Belaboring the Obvious

Monday, June 26, 2006

Stirring Some Entrails...

... without knowing the political gender of the sacrificial goat.

Any number of folks have been musing about the possibilities implicit in the bring-the-troops-home mixed signals of late. On the one hand, we have Bush saying, pretty much outright, that they aren't going anywhere as long as he's president, all the while Gen.
George W.'s other Gen. George W., the Casey one, is saying there will likely be steady withdrawals of troops from Iraq through 2007.

Now, just for drill and review, one has to go back to the original reasons for invading Iraq. Not because it's pleasant, but because it's the right thing to do.

WMDs? A lie to further invasion plans.

Saddam an imminent danger to world peace? Saddam's broken military and wretched economy--in large part due to the cumulative and sequential effects of the Iran-Iraq War, the first Gulf War and the attendant sanctions--were no threat to anyone, either in forty-five minutes or forty-five years. Another lie.

Finally, after all the others turned out to be bogus: bringing freedom and democracy to an oppressed people? Umm, not so much, from the looks of it. Sort of part-lie, part-lame excuse.

Where does Iraqi oil fit into this? Perhaps we'll never know for sure, since the Cheney task force papers will all be shredded and burned before Cheney is dragged, kicking and screaming and wheezing, from his office in January, 2009. What we do know is that oil exports slowed significantly during and after the invasion, making any provisional Iraqi government dependent upon the U.S. for support. The price of oil went up with every sabotaged pipeline and unmetered barrel of oil Halliburton could hustle out of the country unnoticed--one of the reasons why Iraq didn't see much benefit from the increases. Then, somehow, $9 billion of Iraqi money from the oil for food program went missing under the administration of the CPA. But, we do know that the Kurds are busily making deals on their own, and that very large U.S. oil multinationals are making the sort of oil production deals with the Iraqis which are normally reserved for failed states with negative total assets and no sure guarantee of oil under the ground. Having impoverished the Iraqis in the midst of an oil shortage and upward price speculation, the Iraqis didn't have the money to do much with their own oilfields.

What about the supposed real reasons for the Iraq invasion?

Neo-cons have wanted that invasion for years, almost from the time of the fall of the Soviet Union, first to make Saddam Hussein the replacement boogeyman, and second, to bitch-slap a country in the Middle East to show the Middle East, Russia and China who's boss. Had Iran been the worse for wear after the Iran-Iraq War, had been crippled by it, they might have been first in line, not Iraq. The enemies are interchangeable, while the purpose remains the same--U.S. domination of the globe and its resources.

While there's no firm evidence for it (since Junior has sealed up his father's papers during the Reagan-Bush years tighter than a tick on a blue heeler hound--people have forgotten that all of the senior Bush's presidential papers were supposed to be open to the public in January, 2005), the neo-cons in the Poppy Bush years were the likely instigators of the calls for an uprising of the Kurds and the Marsh Arabs in Iraq; Saddam's crushing of those uprisings gave Bush the opening needed to keep U.S. troops, mostly air, navy and special forces, in the Middle East to patrol the unilaterally-created "no-fly zones." This wasn't a new thing--it was actually an old trick--Eisenhower had done the same thing to Hungary in 1956 and it had set the NATO/Warsaw Pact stand-off in concrete, guaranteeing bases in Europe for decades after the real need for them was extinct. In much the same way, the neo-cons wanted to have troops in the Middle East permanently.

What also isn't known is if they anticipated the depth of antagonism the presence of those troops would create, particularly in Saudi Arabia. Two possibilities present themselves. First, the neo-cons were so single-mindedly intent on conquering the Middle East in order to control the world's resources and the lanes of resource traffic that they took no notice of the religious and cultural problems permanent troops would create, or if they took any notice at all, they didn't care about the results. Second, they were fully aware of the fundamentalism being preached in the madrassas quietly being funded by the royals and knew that the result would be increased terrorism, possibly terrorism against the United States, and counted on that to affirm in the collective American mind the need for permanent troops in the Middle East. Exposition of neo-conservative intellectual thought suggests the former. Cynicism and experience suggest the latter.

All this assumes that the neo-cons are--with Cheney the top gun, so to speak--in total control of White House policy, and that a primary reason for the invasion of Iraq was to create the pretext for permanent bases in the Middle East as the ones in Saudi Arabia had outlived their usefulness.

Does this conflict with the generally-accepted belief that all things in the Bush White House are decided on the basis of domestic politics? Not necessarily. It may only mean that the invasion served more than one aim. It also satisfied, for example, Bush's deep psychological need to show his father that he was better than the old man. With that as a starting point (and Bush is said to have talked of such an invasion prior to his winning the 2000 campaign), Bush would have been amenable to all sorts of reasons espoused for such an action.

The invasion of Iraq may have come to fruition because there were so many different aims in doing so--advantage for U.S. oil companies to profit from suddenly un-nationalized oilfields, the neo-cons' desires to show evidence of U.S. military might to intimidate Russia and China and to steer oil away from their control, the huge amount of money to be made by U.S. multinationals in supporting occupation troops and in, supposedly, rebuilding Iraqi infrastructure destroyed by war, and last, the desire of domestic politicians to ride a wave of positive public sentiment about the war to victory in the 2004 elections.

In these senses, the invasion of Iraq was an advantage to a significant number of groups in and out of government. The invasion was a result of a confluence of intentions and ambitions, none of which directly conflicted with each other, and in some ways, acted synergistically to make the invasion work better for some of them.

In order to make sense of the conflicting signals being sent today about troop removals, then, it's necessary to consider who has benefitted by the invasion, as suggested above, and therefore, who would not benefit from the withdrawal of the troops now. Admittedly, the problem would be more straightforward were it not for the fact that the Bush administration cannot be trusted to tell the truth about anything which has domestic political implications (which means, for practical purposes, everything), hence the need for a sort of cost/benefit analysis of complete and partial withdrawal from the standpoint of each of the interested parties.

The neo-cons would clearly suffer from a complete withdrawal. In their view, that would make the entire invasion an exercise in wasting time and money, and would actually be the antithesis of what they intended to achieve with regard to intimidating other nations. A partial withdrawal, however, could be used as cover for their ultimate aims of permanent bases and a long-term contingent of U.S. troops in Iraq.

The oil companies would probably suffer, to differing degrees, from either partial or complete withdrawal of U.S. troops. Such companies are virtually defined today by their adversity to risk. Fewer troops would mean greater risk, by any calculation. Yes, in time, they could depend upon Iraqi security forces for protection, or they could, if oil prices remained high enough or went higher, justify the costs of private security forces. But, without some U.S. military presence in the country, they could never be sure that the Iraqi government would not renege on disadvantageous extraction agreements made under financial, social and military duress, effectively renationalizing an oil system which has been all but privatized except in name only.

The same situation may exist for large U.S. multinationals in the business of supplying occupying troops and rebuilding. With all troops gone, the gravy train goes off the tracks. The reputations of companies such as Parsons, Bechtel and Halliburton among Iraqis pretty much stink--in large part because of their hiring practices (contributing to Iraqi unemployment) and their failures to do much of anything substantial in the way of rebuilding. It, therefore, seems more than obvious that none of those companies would stand in great favor with the Iraqi government without a U.S. military presence of some sort. With regard to Halliburton/KBR, it loses virtually all of its profit advantage if all troops left and the bases were turned over to the Iraqis. Its metier is building foreign bases and
then arranging to obtain government contracts for maintenance and services.

The last group, domestic politicians, have had their wave and they and the President successfully rode that wave to electoral success in 2004. Had they not, however, successfully concealed their lies about going to war and had the insurgency begun in earnest a few months earlier than it did, the outcome in 2004 might have been less certain. That suggests that public sentiment for the war was tenuous at best by November, 2004 (further verified by the closeness of the presidential election results), and, by no means, can be counted on in 2006. So, having gotten what they wanted, politicians of all stripes now have to contend with what they wanted in the last election in the next election.

Public sentiment is high for some scheme of measured and complete withdrawal. This is a precise and direct result of the mixed messages sent from the White House. Every announcement of great progress in Iraq leads more of the public to believe that U.S. involvement in the war in Iraq is coming to a close. In the public mind, when wars end, all the troops come home (although that wasn't exactly the case in WWII in either Europe or Japan). That's just human nature and common sense based on general previous experience. So, the White House is damned by its own inconsistency; on the one hand, Bush asserts the troops won't be leaving any time soon, while on the other, he is, sometimes desperately and unconvincingly, saying that things are getting steadily better and better, every day, in every way.

This suggests to me that there are unseen forces at work in ordering Bush's pronouncements on Iraq, and probably a good deal of uncertainty in his own mind about what to do in order to relieve himself of that inside-the-Oval Office pressure. I would surmise that all those groups that wanted the war so badly because of its implicit advantage are now pleading their own cases to either continue it for that advantage or to minimize the future damage.

Let's keep in mind that when it comes to Bush, it doesn't matter what the public thinks, so we should, for the moment, throw their interests out of the equation. What Bush would like to do right now is bask in the approbation of his party and the press (as surrogates for the actual public) and to imagine his place in history. He's not running again--ever again, we can hope--so he's not preoccupied with that. In his own mind, he's done great things, and invading Iraq is one of those things. That inclines him to say that things are going well there, no matter all the evidence to the contrary. That alone might induce him to want the conflict to continue exactly as it has--leaving the problem to someone else (which is in character for him) would enable him to claim his proper place in history as the victor. If the situation were to improve by the efforts of a future president, he can say to himself--and to future historians--that all that was required was sufficient time for the Iraqi government to develop properly. If the situation deteriorated after Inauguration Day, 2009, he can blame it on the actions of that incoming President, regardless of what those actions may be. In a very short-term sense, Bush has created a win-win situation for himself by doing nothing to alter the status quo.

Among the politicians, Bush's desired course seems set. In what ways might it conflict with the special interest desires of other politicians?

The hawks would like to see things continue as they are, as well. Those politicians with too-firm ties to the defense industry will want it all to go on, because there's money to be made and jobs issues to be exploited for political gain. Many Republicans (and a fair number of Democrats), the ones reading the polls, will want some gesture to appease the increasing number of their constituents wanting the American involvement in Iraq to be completed. They will hope and plead for some decision from the White House signalling at least a partial withdrawal of troops--anything to get them past the 2006 election and this rough patch.

Partial withdrawal for 2006 election purposes would do one of two things--it would cause the remainder of troops to retreat to those "enduring bases" or would expose the remainder to greater chance of harm due to insufficient strength for the tasks at hand. Removing remaining troops to the relative safety of the big bases--without a corresponding increase in trained Iraqi troops--would put more Iraqis at risk and the civil war would expand. Keeping fewer troops in the streets would embolden insurgents and increase attacks on U.S. troops. One way or another, partial withdrawal seems to be detrimental to human beings on the front lines in one way or another.

And yet, partial withdrawal serves the bulk of the special interests. The neo-cons preserve the belief that they've put their thumb in the eye of the rest of the world. The Halliburton/KBRs keep their contracts for more overseas bases. Some U.S. forces remain in the country to support the U.S. embassy mission to keep American tax money flowing to the big U.S. multinationals, regardless of Iraqi opinion in that regard. The Congress critters who keep hearing from their constituents about the Iraq war get to say, "progress!" The U.S. military gets a small (perhaps brief) respite before having to deal with calamity in Iraq or another war of choice created by the neo-cons.

So, why will there be no substantive withdrawal of troops from Iraq? Recent history suggests the reasons:

How many times have there been leaks and rumors of partial withdrawals, and how many of those coincided with the 2004 elections, with Bush, all the while, saying we would "stay the course?"

How many times have US spokespersons said that the Iraqi police and military were increasingly capable of operating independently--a necessary component to Bush's "as they stand up, we can stand down" routine--and how many times have those announcements been found to be contradicted by the evidence?

Was Bush's visit to the Green Zone to capitalize on the recently-announced death of Abu Zarqawi, or was it for some other purpose--to sign official documents? What if al-Maliki, his new defense minister and Bush very quietly and secretly signed a status of forces agreement (keeping U.S. troops in Iraq in perpetuity) while Bush dropped in for a visit? Would secrecy not be required because of the tenuous state of the Iraqi government and the continuing call from Iraqis on all sides for a complete end to U.S. occupation?

Is it already foreordained that some troops will come home in time for the 2006 elections, only to be replaced when the elections are over because of agreements made this month? What will that level be? 100,000? 50,000? 30,000? What will the Iraqis do when they discover that U.S. troops won't be leaving, ever?

What will the U.S. public do when they discover--too late, after November, 2006--that the Bushies have snookered them again, that a partial withdrawal is no indication of a cessation of hostilities?

What person has ownership of more than just one area of interest in keeping troops in Iraq (neo-con beliefs about U.S. dominance, control of oil, maximization of profit for U.S. oil companies, affiliation with companies needing profits from continuing government contracts associated with foreign bases)?

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Who has Bush's ear more than any other person in government?

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Whose tentacles stretch further into the Bush administration (particularly into the Depts. of Defense and State) and into the business world than anyone elses in the administration?

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Who has the power and the knowledge necessary to backyard-barbecue Bush's most prominent political advisor, Karl Rove, if that becomes necessary to protect his own interests?

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Who doesn't give a fuck what anyone thinks, even less so than Bush? Who's been described by old friends as the "least empathetic person I've ever known?"

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Whose accumulation of manufactured evidence got the war started? Who repeatedly went to the CIA to browbeat them over their failure to endorse that evidence? Who's still saying, of the pre-war lies, 'it's all true?'

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Who's known by the CIA as "Edgar," for Edgar Bergen, as the implication of his relationship to George "Charlie McCarthy" Bush?

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Who's really deciding what the U.S. does in and about Iraq, in association with Donald Rumsfeld, his buddy of 35-year-long acquaintance?

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Who picked himself for his own job?

Richard Bruce Cheney.

Poor ol' fucking goat. Died for nothing. The answer was there for all to see already. No divination required.


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