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This article, by Heath Druzin, was published in Stars and Stripes, September 19, 2009
BAGHDAD — With more than two years left in the slow, regimented ending to a chaotic war, new rules placing tens of thousands of U.S. combat troops under virtual house arrest on their bases mean the American military increasingly finds itself a symbolic force in Iraq.
Whether it’s symbolic of a problem or a solution depends on whom you ask.
Many inside and outside the U.S. military are now calling for the United States to hasten its withdrawal from this still-fragile country. They point to a newly assertive Iraqi national government that has significantly curtailed the U.S. forces’ mission, an Iraqi public largely hostile to U.S. troops and U.S. commanders in Afghanistan urgently seeking more soldiers to wage the increasingly intractable war there.
About 130,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq — twice the size of the force in Afghanistan — but many have been moved from the combat outposts that were so key to Gen. David Petraeus’ "surge" strategy. Instead, under the terms of a security agreement worked out between the U.S. and the Iraqi government that pulled back American troops from Iraqi cities, the U.S. forces remain largely confined to sprawling bases resembling fortified towns, such as Baghdad’s Victory Base Complex.
Generally forbidden to patrol, the troops fill their days with training, maintaining equipment and packing up unneeded material for shipment out of Iraq.
Iraqi security forces still have the option to conduct joint patrols with Americans or to request their help, but it almost never happens. American troops are almost invisible in Iraqi cities, moving in the dead of night, and then only with Iraqi permission.
The U.S. is providing behind-the-scenes help with intelligence, training and air support, but day-to-day security is almost entirely an Iraqi enterprise.
"The thing is that we don’t really need the Americans to help us in the cities," said Lt. Gen. Ali Qaidan Majeed, commander of Iraqi ground forces.
U.S. Army Col. Timothy Reese, chief of the Baghdad Operations Command Advisory Team, argued in a recent memo titled "It’s Time for the U.S. to Declare Victory and Go Home" that the United States has done all it can for Iraq and should accelerate its scheduled withdrawal from the country to August 2010 — 16 months earlier than now planned.
"As the old saying goes, ‘guests, like fish, begin to smell after three days,’ " Reese wrote. "Since the signing of the 2009 Security Agreement, we are guests in Iraq, and after six years in Iraq, we now smell bad to the Iraqi nose."
Reese continued: "Our combat operations are currently the victim of circular logic. We conduct operations to kill or capture violent extremists of all types to protect the Iraqi people and support the [Iraqi government]. The violent extremists attack us because we are still here conducting military operations."
In Baghdad, many troops echo Reese’s concerns, privately questioning how much more the U.S. can offer the Iraqi security forces. But they say that expressing such views publicly would threaten their military careers.
"I agree with [Reese] 100 percent, but you can’t say that out loud," said one officer who has worked closely with Iraqi security forces and who asked to remain anonymous. ‘Rethink the mission’
Michael O’Hanlon, a military analyst and author of the Brookings Institution’s authoritative Iraq Index, agrees that the U.S. is overmanned for its new, limited missions.
But O’Hanlon does not endorse accelerating the withdrawal as quickly as Reese, citing the U.S. role in bolstering intelligence and training and mediating ethnic tensions in northern Iraq.
"It is true, at the moment we have too many troops for the missions we’re being allowed to perform," O’Hanlon said. "However, the right solution might be to rethink the mission set and consider at least temporarily expanding it somewhat."
U.S. commanders are increasingly walking a political tightrope, praising the competence of Iraqi forces and downplaying their own security role while simultaneously endorsing the decision to keep a mid-sized city’s worth of troops on standby. Some speculate that the troops are being kept as backup for an expected increase in violence during Iraq’s national elections, scheduled for January.
Lt. Gen. Charles Jacoby, commander of Multi-National Corps–Iraq, said at a recent news conference that there are no plans to accelerate the U.S. withdrawal.
"We’re happy with our current schedule; we think our strategy is sound," Jacoby said. "We’re enabling and assisting [the Iraqis] as they ask. They don’t need our combat forces in the city."
Yet, a recent spike in violence, punctuated by devastating truck bombs last month outside two Iraqi ministries in Baghdad that killed about 100 people, has renewed doubts about the ability of Iraqi security forces to deal with an insurgency that appears bent on rekindling sectarian violence.
August was one of the deadliest months for Iraqi civilians in the past year, according to an Associated Press tally.
There is also concern about continuing violence in northern areas claimed by both Kurds and Arabs, where insurgents have staged bombings in Kurdish towns in hopes of triggering ethnic reprisals.
Gen. Ray Odierno, commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, has proposed a more active role for U.S. troops there, including trilateral patrols grouping Kurdish, Arab and American soldiers. But that idea is still in the planning stage and Iraq is not much nearer to solving the territorial dispute than it was at the beginning of the war.
Many U.S. troops who have worked closely with their Iraqi counterparts scoff at the idea that the Iraqis are capable of standing up to the insurgency, citing infiltration, corruption and a general lack of discipline. One lieutenant in Baghdad said his Iraqi counterpart openly skims between 20 and 30 percent of his soldiers’ salaries off the top, a practice difficult to track in Iraq’s cash economy. Slower pullout?
Despite his confidence that his troops can stand on their own, Majeed, the Iraqi ground forces commander, says he still needs U.S. backup, even leaving the door open to a longer-than-planned U.S. commitment if Iraqi forces prove unready by the time remaining U.S. combat forces pull out.
The agreement between Washington and Baghdad calls for the withdrawal of American combat forces by the end of August 2010 and of all U.S. troops by the end of 2011.
"If it doesn’t happen by 2011, we would have to find a new mechanism to work with the Americans," he said.
In the end, the U.S. may not have much say in the matter.
Iraqi voters are scheduled to vote in January whether to rescind the status of forces agreement that allows the U.S. military to operate in the country. The Iraqi parliament would then need to ratify the results of the referendum and order the complete U.S. withdrawal to be sped up by a year.
The outcome of that popular vote is not in much doubt. With the exception of the Kurdish north, anti-American sentiments are widespread in Iraq. Iraqis may be unsure of their country’s fledgling security forces, but they have grown increasingly weary of the U.S. presence, which many remember for heavy-handedness and the daily frustrations of passing through checkpoints and enduring long traffic jams behind slow-moving military convoys.
Parliamentary elections are scheduled for the same time as the January referendum, and candidates are finding anti-occupation platforms popular with Iraqis.
Elected officials and military commanders frequently challenge the Americans. For example, U.S. convoys are now regularly stopped at Iraqi checkpoints, a source of irritation for many American troops.
If Iraqis do decide to boot out the U.S. a year ahead of schedule, it would require a complete focus on the logistics of leaving at the expense of other tasks, such as sharing intelligence and training, said Brig. Gen. Heidi Brown, who is overseeing the exodus of U.S. equipment and troops.
"Is [a rapid redeployment] doable? Yes, but you pay the price," she said.
During a visit to Baghdad on Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden said the U.S. would follow the lead of Iraqi officials regarding the timetable for the pullout.
"Whatever the Iraqi people decide," Biden told reporters, "we will abide by it."
The following interview, with Paul Wolfowitz, wasx braodcast on Weekend All Things Considered, September 5, 2009.
Some issues of the past still affect the present. Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz sat down Friday with former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, the man widely known — fairly or not — as the "Architect of the Iraq War."
Wolfowitz has written a spirited attack on the so-called "realists" of the foreign policy world, including those who support President Obama, in the latest issue of Foreign Policy magazine.
Raz asked Wolfowitz about his view of realism but also about issues he was somewhat reluctant to discuss: Iran and the Iraq war.
Foreign policy realists, in simple terms, believe the United States should only act when it serves its own interests. Many of them opposed the invasion of Iraq.
In his article, Wolfowitz writes that President Obama is not a classic realist.
Paul Wolfowitz: If you wanted to find a realist, as someone who believes foreign policy should support American interests, then I know of very few people who wouldn't associate themselves with that view. And certainly I do, and I'm sure President Obama does. The question is what are American interests? And there is a school of thought — and it's a fairly influential one — that says American interests should concern themselves only between external conduct of countries and external relations between states, and that we have no business getting involved with their internal affairs. And in fact, that's interference. And it's beyond our capacity. And my basic point is that, first of all, it is our business: The internal affairs of other countries has a big impact on American interests. To me, the evidence on that is dramatic, and we have an ability to influence more in some places than some others.
Guy Raz: Is that — when do you pick and choose? PW: Well, you tailor what you can do according to the circumstances. GR: Because you can't apply it consistently. PW: Look, I think the notion that there's a dogma or doctrine of foreign policy that gives you a textbook recipe for how to react to all situations is really nonsense. GR: But I want to ask you about President Obama, because you say that he is not a "realist." You argue that he is something else PW: Look, they made me take the quote marks out. It bothers me that the so-called "realists" have appropriated this term, "realism." Obama is, I think, a realist. GR: By "realist," you're referring to people like professor Stephen Walt from Harvard, John Mearsheimer from the University of Chicago ... PW: I'm not trying to refer to a particular individual; I'm referring to people who believe in a doctrine that the internal affairs of countries is not our business, OK, and if people want to say there's no such person, then fine, that argument is over. I don't think that's true, actually, but I'm not really interested in individuals; I'm interested in saying we have a record over 25 years where American promotion of freedom and Democratic institutions — and, by the way, the rights of women, which is part of that — and if you look ahead, and Muslim countries, I believe, and improving the condition of women is not only something one should do because it's right, but it's in American interests and I think Mrs. Clinton — Secretary Clinton, excuse me — has that piece of the agenda correct, and I think she's being a realist. I think someone who puts themselves in a doctrine that says the way Saudi Arabia treats its women is no concern of ours. They may call themselves realists, but I think they're very unrealistic. GR: In defense of the argument that foreign policy realists are making, they're not saying that democracy promotion shouldn't happen; I think the argument they're making is it shouldn't happen at the point of a gun. PW: There's no argument that you don't do it at the point of a gun, and one of the points I make in that article is despite a lot of inaccurate representations — including this use of the word "architect" to describe me, I'm sorry — we went to war in Iraq, those of us who supported because we believed — GR: I mean, you were described that way in 2004 and — PW: You're not the only one who did it, but I don't want to get into an argument about why I did. The real point is this: Look, people who supported it, including me, did it because we believed Saddam Hussein was dangerous, and not because we believed we needed to go to war to install a democracy in Iraq. GR: In a response to your piece in Foreign Policy, one of the best known realists, Harvard professor Stephen Walt writes, "Idealistic wars of choice like Iraq invariably force policymakers to engage in threat inflation and deception, and Wolfowitz was an able practitioner of this art." There are so many unanswered questions about Iraq. First, your response to Stephen Walt. PW: Look, I didn't do this Q&A in order to argue about the Iraq war. I did this Q&A precisely for the opposite reason, which is to say that — GR: But this is a response to your — PW: Let me finish — which is precisely to say, don't confuse the Iraq war with promoting democracy peacefully, and that is an extremely important part of American foreign policy, and I personally don't think we should use force to promote democracy. Maybe there's someone around who does, but the real point is, we can have a lot of argument about Iraq, and a lot of people can feel very strongly that it was the wrong thing to do, and I'm just, in effect, pleading: Don't let that carry over to saying we should abandon anything that looks like, quote, interfering in the internal affairs of other countries. Don't abandon the cause of women's rights. Don't abandon the cause of people pushing for freedom and democracy in Iran GR: But surely you can understand the skepticism of those like Walt who say we need to be very careful now because of the mistakes of Iraq. PW: We need to always be very careful about the use of force. There is no question about that, but I don't think it applies to being, quote, very careful about supporting democratic reformers in the Arab world. GR: The question is not about supporting democracy in the Arab world but what Walt in his argument calls "idealistic wars" — PW: I'm sorry, that isn't the issue. I'm not arguing for "idealistic wars," so we have no argument about that. If that's what the issue is — and if he thinks nobody is questioning support for Democracy — then there's no issue with him. But there are people who in fact believe that we have no business getting involved in internal affairs. GR: But there are clear examples of when you were trying to connect Iraq and al-Qaida — you've seen the Pentagon inspector general's report that was released by the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2007. I mean you write to Doug Feith, "We are not pulling together these links." I mean, can't you understand PW: Look, you want to re-debate the Iraq war, that's a different subject. But when I no, look — GR: — This is one of the most important foreign policy decisions taken in the last 30 years — PW: — But the issue that I'm trying — GR: — That you were a major part of.
1. PW: What I'm trying to say is no matter how much you detest the Iraq war, no matter what you want to say about arguments that I made, the fact is that it remains in our interest to do the kind of thing that we did with Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, that we did with Chun Doo Hwan in Korea, that we did with the whole Eastern Europe/Soviet Union, that we've done since then with promoting democracy in places like Serbia. Look at the change that's taken place in the Balkans because of the political change in Belgrade. GR: There's some testimony you gave to the House Budget Committee in 2003 shortly before the war, and I want to play that for you:
Recording of Wolfowitz in 2003: "It's been a good — a good deal of comments, some of it quite outlandish, about what our post-war requirements might be in Iraq. Some of the higher-end predictions that we have been hearing recently, such as the notion that it will take several hundred thousand U.S. troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq, are wildly off the mark. First, it's hard to conceive that it would take more forces to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq than it would take to conduct the war itself and to secure the surrender of Saddam's security forces and his army. Hard to imagine." GR: Not hard to imagine today. PW: Well, look, even at the height of the surge, I believe we got 180,000 American troops, and I don't think we'd have had to do that if we had built up the Iraqi security forces from day one the way we should have — but look, you're sort of illustrating, it seems to me, an obsession and I understand it, I'm not trying — I understand why people want to debate the past, but what I'm trying to say is, in terms of making policy today, whatever you think about the past, let's try to come to some agreement if we can that in fact it is in America's interest to promote reform in the Arab world and to do it peacefully. GR: But knowing what you know now about what happened in Iraq, would you have done it in a different way? I mean, you say — PW: You can't leave Iraq alone. GR: I mean is it more difficult for us to go to a country like Saudi Arabia and say, "We want you to do X, Y and Z, and we want you to follow these democratic principles in light of allegations of torture, in light of the mistakes made in Iraq — PW: You know, it's interesting, it's interesting — GR: I mean, isn't it hard to make — PW: No it isn't. It isn't. And it's especially not hard for this president. I mean, this president has a bully pulpit like no other, and whether it's fair or unfair, George Bush would have had a problem. Barack Obama has an incredible opportunity because he has a clean slate, because of who he is, because of what he represents about the best of America. GR: Do you believe Iran poses a threat to the United States? PW: I think on the track they're on, I think it's a very dangerous country. GR: I'm wondering, if you think it's a dangerous country, can you understand the skepticism that many Americans would have, particularly because of Iraq and because many Americans were led to believe Iraq posed an imminent threat to the United States, that they would be skeptical about whether Iran poses the same kind of threat? PW: Look, I think Iraq was dangerous. I think a country that defies 17 U.N. resolutions and, which, the day after 9/11 Saddam Hussein says 'Until Americans suffer the way they've made other people suffer,' that its government will never change its policy it was a dangerous country. Some people misread the danger by the way, it wasn't just George Bush, Bill Clinton was the one who said, I think in 1998, 'I guarantee you someday they'll use these weapons.' GR: But he didn't invade Iraq. PW: He bombed it for four days. I think he thought that might bring them around. GR: But there's a difference — we're talking now about a war that's cost $800 billion — 4,300 lives. PW: I'm not saying it hasn't been costly and difficult but George Bush made that decision after many more years of frustration and after an unbelievable demonstration of what terrorism could mean and what weapons of mass destruction in the hands of terrorists could mean. I mean, we're going to probably debate the Iraq war for at least as long as I'm alive — GR: — And you can understand why. PW: — I can understand why. What I'm trying to say is, don't confuse everything that President Bush was in favor of with the Iraq war that you may not like. GR: You have no regrets about what happened. PW: That's not true, but I didn't come here — look, there were a lot of mistakes that were made and some of them, I would say I identified and some of them I didn't, and I'm not the "architect," I'm not the sole author here, but that's not the point. The point here is we have a long record of American support for democratic institutions and for freedom, and we shouldn't give that up because we think it's somehow the Iraq war. GR: Ambassador Paul Wolfowitz is the former deputy defense secretary and a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Thanks for coming in. PW: Thank you.
The year 1989 was a year of a great celebration. For that was the year that that hated and reviled symbol of tyranny, empire, and oppression, the Berlin Wall, came crashing down. Not only were the people of East Germany and Eastern Europe celebrating the demise of the Wall, so were people all over the world, including people here in the United States.
That event was of special importance to Americans, who had lived under the cloud of perpetual war, militarism, military expenditures, and the military-industrial complex during the 45 years of the Cold War. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, many Americans began thinking about the possibility that they might be able to live normal lives of liberty, peace, prosperity, and harmony.
Alas, it was not to be.
Today, we live in an era in which there is the threat of perpetual war — a war that we’re told is likely to last much longer than the Cold War. The war is against an enemy — terrorists — who they tell us are more dangerous than the communists.
We live in a country in which the president has the omnipotent power to send the entire nation into war, without even the semblance of the constitutionally required congressional declaration of war.
In fact, we live in a country in which the ruler claims the power to ignore any constitutional restraint on his power, so long as he is operating as the “commander in chief” in the “war on terrorism.”
Who would have thought back in 1989 that Americans would soon be living in a country in which U.S. government agents wielded the power to go into any country on Earth, kidnap any citizen whatever, and “rendition” him to a foreign regime for the purpose of torture or transport him to an overseas military prison for the same purpose and even execution?
We live in a country in which the government spies on its own people with warrantless searches of telephone records, email, and who knows what else. Private corporations have become partners in this endeavor, either with the promise of immunity or the threat of adverse governmental action.
We live in a country in which the president and the military now wield the power to sweep across the land and take any American citizen into custody and transport him to a military prison as an “enemy combatant” — a country which government officials tell us is itself part of the worldwide battlefield in the war on terrorism. As “enemy combatants” in such a war, Americans accused of terrorism by the government can now be denied centuries-old liberties, such as due process of law, trial by jury, and freedom from cruel and unusual punishments.
We live in a country where the president and the military now wield the power to attack any country in the world, including countries that haven’t attacked the United States, and to occupy such countries indefinitely. Resistance to any U.S. war of aggression among the populace of the invaded and occupied country is now automatically considered an act of terrorism, and the perpetrators are treated accordingly.
We live in a country in which the president and the military set up overseas prison camps and an independent judicial system for suspected terrorists that was intended to be beyond the reach of the Constitution and the federal judiciary. The principles of this independent judicial system are completely antithetical to those that underlie the judicial system on which our nation was founded, and they allow such practices as torture and sex abuse of detainees, secret proceedings, use of hearsay, denial of the right to confront witnesses, and trial by military tribunal.
How did it all come to this? How could Americans have been so filled with hope in 1989 that after 45 years of a garrison, big-government, Cold War state, they would be living in an environment free of the threat of perpetual war and foreign crises, only to find themselves in a much worse situation?
Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the president made an important announcement. It was an announcement relating to what had motivated the terrorists to commit the 9/11 attacks. He said that the terrorists had been motivated by hatred for America’s freedom and values. Immediately, that explanation of motive was embraced by the vice president, the secretary of state, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, conservative television and radio commentators, and neocon supporters of the president, not to mention many liberal lawmakers, pundits, and commentators.
Every American was expected to immediately embrace this official position with respect to motive. Those who failed to do so were immediately attacked for lack of patriotism and hatred of their country.
Why was it so important for U.S. officials that the American people blindly adopt the official position with respect to the motive of the 9/11 attackers? The reason was that the last thing U.S. officials wanted was for Americans to focus on U.S. foreign policy — and especially the bad things that U.S. officials had been doing to people ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall, not only in the Middle East but also — as part of the war on drugs — in Latin America.
Consider, for example, the cruel and brutal sanctions against the Iraqi people. While it is impossible to know how many Iraqi children lost their lives as a result of the sanctions, the most reliable estimates are in the hundreds of thousands. When U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Madeleine Albright was asked by Sixty Minutes in 1996 whether the deaths of half a million children from the sanctions were worth it, she didn’t dispute the number and instead simply said, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price — we think the price is worth it.” She was, in fact, expressing the official position of the U.S. government. While many Americans might not have been aware of her statement, it reverberated throughout the Middle East. Iraqi children were expendable in the advancement of U.S. foreign policy.
Why were so many children dying from the sanctions, year after year? The answer to that question lies in a Pentagon policy implemented during the Persian Gulf War. In the midst of that war, the Pentagon conducted a study of what would happen if the U.S. Air Force were to destroy Iraq’s water and sewage treatment facilities. The Pentagon reached the same conclusion that U.S. officials would reach many years later when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans — that people who drink untreated, sewage-infested water are in extreme danger of contracting deadly, infectious illnesses. Having reached that conclusion, the Pentagon proceeded to bomb Iraq’s water and sewage treatment facilities. The more than 11 years of subsequent sanctions ensured that the facilities could not be repaired, guaranteeing that a certain number of Iraqi newborns and toddlers would die each year.
While most Americans were unaware of the brutal and deadly effects of the sanctions, people in the Middle East were not. Year after year, a cauldron of frustration, helplessness, anger, and hate was simmering, for everyone knew that there was absolutely nothing that the Iraqi people could do, either militarily or otherwise, to escape the deadly effects of the sanctions. In a crisis of conscience, two high UN officials — Hans von Sponek and Denis Halliday — even resigned their positions in protest of what they called “genocide” of the Iraqi children.
To add a bit more humiliation to Arab sensibilities to the mix, U.S. officials, with the consent of the pro-U.S. regime in Saudi Arabia, stationed U.S. troops near what are considered to be the holiest lands in the Muslim religion, Mecca and Medina. There were also the “no-fly zones” that President Clinton established over Iraq without the approval of either Congress or the UN, which resulted in the periodic killings of even more Iraqis. One 13-year-old boy tending his sheep was decapitated when an errant U.S. missile blew up near him.
On top of the sanctions, the troops near Islamic holy lands, and the no-fly zones was, of course, the long-standing unconditional financial and military support of the Israeli government.
In other words, after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, when hopes were soaring among the American people for a “peace dividend,” the U.S. government was busy. And its business, by the way, was not only operative in the Middle East, it was also present in Latin America, where the Pentagon was ratcheting up the drug war, an operation that is today manifesting itself in massive terrorist blowback in Mexico and elsewhere in Latin America.
What was the purpose of the sanctions against Iraq? What was Madeleine Albright referring to when she said that the deaths of the Iraqi children were “worth it”? While the sanctions were often couched in terms of the need for Saddam Hussein to “disarm,” which meant ridding Iraq of weapons of mass destruction, their real purpose was simply regime change. For U.S. officials periodically made it clear that if the Iraqi people would simply oust Saddam from power — through coup, revolution, assassination, or whatever — the sanctions would be lifted. As long as Saddam remained in power, U.S. officials emphasized, there was no chance whatever that the brutal sanctions would ever be lifted.
The concept of regime change is important and, in fact, is a core element in U.S. foreign policy. It involves the installation of rulers in foreign countries, oftentimes brutal dictators, who will do the bidding of U.S. officials when needed, e.g., they will participate in coalitions of the willing, vote a certain way in the UN, or provide funds for the IMF. When foreign aid fails to secure the loyalty of a foreign ruler, U.S. officials oftentimes resort to more extreme measures, such as sanctions, embargoes, assassinations, coups, and invasions to effect regime change.
Consider Iran, 1953. The prime minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadeqh, had been democratically elected to that position by the Iranian parliament. He was a man who was highly respected, even beloved, by the Iranian people. Time magazine named him its Man of the Year.
Pursuing a socialist philosophy that was being embraced by countries all over the world, Mossadegh nationalized the Iranian oil industry. That was a cardinal sin in the eyes of the British Empire, given that the Iranian oil industry was almost entirely owned and controlled by British companies.
British officials enlisted the assistance of the U.S government, whose CIA surreptitiously engineered the ouster of Mossadegh from power and restored the brutal dictatorial regime of the shah of Iran. The shah, with the full support of the U.S. government, proceeded to unleash a 25-year reign of terror — complete with a secret police force and torture — on his own people.
Finally, in 1979 the Iranian people revolted against the tyrannical regime of the shah. In their anger over what the U.S. government had done in 1953, they took U.S. diplomats hostage. The reaction of U.S. officials was to play innocent, behaving as if they had done nothing to provoke the anger.
The Iranians knew better. For by that time, they had discovered what the U.S. government had been doing to destroy democracy and support tyranny in Iran.
Guatemala, 1954. Still celebrating the regime change in Iran, one year later the CIA effected another regime change, this time in Guatemala. The Guatemalans had elected a socialist, Jacobo Arbenz, president of the country. Arbenz proceeded to take a section of uncultivated land from an American corporation, United Fruit, and transfer it to Guatemalan farmers. The irony was that Arbenz’s taking from the rich in order to help the poor was no different from the socialist practices of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, whose regime founded the modern-day welfare state in America. Nonetheless, the CIA engineered a coup in which Arbenz was removed from power and replaced with a brutal military general. That regime-change operation produced a 30-year-long civil war that killed more than a million Guatemalans.
Regime change was what the various CIA assassination plans in Cuba, along with the Bay of Pigs invasion, were all about — trying to effect regime change in Cuba in the wake of the successful regime-change operations in Iran and Guatemala.
Ever since the 9/11 attacks, U.S. officials have repeated ad infinitum, ad nauseum that “9/11 changed the world.” But that’s just nonsense. 9/11 didn’t change anything. Instead, it provided the U.S. government the unhampered ability to continue moving in the same regime-change direction in which it had been headed for many years.
That was what the invasion and occupation of Iraq were all about. All the fear-mongering talk about weapons of mass destruction and mushroom clouds was designed to muster support for what the 11 years of sanctions had been unable to achieve — the ouster of Saddam Hussein from power. Of course, the secondary aim of the invasion — installing a pro-U.S. regime headed by either Ahmed Chalabi or Iyad Allawi — was foiled when Iraqi Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani engineered the installation of a radical Islamic regime in Iraq, one with primary loyalty to Iran.
Equally important, not only did 9/11 provide U.S. officials with the opportunity to achieve what they had been trying to achieve throughout the 1990s, the 9/11 attacks also enabled U.S. officials to expand their power over the American people in ways that could never have been imagined during the Cold War.
After all, don’t forget that it was the Soviet communists who kidnapped and tortured people; spied on and kept files on its citizenry; conducted secret trials before kangaroo tribunals; held suspects indefinitely; maintained secret prisons; and plundered and looted the citizenry through taxation, fees, and inflation to finance ever-increasing government expenditures. Who would have ever thought that U.S. officials would be justifying the same sorts of things after the fall of the Berlin Wall under the rubric of a perpetual “war on terrorism,” a war whose roots lay in the actions that U.S. officials took in the Middle East after the fall of the Berlin Wall?
Restoring freedom to America
Is there a way out of this mess? Yes, and it’s a rather simple one — dismantling the overseas U.S. empire and ending its foreign policy of interventionism.
That means closing the more than 700 U.S. military bases in foreign countries, bringing all those troops home, and discharging them into the private sector.
It also means ending the decades-old policy of regime change and interventionism, including assassinations, coups, invasions, occupations, and foreign aid.
It means the end of the drug war, which would immediately put drug lords out of business, which would bring to an end all the drug-war violence and the many human-rights abuses committed in the name of the drug war.
Most important, it would mean the restoration of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the rule of law to the nation. No more kidnappings and rendition, no more torture and sex abuse, no more secret judicial proceedings, no more spying on the citizenry, no more suspensions of due process of law and habeas corpus, no more kangaroo tribunals.
Can the American people accomplish such a feat? Why not? If the people of East Germany could bring down the Berlin Wall, why can’t the American people restore a limited-government republic and a free society to our land?
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's top military officials said Thursday they will make sure he knows the potential downside of any timetable for pulling U.S. forces out of Iraq, including the 16-month deadline Obama set during his presidential campaign.
"Our obligation is to give the president a range of options and the risks associated with each of those options, and he will make the decision," Defense Secretary Robert Gates said. He said the 16-month option is one of several. He did not provide a range, nor say which option he himself prefers.
Gates and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, are both holdovers from the Bush administration and one-time critics of a swift or deadline-driven withdrawal. Speaking publicly for the first time since Obama took office, both men suggested that the 16-month timeline is not as firm as Obama's campaign rhetoric implied.
"We've certainly heard 16 months for a long time," Mullen told reporters. "We've looked at options, looked at that option, and the risks that are associated with that."
When Obama is ready, Mullen said, "I will advise him accordingly, and then he'll make the decision."
Meanwhile, the U.S. diplomat who has seen Iraq transformed from chaos to relative calm over the past two years said that a hasty departure of U.S. troops would carry severe risks. Al-Qaida might be emboldened and Iraq's security and political gains threatened, Ambassador Ryan Crocker said.
Speaking to reporters a day after he and the top U.S. commander in Iraq briefed Obama by video connection, Crocker declined to say what he and Gen. Ray Odierno told the president.
But he noted that the president was committed to a responsible pullout of the more than 140,000-strong U.S. force.
"A precipitous withdrawal runs some very severe risks," Crocker said in Baghdad.
He said that al-Qaida had been "much weakened" due to setbacks on the battlefield and a loss of support within the Sunni Arab community.
"But as long as they can cling to some handhold here, they are going to keep trying to literally fight their way back," Crocker said.
"And perhaps most important it would have a chilling effect on Iraqis," he said of a quick U.S. departure. "I think the spirit of compromise, of accommodation, of focus on institutional development — all of that would run the risk of getting set aside."
Iraqi officials have said they hope the new administration will stick by the generally longer timeline established in the U.S.-Iraq security agreement which went into effect this month. The deal provides for U.S. combat troops to leave the cities by the end of June, with all U.S. troops gone from the country by 2012.
Military officials said there was no decision made at Wednesday's session in the Situation Room. The meeting on Obama's first full day in office was meant to frame his pledge to quickly end a war he has called misguided and wasteful. He has pledged to turn the nation's focus to what he calls a more pressing conflict in Afghanistan.
Gates called the meeting with Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and others just the start of a process to evaluate numerous options for Iraq.
"There was a good give-and-take," Gates said.
"We discussed a deliberate and yet rapid process," Mullen said.
In a statement after the meeting, Obama said he had told the generals and advisers to come up with a plan for a responsible drawdown, but he did not mention the 16-month timeline.
Military commanders say Iraq is much more stable and safe than it was a year ago, and certainly far calmer than in the darkest days of sectarian bloodshed in 2005 and 2006.
American soldiers are still dying in Iraq, but in fewer numbers even as they take greater risks and fewer precautions.
At the gates of the Green Zone every day, Marwa Yasin is greeted by a volley of suggestive remarks from the Iraqi guards who this month took over from their American counterparts on checkpoint duty.
"Why is the moon so cross?" the men say, calling Yasin by the colloquial term for an aloof, beautiful woman. "What are you doing after work today? Why didn't you call me yesterday?"
The 19-year-old student is one of a growing group of women who says they run a gauntlet of insults and innuendo when they go to the Green Zone, a fortified complex of government offices, palm orchards and palaces built by Saddam Hussein. For the past six years, it has symbolized the United States presence in Iraq.
Iman al-Khalidi, a 23-year-old journalist, says she returned from a trip to the Green Zone to find a note containing a phone number inside her bag, supposedly left by a "lover who could who could not sleep" since he saw her at a checkpoint.
Khalidi believes the paper had been placed inside her bag during a search.
The responsibility for securing this vast area of central Baghdad passed from American to Iraqi forces on January 1, 2009.
Iraqi officials insist they will investigate all allegations of harassment against the guards now in charge of security.
Marwa Yasin, who attends an exclusive school inside the zone, says women had less to fear when the Iraqi security forces had American overseers.
"The American soldiers would punish any Iraqis who verbally harassed us and take away their badges," she said. "Now we miss their protection."
Most Iraqis and foreigners were barred from the Green Zone unless they lived or worked there. The U.S. military controlled access, protecting government officials and diplomats from the insurgency raging beyond its walls.
Amid a recent improvement in security, Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki was able to hail the handover of the Green Zone as a sign that his country was regaining its sovereignty.
Weeks earlier, his government had finalized a deal on the eventual withdrawal of US forces from Iraq.
The government says it will eventually open up the Green Zone to the public, though it has not set a date for this.
Mahdi Kathem, the 33-year-old owner of a food store in Baghdad's Harethya neighbourhood, said, "Entering the Green Zone has been like a dream for us."
He says the transfer of the zone to Iraqi control is a big step in the "restoration of our sovereignty".
Like Kathem, most Baghdadis are pleased at the promise of regaining access to a once-forbidden part of their city.
However, many who have been working inside the Green Zone are pessimistic about its prospects under Iraqi control.
They fear the gradual withdrawal of American forces will worsen security and take a chunk out of their earnings.
Adil Mahmoud, a 20-year-old taxi driver, says the takeover of the zone by Iraqi security forces has been bad for business.
"My profits have fallen because of traffic jams inside the zone," he said. "The Iraqi forces are closing off streets and setting up checkpoints, creating congestion just like they've done in the rest of Baghdad."
Ali Jasim, a 22-year-old working in the zone's Iraqi-owned Freedom restaurant, says the new security arrangements have prompted foreign companies to relocate to Baghdad airport, which remains largely under the control of foreign guards.
"The number of customers who used to come to the restaurant has fallen by half because of the danger," Jasim said.
A government official insists Iraqi forces are capable of keeping the zone secure for all its occupants.
"I am not aware of any organizations leaving the Green Zone," said Firyad Rawanduzi, a member of the Iraqi council of representatives' security and defense committee.
"Security for all areas inside the zone is handled by Iraqi forces and they have done their job successfully."
Rawanduzi also said his committee had not received any reports from women of misconduct or harassment by the guards. "We will punish anyone guilty of such behavior if we receive complaints in the future," he said.
Over the past year, general improvements in security across Iraq have helped lessen the Green Zone's isolation.
Mohammed, a 17-year-old working with a private security firm inside the zone, says he is now able to visit his family outside more frequently.
At the height of the violence, he was confined to the zone because of the threat from militants to anyone who worked there. The teenager spent long periods without seeing the family he had given up his schooling to support.
Mohammed's mementoes from his last two-and-a-half years inside the zone include a photo of himself with some American soldiers.
"The handover is a good step," said Mohammed, who did not give his real name because of security concerns. "We have to protect our areas by ourselves."
Despite the ceremonial handover on January 1, the U.S. military currently still has a presence in the Green Zone, mentoring and supporting the Iraqi force.
Iraqi officials say the handover will be completed on March 31, at the end of a three-month transition period. The minister for national security, Shirwan al-Waeli, says U.S. forces are training and monitoring the Iraqis' handling of "technical equipment and other such issues."
Waeli says protection of the Green Zone has been assigned to a brigade of 3,000 men from the ministry of defense, who are under the command of the prime minister.
He says the government plans to support the brigade's work with an intelligence unit, supplied by the ministry of national security.
The agreement on the U.S. forces' withdrawal from Iraq, signed late last year, says the Green Zone must be fully handed over to the Iraqi government.
Iraqi forces already guard all five entrances to the zone. They also control vehicle checkpoints inside the zone.
Pedestrian checkpoints inside are jointly manned by Iraqi and American forces. The Iraqis there have the same duties as the Americans, asking for badges and checking them.
On the ground, the Iraqis are getting to grips with the new order.
"Now I, as an Iraqi officer, can give orders to the American soldier, whereas this was not possible in the past," said Mohammed Ameen Abbas, a 24-year-old officer in charge of a checkpoint in the Green Zone.
Ali Hameed, a 19-year-old soldier at another checkpoint, said Iraqi guards are more understanding than the Americans.
"We can still assist our citizens, even if they do not have identification cards with them," he said. "The Americans were strict in their treatment of Iraqis. It is different now that we have taken responsibility."
However, Marwa, who goes to school inside the zone, fears the Iraqi guards will be less reliable.
"The American soldier would never single anyone out for favorable treatment, even if it was his father," she said.
"But the Iraqi soldiers can show courtesy to their friends and let them enter the Green Zone, even though they do not have identification cards. What guarantee is there that a suicide bomber might not enter the zone and head to my school?"