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GLW: US elite fears Bush is losing Iraq war

Iraq: US elite fears Bush is losing Iraq war

By Rohan Pearce


“The more successful we are on the ground, the more these killers will react”, US President George Bush commented after the coordinated detonation of car bombs at four different targets in Baghdad on October 27. “The more progress we make on the ground, the more free the Iraqis become, the more electricity is available, the more jobs are available, the more kids that are going to school, the more desperate these killers become, because they can't stand the thought of a free society.”

Bush's disingenuous argument — that the attacks somehow signalled the death throes of the Iraqi resistance movement — will hold little weight with either the US public, increasingly wary of being drawn into another Vietnam-type war in Iraq, or Iraqis increasingly hostile to Washington's occupation of their country.

A day before the series of bomb blasts in Baghdad, one US military officer was killed and some 15 people were wounded after missiles were launched at the Rashid Hotel in Baghdad, the most heavily guarded building in the city. The missiles struck just below the floor housing Bush's deputy secretary of defence (and vehement advocate of invading Iraq), Paul Wolfowitz, during his stay in the Iraqi capital.

The missile attack on the Rashid Hotel and the October 27 bombings made a clear statement: Iraq has not been pacified and, no matter how militarily superior the US military is, it is incapable of protecting anyone in Baghdad.

The irony of Wolfowitz's brush with death is that the intention of his visit was to reassure the US public that the situation faced by US troops in Iraq was improving. In the days leading up to the hotel attack, Wolfowitz had told journalists that the occupation forces were “taking the fight to the enemy”.

The October 27 bombings, targeting Iraqi police stations and the Baghdad headquarters of the Red Cross, were probably the most coordinated attacks to occur within the Iraqi capital, exploding within 45 minutes of each other, and caused a higher number of causalities than any previous bombings.

During an interview on NBC's October 26 Meet the Press program, US Secretary of State Colin Powell admitted that the White House “did not expect it [the Iraqi resistance] would be quite this intense this long”.

Iraqi hostility to occupation

Despite Powell's concession to reality, he didn't dare abandon the fiction that armed resistance to the occupation is confined to “die-hard” loyalists of deposed Iraqi president Saddam Hussein and “foreign terrorists”. However, a poll conducted by Baghdad's Iraq Centre for Research and Strategic Studies (ICRS) found that 50% of Iraqis who participated in the seven-city survey opposed the presence of US troops and their allies in the country, while just 33% supported them.

While opposition to the US-led occupation does not automatically translate into support for the Iraqi armed resistance, it indicates that sympathy with the anti-occupation forces, albeit for the most part currently passive, is widespread among the Iraqi population.

Moreover, dissatisfaction with the occupation is not limited to the White House's so-called Sunni Triangle (typically considered to take in the area enclosed north and west of Baghdad by Tikrit and Ramadi respectively). For example, the ICRS survey found that the perception of the US and British forces as “occupiers” (as opposed to “liberators”) had risen in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, which is inhabited largely by Shiites. Six months ago, an ICRS survey had found that 52.3% of the Basra residents viewed the invading forces as “occupiers”. This has now risen to 75.7%.

During the same time frame, the proportion of people in Basra who regarded the coalition troops as “liberators” fell from 40% to 7.7%. As an October 27 Inter-Press Service analysis by Jim Lobe noted, statistics such as these “are contributing to the notion that Washington now faces a real insurgency — even one that has no explicit political ideology other than being anti-occupation — as opposed to a terrorism campaign carried out by a small and ever-diminishing group of die-hards and foreign Islamists”.

The ICRS poll, indicating decreasing tolerance for the presence of US forces even among those glad that Hussein's regime has gone, seems to be confirmed by the October 28 the Washington Post, which reported that an unnamed senior US intelligence official believes the US has a window of three to six months to crush the armed resistance before the Iraqi insurgency turns into a mass uprising against the US occupation. The Post reported that if anti-occupation forces in Iraq succeed in creating a national, coordinated campaign, “They would send a signal to the populace that they are an alternative to the occupation”.

In the aftermath of the Baghdad bombings, US efforts to present the resistance as “terrorists” without any base of support in the Iraqi population reached a new level of farce. On October 27, General Mark Hertling, the deputy commander of the First Armored Division, stated that the bombings were carried out by “foreign” fighters. Yet, the day before, General Martin Dempsey, Hertling's superior, had stated that he had “not seen any indication of foreign fighters” in Baghdad. Hertling claims that Dempsey meant “we had not seen an attack we could directly attribute to foreign fighters”, but “we have seen those today”.

`The war is lost'

As early as the beginning of September, Boston Globe columnist James Carroll was prepared to declare that, “The war is lost”. While the number of casualties that the US has taken is militarily insignificant, on a political level, Washington is already losing the war in Iraq. The White House is failing to convince the US public that an extended occupation is worth it, Washington's occupation forces have failed to crush the Iraqi resistance and the US has so far failed to create a credible Iraqi regime that will allow Washington to rule the country by proxy.

Even among the sections of the US elite that have been staunchly supportive of the White House's hawkish post-9/11 policies, doubts about the White House's ability to nut out a successful occupation strategy are being raised.

On September 5, the Project for a New American Century think-tank published an open memorandum from Gary Schmitt, the executive director of PNAC, to “opinion leaders”. It argued that while US war secretary Donald Rumsfeld “says that, on the security front in Iraq, `it seems to me that the trajectory we're on is a good one'” and argues that there is no need for increased US troop deployments in Iraq, “it is hard to find anyone else who agrees with that assessment”. Additionally, the memo argued, there is “no way to train a large, effective and loyal Iraqi force in the time frame required” to defeat the anti-occupation resistance.

Schmitt argued: “At the moment, there are only three alternatives: one, we don't add troops and risk not being able both to provide security in Iraq and conduct the kind of counterinsurgency operations required to root out our adversaries; two, we add even more foreign troops only after giving over Iraq's management to the UN, thereby inviting the dysfunction of the UN to the process of rebuilding Iraq; or three, we augment the size of US forces there, increasing even more the overall burden on the American military. Unattractive as this last alternative might be, it is the only dependable way to secure the president's vision for Iraq.”

Schmitt's arguments are echoed by other “neoconservative” leading lights. In the September 1 edition of the influential, neoconservative Weekly Standard, William Kristol, the paper's editor and co-founder of the PNAC, and Robert Kagan, also a co-founder of PNAC stated: “It is painfully obvious that there are too few American troops operating in Iraq.”

US global goals at stake

In an article which called for the White House to “Do what it takes in Iraq”, Kristol and Kagan warned that failure in Iraq would deal a devastating blow to the PNAC-Bush gang's goal of securing a century of global political and economic domination for the US capitalist rulers: “Make no mistake: The president's vision will, in the coming months, either be launched successfully in Iraq, or it will die in Iraq... there is more at stake in Iraq than even this vision of a better, safer Middle East. The future course of American foreign policy, American world leadership, and American security is at stake. Failure in Iraq would be a devastating blow to everything the United States hopes to accomplish ... in the decades ahead.”

Kristol and Kagan argued that Washington was unlikely to get more foreign troops to reinforce the US occupation, and that there was no hope of creating an pro-occupation Iraqi military force in the short term.

Despite the role that the PNAC and other haunts of the neoconservatives have had in crafting Bush administration policy, they have not been forced to deal with the political realities faced by the White House — on the one hand, the occupation's failure to win Iraqis' “hearts and minds” and, on the other, a military which is rapidly losing its morale as US casualties steadily mount and a domestic population that is increasingly questioning Bush's policy in Iraq.

The October 26 Washington Post published an op-ed by Schmitt and Tom Donnelly, a resident fellow of the American Enterprise Institute (another neoconservative think-tank), in which they pointed to the Achilles' heel of the US occupation — its inability to sustain political support in either the US or Iraq.

“As currently employed in Iraq”, Schmitt and Donnelly wrote, “the American military can prevent the insurgents from winning. But the insurgents do not have to win; they simply have to avoid losing. Their goal is not to change the facts on the ground as much as to change American perceptions of the viability of the president's vision for Iraq. That country's rejectionists are aiming at what they perceive to be the greatest US weakness: sensitivity to public opinion.”

From Green Left Weekly, November 5, 2003.
Visit the - Green Left Weekly home page.

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