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Brian Drolet

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General Comments on the ISG Report, entire page
January 9, 2007, 5:11 pm

Howard Zinn swiftly punctures the “precipitous withdrawal” bogyman that the Bush Administration, the Neocons, the ISG, the liberal Democrats and, in this space, Joost Hiltermann uses it to cloud the real terms of the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq. (Precipitous = premature = foolish, therefore not up for discussion.). Zinn also makes the relevant point that liberal “opponents” of the Vietnam war like Senators Fullbright and Church used the same language to block discussion of putting an end to that invasion and occupation. (Should we expect different from Congress people today?) If the real goals and terms of the U.S. war on Iraq were bluntly and honestly discussed, there would be little surprise that none of the establishment critics of the war, much less its architects, are actually opting to end it short of some reasonable definition of “success.”

David Fromkin employs the same terms of argument in his comment that the ISG is correct when it predicts a catastrophic result from “precipitous withdrawal,” but argues that “an even more catastrophic results will ensue when we withdraw later.”

But what is this catastrophe? Those of us demanding an immediate U.S. withdrawal are not talking about the same catastrophe as the war’s planners, backers and liberal critics.

When anti-war forces speak of catastrophe, they overwhelmingly mean for Iraq and its people: an intensification of the bloody horrors of death and destruction that America has brought to Iraq through both its direct carnage and the sectarian bloodletting that the invasion and occupation have unleashed (and promotes). Immediate withdrawal will remove American guns and bombs from the killing fields. There is no guarantee that the vengeful violence of the sectarian forces operating under the control of reactionary fundamentalist religious ideology will then quickly dissipate. But there is certainty that the continued U.S. presence will ensure continued death and destruction, Colin Powell’s false aphorism, “You broke it, you own it,” notwithstanding.

When Bush & Company and the authors of the ISG report talk about the necessity of success and the “catastrophe” that failure will bring for generations to come, they are not talking about Iraq or the suffering of its people. They are talking about the global political and economic dominance of the U.S. and the potential fatal weakening of the American Empire a “precipitous withdrawal” might precipitate. This is why, despite strategic and tactical differences, Bush, the ISG Report, the new Democratic Congress, and virtually the entire corporate media still predicate “success” as essential. When establishment critics, like Rep. John Murtha, speak of disengagement, they don’t mean “accept defeat.” They mean reposition for some definable version of victory.

The catastrophe Bush and the ISG see as the alternative to success is real. So they wont pull out unless forced by a combination of Iraqi resistance and dramatic domestic opposition.

Success? Their vision of success is not secret knowledge. It’s about achieving and maintaining unchallengeable U.S. global political and economic domination. Rhetorical as that statement might ring in some ears, it’s hardly contestable. The key to success is control of the petroleum resources of the Middle East, which the State Department in 1948 called the “greatest strategic prize in history.” Modern industrial societies float on oil. The country that controls the petroleum resources of the region has gigantic advantages in global rivalries. No surprise that the ISG Report makes Approval of the Petroleum Law a key milestone.

The Bush administration may have had a muddle headed and arrogant plan for grabbing this historic prize when it came to office, but it won near unanimous consensus among the power elites. Now the consensus on method has unraveled, and numerous plans are proffered to suck the U.S. out of the quagmire, but only to put it on sure footing to bring the mission to a successful end. That success could have a variety of incarnations. All entail some kind of stable client government that can guarantee U.S. control of Iraq’s oil resources and prevent potential global rivals from moving in. Optimally it might even mean coercing and cajoling Iran and Syria to join the team and play the game. It certainly means completing the necessary restructuring of the region’s governments and eliminating threats to American hegemony.

Of course it also means democracy for the countries of the Middle East and Central Asia. And that’s not the cruel hypocrisy progressives like to sneer at. The architects of the war mean democracy in its basic historic context: the freedom of capital to move where it needs, when it needs and how it needs.

Catastrophe? Imagine if petroleum were priced in euros instead of dollars. Imagine if some not too distant future coalition of China and Russia or China and the EU etc. were able to exercise suzerainty over the region at U.S. expense. This is not to argue that there might not be other, perhaps more collaborative methods of insuring “America’s strategic interests” in the Middle East. But to lose when its played its strongest hand, its unequalled military power, in order to secure economic and political control of the region and hence the world would be devastating.

The ISG Report is a major effort to constrain the terms of debate, to make illegitimate any positions that accept defeat or welcome the catastrophe they are struggling mightily to prevent.

Is there a middle way? Is there path that preserves and enhances the American Empire but does not bring more destruction and domination to Iraq or Iran or Somalia or the long list of states potentially in the gunsights of an endless U.S. “war on terror?” Not really. And the unraveling of yet another empire is not a bad thing.

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3. Dealing with Iran and Syria, paragraph 6
January 9, 2007, 11:40 am

Both the ISG assertion and this comment can be read as a direct threat to Iran that if they don’t play ball with the U.S. they could face intensified efforts to disrupt their own society and stir up ethnic and religious conflict. That may prove to be an unachievable U.S. gambit. But I doubt the ISG is just appealing to the Iranian leaders fear of chaos in Iraq.