This is the text of a talk by Chris Hedges that will be read at anti-war gatherings to be held by The World Can’t Wait in New York’s Union Square, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Nashville, Louisville, Chicago and Berkeley on March 19 to protest the sixth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq.
Barack Obama has shown that he is as capable of doublespeak as any other politician when he announced an end to the war in Iraq. Combat troops are to be pulled out of Iraq by August 2010, he said, but some 50,000 occupation troops will remain behind. Someone should let the Iraqis know the distinction. I doubt any soldier or Marine in Iraq will notice much difference in 19 months. Many combat units will simply be relabeled as noncombat units. And what about our small army of well-paid contractors and mercenaries? Will Dyncorp, Bechtel, Blackwater (which recently changed its name to Xe), all of whom have made fortunes off the war, pack up and go home? What about the three large super-bases, dozens of smaller military outposts and our imperial city, the Green Zone? Will American corporations give up their lucrative control of Iraqi oil?
The occupation of Iraq will not be disrupted. Lies and deception, which launched the war in the first place, are being employed by Democrats to maintain it. This is not a withdrawal. It is occupation lite. And as long as American troops are on Iraqi soil the war will grind on, the death toll on each side will continue to mount and we will remain a lightning rod for hatred and rage in the Middle East. Add to this Obama’s decision to increase troop levels in Afghanistan and even his most purblind supporters will have to admit the new president is as intent on maintaining American empire as the old.
The occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan has not promoted U.S. security or stability in the Middle East. These occupations have furthered the spread of failed states, increased authoritarianism and unleashed savage violence. They have opened up voids of lawlessness, including in the tribal areas of Pakistan, where our real enemies can operate and plot against us. These occupations have scuttled the art of diplomacy and mocked the rule of law. We have become an outlaw state intent on creating more outlaw states. The occupations have, finally, empowered Iran, as well as Russia and China, which gleefully watch our self-immolation. And, in the end, we cannot win these wars. We will withdraw all our troops in an orderly manner or see these occupations collapse in an orgy of bloodshed.
Iraq, because of our invasion and occupation, no longer exists as a unified country. The experiment that was Iraq, the cobbling together of disparate and antagonistic patches of the Ottoman Empire by the victorious powers in the wake of World War I, will never come back. The Kurds have set up a de facto state in the north. The Shiites control most of the south. The center of the country is a battleground. There are at least 2 million Iraqis who have fled their homes and are internally displaced. Another 2 million have left the country, most to Syria and Jordan, which now has the largest number of refugees per capita of any country on Earth. And perhaps as many as 1.2 million Iraqis are dead because of what we have done.
The eight-year war in Afghanistan has seen the Taliban re-emerge from the ashes. An additional 30,000 troops will do little to prop up the detested and corrupt regime of Hamid Karzai. Our attempt to buy off Afghan tribal groups with money and even weapons has collapsed, with most slipping back into the arms of the Taliban insurgents. The U.N. estimates that the Taliban is now raking in $300 million a year from the expanded poppy trade to fund the resistance. The Taliban controlled about 75 percent of Afghan territory when we invaded eight years ago. It has recaptured about half of the country since its initial defeat, and its reach has expanded to the outskirts of major cities such as Kabul and Kandahar. Twenty-nine American troops died in Afghanistan the first two months of 2009, a threefold increase compared with the eight who died during the same period last year. And more Afghan civilians are dying in allied operations than at the hands of the Taliban, according to a count by the Associated Press. In the first two months of the year, American, NATO or Afghan forces have killed 100 civilians, while militants have killed 60.
Do the cheerleaders for an expanded war in Afghanistan know any history? Have they studied what happened to the Soviets, who lost 15,000 Red Army soldiers between 1979 and 1988, or even the British in the 19th century? Do they remember why we went into Afghanistan? It was, we were told, to hunt down Osama bin Laden, who is now apparently in Pakistan. Has anyone asked what our end goal is in Afghanistan? Is it nation-building? Have we declared war on the Taliban? Or is this simply the forever war on terror?
Al-Qaida, which we have also inadvertently resurrected, still finds plenty of recruits. It still runs training facilities. It still carries out attacks in London, Madrid, Iraq and now Afghanistan, which did not experience suicide bombings until December 2005. Al-Qaida has moved on. But we remain stuck, confused and lashing about wildly like a wounded and lumbering beast.
Obama, during the campaign, promised that he would pull out one combat brigade per month over a 16-month period from Iraq. But this promise has been scrapped. Instead, troop levels will remain steady for most of this year and into the first few months of 2010. Troops will only start leaving, we are told, in large numbers in the spring and summer of next year, but even the pace of this downsizing will be left to the discretion of commanders. The troops left in Iraq after the “withdrawal” will, the Obama administration says, train Iraqi soldiers, protect U.S. assets and conduct “anti-terror operations.”
The U.S. agreement with Iraq, known as SOFA, or status of forces agreement, calls for all U.S. forces to be out of Iraq by the end of December 2011. But this seems very unlikely. The Pentagon has, despite the SOFA agreement, built its long-range planning around the assumption that anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 troops will be based in Iraq long after 2011. The U.S.-Iraq agreement (which was ratified by the Iraqi parliament but never brought to the U.S. Senate for ratification, as mandated by the Constitution) calls for a national referendum to be held in Iraq during the summer of 2009. Iraqis will supposedly be able to approve or reject the agreement. The some 50 U.S. bases in Iraq are, under the agreement, to be turned over to the Iraqis.
Will Obama defy the results of a referendum and ram the continued occupation down the throats of Iraqi voters? It certainly looks like it. Of course, all this will be handled, I suspect, by having our client government in Baghdad “request” that we remain, making an even greater farce of our public commitment to democracy.
There are huge corporations who are making a lot of money off this war. Obama seems intent on not impeding the profits. So much for our anti-war candidate. We should have known better than to trust the Democrats after they rode to power in Congress in 2006 on an anti-war platform and then continued to fund our wars and approve increased troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If the delicate cease-fire we have negotiated with the former Sunni insurgents in Iraq breaks down, how will we respond? Suppose the some 100,000 Sunnis, who have been allowed to ethnically cleanse the areas they control and build militias, turn on the central Shiite-led government. Suppose we can no longer buy off these Sunni “Awakening” militias with the $300-a-month salaries we dispense to these fighters. Suppose the war heats up again. This is what happened in Afghanistan when we tried to bribe tribal groups with money and support. A deterioration of the security situation in Iraq could instantly scuttle even a reduction of forces.
And the military, if some troops do leave Iraq, will have to rely more heavily on airstrikes to control territory and keep insurgents at bay. The airstrikes in Afghanistan have, along with the expanded fighting, driven tens of thousands of Afghan refugees into Iran and Pakistan. Even the Karzai government has vigorously protested these airstrikes, which feed scores of recruits to the Taliban. Expect the same ugly backlash in Iraq.
I could live with the prolonged injustice of the occupation in Iraq if I thought there would really be peace, that we could then help rebuild the country we destroyed and that we had restored the rule of law by rejecting the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war, something that under post-Nuremberg laws is defined as a criminal “war of aggression.” I could live with 19 months more of the war if I knew it would really be the end. But the war in Iraq, like Afghanistan, will go on. Our imperial projects and killing will continue under the Obama presidency. Many more, including some of our own, will die.
The only hope now lies in renewed protests against the war and a reinvigorated anti-war movement. This time the movement should hold fast, as stalwarts like Cindy Sheehan, Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader have, to the moral imperative of peace and not the false hopes offered by the Democrats. They cannot be trusted. Politics is a game of pressure. Abandon that pressure and you lose.
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