Bush's Policy of Escalation May Extend Beyond Iraq
By Rachelle Marshall
An Iraqi man holds his mother, who fainted after her son was
questioned and nearly detained by U.S. Army soldiers from the 5-20
Infantry Division during the launch of Operation Arrowhead Strike Six
in Baghdad's northern Shaab neighborhood, Feb. 6, 2007
(AFP Photo/David Furst).
No major American leader doubts that America must remain the
locomotive of the world.—Columnist David Brooks, New York Times, Feb. 1.
No one loves armed missionaries.—Robespierre, to the French National
A RECENT COVER of the Economist magazine pictured George Bush as a
demented cavalry officer waving a sword and shouting "Charge!" to the
troops behind him as he rides his horse over a cliff. It is an apt
illustration of current U.S. policy in the Middle East, where the Bush
administration is escalating military action in two wars and
threatening to launch a third.
Harvard historian Stanley Hoffman warned in a November 2001 article
for The New York Review of Books that a war directed against the
Taliban would be the wrong response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Such an action, he wrote, "risks sending us into an Afghan quagmire of
disastrous proportions, causing a huge new exodus of miserably poor
people, and creating revulsion and perhaps revolt among the
Pakistanis, or at least some faction of them."
Nearly six years later, victory in Afghanistan is further away than
ever. Attacks on U.S. and NATO forces have tripled; the number of U.S.
troops in the country has increased from 9,500 to 26,000; and in
mid-February Bush called on NATO allies to provide a larger force in
preparation for "fierce fighting" this spring.
A resurgent Taliban has bases among tribes in western Pakistan and
again controls large portions of the country, but American and NATO
troops also face resistance from warlord militias and Afghan villagers
who have traditionally fought against invading armies. San Francisco
Chronicle reporter Claudio Franco trekked for nine hours into the
mountains to interview a Taliban commander, and concluded, "the sons
of anti-Soviet fighters...are prepared to outwait any occupation force."
There is no basis for Bush's belief that the United States will be
able to impose its will on a country where the Persians, the British,
the Russians, and the Soviets with 100,000 troops have failed. Equally
irrational is his promise of victory in Iraq. An operation that began
with lies is now kept going with fantasies. The "new way forward,"
Bush announced last January, which called for sending 21,000 more
troops to fight an unwinnable war, is only his latest fantasy.
Bush was convinced he could force change in the Middle East, despite
warnings by Middle East scholars, State Department analysts, and even
the CIA that Iraq was likely to disintegrate into chaos if the United
States tried to oust Saddam Hussain. The consequences of Bush's hubris
have been played out in tragedy over the last four years, as the
invasion and its aftermath destroyed the Iraqi state and left a vacuum
that was filled by sectarian violence.
Sending more soldiers into this cauldron will do nothing but ensure
that more Americans and Iraqis will die. Combat soldiers are not
trained to make peace or bring about stabilization. Nor will the
additional troops make Iraqis more secure. When soldiers on patrol
believe they are in danger they call in air strikes that too often
kill anyone within range. In early February Iraqi troops in Najaf
called for help when they spotted a number of strangers moving across
the landscape. The warplanes that responded killed 263 people who were
later found to be members of a religious tribe on their way to a
shrine. A few days later American soldiers mistook the headquarters of
Iraqi President Jalal Talabani for the hideout of an al-Qaeda
bomb-making cell, and killed nine Kurdish guards.
Bush's "new strategy for victory" requires Prime Minister Nouri
Al-Maliki to deploy more Iraqi troops in Baghdad, disband the
militias, and achieve reconciliation between Shi'i and Sunnis, but
Al-Maliki's government has been paralyzed for months. Most of the time
the parliament can't raise a quorum because more than half the members
have left the country for their own safety or are boycotting the
sessions. The death squads that have carried out the the most brutal
atrocities are linked to the Interior Ministry, and the most powerful
militia, the Mahdi army, is controlled by the Shi'i cleric Moqtada
al-Sadr, who provides Al-Maliki with his largest base of support.
Other militias are deeply embedded in neighborhoods where they provide
services such as garbage collection as well as security.
With the start of the new offensive on Feb. 7, additional checkpoints,
blast walls and barbed wire barriers quickly appeared throughout
Baghdad, bringing traffic to a halt, while low-flying helicopters and
fighter jets roared overhead. An Iraqi officer, Lt. Gen. Aboud Qanbar,
announced he had taken over the Defense and Interior ministries and
that the government intended to open mail, monitor phone calls, and
evict thousands of squatters.
An Iraqi tribal leader predicted that if the additional U.S. troops
"only use force, like before, they will make many more problems"—but
such concerns did not register with an American military spokesman,
who said the incoming forces would carry out "targeted killings and
large-force operations." The assassinations of several high-level
militia commanders by the army have already angered many Iraqis, who
see such actions as an infringement on Iraq's sovereignty. In
"large-force operations" soldiers sweep through neighborhoods
searching homes and rounding up all males old enough to carry a gun.
It is clear why at least 78 percent of Baghdad residents say they
would feel safer if the Americans left.
Bush claims the war in Iraq is "a decisive ideological struggle," in
which "the security of our nation is in the balance," but the actual
enemies in Iraq are either the participants in Iraq's domestic civil
war or Iraqis who want our troops out of their country. When American
and Iraqi forces recently conducted a joint operation in Baghdad they
encountered fierce resistance but couldn't tell who was shooting at
them. The sergeant in charge said it could have been Sunni insurgents,
Shi'i militia fighters or the Iraqi soldiers who had disappeared into
the alleys during the battle.
Occupation authorities apparently also regard some Iraqi political
parties as the enemy. In early January U.S. troops destroyed the
headquarters of the National Dialogue Front, a secular party that has
11 seats in parliament, and seized its files. Two bodyguards of party
leader Saleh al-Mutlak were killed. The army claimed the building was
a safe house for al-Qaeda, but Al-Mutlak and his followers said they
were actually trying to organize a coalition with Sunni, Shi'i and
secular groups that would replace Al-Maliki with a more effective
Iraqi government and force an American withdrawal. They called the
attack on their headquarters an attempt by U.S. officials to block
The fact that an overwhelming majority of Iraqis want the Army to
leave their country makes no difference to Bush. In calling for a
military escalation, he has also ignored American public opinion,
defied Congress, rejected the advice of his top generals, and brushed
off the bipartisan Iraq Study Group. Bush may be playing for time,
hoping the Democrats who replace him can be blamed for the inevitable
defeat. He may also be planning a more dangerous gamble.
A More Dangerous Gamble
In Gaza City, women watch a funeral procession for a Palestinian
killed in factional fighting (Photo: Mohammed Omer).
Bush issued an unmistakable warning to Iran when he promised in his
State of the Union speech to "seek out and destroy the networks
providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies in Iraq." Vice
President Dick Cheney warned on Fox News in January that "The threat
that Iran represents is growing. It's multidimensional." Deputy
Secretary of State John D. Negroponte echoed Cheney's warning a week
later when he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that Iran
could do serious harm to U.S. interests in the region. "We don't
believe their behavior, such as supporting Shi'i extremists in Iraq,
should go unchallenged," he said.
On Feb. 11 three Pentagon officials who insisted on remaining
anonymous showed reporters a pile of explosive devices that contained
markings indicating they were made in Iran. The event reportedly had
been planned and orchestrated for months by top-level Bush
administration officials in order to make their charges against Iran
seem credible. At his press conference on Feb. 14 Bush said, "I can
say with certainty that the Quds Force, a part of the Iranian
government, has provided these sophisticated IEDs that have harmed our
troops." When the United States found who was responsible, he added,
"we will deal with them."
Last November the senior commander in the Middle East, Gen. John P.
Abizaid, said that ending the conflict required political and
diplomatic action, and he urged the administration to reach out to
Syria and Iran for help in stabilizing Iraq. Abizaid, who has a
graduate degree in Middle East Studies, was soon out of a job. He was
replaced by Admiral William J. Fallon, who at his Senate confirmation
hearings in January accused Iran of "attempt[ing] to deny us the
abilty to operate in this vicinity." Fallon assured senators that the
United States could hit back at Iran by hampering its oil shipments in
the Persian Gulf.
Placing an admiral in charge of all American forces in the Middle East
made sense in view of Bush's decision to send two more aircraft
carriers and a large support fleet to the Gulf.
The carriers are equipped with cruise missiles capable of reaching
targets in Iran.
Washington also is stationing more anti-missile batteries off Iran's
coast and has pressured international banks and businesses to cut off
all dealings with the Islamic republic.
Despite the Pentagon's exhibit of Iranian-made explosive devices, Gen.
Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he was not
convinced that the Iranian government was providing them. In fact,
logic points the other way. The Iranians do not want a country in
turmoil on their borders and have cooperated with Iraqi officials in
measures to calm the situation. Iran's ambassador to Iraq, Hassan
Kazemi Qumi, announced in late January that Iran was planning to open
a national bank in Iraq and was working with the Iraqi government on
reconstruction plans. Mahmoud Othman, a Kurdish Iraqi member of
parliament, declared bluntly, "The Iraqi government doesn't think Iran
is the enemy."
Lawrence Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell's chief of
staff, revealed on the BBC in January that in 2003 Tehran had proposed
to the Bush administration that it would help stabilize Iraq, end
military support for Hezbollah, and provide more transparency
regarding its nuclear activities if Washington lifted sanctions
against Iran and dismantled Iranian opposition forces based in Iraq.
Dick Cheney vetoed the deal. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who
was national security adviser at the time, referred to Iran's offer on
National Public Radio last June. "What the Iranians wanted," she said,
"was to be one-on-one with the United States so that this could be
about the United States and Iran."
What the Iranians actually want was described by Iran's ambassador to
the United Nations, Javad Zarif, in a Feb. 8 New York Times op-ed
column. Zarif called for regionwide cooperation to contain the current
crisis in Iraq and prevent future ones, and stressed the need to
"reverse the dangerous trend of confrontation, exclusion and rivalry."
Resolving Iraq's problems, he wrote, "requires prudence, dialogue, and
a genuine search for solution."
Abdel Aziz al-Hakim, one of Iraq's most influential Shi'i leaders, has
said that talks between Iran and Washington were of utmost importance
both to Iraq and to the entire region. Yet the Bush administration has
ignored all such pleas. In refusing all official contacts with Iran
and Syria, the United States stands alone with Israel in shunning two
countries the rest of the world recognizes as legitimate negotiating
partners whose concerns must be taken into account in any Middle East
Washington's boycott of the democratically elected Hamas government in
Palestine is an equally serious obstacle to peace. Rice's much
heralded peace summit in Jerusalem on Feb. 19 became no more than a
charade when she and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert refused to meet with
Hamas leaders. Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed
only that they would meet again. America's close ally, Saudi Arabia's
King Abdullah, made the futility of Israeli and U.S. policy
embarrassingly clear in early February, when he invited Abbas, Prime
Minister Ismail Haniyah, and Hamas leader Khaled Meshal to Mecca for
the purpose of forming a new Palestinian government. The meeting was
aimed at ending weeks of fighting in Gaza between Hamas and Abbas'
Fateh supporters in which more than 60 Palestinians were killed.
Washington made sure the fighting would continue by providing military
aid and training to Abbas' Presidential Guard. For its part, Israel
released $100 million in Palestinian tax revenues to Abbas on
condition that none of it go to pay government workers. One of the
deadliest battles took place when Hamas security police in Gaza
intercepted trucks delivering weapons from Israel to the pro-Abbas
With Jordan's King Abdullah presiding, Abbas and Haniyah agreed to
form a unity government in which six Fatah members will hold cabinet
posts and a Fatah member will serve as deputy prime minister. The
agreement may have ended the factional violence for the time being but
it brought no relief for the Palestinians, who continue to live as
prisoners. The United States and Israel insist that the Palestinian
Authority recognize Israel's right to exist, renounce violence, and
accept past agreements before they will resume aid. Meanwhile Israel
is considering rerouting the separation barrier to enclose two more
settlements, leaving an additional 20,000 Palestinians trapped on the
Hamas leaders said they would "respect" past peace agreements, but
will not recognize Israel or renounce violence. Seldom if ever has a
government been required to renounce violence before it could be
considered legitimate. Hamas has indicated since at least 1995 that it
would accept an indefinite truce with Israel in return for Israel's
withdrawal to its 1967 borders. The reform program Haniyah presented
to the Palestinian legislature in March 2006 included support for
political freedom, minority rights, and the principle of "two states
for two peoples."
Hamas spokesman Ghazi Hamad appealed to the Europeans to open talks
with the unity government, saying, "This is the only way to have
stability in the region." Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov
agreed, and called on Israel to lift the blockade of Palestinian
territories. Javier Solana, policy director for the European Union,
also supported an end to the boycott. "We need to enter the
conflict-resolution stage," he said, "and try to end the occupation of
But such discussions cannot take place until the United States adopts
a Middle East policy based on achieving cooperative solutions rather
than on asserting American power and promoting Israel's interests. As
long as the American Army is based on Iran's borders, and our navy is
massed off its shores, there is danger of a new war in the region.
It is a fantasy to pretend that Iraq is a sovereign state while
140,000 foreign troops are occupying that country. It is a more
dangerous fantasy to believe that America has the right to dominate
the Middle East.
Rachelle Marshall is a free-lance editor living in Stanford, CA. A
member of the Jewish International Peace Union, she writes frequently
on the Middle East.
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