William Pfaff is one of the sanest writers in the mainstream media, and in his latest piece in the International Herald Tribune, he succinctly subverts the arguments for a continuing American presence in Iraq.
There are basically three main rationales for keeping the imperial adventure in Mesopotamia going in one form or another:
First, that it is a fight against terrorism, a battle to uphold the values of civilization against the evil Islamofascist hordes. (This is the argument always offered for public consumption, and it may well be that a few of its champions actually believe it.)
Second, that the United States must dominate this all-important oil region as a matter of vital national interest, regardless of the "legality" or "morality" of the project. (This is the "savvy" insider view, the realpolitik of the Cheney Faction and "gritty realist" commentators.)
Third, that U.S. forces must remain in Iraq until the country is stable enough to ensure an "orderly" withdrawal. (This is Barack Obama's public stance -- one which, as we noted the other day, virtually guarantees many more years of occupation. Not to mention Obama's plan to leave behind a "residual" force -- of up to 80,000 troops -- even after his "orderly" withdrawal.)
Pfaff upends each of these arguments -- counterterrorism, realpolitik and caution -- and calls instead for the only course that has ever made sense, once this criminal action had been launched: immediate withdrawal, orderly or not. Perpend:
The New York Times published an editorial last week demanding that the American presidential candidates debate what they intend to do about “a swift and orderly withdrawal from Iraq.” Such a withdrawal surely is desirable, and is what Barack Obama has promised, but is it feasible?
What about a disorderly withdrawal? What if that is the only available withdrawal? In that case, is it the larger American interest to stay indefinitely in Iraq, fighting on for the sake of staying, or to leave in disorder?
The Defense Department and this administration are ferociously committed to staying in Iraq, in order to hold onto the huge military bases constructed there, and for Iraq’s oil. They will pay a lot for that...But actually how important are the U.S. bases? Edward Luttwak, an astute and unsentimental commentator, recently wrote in Britain’s Prospect magazine that the Middle East is no longer important enough to fight over. He said the Arab-Israel conflict has been largely irrelevant strategically since the Cold War ended, and “global dependence on Middle Eastern oil is declining”—which despite the speculation-driven run-up in the oil price is still true.
In any case, oil’s availability does not, and never has, depended on military domination of the region. Oil sells on an international market to those who can buy it, and no significant producer can afford to boycott the biggest purchasers, the U.S., Japan and Western Europe. As Charles Glass (a former prisoner of Hezbollah in Lebanon) comments,Luttwak’s conclusion logically should be that the U.S. stop giving $5.5billion in aid annually to Israel and selling billions of dollars worth of jet aircraft, heavy armor and other weapons to Saudi Arabia, a country that has never fought a war.
It should also get out of Iraq, whether in orderly or disorderly fashion,since what happens afterward is surely the business of the Iraqis, who in the past—before the 2003 invasion—have always managed in one way or another to settle their own affairs. What happens to Iraq now can pose no serious threat to the United States.
“It could become a terrorist training ground” is the witless objection usually heard regarding a departure in disorder. But surely the terrorists have no need of even more “training grounds” than they already have. An isolated farm or ranch in Utah could serve just as well as a training ground, and the training comes without cost via the Internet.
Pfaff also takes on Obama's version of the Terror War, that nightmarish engine of destruction, blowback and war profiteering which the Democratic nominee has pledged to continue:
TheNew York Times editorial congratulated Obama on his intention to have the U.S. “withdraw from Iraq so it can finish the fight in Afghanistan,” where the Allies’ situation is deteriorating and more U.S soldiers are being killed than in Iraq. But just how will President Obama (or President McCain) “finish off” the Taliban?
Early in the election campaign, Obama suggested doing it by invading Pakistan, an American ally, where al-Qaida and the Taliban take refuge. Then the United States could simultaneously fight the Pakistan army, the Taliban, al-Qaida and the tribal warriors of Waziristan. Where’s the vital American interest in that?
There is no vital American interest in any of this, of course. That is to say, nothing about the Terror War and its many offshoots benefits the American people in any way. It does, however, greatly benefit a bipartisan clot of special interests and ideologues who have a stranglehold on the American power structure. A withdrawal of these forces from the land they occupy would also be welcome. But that seems even less likely than a genuine pullout from Iraq.
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This story was published on July 11, 2008.