It is becoming almost certain that the U.S. succeed in forcing Iraq to “invite” thousands of American troops to stay indefinitely in the latest imperial outpost of the United States in the Arab world. (New York Times, May 12)
To recap: the Bush administration signed a pact with the Iraqi government in the interlude between administrations, and President Obama concurred. Then in early 2009 Obama added an unexpected promise to withdraw all American troops by December 2011, instead of leaving a residual force as he had proposed during his campaign.
The Pentagon relentlessly pressured the Iraqis to amend the agreement allowing for an American base and troops.
The Pentagon is winning. If this was just another base among 800 scattered around the world, it might be accepted with a sigh of resignation. But this places American forces in the middle of sectarian tensions inside Iraq, near the oil fields if trouble should erupt, and serving as a counter-point to heavily-armed Iran. Not to mention propping up an authoritarian sectarian government with a long record of human rights abuses.
In the political balance of forces, however, there are few if any voices in Congress or the peace movement speaking out, much less organizing against the bastion-to-be. Among the influentials, only Obama’s occasional advisers at the Center for American Progress are on record favoring a complete pullout.
The Shi’a-dominated regime, which America has put in power, already tilts towards Iran in the geo-politics of the region. An American base will keep them from sliding further out of orbit, or so it is believed. In addition, the Baghdad government, being composed of many exiles who returned with American firepower, are afraid of the prospect of a renewed Sunni insurgency if the Americans leave. On the other side, the Sunni insurgent groups are afraid that they will be slaughtered by the Shi’a security forces if America leaves. And the Kurds want the U.S. to protect them from the Shi’a and Sunnis. This leads to the oldest of formulas of empires bent on domination: the claim that “if the Western civilizers withdraw, the natives will kill each other.” Divide-and-conquer masked as peacekeeping.
Intellectually, this strategy has been promoted by Stephen Biddle at the Council on Foreign Relations for several years. In Mar.-April 2006, he wrote in Foreign Affairs:
“Washington must stop shifting the responsibility for [Iraq’s] security to others and instead threaten to manipulate the military balance of power among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds in order to force them to come to a durable compromise.”
Only a far-sighted president and his advisers might see the dangers in being entrapped forever in Iraq, what Chalmers Johnson laments as the “sorrows of empire.” There is no sign of such far-sightedness at the moment.