THE PHONY 'WITHDRAWAL'
PERMANENT BASES - AND THE NEXT WAR
By: Justin Raimondo
Last September, conservative columnist Robert
Novak predicted the Bush administration would soon start withdrawing from Iraq:
"Inside the Bush administration policymaking apparatus, there is strong feeling
that U.S. troops must leave Iraq next year. This determination is not predicated on
success in implanting Iraqi democracy and internal stability. Rather, the officials are
saying: Ready or not, here we go."
Pat Buchanan, too like Novak, a conservative opponent of this war saw the
battle for Fallujah and the siege of Najaf as turning points that signaled a U-turn on the road to Empire:
"The neoconservative dream was to create a pro-American, free-market democracy
in Iraq to serve as a model and catalyst for Arab peoples and convert Iraq into a base
camp of American Empire, flanking Iran and Syria. It was to bring to power an Iraqi
DeGaulle named Ahmed Chalabi, who would recognize Israel, build a Mosul-to-Haifa oil
pipeline and become the Simon Bolivar of the Middle East.
"That utopian vision has vanished. President Bush has rejoined the realist
camp. We are not going deeper in. We are on the way out."
Now it appears their predictions have been confirmed. A leaked
memo by British Defense Secretary John Reid detailing plans for an Anglo-American
drawdown is making the rounds: the various
news accounts, while
stressing that the document is based on a number of contingencies, contain no strong
denials from government officials on either side of the Atlantic. It's a matter not of if
we begin withdrawing American troops, according to Pentagon
officials, but when and how many.
Professor Juan Cole, of the University of Michigan and an Iraq expert of note, gives
voice to the bewilderment of many both pro- and antiwar when he asks:
"What in the world, then, is actually going on?"
Cole foresees the de facto abdication of a unitary state in Iraq, with the Kurds
achieving something more than mere autonomy and the nine southern provinces handed over to
the Shi'ite party militias and the nascent U.S.-trained Iraqi military.
"Ironically," he writes,
"The peace groups who have been demanding a rapid U.S. withdrawal have in
recent months been closer to Pentagon thinking than they could have imagined."
Note quite, unfortunately.
It is true that the locus of opposition to this war within our government was
concentrated, first of all, in the top echelons of the military, as well as in the CIA:
the largely involuntary retirement of General Eric Shinseki, who was personally and
publicly taken to task by Paul Wolfowitz for saying that the occupation of Iraq would
requires a force upwards of 200,000, made the split between the suits and the uniforms so
public that the neocons began calling on the generals to pipe down, hypocritically citing
the alleged danger to our republican institutions if a man (or woman) in uniform was so
impertinent as to believe that their opinions mattered. After all, who is better qualified
to plan the execution and aftermath of a complex military operation some policy
wonk with delusions of grandeur, or the military professionals? To the neocons, this
question answered itself an exhibition of comic-opera conceit that gave rise to the
So, yes, the thinking of many high-ranking officers has paralleled that of peace
groups, a seemingly odd confluence covered more than once in this space. Yet it is
important to understand that, short of a military coup, the job of the generals is to
implement policy, not make it. They are the instruments of those who hold the real power.
When it comes to foreign policy, this means the White House, and there can be little doubt
as to what the preferred policy is there.
What the Bush administration has said time and time again is that they seek nothing
less than the "democratic transformation" of the Middle East nay, the world.
Like some Bolshevik orator of old, the president has declared his revolutionary intentions:
"Because we have acted in the great liberating tradition of this nation, tens
of millions have achieved their freedom. And as hope kindles hope, millions more will find
it. By our efforts we have lit a fire as well, a fire in the minds of men. It warms those
who feel its power; it burns those who fight its progress. And one day this untamed fire
of freedom will reach the darkest corners of our world."
What could be clearer? The neo-Jacobin spirit that animates those who relentlessly
agitated for this war, far from being humbled by apparent failure, is instead emboldened.
Having lied us into war, they are eager to do so again and this ambition is not
necessarily inconsistent with a general drawdown in Iraq. Aside from that, however, the
War Party has succeeded in winning a Middle East beachhead. The troop numbers may be
reduced, but those remaining will retreat to permanent bases that are already being built.
The American goal of establishing permanent bases in Iraq has not received the degree
of attention required by the relative importance of the subject. Matt Yglesias, a writer
for The American Prospect now blogging over at Talkingpoints Café, trenchantly
described this project as "the elephant in the corner of American Iraq
policy." Kevin Drum, of the Washington Monthly, concurred:
"Of course the White House wants permanent military bases
in Iraq. Just look at a map. As long as we have bases in Iraq and Afghanistan we have easy
access to all of the Middle East and Central Asia and of the two Iraq is by far the
most central and most critical.
"Like Matt, I'm also a little surprised this doesn't get more attention. You
can argue all day long about whether permanent U.S. bases in Iraq are a good idea or not,
but the Bush administration has made it plainly obvious that they want them. Why then does
there seem to be an underlying assumption in press accounts that as soon as everything
calms down we'll pull out our troops and leave? The odds of that happening are slim and
The elephant is due to come out of its corner soon enough and this is the real
issue, not the troop levels.
a useful resource for researchers in this field, has identified 106 American bases in Iraq
as of mid-May: the plan is to consolidate U.S. forces in anywhere from 14 to 4
"enduring" bases, as part of a strategy involving a less visibly intrusive
American presence. Remaining troops would reside in hardened facilities, meant to last
many years. Congress appropriated the money for this in the May 2005 supplemental
requested by the White House, with little debate as to the implications. Also included in
this package: the construction of the world's largest embassy, occupying 104 acres,
housing 1,020 staff and 500 guards, and commanding a budget of some $20 billion.
What's all this talk about a pending American withdrawal from Iraq? It doesn't look to
me like we're going anywhere except deeper into the Middle East. As Thomas
Donnelly, Clausewitz-in-residence over at the American Enterprise Institute, so subtly put it:
"The operational advantages of U.S. bases in Iraq should be obvious for other
power-projection missions in the region."
Once these put down roots so deep that as Chalmers Johnson points out in his
critique of our "empire of bases" they take on a self-sustaining economic
and political dynamic that ensures their enduring character, these outposts of Empire
become like rocks in the rushing stream. Leaping from the homeland to American bases in
Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Horn of Africa, U.S. military units can project
American power anywhere on earth.
This is no longer just about Iraq. Think of that shattered country as a launching pad,
and our policymakers as scientists involved in a great experiment. They are tinkering with
the rocket design, experimenting with different fuels, and just beginning to build the
facilities they need to make their project soar.
Forget the war we are losing the guerrilla war that is now tearing Iraq apart,
threatening to initiate a three-sided (at least) civil war and a descent into ungovernable
chaos. The problem these neoconservatives erm, I mean scientists have set
out to solve is how to fuel the next war.
Forget about the number of American soldiers stationed in Iraq. The regional troop
level may rise, even as the numbers in Iraq sink. American bases are strung along the
sultanates and emir-doms of the Gulf, in Oman, Qatar, and Kuwait, with plenty of room to
accommodate forces brought in from other theaters. The withdrawal of troops from Iraq, far
from being a sign that peace is about to break, could augur a fresh conflict.
As an unsigned analysis
coming out of Stratfor.com put it in May of last year, the "strategic goal" of
the Bush administration wasn't to implant "democracy" or even to ensure the
stability and unity of Iraq, but "to acquire projection capabilities from within Iraq
that would allow Washington to pressure the entire Middle East, from Iran to Saudi Arabia
These future wars would never come off, however, "if U.S. troops were bogged down
in a guerrilla war with no end in sight." No, that would never do. The present
situation is "untenable," which is why it is thought necessary to move troops
"out of harm's way" without, of course, Washington "abandoning its
broader goals in the Middle East." Yes, the Iraqi state midwifed by American troops
seems to be stillborn, or perhaps fated for an early death, but we'll muddle through
somehow if we keep our "broader goals" in mind. Besides which, we never really
cared that much about building "democracy," in the short term at least. Or, as
the Stratfor analyst put it:
"The United States does not want and it has no interest in
policing Iraq, day in and day out. The U.S. goal is to be able to pressure Iraq's
neighbors, not to babysit the Iraqis."
So, what to do? Stratfor lays out three options, one of which complete
withdrawal is "unrealistic." How so? "Not only would it be an
embarrassment, it would be a strategic failure of mammoth proportions." Yeah, that
sounds pretty bad, until one asks: why is that an undesirable outcome? After all, it
depends on what sort of policy our strategy has been founded on: the "strategic
failure" of a bad policy a murderous, costly, and immoral policy of conquest
and the pursuit of Empire would be a good thing, provided that failure is
acknowledged and the right lesson learned.
In any case, withdrawal was rejected out of hand, and that left two options: should we
base our new "on the downlow" occupation, otherwise known as Occupation Lite, in
a lot of mid-sized "enclaves" clustered around the major cities, or ensconce
ourelves in a few humongous fortresses stuck way out in the boondocks, completely isolated
from the civil war sure to break out? In Washington they favor the "enclave"
option, but the officers in the field are opposed: if we're going to take cover and await
further orders perhaps a move into Syria, or even Lebanon, and surely a clash with
Iran somewhere down the road then let's do it in impregnable fortresses, where we
don't have to engage the insurgency.
Look at the Big Picture through the perceptive eyes of foreign policy analyst Chalmers
Johnson, who notes in his book, Sorrows of Empire, that conquerors of all eras
have built encampments and forts in subject provinces, but there is something unique about
"What is most fascinating and curious about the developing American form of
empire, however, is that, in its modern phase, it is solely an empire of bases, not of
territories, and these bases now encircle the earth in a way that, despite centuries-old
dreams of global domination, would previously have been inconceivable."
Aside from the interest groups that benefit economically from a policy of militarism
and perpetual war, and such factors as securing oil and other resources, Johnson sees
"Something else at work, which I believe is the post-Cold War discovery of our
immense power, rationalized by the self-glorifying conclusion that because we have it we
deserve to have it. The only truly common elements in the totality of America's foreign
bases are imperialism and militarism-an impulse on the part of our elites to dominate
other peoples largely because we have the power to do so, followed by the strategic
reasoning that, in order to defend these newly acquired outposts and control the regions
they are in, we must expand the areas under our control with still more bases. To maintain
its empire, the Pentagon must constantly invent new reasons for keeping in our hands as
many bases as possible long after the wars and crises that led to their creation have
Think of the American Empire as a series of lily-pads strung across the great Pond of
the world. Our agile forces can leap, froglike, from one pad to another, to and fro, back
and forth, over oceans and across continents in pursuit of the Bad Guys. Whether it be the
sudden need for "regime change" in the Middle East, or assistance to yet another
"peoples' revolution" inside the former Soviet Union, these fortresses of Empire
are the essential infrastructure of our
strategic doctrine of military preemption.
The goal of that doctrine is world hegemony, and the immediate objective is the Middle
East. Those Iraqi installations going up at great cost and great profit to the
Cheney-connected Halliburton are the forward bases for our next strike, which is
even now being whispered about in the corridors of power.
Withdrawal? What withdrawal? We're only getting ready for the next war.
Justin Raimondo is Editorial Director
He is a regular columnist for Ether Zone.
Justin Raimondo may be contacted at email@example.com
Published in the July 13, 2005 issue of Ether Zone
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