Iraq and the Korean ‘Model’

Any doubts that the U.S. is engaged in a colonial adventure in Iraq – because we’re "liberators," not imperialists – ought to be permanently dispelled now that top administration officials are holding up the "Korean model" as a framework for our future role. What we have to look forward to in the "Korean model" is half a century of occupation.

Here, at last, is the frank admission that we have no intention of leaving Iraq in the foreseeable future, and, what’s more, that we intend to integrate it into the web of military bases, state-subsidized economic links, and mutual "defense" treaties that our leaders are spinning into what can only be called an empire. Yet this conception goes beyond even what Chalmers Johnson calls the American "empire of bases" in that it envisions a protracted U.S. military presence involving substantial numbers of troops. Iraqi bases will be more than just "lily pads" – Korea is currently "hosting" 53,000 U.S. troops, and the DMZ is one of the most militarized borders in the world, a potential flashpoint for a renewal of a conflict that never formally ended.

What’s interesting is that the administration is not really denying any of this: in response to a question about the implications of the Korean analogy, White House spokesman Tony Snow refused to rule out a 50-year stay:

"So you’re not suggesting that U.S. troops would be there for over 50 years in a –

"MR. SNOW: No, no, I’m not. I don’t know. It is an unanswerable question, but I’m not making that suggestion."

But of course he wasn’t – the reporter was. The question, in any event, is "unanswerable" – unless one takes into account the full context of our Middle Eastern posture, with special attention to the burgeoning fleet of U.S. warships either in or headed for the Persian Gulf. However, the extension of the occupation along a timeline measured in decades means more than just a looming confrontation with Iran. It also means a military buildup in the region and the capability to project American power not just at Iran, but at several targets in the region – including Syria, Lebanon, the oil-producing regions of Saudi Arabia, and even the steppes of central Asia, where a showdown with the Russkies is in the making.

Sensitive to the implications of the Korea analogy, Snow carefully deflected any suggestion of Iraq as a launching pad for future military operations beyond the country’s borders:

"We’re hoping that the Iraqis, in fact, are going to have the kind of security and stability they need so that what you’re really dealing with is the internal security of Iraq, rather than trying to provide reassurance against an external foe."

A hope is not a fact. Snow does not rule out the possibility that the administration’s fondest hopes may be dashed and we may find ourselves in a face-off with the Iranians and their Iraqi Shi’ite allies – in which case U.S. troops would be fighting a regional war on several fronts, extending from Beirut to Baghdad and beyond.

This strategic orientation is what’s behind the recent American tilt toward the Sunnis in the developing Sunni-Shi’ite civil war within Islam. The U.S. is mobilizing its regional Sunni allies against the alleged threat from the "Shi’ite crescent." It is the oldest imperial trick in the book, one practiced by the Romans and the British with particular flair: Divide et impera, divide and conquer.

This tactic applies to the home front as well, where the battle for the hearts and minds of the American people is ongoing. Administration officials explicitly refer to the new orientation as a "beyond the horizon" tactic, a phrase linked to Democratic proposals for a drawdown, specifically Jack Murtha’s idea that the greatest concentration of American forces would be "redeployed" outside the country – or perhaps withdrawn to Kurdistan, as suggested by Hillary Clinton.

Clearly the administration is trying to cement some sort of bipartisan consensus on the necessity of staying in Iraq, on whatever basis possible – in the process dividing the Democratic leadership from their antiwar base and sowing divisions in the party’s congressional caucus. Along with the recent Reid-Pelosi capitulation on Iraq war funding, the gluing together of a pro-occupation coalition in Congress will have the Democrats co-owning this disastrous war in no time. This will smooth the possible transition from Republican to Democratic rule, without interrupting or in any way threatening the War Party’s Middle East agenda. Once they sign on to the consolidation of a permanent American beachhead in Iraq and environs and go along with the construction of permanent bases, the Democrats will be ready to continue the "liberation" struggle begun by Bush. His war will become their war, and they’ll be politically invested in "winning" it.

We have said in this space from the beginning that the invasion and occupation of Iraq aimed at the establishment of a forward base from which to carry the "liberation" struggle forward in the rest of the Middle East. Four permanent bases are currently under construction in occupied Iraq, and there seems little doubt as to Washington’s intentions: the invasion and occupation of the Ba’athist realm carved out an American beachhead in Mesopotamia. The evolving "Korean model" paradigm ensures that a substantial military presence is going to be maintained into the indefinite future, not to secure order within Iraq – only the Iraqis can do that, as even the Bushies admit – but to face off against Iran, just as the U.S. faced off against the North Koreans and Chinese before.

If we look at the actual history of the Korean "model," perhaps we can learn from it – or, at least, anticipate the tragedies to come. In The Sorrows of Empire, Chalmers Johnson compares the crushing of the 1980 Kwangju rebellion to the Soviet Union’s repression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising. When a South Korean general scotched democratic elections, mounted a coup, and imposed martial law, the student protesters of Kwangju were bayoneted by South Korean soldiers. These troops had been withdrawn from the DMZ, as Johnson shows, with much more than U.S. cooperation and complicity: he cites recently released cables to and from then-U.S. ambassador William J. Gleysteen that prove the U.S. coordinated the bloody quashing of the Kwangju rebellion just as surely as the Kremlin directed the assault on the Hungarian revolutionaries.

The "democratic" government of Iraq, which owes its existence to the U.S. troop presence – either "beyond the horizon" or under it – will be no more free to annul what Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates described as "a mutually agreed arrangement whereby we have a long and enduring presence" than Hungary’s puppet regime was free to leave the Warsaw Pact. Iraq is the first step on the road to empire – and both parties are signing on to this turn toward imperium.

In Washington, both Democrats and Republicans are vocally miffed that the Iraqis haven’t met various "deadlines" regarding the passage of an oil resources bill and the holding of local elections, among other items – the typical reaction of a colonial taskmaster, impatient with the dull-witted natives and groaning under the white man’s burden. All in all, we’re developing a colonialist mindset, and, it seems, all the nastiest habits of the species. Aside from the mind-boggling corruption and outrages such as Abu Ghraib and the Haditha massacre, we exhibit a uniquely American blend of arrogance and self-righteousness that far surpasses the revolutionary hubris of the Soviets at their height.

The Soviets, after all, were commies of the Stalinist variety, who believed that socialism in one country would suffice for their purposes, because after all, capital-H History would inevitably inaugurate the victory of the proletariat and carry the communist cause to victory worldwide. All they had to do, or so they thought, was defend the revolution on its native soil – Russia, the "workers’ fatherland" – and the triumph of communism would eventually follow.

What we have in Washington, however, are commies of an entirely different color. The neoconservatives of today have a political-ideological pedigree that stretches all the way back to certain dissident Trotskyists and disillusioned acolytes of the God That Failed – and it shows. These were the followers of Leon Trotsky, the ice-picked dissident and founder of the Red Army, who lost out to Stalin in the post-Lenin internal struggle for power. Trotsky and his followers energetically criticized the Stalinists for conciliating the capitalist world: Moscow, they claimed, was constantly reining in and sabotaging the world revolutionary Communist movement. Socialism in one country, they averred, could never survive – encircled as it was by hostile powers, the Communist revolution had to either expand or be strangled in its cradle. The neocons, in their long odyssey from Left to Right, carried this virus into the "conservative" movement – so that the GOP and the rhetoric of a Republican White House sound like Trotsky on steroids.

In this sense, the warlords of Washington are far more dangerous than the imperialists of the past. The British, the Soviets, and even Alexander the Great had some conception of limits on their imperial ambitions: but not, it seems, the Americans. Driven by an ideological energy that is both messianic and quasi-religious in its fervor and unreason, they seem intent on driving themselves over a cliff – and taking much of the world with them.


I‘m going to be on KALW-FM radio in San Francisco at 10:00 a.m. this morning, discussing the voting records of the various presidential candidates and how this connects – or doesn’t connect – to their campaign rhetoric. Go here to listen live.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].