On March 14th, Anthony Arnove, author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal took the stand alongside the members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and other concerned parties. Arnove discusses the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and argues that the best way to support our troops is to bring them home.
Anthony Arnove’s testimony, in its entirety is posted below.
Testimony by Anthony Arnove
March 14, 2008
Iraq Veterans Against the War
Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan
Thank you. It is an honor to speak here tonight alongside the courageous members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and others committed to telling the truth about the unjust and illegal occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan and organizing to end them.
I would like to make five basic points about the two occupations and then draw five broader conclusions about the geopolitical considerations driving U.S. policy.
- First, it is important to stress that the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan were launched on false pretenses and the occupations now continue under false pretenses. The Bush administration attacked Iraq claiming it was preempting the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and its links to al-Qaeda. Today we know the full extent of manipulation of intelligence that was used to start a war that was not defensive but offensive in nature. In Afghanistan, Washington claimed to be carefully targeting terrorists who had attacked the United States, but instead targeted the civil population of Afghanistan in an open form of collective punishment, banned under international law. The war’s planners consciously sought to make the general population of Afghanistan suffer, hoping that would help bring down the Taliban regime, and also sought to make an example of Afghanistan. (If I can make a brief aside, I also want to commend the organizers from IVAW that the title of this weekend and the banner on stage here refers to Iraq and Afghanistan — because Afghanistan has become the forgotten occupation. Or worse the good occupation, in contrast to the one in Iraq. It’s important that we include Afghanistan in our discussions. As we have heard from testimony this weekend, many soldiers in Iraq have been deployed to Afghanistan and we have to find a way to involve veterans of Afghanistan who oppose the occupation in our work.)
- Second, the United States is not stemming but is fueling civil war in both countries. In Afghanistan and Iraq, Washington has armed militias that are involved in attacks on civilians, using alliances with the United States to gain money and weapons and also call in air strikes and ground attacks to settle political and sectarian scores. In Afghanistan, analyst Stephen Zunes notes, “the United States subcontracted security of much of the country to … warlords, who have actually served to destabilize the country.” The United States has used classic colonial divide and rule tactics in both countries for the same reason that all occupations of necessity must: to control and impose the occupier’s will upon a population that will not consent to its subjugation. This means the violence we have seen, the torture and homicides at Bagram and Abu Ghraib, and beyond, are the logical result, are the inevitable outcome, of U.S. policy at the highest levels. The violence does not have its origin in the ideas of the troops but emanates from the political leadership and policies set at the top of the chain of command and from the systematic violence and racism of both occupations. And, as we heard in testimony today, they stem from rules of engagement that guarantee civilians will be degraded, dehumanized, tortured, and killed.
- Third, the U.S. is not confronting terrorism by staying in Afghanistan or Iraq. The main enemy that the U.S. confronts in both countries is not al-Qaeda but the very people we claim to have liberated. As army captain Dan Kearney told the New York Times Magazine, “The only reason anyone’s listening to me is ‘cause I’m dropping bombs on them.” In Iraq, poll after poll, including ones conducted by the U.S. government, show Iraqis feel less safe, not more safe, as a result of the occupation; feel we are fueling civil war not stemming it; that they view U.S. troops as occupiers not liberators; and they want an immediate end to the occupation. The more the U.S. tries to assert control in both countries, the more opposition grows. And let’s be clear: this is not a question of mismanagement, bad planning, or lack of planning, or this or that error in counterinsurgency strategy. It is a fundamental political fact of the occupation.
- Fourth, the United States is not honoring those who died in Iraq and Afghanistan by continuing the occupations. Now more than 4,400 U.S. troops have died in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition, though this number is rarely mentioned, more than 1,000 private contractors have been killed alongside U.S. forces, as well as scores of journalists — not to mention the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis killed. More than 29,000 U.S. troops have been wounded, many severely. Rates of post-traumatic stress disorder among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have skyrocketed, as have suicide rates, among many other problems, as others have documented on panels here at Winter Soldier. Each additional death and injury only compounds the senseless tragedy we have seen so far.
- Fifth, the U.S. is not rebuilding or bringing democracy to either country. Electricity and access to safe water are below pre-invasion levels in Iraq, as a result of conscious policy decisions made by the occupation authorities. Unemployment has skyrocketed, again as a result of policy. Inflation is spiraling, putting basic necessities out of reach of Iraqis. Hospitals are in shambles. Iraq today is the world’s largest and fastest growing refugee crisis, with more than two million internally displaced and more than two million externally displaced. Child malnutrition in Iraq has grown worse: the United Nations reports that one in four Iraq children under five suffers chronic malnourishment. More than four million Iraqis are in need of food assistance, but the country’s food ration program is being cut as part of the neoliberal reconstruction of Iraq under the direction of the U.S. occupation. In Afghanistan, only 6 percent of the population has electricity, according to the Asian Development Bank. Action Aid International estimates that only 14 percent of U.S. aid to Afghanistan has reached legitimate development projects. Women’s oppression in Afghanistan — highlighted by many commentators as a reason to support the invasion — is as bad and in some cases worse than before the invasion. The Independent newspaper in London notes, “Grinding poverty and the escalating war is driving an increasing number of Afghan families to sell their daughters into forced marriages. Girls as young as six are being married into a life of slavery and rape, often by multiple members of their new relatives. Banned from seeing their own parents or siblings, they are also prohibited from going to school. With little … effective recourse, many of the victims are driven to self-immolation – burning themselves to death – or severe self-harm.” Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are at post-invasion highs, thanks in part to an expanded U.S. air war, a model we now see being applied with greater frequency in Iraq. Between January and September 2007, U.S. and NATO coalition allies dropped one million pounds of ordnance on Afghanistan, more than double the amount from all of 2006.
To those who argue we broke it, so we must fix it: rather than fixing the two countries, we are only breaking them further. And to those who say we cannot withdraw “precipitously,” there is nothing precipitous about pulling out after five or, in the case of Afghanistan, seven years of occupying another country. We have no right to be in either country in the first place.
Senator John McCain says troops may have to stay in Iraq one hundred or even one thousand or even ten thousand years. His position is clear. But Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton also would not end the occupation. As the Wall Street Journal reported on February 29, “Despite the rhetoric of the Democratic presidential candidates, significant numbers of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq regardless of who wins in November.”
Indeed, if you look at their actual proposals, Senators Clinton and Obama have said we must keep troops in Iraq for “counterterrorism operations,” force protection, and training Iraqi soldiers, or so-called Iraqification. The Journal notes that “Conducting such missions would require the sustained deployment of tens of thousands of American military personnel, foreign policy advisers from both campaigns acknowledge.”
This is a perfect example of the circular logic of the occupation. If there were no U.S. troops and no bases, and if the United States were not building in Baghdad the largest embassy in world history in order to influence Iraqi affairs, you wouldn’t need troops for force protection. “Counter-terrorism” is the same rationale that President Bush offers for why troops must stay. And training is the same discredited argument of Bush: “as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.”
In addition, Senators Clinton and Obama have both talked about increasing overall U.S. troop levels and adding more troops to the occupation of Afghanistan. One top aide to the Obama campaign interviewed recently by journalist Jeremy Scahill of the Nation magazine even left open the possibility that, if elected president, Obama would rely on greater numbers of mercenaries from companies such as Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and DynCorp in Iraq to replace troops redeployed to other theatres.
And that is why supporting the work of IVAW and building an independent antiwar movement is so important. We have to put pressure on whoever is in office in 2009.
The reason for the Democrats’ lack of an alternative, and for their repeated funding in Congress of a war many of them claim to oppose, is that the geopolitical stakes for the United States are so high. Neither party wants to preside over a defeat of the United States in Iraq or Afghanistan, and manage the consequences that would follow.
To understand why, we can dispense with all the public relations reasons for these wars — WMD, al-Qaeda, and liberating people living in tyrannical regimes — none of which hold up to scrutiny — and should instead look at the geopolitical interests driving both occupations.
Here, I want to make five brief points:
1. First, Afghanistan and Iraq were both meant to have a “demonstration effect,” signaling to other states that the U.S. government
(i) has the right (which on a limited basis it may extend to allies, such as Israel) to engage in “preemptive strikes” against any country it chooses;
(ii) will defer to the United Nations and other international bodies only when it suits its ends, and will dismiss them as “irrelevant” otherwise; and
(iii) will allow no challenge to the “credibility” of U.S. imperialism.
As one unnamed “hawk” quoted in the New York Times put it, “By setting up our military in Iraq . . . we can set an example to other countries: ‘If you cooperate with terrorists or menace us in any way or even look at us cross-eyed, this could happen to you.’ ”
2. Second, the invasions were intended to give the United States greater control over the Middle East and Central and Western Asia, home to the vast majority of the world’s oil reserves, home to most of the world’s natural gas reserves, and also home to vital pipelines and shipping routes for energy. In the words of former Bush speechwriter David Frum, “An American-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein—and the replacement of the radical Baathist dictatorship with a new government more closely aligned with the United States would put America more wholly in charge of the region than any power since the Ottomans, or maybe even the Romans.” The United States interest in Middle Eastern and Asian energy is not primarily motivated by consumption needs, but by the geopolitical advantages that flow from controlling this oil and natural gas. U.S. policy planners understand that the main power centers that could emerge as peer rivals to the United States in the future and that could threaten its status as the world’s sole superpower — namely India and China, and the combined economies of the European Union — all are more reliant on energy imports from the Middle East than is the United States. Regional hegemony, therefore, gives the United States tremendous leverage and influence vis-à-vis competing economic and political powers that are dependent on these energy resources. As oil gets more expensive to extract, and as exploration is forced to seek out more dangerous geographic and political terrain for new oil fields, control over these energy resources and trade routes has grown even more important to U.S. imperial strategy.
3. Third, the plan for a quick and easy victory and regime change in both Afghanistan and Iraq was meant to establish client states in two strategically located countries that would provide the United States with important bases for military personnel and equipment and also bases for the projection of U.S. power, particularly to isolate or engineer regime change in nearby Iran and Syria. These regional bases of power were also intended to enhance the ability of the United States to project power globally. That is, Washington hoped to use regional hegemony to preserve — and expand — its global hegemony and to enhance its ability to intervene economically and politically, in the affairs of any country around the world where the U.S. might have interests, no matter what the location, using U.S. military might to bully countries into compliance. Of course, this has backfired. Instead of being in a stronger position, the United States is in a weaker one — regionally and internationally. And now that Iran has emerged as a stronger regional player as a result of U.S. actions in both Afghanistan and Iraq, the stakes have become even higher, and we see greater threats of an attack, particularly an aerial attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities also intended to facilitate regime change in that country. Meanwhile, Venezuela and Russia have also started to develop energy relationships with Iran and other countries and to develop new trade relations and energy supply routes that threaten U.S. control and domination of energy markets. Keep in mind that Venezuela is one of the leading suppliers of oil for import to the United States and Russia has the world’s largest natural gas reserves.
4. Fourth, both occupations were linked to a set of economic objectives that extended far beyond the question of the huge subsidies and profits created for political allies and the national security-military industrial complex to the much bigger prize of imposing a neoliberal model throughout all of the Middle East and Western and Central Asia that would give the United States privileged access to these markets and open them to much greater foreign ownership and control, with lower tax rates, less money diverted to social needs of the population, and fewer protections for workers and the poor.
5. Fifth, the Bush administration thought that, by its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, it could bury once and for all the so-called Vietnam syndrome, eliminating the public’s reluctance to see Washington intervene militarily in the affairs of other countries and undermining international opposition to U.S. unilateralism. Having thus staked U.S. credibility on the line, Washington planners concluded that any defeat would lead not just to a failure to achieve key war aims, but a profound setback for vital military, political, and economic interests. That’s why they are holding on so tenaciously to the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, seeking to salvage some other outcome, no mater what the human cost.
These were the real objectives that drove the invasion of Afghanistan and of Iraq and that explain why the United States is continuing the two occupations, despite all the harm they have caused to the people of both countries, to the regions, to the U.S. population in terms of social and economic costs and the attacks on our civil liberties, particularly for Muslims, Arabs, and immigrant groups, and to the troops being asked to wage these unjust, illegal wars.
The truth is, the architects of both occupations have contempt for the people of Iraq and Afghanistan they claim to have liberated and they have contempt for the very troops they claim so loudly to support. The best way we can support the troops, in reality, is to bring them home — now, not in sixteen months or sixteen years — and to provide them the social, economic, medical, and psychological assistance that they need and deserve. Genuine support, not empty rhetoric and bumper sticker slogans. And best way we can support the people of Afghanistan and Iraq is to withdraw from their countries immediately and unconditionally and pay reparations for the enormous harm and destruction we have caused, opening the possibility for genuine humanitarian assistance, reconstruction, and self-determination in those countries.
We cannot count on our elected — or unelected — officials to realize their folly and end the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, or the imperial project of which they are key components. Only the pressure of a movement, a movement hat centrally involves soldiers, veterans, and their families, can achieve this.
The stakes could not be higher — for the people of Iraq, for the people of Afghanistan, for the people of the United States, for the troops, or for the people of the world.
Testimony by Anthony Arnove
As you read this, we’re four years from the moment the Bush administration launched its shock-and-awe assault on Iraq, beginning 48 months of remarkable, non-stop destruction of that country … and still counting. It’s an important moment for taking stock of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Here is a short rundown of some of what George Bush’s war and occupation has wrought:
Nowhere on Earth is there a worse refugee crisis than in Iraq today. According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, some two million Iraqis have fled their country and are now scattered from Jordan, Syria, Turkey, and Iran to London and Paris. (Almost none have made it to the United States, which has done nothing to address the refugee crisis it created.) Another 1.9 million are estimated to be internally displaced persons, driven from their homes and neighborhoods by the U.S. occupation and the vicious civil war it has sparked. Add those figures up – and they’re getting worse by the day – and you have close to 16% of the Iraqi population uprooted. Add the dead to the displaced, and that figure rises to nearly one in five Iraqis. Let that sink in for a moment.
Basic foods and necessities, which even Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime managed to provide, are now increasingly beyond the reach of ordinary Iraqis, thanks to soaring inflation unleashed by the occupation’s destruction of the already shaky Iraqi economy, cuts to state subsidies encouraged by the International Monetary Fund and the Coalition Provisional Authority, and the disruption of the oil industry. Prices of vegetables, eggs, tea, cooking and heating oil, gasoline, and electricity have skyrocketed. Unemployment is regularly estimated at somewhere between 50-70%. One measure of the impact of all this has been a significant rise in child malnutrition, registered by the United Nations and other organizations. Not surprisingly, access to safe water and regular electricity remain well below pre-invasion levels, which were already disastrous after more than a decade of comprehensive sanctions against, and periodic bombing of, a country staggered by a catastrophic war with Iran in the 1980s and the First Gulf War.
In an ongoing crisis, in which hundred of thousands of Iraqis have already died, the last few months have proved some of the bloodiest on record. In October alone, more than six thousand civilians were killed in Iraq, most in Baghdad, where thousands of additional U.S. troops had been sent in August (in the first official Bush administration "surge") with the claim that they would restore order and stability in the city. In the end, they only fueled more violence. These figures — and they are generally considered undercounts — are more than double the 2005 rate. Other things have more or less doubled in the last years, including, to name just two, the number of daily attacks on U.S. troops and the overall number of U.S. soldiers killed and wounded. United Nations special investigator Manfred Nowak also notes that torture "is totally out of hand" in Iraq. "The situation is so bad many people say it is worse than it has been in the times of Saddam Hussein."
Given the disaster that Iraq is today, you could keep listing terrible numbers until your mind was numb. But here’s another way of putting the last four years in context. In that same period, there have, in fact, been a large number of deaths in a distant land on the minds of many people in the United States: Darfur. Since 2003, according to UN estimates, some 200,000 have been killed in the Darfur region of Sudan in a brutal ethnic-cleansing campaign and another 2 million have been turned into refugees.
How would you know this? Well, if you lived in New York City, at least, you could hardly take a subway ride without seeing an ad that reads: "400,000 dead. Millions uniting to save Darfur." The New York Times has also regularly featured full-page ads describing the "genocide" in Darfur and calling for intervention there under "a chain of command allowing necessary and timely military action without approval from distant political or civilian personnel."
In those same years, according to the best estimate available, the British medical journal The Lancet’s door-to-door study of Iraqi deaths, approximately 655,000 Iraqis had died in war, occupation, and civil strife between March 2003 and June 2006. (The study offers a low-end possible figure on deaths of 392,000 and a high-end figure of 943,000.) But you could travel coast to coast without seeing the equivalents of the billboards, subway placards, full-page newspaper ads, or the like for the Iraqi dead. And you certainly won’t see, as in the case of Darfur, celebrities on Good Morning America talking about their commitment to stopping "genocide" in Iraq.
Why is it that we are counting and thinking about the Sudanese dead as part of a high-profile, celebrity-driven campaign to "Save Darfur," yet Iraqi deaths still go effectively uncounted, and rarely seem to provoke moral outrage, let alone public campaigns to end the killing? And why are the numbers of killed in Darfur cited without any question, while the numbers of Iraqi dead, unless pitifully low-ball figures, are instantly challenged — or dismissed?
In our world, it seems, there are the worthy victims and the unworthy ones. To get at the difference, consider the posture of the United States toward the Sudan and Iraq. According to the Bush administration, Sudan is a "rogue state"; it is on the State Department’s list of "state sponsors of terrorism." It stands accused of attacking the United States through its role in the suicide-boat bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. And then, of course — as Mahmood Mamdani pointed out in the London Review of Books recently — Darfur fits neatly into a narrative of "Muslim-on-Muslim violence," of a "genocide perpetrated by Arabs," a line of argument that appeals heavily to those who would like to change the subject from what the United States has done — and is doing — in Iraq. Talking about U.S. accountability for the deaths of the Iraqis we supposedly liberated is a far less comfortable matter.
It’s okay to discuss U.S. "complicity" in human rights abuses, but only as long as you remain focused on sins of omission, not commission. We are failing the people of Darfur by not militarily intervening. If only we had used our military more aggressively. When, however, we do intervene, and wreak havoc in the process, it’s another matter.
If anything, the focus on Darfur serves to legitimize the idea of U.S. intervention, of being more of an empire, not less of one, at the very moment when the carnage that such intervention causes is all too visible and is being widely repudiated around the globe. This has also contributed to a situation in which the violence for which the United States is the most responsible, Iraq, is that for which it is held the least accountable at home.
If anyone erred in Iraq, we now hear establishment critics of the invasion and occupation suggest, the real problem was administration incompetence or George Bush’s overly optimistic belief that he could bring democracy to Arab or Muslim people, who, we are told, "have no tradition of democracy," who are from a "sick" and "broken society" – and, in brutalizing one another in a civil war, are now showing their true nature.
There is a general agreement across much of the political spectrum that we can blame Iraqis for the problems they face. In a much-lauded speech to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, Sen. Barack Obama couched his criticism of Bush administration policy in a call for "no more coddling" of the Iraqi government: The United States, he insisted, "is not going to hold together this country indefinitely." Richard Perle, one of the neoconservative architects of the invasion of Iraq, now says he "underestimated the depravity" of the Iraqis. Sen. Hillary Clinton, Democratic frontrunner in the 2008 presidential election, recently asked, "How much are we willing to sacrifice [for the Iraqis]?" As if the Iraqis asked us to invade their country and make their world a living hell and are now letting us down.
This is what happens when the imperial burden gets too heavy. The natives come in for a lashing.
The disaster the United States has wrought in Iraq is worsening by the day and its effects will be long lasting. How long they last, and how far they spread beyond Iraq, will depend on how quickly our government can be forced to end its occupation. It will also depend on how all of us react the next time we hear that we must attack another country to make the world safe from weapons of mass destruction, "spread democracy," or undertake a "humanitarian intervention." In the meantime, it’s worth thinking about what all those horrific figures will look like next March, on the fifth anniversary of the invasion, and the March after, on the sixth, and the March after that…
Put it on a billboard — in your head, if nowhere else.
Copyright 2007 Anthony Arnove
Four Years Later… And Counting
On January 30th, 2007 Representatives Lynn Wooley and Maxine Waters invited authors to speak in the Longworth House Office Building to the Out of Iraq caucus about books on Iraq. Anthony Arnove, author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal spoke about the issue of withdrawal. His testimony is below.
Representatives Waters and Woolsey, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War in the gallery, colleagues: It is an honor to speak today about my book Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal.
The title of my book is borrowed from Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal, written in 1967 by the historian Howard Zinn.
In his book, Zinn argued the U.S. should pull out of Vietnam immediately and unconditionally. The consequences of not heading this call were enormous: tens of thousands of U.S. troops and millions in Indochina paid the price of the escalation and expansion of the war.
There are differences between Vietnam and Iraq. But there are all too many similarities. I fear we are in a moment analogous to the period after the Tet Offensive, when the U.S. faced defeat in Vietnam, but rather than retreat escalated the war and expanded it to Laos and Cambodia, using arguments much like the ones we now hear in this administration’s threats against Iran and Syria.
In my book, I make eight basic points that I will briefly summarize here.
- The U.S. has no business to be in Iraq today. The Bush administration launched the invasion of Iraq on false premises, claiming it was preempting the threat posed to the U.S. by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and its links to al-Qaeda. Today we know the full extent of manipulation of intelligence that was used to start a war that was not defensive but offensive in nature.
- The U.S. is not bringing democracy to Iraq. In fact, the U.S. occupation is denying the will of the Iraqi people. Iraqis have made it clear that no matter how much they are happy to see Saddam Hussein gone, they see U.S. troops as occupiers not liberators. Iraqis feel less safe as a result of our presence; believe we are the main source of instability; and say we are fueling sectarian conflict rather than diminishing it. The U.S. occupation — not al-Qaeda or Iran — is the reason for the insurgency.
- The U.S. is not making the world safer by staying. Instead, we have made the world more unstable and dangerous. We have established a principle that countries may wage preemptive war, and in the process have sparked an intensified global arms race, including a nuclear arms race.
- The U.S. is not preventing civil war. Iraq is already in a civil war, one exacerbated by our presence. This August, the Bush administration sent 14,000 additional troops into Baghdad. The result? A surge in violence and sectarianism. The additional 21,500 troops will only pour more fuel on the fire.
- The U.S. is not confronting terrorism by staying. The main enemy that the U.S. confronts in Iraq is not al-Qaeda or foreign-backed terrorist groups but the very people we claim to have liberated.
- The U.S. is not honoring those who died in Iraq by continuing the occupation. Now more than 3,000 U.S. troops have died. More than 22,000 have been wounded. The Iraqi death toll is far higher. Each additional death and injury only compounds the senseless tragedy we have seen so far.
- The U.S. is not rebuilding Iraq. Despite the billions of dollars Congress has allocated for reconstruction efforts, contractors such as Bechtel and KBR have failed to restore electricity or access to safe water to pre-invasion levels. Unemployment has skyrocketed. Inflation is spiraling, putting basic necessities out of reach of Iraqis. Hospitals are in shambles. Iraq today is the world’s worst refugee crisis.
- The U.S. is not fulfilling its obligation to the Iraqi people by staying. To those who argue we broke it, so we must fix it: rather than fixing Iraq, we are only breaking it further. There are many ways we can help Iraqis: withdraw; pay reparations — not only for the harm and suffering caused by our invasion and occupation, but for the years of sanctions, which hurt only the most vulnerable in Iraqi society, and all the years Washington armed and backed Saddam Hussein as he carried out his worst abuses; renounce our military bases; help the Iraqi refugees we have abandoned; and ensure the vast revenue from Iraq’s oil industry benefits Iraqis rather than ballooning the profits of Western oil giants.
The other night, on 60 Minutes, President Bush said “Everybody was wrong on weapons of mass destruction.” Yet millions of us who protested this war before it started were right, and were ignored. We did not have access to any special intelligence. We simply used our intelligence. And today we have the intelligence to know that each day we continue the occupation of Iraq, the situation gets worse. Every time we have been told “we are turning the corner,” the situation gets worse. And we have the intelligence to know that you cannot oppose the war, as some Democrats have proclaimed, and yet fund this war. To those who say we cannot withdraw “precipitously,” there is nothing precipitous about pulling out after four years of occupying another country against its will. And to those who say we are abandoning the troops, the best way to support the troops is to bring them home now.
Anthony Arnove’s Testimony To Out Now Caucus
Each day the occupation of Iraq goes on, the situation for most Iraqis gets worse. The trend is unmistakable, and has persisted through each of the many “turning points” announced by the Bush administration and its handpicked Iraqi clients, and then duly reported by a still overly deferential establishment media.
Consider the following:
- In August 2006, the New York Times reported that “the number of daily strikes against American and Iraqi security forces has doubled since January.” The Times quoted “a senior Defense Department official who agreed to discuss the issue only on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for attribution” as saying, “The insurgency has gotten worse by almost all measures, with insurgent attacks at historically high levels…. The insurgency has more public support and is demonstrably more capable in numbers of people active and in its ability to direct violence than at any point in time.”
- The number of bodies that were processed in the central Baghdad morgue in May 2006 was double that of May 2005. But the May toll was soon surpassed by new records in the summer and early fall of 2006.
- By September 2006, Iraq Body Count’s conservative estimates put the civilian Iraqi death toll at between 43,269 and 48,046. The real number, as research by the Lancet indicates, is likely far higher than that. The Lancet now estimates some 655,000 “excess deaths” of Iraqis since the U.S. invasion of March 2003.
- The number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq passed two thousand seven hundred in September 2006. While the average monthly death toll for U.S. soldiers briefly declined in the spring of 2006, largely because so many troops had effectively retreated to their increasingly fortified bases, since then “the number of Americans wounded has soared,” and October is now on course to be the third deadliest month on record for U.S. troops in Iraq.
- Prices of ordinary goods, including basic staples of the Iraqi diet, have spiraled higher, making life even more miserable for most Iraqis. “Fuel and electricity prices are up more than 270 percent from last year’s, according to Iraqi government figures,” the New York Times notes. “Tea in some markets has quadrupled, egg prices have doubled, and all over the country the daily routine now includes a new question: What can be done without?…. The inflation rate has reached 70 percent a year, up from 32 percent last year. Wages are flat, banks are barely functioning and the consensus among many American and Iraqi officials is that inflation is most likely to accelerate…. A gallon of gasoline cost as little as 4 cents in November . Now, after the International Monetary Fund pushed the Oil Ministry to cut its subsidies, the official price is about 67 cents. The spike has come as a shock to Iraqis, who make only about $150 a month on average–if they have jobs.”
- Population displacement has accelerated, with more than 800,000 Iraqis — including many doctors, teachers, and professionals — fleeing to Jordan, Syria, and other countries. As the Los Angeles Times observes, “The U.S. military says violence in Iraq is concentrated in Baghdad, but statistics show that it has roiled the whole country.”
- By summer 2006, many Iraqis reported being afraid to go to mosques because of fear of sectarian attacks. As Edward Wong reported in the New York Times, “Exploding sectarian violence has undermined the mosque’s traditional role as a gathering place, further unraveling the country’s communal fabric. Mosque attendance has plummeted, according to clerics and government officials, as tens of thousands of Iraqis … choose to pray at home out of safety concerns. Gatherings at Friday Prayer are sometimes one-tenth the size of what they once were, and parents no longer send their children to mosques for spiritual lessons.”
None of these examples, though, can convey just how intolerable Iraq has become under occupation or the extent to which life for most Iraqis has been disrupted.
Even President Bush now finds it hard to deny how bad things have become in Iraq, leading to some discussions about a “new strategy” for Iraq, including perhaps the partition of Iraq into three states or federated autonomous zones or the redeployment of troops in the Middle East. These discussions have been motivated by the growing recognition on the part of a number of military planners that Washington’s Plan B in Iraq is failing. Plan A had been the staggeringly arrogant idea that the United States would invade Iraq, quickly topple the dictatorship, install a stable client government, and then–having radically changed the balance of power in the Middle East–march on from Baghdad to confront the regimes of Iran and Syria. With that dream in tatters, the United States turned to Plan B: the manipulation of sectarian divisions in Iraq to form a Shia and Kurdish coalition government that would isolate the Sunnis (though the United States would seek to co-opt as much of their political leadership as possible) and impose order in the country. This government would serve the intended client role–if less effectively than Washington had hoped–allowing the U.S. to gain at least some foothold in Iraq and claim victory.
But Plan B has not worked as Washington intended. The new Iraqi government has proved incapable of imposing order in Iraq. In addition, Nuri al-Maliki and his Shia Dawa party have maintained close ties with Iran, the country seen as perhaps the greatest challenger to U.S. interests in the Middle East and western and central Asia. Having invaded Iraq intending to weaken Iran and Syria, to strengthen its position and that of Israel and its Arab allies in the region, the United States instead achieved the opposite.
Nonetheless, the United States has continued to pursue Plan B–while still looking for some way to achieve the maximal objectives that drove its 2003 invasion. The proposal to break up Iraq–a possible Plan C–is likely to gain more ground, though, as Plan B brings only diminishing returns. The United States could conclude that a divided Iraq is easier to control than a united Iraq aligned in a hostile Shia bloc with Iran. Or it may find other, more dangerous, ways of pursuing its original objectives, specifically by broadening the war in an effort to isolate Iran or topple its regime, thus breaking up the feared Shia alliance.
The new position in which Washington finds itself could encourage the U.S. government to pursue a number of dangerous strategies, including: escalation of troop levels in Iraq; intensified “pacification” campaigns in Baghdad and other major cities (the so-called “El Salvador option”); greater use of air power against Iraqis; and an expansion of the field of conflict to include other countries seen as abetting the resistance in Iraq, most importantly Syria and Iran (as we recently saw with the U.S.-sponsored Israeli assault on Lebanon).
But all of these strategies will never overcome the basic facts that Iraqis do not want to live under occupation, that the occupation is the source of the resistance Washington seeks to destroy, and that each day its actions only fuel more anger and resentment.
New polls from the State Department and the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes show decisively that a strong majority of Iraqis, whether they are Shia or Sunni want U.S. troops to leave Iraq immediately; feel less safe as a result of the occupation; think the occupation is spurring not suppressing sectarian strife; and support armed attacks on occupying troops and Iraqi security forces, who are seen not as independent but as collaborating with the occupation.
That is, if it were up to ordinary Iraqis, the occupation would end. The polls reveal what we knew all along, though: the occupation of Iraq is intended not to bring democracy to Iraq, but to deny it, as the U.S. pursues imperial aims that have nothing to do with any of the stated reasons — whether for going into Iraq in the first place (WMD, 9-11, al-Qaeda, preemption) or for staying (spreading democracy, combating terrorism, stopping civil war, rebuilding Iraq). Instead, the U.S. is staying on Iraq in pursuit of military bases, control of vital oil and natural gas resources, projection of power in the region and globally, and legitimizing U.S. imperial might. Bush officials speak openly about maintaining current troop levels in Iraq until 2010 or beyond.
The real question now is: how many more Iraqis will die, how many more wars will be launched, how many more U.S. soldiers will kill or be killed in this criminal war?
Anthony Arnove is the author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal (New Press), forthcoming this January in an updated paperback edition from the American Empire Project Series (Metropolitan Books).
This article was originally published on electroniciraq.net
From Bad to Worse
As the United States and its allies debate how to salvage the disastrous occupation of Iraq, many ideas have been put forward of how to move forward, from sending more troops, to partitioning the country, to redeploying all troops to Kurdistan or to neighboring countries.
But the one option no one is seriously considering is the one that makes the most sense: withdrawal and an end to the occupation.
The reality is, the longer the occupation continues, the worse things get for most Iraqis. Rather than being the solution to Iraqi troubles, the occupation is the problem. Indeed, The arguments for why the Unites States and its partners cannot leave Iraq are just as specious as the claims that were used to get us into Iraq in the first place.
The occupation is not preventing civil war from breaking out, but instead is fueling sectarian conflict and increasing the chance of the current low-level civil war breaking out into afar more bloody one.
And the coalition is not fighting terrorism in Iraq, but fueling reactionary and fundamentalist currents that will encourage terrorism, while also routinely using terrorist methods against Iraqi civilians, as we have seen not only in Haditha, Mahmoudiya, and Abu Ghraib but in the two sieges of Falluja.
Despite all the rhetoric about spreading democracy, the actual U.S. interests in Iraq are different. Washington is constructing the largest U.S. embassy in the world in Baghdad, is building bases it hopes will be permanent, and has already rewritten Iraq’s laws to favor long-term economic penetration of the country, which sits in a region with two-thirds of global oil reserves and high concentrations of natural gas reserves, as well.
So far, the U.S. goal of establishing a stable client regime in Iraq and using that as a base from which to project power in the region, and globally, has backfired badly. Tens of thousands of Iraqis and thousands of U.S. and British soldiers have lost their lives needlessly, and, today there is less electricity, less access to safe drinking war, less security than under sanctions and dictatorship.
But we should not count on the war’s managers to see the folly of their project on their own accord.
By 1968, especially after the Tet Offensive, it was clear to many that the United States had been defeated in Vietnam. Rather than retreat, the U.S. escalated its violence against the people of Vietnam, expanded the war to Laos and Cambodia, and continued to prosecute the war for years more, with disastrous consequences.
We now see a similar logic motivating the recent US support for Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, and the mounting threats against Iran and Syria. The US is pursuing a policy of regional destabilization, hoping to shirt the regional balance of power to one more favorable to its interests.
But today much more is at stake in Iraq than was at stake in Vietnam in 1968. War planners who hoped its invasion of Iraq would bury the so-called Vietnam syndrome once and for all now worry that a defeat in Iraq would create a far greater impediment to Washington’s ability to impose its will around the globe.
We are likely, therefore, to see more troops going to Iraq, despite the optimistic projections of troop reductions this year, more deadly counterinsurgency operations, and greater use of air power. These tactics will in turn only increase Iraqi suffering and anger.
Meanwhile, the invasion and occupation of Iraq have made the world a more dangerous and unstable place, not a safer one. The invasion and occupation of Iraq has fueled a global arms race, as countries seek to develop a deterrent to regime changes engineered in Washington, bringing us closer to the likelihood of nuclear war or accident.
It is now clear that immediate withdrawal is the only sensible solution.
The demand to end the occupation of Iraq needs to be coupled with a demand for reparations. The West’s debt stems not only from the destruction caused by the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation but the years of sanctions that harmed ordinary Iraqis not elites, and the years before that when Western governments supported Saddam Hussein as he carried out his worst human rights abuses.
The people of Iraq can do a far better job rebuilding their country than Kellogg Brown & Root and the other contractors profiting from the occupation.
To those who say withdrawal will lead to chaos and civil war, the question is: if this is not chaos and civil war, what is?
Anthony Arnove is the author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal, available January 2007 in paperback from Metropolitan Books.