The Primary Point of the Occupation of Iraq is the Occupation Itself

Over in Iraq special coverage, I'm running a piece by Jeffrey Feldman, who argues that we're about to see a monumental shift in the discourse around Iraq. Here's the nut of it:

The change can be summed up in 4 simple words:
troops leave, violence drops
As the deafening hubbub of propaganda drowns out every attempt to talk real policy change on Iraq, this simple descriptive formula--troops leave, violence drops--cuts through it all…
The British pullout from Basra, and the subsequent logic of violence dropping as a result of that pullout, will change the debate again by reimposing a simple logic of up and down, in and out.
The up-and-down-in-and-out logic of this description is more powerful than any protest argument about the war to date, and has an almost unlimited potential to sweep through both the broadcast media and face-to-face conversations that make up American political debate.
He's got much more to say, so be sure to read the whole thing.

I don't mean to single out Jeffrey Feldman here -- he's a good guy, and a contributor to AlterNet from time to time -- but I want to highlight the piece because it's such a good example of the kind of perfectly rationalist analysis that dominates in progressive America. There's a persistent belief that if opponents of the occupation could only win the "debate" over Iraq on the merits, then a U.S. withdrawal will somehow follow.

There are a number of problems with this idea, not least of which is the fact that to a very significant degree we've already won the debate -- majorities of Americans now say that it is no longer possible for the U.S. to "win" in Iraq (whatever that means) and favor a timetable for pulling troops out -- but the public's views have so far had only minimal impact on the foreign policy elite.

But more than that, the commonly-held rationalist analysis denies a crucially important reality: that for various (and differing) reasons, a significant portion of Washington's strategic class is determined to maintain a "soft" occupation of Iraq for a long time to come, and that means that regardless of how soundly opponents of the occupation thrash whatever the argument du jour for keeping troops in the country may be, there will always be a new and pressing need to maintain U.S. forces in the country. The goalposts will always be perfectly mobile, and they'll keep shifting until something changes structurally.

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