Imperial Dreams Sink in Iraqi Quagmire
coalition of Bush administration hawks that was empowered by the
Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and the Pentagon agreed
on three main strategic objectives.
neo-conservatives and Christian Right wanted to decisively shift
the balance of power in the Middle East in favor of Israel, so that
it could effectively impose peace terms on the Palestinians and
Syria and anyone else that resisted U.S. regional hegemony or Israel's
legitimacy and territorial claims.
more-globally-oriented strategists sometimes called "assertive
nationalists" or Machtpolitikers wanted to show "rogue
states," particularly those with weapons of mass destruction
(WMD), like North Korea that the United States could and,
more importantly, would take preemptive military action to either
change their regimes or crush them.
also wanted to demonstrate to any possible future rival powers that
Washington could, and would, intervene militarily in the Persian
Gulf region to deny them essential energy supplies as a way of reminding
nations of the indispensability of friendly ties with the United
three objectives, it was swiftly agreed by the ascendant hawks,
could be achieved by invading and then "transforming" Iraq into
a pro-western, if not democratic, Arab state.
the likely acquisition of more or less permanent access to military
bases in Iraq that would fit into a larger, global network of scores
of military facilities stretching from East Asia through Central
Asia, and from Arabia and the Caucasus through the Mediterranean
and the Horn all the way to West Africa would make it even clearer
to all that breaking "Pax Americana" would risk economic or military
in order to achieve these objectives, the United States not only
had to invade Iraq and remove Saddam Hussein from power, it also
had to occupy the country, and occupy it in a way that would not
require many US soldiers, who would be deployed elsewhere along
the globe-straddling "arc of crisis" to guard the peace.
global strategy all their assumptions rested on the
ability of US forces to move fast, win quickly with overwhelming
force, and move out," according to one official. "Any
prolonged conflict or occupation like what we see in Iraq
threatened the whole structure because we don't have that
reasons that are likely to be debated by historians, political scientists,
and possibly psychiatrists, for decades the hawks most of
them based in the offices of Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld and
Vice President Dick Cheney, but probably President George W Bush
as well firmly believed that Iraqis would either be so grateful
for their "liberation" from the depredations of Hussein
or so awed by the show of US military power that they would support,
or at least not actively oppose, a postwar occupation.
they planned to quickly draw down their troops from the 160,000
who invaded Iraq to just about half that number by the invasion's
first anniversary, and to just 30,000 or so by the end of 2004.
hawks mocked predictions by military officers with experience in
peace operations, who warned they would need at least 200,000 troops
for at least two years to stabilize Iraq, and by experienced intelligence
officers and diplomats, who warned that US forces would not be considered
"liberators" by important sectors of the Iraqi population.
14 months later, those warnings have proven prescient, and the confident
predictions of the hawks have proven totally unfounded. What is
most remarkable is that they never approved contingency plans and
are now reacting to the situation in the most ad hoc and incoherent
from the rising death tolls in clashes between US forces and Iraqi
insurgents, the zigzags over US policy on "de-Ba'athification"
(or working with former members of Hussein's Ba'ath Party) and other
priority issues, Bush's steadily falling approval ratings and the
increasingly sharp exchanges between impatient lawmakers in Congress
and responsible administration officials, the failure of the hawks'
assumptions is most evident in the numbers of US troops in Iraq.
the original plan, US troop strength should be down below 100,000
at this point in the occupation. But as is well known, the head
of US military operations for the Central Command, Gen. John Abizaid,
has insisted on retaining at least 136,000 troops on the ground
through this year if not the next, too. And that means all those
soldiers who were supposed to deploy elsewhere to enforce "Pax
Americana" are now stuck in Iraq.
greatest limiting factor on the empire right now is manpower,"
according to Chalmers Johnson, an Asia specialist at the University
of California at San Diego. "They are running out of it."
the stress on the Army and, as significantly, on the hawks' imperial
strategy has become even more apparent this week.
to Paul Sperry of the Hoover Institution, the Pentagon has just
launched a massive nationwide call-up of former service members
a total of 118,000 Individual Ready Reserves (IRR) who have
not fully completed their eight-year contractual obligation to the
people, who have all but formally signed their release papers, are
now being ordered to report to their Army National Guard or Army
Reserve units for possible activation "in support of missions in
Iraq, Afghanistan and other locations."
of the IRR activation coincided with Rumsfeld's order to send 3,600
soldiers from the Army's Second Infantry Division based near the
demilitarized zone (DMZ) across from North Korea, another "rogue
state" with WMD, to Iraq. The troops constitute 10 percent
of US forces in South Korea and one-half of combat-ready ground
the Pentagon insisted the shift will not affect Washington's ability
to defend South Korea, the significance of removing troops confronting
North Korea was missed by few here. As one unnamed administration
official told the Nelson Report, a private newsletter, "we
are pulling out our conventional deterrent force in the midst of
a self-declared nuclear crisis with North Korea!"
while Rumsfeld has made no secret of wanting to move those troops
from their position as a "tripwire," Pentagon plans called for
them to move to the southern part of the Peninsula, not to leave
the region altogether.
administration has come to recognize that relying on reserves and
the national guard are not sufficient for the nature of the occupation
they're involved in, and the only ones that are available are in
Asia," noted John Gershman, an Asia analyst at New York University,
who added the move suggests to Pyongyang that Washington "is
not going to launch a strike against it any time soon."
the passive reserves (IRR) is probably the last thing they can do
before either cutting back on what they're doing, or go to the military
draft, or go hire foreigners, but the country can't really afford
that," according to Johnson, whose 2003 book, Sorrows
of Empire, deals with US military forces overseas.
far, however, the administration presumably for political reasons
has rejected all three, which is why the imperial strategy.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service