Road to Empire

Is the U.S. going to occupy Iraq indefinitely, or will we withdraw our troops within the next year or so, as the majority of Americans would have it? President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki don’t care what Americans – or Iraqis – think or want: they’ve already settled the question by signing a "Declaration of Principles for a Long-Term Relationship of Cooperation and Friendship Between the Republic of Iraq and the United States of America" that commits American soldiers to the task of defending the present Iraqi government against internal enemies, as well as foreign-based threats to its sovereignty, either real or imagined. As the Declaration declares, the U.S. is tasked with:

"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."

It’s in this context that the Kyl-Lieberman resolution, enthusiastically supported by Hillary Clinton as well as the Bush administration, takes on special importance: having targeted the Iranian security force known as al-Quds, or the Revolutionary Guards, as an officially designated "terrorist" group, the American garrison is already authorized to take on Tehran. The road to war with Iran is paved, and we’re ready to roll no matter who sits in the driver’s seat.

The administration is denying that this is a treaty, which would need to be ratified by the U.S. Senate: it is, instead, a "strategic framework agreement" that just happened to be announced after Congress went into recess. Asked if the administration would seek any congressional "input" on the forging of this agreement, Lt. Gen. Douglas Lute, the administration’s point man on Iraq, answered:

"In the course of negotiations like this, it’s not – it is typical that there will be a dialogue between congressional leaders at the negotiating table, which will be run out of the Department of State. We don’t anticipate now that these negotiations will lead to the status of a formal treaty which would then bring us to formal negotiations or formal inputs from the Congress."

Short answer: hell no.

Oh, they may solicit the complicity of the top Democratic leadership in both houses of Congress, to the extent of asking them not to make any waves, but essentially they’ll do what they have always done in the hundred-plus countries where U.S. troops are currently stationed, and that is negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement, the essential element of which immunizes our soldiers from being prosecuted by local authorities for crimes against the natives. In this case, however, the scope of the agreement is a bit more comprehensive, encompassing economic and political elements, as well as the "security" factor, i.e., the military details of the continuing occupation, including U.S. troop levels and the construction of permanent American bases.

What stands out is the stated intention of the Iraqi government to give what news accounts describe as "preferential" treatment to U.S. investment in the country, which presumably means the vital oil production sector. One imagines that the bidding process is already taking place, with all sorts of sub rosa agreements being made to divvy up the country’s potentially lucrative oil reserves.

For an administration ostensibly devoted to "free markets," this sort of crony capitalism is a disgrace. It is, in short, good old-fashioned imperialism of the sort embodied by the British East India Company.

So what are the Iraqis getting in return for allowing the wholesale looting of their natural resources? Fifty thousand U.S. troops stationed permanently in the country, mostly in urban areas – the plan is for 14 "enduring bases," as we found out back in 2003. In spite of all the palaver about "foreign" threats, there is no doubt that we are now in the business of protecting the Iraqi "government" from their own people. In return, favored American corporate interests will be allowed to strip the country bare.

This agreement formalizes Iraq’s status as a de facto U.S. protectorate, a province of the empire – an American beachhead in a radically destabilized Middle East that could easily be used as a launching pad for future (and even more ambitious) wars of "liberation."

There’s just one big problem for the War Party: the Iraqi constitution requires a vote by the Parliament in order to give the Status of Forces Agreement (or this preliminary declaration of intent) the force of law. And that looks problematic, at best, given the weakness of the Maliki regime. As Liwa Sumaysim, formerly tourism minister and now a member of the Iraqi Parliament from the fiercely nationalistic party of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, put it: “The Iraqi parliament must have the final word on it."

Can the American Congress say the same? I think not.

The Americans are careful to cloak their illegal and increasingly untenable military occupation of Iraq in all sorts of pretensions to legality: they refer to the UN resolution, which sanctions Iraq as a "terrorist" state and a "threat" to "international peace." The Bush administration will go to the Security Council once again for a renewal of this formal mandate – even though it declares, in effect, that Iraq remains a pariah among nations, which rankles the Iraqis. The idea is to transition over to a bilateral Iraqi-U.S. agreement that supersedes the UN framework and codifies the terms of the occupation in Iraqi law.

Whether the Iraqis will go for it, or the more nationalistic elements, such as the Sadrists, manage to stall approval of the declaration and derail the U.S.-Iraqi "negotiations" over the exact content of a future Status of Forces Agreement is a pretty even bet. What you can count on, however, is that we won’t hear a peep out of the U.S. Senate or the House of Representatives, which doesn’t at all mind being in recess while the president commits us to an open-ended occupation – and America takes a giant step down the road to empire.

Neocon columnist Jonah Goldberg complains that "the word ’empire’ substitutes for an argument; there are no good empires, just as there are no good fascists, or racists, or dictators." What he doesn’t say is that this argument is only good in America: why, even the supposedly antiwar archbishop of Canterbury, as the denizens of National Review‘s "The Corner" recently noted, has hailed the alleged achievements of British imperialism as compared to the vulgar American version. The British routinely point to their imperial past as a source of pride, as do American Anglophiles. The French, the Spanish, and the Italians all revel in the supposed glory of their past conquests: it’s only the Americans who disdain the very idea of having an empire, and, indeed, instinctively sense something profoundly un-American about the whole concept of Washington, D.C., as the capital of a global imperium.

That’s what ordinary Americans think, at any rate: the elites, on the other hand, believe they are uniquely qualified – and, indeed, have a duty – to rule over the peoples of the world … for their own good, of course. To believe otherwise is to stand condemned as an "isolationist," a dreaded epithet reserved for any politician or public person who refuses to get with the program and dares challenge the fundamental assumptions upon which U.S. foreign policy has been built since the days of Harry Truman.

So you don’t believe the U.S. has any business stationing its troops in 100-plus countries? What are you, some kind of isolationist dinosaur? Don’t you realize that we have a moral obligation to be "engaged" in the world? It scarcely merits mentioning that this sort of "engagement" means a policy of perpetual war, and that, in particular, the neoconservative dream of a remade Middle East is a prescription for a regional conflict that would dwarf the current level of conflict in Iraq by several orders of magnitude. Which is why it is never acknowledged, at least in "mainstream" venues, yet that is the future being mapped out for us.

That Congress is in recess as this most important step is being taken is emblematic of our elected representatives’ abdication in the foreign policy realm, and specifically of their constitutional duty to review and ratify – or reject – treaties. Yet their abstention is hardly a big surprise: after all, this is the same sorry collection of solons who stood passively by while we were lied into war, then complained that they didn’t know, they couldn’t help it, and it was all the Republicans’ fault, anyway. This deft maneuver by the Bush administration will give the Democrats an ample out if and when they inherit the occupation. Our hands are tied, they’ll cry, as their antiwar base demands a U.S. withdrawal. We must stand by our agreements, or else we’ll be seen as unreliable. And, hey, what are you, anyway – some kind of kooky "isolationist"?!

Of course, the Senate could reconvene, at the pleasure of Harry Reid, the Democratic majority leader, and debate, in an emergency session, the U.S.-Iraqi declaration and the prospect of a permanent U.S. presence – but the Democrats (at the leadership level) don’t consider this a matter of great urgency. To the Beltway crowd, Democrats as well as Republicans, the Empire is a fact of life, and – when the balance sheet is drawn up – a good thing. After all, who, other than themselves, is better qualified to run the world? And if you can’t handle that, my friend, then you most certainly are one of those dreadful "isolationists."

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].