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Bowing to Bush's endless war

September 21, 2007 | Page 2

GEORGE W. BUSH wants to keep U.S. troops in Iraq for decades--and none of the leading Democratic candidates for president disagree.

Bush laid out his vision of a permanent occupation of Iraq in his televised speech September 13. The media focused most on his call for a reduction of troops by next July. But this "drawdown" would still leave the number of U.S. troops in Iraq at a higher level by this time next year than at the start of 2007.

Not exactly the "troop cut" featured in the headlines of most newspapers the next day.

Bush said that despite the "reduced American presence," the "U.S. political, economic, and security engagement" in Iraq would extend "beyond my presidency." And that's fine with the Iraqi government, according to Bush. "Iraqi leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America," he said. "And we are ready to begin building that relationship, in a way that protects our interests in the region and requires many fewer American troops."

In off-the-record interviews, Bush's aides spelled out what that means. "President Bush is looking at the decades-long U.S. troop presence in South Korea as a model for a future U.S. role in Iraq, senior administration officials said," CNN reported.

Bush justified the long-term U.S. presence by claiming that "a free Iraq will counter the destructive ambitions of Iran. A free Iraq will marginalize extremists, unleash the talent of its people, and be an anchor of stability in the region. A free Iraq will set an example for people across the Middle East. A free Iraq will be our partner in the fight against terror--and that will make us safer here at home."

Any serious, principled journalist could have exposed Bush's speech as rhetoric to justify Washington's long-term imperial ambitions--control of the strategic oil reserves in the Middle East.

But as former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan admits in his new book, "[I]t is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows. The Iraq war is largely about oil."

Instead of admitting that obvious fact, the mainstream media worked to rehabilitate U.S. war aims with their adoring coverage of Gen. David Petraeus, who shrugged off weak Democratic criticisms in his Congressional testimony by repackaging the occupation as necessary for U.S. "security" and hyping the "success" of the U.S. in buying off some former Sunni Muslim insurgents in Anbar Province.

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THE TOP-tier Democratic presidential candidates jumped on Bush for dragging his feet on a troop withdrawal. But when they call for "withdrawal," you have to read the fine print.

"The president would have us believe there are two choices: keep all our troops in Iraq or abandon these Iraqis. I reject this choice," said Barack Obama. His plan: withdraw "combat troops" but leave thousands in place to train Iraqi forces and guard U.S. personnel at the soon-to-open U.S. embassy, the world's biggest.

It's unclear if Obama's definition of "combat troops" includes the U.S. warplanes based in remote areas of Iraq that are battering the country in a stepped-up air war.

For her part, Hillary Clinton's Web site proclaims that she is against a permanent occupation of Iraq and touts her sponsorship of the proposed Iraq Troop Protection and Reduction Act of 2007.

Read Clinton's proposed legislation, however, and you'll find numerous exceptions. The withdrawal could only take place when and if "the security forces of the government of Iraq are free of sectarian and militia influences."

As with Obama's proposal, Clinton's proposed law would allow U.S. troops to remain in Iraq for "training Iraqi security forces"; "providing logistic support of Iraqi security forces"; "protecting United States personnel and infrastructure"; and "participating in targeted counter-terrorism activities." Plus, the president could obtain a waiver to deploy troops in Iraq whenever U.S. "security" is at stake--essentially, a blank check for more war.

John Edwards has tried to position himself to the left of Obama and Clinton on Iraq. "Every single funding bill that goes to President Bush should have a timetable for withdrawal," he said September 16. "If he vetoes it, they should send another bill with a timetable for withdrawal."

Edwards calls for an immediate pullout of 40,000 to 50,000 troops and withdrawing all "combat troops" in nine to 10 months. Like Obama and Clinton, he disclaims any intention of a permanent occupation of Iraq, but leaves the door open for "non-combat" troops to remain.

On his Web site, Edwards makes it clear that he's not shrinking from maintaining the U.S. imperial role in the Middle East. "After withdrawal," he said, "we should retain sufficient forces in the region to contain the conflict and ensure that instability in Iraq does not spill over into other countries, creating a regional war, a terrorist haven or a genocide."

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THESE MUDDLED calls for non-withdrawal withdrawals have confused and demoralized the antiwar movement. Nearly a year after the Republican Congress was sent packing in election that revolved around voters wanting to end the war, the Democratic Congress is preparing, once again, to give Bush all the funds he wants for the war.

Why have the Democrats folded rather than take on one of the most unpopular--make that hated--presidents in U.S. history over the issue of Iraq?

The reasons go beyond their usual fear of being seen as "soft on national security." Rather, the Democrats are presenting themselves as more competent managers of the U.S. imperial project. They accept an emerging consensus in the U.S. foreign policy establishment for a "soft partition" of Iraq--that is, divide and conquer.

That's why the Democrats couldn't be too tough on Petraeus--they accept much of his "counterinsurgency" doctrine.

By arming Sunni Muslims in Anbar and undermining the Shiite Muslim-dominated government in Baghdad, Petraeus aims to contain and channel the Iraqi civil war to suit U.S. interests. Chief among these is to prevent Iran from having major influence in an Iraq controlled by Shiite political parties.

With the loyalty of the Kurdish North certain, Washington apparently has decided its best option is to buy off sections of the Sunni insurgency as a counterweight to Iranian influence on the Shiite-led government.

In fact, the main U.S. puppet in Iraq, Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, was showing alarming signs of independence when he demanded that mercenaries from the Blackwater security firm leave the country after its agents killed Iraqi civilians.

Allying with a section of the Sunnis, however, is risky for the U.S., since today's new friends could rejoin the resistance tomorrow--if, in fact, they ever left it at all.

Even if the U.S. is successful in playing off Sunnis against Shia, the result won't be to end all resistance, but divert it along sectarian and ethnic lines, with permanent U.S. troops in place to dominate a weakened central government.

The Democrats accept this framework--which is why Congress continues to fund the war, and Democratic candidates hem and haw about a full U.S. troop withdrawal.

For the antiwar movement, the main task is building the kind of organization that can tap the overwhelming opposition to the war. That means, first of all, challenging renewed propaganda from the media and politicians about "success" in Iraq and laying out the reality: more than 1 million Iraqis dead as the result of the conquest of the nation; nearly 5 million refugees; more than 3,700 U.S. soldiers killed; a country where living standards once approached those of Southern Europe now comparable to the most ravaged places on Earth.

The longer the U.S. occupation continues--in any form--the longer that suffering will continue.

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