Thursday, October 11, 2007

Why we invaded Iraq

Reading through the various analyses about Iraq at times there seems to be a genuine puzzlement about the reasons for going into Iraq. Which is puzzling. It seems rather clear if we look at what is "working" in Iraq as opposed to what is not. Most people are not dumb, just lazy. So, the scale of the "disaster" in Iraq has never made sense if you assume that we went in for democracy promotion. Could the Bush administration be so incredibly dumb about something they feel so passionately about? After all. the desire to invade Iraq is an old one - plenty of time for planning all kinds of eventualities. So why was there no post-invasion planning? Why no planning for reconstruction? Why the allocation of important jobs to family members of neocons? Two (not mutually exclusive) answers come to mind. First is the one that is the common refrain. The Bush administration is staffed by incompetents. The second is that there was post-war planning. But only for the important stuff. If we restrict our attention to administration luminaries like Paul Wolfovitz and Doug Feith the first argument seems the most reasonable. However, the administration has been relatively competent about things it considers important - like tax cuts. And even in foreign policy it has been relatively competent in the sense that it has been generally successful in getting its way. Whether it was the overthrow of the Islamic Courts in Somalia or the sanctions against Iran. Not that it has always been successful or that its foreign policy decisions have been wise (in my opinion they have not) but if you consider things from their point of view things have generally gone the way they have wanted. Which brings us to the second answer - that the administration did plan for what it considered was most important.

If you look at what is going on in Iraq from the US point of view the big "success" story has been the building of the permanent enduring contingency operating bases including Tallil (formerly Camp Adder), Balad (formerly Camp Anaconda) and al-Asad. Everything I have read says these are marvels of engineering - small American cities plonked down in the middle of the desert. Competent planning indeed. However, as Tom Engelhardt says in this Salon article :
While much space in our papers has, of late, been devoted to the administration's lack of postwar planning, next to no interest has been shown in the planning that did take place.
Not that there has not been any news about the bases. Engelhardt among others has been highlighting these bases over and over again. has a decent sized list of the bases. Even before the war people were pointing out that the PNAC had called for permanent US bases in the Middle East to preserve US global hegemony long before The War Against Terror. For example, here is an article by Jay Bookman in the Atlanta Constitution dated September 29, 2002, entitled "The President's Real Goal in Iraq" in which he describes the September 2000 PNAC report.

To preserve the Pax Americana, the report says U.S. forces will be required to perform "constabulary duties" -- the United States acting as policeman of the world -- and says that such actions "demand American political leadership rather than that of the United Nations."

To meet those responsibilities, and to ensure that no country dares to challenge the United States, the report advocates a much larger military presence spread over more of the globe, in addition to the roughly 130 nations in which U.S. troops are already deployed.

More specifically, they argue that we need permanent military bases in the Middle East, in Southeast Europe, in Latin America and in Southeast Asia, where no such bases now exist.
This was in 2002. But now it seems that when the bases are mentioned they are mentioned in an abstract manner - as an ideological imperative, rather than as a very basic part of US foreign policy. That is not the case with this article in the London Review of Books by Jim Holt (h/t Sullivan). It begins:
Iraq is ‘unwinnable’, a ‘quagmire’, a ‘fiasco’: so goes the received opinion. But there is good reason to think that, from the Bush-Cheney perspective, it is none of these things. Indeed, the US may be ‘stuck’ precisely where Bush et al want it to be, which is why there is no ‘exit strategy’.
Holt places the base in the context of US foreign policy. It actually didn't seem like earth shattering analysis. It just seemed like a statement of reality. Which is what so frustrating. If it is actually so obvious why is it not the context in which Iraq is analyzed in most of the media? Or maybe it is not so obvious. In any case go read it.

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