Democratic Underground

U.S. Leaving Iraq? It's Still the Politics, Stupid

August 2, 2005
By Bernard Weiner, The Crisis Papers

As we've learned over the past four-plus years, no matter what the spin justifications employed by Bush & Co. spokesmen - terrorism, national security, freedom on the march - it's usually the politics, stupid.

We were told this from the inside by John DiIulio early in Bush's first term. When the ex-administrator of Bush's faith-based programs resigned, he let slip some powerful truths during an interview with Esquire's Ron Suskind:

There is no precedent in any modern White House for what is going on in this one: a complete lack of a policy apparatus. What you've got is everything - and I mean everything - being run by the political arm. It's the reign of the Mayberry Machiavellis. ... When policy analysis is just backfill, to back up a political maneuver, you'll get a lot of ooops.

An unnamed "current senior White House official" said pretty much the same thing:

Many of us feel it's our duty - our obligation as Americans - to get the word out that, certainly in domestic policy, there has been almost no meaningful consideration of any real issues. It's just kids on Big Wheels, who talk politics and know nothing. It's depressing. DPC [Domestic Policy Council] meetings are a farce.

So here we have military spokesmen saying the U.S. plans to start withdrawing a large number of troops by mid-2006. Does this mean the Iraq War will be coming to an end? As if. Remember: it's the politics, stupid.

Just the year should be the tipoff. Yes, that's right: there are midterm elections coming up in November of 2006, and Bush & Co. absolutely, positively must keep control of the House of Representatives - especially if impeachment hearings and possible prison sentences are to be avoided.

So, since national polls increasingly reveal Americans feel the war is not worth it, a significant number of troops in Iraq will be redeployed elsewhere. Mercenaries - i.e., Iraqi security forces trained and paid for by American monies - will be expected to help protect U.S. interests and bases.


It is not clear whether Bush's plan to withdraw troops from Iraq is a military ruse - to return them "in-country," if necessary, after the 2006 election - or is part of a sincere, long-term plan to bring virtually all of them home and thus extricate the U.S. from the quagmire the incompetent Bush Administration got them into in the first place.

Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan makes the case for the latter explanation in "Is America's War Winding Up?":

It is difficult to draw any other conclusion from the just-completed Rumsfeld mission. Standing beside our defense secretary in Baghdad, Prime Minister Ibrahim al Jaafari called for the speedy withdrawal of U.S. forces. The top U.S. commander, Gen. George Casey, also standing beside Rumsfeld, said 'fairly substantial' withdrawals of the 135,000 U.S. troops in Iraq could begin by spring...

Casey's comment lends credence to a secret British defense memo that described U.S. officials as favoring a 'relatively bold reduction in force numbers.' The memo pointed to a drawdown of Allied forces from 170,000 today to 66,000 by next summer, a cut of over 60 percent.

Previously, the administration had denounced war critics who spoke of timetables, arguing that they signal the enemy to go to earth, build its strength, and strike weakened U.S. forces during the pullout. Now, America's top general is talking timetables."


As my earlier comments suggest, I think the U.S.-leaving-Iraq theory is wishful thinking. Given the track record of Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld, my suspicion is that not much has changed with regard to their goals in Iraq and in the Greater Middle East; their desire to "stay the course" in fulfilling those objectives remains the same - though they may have to make a tactical withdrawal of some forces in the service of that long-term strategy.

Bush & Co. came into power with the cockamamie ivory-tower idea of introducing "democracy" at the point of a bayonet throughout the entire Middle East, maybe even the world, and they still want to do just that. Indeed, there's a bill making its way through Congress -- see "All Democracy, All the Time" - that would make the "spreading of democracy" abroad the law of the land, not just an administration venture.

Bush & Co.'s ulterior motives have to do with empire, oil, profit, and, especially, using their adventures and wars as a way of garnering, maintaining and expanding their domestic political control.

If they were truly and seriously to remove the U.S. from Iraq - at least the most visible troops; no doubt the hardened military bases would stay at the "invitation" of the host Iraq government - it would look as if they were jettisoning their hegemonic goals in that shaky, explosive region. In effect, U.S. withdrawal would signify that the neo-cons' crusade against militant Islam was being abandoned, or at least greatly scaled back, in the face of overwhelming hostility of the locals (and world, and American public opinion) against it.

Worse still for the Bush administration, they would tacitly be admitting that, by invading and occupying Iraq, they made a terrible mistake. And this regime, as we all know, does not make mistakes - Bush says God talks to him, and he is doing the Lord's work, and that's the end of that discussion.


Of course, there is a face-saving way out for the Administration. Bush could declare victory and pull the U.S. troops back home, to ticker-tape parades down main street. You can almost hear him now: "My fellow Americans: We were determined to end the tyrannical rule of a brutal dictator, and we have done that. We were determined to aid the Iraqis in establishing a functioning democracy in their own country, and we have done that. We were determined to train Iraqi security forces to defend and police their own country, and we have done that. Therefore, truly, we can say 'Mission Accomplished' and withdraw our military forces with heads held high. What happens in Iraq after we leave is now up to the Iraqis themselves."

But even if Bush & Co. were to go that intelligent route - a highly unlikely scenario - no doubt they would have ignored the larger lesson to be learned: you don't win guerrilla wars. All the guerrillas have to do is keep you tied down, forever; they don't have to win, just grind you down, death by a thousand cuts. If you don't also win the "hearts ands minds" of the locals, you lose.

In addition, once it's clear to the locals that the invaders can't win (and this may already have happened in Iraq), ordinary citizens start making deals with the guerrillas; the result is that the native security forces and government institutions are even more infiltrated with informers and agents. This certainly was the case in Vietnam.

Five sets of advisors told five different Presidents that military stalemate was the best that could be hoped for in Vietnam, but each of those five presidents believed they would be the one to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat; Daniel Ellsberg, an insider par excellence, wrote about this history in his invaluable memoir Secrets. Nearly 60,000 American troops died as a result of that hubris, along with several million Vietnamese. Apparently, the only one who came to understand the lesson was Defense Secretary Robert McNamara - which is one of the reasons he opposes Bush's war in Iraq today.

Civil wars or nationalist wars to throw out invaders generally end in political settlements, not military ones. Vietnam today is still run by the Communist Party but its economy is largely semi-capitalist, and it has trade pacts beloved by American corporations doing business there; the Irish Republican Army just the other day said it is willing to lay down its arms and seek victories through democratic elections and political negotiations.

If the U.S. were to leave Iraq, thus removing the main reason for the nationalist insurgency, it is likely that the various ethnic and religious forces in that country would work out inclusive political arrangements that could stabilize the situation. Their solutions might not be those the U.S. prefers - it's possible that the new Iraq would be much like Islamist Iran next door, and would be a constant thorn in the side of America's foreign policy - but U.S. troops no longer would be targets on the ground in that country, nor would Iraq be a magnet for foreign terrorists.


The fact that Bush is determined to force square-peg John Bolton into the round United Nations hole is further confirmation that the neo-cons are still in charge of U.S. foreign/military policy. Bush is having to use a recess appointment since the Senate will not approve this perjurer and habitual bully to be America's ambassador to the U.N.

Bush/Cheney want Bolton there and there he will go. Why is it so important that Bolton be at the U.N? The neo-con strategic philosophy requires a weakening of all international institutions that potentially could get in the way of America's hegemonic adventures in various hotspots around the globe. (See "How We Got Into This Imperial Pickle: A PNAC Primer.")

Recall that Cheney/Rumsfeld didn't want the U.S. to go to the United Nations prior to "Shock & Awe"; they agreed reluctantly (at the behest of Tony Blair and Colin Powell) in order to get a fig-leaf approval from the Security Council to cover their embarrassingly illegal military invasion of Iraq. Bush & Co. don't want to risk a similar diplomatic morass as they move toward potential military action against Iran and Syria.

Mad Dog Bolton will be the guy who is expected to coerce and threaten U.N. diplomats to approve those military campaigns, and to head up the "reform" (read: terminal weakening) of that international body. Ergo, Bolton will go to the United Nations, Senate be damned.

Bush should be made to pay a heavy political price for this slap in the face to the Senate, but what can be done at this stage is not clear. It's possible that Patrick Fitzgerald will include Bolton in his upcoming CIA-leak indictments.


That same in-your-face approach can be seen in Bush's nomination of John G. Roberts to the Supreme Court. Those hoping that Bush would appoint a more moderate-conservative candidate, in the mold of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, were dreaming.

The operating procedure of the Bush administration is "take it while it can be took." If anybody tries to stop you, run over them. If, on rare occasion, determined bipartisan opposition blocks your way, find another way around the obstacle. If that won't work, back off a bit, bide your time and try again later.

Roberts is a clever choice. He's affable, bright, young, with little in the way of an overt judicial record on which he can be bashed; when his name was announced, his confirmation was regarded as a sure thing.

But, as his political history indicates - from his machinations in Florida in getting the 2000 recount stopped, to his views on civil rights and civil liberties - he's a stealth far-right conservative, who, if and when approved, will significantly alter the law for decades, and not in the direction that will bring credit to the court or the country. Just look at his recent ruling that confirms Bush's near-dictatorial powers during "wartime."

And, of course, the situation only will get worse when Rehnquist resigns or dies, giving Bush the opportunity for another far-right appointment to the Supreme Court.

Senate Democrats should persist in trying to get the required documents from Roberts' tenure at the Solicitor-General's office, and should grill him hard on key issues he would face if he were to gain a seat on the Supreme Court: the right to privacy, a woman's right to choose, civil liberties, affirmative action, the concept of checks-and-balances between the branches of government (especially during "wartime"), etc. And, depending on his answers, determine whether a filibuster is in order.

To let Roberts walk basically unexamined into the Supreme Court would be a disgraceful abdication of senatorial responsibilities. (Bad precedent: the Dems did just that the other day, when not one of their senators showed up to question Karen Hughes on her nomination to be an assistant secretary of state for propaganda.)


I have read two books this summer that relate, in their own ways, to subjects under discussion here: Jane Fonda's memoir, My Life So Far, and Pascal Khoo Thwe's From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey.

Fonda's autobiography - fairly well-written, by the way - doesn't go easy on herself, or her husbands (Vadim, Hayden, Turner), though all are shown positively as highly complex personalities. She went from naive movie star to naive businesswoman to naive political activist, making all sorts of mistakes along the way. But her heart was in the right place, and she grew more savvy and philosophical as the years went on.

The focus of the book is not so much on her political maturation during and after the 1960s as it is a moving journey to selfhood. It took her many decades to stop being someone for everybody else - sexy movie star, timid wife, uncertain feminist, social activist - and to start opening herself to her Self, in the deepest meaning of that term.

At 68, she recently announced that she'll be criss-crossing the country in an eco-friendly bus, rallying peace sentiment in opposition to Bush's Iraq War. See Jane go!

Pascal Khoo Thwe's From the Land of Green Ghosts - a fascinating, well-written memoir - documents how this one-time Catholic seminarian evolved into a revolutionist as a result of the brutality and destructive incompetency of the "socialist" military regime in Burma. This Stalinist military dictatorship still rules to this day, despite the heroic opposition of Aung San Suu Kyi (winner of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize) and her many followers.

One Green Ghosts quote caught my eye as somewhat analagous to what's happening in academia and elsewhere to so many in the Bush era in the U.S. Thwe tells the story of a student who deigned to ask a genuine history question of his professor, and was singled out for punishment by the government; he was denounced as a "pro-colonialist," i.e., infected by liberal Western attitudes.

Not only was the student neither mad nor pro-colonial -- he was not even anti-socialist. He was simply arguing an historical fact, and wanted to generate a discussion. But perhaps, in the circumstances in which we studied, that was a mad thing to do.

Troubled, I went to an English teacher, whom I had come to trust, in order to learn about the argument in private. He said: "Remember what your grandfather said about the earth's being flat at school and round at home. He was a wise man, and taught you what you need to know in Burma. It is the same in politics. Learn the arguments for socialism in the textbooks, parrot them, pass your exams. Never, never argue. But keep within your own head and heart what you and everyone really knows - that in the real world, it is a system of incompetence and corruption, and a project for ruining the country. They may be as ignorant as peasants - but they have the guns. Never, never argue with them."

In our own current situation, out of our love of country, we will always, always, "argue with them," despite Bush & Co.'s heavy-handed attempts to punish and silence their critics. Our souls, the soul of America, and our dedication to learning and speaking truth to power, require it.

Bernard Weiner, Ph.D. in government & international relations, has taught at various universities, worked as a writer/editor with the San Francisco Chronicle, and currently co-edits The Crisis Papers. For comments, write

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