In For the Long Haul

Years ago Stratfor.com, the private intelligence service and Web site, maintained that the real purpose of the Iraq war was to establish permanent U.S . bases in Iraq, to serve as forward staging areas for future forays in the world wide “war on terror,” in someplace other than Saudi Arabia, home to the most universally sacred-to-Islam sites. Unless the Senate pulls the string – and its record to date, plus its apparent utter inattention to the current action, let alone this president’s inclination to ignore anything resembling checks and balances don’t bode well – that’s what we are poised to have.

There’s a difference from Stratfor’s vision, however. Instead of having troops free to train and be prepared to deploy to trouble spots, we’re poised to have troops that will be continuously involved in propping up and protecting the somewhat imaginary government we have set up. That will make them both more vulnerable to constant casualties and less useful in dealing with potential problems elsewhere in the region.

Almost beneath the radar, with Congress in recess, President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki have signed an agreement for a long-term U.S. occupation of Iraq that commits at least 50,000 U.S. troops to remain in Iraq indefinitely. And these troops will not simply be called on in rare emergencies, but are charged with, in the words of the “Declaration of Principles“:

“Supporting the Republic of Iraq in its efforts to combat all terrorist groups, at the forefront of which is al-Qaeda, Saddamists and all other outlaw groups regardless of affiliation, and destroy their logistical networks and their sources of finance, and defeat and uproot them from Iraq. This support will be provided consistent with mechanisms and arrangements to be established in the bilateral cooperation agreements mentioned herein.”

U.S. forces will also actively train and equip Iraqi security forces, apparently indefinitely.

So the U.S. will continue to spend blood and treasure to provide internal security for the ephemeral Iraqi government. This is not the kind of arrangement you would expect between two genuinely sovereign nations, but more like an arrangement between a colonial power and a protectorate, back in the days when empire-builders called empire what it was.

The preamble to the Declaration is full of giggle-inducing rhetoric, to wit:

“[T]he Governments of Iraq and the United States are committed to developing a long-term relationship of cooperation and friendship as two fully sovereign and independent states with common interests. This relationship will serve the coming generations based on the heroic sacrifices made by the Iraqi people and the American people for the sake of a free, democratic, pluralistic, federal, and unified Iraq.”

Sorry, but I was so bent over it was difficult to continue reading beyond “two fully sovereign and independent states.”

If this were a deployment similar to the deployment of U.S. troops in Germany and Korea, where they serve as a tripwire (in Korea) and a symbol (in Germany), it might be nothing much more than a huge waste of taxpayers’ money. However, considering the destabilizing impact of the U.S. invasion of Iraq – strengthening Iran, unleashing ancient Shia-Sunni sectarian hostility, providing a target and opportunities to gain experience for foreign fighters – this is a mission fraught with danger for U.S. troops.

The agreement also has an economic component, including open-ended economic aid to Iraq and preferential treatment for U.S. investments in Iraq. This is more like crony capitalism than the kind of open free-market regime the United States pretends to extol and practice.

Under the Iraqi constitution the Iraqi Parliament would have to ratify this deal, which might not be a sure thing. Already both Sunni and Shia Iraqi politicians have expressed opposition to a plan that would involve “U.S. interference for years to come.”

Ironically, however, there is no intention to submit the agreement to the U.S. Senate for approval. The world’s “oldest republic” has no time for such fripperies in the age of total empire and plenary powers. Yet it is, in fact, a treaty – committing U.S. troops and money – and the Constitution requires the Senate to ratify treaties. Thus do dreams of empire undermine our constitutional order.

The only hopeful note in all this stealth imperialism is that a few newspapers, if not the vaunted national “newspapers of record,” have objected to this blatant exercise of illegitimate executive authority. Thus the Sacramento Bee laments that “The Bush presidency has been one long effort to increase the power of the presidency at the expense of Congress and the judiciary, to the detriment of checks and balances in our constitutional system.”

The Battle Creek Enquirer notes that “More than a half-century after the end of the Korean War, approximately 28,500 U.S. troops remain stationed in South Korea, helping to safeguard the Korean peninsula.” I wouldn’t have chosen the word “safeguard,” but ah, well.

And the Ventura County Star observes: “How long will the U.S. be in Iraq? A very long time, according the Bush administration plans, on the order of the 60-plus years we’ve been in Germany and Japan and the 50-plus years in South Korea. In other words, more or less permanently.”

The National Security Network held a conference call with newspaper writers on Friday, featuring Rand Beers, president of the National Security Network, and former Reagan-era defense official Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress, under the headline, “President Bush is Signing the United States Up for Endless War in Iraq.” I wasn’t able to participate, but I’m pleased it took place.

So there is some grassroots stirring out there as the administration puts in place the policy of perpetual war for perpetual peace. But we haven’t heard yet from the U.S. Senate or, to my knowledge, any elected official.

Read more by Alan Bock

Author: Alan Bock

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Alan Bock is senior essayist at the Orange
County Register
. He is the author of Ambush
at Ruby Ridge
(Putnam-Berkley, 1995).