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WHAT WE THINK
The politicians debate phony ''withdrawal'' plans
They don't want to end their war on Iraq

December 8, 2006 | Page 3

THE RELEASE of recommendations about what the U.S. should do in Iraq from a bipartisan commission led by James Baker represents the latest attempt to rescue the U.S. occupation.

But even if the Iraq Study Group's not-so-new proposals for a "new course" are followed to the "t," the U.S. government will only cause more death and suffering.

No one who cares about ending the war and seeing justice in Iraq can accept its recommendations--designed not to end the occupation, but to renovate it, and help the U.S. maintain its grip on the Middle East--any more than they supported George Bush's war plans.

The weeks before the study group released its report were filled with breathless speculation and insider leaks to the media about the content, but in the end, the "new course" turns out to be no more than a collection of "middle ground" compromises aimed at placating all points on the mainstream political spectrum.

For example, the study group suggests a "phased withdrawal" of U.S. combat troops--but with no timetables, accompanied by an increase in U.S. advisers and trainers embedded with Iraqi troops, and with enough conditions about "changing circumstances" to nullify any change at all.

No wonder Republicans and Democrats alike embraced the recommendations as their own even before their release.

Even George Bush will be hard-pressed to reject these proposals. Yet he might do so anyway, to judge from his recent behavior.

After suggesting with Donald Rumsfeld's firing that he was open to "fresh ideas," Bush seemed to dig in his heels since the Republicans' election drubbing. "This business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism to it at all," the peeved president told reporters in Jordan last week. A few days before, he insisted that U.S. troops wouldn't be withdrawn "before the mission is complete."

If Bush and White House puppet-master Dick Cheney are seen to be dismissing the Iraq Study Group's recommendations out of hand, expect more turmoil at the top of the political establishment--where even Republicans agree on the need for some "course change" to save the U.S. from the disaster the White House caused in Iraq.

America's rulers showed their displeasure with Bush's Iraq policy by shifting support behind the Democrats in last month's election, and they will find other means to put pressure on the administration if need be.

But it's also possible that Bush will embrace the Iraq Study Group's recommendations--or at least a number of them. That's because the study group doesn't advocate that much of a change in Iraq--some new methods, a different emphasis here and there, but the same goals and assumptions.

As Andrew Bacevich, a self-described conservative-turned-harsh critic of the administration, pointed out, the deliberations of the bipartisan assortment of retired Beltway luminaries were always about "damage control."

"The purpose," Bacevich wrote, "is twofold: first, to minimize Iraq's impact on the prevailing foreign policy consensus with its vast ambitions and penchant for armed intervention abroad; and second, to quell any inclination of ordinary citizens to intrude into matters from which they have long been excluded."

Thus, anyone who hoped the "wise men" (and one woman) of the study group would point the way out of Iraq will be disappointed.

According to media reports, the commission didn't even consider Rep. John Murtha's proposal for redeployment from Iraq--not because of Murtha's goal of maintaining U.S. power by stationing U.S. troops "over the horizon" in neighboring countries, but because Murtha wants redeployment to start right away.

The study group instead recommends a "phased" withdrawal of combat troops over the coming year or two--not counting a "rapid-reaction force" to remain in Iraq and the increase in U.S. advisers and trainers working to "stand up" the Iraqi Army.

In other words, the U.S. would continue to call the shots in military operations in Iraq. Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki told reporters last month he was powerless to move a company of Iraqi soldiers without permission from U.S. and British forces. Neither he nor his successors will have any more say-so under the study group's proposals.

The commission's claim that speeding up the training of Iraqi forces would subdue the resistance and lessen violence is similarly a fraud.

According to Iraq expert Michael Schwartz, over the past two years, the U.S. military "reported that the number of combat-ready Iraqi army troops actually increased in number from about 40,000 to 130,000...a hair's breadth away from the 137,000 target figure long ago established by the U.S. military as the necessary threshold for Iraqi security." Over the same period, military attacks by insurgents tripled from about 50 per day to about 150 per day, and the scale of sectarian violence increased to nightmarish proportions.

Creating a new Iraqi Army and security forces on the blueprint of the U.S.--with its chief priorities of oil and empire--has contributed to the crisis in Iraq, not settled it.

The other catchphrase that dominates the Iraq Study Group report is "diplomacy"--including a suggested summit of neighboring countries, which would then use their "influence" to quell violence and create stability in Iraq.

This is another charade. First, the Bush administration has done little but threaten two of Iraq's neighbors--Iran and Syria. And the idea that these countries have a role in the violence in Iraq is a product of the U.S. government's myopic desire to blame anybody but itself for the crisis in Iraq.

"Iran isn't sponsoring the violence; neither is Syria," said independent journalist Nir Rosen in an interview on Pacifica Radio's Democracy Now! "So the belief that foreign countries can make things better is, I think, naïve, because the violence in Iraq has its own internal logic. It's civil war."

The new mantra among U.S. politicians and pundits is to blame the Iraqis for the crisis of the occupation. This thinking underlies the Bush administration's spiteful finger-pointing, the logic of the Iraq Study Group "middle ground," and the rhetoric of the handful of Democrats positioning themselves to insist that the study group wasn't bold enough in its proposals.

Thus, the New York Times--deploying its best psycho-babble--reported that the administration's establishment critics believe the White House strategy in Iraq "has created an expectation that the United States will always be there to hold Iraq together. Breaking that culture of dependency, they concluded, is the key to making the long-discussed 'Iraqification' of the country's security a reality."

This is sheer fantasy. "Iraqification" under the direction of the U.S. failed long ago and set the stage for the escalating violence.

But putting the responsibility on Iraqis has the benefit of absolving the U.S. from blame--and helping the politicians of both parties distance themselves from any talk of immediate or even rapid withdrawal from Iraq.

The overwhelming message of the congressional elections was that most Americans want the U.S. war on Iraq to end. Yet this sentiment still finds no real expression in mainstream Washington politics, where the debate is about how to repackage the occupation.

For anyone who needed further proof, this shows what the Democrats really wanted when they asked for votes in November--not the opportunity to press an antiwar agenda, but the chance to exploit public sentiment against the war to offer an alternative program for U.S. imperialism.

Now, the muddled proposals of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group represent the fundamental contradiction of the U.S. position in Iraq--Washington can't afford to lose the war, but no one has any idea how to win.

The catastrophe that the U.S. has caused in Iraq and the surrounding region will not be solved overnight, even if Washington were forced to withdraw its forces from Iraq tomorrow. But every day longer that the U.S. does remain--whether operating under Bush's delusion of "finishing the mission," or under one or another phony plan for withdrawal that attempts to maintain Washington's grip--is another day that the violence grows worse, and the region's conflicts more intractable.

The U.S. caused the nightmare in Iraq. Anything it does now will make the situation even worse. That is why the antiwar movement must not concede any ground on its most essential demand--U.S. out of Iraq now.

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