military that, not so long ago, was being touted as the most powerful force, not just on this planet at this moment, but on any planet in all of galactic history."

This is what is making the Pentagon nervous. But while the brass is loath to break the Army with a failed occupation, neither do they want to a humiliating withdrawal.

Thus, hardliners in the Bush administration are trying to end Washington's Iraq policy paralysis by accusing Iran of backing the insurgency. This is absurd. Iran is systematically building its economic and political influence in Iraq, as sociologist Michael Schwartz pointed out in a recent article, and has no interest in backing the insurgency.

The Iran furor reflects a debate within the foreign policy establishment over how to secure the overall aims of U.S. imperialism--crucially, continued domination of the Middle East--even if Washington is forced to surrender Iraq.

As in Vietnam after 1968, the prospect of defeat could provoke Washington to unleash even more horrors--in Iran or elsewhere--in order to exact greater punishment on those who resist the U.S. will.

There is one source of relief for Bush, however: leading Democrats are embracing his militarism. "Even Democrats who have been associated with liberal positions on international affairs are calling for more troops in uniform, proposing that threats of force be used to stop nuclear weapons programs in Iran and North Korea, and pressing for potential military intervention to ease famine and oppression around the world," the Boston Globe reported.

This is why it's essential not only to build the September 24 national antiwar mobilization, but to build a political current that can oppose the imperial project embraced by both parties. That means organizing around key issues that are inextricable from Washington's rule in Iraq--such as opposing Israeli rule over Palestinians and defending the civil rights of Arabs and Muslims in the U.S.

The potential is there. Cindy Sheehan, the mother of a soldier killed in Iraq, has captured the imagination of the country by seeking to confront Bush in Crawford, Texas. Now is the time for tens of thousands of people to follow her example by turning out to protest--and step up the demand to bring the troops home now.

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