Paris, March 2, 2006 – Only one question remains to answer regarding Iraq: to go, or as President George W. Bush says, “to stay the course” -- wherever that leads. The question is likely to receive the wrong answer: to stay.
In Washington, and in national political circles, it is all but impossible to argue the case for leaving Iraq without suffering defamation by White House flacks and the right-wing media.
The Democratic leadership belongs to the war party, out of electoral considerations. It seems to consider that the Republican right exercises unchallengeable control over the national debate.
Or to put it more accurately, it recognizes that the vast majority of political contributors belong to the war party. Hence the war cannot be opposed, despite the fact that an overwhelming majority of the American public believes in withdrawal, as does a 72% majority of U.S. troops in Iraq.
This suggests that the United States has become a plutocracy in which the electoral system is controlled by corporate and partisan money, whose interests are not those of the popular majority or the serving military forces. I have not seen this discussed in the mainstream media, for whom money corruption in Washington is usually seen in terms of pork-barrel legislation, not as determining American policy on war and peace.
A further attack, this time on Iran, seems a possibility in the weeks to come, and that is certainly not something for which the American public is clamoring. It seems being “sold” to them by a part of the administration and others who want Iran’s government brought down.
The argument over going or staying in Iraq is legitimate. There is a case on both sides. The weakness on the “stay” side is that the U.S. has already stayed three years, and order has disintegrated and violence has soared. Iraq’s crisis was launched by the American invasion.
Washington wants a government of national unity, able eventually to reconcile sectarian and partisan rivalries. It hopes that such a government would become America’s permanent ally, and that continuing American military presence can check the civil violence, even though American and other foreign forces are currently doing very little to intervene in what is going on.
They rightly assume that more foreign intervention would provoke more sectarian violence, with more and more Americans and other foreigners killed or wounded.
The argument for staying is based on concern for American prestige. Lose reputation in Iraq and you lose it everywhere else, etc. On the other hand, is a reputation for stubborn and unsuccessful violence desirable? One would think a reputation for good sense is worth cultivating. Respect for the United States increased once the U.S. got out of Vietnam.
Otherwise the motives for remaining, now open secrets in Washington, are to keep strategic military bases in Iraq, reinforce Israel’s power in the region, exercise influence over Iraq’s sales of oil and on oil prices generally, and prevent Iraq from doing what Saddam Hussein threatened to do: price oil sales in euros – the European currency. (Iran now is threatening to do the same thing.)
Most Iraqi and Iranian imports are priced in euros, while the dollar, in which oil is sold on the world market, has fallen 20% in value. Euro-pricing would deliver a further blow to the dollar’s value, already undermined by the enormous American overhang of foreign debt and continuing balance of payment deficits.
To leave successfully, the United States would have to shock the Iraqis with a departure timetable. Its position presumably would be that as the steps necessary to create a democratic government have been taken, and the forces to defend it are now being trained, responsibility for the future of Iraq must be assumed by the people of Iraq. American forces will depart (for example) within six months, and all foreign military bases will be removed. A sovereign Iraq must assume its responsibilities.
The U.S. would presumably continue to provide appropriate aid, and would encourage Iraq’s neighbors and the organizations of the international community to provide all the assistance possible.
In these circumstances the Iraqis would have to be serious, as they have been in the past. The modern Iraqi state is roughly coterminous with Mesopotamia, the oldest of the Middle Eastern civilizations. It emerged 3,000 to 5,000 years ago in the fertile land along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and remained a coherent cultural and political entity over the millennia, through the brilliant era of the Arab Abbasid caliphate and its successors in Baghdad, continuing through the Ottoman Empire that followed, lasting until 1918.
As I wrote two years ago, Iraq's resistance to foreign threats has typically been nationalistic in character, not separatist, beginning with revolts against the Ottomans, and against British occupation in the 1920s. Sunnis and Shiites fought together against Shiite Iran from 1980 to 1988.
Placed in a situation where the nation’s survival depends on their cooperation, Iraq’s communities might be expected to respond as they have in the past. If not, the responsibility will at last be theirs.
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