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Killing the Golden Goose: A Look at The Iraq Study Group Report

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January 17, 2007

The situation in Iraq is grave and deteriorating. With these terse yet understated words the Iraq Study Group begins its Report.1 The Group is a ten-person consensus committee headed by former Congressman Lee H. Hamilton and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III. Its Report was released to the world on December 6.

The Report is a quick read — its 79 recommendations are introduced and presented in about 100 pages. If Mr. Bush were to read it, he’d find little new information about Iraq. Rather he would find a counter-assessment of the war — one he wouldn’t hear from the yes men and chickenhawks and ideologues with whom he surrounds himself. The Report would reveal the thinking and anxieties of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. It would reflect their disenchantment with the President’s Iraq “strategy.”

Although convened in June 2006 under the auspices of the United States Institute of Peace, the Iraq Study Group is no gaggle of pacifists or humanitarians; check out the 18 pages — about one sixth of the entire text — devoted to their respective curricula vitae. The Group, while on a different page than Mr. Bush, is in the same chapter: it perpetuates the denial and the imperial mindset behind the U.S. invasion and protracted occupation of Iraq.

If Mr. Bush were winning in Iraq — that is, if he somehow were imposing his will on that unruly region and handing over control of its vast oil reserves to U.S. corporations — this Group would feel no need to speak out.

The Group does acknowledge certain needs and realities. It notes the plight of Iraq’s millions of internal and external refugees. Departing from the Bush blackball, it calls for diplomatic relations with Syria and Iran. It emphasizes that the Iraq issue is “inextricably linked” to a range of other Middle East crises — including Israel/Palestine.

The Group recommends — though perfunctorily — that the President declare that the U.S. doesn’t covet Iraq’s oil and that the President also declare that the U.S. doesn’t seek permanent bases in Iraq. [p.61] While the Report’s maps do pinpoint oil fields, they neglect to show the many U.S. bases established in Iraq and throughout the region’s oil lands. Nor do its maps give us any idea of what Iraq territory the U.S. military, after nearly four years of squandering hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of U.S. lives, can claim to control.

The Group says, “U.S. forces seem to be caught in a mission that has no foreseeable end.” [p.12] While it provides no timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the Group does provide a table of timed “Milestones for Iraq” permitting, as they are achieved, some downsizing. [pp.62-63]

Although the Group looks into possible, if not likely, near futures, it has scant historical perspective. It notes Britain’s longtime involvement with Iraq in the days before Saddam Hussein, but the Group says nothing about British colonialism, its exploiting Iraqi oil, its role in cobbling together that artificial entity called Iraq, or its inability to quell nationalist resistance.

The Group says nothing about U.S. financial and military support for Saddam in the eighties, especially during his years-long war with Iran. It says nothing of the 13 years of U.S./UN sanctions preceding the 2003 invasion — sanctions that led to the premature death of, among others, hundreds of thousands of Iraqi children. These aren’t “merely” matters of justice and reparation; they bear directly on how Iraqis might view the U.S. and hence might help explain the Iraqis’ fierce resistance to having U.S. forces in their land.

The Group never cites international law, much less acknowledges that the invasion violated that law. It fails to acknowledge that the invasion and occupation have made a shambles of Iraq’s sovereignty. The Group barely mentions the false premises and false intelligence (9/11, al Qaeda, WMD) on which the invasion was sold. It treats Mr. Bush with kid gloves: it avoids recalling that Bush Inc. repeatedly and systematically lied to us all.

The Group’s grasp of the present is no more based in reality than its wishful forays into the future. The Group fails to acknowledge that the U.S. is occupying Iraq. The Group is so allergic to the “O” word that in those few places where it’s used, it’s in quotation marks. By glossing over that overriding reality, the Group can’t see that in resisting the invaders, Iraqis, whether Sunni or Shia, may see themselves as patriots defending their homeland. And, imagining how we might react if the U.S. were invaded, how can we say they aren ‘t patriots?

If there is no occupation, then the U.S. has no obligation — required of occupiers by the Geneva Conventions — to provide law and order and to provide for the welfare of the people. Not only does the Group not mention the Geneva Conventions and this obligation, it repeatedly faults the current and “sovereign” Iraqi government for not providing law and order.

As for welfare of the people, the Group could care less. Devotees of tough love, they describe the essential government food subsidies as a “burden.” [p.22] The health issues — products of the sanctions and the war — now plaguing the Iraqi people are ignored. There’s no mention of the carcinogenic and radioactive depleted uranium, used in U.S. weaponry that now contaminates Iraq’s soil and water.

When listing (on p. 3) the multiple sources of violence in Iraq, the Group specifies the “Sunni Arab insurgency, al Qaeda and affiliated jihadist groups, Shiite militias and death squads, and organized criminality.” Unaccountably excluded from this list is the U.S. Similarly, neighboring nations are cited for undercutting Iraq’s stability, but not the U.S. It is as if the U.S. had never invaded Iraq. It is as if the U.S. had never killed tens or hundreds of thousands of Iraqis.

The Group never mentions the role of the thousands of armed U.S. mercenaries — the so-called “civilian contractors”; these rogue operators are accountable to no official chain of command. The phrase “war crime” is never mentioned. The Group — like most U.S. media — gives no hint of the untold numbers of Iraqis civilians who have been killed by the U.S. Air Force. In fact while “air support” is mentioned once, there is only a single oblique reference to the massive U.S. Air Force in the Middle East.

The Group keeps calling for the recently installed Iraq government to step up to the plate and do what the U.S. — with all its staggering might — has been unable to do: quell the Sunni insurgents and the Shia militias. In the unlikely event the Iraq government is able to impose order, the Group suggests U.S. ground forces could then withdraw. But here’s the rub: many of our soldiers wouldn’t come home. They’d be re-deployed nearby (especially to Afghanistan). Nor would the Air Force vacate Iraqi skies.

The Group proposes, as the way out for a U.S. military bogged down in an admittedly unwinnable guerilla war in Iraq, a strategy similar to the “Vietnamization” of another era. With its lack of historical perspective, the Report ignores the painful and costly lessons of “Vietnamization” — that spectacularly failed U.S. policy of the invaders recruiting and training locals as proxy cannon fodder.

The Group calls for U.S. trainers being “embedded” in Iraqi units on an ongoing basis. The Group refuses to face the implications of such units being heavily infiltrated by men hostile to their alien trainers. It forgets about the fragging — the killing of officers by soldiers under their charge — that flourished in Viet Nam.

The Group frequently invokes “terrorism” and “democracy.” Yet it never defines these spongy terms. (As the bumper sticker puts it, war is terrorism with a bigger budget.)

From its very first paragraph and often thereafter the Group invokes “our interests and values.” But it never spells these out. It assumes that of course its readers all understand the code…and share the imperialist dream.

Thanks to their Iraq war-related contracts, the industrial/military complex is laughing all the way to the bank. But the Study Group ignores the profiteering that helps perpetuate the occupation.

Its key message — its dominating anxiety — is that, with the U.S. bogged down in Iraq, the U.S. lacks the wherewithal to impose its will elsewhere: “The American military has little reserve force to call on if it needs ground forces to respond to other crises around the world.” [p.7] Or again, “First, and most importantly, the United States faces other security dangers in the world, and a continuing Iraqi commitment of ground forces at present levels will leave no reserve available to meet other contingencies.” [p.73, italics added]

The Study Group, unlike Mr. Bush, grasps that the Iraq war is killing the golden goose, the imperial scheme. With the U.S. now stretched so thin, it can no longer intimidate rivals, other nationalists or anti-imperialists. It’s having a harder time extorting its customary highly profitable trade terms. This is true whether in Afghanistan, elsewhere in the Middle East…or in Latin America.

Hugo Chavez and the resurgent populists south of the Rio Grande are probably well aware they owe an enormous debt to the tireless resisters and the bloodied people of Iraq.

Ed is a long-time peace and justice activist based in Syracuse. He spent five months in Iraq in 2003 with Voices in the Wilderness. Reach him at edkinane@verizon.net.

  1. Vintage, 2006, $10.95, paperback or download free at www.usip.org