New Internationalist

Basic instincts

Issue 407

The US Democrats are now talking about ‘troops home’ and ‘ending the war’. Can they be believed? Anthony Arnove explains why their words should be taken with a large dose of salt.

We are now four and a half years into the US (and British) occupation of Iraq. Rather than liberating Iraq, the United States has decimated it, with consequences that call into question its future existence as a country.

In US newspapers, we have been reading about troop withdrawals and Democratic proposals to end the war. This is complete spin. If we had honest reporting, the front-page headlines would read:

LARGEST NUMBER OF US ACTIVE DUTY TROOPS AT ANY POINT SINCE US INVASION – 169,000 – IN IRAQ.

Underneath, it would explain: ‘The US is building the world’s largest embassy in Baghdad and long-term military bases with plans for prolonged occupation. Active duty troops will be outnumbered by contractors, leading to an effective doubling of the occupation.’

Only now that the occupation is widely recognized as a complete disaster do you have Democrats voicing criticism. But the debate today in Washington is over tactics. The Democrats have as much at stake as the Republicans in controlling the Middle East’s energy resources. They simply think they can do it more effectively than Bush.

Indeed, the one debate over principles that is taking place is a racist one: many leading Democrats now say that Bush’s folly was in thinking he could ‘bring democracy’ to Arab or Muslim people. In a much-lauded speech, Barack Obama couched his criticism of the Bush Administration’s policy by saying the US ‘is not going to hold together this country indefinitely’. Hillary Clinton asks: ‘How much are we willing to sacrifice’ for the Iraqi people? As if the Iraqis asked us to invade their country and are letting us down.

JEZ COULSON / INSIGHT / panos
Cindy Sheehan, whose soldier son Casey was killed in Iraq, joins 100,000 Americans calling for withdrawal. JEZ COULSON / INSIGHT / panos

It’s also worth looking at the Democrats’ actual withdrawal proposals. With the exception only of Dennis Kucinich, who has been marginalized by his party, the plans call for keeping troops in Iraq for ‘targeted counterterrorism activities’, ‘training of Iraqi security forces’, and ‘the protection of US infrastructure and personnel’. None of the leading candidates has talked about removing bases (not just making the verbal sleight of hand of saying they are not ‘permanent’) and private contractors.

The Democrats are hostage to the same interests as the Republicans: Iraq has the world’s second or third largest proven oil reserves and may turn out to have more oil than Saudi Arabia and Iran. It is at the centre of a region with two thirds of world oil reserves and most of the world’s natural gas. The US, having lost its bases in Saudi Arabia, wants to establish a base in Iraq to project its power against other regional enemies, especially Iraq’s neighbour Iran. And US planners badly want to establish a client regime in Iraq aligned with US interests that can ensure the safe flow of oil – the original reason for the invasion.

There will be growing pressure as the 2008 presidential election cycle continues for the anti-war movement to shut up and support whoever is the Democratic frontrunner. But if we follow this advice, we will become irrelevant. Those of us who want to see an end to the occupation must maintain our political independence and mobilize for our own independent demands: immediate and unconditional withdrawal, reparations for the Iraqi people, and genuine support for troops – not just slogans – when they come home. The stakes couldn’t be higher.

Anthony Arnove is the author of Iraq: The Logic of Withdrawal (New Press, 2006).

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