Below, at the request of one of my most beloved readers, is an attempt to set aside a vision for some policies I envision to succeed the current (and very long-standing) American belligerence, imperialism and corporate enslavement vis-à-vis the Middle East, specifically with regard to Iran and Iraq. Proposing changes in what has long been an essentially bipartisan American foreign policy, usually a fool's errand (no different here), also requires an assessment of the current language used in the painfully myopic jingoism that passes for political debate in Washington, D.C. and the corporate-owned US press. So, the following is both a critique of rhetoric (as usual) and a brief sketch of an alternative, dare I say post-imperialist Middle East policy (new flavor?). It is a wholly fantastical endeavor (more on that below), but nonetheless, it may be fun.
To: Sen. Barack Obama
CC: US Foreign Policy Establishment
From: the actual rod
Re: Middle East Policy "Going Forward"/"Over the Horizon"/"New Direction" etc.
Democrats, with their new-found dominance of the legislative process, have the seemingly unenviable choice of either ending the war in Iraq, allowing it continue at its current (or a slightly increased) level of violence, or pushing the Iraq Study Group's recommendations for a less costly occupation, utilizing some form of "redeployment".
In the following paragraphs, I suggest that the only possible Middle East policy that can actually encourage peace in the region and repair the damaged American image is the repeal of the Authorization for Use of Military Force of 2001 and a rapid and complete withdrawal from Iraq, along with considerable reparations allowing Iraqis to rebuild their national economy without American interference that has usually insured both unaccountable, wasteful use of the reconstruction funds and the return of aid dollars to the pockets of American corporations. This has amounted to profiteering and it has greatly contributed to the current humanitarian disaster in Iraq. Along with this, the regime in Iran ought to be engaged constructively, as it has indicated that it is willing to do so in the framework of equitable, mutually respectful negotiations. The current tensions in the Middle East could be diminished by such policy.
There are some who argue, like Senator Joseph Biden, that the Democratic majority is unable to tie the President's hands in the waging of war; others, like Senator Edward Kennedy have suggested that the power of the purse is an absolutely appropriate means of using Congressional authority to end an unpopular war. By now, these arguments are well known, as is the Democratic leadership's current position, that funding for the war will not be cut, as it would "put the troops in harm's way", as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others have declared.
On October 1, 2006, before the election for the 110th Congress, an additional $70 billion appropriation was made for use in Iraq, bringing total appropriations for Iraq to $437 billion. At the currently accepted rate of expenditure, even if that $70 billion had been the sole source of all Iraq operations since January 1, 2007, around $60 billion would be remaining. Dubious Pentagon spending policies notwithstanding, the troops would not seem to be in harm's way, insomuch as money can protect them from what military analysts have called an ever more popular insurgency against American occupation and the realities it has ushered in. Indeed, the troops are already in harm's way, and throwing money at the war has, thus far, been a less than adequate solution to that basic situation, from any standpoint.
Republicans and Democrats alike have spoken much of "victory"/"success" in Iraq, mostly echoing the logical framework employed by Mr. Bush, but no one has even attempted to define what "victory" implies. Victory for whom? What would it look like? When do we know when we have achieved it?
Does victory in Iraq imply the creation of a pro-American government, or a democratic one? At this point, given the results of polling of the Iraqi population, there is little chance that the two things will correspond in reality. Does victory imply complete stability in Iraq, or just a manageable level of "constructive violence"? Have American forces been able to guarantee either for the past four years of occupation?
Does victory in Iraq require that Iraq not be a "safe haven for terrorists", even in the narrowly-defined War on Terror use of the phrase? Who is and who isn't a terrorist? If the phrase is simply restricted to the few al Qa'eda-linked extremists in Iraq, we have every indication that the US presence is the sole source of their legitimacy and influence. Is it even remotely possible to guarantee that a country will not be used as a base of operations by non-state actors, when the United States itself served as safe haven for the 9/11 hijackers with far greater stability and government resources? It is old news by now that the US presence in Iraq fuels terror in the country and anti-Americanism throughout the region. The easiest way to achieve this particular version of "victory" would be to withdraw from Iraq immediately.
Does victory in Iraq require a functioning economy? Can the Iraqi economy function for the initial years after some elusive stability is established (thereby allowing a reconstruction of crucial elements of national infrastructure, some measure of relief from humanitarian disaster, and sufficient investment in the oil industry to regenerate its profitability) while the initial stages of new profit-sharing agreements in the oil sector will allow foreign companies to claim 75% of profits? Can a cash (and food, and medicine)-starved economy survive such deals? Would a truly representative government choose to honor them?
No one credibly discusses the criteria for "victory" in Iraq, with a basic understanding of the facts of life in Iraq for American troops or Iraqi civilians, who have borne the brunt of American "failure" to date. Indeed, there is and always has been little to win in Iraq, there having been no weapons of mass destruction, no possibility of pro-American democracy, and so on. For the American people (let alone Iraqis), "victory" is an abstract, even unrealistic concept, and rhetorical obsession with the win-lose construct, as far as it keeps the status quo in place in Iraq, is completely counterproductive. There is no winning or losing, nor is Iraq an American possession to be won or lost in the first place.
That is, unless we're talking about oil companies, and not the American people. They have something to lose from democracy in Iraq and they have something to lose from a withdrawal of American troops. Hint: that "something" has to do with what the US Department of Energy believes to be the second largest known petroleum reserves in the world.
When President Bush talks about "the consequences of failure in Iraq", we can be fairly sure that either he is deliberately confusing and misleading the American people (an impeachable offense) or he is talking about the consequences of failure for ExxonMobil, Chevron, et al. Or both.
The only acceptable policy for Democrats to pursue, rather than nonexistent "victory" or "responsibility" to the Iraqi people who have been devastated by this occupation, is, therefore, to withdraw as quickly as possible (in accordance with American and Iraqi public opinion), cognizant of the civil war that will continue after withdrawal, a conflict that has already gone into full swing regardless of the American presence, which can do nothing to stop it. The Iraqi government should not be coerced into enacting production-sharing agreements that clearly infringe upon its sovereignty and its economic well-being for the gain of American corporations. This is the only kind of "responsibility" that American lawmakers have to Iraqi governments--to rescind the looting of their country that is already taking place under American auspices. Furthermore, Iraqis should be able to expect massive reparations with which to rebuild their country, as the Pentagon version of reconstruction has been woefully inadequate and indeed beyond criminal.
"Enduring bases" have been built in Iraq while the actual reconstruction of the country has been neglected by corrupt American-based corporations, almost the same corporations that have failed to fill their responsibilities in New Orleans a year and a half after Hurricane Katrina. Should the new Congress endorse these priorities?
The possibility that Iran will be "emboldened" by an American withdrawal is laughable; American presence in Iraq has not prevented Iran from growing in strength and influence in the region--indeed, it has facilitated it. A sovereign Iraq will have to have the best possible economic and security relations with its neighbors, and expectations otherwise by American planners are unrealistic at best.
What about the Iranian nuclear program? The Bush administration and the EU have voiced beliefs of its existence with no evidence. Bush has lied before about a weapons program that didn't exist, thus his administration simply lacks the credibility to lecture the American people on this supposedly grave threat. The CIA and the IAEA, not to mention Israeli intelligence in Iran, have all found no evidence of a nuclear weapons program.
The Iranian regime is oppressive, but so are numerous American-supported governments in the region, usually more so. That should not preclude diplomatic relations, as it would be a transparently hypocritical policy. Iran should be brought to the table by real diplomacy; the Bush administration's attempts to generate the semblance of such diplomacy are pathetic because they have asked Iran to give up every bargaining chip before negotiations, at which point negotiations would be meaningless. These overtures are meant to be rejected, and thus they have no place in real diplomacy. Congress should pass HJR 14, the Walter Jones Resolution, without delay, and should pressure the administration to authorize a group of diplomats and congressional foreign policy experts to engage Iran for assistance in stabilizing Iraq (as the ISG recommended) and allowing regular IAEA inspections as it has done thus far--and offered in even greater quantity to prove its sincerity, recognizing Israel, and ceasing support for Hamas and Hezbollah in return for the dropping of UN and US sanctions, allowing access to heretofore frozen Iranian assets, and normalization of diplomatic and trade relations between the US and Iran. Indeed, such a proposal is nearly identical to the one made by Tehran itself on a few occasions since 2003, when it was brought forth by the Swiss Ambassador, who was rejected and rebuked. According to the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, who is the ultimate authority in foreign relations and national security matters in Iran, the proposals are still on the table. Engagement with Iran would almost certainly be successful, it would neutralize any threat that it could possibly pose to Israel (negligible--they aren't suicidal), and ironically it would do more to discredit the regime in the eyes of its few remaining domestic supporters than any military strike.
The mention of PSAs, general and cursory as it is, would not fly in Washington because it is widely understood, if not said, that that is exactly why the military is there, and that we deserve that lion's share of Iraqi oil, obviously due to the "sacrifices" we've made to bring "democracy" to Iraq.
I've also mentioned that there is no evidence of an Iranian weapons program, which while technically true, also simply isn't acceptable in Washington, because AIPAC doesn't like it.
I've also not even discussed impeachment, which I think is necessary before any of the above recommendations (assuming Democrats would accept them) can be implemented. Keep in mind that the "recommendations" themselves are very short and simple compared to the rhetorical analysis, by design; actual (quasi-) post-imperialist Middle East policy, absent of the need to control other nations' oil and natural gas resources, could look just like that. Key differences with current policy--my proposal is probably more coherent to the average American, and no one else has to die.
Of course, this memorandum only exists in a fantasy world in which the words that I've run together above are actually coherent to the politicos reading them. For that to take place, there would have to be less discussion of reality and more of a focus on "Iraqis taking responsibility", "Iran's ambitions", etc. Essentially, I've attempted to strip away both imperial policy and rhetoric (while still operating within the general parameters set by them, for the Senator's sake), and, as such, the above memorandum cannot exist in Washington today.
Unfortunately, such discussions for alternative policy just don't correspond with reality--and that's why I usually don't engage in prescriptions for alternatives: the structures and institutions of power and influence that I write about (namely multinational energy corporations, the military-industrial complex, and the lobbyists and politicians that serve them) preclude sane policy from being adopted. As I've said numerous times, these problems are systemic. Current Middle East policy is not hijacked by just a few crazies (neocons) to be saved by a benevolent establishment (James Baker, Democrats, etc); rather, it is an outgrowth of the current distribution of wealth, power, and influence in the United States and the West, applied through the structures that maintain and justify them (government & media). No Congress is going to challenge the profits American oil companies can make in Iraq. Forget American troops, no Congress is going to do anything to endanger those profits. There are obvious reasons for that (even if oil companies donate 2:1 to Republicans, they still donate to Democrats). Secondly, I don't think that I particularly know anything more than anyone else when it comes to international affairs.
I am just using logic and common sense (and a really minimal amount of research, but probably more than Congressional staff) in the fictional memo (that looks a lot like a blog post) above. In a truly democratic, transparent country, common sense and dispassionate research would be all that is needed to formulate coherent, effective policy. The aforementioned institutions of power would like you to think that it's all a very complex process, to discourage you from paying attention to their crimes while they run misdirection with incoherent imperialist platitudes about "responsibility" and "coddling" as Obama has done. But it's not. Sane, post-imperialist international relations are very easy to imagine, and my version of them is probably not too much different from yours.
My real proposal is that Senator Obama or any other ambitious superman/woman isn't going to do anything that's necessary as long as he/she can help it, though some (the "electoral left" that I've discussed, of which Obama is nominally a member) may seem like they intend to do something right, at least for awhile; thus, what we really need to do is change the institutions of power in this country; requiring grassroots organization and tireless activism. How can we change the way political power is exercised? Many have discussed proposals for equitable, just societies, as usual more brilliantly than myself. The very first steps in the current political climate would require public funding of elections and voting reform involving an independent, apolitical monitoring process and verifiable paper trails for all federal votes.
Obviously, most true political power is based in unaccountable totalitarian institutions (multinational corporations) and the highly irresponsible international finance community that moves trillions of dollars from market to market daily, exercises a veto on all governmental reform throughout the Global South with the threat of capital flight, and turns over mutual funds in spans of months--as Al Gore has recently pointed out, also calling the stock market "functionally insane"--in a predatory, unproductive, and unprecedented form of speculation that Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz has predicted will likely lead to global depression within the next two years (hat tip to Stephen Lendman, in case he finds this). Public funding of elections will be one step towards freeing political discourse from the pervasive grasp of corporate tyranny.
There are plenty of people who are actually working towards those goals right now, as I write this comparatively unproductive stuff. The United for Peace and Justice rallies on January 27th (find one near you) will be a manifestation of some of their work with regard to the limited issue of war (itself only a manifestation of the current power structures); but in themselves, the periodic demonstrations aren't an answer either. Positive change is never simply granted, top-down, by state power. It has to be forced upon it from below. Organization and unrelenting struggle are the only real alternative policy. Numerous Latin American countries have already shown the way.
But, if you're too busy to be bothered with all of that, here is the future you can expect.