'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Swimming in the Sea of the People 

Recent polls reveal, yet again, what has been obvious since late 2003, that the occupation of Iraq is unsustainable:

A strong majority of Iraqis want U.S.-led military forces to immediately withdraw from the country, saying their swift departure would make Iraq more secure and decrease sectarian violence, according to new polls by the State Department and independent researchers.

In Baghdad, for example, nearly three-quarters of residents polled said they would feel safer if U.S. and other foreign forces left Iraq, with 65 percent of those asked favoring an immediate pullout, according to State Department polling results obtained by The Washington Post.

Another new poll, scheduled to be released on Wednesday by the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, found that 71 percent of Iraqis questioned want the Iraqi government to ask foreign forces to depart within a year. By large margins, though, Iraqis believed that the U.S. government would refuse the request, with 77 percent of those polled saying the United States intends keep permanent military bases in the country.

Pretty smart, those Iraqis, aren't they? Congress apparently recognizes the problem as well:

The U.S. Congress this week finalized legislation that bars funding to construct permanent military bases in Iraq, and states definitively that it is the policy of the United States government not to exercise control over Iraq’s petroleum resources.

“The perception that the U.S. military plans to stay in Iraq indefinitely has fueled the insurgency and undermined the stability of the Iraqi government,” said Ruth Flower, legislative director for the Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL). “This legislation is an important first step in changing the failed U.S. policy in Iraq.”

The 63-year-old Quaker lobby, FCNL, has been working with members of Congress on this policy since January 2005. Reps. Barbara Lee (CA) and Tom Allen (ME) advanced stand-alone bills to bar permanent bases in 2005, and in 2006 the House and the Senate approved similar amendments banning permanent bases as part of an emergency supplemental spending bill and then as part of the military authorization legislation. In both cases, the administration persuaded leaders in the House and Senate to strip out the “no permanent bases” language during conference committee negotiations.

But when similar language was attached to the FY07 military appropriations bill (H.R. 5631) by Rep. John Murtha (PA) in the House and Sen. Joe Biden (DE) in the Senate, negotiators from the House and Senate held firm. The final conference report on the military appropriations bill released September 25 prohibits the Pentagon from spending money to establish military installations or bases in Iraq. The House and Senate are expected to vote on the final version of this legislation later this week.

Of course, one has to wonder whether Bush will comply, as he has already expressed his belief that he has the power to disregard the provisions of laws with which he disagrees, but it would be quite remarkable if he abrogated the power of the purse to himself. I suspect that the answer to this dilemma is a little more prosaic: the US has already built them, as half a billion dollars was apparently allocated for this purpose in 2005.

In any event, such action, after over three years of occupation is far too late, as more than half of Iraqis support attacks on US forces. After episodes like this, is it any wonder why? Brzezinski, clear-eyed as usual, sees the obvious solution that dares not speak its name in either party:

SPIEGEL: The U.S. administration has declared Iraq the central front in the war on terror, but instead of disseminating democracy, Iraq today serves as a magnet for new terrorists. How can the United States extricate itself from its own trap?

Brzezinski: We should neither run nor should we seek a victory, which essentially would be a fata morgana. We have to talk seriously with the Iraqis about a jointly set withdrawal date for the occupation forces and then announce the date jointly. After all, the presence of these forces fuels the insurgency. We will then find that those Iraqi leaders who agree to a withdrawal within a year or so are the politicians who will stay there. Those who will plead with us, please, don't go, are probably the ones who will leave with us when we leave. That says everything we need to know about the true support Iraqi politicians have.

SPIEGEL: Would such a rapid withdrawal not leave chaos behind?

Brzezinski: The Iraqi government would have to invite all Islamic neighbors, as far as Pakistan and Morocco, for a stabilization conference. Most are willing to help. And when the United States leaves, it will have to convene a conference of those donor countries that have a stake in the economic recovery of Iraq, in particular the oil production. That is foremost a concern of Europe and the Far East.

SPIEGEL: The donor conference will take place in the fall anyway.

Brzezinski: Yes, but I doubt that it will create much enthusiasm as long as U.S. soldiers are in the country indefinitely. Incidentally, this is not just my argument. All this corresponds almost verbatim with the proposals of the new Iraqi security advisor.

SPIEGEL: Opponents of a rapid withdrawal make the case that the sectarian war between Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis would become even more violent than it is already.

Brzezinski: Everyone who knows the history of occupying armies knows that foreign armed forces are not very effective in repressing armed resistance, insurgencies, national liberation movements, whatever one wants to call it. They are after all foreigners, do not understand the country and do not have access to the intelligence needed. That is the situation we are in. Moreover, there is this vicious circle inasmuch as even professional occupying armies become demoralized in time, which leads to acts of violence against the civilian population and thus strengthens resistance. Iraqis can deal with religiously motivated violence in their country much better than Americans from several thousand kilometers away.

SPIEGEL: So there is no alternative to troop withdrawal, even if there is an initial escalation of violence?

Brzezinski: Iraqis are not primitive people who need American colonial tutelage to resolve their problems.

Such candor presents a remarkable contrast to liberal apologists for the occupation, like David Corn and Marc Cooper, who have gone through peculiar contortions to justify its continuance as good for the Iraqis themselves, despite the opinion of Iraqis to the contrary.

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