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Heads buried in the sand

May 18, 2007 | Page 2

DOES ANYONE besides George Bush and Dick Cheney still believe that "success" is possible in the U.S. war on Iraq?

The two men loathed by perhaps more people around the world than any other show no sign themselves of acknowledging reality. Last week, Cheney made a "surprise" visit to Iraq to stiffen the resolve of the U.S.-backed government and issue a few more snarling threats against Iran.

Standing in front of five warplanes in the hanger of the U.S. aircraft carrier John C. Stennis in the Persian Gulf, Cheney declared that "the American people will not support a policy of defeat. We want to complete the mission, we want to get it done right, and then we want to return home with honor."

Bush, meanwhile, repeated his promise to veto any Democratic-sponsored war spending legislation that contained a deadline for withdrawing troops from Iraq, though he did allow that he might tolerate non-binding benchmarks for the Iraqi government to meet--since benchmarks are perfectly in keeping with his administration's policy of blaming Iraqis for anything that goes wrong in Iraq.

Nevertheless, the cracks are forming, even among the White House's defenders.

Republican House leader John Boehner last week took time out from denouncing Democrats for setting a "deadline for surrender" in Iraq to...set a deadline of this fall for the Bush administration's "surge" strategy to show some evidence of success. That same day, a group of moderate Republican lawmakers visited the White House to issue what they called a "frank warning" that they might soon desert over the war.

For their part, Democrats--quiet for so many years on the war--aren't retreating in the face of administration threats. Party leaders in the House, for example, allowed a proposal that would cut off funding for the Iraq war within 60 days, and 70 percent of Democrats voted for the measure.

Even the current Iraqi government, filled with political leaders who owe more allegiance to the U.S. than the people they supposedly represent, had no good news for Bush. As Cheney was preparing to drop in on Baghdad, a majority of Iraqi parliament members signed a legislative petition calling on the U.S. to set a timetable for withdrawal.

This, of course, underlines how hated the occupiers are among the occupied. Opinion polls show the overwhelming majority of Iraqis--including the pro-U.S. Kurds--blame the presence of U.S. troops for the chaos and want the occupation to end.

But the very opposite is taking place. Under Bush's surge strategy announced in January, U.S. troop strength will peak at 160,000 in mid-summer--and according to the Washington Post, the Pentagon plans to begin deploying 35,000 soldiers in 10 Army combat brigades in August, "making it possible to sustain the increase in U.S. troops there until at least the end of this year."

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WHAT DOES the administration still hope to accomplish in Iraq? Many commentators believe the secret of Bush and Cheney's stubborn refusal to back down is the planned Iraq oil law, approved by Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's cabinet and now due for a vote in the parliament.

The oil law is certainly a potential gold mine for Bush's oil industry friends. According to Oil Change International, an energy watchdog group, the legislation "would essentially open two-thirds of known--and all of its as-yet-undiscovered--reserves open to foreign control."

In stark contrast to production-sharing agreements elsewhere in the Middle East, the proposed law would guarantee super-profits for international companies, plus an unheard-of degree of control over exploration, extraction and distribution. From the point of view of Washington's "neocons," the last point--U.S. control over which countries get, and don't get, Iraq's oil--may be most important of all.

But even if the proposal becomes law, it will be a dead letter unless it can be implemented. No Western oil company will move into Iraq until its security can be guaranteed. What's more, as left-wing Iraq expert Michael Schwartz wrote for TomDispatch, "The likelihood that any future Iraqi government which takes on a nationalist mantel will consider such an agreement in any way binding is nil.

"One day in perhaps the not-so-distant future, that 'law,' even if briefly the law of the land, is likely to find itself in the dustbin of history, along with Saddam's various oil deals--and the Bush administration's 'capture of new and existing oil and gas fields' is likely to end as a predictable fiasco."

The U.S. war on Iraq was always about more than oil profits alone. The 2003 invasion was part of the U.S. imperialist project of projecting American military and political power around the globe.

But instead of showing off Washington's overwhelming strength, the war has exposed its weakness. The best-armed war machine in the history of the world has been unable to defeat a poorly equipped guerrilla force.

The reason is political, not military. Occupations always spark resistance against the occupiers. The U.S. is today reaping what it has sown.

The dilemma for the U.S. government is that the Iraq war can't be won--but admitting defeat and withdrawing would be a huge blow to imperialism. That's why the Bush administration continues to raise the stakes in Iraq, with its troop "surge" and wild threats to spread the conflict by attacking Iran--in the desperate hope that somehow its fortunes will turn.

Likewise, though they offer different tactics on Iraq, the Democrats are ultimately committed to the same goals as the Republicans of securing and expanding U.S. imperial power.

Iraqis will pay the terrible price so long as the U.S. government--"the greatest purveyor of violence in the world," as Martin Luther King said 40 years ago this spring--is allowed to carry out its imperialist project.

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