The Iraq Quagmire and the 2006 Elections

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by Jeff Mackler / December 2006 issue of Socialist Action Newspaper

An ill-at-ease and hastily tutored President George W. Bush appeared before the nation’s major media on Nov. 8 to give his administration’s take on what Bush described as the “thumping” the Republican Party took on Election Day.

Based on exit polls across the country indicating that the Iraq War was the top issue, at least in the minds of the 39 percent of the eligible electorate that did vote, one after another reporter queried the president about whether his total victory in Iraq strategy would remain in place.

Bush, who repeatedly stressed “bipartisanship,” replied, “The election showed that the American people want Republicans and Democrats to work together on this issue.”

But no post-thumping solutions were in the offing, since the “bipartisan” ruling class that Bush represents has yet to determine if its current and rapidly disintegrating “victory only” policy remains tenable as the U.S. descends deeper into the Middle East quagmire.

Bush, at the press conference and soon after, pointed to the “bipartisan” Iraq Study Group—formed in March 2006 and co-chaired by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton—and to a forthcoming Pentagon report that the president said will advise him whether to send more troops, stay the course, or reduce troop deployment.

Insiders, like senior Pentagon correspondent of the Washington Post, Thomas E. Ricks, author of “Fiasco: The American Military Adventures in Iraq,” have also reported that a fourth option is under consideration at the Pentagon—that is, to leave Iraq entirely. The latter course, according to Ricks, is included in a secret Pentagon study commissioned by Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

These options aside, and “secret” or not, Bush met with NATO officials in late November to request even more troops for the U.S. effort. In response to news reports of recommendations in the Baker-Hamilton report, Bush said on Nov. 30, “This business about a graceful exit just simply has no realism to it whatsoever.” But White House aides later cautioned that despite Bush’s statement, the president remained “open” to some of the options considered by the Baker-Hamilton commission.

The Baker-Hamilton report, according to summaries released to the media, contains the expected vague language and non-binding recommendations that allow the administration to continue the war effort without change. “What they [the Baker-Hamilton commission] ended up with,” said the Nov. 30 New York Times, “appears to be a classic Washington compromise: a report that sets no explicit timetable, but, between the lines, appears to have one built in.”

The report was equivocal in all respects, but was said to resemble some of the proposals calling for the “offshoring” of some U.S. troops to either neighboring countries, where they would be in immediate striking distance should they be needed, or to the hardened military bases the U.S. has established throughout Iraq.

Former Republican U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker III is the longtime Bush family associate who headed up Bush’s efforts to secure the presidency in the face of the blatant 1999 Florida election scandal. Lee H. Hamilton, a former Democratic Party congressman and House Select Intelligence Committee head, is expert, like Baker, at the imperial art of cover-up, covert war, and damage control.

Along with five other Democrats and five other Republicans, all with reliable ruling-class credentials, their objective was to deflect mounting antiwar opposition by suggesting a “bipartisan solution” for U.S. imperialism in a war that has inflamed hatred against the U.S. government worldwide and slaughtered, since 1991, close to two million Iraqis.

The Democrats were the windfall recipients of the antiwar, anti-Bush vote. Yet they are as ill at ease as the Republicans on the issue—with a paucity of options other than rhetoric and none that speak for the party as such.

Not one politician in a House of Representatives of 435 and a Senate of 100 has introduced legislation for immediate and total withdrawal. All “phased withdrawal” proposals are conditioned on the political and military success of the present Bush policy.

The Democrats’ new majority leader in the House, Nancy Pelosi, has echoed the Republican call for “bipartisanship.” She too has no solutions. The Democrat’s chief election strategist, Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel, insists that the Iraq War is not to be made a Democratic Party election issue. Furthermore, on Nov. 9, the new Senate majority leader, Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said that the Democrats would push for a $75 billion increase in the military budget.

President Bush didn’t fare well in deflecting the press corps’s insistence that the war was central to the Republican rout that gave the Democrats, for the first time in 12 years, control of both houses of Congress. “There were other issues involved,” he insisted, only to be interrupted again with the query, “Like health care and the economy?”

“And the scandals too,” Bush interjected, as if to minimize the fact that virtually every poll in the county indicated that the critical issues were the war, health care (or the lack of), and the economy—which loses one million good paying jobs a year and transfers one trillion dollars annually from working people to the rich.

A beleaguered Bush was reduced to telling the world that his party’s fall was also a product of its self-inflicted wounds—that is, bribery, corruption, and sex scandals. There was no doubt that the Iraq war was central to the Republican defeat, as exit polls indicated that 66 percent favored either immediate or a rapid phased withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Indeed, in every city and county where the Iraq War was on the ballot, an antiwar position has been approved. In Chicago, late returns indicated that 80 percent of voters opposed the war, and Chicagoans Against War and Injustice reported that strong majorities had approved antiwar referenda in at least 11 other Illinois cities. In San Francisco, 62 percent voted in favor of impeaching the president.

Gates: A “Contragate” collaborator

Bush’s press conference came on the heels of the resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld, the administration’s chief Iraq War strategist. In an attempt to explain the purge, Bush was reduced to an explanation that a “fresh perspective,” content unspecified, was required in Iraq today.

Rumsfeld, along with 10 other administration and military officials, has been charged with war crimes in German courts, in an effort initiated by the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights. The charges arise out of the interrogation or torture techniques used at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison and the U.S. military base at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.

Rumsfeld’s announced replacement (pending Senate approval) is Robert Gates, a former career CIA official who was first rejected for the CIA’s top post in 1987 when nominated by President Ronald Reagan. Cognizant of Gates’s role in the infamous Contragate scandal and cover-up, a record 31 U.S. Senators opposed Gates’s nomination at that time. He was later approved by the Senate as CIA director following his 1991 nomination by President George Bush Sr.

Gates, as deputy CIA director in the mid-1980s, played a critical role in the Iran-Contra scandal, wherein the Reagan administration secretly and illegally sold weapons to Iran, and especially to Iraq, during the 10-year Iran-Iraq War. Funds paid by Iran for the U.S. weapons were in turn used to finance the Nicaraguan contras, a terrorist army organized and trained by the U.S. to overthrow the popular 1979 revolution led by the Sandinista National Liberation Front.

Beginning in 1980, the Saddam Hussein regime was chosen as the U.S. instrument of war to destabilize Iran and keep competitive Iranian oil off world markets. While the U.S. provided the bulk of its arms to Iraq and Hussein, it armed both sides in order to keep the fires of war burning. Six hundred thousand Iranians and 400,000 Iraqis lost their lives in this U.S. proxy war.

Today the U.S. drive for oil hegemony in the Middle East far exceeds its covert efforts of the past. U.S. ruling circles face a series of obstacles that they failed to seriously consider before they decided to send U.S. troops to subdue, occupy, and exploit Iraq for capitalist profit.

The decision to invade and conquer was driven less by the deceit or stupidity of the Bush administration and its bipartisan partners in the Democratic Party than it was by the growing crisis of U.S. capitalism, pressed more than at any time in history by its imperialist rivals for control over world markets, cheap raw materials, and low cost labor.

Worldwide capitalist competition has today reached a level of intensity that has forced all industrial nations and the corporate interests they defend to cut deeper than ever into the standard of living of its working-class masses.

The major multi-national corporations, which today dwarf their predecessors in every respect, challenge each other in an escalating struggle for global supremacy. Each new wave of technological innovation both deepens the crisis of overproduction and lowers the average rate of profit for all.

The world’s greatest powers are bound up in the struggle to protect their own national capitalist classes against all comers. While Bush and his cohorts brag about the strength of the U.S. economy in terms of corporate profits and stock market indices, the truth is that U.S. capital prevails over a steadily decreasing share of the world’s gross international product.

Once-dominant U.S. corporations, producing the lion’s share of the world’s automobiles, telecommunication equipment, steel, rubber, etc., are today locked into a deadly competition that drives all but the biggest players into forced mergers to survive or out of the market altogether.

The remaining corporate giants face levels of competition that require more and more drastic actions to survive, from re-colonizing the globe and the ruination of whole continents to never-ending war.

The world’s top military superpower, the U.S., is no longer number one in the world economy. Its rivals in Asia and the European Economic Community steadily erode the profitability of U.S. corporations. The U.S. assault on Iraq was as much an economic thrust against its imperialist rivals as it was a war on the Iraqi people and nation. U.S. hegemony in Iraq, the nation with world’s second largest oil reserves, would go a long way to countering U.S. declines in other arenas.

In contrast to Europe and Asia, heavily dependent on Middle Eastern oil, the U.S. has significant reserves of its own, as well as in Latin America. Saddam Hussein’s threat to sell Iraqi oil based on the euro rather than the dollar standard, given the major decline of the value of the U.S. dollar, would have represented a major blow to U.S. imperialist power.

The U.S. move to control Iraqi oil, perhaps the single most important commodity in the world, was designed to bring its world competitors to heel. Among the first actions taken by the U.S. occupation government was to cancel the oil contracts negotiated by Germany, France, and Russia with the Saddam Hussein government—driving these nations into the coalition of the “unwilling.”

U.S. failure deepens in Iraq

To date the Iraqi adventure has been a failure, highlighted by the following:

• The “coalition of the willing” is disintegrating. Italy, Spain, and now Britain are moving to withdraw even the modest troop detachments they have been bludgeoned into sending.

• No other major imperialist power stands ready to fill the void. Virtually all opposed the U.S. war from the start, understanding full well that U.S. corporations aimed at displacing their rivals in the region and further monopolizing the oil industry to their disadvantage.

• The absence of a draft army has qualitatively reduced the capacity of the U.S. to maintain anything resembling a stable Iraqi puppet regime. Antiwar sentiment among U.S. troops is on the rise, deepened by forced extensions of enlistment periods and by the repeated calling up of units that have already served multiple tours of duty since the war began. There is also a growing awareness in the military that the U.S. is in Iraq as a conqueror, not a liberator.

At least for the moment, there are no serious calls in ruling-class circles for a re-introduction of the draft. To do so today would provoke a qualitative increase in the already massive opposition to the war, an opposition that under the present economic conditions would present a challenge to U.S. imperialism far in excess of the Vietnam War period.

The 10-year Vietnam War took place under conditions of relative prosperity, with the government tripling the funding of public education and other social programs and with the real unemployment rate at nearly an all-time low.

• The U.S. has no popular base of support inside Iraq. Reconstruction is a fiction. Eighty percent of all Iraqis demand a withdrawal timetable. New polls indicate that 97 percent of Sunni Arabs support armed struggle against U.S. military forces; the figure is 61 percent for the Shiite majority.

Some 2800 U.S. soldiers have died and another 50,000 have been wounded, while 665,000 Iraqis have been killed since the 2002 U.S. invasion. Another 1.5 million died in the course of the 1991 Gulf War and subsequent U.S. sanctions.

• While Iraq’s oil has been largely privatized, with its new National Petroleum Act essentially written in Washington, D.C., by Chevron and Exxon Mobile on extremely lucrative terms, the presence of U.S. troops is essential to defend U.S. oil pipelines. Oil production remains at half of pre-war levels, and these were already severely restricted due to U.S. sanctions.

• Major U.S. corporations like Bechtel, which signed on for lucrative reconstruction contracts, have pulled out of Iraq, calculating that the cost in human lives (private security and other workers) and of maintaining operations under siege conditions, was far more than the financial gains to be made.

• Little or no progress has been made in reconstruction. Destruction caused by the U.S. military remains the rule.

• Nothing resembling a stable Iraqi government, police force, or army has been established or is in sight. The credibility of Shiite Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki continues to decline, with major divisions among his own supporters threatening a collapse of his coalition government.

Diplomatic moves for a “settlement”

Beginning with the proposals of Democratic Party Congressman John Murtha in late 2005 to essentially offshore U.S. troops or remove them from Iraq’s central urban areas to avoid further inflaming hatred for the U.S. occupiers, the U.S. ruling class has embarked on a series of “diplomatic” missions to find a way out of its increasingly hopeless situation.

The major focus of the Baker-Hamilton report was to intensify these diplomatic initiatives, as opposed to postulating specific proposals for military strategy.

Even prior to Baker-Hamilton, however, the idea has been to orchestrate an exit strategy based on negotiating agreements between the three major rival Iraqi leadership groupings (Kurd, Shiite, and Sunni) that have their own capitalist interests at stake regarding the appropriation and exploitation of Iraqi resources, mostly oil.

The goal is to broker a deal, with the assistance of neighboring capitalist regimes, especially Iran, that are aligned to one or another of the contending forces inside Iraq. The objective is to divide the booty among the main players while leaving the U.S. with a perhaps lesser but significant cut.

Of course, these deals take place in the broader context of the growing Middle East imbroglio, including the role of the Iran-backed Hezbollah fighters in Lebanon and Israel’s role as the U.S. instrument of repression and domination in Palestine, Lebanon, and the Middle East more generally. A U.S.-imposed “settlement” in Iraq would undoubtedly involved agreements in all of the above arenas of conflict.

No stone will be left unturned as these secret negotiations proceed. James Baker, for example, is said to be preparing to meet with Iraq’s former Baath Party Prime Minister under Saddam Hussein, Tariz Aziz, who will reportedly be released from U.S. detention for that purpose.

Similarly, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice contacted the Gulf Cooperation Council of the Arab States in October to request their assistance as intermediaries between the U.S. and armed Sunni resistance groups, excluding al-Qaeda. Rice is said to have quipped at the time that if Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld “heard me now, he would wage a war on me fiercer and hotter than he waged on Iraq.”

The six-member Gulf Cooperation Council—including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates—was formed in 1981 to “resist outside interference” in the Gulf region.

Top American diplomats have also been in discussions with various components of the Iraqi resistance—that is, the same forces the U.S. is fighting on the ground.

A Bush security adviser, Stephen Hadley, according to huffingtonpost. com, delivered the following six-points for the consideration of Iraqi politicians on his recent trip to Baghdad :

• Include Iraqi resistance and opposition leaders in any initiative towards national reconciliation

• General amnesty for the armed resistance fighters

• Dissolution of the Iraqi commission charged with banning the Baath Party

• Start the disbanding of militias and death squads

• Cancel any federalism proposal to divide Iraq into three regions, and combine authority for the central government with greater self-rule for local governors;

• Distribute oil revenues in a fair manner to all Iraqis, including the Sunnis, whose regions lack the resource.

Al-Maliki was said to have rejected the American proposals, according to the Nov. 23 Huffington Post, because of his “institutional allegiance to Shiite parties who believe their historic moment has arrived after one thousand years of Sunni domination.” Al-Maliki, however, as with all U.S.-installed puppets, is expendable if the price is right.

As much as U.S. imperial interests fear the emergence of Iran as a nuclear power and as much as they still have a hard eye on Iranian oil, they are equally aware that Iran’s influence in Iraq far exceeds that of any other nation. Indeed, the Iraqi Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani was born and raised in Iran, and the main Shiite bloc he is based on was created in Iran by Iraqi exiles.

No deal appears to be in the making, however, even with the support of one or more of the heads of state in the region.

Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who has served informally as a consultant to President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney, dubs the Iraq War “unwinnable” from the standpoint of establishing a “democratic” government.

As with the Vietnam War, however, in which Kissinger was a central architect of the U.S. genocidal policy, Kissinger does not exclude a prolonged stay in Iraq wherein its precious oil reserves can be extracted from underneath the hail of missiles and bombs to be wrought on the Iraqi people. Iraq has already endured the most intensive bombing in world history, a horrific fact when it is recalled that the Vietnam War saw more bombs dropped than in the combined history of all wars since the dawn of civilization.

The Iraqi masses, along with the oppressed people of the Middle East, are central to any lasting solution to the horror imperialism has created. A united effort by the Arab masses there to drive the U.S. and its capitalist collaborators out of their country is the prerequisite starting point.

Broad antiwar coalition needed

The growing opposition to the Iraq War inside the U.S., evidenced by the 2006 election, also holds out the promise that a united and powerful mass movement can be constructed to help compel a U.S. withdrawal.

What is sorely lacking in the U.S. however, is a democratic and broad-based united-front coalition capable of organizing the independent mass mobilizations that can really challenge the warmakers.

Today’s antiwar coalitions, United for Peace and Justice and ANSWER, are far from providing such a framework. The contradiction between the growing mass opposition to the Iraq War and its expression in the streets is glaring—as is the UFPJ’s central misconception that the warmongering Democratic Party can be an instrument for a new policy in Iraq.

Last month, the UFPJ’s steering committee postponed the convocation of its National Assembly to late May or June 2007. This date is more attuned to an orientation to the Democrats’ 2008 presidential election campaign than to the organization of mass actions against the war that can mobilize the new constituencies that the 2006 elections revealed.

Jan. 27, 2007, has been set by UFPJ for a national antiwar rally in Wash ington, D.C., to “Bring the Troops Home Now.” But even here, the central focus of this narrow and hastily-called action is more to lobby the swamp of pro-war politicians than it is to organize a massive outpouring to demand the immediate and unconditional withdrawal of all U.S. troops.

Both the narrow ANSWER coalition (Act Now To Stop War and End Racism) and UFPJ have set March 17, the approximate fourth anniversary of the start of the war, for local antiwar actions. In the absence of a united national effort, such local initiatives have more often than not been small, isolated, and routine repetitions of past actions that involve few new forces.

What is needed today more than ever is a national coming together of all the present and future components of the antiwar movement. A broadly called and organized national conference to mobilize the full power of the growing movement to “Bring the Troops Now!” should be at the top of the movement’s agenda.

Such a conference can serve to discuss, debate, and democratically decide all the outstanding issues before the movement, from its major demands and new constituencies, (including the labor movement, Arab-American communities, Blacks, Latino immigrants, etc.) to setting the date for the largest antiwar mobilization in the nation’s history.

Socialist Action News

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