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Unpopular War: Americans Turn Against Bush

UNITED STATES: Washington’s unpopular war: Americans turn against Bush

By Doug Lorimer
From The Green Left Weekly

For the first time since the US began its war to conquer Iraq and turn its oil resources over to US corporations, a majority of US voters disapprove of the way US President George Bush is handling the situation in Iraq according to the latest USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll.

The poll was taken over the three days after November 2, when 16 US soldiers were killed as their Chinook helicopter was shot down. Fifty-seven per cent of those surveyed disapproved of Bush's Iraq policy, while 44% approved.

Sixty per cent of the poll's respondents believed things are going poorly for the United States in Iraq, double the number that felt that way in June. Forty-nine per cent of respondents said the US should maintain or increase its troops there, while 48% said the US should reduce the troops or withdraw completely.

The USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll's results were similar to those in a Newsweek poll released on November 8, in which 50% of registered voters who were queried said they do not want to see Bush re-elected next November, while 44% said they do.

While Bush's overall approval rating in the Newsweek survey was 52% — the same as it has been in previous polls by the magazine during the past two months, 51% disapproved of his handing of the situation in Iraq, the highest proportion Newsweek's polls have shown since the US invaded in March.

Rising casualties from escalating Iraqi guerrilla attacks has exacerbated a decline in US public support for the occupation. This has led to a split in the political elite, with senior Democratic Party leaders, including presidential candidates, calling on the Bush administration to get more occupation troops from other countries by ceding control of the civilian administration to the UN Security Council and the control of the military occupation to NATO.

Speaking on the American Broadcasting Corporation's November 9 This Week program, Senator Joseph Biden, the senior Democrat on the US Senate foreign relations committee, said NATO should be given control of “military security” in Iraq and “civilian reconstruction” should be put under a UN high commissioner, as in Bosnia and Kosova, in order to induce France and Germany to contribute troops to the Iraq occupation.

“What would compel them is their naked self-interest, because what's dawning on the capitals in Berlin and Paris is that if, in fact, the peace is lost in Iraq, they're in real trouble”, Biden later said on CNN. “They're worried about everything from oil to immigration more than we are... The bottom line is, we need more forces in there, and they're either going to be more American forces, or they're going to be more international forces.”

Senator Carl Levin, the senior Democrat on the Senate armed services committee, joined Biden in calling on the Bush administration to convene an international conference on Iraq to cede control of the occupation to the UN and NATO.

The November 8 Washington Post reported that the Bush administration is considering a proposal previously made by French officials for an international conference to formally transfer “sovereignty” in Iraq from the Coalition Provisional Authority to an Iraqi “provisional government”. Commenting on this, Levin said on Fox TV's News Sunday program: “We've been going it alone much too much in this whole war... We're going to have to give up some of the control that we have in Iraq, and that's what's being considered right now — finally.”

Senator John Edwards and Representative Dick Gephardt — both candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination — echoed Biden and Levin. “The problem is the president... he's completely unwilling to relinquish control. That's the critical thing that's missing from this process”, Edwards said on NBC's Meet the Press program.

“I would turn over the Iraqi civilian authority to the United Nations tomorrow... The second thing I would do is I would make this a NATO security force instead of just an American security force”, Edwards added. Gephardt agreed almost word for word on CNN.

The Democrats' calls are a response to the failure of the Bush administration to “internationalise” the imperialist occupation of Iraq. After several months of haggling, on October 16, Washington finally secured unanimous backing in the UN Security Council for a resolution mandating the creation of a “multinational” occupation force under US command.

US officials had hoped that this would result in countries such as Turkey, India and Pakistan contributing up to 30,000 troops to the occupation.

France and Germany, however, immediately made it clear that unless Washington relinquished control of the administration of Iraq — thus giving French and German corporations a share of the planned corporate carve-up of Iraq's state-owned industries, above all, its oil industry — neither Paris nor Berlin would send troops.

Within days of the adoption of the UN Security Council resolution, Pakistani officials stated they would not be sending any troops to Iraq, citing concerns that they would not be “welcomed” by the Iraqi people if they were seen as part of the US-controlled occupation force.

The Indian government, which in June had been considering the deployment to Iraq of a full army division — about 17,000 soldiers — as part of a UN-mandated occupation force, abandoned the idea as Iraqi guerrilla attacks escalated in the month prior to the October UN Security Council vote.

On November 7, the Turkish government, which had previously agreed to commit up to 10,000 troops to the US-led occupation of Iraq, announced they would not be sent, ostensibly because of objections by Kurdish members of the US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council.

Three days earlier, Turkey's ambassador to the US declared: “We think there is too much favouritism ... being given to specifically the Kurdish groups [over] who runs [Iraq] and how the future of the country is going to be structured.” The US-appointed Iraqi Governing Council had five Kurds among its original 25 members. Iraq's four million Kurds make up about 16% of the country's total population.

Turkey has its own large Kurdish minority on the northern side of the border with Iraq, and its policy toward Iraq has been dominated by anxiety to discourage any separatist tendencies among Kurds in any country. Several thousand Turkish troops have been stationed in northern Iraq, close to its border with Turkey, since 1997, where they are engaged in attempts to suppress estimated 5000 Turkish Kurdish rebel fighters.

Washington's failure to get more countries to contribute troops to the Iraq occupation has left it with too few ground troops to suppress the increasingly better organised Iraqi armed resistance. In an opinion piece in the November 4 New York Times, Edward Luttwak, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, noted that of the 133,000 US troops in Iraq, only 56,000 are actually combat trained and only 28,000 are on patrol at any one time.

This number is simply too few, Luttwak argued, to oversee frontiers, patrol rural terrain including vast oil fields, control inter-city roads, and protect US government personnel in Iraq. And even if they could, it still “leaves the question of how to police the squares, streets and alleys of Baghdad, with its six million inhabitants, not to mention Mosul with 1.7 million, Kirkuk with 800,000, and Sunni towns like Fallujah with its quarter-million restive residents.”

Luttwak concluded that the US ground forces “are now so thinly spread that they cannot reliably protect even themselves” and that “a lightly armed Iraqi security force” — as envisioned in US war secretary Donald Rumsfeld's plan to train 100,000 Iraqi security personnel — “has no chance of stopping the resistance”.

Luttwak's scepticism about Rumsfeld's Iraqisation plan was echoed in the November 4 editorial in the hawkish Washington Post. It also noted: “Iraqi recruits also will want to know what they are fighting for. If the answer seems to be a dominating US occupation regime ... the commitment of our new comrades in arms may not be much greater than that of the international agencies and allies who lately have been slipping away.”

The dilemma confronting the US ruling class is that unless the US military can quickly suppress the Iraqi resistance, the commitment of the beleaguered US troops in Iraq may not only fall away but turn into outright mutiny, as happened during the Vietnam War.

Disaffection and demoralisation is already widespread among the US troops in Iraq. A survey of US troops in Iraq published in the Pentagon's Stars and Stripes newspaper last month found that 49% did not plan to re-enlist, while 31% thought the Iraq war was of little value for the US people.

If this disaffection turns to open revolt, the US military would cease to be an effective fighting machine and that would “diminish the global reach of American foreign policy”, as the New York Times put in its October 5 editorial. Fear of such an outcome is what lies behind the willingness of a substantial section of the US ruling class to share some of the loot from its Iraq occupation with its imperialist rivals in France and Germany.

The Bush administration, however, is unwilling to relinquish its control over the construction of a new Iraqi regime because the whole purpose of its invasion of Iraq was to put in place a pro-US puppet regime that would ratify the handing over of Iraq's oil resources — the second largest in the world — to US corporations.

This has left the Bush administration with only one short-term option to suppress the Iraqi resistance — unleashing of the US military's superiority in firepower against Iraqi civilians who provide shelter to the resistance fighters.

A day after the shooting down near the town of Tikrit of a Black Hawk helicopter on November 7 — in which six US soldiers died — the Pentagon ordered an extensive military assault on the town, including the dropping of three 227-kilogram laser guided bombs on a warehouse and two houses.

That same day, US warplanes bombed parts of the central Iraqi city of Fallujah, a hotbed of guerrilla resistance to the US occupation.

The aerial bombardment of Tikrit and Fallujuh, which was accompanied by ground-troop assaults and sweeping arrests of Iraqi civilians, was part of the Pentagon's new Operation Ivy Cyclone, described by a US military spokesperson as being directed against all “non-compliant forces”.

On November 11, General Richard Myers, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, confirmed that the bombing of Iraqi towns and villages by US warplanes was now part of the Pentagon's “revised” strategy for dealing with the Iraqi insurgency.

In the longer term, however, the Pentagon is laying the basis for a massive increase in the number of US troops deployed to Iraq through the reintroduction of conscription. David Lindorff reported in on November 3 that the Pentagon had put out a call for volunteers to help fill the hundreds of vacancies in over 2000 local draft boards and draft appeals boards.

“Not since the days of the Reagan administration in 1981 has the Defense Department made a push to fill out all 10,350 draft board positions and 11,070 appeals board slots”, Lindorff noted.

Lindorff was told by a Selective Service spokesperson that the goal was to have the draft machinery ready to go “at the click of a finger”.

Reintroduction of the draft, which was abandoned in 1973, Lindorff reported, “would be a political disaster for the president, so most military experts say it is unlikely that a return to conscription would occur before the November 2004 presidential election, but if the guerrilla war in Iraq continues to get worse, the day after that election, the president could well be forced to decide on either a phased withdrawal or escalation — and a national call-up”.


From Green Left Weekly, November 19, 2003.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.-

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