With pictures of the sadistic sexual abuse of Iraqis in Abu Ghraib prison still spilling out onto the front pages, it is not too early to draw some conclusions.
The neoconservative hour is over. All the blather about “empire,” our “unipolar moment,” “Pax Americana” and “benevolent global hegemony” will be quietly put on a shelf and forgotten as infantile prattle.
America is not going to fight a five- or 10-year war in Iraq. Nor will we be launching any new invasions soon. The retreat of American empire, begun at Fallujah, is underway.
With a $500 billion deficit, we do not have the money for new wars. With an Army of 480,000 stretched thin, we do not have the troops. With April-May costing us a battalion of dead and wounded, we are not going to pay the price. With the squalid photos from Abu Ghraib, we no longer have the moral authority to impose our “values” on Iraq.
Bush’s “world democratic revolution” is history.
Given the hatred of the United States and Bush in the Arab world, as attested to by Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, it is almost delusional to think Arab peoples are going to follow America’s lead.
It is a time for truth. In any guerrilla war we fight, there is going to be a steady stream of U.S. dead and wounded. There is going to be collateral damage i.e., women and children slain and maimed. There will be prisoners abused. And inevitably, there will be outrages by U.S. troops enraged at the killing of comrades and the jeering of hostile populations. If you would have an empire, this goes with the territory. And if you are unprepared to pay the price, give it up.
The administration’s shock and paralysis at publication of the S&M photos from Abu Ghraib tell us we are not up to it. For what is taking place in Iraq is child’s play compared to what we did in the Philippines a century ago. Only there, they did not have digital cameras, videocams and the Internet.
Iraq was an unnecessary war that may become one of the great blunders in U.S. history. That the invasion was brilliantly conceived and executed by Gen. Franks, that our fighting men were among the finest we ever sent to war, that they have done good deeds and brave acts, is undeniable. Yet, if recent surveys are accurate, the Iraqis no longer want us there.
Outside the Kurdish areas, over 80 percent of Sunnis and Shias view us as occupiers. Over 50 percent believe there are occasions when U.S. soldiers deserve killing. The rejoicing around every destroyed military vehicle where U.S. soldiers have died should tell us that the battle for hearts and minds is being lost.
Why are we so hated in the Middle East? Three fundamental reasons:
- Our invasion of Iraq is seen as a premeditated and unjust war to crush a weak Arab nation that had not threatened or attacked us, to seize its oil.
- We are seen as an arrogant imperial superpower that dictates to Arab peoples and sustains regimes that oppress them.
- We are seen as the financier and armorer of an Israel that oppresses and robs Palestinians of their land and denies them rights we hypocritically preach to the world.
Until we address these perceptions and causes of the conflict between us, we will not persuade the Arab world to follow us.
What should Bush do now? He should declare that the United States has no intention of establishing permanent bases in Iraq, and that we intend to withdraw all U.S. troops after elections, if the Iraqis tell us to leave. Then we should schedule elections at the earliest possible date this year.
The Iraqi peoples should then be told that U.S. soldiers are not going to fight and die indefinitely for their freedom. If they do not want to be ruled by Sheik Moqtada al-Sadr or some future Saddam, they will have to fight themselves. Otherwise, they will have to live with them, even as they lived with Saddam. For in the last analysis, it is their country, not ours.
The president should also offer to withdraw U.S. forces from any Arab country that wishes us to leave. We have already pulled out of Saudi Arabia. Let us pull out of the rest unless they ask that we remain. Our military presence in these Arab and Islamic countries, it would seem, does less to prevent terror attacks upon us than to incite them.
A presidential election is where the great foreign policy debate should take place over whether to maintain U.S. troops all over the world, or bring them home and let other nations determine their own destiny. Unfortunately, we have two candidates and two parties that agree on our present foreign policy that is conspicuously failing.