Occupation of Iraq is Leading U.S. Forces Into a Morass

by Gerry Foley / July 2005 issue of Socialist Action newspaper

The regime charged with presiding over the reactionary adventures of a declining American capitalism is now clearly getting into deeper and deeper water.

The New York Times/CBS poll released June 17 reported that only a minority (42 percent) of potential U.S. voters approved of the Bush administration, a steep drop from the bare majority of 51 percent the president enjoyed immediately after he succeeded in getting narrowly reelected.

An even smaller percentage (37 percent) approved of his policy in Iraq. A majority (51 percent) now thinks that it was a mistake for the U.S. to invade and occupy Iraq.

Bush still enjoyed narrow majority support for the “war on terrorism,” 52 percent. But his defeat in Congress on renewing some of the most intrusive
provisions of his Patriot Act, i.e., surveillance of library borrowing, indicates a growing disquiet over the “antiterrorism” hype that even conservative Republicans cannot ignore. And on what Bush claims to be the major fronts in this war, Iraq and Afghanistan, the prospects are looking more and more grim.

Thus, the Christian Science Monitor reported May 20: “U.S military commanders from both Iraq and Afghanistan, in a series of briefings and interviews over the past week, gave downbeat assessments of the
situations in both countries. The New York Times reports that the generals ‘pulled back’ from predictions made earlier this year that the U.S. would
be able to substantially reduce its troop level by early 2006.

“One general said that the U.S. would be in Iraq and Afghanistan for ‘many years to come.’” The article also pointed to a statement by a senior U.S. military commander in Iraq that the whole U.S. enterprise in the country “could fail.”

Obviously an important factor in the declining support for the U.S. war on Iraq is the growing understanding among the American public that the pretexts for the invasion were false, that the Saddam regime did not pose any threat to the United States, and that it had no “weapons of mass destruction.”

This understanding was reinforced by the publication of a British government memo in the May 1 London Times proving that not only were the claims made to justify the war false but that they were deliberately and cynically contrived. Moreover, the memo noted the concern of the British government that the Bush regime had not bothered to consider what the costs would be of maintaining an occupation of Iraq.

The memo was from Matthew Rycroft, a British foreign policy advisor, and dated July 22, 2002. It said notably: “C reported on his recent talks in
Washington. There was a perceptible shift in attitude. Military action was now seen as inevitable. Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. “But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy. … There was little discussion in Washington of the aftermath after military action.”

Since the publication of the memo, there has been a spate of articles by liberal commentators deploring the fact that such damning evidence has gotten so little coverage in the major media.

Mark Morford in the June 22 San Francisco Chronicle argued that the reason was that the conspiracy revealed by the memo was already old news for the
liberal and left public: “While they [referring to several memoranda] certainly do reveal that Bush is a noted liar and distorter of fact and that we can easily deduce that his snarling war hawks torqued the Brits into complicity and mangled the U.N. laws and misled the American people into war perhaps more deviously and violently than any administration in recent American history, well, there is not a single thing in the words you just read that most of us did not already know.”

In fact, the decline in support for the war reflected in The New York Times /CBS poll preceded the publication of the Downing Street memo. However, there is no doubt that this irrefutable evidence of the Bush government’s deliberate deception toward U.S. and international public opinion will continue to broaden and reinforce the backlash against the Iraq war and
occupation. And in this context, U.S. losses, setbacks, and outrages in Iraq will become ever more damaging for the U.S. rulers.

In recent weeks, U.S. forces and their local allies have been carrying out a number of large-scale strikes against the insurgents that have produced body counts reminiscent of those of the Vietnam War, with apparently similar ineffectiveness in quelling the insurgency.

The Christian Science Monitor noted the frustration of U.S. soldiers in participating in these so-called victories in its June 21 issue. “‘We’ve won every fight they’ve given us, but there always seem to be just as many people fighting us as when we got here,’ says one career Marine officer, who recently finished a tour in Iraq.”

The Monitor commented: “The gap between tactical victories on the one hand, and few tangible improvements in the overall Iraqi security situation
on the other, is creating a widening disagreement over whether the U.S. is winning or losing the war in Iraq.”

The article went on to point out: “The situation is creating increasing restlessness within President Bush’s own party. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R) of Nebraska told US News & World Report magazine last week, ‘Things aren’t getting better, they’re getting worse. … The White House is completely disconnected from reality.’”

The strategy of the American rulers to build a “leaner, meaner” military machine to protect their interests worldwide is failing. It was based on the
idea that a relatively small volunteer force equipped with high-tech weapons could defeat any potential opponent.

This kind of army did prove effective in defeating a technologically inferior army in the flat and open country of Iraq. But it has proved unable to control a
widespread guerrilla movement, since it does not have the numbers necessary to maintain an effective occupation of a medium-sized country.

That is leading the U.S. rulers to gingerly test the waters for restoring the draft, but they are finding the waters very cold indeed. And given the continual
losses in Iraq, their attempts to recruit volunteers by economic incentives are falling far short of their goals.

At the same time, the resentment of the National Guardsmen called up for long service in Iraq, which they did not expect and were not prepared for, is
becoming more and more of a political factor in the communities from which they come.

The problems of the U.S. military are, moreover, being increased by the ruling reactionaries’ idea that they can go back to fighting a private enterprise war, like the colonial wars of the 19th and early 20th century. U.S. companies that flocked to Iraq to harvest the spoils of war hired thousands of private security guards, essentially mercenaries. The total is estimated at 20,000.

It was the killing of four such mercenaries by local insurgents in Falluja, for example, that was the pretext for U.S. forces launching a prolonged
offensive against the city that ultimately led to destroying it. It has been known that hundreds of these hired guns have been killed, but the exact numbers are not reported as they are in the case of casualties in the U.S. military.

A recent incident revealed that U.S. soldiers hate these mercenaries, who collect fat salaries while they are subject to less discipline and less risks than the soldiers are. Associated Press reported June 10 that there had been an armed confrontation between a private security team and Marines: “Defense officials disclosed on Thursday that the security guards for Charlotte, N.C.-based Zapata Engineering were detained for three days after they fired from trucks and SUVs on Iraqi civilian cars and U.S. forces in Fallujah, 40 miles west of Baghdad.”

The mercenaries complained bitterly about the way they were handled. The Christian Science Monitor of June 13 quoted one of the detained guards as follows: “They treated us like insurgents, roughed us up, took photos, hazed [bullied] us, called us names.” The paper noted: “One military contractor, Matt Raiche, a former U.S. Marine himself, said the Marines seemed to be particularly upset at the contractors’ working conditions and the pay they received.”

On June 21, the Pacifica Radio program, “Democracy Now,” noted for its independent reporting, took up the question of the mercenaries. The presenter, Amy Goodman, began her interview with Peter Singer, author
of the book “Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry,” with the following quotation from a U.S. military commander, Col. Thomas
X. Hammes:

“There were security contractors over there that were just cowboys. They clearly had neither the training nor the experience. Could I identify them? No. They wore a mixed bag of uniforms. Nobody wore name tags. They didn’t have unit logos. You would run into these people in town with a really kind of a bad attitude, and there’s nothing you could do about it. How do you identify them? Well, there’s no license plates on their car. They’re driving an SUV.

“These people were simply unsafe. Whether you like it or not, they represent you. To the local population, they’re your hired guns. The Iraqis resented very much and knew quite clearly that if one of these people shot an Iraqi they were not subject to any law. They could simply be extracted from the country.”

Given the inability of the U.S. military to quell the Iraqi insurgency and the continually mounting losses of U.S. soldiers, more and more commentators and politicians compare Iraq to Vietnam. The Iraqi resistance, of course, is not as well organized or led as the Vietnamese National Liberation Front was. It suffers from severe problems created by the political blindness and ruthlessness of the Al Qaida component. But in some ways, the U.S. rulers’ problems in Iraq are worse than they were in Vietnam. The economic stakes are huge. The U.S. forces are less numerous, and their operations are complicated by the activities of the piratical American trusts on the ground.

And the U.S. war has been immensely unpopular since the beginning with international and domestic public opinion. This suggests that the important Sept. 24 demonstrations against the Iraq war—planned for Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles—have the potential to be massive.

In this context, opposition to continuing U.S. occupation of Iraq is becoming the focal point of growing worldwide resistance to the entire economic and political offensive designed to restore the fortunes of the decaying American capitalist system.

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