• Bush’s “new direction” will escalate the war by deploying thousands more U.S. combat troops, sending potentially a billion dollars in economic support aid into Iraq, and putting more blame for the occupation’s failure on Iraqis themselves.
  • The strategy differs very little from the existing one, except to make things worse; more troops mean more violence, not less; the money is too little and too late, and it can do nothing while U.S. troops continue their military occupation and Iraq remains at war.
  • The Bush administration is desperately seeking a new strategy to buy them either something they can call a “victory” or at least a long enough delay to insure that Bush’s successor takes the blame for the failure. The current strategy of military occupation and political backing of an artificial and largely powerless government in Iraq has failed so massively that even top generals have refused to get on board Bush’s latest call for escalation.
  • The debate over a “new direction” emerges just as the Iraqi parliament is preparing legislation that would allow foreign (especially U.S.) oil companies to control as much as 70% of the profit in future oil exploration.
  • Elsewhere in the region U.S.-orchestrated UN sanctions on Iran appear to have had little impact so far except to encourage increasingly explicit Israeli military (and even nuclear) threats; Palestine continues to burn, and the occupation-driven humanitarian and political crises in Gaza continue to escalate.
  • The Democrats won the November elections with a mandate to find a new direction OUT of Iraq, not to send more troops INTO Iraq; but it remains uncertain whether they will use the only actual power they have – the power of the purse – to actually stop the war.
  • There are some hopeful signs, including the Pelosi/Reid letter demanding the beginning of a troop withdrawal, and the moving of Iraq-related hearings to much higher priority and visibility; but there are reasons for pessimism too, including the lack of even a hint of teeth in the Pelosi/Reid letter and Pelosi’s follow-up commitment not to cut funds, the virtual absence of experts supporting an immediate and complete end to occupation in the hearings line-up, and Biden’s completely false claim that it might be “unconstitutional” for Congress to move to de-fund the war.
  • There is an urgent need to ratchet up pressure on congress, particularly to hold the democrats accountable for the strong anti-war basis for their November victory; the January 27-29 mobilizations in Washington will represent a major component of that pressure.

Bush’s “new direction” speech will announce a major escalation of U.S. troops in Iraq. The move will be called a “surge,” as if that actually represents a military strategy, but the euphemism disguises an ordinary, already tried and already failed escalation of the U.S. occupation. As has been true throughout the invasion and occupation, U.S. troops are the cause, not the solution, to violence in Iraq.

If, as anticipated, Bush claims 20,000 combat troops will be sent, it may mean as many as 75,000 all together since logistics, transport, medical, engineering and other support units will be required to keep an additional 20,000 acknowledged “combat” troops in the field. (In fact, as Military Families Speak Out has emphasized, every military job in Iraq is a “combat” position.) While there may be a claim that the new deployments are linked directly to a specific “new strategy for victory,” the reality is that the troops will be sent to “stabilize” Baghdad, a job that has already proved impossible as long as the U.S. occupation continues. The summer 2006 troop increase, which transferred about 15,000 additional soldiers to Baghdad, largely from other positions in Iraq, led to an immediate escalation in violence across the city.

The speech will also likely announce a new fund of about $1 billion to be sent to Iraq for some vague combination of job creation and reconstruction. The only details so far seem to be based on a wishful assumption that angry young Iraqi men will be delighted to go to work as pittance-paid street sweepers and garbage collectors for the U.S. occupation forces and the U.S.-backed government, and will immediately abandon their ties to the anti-occupation resistance. It is unlikely that the new allocation (from a so-far unknown U.S. government source) will be tied to any change in the existing profiteering-based contract system in which the vast majority of the billions allocated for “reconstruction” in Iraq has gone to U.S.-based contractors. It should be recognized that the U.S. owes a huge financial debt to Iraq – reparations for 12 years of crippling sanctions, real reconstruction of the invasion-destroyed infrastructure, compensation for the shredding of Iraq’s national life and social fabric – but that the U.S. cannot begin to make good on that obligation as long as the military occupation remains in place.

Bush’s speech will also likely feature an issue that has become more commonplace across Washington’s mainstream political spectrum in the last several months: Iraqis are responsible for their own crisis, and the Iraqi government better “stop relying” on U.S. forces for assistance. The reality, of course, is that the Green Zone-based parliament IS in fact dependent on the U.S. occupation forces for protection and for what little power it has; that reality has led to the situation in Baghdad today in which many parliamentarians elected on a strong anti-occupation platform abandoned that principle when they realized that their own position depended on the Americans. Many of those parliamentarians holding to an anti-occupation position today are doing so while boycotting participation in the parliament itself. But it remains an outrage Bush and other U.S. officials continue to assert that despite the U.S. invasion and occupation, the U.S. decisions to destroy Iraq’s army and dismiss its entire state apparatus, the collapse of the Iraqi economy, and the occupation-driven war itself, that it is only the Iraqis’ own lack of will that is responsible for their plight.

It appears that Bush is in the process of shifting focus from asserting that victory is at hand in Iraq to tamping down expectations and keeping an eye on this war in history, especially his own legacy. Bush’s eulogy for Gerald Ford, and his weekly radio broadcast the next day, both focused on Ford’s heroism for doing something (the Nixon pardon) widely reviled and politically unpopular at the time, but later judged by history to have been the “right thing.” It was a speech clearly designed to re-shape Bush’s own legacy – not the reckless warmonger who got everything wrong in Iraq, but the brave, however unpopular, leader who risked public opprobrium to do the right thing, and who waited for the future to recognize his genius. Of course Ford’s pardoning of Nixon was a political act, with only political consequences; no one died as a result of that decision (we won’t talk here about Ford’s own crimes: authorizing Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor at the cost of 200,000 lives, his Kissinger-led collaboration with Pinochet’s assassins, etc.).

The failure in Iraq is no longer a question; Bush himself now admits “we are not winning” in Iraq. Failure has been a constant; the difference now is that the lack of any options is so obvious that even key military leaders are rejecting the stay-the-course-but-add-a-bunch-more-soldiers-to-make-it-look-better strategy Bush is about to present. It is in this context that top Generals Casey and Abizaid’s resignations must be viewed. Both strongly and quite publicly opposed the early “surge” proposals for Bush’s escalation. (We should note they were not opposed to more troops in principle, but rather believed the escalation would “send the wrong message” to Iraqi leaders who “should” be carrying more of the military burden. But their opposition was nonetheless significant.) After all Bush’s high-profile claims that he would “let the generals on the ground decide,” it became clear that any generals on the ground who did not agree with his plan would be out. Incoming Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’ trip to Baghdad, similarly, was clearly not about “listening” to the troops on the ground, but rather designed to let the in-country command know what was coming – whether they liked it or not.

As a result, CentCom chief General John Abizaid, responsible for ground wars in both Iraq and land-locked Afghanistan, will be replaced by a Navy admiral. It isn’t clear whether the choice of a naval officer to command land wars reflected the lack of top army or marine generals who might be willing to accept the so-called “surge” strategy, or whether the appointment of a navy officer is rooted in the higher profile of the U.S. naval deployment cruising off Iran’s coast. Either or both are possible. General George Casey, commander in Iraq, will be replaced by Gen. David Petraeus, known for his involvement with counter-insurgency strategy.

The new focus on counter-insurgency may turn out to be linked to another recent shift, that of current director of national intelligence John Negroponte to become Condoleezza Rice’s deputy at the State Department. Negroponte, of course, was U.S. ambassador to the UN when Colin Powell stood before the Security Council and set out the Bush administration’s lies to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Later, as ambassador to occupied Iraq, Negroponte called for using the “Salvador Option” in Iraq, a reference to the reliance on U.S.-backed death squads that characterized his own years as U.S. ambassador to Honduras during the years of Central America’s contra wars.

The related shift is that of current Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad to take over the couldn’t-get-confirmed John Bolton’s position as ambassador to the UN. Khalilzad, a Cheney protégé, is a noted neo-con with close ties the Reagan and Bush Senior administrations, and to the U.S. oil industry. (For details on Khalilzad’s history with the Taliban, Unocal, and the bombing of Afghanistan, see my article yesterday at http://www.tompaine.com/articles/2007/01/08/un_ambassadors_oily_past.php.)
Shifting Khalilzad, himself a Sunni Afghan, out of Baghdad may reflect a grudging admission that his favored strategy of outreach to Iraq’s disenfranchised Sunni community wasn’t working (of course it wasn’t – whatever his religion and languages, he still represented U.S. policies of occupation and war). But he remains a key Bush loyalist so sending him to the UN indicates that somewhere in the administration, perhaps in Rice’s State Department, someone still recognizes that Washington cannot afford to completely give up the idea of bringing the United Nations to heel.

Maintaining control of oil remains at the top of the U.S. agenda in Iraq. Despite the escalating war, and despite the problems facing Iraq’s parliament – including the weeks-long boycott by the 30 legislators loyal to Muqtada al-Sadr – Britain’s Independent on Sunday reported January 7 that Iraq is about to pass a law that would “give Western oil companies a massive share in the third largest reserves in the world. To the victors, the oil? That is how some experts view this unprecedented arrangement with a major Middle East oil producer that guarantees investors huge profits for the next 30 years.”

According to the Independent, “critics fear that given Iraq’s weak bargaining position, it could get locked in now to deals on bad terms for decades to come.” The law was crafted with the help of U.S. mercenaries from the BearingPoint corporation. “Its provisions are a radical departure from the norm for developing countries: under a system known as ‘production-sharing agreements,’ or PSAs, oil majors such as BP and Shell in Britain, and Exxon and Chevron in the US, would be able to sign deals of up to 30 years to extract Iraq’s oil. PSAs allow a country to retain legal ownership of its oil, but gives a share of profits to the international companies that invest in infrastructure and operation of the wells, pipelines and refineries. Their introduction would be a first for a major Middle Eastern oil producer. Saudi Arabia and Iran, the world’s number one and two oil exporters, both tightly control their industries through state-owned companies with no appreciable foreign collaboration, as do most members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries, Opec.”

The escalation of war in Iraq has a parallel in escalating violence and tension throughout the Middle East region. Iran does not appear to be facing serious effects yet from the relatively mild sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council under U.S. pressure. But the U.S. has not abandoned its effort to escalate against Iran. This weekend’s leaked report in the London Telegraph, purportedly documenting very specific Israeli plans for a military and possibly nuclear strike against Iran is clearly part of a unified effort to ratchet up pressure against Tehran. It is not at all clear that the Israeli report is accurate (Prime Minister Olmert’s effort to claim military credentials for himself through last summer’s Lebanon war backfired terribly; he has little credibility now with Israel’s military). But the widening discussion of Israel having (as Olmert himself and new Defense Secretary Robert Gates recently acknowledged) and potentially even using nuclear weapons is clearly part of an effort to “normalize” such a possibility.

In the occupied Palestinian territories, desperation is rising. The now almost year-long collective punishment in the form of economic sanctions against the Palestinian population, in the guise of boycotting the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority, has brought Gaza especially to the brink of absolute despair. The rising absolute poverty, combined with the disempowerment resulting from the occupation’s tightening of control over all aspects of life, have led to a serious shredding of the social fabric of Palestinian society, including the rise in clan-based and family violence, and especially political violence between Palestinian factions. With U.S. backing, Israeli-Egyptian collaboration to send additional arms to the Fatah-led security forces of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has of course heightened the antagonism and the level of violence between Fatah and Hamas.

And throughout the region the anger and humiliation engendered by the hasty, disrespectful and illegitimate execution of Saddam Hussein have added to the tensions and anger. Whatever else it was, this execution was not Nuremberg. Despite their flaws, the Nuremberg tribunals for the first time recognized that the crime of waging aggressive war lies at the root of all other war crimes. Nuremberg empowered international law in entirely new ways. Justice Jackson, one of the Nuremberg prosecutors, wrote that the individual accountability established there must apply to the victors as well as the vanquished. And while Jackson’s goal has yet to be implemented, the Nuremberg precedent set the terms for using international law as a weapon against leaders of powerful as well as defeated governments. The flawed U.S.-controlled trial of Saddam Hussein did not even abide by, let alone chart new ground in international law. This was victor’s justice of the worst sort – just the opposite of what Justice Jackson called for.

A fair trial would have allowed — insisted on — including evidence implicating those who enabled those crimes: the U.S. for providing military, financial and diplomatic support for the regime, as well as providing the seed stock for biological weapons; the Brits for providing growth medium for biological weapons; the Germans for providing chemical weapons; the French for providing missile technology… etc. Also, in a “new Iraq” the convictions after a fair trial would have led to life imprisonment — not the death penalty. The fact that the first confirmation, for almost an hour, came only from the U.S.-backed propaganda station al-Hurra, indicates again that the U.S., not the Iraqi government, is still calling the shots around the trial and execution. (U.S. and some British outlets were running headlines saying “Arabic language media reporting SH’s execution…” as if al-Hurra was a legitimate independent news outlet.)

Here in the U.S., it remains unclear whether the victorious Democrats will take seriously the American people’s November mandate: stop the war. Congress has only one means of controlling an illegal war: to stop funding it. So far very few Democrats have indicated a willingness to take that step. Following the Pelosi-Reid letter to Bush, urging a redeployment of troops rather than an escalation, Pelosi went out of her way to reiterate that she would not support cutting off funds “to the troops.”

So far no one in Congress has mentioned that of the new $100 billion supplemental appropriations bill to pay for war in Iraq and Afghanistan, only 1/10 of the money is designated for body armor and other means of protecting the troops; clearly anyone in Congress without the backbone to vote against ALL funds for the war could at least demand the sections be divided so they could vote for money for body armor, and vote no on all the rest.

The January 27 mobilization, which will bring tens of thousands to Washington to demand that Congress heed the mandate of its election: people voted these members in to end the war. Not for a “new direction in Iraq” but a new direction OUT of Iraq.

Related Material

  • A Critique of the Iraq Study Group (with Erik Leaver) –


  • Media appearances on why we need to bring all the troops home now and end the occupation – on the Lehrer News Hour (PBS) and the Diane Rehm Show (NPR).




Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies where she directs the New Internationalism project. Her books include Understanding the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict: A Primer and more recently Ending the Iraq War: A Primer.

Get more news like this, directly in your inbox.

Subscribe to our newsletter.