Amid all the brouhaha over Moveon.org’s Petraeus-Betray-Us newspaper ad, the ongoing martyrdom of Britney Spears, and the latest on O.J., the punditocracy somehow managed to miss the most significant decision any American administration has ever made, bar none: Bush’s announcement, midway through his recent speech to the nation, that we intend to establish a permanent military presence in Iraq:
"This vision for a reduced American presence also has the support of Iraqi leaders from all communities. At the same time, they understand that their success will require U.S. political, economic, and security engagement that extends beyond my presidency. These Iraqi leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America. And we are ready to begin building that relationship in a way that protects our interests in the region and requires many fewer American troops."
Andrea Mitchell, appearing on The Chris Matthews Show this [Sunday] morning, reported that the initial draft of the speech which used the phrase "enduring strategic relationship" caused consternation in some quarters, because it smacked too much of what it really is: an intention to establish a permanent military garrison in Iraq, just as we have maintained in South Korea for the past 56 years.
Leave it to our Orwellian war propagandists, however, to portray such a radical extension of our announced war aims as a partial withdrawal. In the Bizarro World lexicon of administration officials, the proclamation of a permanent American presence is a "drawdown" and the court stenographers otherwise known as the mainstream media report it as such.
To begin with, there is no drawdown, merely a reversion to pre-"surge" troop levels. Secondly, when this war was being sold to the American people including some Democratic Senators with presidential ambitions I don’t remember anybody telling us that we were buying into a 50-year-plus occupation of a Middle Eastern country. I remember the supposed "cakewalk," and the showers of roses that were to be strewn in our path by a grateful Iraqi populace: I remember how oil revenues were supposed to pay for it all; and I distinctly recall being told that Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction had been pinpointed and verified as ready to launch at a moment’s notice. Yet, somehow, our rulers neglected to tell us that we would be there for as long as Americans have stood guard over the Korean de-militarized zone the most heavily fortified border on earth, where a war that never formally ended could flare up with renewed force at any moment. With one difference: this time, the North Koreans are armed with nukes.
The parallels with the Korean conflict are not reassuring. American troops in Iraq are increasingly in a face-off with a hostile neighbor to the east: Iran. And if Tehran ever gets its hands on nuclear weapons, the Korean analogy could be extended still further.
During the Korean war, you’ll remember, it was the Democrats who were the War Party, and a minority of Republicans opposed them, or, at least prefiguring our Vietnam conundrum questioned the wisdom of a long-term American commitment to the defense of an ally on the Asian landmass.
Today, of course, such thoughtfulness is banished from the leadership of both major parties: only Ron Paul remembers who Robert Taft is; and, in any case, we are told, the time when we could abandon our alleged responsibility to police the world is part of an unrecoverable past. Both parties are committed to a vision of America as an imperial power, and certainly this was driven home on "Meet the Press" this morning when John "I Voted Against It Before I Voted for It" Kerry "debated" Mad John McCain on the war. Citing the Decider’s "enduring relationship" proposal, which would ensure that there will be troops in Iraq long after the Bush presidency, host Tim Russert asked: "Do you agree?" Kerry’s answer:
"SEN. KERRY: Yes.
"MR. RUSSERT: To both?
"SEN. KERRY: We should have an enduring relationship, hopefully with an Iraq that is able to stand up and define itself in the way that I said. The question is how do you get there, Tim? And what treasure do you expend in getting there? I believe we will, obviously, providing that there hasn’t been a complete implosion and we’re not asked to leave."
The Democrats bought into all this, long ago, when they voted for the war en masse and approved funding for 14 "enduring bases" throughout Iraq, which was contained in the May 2005 $82 billion supplemental appropriations bill. From "enduring bases" to an "enduring relationship" is not that big a leap, and, it seems, we have made it without any debate.
The bipartisan "compromise" that’s building up steam on Capitol Hill amounts to this: a phony "withdrawal," followed by the consolidation of a permanent presence in the form of a "residual" force of anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 troops, depending on the situation on the ground. This garrison, as envisioned by defense secretary Robert M. Gates, would, supposedly, "engage only in counterterrorism, training, support and border protection," reports the Washington Post, which notes that "leading Democrats have envisioned such a long-term smaller presence, as well."
This presence, whatever its numbers, will be situated so as to confront the latest bugaboo targeted by Washington: Iran. The Wall Street Journal reports that, even now, U.S. engineers are building a base on the border with Iran designed to guard against the alleged flow of weapons to sectarian militias. Furthermore, this supposed threat from Tehran has been the leitmotif of General Petraeus’s remarks to Congress, and a leading reason given by the administration to justify our continued presence.
US-occupied Iraq is a launching pad for future wars, and there seems little doubt that the first blow will be directed at the Iranians. Rumors of war have been circulating for months, and there is little opposition coming from the Democrats. The latest is a report in the London Telegraph that "Pentagon planners have developed a list of up to 2,000 bombing targets in Iran," and "Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, who has been pushing for a diplomatic solution, is prepared to settle her differences with Vice-President Dick Cheney and sanction military action." The likely site of the initiating incident: a base in southern Iran run by the Quds, or Revolutionary Guards force, which has in an unprecedented move already been officially declared a "terrorist" outfit by the U.S. government. That’s the bipartisan concept of what a "residual" force in Iraq would do: play a game of cat-and-mouse with the Iranians, until what the Telegraph describes as a "carefully calibrated escalation" of the conflict with Tehran explodes into a full-scale conflagration.
The issue that is not now being debated, and yet desperately needs to be raised in Congress, is this question of an "enduring relationship" with Baghdad. Will we follow the "Korean model" and add Iraq to our roster of dependencies, including not only South Korea but also Taiwan, whose defense we are pledged to uphold unconditionally, and, apparently, unto eternity?
As it now stands, not a single major American politician is opposing this giant step toward a permanent US military presence in Iraq. For all of the Democratic candidates’ "antiwar" pretensions, none of the frontrunners have denounced this ominous turn: indeed, as we have seen, John Kerry, one of the party’s major spokesmen in the Senate, has signed on to the Bush plan. Where oh where are the supposedly anti-interventionist "net-roots"? Where is Moveon.org? Where is the Democratic majority that was elected on a pledge to get out of Iraq or, at least, an implied promise to stop Mad King George and his neocon courtiers from running completely amok?
Bush’s proposed "enduring relationship" is a euphemism for a perpetual burden and a flashpoint for war. If "realism" means anything, it must reject this permanent projection of American power as militarily, politically, and morally indefensible.