IRAQ: Is the US empire invincible?

Wednesday, December 3, 2003 - 11:00

BY DOUG LORIMER

Seven months ago, when the US army rolled into Baghdad, the US war machine seemed invincible. The US rulers seemed to be in reach of realising their goal of conquering Iraq and using it as a secure base from which to establish imperial domination throughout the oil-rich Persian Gulf region.

However, Iraq has begun to turn into a nightmare for Washington. Instead of being a stepping stone on the road to a "new American century" of unchallengeable US global domination, Iraq has become a military quagmire, bogging the US army down in a bloody and unwinnable guerrilla war.

For the architects of the US war against Iraq, the overthrow of Saddam Hussein's regime was never about the reasons publicly used to justify the invasion — that the US was acting pre-emptively to ensure that the Hussein regime's alleged weapons of mass destruction did not fall into the hands of the al Qaeda terrorist network responsible for the 9/11 attacks.

Long before 9/11, the war hawks in US President George Bush's administration had set their sights on an invasion of Iraq as the first step in their grand plan.

'New American century'

During Bill Clinton's presidency, key figures in the present administration — Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and others — set up the Project for a New American Century think tank to promote within the US ruling class their post-Cold War strategy of "maintaining global US pre-eminence ... and shaping the international security order in line with American principles and interests" (as a PNAC document co-authored by Wolfowitz in 2000 expressed it).

The "new centurions" saw a US invasion of Iraq as the first step in "shaping an international security order in line" with US political and economic interests. "While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the [Persian] Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein", Wolfowitz's paper stated.

Wolfowitz, who is now Bush's deputy defence secretary, recognised that the US public could not be convinced to support an invasion of Iraq simply to establish a massive US military presence in the Persian Gulf. That would be seen to be, and rejected as, simply a "war for oil".

Indeed, in 1975 when Cheney's and Rumsfeld's mentor, then US secretary of state Henry Kissinger, anonymously floated the idea of the US military seizing the Persian Gulf's oil fields and "bringing in Texans and Oklahomans to operate them", it was publicly ridiculed by most of the US ruling elite. When James Akins, who was then US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, read Kissinger's "Seizing Arab Oil" article, published in Harper's magazine under a pseudonym, he denounced its author as a "madman".

In his 2000 PNAC paper, Wolfowitz recognised that winning public support for a series of unprovoked wars to destroy any and all regimes that might buck US control over the Middle East's oil wealth would depend on "some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor".

Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld and Cheney got what they wanted on September 11, 2001. While most people were mourning the victims of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Bush administration, led by vice-president Cheney and defence secretary Rumsfeld, began putting its plans for empire into action.

According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, on the morning after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Rumsfeld urged Bush to authorise a US invasion of Iraq, Within days of the 9/11 attacks, Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, convened a National Security Council meeting "to think about how do you capitalise on these opportunities to fundamentally change American doctrine, and the shape of the world, in the wake of September 11th", as author Chalmers Johnson described it.

Bush doctrine

Within a year, the policy proposals of the PNAC had become official US government strategic doctrine, being presented by Bush to Congress in his September 2002 National Security Strategy document. This document — which became known as the "Bush Doctrine" — spelt out the real reasons for the US "war on terrorism". "Our forces will be strong enough to dissuade potential adversaries from pursuing a military buildup in hopes of surpassing, or equalling, the power of the US", it declared.

Anatol Lieven of the establishment Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington described the document as a blueprint "for unilateral world domination through absolute superiority".

Washington's seizure of Iraq's oil is a crucial part of the plan. "If the United States controls Persian Gulf oil fields, it will have a stranglehold on the world economy", Michael Klare, a US foreign policy analyst and author of Resource Wars: The New Landscape of Global Conflict, wrote in the March 9 Toronto Star. The US rulers are betting, Klare added, that "controlling Gulf oil, combined with being a decade ahead of everybody else in military technology, will guarantee American supremacy for the next 50 to 100 years".

Toppling Hussein's regime was seen by the war hawks in Washington as the first domino in a drive to reorganise the Middle East in accordance with "American principles and interests". The next targets were Syria and Iran.

Seven months ago the plans of the war hawks seemed to be unstoppable. Their blitzkrieg against Iraq had toppled Hussein's regime in less than a month and it seemed that it would not be long before the US army would be marching into Damascus and Tehran.

Soon after Washington's occupation of Iraq, the new US administrators in Baghdad began implementing Kissinger's 1975 proposal to bring "in Texans and Oklahomans to operate" Iraq's oil fields. Plans were drawn up to sell Iraq's state-owned oil industry to US oil corporations.

But the unanticipated guerrilla war of resistance in Iraq has slowed the US imperial juggernaut. Instead of Iraq becoming a secure base from which to project power throughout the region, Washington is bogged down trying to "pacify" the country.

Opposition to the occupation of their country by foreign troops is growing among the Iraqi people. The official US version is that the guerrilla attacks are being carried out by the "remnants" of Hussein's regime. This is a lie that is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain as the resistance movement grows stronger and more confident.

What the resistance movement in Iraq is achieving is clear. It is showing once again that while the US military machine can easily occupy a poor Third World country, it is ill prepared to deal with a guerrilla war that is supported by a whole population.

In their war against the Vietnamese, the US imperialists had the military means to destroy the country many times over. But they were thrown out because US soldiers, witnessing the incredible determination of the Vietnamese people to resist them, did not want to be there. As the anti-war movement at home grew in strength and support, the fighting morale of US troops in Vietnam collapsed and turned into open revolt.

If it were merely a question of superior arms, the US army could prevail in Iraq. But an army is made of ordinary men and women, mostly working-class young people, who did not join the army to get killed but to get a job and earn some money.

Since the US invaded Iraq, some 9000 US troops have had to be evacuated for non-injury health reasons, a major one being "mental stress" — a result of having to operate in a sea of hostility. In October, a survey conducted by the US military's Stars and Stripes newspaper found that 31% of US troops in Iraq thought the invasion of Iraq served no worthwhile purpose.

New Vietnam-type war

Back in the US, increasing numbers of people are turning against the invasion and occupation of Iraq, realising that they were deceived by their rulers and now face another long and costly Vietnam-type war.

A recent USA Today/CNN/Gallup poll found that 55% of US voters disapprove of Washington's handling of the post-invasion phase of the Iraq war. In the Vietnam War, US troops had been fighting and dying for more than three years before 53% of US voters said the war was a mistake, the November 18 USA Today noted.

A leaked report from the CIA station chief in Baghdad admitted that the US military's "inability to crush the insurgents is convincing growing numbers of Iraqis that the occupation can be defeated, bolstering support for the insurgents", an anonymous "senior administration official" told the November 20 Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Bush administration has therefore ordered US commanders in Iraq to massively escalate their assaults on the suspected guerrilla "bases". But it is in the nature of a guerrilla movement that it has no military bases. Guerrilla fighters attack and then disappear into the general population.

This fact completely eludes the US military brass. Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the top US general in Iraq, has dismissed any comparisons between the present war in Iraq and the US war in Vietnam. "It is not Vietnam", Sanchez snapped when asked by a reporter on November 11 whether Iraq resembled the early days of the US war in Vietnam. "And there is no way you can make the comparison."

According to the November 11 British Guardian, Sanchez went on to say: "The most important message is that we are all going to get pretty tough, and that's what is needed to defeat the enemy, and we are definitely not shy of doing that when it is required."

This is why we have scenes on our television screens of US soldiers breaking down doors of civilians' homes, handcuffing and blindfolding terrified men, shoving women and their bewildered children and forcing them to squat in the street as their homes are blown up.

The more the US military intensifies its brutal assaults upon the Iraqi civilian population, the more the sympathy and support for the resistance fighters will grow among ordinary Iraqis. The CIA understands this. A recently leaked CIA report argues that stepping up "counterinsurgency" operations against suspected resistance sympathisers will cause more civilian casualties and push more Iraqis into supporting the anti-occupation insurgency. That is already happening.

The whole situation in Iraq is turning into the opposite of what the US rulers envisaged. Instead of demonstrating the invincibility of the US imperial war machine, the Iraq war is showing — just as in Vietnam 30 years ago — that a popular resistance movement is capable of successfully challenging the US empire.

From Green Left Weekly, December 3, 2003.

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From GLW issue 564