Iraq is, will be, and should be, at the heart of the chasm between the
two battling presidential hopefuls as we approach the November election.
One candidate sees that war and occupation as part of a larger,
permanent crusade, the other as a terrible error that needs to be
But before analyzing the distinctly different visions of McCain and
Obama, it's important to remind ourselves how the U.S. got into this
no-win situation and thus have a better idea how to get out. An
abbreviated primer, then:
The U.S., taking over from the French colonialists, wound up effectively
occupying South Vietnam and, after years of stalemated war, had to leave
devoid of victory. Nearly three decades later, the U.S. invaded and
occupied another country it had little real knowledge of, Iraq, and is
having to prepare itself for leaving that nation in the same manner.
And then there is Afghanistan, another place where a war won't go away.
Indeed, it's revving up for another major go; a subtext is whether a
much-delayed oil/gas pipeline will be built in that country (or maybe in
Iran) to bring energy westward.
To make the discussion even more complex and absurd, there is serious
talk in CheneyBush Washington of initiating yet another war,
this one against
LESSONS AND WARNINGS UNHEEDED
One would think that the earlier disastrous experiences of
colonialists/occupiers might have provided U.S. leaders with some
cautionary warnings: the French in Indochina, the Brits and Russians in
Afghanistan. But those geopolitical lessons, time after time, are simply
In his powerful memoir
Daniel Ellsberg, he of "Pentagon Papers" fame, relates how five separate
U.S. Presidents (Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon) were
warned by their closest foreign policy and military advisors that
Western countries could never prevail in Vietnam, given the strength and
tenacity of post-colonial Vietnamese nationalism and the guerrilla war
being waged in its name. The most that could be hoped for, these "best
and brightest" presidential advisors said, was an endless stalemate.
Still, Truman and Eisenhower supported the French and, once the French
departed in defeat and the U.S. got involved directly, Kennedy, Johnson
and Nixon continued on anyway, each feeling he could create the
conditions for victory where others had failed. The result of this
hubris was an absolute FUBAR catastrophe, with more than 58,000 U.S.
troops killed, along with an estimated million and a half Vietnamese.
IRAQ: "WAR ON THE CHEAP"
Which, of course, brings us back to Iraq. There was no good reason for
bombing, invading and occupying Iraq, but the CheneyBush Administration,
powered by an exceptionalist ideology that believed that the U.S. of A,
beloved of God and the lone superpower on the planet, could do whatever
it wanted and pay little price.
Remember? Iraq was supposed to be a war on the cheap: a quick invasion,
happy natives welcoming their liberators, U.S. corporations helping set
up the post-war reconstruction for the good of Iraqi society, all that
oil in safe Western hands, a U.S.-friendly Iraq serving as a role-model
for all the other Muslim countries in the region, etc. etc. Rumsfeld had
said it all would be over within six weeks or maybe six months at the
outside. Wolfowitz said the limited costs of the war would be paid for
by Iraqi oil revenues. Bush celebrated "Mission Accomplished."
Well, we all quickly learned that the scenario didn't unfold the way the
Cheney-Rumsfeld neo-cons said it would. The initial invasion itself was
quick and successful enough, but Saddam's soldiers melted away into the
civilian population, waiting to see if or when they would be required to
take up arms against the new bosses.
Here was a proud, highly civilized people under the thumb of
culturally-ignorant conquerors who didn't have a clue what was really
happening or how to proceed. (See Rajiv Chandrasekaran's
Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone.") The
occupying authority, looking out for U.S. corporations, made sure to
freeze out all Iraqi businesses and workers. In addition, hundreds of
thousands of former soldiers were turned away from any role in post-war
reconstruction, and this army of unemployed young men melded with the
anti-occupation resistance force and were joined in this anti-American
campaign by a number of jihadists from all over the Greater Middle East.
OIL, TORTURE & CORRUPTION
More than 150,000 U.S. troops and nearly that number of mercenaries
known as "independent contractors" -- many trigger-happy in their
fright, never knowing who was the enemy -- lost the war early for the
hearts and minds of Iraqi civilians, especially because of their
indiscriminate and widescale use of torture and their casual acceptance
of civilian "collateral damage." The stalemate war was on. Vietnam 2.0.
The U.S. occupying force made sure to protect the Oil Ministry in
Baghdad, but no such effort was employed to protect its own troops, who
were sitting ducks in their unarmored vehicles and without adequate body
armor as well. Abandoned ammunition dumps around Iraq were left
unguarded by U.S. forces, and those armories supplied the insurgents
with the bomb-making materials with which to set off their deadly
improvised roadside explosives. (You go to war with the army you have,
Rumsfeld said in the way of an explanation, a statement that verified
that the war was launched precipitously without proper thought or
The handwriting about Iraq has been on the wall for the past several
years. The American people had concluded that the decision to go to war
there was a ghastly mistake, and that we need to get our young men and
women back home as soon as is practicable. The Iraqis agree. Poll after
poll in Iraq indicates that U.S. occupying troops are regarded as a
large part of the problem and should leave. The Iraq government agrees
with Obama that most U.S. troops should be out of there within the next
These realistic assessments, plus the constantly swelling costs of the
war (total estimates are now at one trillion dollars and climbing!) have
created a genuine problem for CheneyBush and their neo-con supporters,
as well as for GOP candidate John McCain. They don't want to leave. They
don't plan on leaving. Their whole strategy is based on control of Iraqi
oil reserves and permanent military bases in Iraq from which to alter
and police the Greater Middle East.
But the Iraqis want the U.S. out of their country, the American
citizenry wants the U.S. troops out of that country. How to square that
reality with the CheneyBush desire, as the world's remaining superpower,
to control the geopolitics of that explosive region, one that houses
much of the world's oil reserves? (The U.S. is the one superpower now;
coming up fast on the outside are China and India -- and the comeback
The Republican/McCain solution to their Iraq dilemma seems to rest, as
did the original decision to attack and occupy the country, on lies,
deceptions, and obfuscations of the truth.
McCAIN IS BLINDSIDED ON IRAQ
CheneyBush see the calendar as their friend. If they can delay
hard-and-fast decisions another six months, and if McCain were to win
and thus complete Bush's third term, the original neo-con plan for Iraq
could be re-installed.
In the meantime, starting in the Fall, tens of thousands of U.S. troops
will start to "redeploy" from Iraq, making it seem as if America under
the Republicans is winding down the war, thus stealing Obama's thunder.
The reality, of course, is that such a withdrawal is for show, to help
Bush and Cheney complete their tenure without having to admit the war
was lost on their watch and to help McCain hold onto Republican voters.
The troops easily can be re-inserted into Iraq after the election.
McCain has been riding the surge horse for months now, using its limited
successes as a demonstration of his good judgement. (He never mentions
the evidence of his bad judgment: That he voted eagerly to send troops
into Iraq in the first place.) He also doesn't mention that without the
Sadrist militias going to ground and the Sunni Awakening against Al
Qaida-in-Iraq (which began months before American surge forces entered
the country), there would have been no major diminution of violence. Nor
does he mention that the surge was designed as a breather to allow for
political reconciliation to take place among the various Iraqi factions
-- which still hasn't happened.
Iraq, for McCain, seems to be Vietnam all over again. His anger at the
North Vietnamese guards (his term is "gooks") who mistreated him has
never gone away, and all his Iraq talk about "not giving in...no
surrender...we just need the will to win...courage in the face of
hardship...stay the course" -- all these seem to be exhortations to
himself, flowing from his painful years as a POW in 'Nam, rather than
from political and military reality on the ground in Iraq.
Maybe that's why he seemed so unprepared last week when he was
politically knee-capped by his handlers -- and before them, the Iraqi
prime minister who publicly bought into Obama's timeframe for withdrawal
-- all forcing him to make yet another contortionist flip-flop. In an
instant, McCain went from Stay the Course for another 100 years if
necessary, to OK, let's get out by 2010 (which of course long has been
It's all B.S. political theater, and McCain seems very uncomfortable in
the role of handled candidate, twisting to the tune of the daily party
line. His body language is that of a reluctant, uncertain warrior, one
forced by Obama's solid lead to lie, deceive, and even question the
patriotism of his opponent -- this last desperate tack because McCain
hasn't got much else to attack Obama with. He really wants to be the
more moderate/maverick John McCain of olde, but he suspects he couldn't
win the presidency with that persona, so he's willing to keep spouting
the demented Republican party line.
Obama is doing a lot of shifting of positions as well, but seems much
more skilled at making, or at least hinting at, believable transitions.
THE CHOICE FACING VOTERS
What we've got is the one-time "maverick" Republican, McCain, forced
into becoming the standard-bearer for the HardRightists backing Cheney
and Bush. In other words, McCain is tied to ultra-conservative policies
that simply don't work, and the public knows that. McCain, who sold his
political soul in 2006 to gain the presidency, is chomping at the bit
that he willingly permitted his handlers to insert into his mouth. On
the other side, there is a Democratic centrist/reformer who's moving
toward the middle-right, while disguising the changes with grand, smooth
In other words, the electorate is presented with a choice between two
highly interesting fellows who, in some ways, have become caricatures of
traditional Washington politicians, one representing old-style Democrats
and the other contemporary know-nothing Republicans. It's a sad
Democrats, Independents and moderate Republicans will vote for Obama, as
they must to forestall a McCain victory that would be disastrous for
American foreign and domestic affairs, including the direction of the
Supreme Court. But it would be so much more interesting, honest, and
good for the polity if both Obama and McCain would shed their forced
personas and simply be who they are. If they even still know who they
are at this difficult, uphill stage of the Tour de Ambition.
They could then talk openly and honestly about the issues Americans want
and need to discuss, and our eventual choice at the polls would be based
on something other than simple slogans, endless spin and a leap of
faith. Yeah, that'll be the day.
Copyright 2008, by Bernard Weiner