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Six years – for what?

Written By: - Date published: 1:10 pm, July 2nd, 2009 - 45 comments
Categories: International, iraq - Tags:

Six years ago the Neocon Bush administration invaded Iraq, on the pretence of looking for “weapons of mass destruction” (that were never there). Steve Pierson at The Standard covered the Fifth Anniversary, and some aspects of the death and misery caused by the invasion.

Now the Americans are pulling out of Iraq’s cities, they officially “handed over control” to the Iraqi administration on Monday 29 June. Some American forces will remain in cities “to train and advise Iraqi forces”. Most will pull back to bases outside the cities. This process has been accompanied by much celebration and jubilation in Iraq, but there are also fears that this pullout will create a power vacuum that the militias will move to fill – there already seems to be an upsurge in bombings. Most of the issues are covered for example here and here, there is some interesting commentary here.

Obama has set a schedule for further withdrawal, but it is not at all clear what will happen with respect to the “private contractors” (mercenaries) or the 283 American bases (some of them “permanent”) in Iraq.

America should never have invaded in the first place. Yes they overthrew a brutal dictator, no the violence and disruption that followed was worse. It was always about the oil, and the currency in which oil is traded. But given that they are there, I for one am very conflicted about whether they are right to withdraw from the cities now. On the one hand we should be happy that imperial invaders get the boot and Iraqi’s take control. On the other hand the Iraqi administration is weak, and it is likely that factional fighting will inflict further chaos and random violence on an already traumatised Iraqi public. There is an argument that America should stay and fix what it broke, especially in terms of basic infrastructure (power, water, sanitation). This withdrawal has the feel of America abandoning the mess they created. So – I’m undecided, I wonder what others think?
— r0b

45 comments on “Six years – for what? ”

  1. Pat 1

    I think it is worth letting the Iraqi forces have a go of running things themselves. Remember the American forces have only withdrawn to bases on the outskirts of the cities, so they can be called upon at the drop of a hat.

    The best deterrent for insurgents is if they are rejected by their own people in favour of a normal peaceful life. Hamas florishes becuase it has a greater cause. Iraq has the chance to be different because insurgents become the enemy of the people.

    • Pascal's bookie 1.1

      Their are many insurgent groups, each with there own population of support.

      The pro Iranian shia. The Iraqi nationalist Sadirist shia. The salafist AQ Sunni. The Bathist Sunni. The Kurdish seperatists.

      These groups have allied and splintered at different points, and most except the AQ have had support from the US at times.

  2. r0b 2

    Since I wrote the above (a while back) the often excellent Tom Scott has nailed it far more concisely:

  3. Bill 3

    How the hell they gonna fcuk over Afghanistan good ‘n proper and attempt to deepen their influence in the region if they are militarily committed in Iraq?

    The oil concessions are being sold now and the sweet is going to western companies. Mission accomplished.

  4. Congrats r0b – I think I made it clear you will be a real asset on the roster here and this shows why.

    And just to confuse the picture, I happen to agree with you entirely right done to the irony that while I see no acceptable rationale for the invasion, leaving the mess they created isn’t a suitable solution either.

    • r0b 4.1

      Cheers Daveski – but I’m not an author here, I just send in the odd guest post. I hope that others will do the same.

      [lprent: yep, he rejected my advances – mores the pity… ]

      • Daveski 4.1.1

        Yep, some of your comments are odd but I’d still want to see you on the roster here 😉

        And i’m not sure my agreeing with you actually helps either 🙂

  5. Good post Rob. I have the same problem in that ideologically I want the USA out of there as soon as possible, but for the sake of the Iraqi people I certainly wouldn’t want that to lead to the country going down the gurgler.

    Perhaps what is proposed is a good halfway-house situation for the time being.

  6. Pascal's bookie 6

    “So I’m undecided, I wonder what others think?”

    I think you can’t un-shit a bed.

    But if Iraqis are celebrating the first flavor of an end to that occupation, they’re not celebrating reconstruction or reconcilliation. They’re not celebrating peace. Tom Ricks and others are correct that there will be a spiral of upward violence as the U.S. stiffener departs the Iraqi central government’s backbone. (Although Ricks is a special case as he pleads that Petraeus and Odierno are geniuses for the Surge even while he argues the Surge didn’t work.) There will be some level of civil war in Iraq yet, whether it’s between Shia and Sunni, Kurd and Arab, Shia money-grabbers in the oil-rich South or a combination of all three.

    That’s not an argument for extending the occupation, though. It was always an argument for shortening it. Imagine if the U.S. and it’s allies had never invaded but an act of God or Alien Space Bats had destroyed Iraq’s Saddam-era leadership, devastated the nation’s infrastructure, killed thousands and displaced millions anyway. Of course there would have been a multi-sided civil war. Without Saddam’s repression keeping a lid on and with those other stresses to society, the fractures and imbalances in Iraq would have split wide open exactly as they did – the only difference being no U.S. occupation to focus a goodly portion of those stresses upon, to magnify and perpetuate them. The same conditions will obtain after the US leaves, whenever that is, and would have obtained at any time in the last six years.

    The point, blindingly obvious to jubilant Iraqis celebrating some meagre sovereignty today, is that all of that is their problem, never ours. The Pottery Barn Rule was never “you broke it, you own it”. It was always meant to be “you broke it, pay for it, and get the f**k out of our store before you make things worse!”


    The surge worked tactically, in that it suppressed violence, but failed in it’s strategic objective of using that drop in violence to sort out the political problems. Those problems remain and the various factions used the window provided by the surge to jockey for position.

  7. gingercrush 7

    Yes I remember before the US actually went to Iraq going to anime-related forums and declaring America scum for the mistake they were about to do. I’ve always been opposed to this war and I was never easy with national supporting the invasion into the US and was far more comfortable with Labour’s opposition to invasion of Iraq. What always struck me about that invasion was regardless of political affiliation, Americans seemed to be naive about this invasion and the consequence of that invasion. They had no doubt WMD existed and they had no regard that the war could be about different things.

    Of course the media in the US have a lot to blame for that war themselves. While they comfort themselves now days for disagreeing with Bush. Indeed, at times ripping him apart. This is the same media that in the years after 9/11 were so stridently pro-America they lacked the ability to hold the government at the time to account. That same media that literally acted as the propoganda machine for Bush and others to invade Iraq. Sadly, that same media on the whole are now unashamedly in love with Obama to the extent of complete over-exposure. I’m not saying Obama is evil or his policies are evil. I certainly disagree with them. I’m sure many agree with them. But their exists little accountability of Obama’s actions thus far in office, instead just a love-affair.

    • Noko 7.1

      I commend this comment for truth and insight. Well done, gingercrush.

    • Kirbya 7.2

      “Yes I remember before the US actually went to Iraq going to anime-related forums and declaring America scum for the mistake they were about to do.”

      Good work, Cassandra! I was a teenager standing in a tutorial arguing furiously that the US wouldn’t be stupid enough to make a mistake like going to war in Iraq. The egg was and remains well and truly on my face…

  8. Bill 8

    Here’s what one Iraqi thinks Rob.

    Jasmin Ramsey: Half your family lives in Iraq. What kind of freedom do they have today? What affect has six years of occupation had on them?

    Dahlia Wasfi: They have been freed from electricity, potable water and security! They do their best to maintain a positive outlook. My relatives from Baghdad are still displaced in Jordan and Syria as far as I know. I believe that they want what most families want — the opportunity to live their lives and raise their children in their homeland and have self-determination — not military occupation.

    The US has no interest in the state of Iraq beyond the oil concessions and the now obliterated ‘threat’ that it posed to Israel.

    The US now has to get that damned pipeline in Afghanistan and stop those pesky Chinese and Russians from making deals and building alternative pipelines.

    The one tiny bright spot in all of this is that they have neglected their so-called ‘backyard’ in Latin and S. America which is now experiencing a rising ‘pink tide’.

    edit. As an aside, the spectre of civil war was also an excuse the British government used to maintain its military presence in N Ireland. Just saying.

  9. rave 9

    Who cares what Kiwi bloggers think about Iraq?

    Only Kiwi bloggers.

    The US preventative war has worked. They prevented Saddam using his WMD – selling oil to Russia for Euros – and have put in their own WMD – Big Oil.

    Who gives a fuck about liberal moralising as to the rights and responsibilities of mass murderers?

    I am for the withdrawal of the US military machine from the United States.

    • Bill 9.1

      I am for the withdrawal of the US military machine from the United States

      Whereas I am for the withdrawal of the NZ military from NZ because, really, who gives a fuck about my moralising about the US military machine in the US?

      I do get your point though Rave. And I don’t really disagree with you. Just couldn’t resist the invitation to be facetious.

      It’s maybe a bit like the moral outrage expressed in the Free Tibet nonsense. Western Governments are more than happy for citizens to waste their energies on such causes and even offer a degree of moral sanction to them. Why? Because it’s a distraction from matters closer to home that the participants could actually have an impact on and they (the governments) get to score free Brownie Points in the eyes of many by tut-tutting an ‘official enemy/adversary’.

  10. Zaphod Beeblebrox 10

    I think the U.S will be really happy to be out of this region within the next 10-20 years. The next thing Obama wants to do is rid themselves of dependence upon Middle East oil.
    Once that happens, or the oil runs out, whichever is earlier, the regimes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iran and a lot of The Emirates will be history and the region will fracture into a localised tribal situation similar to Afganistan. Without oil and declining water supplies the peoples of this area will struggle to feed themselves without Western aid. Pretty sad really when you thing about the greatness of their earlier civilizations.

  11. So Bored 11

    “This withdrawal has the feel of America abandoning the mess they created”. What do we think?

    Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil, Oil, !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    What mess? Did’nt see any as I was driving my Hummer down Santa Monica Boulevarde on Gulf oil..

    Any mess belongs to somebody else, and is a COST to be avoided in the process of ensuring that the US oil suply is intact and flowing. If the cost can be put elsewhere whilst supply is maintained PROFITS are bigger. So let the locals pay the cost AND supply oil.

    This is not cynicism, its well backed up by the history of imperial systems for the last 6000 years. And we in NZ are part of the imperial system ,we too need oil to keep the production of corporate investments at the periphery of empire pumping the profits back to the core. No innocent parties, thank God we dont possess the blight that is an oil field.

  12. Wow, everybody here actually believes that the Americans have left Iraq.
    Let me give you some info you might want to check.

    This is a snapshot of how many bases were build in Iraq. There are more than 55 bases in the countryside of Iraq. What are the chances of the Americans leaving those unmanned in the most oil rich country after Iran you reckon?

    The only places now empty are the ones in the city. The soldiers have not been removed from Iraq but moved out of the cities. This article has a lot of good links in it

    This is what Democratic presidential candidate and Congressman Dennis Kucinich had to say about it.

    US withdrawal, my ass.

    Oh, and if you still thought that Afghan was a happy free country we’re helping rebuild because the whities are always the good guys I’ve got news for ya. The biggest ever assault on the “Taliban” has commenced on 1:00 a.m. local time on Thursday in the province of Helmond.

    Mind you the US is now run by a black guy. Oh no, actually it’s run by the Federal reserve.

    Guess you can’t believe what the mainstream media are saying, eh?

    • r0b 12.1

      Wow, everybody here actually believes that the Americans have left Iraq

      Nobody believes that, as far as I can see.

      The post was about the Americans pulling the majority of their forces out of the cities, and whether that was the right or the wrong thing for the people of Iraq.

      • travellerev 12.1.1

        Hi r0b,

        The problem is they left the majority of troops in Iraq. This is just a PR stunt because Obama is even worse than Bush in his warmongering and they know the US public don’t like it.

        • r0b

          Hi Ev

          Whatever the reason for withdrawal, do you have an opinion on whether the withdrawal from the cities that has occurred is a a good thing or a bad thing? That’s the question expressed in the post.

          • travellerev

            I think that the withdrawal of the troops from the cities is nothing more than a PR stunt.
            Iraq became a US colony in a war based on lies in the wake of the false flag attack of 911 at the cost of more than a million of Iraqis lives and the destruction of an ancient culture by the hands of our shadow masters, not to mention the deaths of almost 5000 patriotic Americans and the destruction of Afghanistan.
            They wanted the oil and they got it.
            This is what the Iraqis think of it themselves.

        • Pascal's bookie

          Ev, this doesn’t actually have much to do with Obama at all. The US troops are in Iraq under a SOFA agreement signed between Bush and Maliki. The terms of that agreement include the withdrawal to the bases outside the cities and the gradual drawdown till about 2011.

  13. Con 13

    The American troops should bugger off. Sooner the better. Don’t wait.

    As far as repairing the damage they did, they should be paying financial reparations. Let the Iraqis themselves do the spadework (they need the jobs anyway, whereas the American troops are not exactly short of stuff to do elsewhere)

    • r0b 13.1

      Yes, that’s the direction I lean too Con (except for the “stuff to do elsewhere” part). But there could be an awful lot of violence and pain for Iraqis down that path. America is left with nothing but bad options really, and only themselves to blame…

  14. “It was always about the oil, and the currency in which oil is traded.”

    If so, its an economically illiterate way to get oil as I try to point out here.

    • Pascal's bookie 14.1

      Alan Greenspan :economic illiterate. His reputation isn’t what it was, but I’d still say that’s going a bit far.

      • Paul Walker 14.1.1

        “In the interview, he clarified that sentence in his 531-page book, saying that while securing global oil supplies was “not the administration’s motive,” he had presented the White House with the case for why removing Hussein was important for the global economy. ”

        But if Greenspan really does believes it was about oil, that then I would argue he is economically illiterate.

        • Pascal's bookie

          The context of that bolded part is that his initial claim got the expected pushback from the WH. Selectively quoting it doesn’t change what he was saying in the rest of the piece:

          “His main support for Hussein’s ouster, though, was economically motivated. “If Saddam Hussein had been head of Iraq and there was no oil under those sands,” Greenspan said, “our response to him would not have been as strong as it was in the first gulf war. And the second gulf war is an extension of the first. My view is that Saddam, looking over his 30-year history, very clearly was giving evidence of moving towards controlling the Straits of Hormuz, where there are 17, 18, 19 million barrels a day” passing through.

          Greenspan said disruption of even 3 to 4 million barrels a day could translate into oil prices as high as $120 a barrel — far above even the recent highs of $80 set last week — and the loss of anything more would mean “chaos” to the global economy.

          Given that, “I’m saying taking Saddam out was essential,” he said. But he added that he was not implying that the war was an oil grab.

          “No, no, no,” he said. Getting rid of Hussein achieved the purpose of “making certain that the existing system [of oil markets] continues to work, frankly, until we find other [energy supplies], which ultimately we will.”

          I’m not at all sure that your analysis deals with this sort of argument.

          • Paul Walker

            Given we have had oil at more than $120 a barrel, so much for Greenspan’s ideas. And such price have not been “chaos’ to the global economy. When all said and done, Hussein needed money and that meant he needed to sell oil and he knew demand curve slope downwards so even a monopolist, which he clearly wasn’t, has limits to what he can charge. He had to deal with the fact there are many other suppliers of oil.

            “Given that, “I’m saying taking Saddam out was essential,’ he said. But he added that he was not implying that the war was an oil grab.

            “No, no, no,’ he said. Getting rid of Hussein achieved the purpose of “making certain that the existing system [of oil markets] continues to work, frankly, until we find other [energy supplies], which ultimately we will.'”

            Oil markets will still have worked, even with Hussein around. Like I said, Hussein needed to sell oil.

            • rave

              But for what? Dollars or Euros? Saddam knew about the US achilles heel.
              Iran was starting to sell in Euros too and gets the big stick waved at it. Doesnt stop the Germans from doing deals behind the UN embargo, nor China, India, Russia and Pakistan from doing the business with Iran.
              So its about oil, not only middle east oil but getting its hands on central Asian oil and gas which Russia and China are treating as their own backyard.
              But its also about the US dollar which retains its value only because of a deal by OECD to sell oil for dollars.
              Without that the massive US deficit would see the dollar collapse.
              Ironically neoclassical economics reduces to the military not markets. Its called state monopoly capitalism. The US state uses its military machine to make sure that its monopolies control the resource at the expense of its main rivals France and Germany.

            • Pascal's bookie

              “Oil markets will still have worked, even with Hussein around. Like I said, Hussein needed to sell oil.”

              Sure, but I don’t think that’s really the argument. Is it in US interests to have Hussein profiting from it? It’s about controlling the oil, and the (threatened) ability to disrupt the market. That’s a weapon. That oil in Iraq is going to start getting pumped again at some point. Do you think the US is unconcerned about what companies and regimes will be profiting from it?

  15. Bill 15

    Most of what Rave said and PB’s comment about control of supply and the profits flowing from that control. The bidding process for concessions is under way. And guess what?

    Meanwhile, thanks to permanent military bases all over the place they can, how shall we say?, influence other supplies?

    Back to Afghanistan and possible pipelines for other Eurasian oil supplies now that Iraqi oil is ‘in the bag’…..

    Your analysis is too reductionist Paul…not seeing the broader perspectives and so ultimately…not simplistic, but somehow devoid. Sterile and unrealistic.

    • Unfortunately its also correct. If the war was about oil, it is a very stupid economic way of getting it. Buying on the open market would have cost the US a lot less. I don’t really understand why the US did what it did but if they really thought it made economic sense, they were very, very wrong.

      • Pascal's bookie 15.1.1

        Paul, no one thinks they wanted to grab the oil and put in a reservoir in Idaho. That’s not at all the point. It’s more about the political influence that control of the oil revenues gives. Is the US concerned about how Chavez uses his oil wealth? Would buying all his oil alleviate that concern?

  16. Rave

    “But its also about the US dollar which retains its value only because of a deal by OECD to sell oil for dollars.”

    The US dollar is floating, its value is the result of the supply and demand. “Retains its value” is meaningless, its value changes by the second. People want the US dollars to buy US goods and services or to make investments in the US. These are things which determine demand for the US dollar. Should the oil trade move to being done in Euros, for example, it will have little effect on the US dollar.

    In an interview the late, great Milton Friedman said:

    John Hawkins: If the euro were to replace the dollar as the medium of exchange, if everyone bought and sold their goods in euros instead of dollars, would that have an impact on the US economy?

    Milton Friedman: The success of the United States will depend on how much it can produce at home, how much it can sell abroad, what it buys from abroad. It’s of less importance whether it is denominated in dollars or euros.

    John Hawkins: So in the end, that is really not going to make a big difference one way or the other…

    Milton Friedman: That’s not going to make a great deal of difference. What’s going to make the difference is the productivity of the different countries. But personally, as I say, I believe the Euroland is going to run into big difficulties. That’s because the different
    countries have different languages, limited mobility among them, and they’re effected differently by external events.

    It so far as it does have an effect, What will it be? Let us assume demand for the US dollar drops, What happens? The price of the US dollar in terms of other currencies goes down, that is, US exports become cheaper on the world market. So US exports go up. The problem here is? Import prices would increase and so imports would drop and domestic production would replace them. This also would help reduce the current account deficit.

    • So Bored 16.1

      “late great Milton Friedman’..says who? Dont try and justify an argument by using that epithet for a minor prophet of the principle of selfishness and greed.

    • Pascal's bookie 16.2

      What would happen to the US domestic price of oil based products Mr Friedman?

      • PaulWalker 16.2.1

        Not much. The exchange rate would not change that much and as long as they let (relative) prices adjust the effects would not be that large or bad.

  17. deemac 17

    The choice is not between the US continuing to run Iraq (whether crudely or subtly) or the US walking away and letting Iraq collapse into chaos
    The situation as I understand it (and I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong) is that a country that has attacked another (whether rightly or wrongly is not the point here) has certain obligations under international law to get said country functioning again. At their expense, not by raiding the coffers of the defeated country.
    The best agencies to do this are the international ones that the US has sidelined up till now. The worst ones are the US and its satraps.

    • So Bored 17.1

      Nice idea Deemac….obligations under international law…..thats a moral and ethical issue. Not something imperialists are very good at in a historic context.
      Its about control of a resource (oil), and getting control long term at the lowest possible cost(something imperialists are very good at). Reparations etc are a cost, the bottom line balance sheets of Bechtel and Haliburton dont have a ledger sheet for niceness unless it comes with a profit. Nor the US government unless somebody pays has the bill, in this case the Iraqis.

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