by Anthony Arnove
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.