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U.S. And Iraqi People Say: Troops Out Now!

U.S. And Iraqi People Say: Troops Out Now!

By Rohan Pearce
Green Left Weekly - November 30, 2005

While US President George Bush was in China fighting a losing battle with a locked door at a Beijing media conference, it was left to his vice-president, the rather less bumbling Dick Cheney, to defend Washington’s troubled war on Iraq from the administration’s critics. In November 16 remarks at the Frontiers of Freedom Institute’s Ronald Reagan Gala (I am not joking), the White House rottweiler unleashed a tirade of abuse targeting the “cynical and pernicious falsehoods” of those who charge that Bush “or any member of this administration purposely misled the American people on pre-war intelligence” on Iraq’s alleged arsenal of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Cheney told the audience that the “president and I cannot prevent certain politicians from losing their memory, or their backbone — but we’re not going to sit by and let them rewrite history”. The vice-president’s criticism was aimed at the growing number of Democratic Party senators and members of Congress who have launched attacks on the White House’s Iraq policy.

There is a steady erosion of the “war consensus” amongst the US political elite. This is evident in the political wrangling over “Plamegate” (the exposure by Bush administration officials of Valerie Plame’s identity as a covert CIA agent in revenge for criticism of the White House’s WMD claims by her husband) and the consequent renewed attention being paid to Washington’s false claims about Iraqi WMD.

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The criticism of the White House’s handling of Iraq from within the US political establishment has accompanied an increasingly deep-seated opposition to the war among the broader US population. However, the former is not merely a case of political opportunism. Nor is the politicians’ and corporate media commentators’ unease at the state of the war effort necessarily motivated by the concern about the human toll of the war that has bred such widespread opposition to the Iraq deployment.

For some of the supporters-turned-critics of White House policy, it is a case of imperial arithmetic: Prolonging a possibly unwinnable war risks transforming US anti-war sentiment into a movement on the scale of that seen during the Vietnam War (or even larger) and rendering the eventual departure of US troops from Iraq far more politically damaging. This makes persisting with the present course in Iraq an unpalatable option.

In recent weeks the White House has been stung by a high-profile defection from the pro-war camp, John Murtha. Murtha, a member of the House of Representatives from Pennsylvania and the first Vietnam War veteran in Congress, had been a staunch supporter of the war on Iraq, but as the post-invasion counterinsurgency war has dragged on he has turned into a critic of Bush’s Iraq policy.

Significantly, while many US politicians talk of “phased withdrawal” and “Iraqisation” of the conflict in an attempt to assuage the public’s fear that Iraq is becoming a Vietnam-style “quagmire” while maintaining the Pentagon’s ability to wage war against Iraqis, Murtha has called for the immediate departure of US troops from Iraq. A resolution he submitted to the House of Representatives on November 17 moved that the “deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable date”.

The resolution noted: “... Whereas US forces have become the target of the insurgency; Whereas, according to recent polls, over 80% of the Iraqi people want US forces out of Iraq; Whereas polls also indicate that 45% of the Iraqi people feel that the attacks on US forces are justified ... due to the foregoing, Congress finds it evident that continuing US military action in Iraq is not in the best interests of the United States of America, the people of Iraq, or the Persian Gulf Region ...”

Murtha said that the “war in Iraq is not going as advertised. It is a flawed policy wrapped in illusion … Our military has been fighting a war in Iraq for over two and a half years … But the war continues to intensify … Our military has done everything that has been asked of them, the US can not accomplish anything further in Iraq militarily. It is time to bring them home.”

In an article in the November 20 USA Today, he wrote: “Staying the course in Iraq is not an option or a policy. I believe we must begin discussions for an immediate re-deployment of U.S. forces from Iraq. I believe it can be accomplished in as little as six months but it must be consistent with the safety of U.S. troops.

“The public is way ahead of Congress and is thirsting for a new direction. Sixty-six percent of the responses I have received are in favor of my plan. The public knows this war cannot be won with words. Most agree the insurgency cannot be won militarily.”

Murtha’s stance drew a heated, vituperative response from the unrepentant hawks. An article by Fred Barnes in the November 28 Murdoch-owned Weekly Standard, a paper that’s been an ideological guiding light for the neoconservatives in the Bush regime and of which Barnes is executive editor, declared that the war “must be won in Washington” as well as Iraq.

His article sounded the alarm for the remaining backers of the war: “By themselves, the events are small. A normally hawkish Democratic congressman, John Murtha calls for an immediate withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. The Republican-controlled Senate passes a resolution that says 2006 is the year to begin a ‘phased redeployment of United States forces from Iraq.’ Democrats continue their attacks on President Bush for allegedly hyping or falsifying the prewar intelligence on Iraq.

“And on top of all that, former President Bill Clinton changes his mind about the liberation of Iraq by military force. Clinton was a strong supporter of the war — but no longer. ‘Saddam is gone,’ he said at the American University in Dubai. ‘It’s a good thing. But I don’t agree with what was done. It was a big mistake.’ By ‘it,’ Clinton meant the invasion that deposed Saddam Hussein.

“Taken together, these events are ominous. They may not represent an irreversible new consensus among the political class toward America’s intervention in Iraq. But at a minimum, they suggest that troop removal has superseded victory as the primary American concern. The current shift in attitude is reminiscent of the one that followed the Tet Offensive in 1968, which consisted of Democratic defections, Republican anxiety, and a general loss of confidence in America’s ability to prevail in Vietnam. And we know where all that led: directly to the 1975 collapse [when Vietnamese liberation forces entered Saigon].”

The fear of the consequences of steadily deepening and highly public differences on the sagacity of the war emerging from within the US ruling elite is not an idle one. Casualties and Consensus: The Historical Role of Casualties in Domestic Support for U.S. Military Operations (C&C), a 1996 report published by the RAND Corporation, examined the contexts in which US troop casualties can begin to lead to a precipitous drop in public support for war.

An important factor, C&C argued, was when “support for the preferred strategies for concluding [a military] operation fall prey to partisan divisions among leaders, the public will typically also becomes divided. In short, when political and other opinion leaders fail to agree with the president that much (or any) good is likely to come of an intervention, there should be little surprise that the public also becomes divided.” When deep divisions on participation in an ongoing war emerge among the US political elite, there is the potential for already shrinking public support to plummet.

The role of US fatalities in the decline of public support for overseas military interventions is well known (the “Vietnam Syndrome”). C&C argues, however, that this is not the end of the story, that political factors influence how rapid this fall in support is. “Whenever the reasons for introducing US forces lack either moral force or broadly recognized national interests, support may be very thin indeed, and even small numbers of casualties may often be sufficient to erode public support for the intervention.” This is the situation in Iraq, where the case for war — principally WMD — has been exposed as being built on a foundation of lies.

Opinion polls have reflected the continuing fall in US public support for the Iraq war. In September, the Washington Post reported that a poll it conducted in conjunction with ABC News found that Bush’s approval rating had dropped to its lowest-ever point. Fifty-seven per cent of participants in the poll disapproved of how Bush was handling his job; 45% strongly disapproved. By the time of an October 30-November 2 Washington Post-ABC News poll, those figures had reached a new low — 60% and 47% respectively. Sixty-four per cent disapproved of Bush’s handling of the situation in Iraq; 60% felt the war was not worth fighting.

This represents a threat not just to Washington’s ability to sustain the occupation of Iraq, but also to US imperialism’s ability to carry out future military interventions to uphold its interests. Just as in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, a defeat for the US, either a partial one or an outright rout, would hamper US imperialism’s ability to openly wage war on other Third World nations, rendering the neocon dream of a “new American century” a hopeless fantasy.

From Green Left Weekly, November 30, 2005.
Visit the Green Left Weekly home page - http://www.greenleft.org.au/.

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