Thanks to Our Military Debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, America's 'Superpower' Status Has Officially Ended
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A Consumer Society at War
It’s true that, if you were looking for low-rent victories in a near trillion-dollar war, this time, as various reporters and pundits pointed out, U.S. diplomats weren’t rushing for the last helicopter off an embassy roof amid chaos and burning barrels of dollars. In other words, it wasn’t Vietnam and, as everyone knew, that was a defeat. In fact, as other articles pointed out, our -- as no fitting word has been found for it, let's go with -- withdrawal was a magnificent feat of reverse engineering, worthy of a force that was a nonpareil on the planet.
Even the president mentioned it. After all, having seemingly moved much of the U.S. to Iraq, leaving was no small thing. When the U.S. military began stripping the 505 bases it had built there at the cost of unknown multibillions of taxpayer dollars, it sloughed off $580 million worth of no-longer-wanted equipment on the Iraqis. And yet it still managed to ship to Kuwait, other Persian Gulf garrisons, Afghanistan, and even small towns in the U.S. more than two million items ranging from Kevlar armored vests to port-a-potties. We’re talking about the equivalent of 20,000 truckloads of materiel.
Not surprisingly, given the society it comes from, the U.S. military fights a consumer-intensive style of war and so, in purely commercial terms, the leaving of Iraq was a withdrawal for the ages. Nor should we overlook the trophies the military took home with it, including a vast Pentagon database of thumbprints and retinal scans from approximately 10% of the Iraqi population. (A similar program is still underway in Afghanistan.)
When it came to “success,” Washington had a good deal more than that going for it. After all, it plans to maintain a Baghdad embassy so gigantic it puts the Saigon embassy of 1973 to shame. With a contingent of 16,000 to 18,000 people, including a force of perhaps 5,000 armed mercenaries (provided by private security contractors like Triple Canopy with its $1.5 billion State Department contract), the “mission” leaves any normal definition of “embassy” or “diplomacy” in the dust.
In 2012 alone, it is slated to spend $3.8 billion, a billion of that on a much criticized police-training program, only 12% of whose funds actually go to the Iraqi police. To be left behind in the “postwar era,” in other words, will be something new under the sun.
Still, set aside the euphemisms and the soaring rhetoric, and if you want a simple gauge of the depths of America’s debacle in the oil heartlands of the planet, consider just how the final unit of American troops left Iraq. According to Tim Arango and Michael Schmidt of the New York Times, they pulled out at 2:30 a.m. in the dead of night. No helicopters off rooftops, but 110 vehicles setting out in the dark from Contingency Operating Base Adder. The day before they left, according to the Times reporters, the unit’s interpreters were ordered to call local Iraqi officials and sheiks with whom the Americans had close relations and make future plans, as if everything would continue in the usual way in the week to come.
In other words, the Iraqis were meant to wake up the morning after to find their foreign comrades gone, without so much as a goodbye. This is how much the last American unit trusted its closest local allies. After shock and awe, the taking of Baghdad, the mission-accomplished moment, and the capture, trial, and execution of Saddam Hussein, after Abu Ghraib and the bloodletting of the civil war, after the surge and the Sunni Awakening movement, after the purple fingers and the reconstruction funds gone awry, after all the killing and the dying, the U.S. military slipped into the night without a word.