Almost one year from President Bush’s announcement of the end of “major combat operations” in Iraq, the U.S. drive towards empire faces new and serious challenges. One year to the day since U.S. military forces pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein, the front page of the Washington Post features a photograph of another U.S. soldier pulling down a poster of Shia’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr from a pillar in the same Baghdad square. Certainly the most important challenge is seen in the widening military confrontation now facing U.S. troops in cities across Iraq. But there is a further challenge internationally. The “second super-power” is on the rise, and it now has broadened to include not only social movements and global civil society protests but as well a new assortment of governments prepared to defy U.S. pressures, inter-governmental organizations and groups (some of them newly formed, such as the G-21). And new developments may point to a potential to reclaim the United Nations itself as part of the global resistance to U.S. war.
The bottom line is that it has become impossible for the Bush administration to claim that their policies are good for Iraqis or good for Americans. The key weaknesses facing the administration’s policies start with exposés – from lies regarding weapons of mass destruction to the failure of an Iraq-obsessed White House to take real terrorist threats seriously. The specific vulnerabilities reflect the specific false claims the administration has been using (some of them now being discarded) to actually brag about the “success” of their strategy.
“We have liberated Iraq from tyranny.” What Iraqis see outside their doors are foreign soldiers occupying their country. Violence is escalating on a scale unprecedented inside Iraq since the Iran-Iraq War and the Anfal campaign of the 1980s. Many Iraqis, particularly many women, are afraid to leave their homes becomes of the surging violence.
“We are bringing democracy to Iraq.” The so-called “transfer of power” scheduled (though perhaps soon to be delayed) for June 30th will not transfer power to Iraq. The U.S. military occupation, of 110,000 + troops will remain occupying the country under U.S., not Iraqi, command and control. The nominal turning over of civil authority to Iraqis will have little significance, since there is no legitimate Iraqi government to take charge. Authority, what U.S. officials will falsely call “sovereignty,” will likely be passed to the current members or perhaps a slightly enlarged version of the Iraqi Governing Council, the U.S.-backed group of U.S.-chosen, largely exile-based, Iraqi officials. The interim constitution that will be the basis for that group to “rule” has no legitimacy, having been crafted by U.S.-selected Iraqis and subject to U.S. veto of any section unacceptable to the U.S. pro-consul in Baghdad, J. Paul Bremer.
“Iraqis view us as liberators and support our troops being in their country.” It is becoming clear that a wide percentage of the Iraqi population wants the U.S. occupation to end. The apparent breadth of popular support for the Iraqi military attack on the U.S. occupation is undermining Bush administration claims that only left-over Baathists, disgruntled Sunnis and foreign terrorists are responsible for the violent challenge to the U.S. The militia of the fiery young Shia’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr first initiated the current escalation of military resistance (responding to the provocative U.S. decisions to shut down his newspaper). But the rapid expansion of the resistance to include Sunni strongholds and statements of at least tacit support from the mainstream Shia’a hierarchy indicate a far wider level of public anger at the occupation and at least openness to a military resistance campaign.
“We have enough troops in Iraq and our lean-and-mean military is capable of whatever needs to be done.” In fact the military is seriously stretched. The announcement that 25,000 troops expecting an imminent return home would instead be re-deployed for as much as another year in Iraq, was met with widespread anger among military families and active-duty personnel. Continuing the “stop-leave” law that prohibits people from leaving the military even when their contract is up is likely to create new anger in the ranks and the potential for a significant GI resistance movement. There are reports that the highest ranks of military staff are furious with the civilian leadership of the Pentagon, setting the stage for serious undermining of military capacity. The expansion of Military Families Speak Out and other military family networks, as well as the increasing visibility of opposition among active-duty and reserve troops, indicates an important new strengthening of the anti-war movement.
“We are in Iraq leading a broad international coalition – dozens of countries are participating in the Coalition with us.” In fact, U.S. “allies” other than Britain have never provided anything but symbolic numbers of troops, and even that minimal level of participation is quickly dissipating. Allies are dropping like flies. Following the Spanish primer minister-elect’s announced commitment to withdraw troops, Norway and Khazakhstan announced they will pull out as well. Bulgaria demanded military protection for their troops, while South Korea, Bulgaria and Poland suspended all military operations by their contingents and pulled back to their bases. Japan announced it would not send any additional troops.
The defeat of Jose Maria Aznar in the Spanish elections just days after the horrific terror attack on the Madrid subways, has provided a new model for countries around the world whose governments backed Bush’s war against massive public opposition. In Italy, Australia, perhaps even the UK itself, Bush’s allies are finding their approval ratings dropping precipitously as they struggle to justify their unpopular – and now sometimes deadly—decisions to deploy troops.
“The United Nations will support our transfer of power, and UN endorsement of the new interim Iraqi government after June 30th will pave the way for the UN to return to Iraq.” In fact, the UN so far remains reticent to return to Iraq at all while the U.S. occupation continues. Even if UN special envoy Lakhdar Brahimi and his team are able to find some way of selecting an interim government for the U.S. to “transfer power” to, and find Iraqi agreement on an election strategy for that “government,” it is far from clear that there will be enough security for a significant UN team to work in Iraq. There is certainly a danger that U.S. pressure in the Security Council could result in a new resolution endorsing the June 30th “transition,” embracing the U.S. occupation force as a UN-legitimized multi-national coalition, and calling for the UN to send in election or other staff while the U.S. occupation remains in place. But it is more likely now, especially in the context of the new upsurge in violence, that the UN Secretary General will refuse to send his people back to pay the price for scaffolding the U.S. occupation. And more significantly, there is a great likelihood that the Council itself will refuse U.S. demands to endorse Washington’s war, and instead will, as it did from September 2002 until May 2003, place the UN on the side of the global opposition to war. It could even make clear its intention to refuse to go back to Iraq until the U.S. has ended its occupation and withdrawn its forces. Such a move would significantly strengthen international support for the United Nations.
Such a scenario may be particularly likely given the lessons of the 2002-2003 Security Council defiance. Despite major U.S. threats against Chile, Mexico, Cameroon, Guinea and the others, the “Uncommitted Six” who said ‘no’ to U.S. demands to endorse the war largely got away without punishment. The lesson was taken up soon after in Cancun, when the largest countries of the global South, including South Africa, India, Brazil, Argentina and more, created the Group of 21 to successfully challenge U.S. and European efforts to expand the power of the World Trade Organization.
“Our liberation of Iraq is only the first step in a broad campaign to bring democracy to the Middle East.” Instead, the Middle East region is enraged at the destruction brought to Iraq. Israel’s occupation of Palestine has taken a newly brutal turn with the assassination of Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, and the adoption of Israeli-style tactics by U.S. troops has brought the U.S.-Israeli links back to center stage. Television footage from Fallujah and Ramadi looks indistinguishable, except in degree, from similar tape from Rafah and Jenin. The planned April 14 visit of Ariel Sharon to the White House is likely to result in a U.S. agreement (some of which will not be made public) that Israel’s pull-out from Gaza will be answered with a U.S. guarantee of Israel’s refusal to withdraw to the 1967 borders, its annexation of major Israeli settlement blocs inside Palestine, and its rejection of the right of return. Governments throughout the region, most of them long-time clients of sequential U.S. administrations, are scrambling to find some distance between them and their Washington patrons to at least tamp down popular anger. The Bush administration’s “Greater Middle East Initiative,” ostensibly aimed at encouraging reform in the Arab world, is in shambles. It is expected to be launched at the G-8 Summit in Georgia in early June, but Arab governments are already rejecting it as meddling in internal Arab affairs while ignoring the Israeli occupation of Palestine and its destabilizing effect on the region.
“The overthrow of Saddam Hussein makes America and the whole world safer.” In fact, U.S. government authorities themselves have made clear that the danger of terrorist attacks has never been greater since September 11, 2001. Iraq under U.S. occupation has apparently become what Iraq never was before: a focal point of international terrorist organizations. Internationally, citizens of countries whose governments are supporting Washington’s war are at greater risk. And the constant repetition of the claim that the U.S. itself is the best, the oldest, the biggest…democracy leads to a global view that Americans, unlike people in many other parts of the world, actually have the capacity to change their government’s policies if they don’t like them. If they don’t change those policies, the logic goes, it must be because the American people agree with those policies. And that belief puts Americans at much greater risk as well.