Bush Won't Let Go of His Failed Iraq Project

Let's cut through the debate about the troop surge and violence in Iraq and all the rest, and get to the heart of the fraud perpetrated this week on the American people. That was the almost universal assertion -- almost universally unquestioned by the commercial media -- that U.S. interests in Iraq are (A) compatible with Iraq's interests, and (B) that U.S. policy makers' primary concern -- at least now that we're there -- is to stabilize the war-torn country and assure that it doesn't become a "safe haven" for al Qaeda or a puppet state controlled by Iran.

It was a Big Lie that was repeated during every minute of testimony by General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker and echoed in every statement made by a Republican or a Democrat and at least implied in every analysis in the traditional media.

And it was the centerpiece of Bush's pitch from the Oval Office Thursday night to continue the occupation of Iraq indefinitely: "Iraq is an ally," he said, and "our moral and strategic imperatives are one: We must help Iraq defeat those who threaten its future -- and also threaten ours." That help will be open-ended: "Iraqi leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America. And we are ready to begin building that relationship."

So the discussion in the United States remains: What can "we" do to help the Iraqi government, fight insurgents, bring about political reconciliation, keep the civil conflict(s) tearing the country apart from spreading across the region, etc. The implication is always the same: "We" are on the same side as the Iraqi people, with whom "we're" fighting terrorists and "anti-Iraqi forces" -- a favorite term at the Pentagon -- and whatever "we" do to advance our own interests will also improve the situation in Iraq.

If that were true, the United States could play a significant role in bringing about a modicum of stability to Iraq, and it could help do so relatively quickly. After all, poll after poll shows that a significant majority of Iraqis -- like a majority of Iraqi lawmakers -- want their country to develop into a nonsectarian state free of Iranian interference. Iraqis, historically one of the most secular polities in the Middle East, almost universally despise the insurgent group called al Qaeda in Iraq -- the little support that the group enjoys is based entirely on its resistance to the U.S. occupation -- and favor a strong central government free of ethnic and sectarian voting blocs.

The opportunity to make that vision a reality has repeatedly presented itself. Iraqi nationalist groups have reached out to occupation authorities in the hope of negotiating a peace, only to be rebuffed by American officials. The United States could live up to its lofty rhetoric and embrace the aspirations of the Iraqi people if Washington chose to go that way.

But it hasn't and it won't, because Iraqi interests are diametrically opposite of American interests in the region -- that's the dirty secret the commercial media won't admit and the reason that the American project there was doomed from the beginning; no amount of surging troops or jingoistic speeches on the floor of the Senate will ever make a difference as long as we're trying to impose on Iraq a government they don't want.

Embracing Iraqi interests would mean giving up the Washington dream of a wide-open, Wild-West, virtually unregulated Iraqi economy bloated with energy revenues and ripe for the picking by international investors. Two out of three Iraqis want their energy sector -- the source of 90 percent of the country's revenues -- to be developed by the state. But the United States didn't invade Iraq just to have another Arab country with massive oil reserves controlled by a state oil company and huge subsidies propping up its citizens. So the conflict will continue.

Embracing Iraqi interests means ending the occupation -- eight out of ten Iraqis want the U.S. to commit to a timetable for withdrawal. Iraqi Saleh Adnan, 34, a mechanic, watched a broadcast of General Petraeus' testimony this week from Baghdad, and summed up the feelings of most Iraqis: "For us the main point is when the occupation will end," he said. "For me the main report will be the one which announces the American departure." But while Bush endorsed a "draw-down" of troops in his Oval Office speech, it will be a token withdrawal -- the White House and the Pentagon won't be satisfied with only a toehold in the Middle East. So the conflict will continue.

Of course, the United States will never willingly concede its interests for any reason -- the concept is anathema to our foreign policy elite, to anyone trained in international relations. But Iraq demonstrates to what degree the very concept of "national interests" can be manipulated to mean the interests of a few. Maintaining the occupation may indeed serve the interests of those who fantasize of a benevolent American empire lasting throughout the century, and it may well serve the interests of the American investor class. But occupation at the cost of thousands of American lives and hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars doesn't serve the interests of most Americans any more than it does the Iraqi people.

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