Tomgram: Ira Chernus, Democratic Doublespeak on Iraq
Start with the simplest, most basic fudge. Newspapers and the TV news constantly report on various plans for the “withdrawal of American troops” from Iraq, when what’s being proposed is the withdrawal of American “combat troops” or “combat brigades.” This isn’t a matter of splitting hairs; it’s the difference between a plan for full-scale withdrawal and a plan to remain in Iraq in a different military form for the long term. American combat brigades only add up to perhaps half of the troops we presently have in that country.
There is, in fact, quite a gap between withdrawal from that embattled land and the withdrawal of some American troops, while many of the rest hunker down on the enormous, all-but-permanent military bases the Pentagon has built there over the last four years — while defending the largest embassy on the planet, now nearing completion (amid the normal woes that seem to go with American construction and “reconstruction”) in Baghdad’s heavily fortified but distinctly insecure Green Zone. And yet, thanks to the carefully worded statements of leading Democratic (and Republican) politicians now criticizing the Bush administration, as well as generally terrible reporting in the mainstream media, most Americans who don’t make it to the fine print or who don’t wander widely on the political Internet, would have no way of knowing that withdrawal isn’t withdrawal at all.
Ira Chernus, Tomdispatch regular and author of Monsters To Destroy, takes a careful look at the leading Democratic candidates for president and raises a few crucial, if largely unasked, questions about the nature of the positions they are taking on the Iraq War. Tom
The Democrats’ Iraqi Dilemma: Questions Unasked, Answers Never Volunteered
By Ira Chernus
Pity the poor Democratic candidates for president, caught between Iraq and a hard place. Every day, more and more voters decide that we must end the war and set a date to start withdrawing our troops from Iraq. Most who will vote in the Democratic primaries concluded long ago that we must leave Iraq, and they are unlikely to let anyone who disagrees with them have the party’s nomination in 2008.
But what does it mean to “leave Iraq”? Here’s where most of the Democratic candidates come smack up against that hard place. There is a longstanding bipartisan consensus in the foreign-policy establishment that the U.S. must control every strategically valuable region of the world — and none more so than the oil heartlands of the planet. That’s been a hard-and-fast rule of the elite for some six decades now. No matter how hard the task may be, they demand that presidents be rock-hard enough to get the job done.
So whatever “leave Iraq” might mean, no candidate of either party likely to enter the White House on January 20, 2009 can think it means letting Iraqis determine their own national policies or fate. The powers that be just wouldn’t stand for that. They see themselves as the guardians of world “order.” They feel a sacred obligation to maintain “stability” throughout the imperial domains, which now means most of planet Earth — regardless of what voters may think. The Democratic front-runners know that “order” and “stability” are code words for American hegemony. They also know that voters, especially Democratic ones, see the price of hegemony in Iraq and just don’t want to pay it anymore.
So the Democratic front-runners must promise voters that they will end the war — with not too many ideologically laden ifs, ands, or buts — while they assure the foreign-policy establishment that they will never abandon the drive for hegemony in the Middle East (or anywhere else). In other words, the candidates have to be able to talk out of both sides of their mouths at the same time.
No worries, it turns out. Fluency in doublespeak is a prime qualification for high political office. On Iraq, candidates Dennis Kucinich and Bill Richardson don’t meet that test. They tell anyone and everyone that they want “all” U.S. troops out of Iraq, but they register only 1-4% in the polls and are generally ignored in the media. The Democrats currently topping the polls, on the other hand, are proving themselves eminently qualified in doublespeak.
Clinton: “We got it right, mostly, during the Cold War”
Hillary Clinton declares forthrightly: “It is time to begin ending this war…. Start bringing home America’s troops…. within 90 days.” Troops home: It sounds clear enough. But she is always careful to avoid the crucial word all. A few months ago she told an interviewer: “We have remaining vital national security interests in Iraq…. What we can do is to almost take a line sort of north of, between Baghdad and Kirkuk, and basically put our troops into that region.” A senior Pentagon officer who has briefed Clinton told NPR commentator Ted Koppel that Clinton expects U.S. troops to be in Iraq when she ends her second term in 2017.
Why all these troops? We have “very real strategic national interests in this region,” Clinton explains. “I will order specialized units to engage in narrow and targeted operations against al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in the region. They will also provide security for U.S. troops and personnel and train and equip Iraqi security services to keep order and promote stability.” There would be U.S. forces to protect the Kurds and “our efforts must also involve a regional recommitment to success in Afghanistan.” Perhaps that’s why Clinton has proposed “that we expand the Army by 80,000 troops, that we move faster to expand the Special Forces.”
Says her deputy campaign manager Bob Nash, “She’ll be as tough as any Republican on our enemies.” And on our friends, he might have added, if they don’t shape up. At the Take Back America conference in June the candidate drew boos when she declared that “the American military has done its job.… They gave the Iraqi government the chance to begin to demonstrate that it understood its responsibilities.… It is the Iraqi government which has failed.” It’s the old innocent-Americans-blame-the-foreigners ploy.
More importantly, it’s the old tough-Americans-reward-friends-who-help-America ploy. We should start withdrawing some troops, Clinton says, “to make it clear to the Iraqis that … we’re going to look out for American interests, for the region’s interests.” If the Iraqi government is not “striving for sustainable stability…. we’ll consider providing aid to provincial governments and reliable non-governmental organizations that are making progress.”
Clinton’s message to the Iraqi leaders is clear: You had your chance to join “the international community,” to get with the U.S. program, and to reap the same benefits as the leaders of other oil-rich nations — but you blew it. So, now you can fend for yourselves while we look for new, more capable allies in Iraq and keep who-knows-how-many troops there to “protect our interests” — and increase our global clout. The draw-down in Iraq, our signal that we’ve given up on the al-Maliki government, “will be a first step towards restoring Americans moral and strategic leadership in the world,” Clinton swears.
“America must be the world’s leader,” she declared last month. “We must widen the scope of our strength by leading strong alliances which can apply military force when required.” And, when necessary, cut off useless puppet governments that won’t let their strings be pulled often enough.
Hillary is speaking to at least three audiences: the voters at home, the foreign-policy elite, and a global elite she would have to deal with as president. Her recent fierce criticism of the way President Bush has handled Iraq, like her somewhat muddled antiwar rhetoric, is meant as a message of reassurance to voters, but also to our elite — and as a warning to foreigners: The next President Clinton will be tough on allies as well as foes, as tough as the old cold warriors. “We got it right, mostly, during the Cold War.… Nothing is more urgent than for us to begin again to rebuild a bipartisan consensus,” she said last year in a speech that cut right to the bottom line: “American foreign policy exists to maintain our security and serve our national interests.” That’s what the bipartisan consensus has always believed.
Read the rest here.