Swans Commentary » swans.com July 30, 2007  



Iraq Now As I See It


by Michael Doliner





(Swans - July 30, 2007)   The war in Iraq is a war crime and should end tomorrow if not today, but Americans seem to think that we can end the war, bring the troops home, and go back to happy motoring. The Vietnam War depleted and demoralized the United States causing American power to decline. In large part because of that war's cost Nixon was forced to abandon the Bretton Woods monetary system. The money spent to run that war fueled the economic competitiveness of Japan and the rest of Asia. The United States had to abandon the institution of a citizen army because of our widespread disillusionment. Lies to justify that war exacerbated an already perverse American tendency to self-delusion. The end of the Iraq war will further weaken the United States. The longer it lasts, the more it costs, the more it distracts us from our other real problems, the more it forces us to take blather for serious talk, the truer this will be. To continue the war is only to postpone and inevitable awakening and exacerbate the dire consequences. When the United States ends its war in Iraq we can expect enormous changes for others and ourselves. Naturally no one can predict exactly what will happen, but we should realize just why all the politicians are reluctant to end the war, and what it means to want that end. As grim as the present situation appears it is a sweet sleep compared to the awakening that will follow. But that awakening is inevitable, and the sooner it happens the better for the United States and the rest of the world. Defeat would serve American interests far better than slogging on in pursuit of an illusory victory, but best would be to choose to end to the war. Below is my own assessment of what some of the geopolitical changes might be.

When The United States withdraws from Iraq the United States will have lost in Iraq. No amount of spin-doctoring and perception bending will be able to change this. IEDs, car bombs, and suicide bombers will have proved themselves effective as anti-imperialist weapons. At that point the United States will have no ability to influence events. Consequently, there would be no point in, and no possibility of, manning the permanent bases we have built there at great expense. Although we might (and I fear will) bomb Iraq mercilessly as a parting gift, the bases would simply be an enormous expense for no benefit to us. Although the United States will still have the power to pulverize any non-nuclear state from the air, it can gain nothing from doing so. Bombing does not force states to capitulate, especially when what we demand is their abject slavery. It is even less effective against a loosely structured rebellion. The presence of troops in bases would have no influence on events outside the bases. The troops will have to simply hunker down, for any foray from the bases will make them targets, just as they are now. The loss of the war proves that American troops on the ground, no matter how barbaric, cannot control Iraq.

Those who will be in power in Iraq will be those who fought against the United States and defeated it. They may fight among themselves, but they will kill collaborators or drive them into exile. If the United States, unable to face the truth, should try to continue to control their bases in Iraq, the Iraqi victors could cut off supplies to these bases, for the supply lines to Kuwait are long. The barbarism of the American occupation will have made it impossible for any future ruler of Iraq to compromise with any rump force left in the country. Nor will they have any reason to do so. The utter failure of Iraq reconstruction has seen to that. The United States will have nothing to offer the future Iraq that they can't better get from, for example, China. Venezuela, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and even Canada are turning to China and away from the United States for oil deals. Not only is China more likely to meet their obligations, but since China will not require oil producers to use oil revenue to purchase war toys, their deal will be better. The American withdrawal will have to be complete and include withdrawal even from the enormous new American Embassy in Baghdad.

If the American empire is to continue it will have to maintain control of the other oil riches of the Middle East. These are the crown jewels of the empire, and with peak oil here or coming soon, control of that oil will be essential to world domination. But the United States will have a hard time maintaining control of the rest of the Middle East when it withdraws from Iraq. Iraqi bases were meant to substitute for bases in Saudi Arabia when the Saudis objected to bases so close to their holy sites. So where will the United States put the bases now?

The United States will still have air bases in Qatar, Bahrain and further afield with which to threaten the rulers of other states and to compel their obedience. But the Iraq War will have compromised the American ability to threaten the Gulf States. Prior to the Iraq War the United States threatened Saddam Hussein with annihilation if he didn't meet American demands. But when he capitulated they annihilated him anyway. The phony American diplomacy taught everyone that there is no safety in capitulation. Irrational American foreign policy and frequent American double crosses make it almost impossible for the United States to even articulate its interests in the Middle East. What are we trying to do, really? Why did the United States turn against its ally, Saddam Hussein, who was a relatively obedient American vassal? Did the United States want to dismember Iraq or didn't it? Are we allied with the Shia or the Sunni? Did the United States ever try to broker peace between Israel and the Palestinians? Why, after the Cold War, when Russia embraced American ways and American friendship, did the United States destabilized their 'near abroad' and began ringing them with military bases? American foreign policy, vaguely directed towards the obedience of our vassals, is completely incoherent. Of course it is vaguely directed at world domination, but what it demands of the leaders of other countries is opaque. Saddam's famous meeting with April Glaspie, the US ambassador to Iraq, in which she seemed to sanction his invasion of Kuwait, illustrates the point.

The actual history tells us that the American goal is to pulverize all the Arab states and Iran regardless of what the regimes do. So capitulation will gain them nothing. Instead American threats are likely to force Middle Eastern rulers into the arms of our enemies. The Russians and the Chinese have powerful antiaircraft weapons that seem to be capable of shooting down American aircraft. They also have the deadly "Sunburst" anti-ship missile. The war in Iraq was directed ultimately against China and its energy needs. New American threats against Russia have made them more likely to offer their best war toys to Iran, for example. Iran has chosen to strengthen its defenses rather than pointlessly capitulate to irrational, vague, and phony American demands. The United States still may bomb them, but if so it was inevitable and they could not have avoided it by capitulating. In short the loss of the Iraq War has destroyed the effectiveness of the American threat, and therefore hastened the destruction of the American Empire. North Korea, and now Iran, have shown the way. Better not to bend in spite of the enormous destructive power the United States retains.

Until now the United States has been running what amounts to a protection racket in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. In return for American protection, those two states have bought enormous amounts of American military hardware, recycling oil revenue to war contractors. In this way our leaders have emptied the pockets of ordinary American citizens and deposited the take into the bank accounts of their friends. The money ordinary people use to buy gasoline and heating fuel ends up going to Lockheed, Raytheon, and other war-toy makers in what has been called parasitic imperialism. American elites use war to extract wealth from the ultimate natives, ordinary American citizens. American protection and well-armed police along with a relatively high standard of living for ordinary people in these Gulf States have permitted their small elites to maintain control. An American withdrawal from Iraq in defeat will make the rule of these elites more precarious. And it will confirm that American technology cannot defeat the fourth generation war techniques of the Iraqi resistance.

Kuwait collaborated with the United States in both the present war and the Gulf War. As an ally of the United States in its conflict with Iraq it is at war with Iraq. Elements in Iraq might want to expand the resistance into Kuwait, especially if the United States retains a force in Kuwait, as it most likely will be inclined to do. A large part of Kuwait's population is foreign, but between 30 and 35 percent of the indigenous Arab population is Shiite. They are a repressed minority, but with the new Shiite power in Iraq they are likely to demand more influence. This might not be possible to give to them without destabilizing the rule of the Emir. Since the protection the United States provided Kuwait was primarily against Iraq, it is hard to see how Kuwait can maintain its relationship with the United States without the war spilling over into Kuwait. Of course the Shiites in Iraq are not a unified block but rather a sometime coalition of an array of interlocking factions and tribes that frequently fight with each other, as they now do in Basra. Nevertheless, the strength of the Shia in Iraq will inevitably strengthen the Shia in Kuwait.

Saudi Arabia has an exploding population, a burdensome royal family, and a declining standard of living. Increases in the price of oil have mitigated this problem temporarily, but the ever heavier burden of the royal family and the rapid growth of the population of ordinary people have destabilized Saudi Arabia. Per capita income has declined precipitously. Attacks and thwarted attacks have become much more common. Most of the foreign fighters in Iraq are Saudis, as were most of the 9/11 hijackers. Saudi Arabia too has a large repressed Shiite minority who will almost certainly demand more opportunities in the future. Since Saudi Arabia also aided the United States in the wars, Iraq might provide a safe haven for a Saudi Arabian resistance. In any case Saudi collaboration has inflamed Islamists against the royal family and those interested in destabilizing Saudi Arabia will likely find allies in the new anti-American Iraq. Any American attempt to interfere in Saudi Arabia will only make the situation worse. Although the Saudi royal family has old deep ties with the United States, the war in Iraq was so obviously anti-Arab that these ties can only be a liability.

With the inevitable decline of American power in the Gulf, Iran and its Shiite ayatollahs will come to dominate the area. This will only further press Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to accommodate their Shiite populations. Given the declining oil production in both countries this is bound to produce further strains, for what is given to the Shia will be taken from the Sunni. Whatever happens, if civil strife does develop in Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, American war machines, as has been demonstrated in Iraq, will not quell it. On the contrary, the use of air power seems only to fan the flames. With Iraq as a safe haven these rebels are likely to be much more effective. Freed from the American protection racket, the Gulf States will be pressed to use oil revenues to improve conditions rather than buy war toys. It will be in their interest to do so. That would cost American war contractors and American consumers. For as conditions improve oil use increases and oil exports decline.

Turkey, Israel, and the United States have had a three-way alliance that seemed to benefit all three, but the Iraq War may have broken it. Turkey refused to allow its air bases to be used in the original attack on Iraq. Now it is threatening to invade northern Iraq, home of the Kurds, America's most reliable Iraqi allies. The Kurdish Democratic Party controls the Kurdish part of Iraq. The PKK, a Kurdish revolutionary band the Kurdish Democratic Party supports, has engaged in longstanding resistance to Turkish rule and has launched numerous attacks in Turkey. Recent incidents have inflamed the situation. Turkey is now massing troops in the northern Iraqi border to clean out the PKK. Only American displeasure holds them back, but this restraint cannot last forever. For forces within Turkey are demanding retaliation for PKK attacks in Turkey. As of now Turkey has restrained its forces, but the mere fact that they are threatening to invade Iraq reveals American weakness there. If the United States withdraws, Turkey will almost certainly invade, and perhaps drive to control the rich oil fields around Kirkuk and protect the Turkmen its population. Turkey probably does not have the ability to control what was northern Iraq, but who does? Iran, who also has a Kurd problem, might also invade after an American withdrawal.

Remaining in Iraq might postpone some of these consequences. What the United States can do there is prevent, for the time being, the emergence of a viable Iraqi government. That government, when it does emerge, will challenge the regimes in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia and push them away from the United States. But even if the United States does stay, this respite will be brief. Turkey has agreed to postpone its incursion into Iraq until after its elections on July 22, but it cannot wait much longer. . A referendum in Iraq later this year will likely give Kirkuk and its oil to the Kurds. When that happens the Kurds will grow stronger, and soon will likely have their own state. If Turkey is ever to respond it must be soon. With the PKK killing Turkish soldiers Turkey's internal politics will force a response. Once that happens the Kurdish Peshmergas, the only Iraqi troops the Americans can rely on, will turn their attention to protecting their own population. Then the United States will be alone in Iraq. Given the long supply lines it will be in danger of actually losing the army. All in all the United States has nothing with which to counter the powerful anti-American pressure that will soon assail the other Gulf States from all sides.

These are only some of the most immediate and local geopolitical effects of the Iraq War. Taken together they show that the United States has lost control of the Middle East, the crown jewels of the Empire. The entire area is likely to come into increasing turmoil as new groups vie for power. The longer the United States remains, the more Iraq will become a power vacuum. With its prize of oil it is likely that several of its neighbors will fight over its corpse. Only after the United States leaves will some new order emerge, but that new order will not incline towards the United States let alone allow the United States to dominate it. The trajectory in all of the other oil-producing states of the Arabian Gulf is away from the United States.

Other consequences include, but are not limited to, the end of dollar hegemony and the strengthening of both Russia and China. All together these consequences spell the end of the American Empire. Empires usually fade away, but given the alarming collection of problems facing the United States, this is not likely to happen here. With the end of the Iraq War the American military threat will be reduced (!) to the power of launching Armageddon. But the United States will be unable to translate that threat into any political advantage. Because of the Iraq War everyone must now conclude that capitulation to American threats will not prevent the United States from carrying them out. Thus the American Empire of bases, though still capable of destroying the world, has no political purpose.

This leaves the American economy, the other leg of the American colossus. But everyone knows that economy is hollow, having been drained to feed the war machine and to expropriate the working class. Except for the production of war toys the United States makes nothing. What will happen in the United States if the dollar collapses, oil reaches $100 a barrel, and a flood of foreclosures leaves a large portion of the population homeless? None of these are unlikely events. In July, without a hurricane in sight, oil topped $75 and the Euro reached an all time high, above 1.38 against the dollar. With the end of the real estate bubble and the resetting of adjustable rate mortgages taken during the 2005 boom and earlier, foreclosures are streaming in. Already the long American sleep in which free market ideology veiled the realities of a brutal class war seems to be ending. Americans want single payer health insurance. Americans generally acknowledge the rapaciousness of corporations. Americans despise the ruling class. Americans want to impeach the president. Americans are deeply dissatisfied with all of Washington and view politicians as perverse buffoons.

There is a less tangible consequence. With the end of the American Empire, Americans might have to face who we really are and what we have really done. Germany and Japan had to do so at the end of World War II, and it changed them both profoundly. The United States is not going to lose a war at home, but if it loses its isolation it might gain a devastating self-awareness. It is hard to imagine how Americans will handle it.

The politicians, Rubs and Dubs alike, fear the loss of their power, and even more, the trembling of the entire power structure that so recently seemed so secure. If the empire goes, wither the Republic? They fear the consequences of a sudden rapid impoverishment of a large portion of the American population. And they are all preparing themselves to retreat to bolt holes considerably better furnished than Saddam's. If it all comes down they hope to hide out with their ill-gotten gains and emerge when the storm blows over. Their corruption and that of our corporate leaders is no longer news.

But what will happen after the collapse is uncertain and frightening. As long as the United States remains in Iraq they can coast, bask in the limelight, and postpone these consequences at the cost of making them far worse. They are going to live it up until the end. The Iraq War, a war that rivals in barbarism, if not yet in body count, any war of the Twentieth Century, is now a soporific allowing Americans to continue their sleep for a little longer. Vietnam's last man to die for a mistake will be joined by Iraq's last man to die for a cynical self-deception. America's politicians have spent their lives supporting and protecting the empire, and they simply can't accept that it and their power are lost.

The war is lost and the consequences are inevitable, but extending the war postpones the awakening and makes those consequences worse. This sleep will have to end if the United States is to have any chance to mitigate the looming geological, ecological, and economic calamities. The sooner the Iraq War, the American Empire, and the American Dream end, the better for the United States of America.

If that end comes soon something might still be salvaged. The United States could turn its attention to its very real problems. Unfortunately, the ruling class has chosen instead to build a gulag to contain the American population when we can no longer sleep. Clearly they now have no interest in the good of the United States of America as it is described in the Declaration of Independence. Because North America escaped the catastrophes of the twentieth century, Americans think they are immune from really bad happenings. Americans believe they will always dodge the bullet. They think 9/11 was bad. Americans have never seen anything like the destruction of the world wars. This makes it very difficult for them to take any bad news seriously. And they have embraced greedy selfishness as a religion, thus making the suffering of others invisible. The greatest danger is that draft evaders in their bunkers who never faced combat will launch Armageddon in the form of an air assault on Iran.


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Internal Resources

The Rape of Iraq

America 'the Beautiful'

Patterns which Connect


About the Author

Michael Doliner has taught at Valparaiso University and Ithaca College. He lives with his family in Ithaca, N.Y.



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Published July 30, 2007