Bush's New, New Lie
Here's a pop quiz.
Question: Which of the following changes will take place in Iraq on June 30, as part of the "transfer of sovereignty"?
a. Iraqis will be given some or total control over their military.
b. Iraqis will be given some or total control over their nation's purse strings.
c. The United States will begin a phased withdrawal of its troops.
d. Iraqis will hold elections to decide who will govern the country.
e. None of the above.
Answer: None of the above.
June 30 simply marks the selection of yet another "governing council," picked by foreigners (some combination of the UN, U.S. and UK) to act as a front for the U.S.-led occupation army. It will be just business as usual, except for a new set of misleading titles. For example, the "Coalition Provisional Authority" will be renamed the "United States Embassy," staffed by some 2000 employees.
That's about it. Really.
For months we've been encouraged by spinmeisters in Washington to believe that there is something momentous about the so-called handover. The national media, too, has relentlessly trumpeted the event so often and so simple-mindedly as a watershed moment that it has taken on the hue of history in the making.
In reality, the United States plans to send new troops to Iraq. It is building 14 "enduring" bases in the Tigris and Euphrates river basins. And we have appointed tough-guy Reagan-era hatchet man John Negroponte to run the world's biggest embassy in the same building that currently houses the CPA. The United States will continue to control all the money, all the military forces (U.S., Iraqi, foreign mercenaries) and all the key political appointments in Iraq. To call this "limited" sovereignty is a bit like describing the situation in Iraq as "volatile."
So, it came as a relief when Colin Powell deigned to finally clarify this puzzling situation the other day. He said, "Some of [Iraq's] sovereignty will have to be given back [after June 30], if I can put it that way, or limited by them."
Still confused? Wait, there's more.
"[Some] of that sovereignty they are going to allow us to exercise on their behalf and with their permission. It is not as if we are seizing anything away from them. It is with the understanding that they need our help and for us to provide that help we have to be able to operate freely, which in some ways infringes on what some would call full sovereignty."Got that? See, we invaded Iraq to liberate the Iraqi people. Then when it seemed like they were saying, "Thank you for getting rid of Saddam, now please leave," we promised to hand them back their country on June 30, 2004. But now it's painfully clear that Iraqis are not really ready to handle that kind of responsibility. So we are just going to borrow back their sovereignty -- with their permission, of course. Sure, we'll give it back to them, but only when we're damn good and ready (namely, when they stop acting all Islamic and anti-American and stuff).
But all this business of defining "sovereignty" is really beside the point. The point, so to speak, is that nobody needs to worry about what's going down there in Iraq because everything's cool between us and the Iraqi people.
All that the "handover" amounts to is a road sign being waved at the world -- and especially the American people -- that says, in effect, "Nothing to see here, keep moving." The Bush administration is staging a "handover" so that potential voters will no longer view Iraq as "our problem," but instead think of it sort of like Afghanistan or Haiti, or all the other places where we have dabbled in nation-building-at-gunpoint in the past. Which is to say, not think of it at all.
In testimony on Capitol Hill two weeks ago, Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman admitted as much when he noted that June 30 would provide "a very important Iraqi face" on the ground. Grossman also acknowledged that this veneer of independence would indeed be very thin. "The arrangement would be, I think as we are doing today, that we would do our very best to consult with that interim government and take their views into account," he said, adding that American commanders will "have the right, and the power, and the obligation" to use force whenever they see fit.
That is "sovereignty," done Bush administration style.
June 30 is also the Bush administration's attempt to hit the "redo" button on its pitifully inadequate Iraq plan. In just the month of April, a year after its initial march into Baghdad, the United States has been forced to reconquer the country (which has taken the lives of a hundred more dead soldiers and hundreds more Iraqi women and children); ask the United Nations for help; and bring in Baath Party thugs to keep a peace it cannot or will not secure.
As they watch the Bush administration backtrack on one policy after another, Iraqis probably feel like they're Bill Murray in "Groundhog Day" -- except they're reliving not a single day but an entire bloody, violent, year, all over again.
But some things have changed. Everyone who died in the past 13 months is still, well, dead. Nearly all Iraqis (with the exception of the Kurds) that once trusted the Americans to act in good faith as occupiers have changed their minds; two-thirds of them recently told pollsters that they want the United States to leave within the next few months (and this before the instantly infamous torture photos were publicized).
What hasn't changed, sadly, is the Bush administration's immense capacity to lie about all things Iraq.
Lastyear, I co-authored a book titled "The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq," which argued that the Bush administration's case for invading Iraq was built on series of lies: Iraq was aligned with Al Qaeda and therefore involved in 9/11 (Lie #1); Saddam possessed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons that threatened the U.S. and our allies (#2); he had a functioning nuclear weapons program (#3); the war would be a "cakewalk" (#4); and Iraq could easily be remade in our image as a secular, capitalist democracy (#5).
To this list of mega-whoppers, we can now add a sixth lie: The Bush administration truly planned to "liberate" Iraq. The neoconservative architects of this war were more blunt about the future of a post-invasion Iraq. Sure, Iraq would be a "free" country, but only if it agreed to pledge itself as an unquestioning ally of the United States, completely privatize its economy, open itself to foreign investment, and remain a secular state acceptable to the West.
Our actions immediately following the invasion made this agenda painfully clear.
No post-Saddam elections were scheduled, even as the United States-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority began make sweeping decisions privatizing entire industries and defining how oil-revenue would be spent. Construction quickly began on U.S. military bases that could replace those in Saudi Arabia. They included the creation of at least one massive airbase from which bombers could hit Iran or Syria in a matter of minutes.
The Iraqis appointed by the United States to the "governing" council were not granted the means or the power to do more than talk. The United Nations, with its considerable experience in building political and civic structures in ravaged nations, was stiffed in favor of U.S. generals and Republican political appointees without a clue.
If the Bush administration had truly wanted a quick exit strategy, then their priorities would have been different from day one of the occupation. The CPA would have focused instead on stability (more initial troops/MPs, greater UN involvement, better planning for potential problems), dialogue (i.e., getting Iraq's true powerbrokers -- think Ayatollah Sistani not pretenders like Ahmed Chalabi -- to draw up a plan for elections) and firm deadlines for both partial and complete withdrawal of U.S. troops, unless invited to stay by either Iraq's new government or the United Nations.
We are told repeatedly by the president that there is only one way forward in Iraq: "Get the job done right." For hawks in the Bush administration, however, that means staying right where we are, with the "permission" of a suitably friendly government in Iraq.
In other words, there is no exit strategy.
Christopher Scheer is a staff writer for AlterNet. He is co-author of The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq.