Cleveland: Keeping Christmas at Home
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“Obama envisions no major changes in Afghan strategy.
Despite discouraging news from Afghanistan and growing doubts in Congress and among the American public, the Obama administration has concluded that its war strategy is sound and that a December review, once seen as a pivotal moment, is unlikely to yield any major changes”
(The Washington Post, September 18, 2010)
When announcing the end of the American combat mission in Iraq on August 31, the President suggested that it was time to “turn the page”. The image is a powerful one because it invokes closure. It implies that a new page can be opened – that some kind of fresh start is possible – and that the new page, the fresh start, will be one untarnished by the legacies of the page now closing behind it.
But the image of “page-turning” in the context of the American combat mission in Iraq begs two huge questions that we now desperately need to confront. The first is whether an untarnished page is possible in the wake of an illegitimate war? The second is whether much page-turning is actually being done?
The Iraq War has left at least two huge and indelible imprints that no page-turning can easily eradicate, and the Afghan War seems poised to leave a third.
Which raises the second question: have we really turned a page? Have we really left Iraq? Will we ever really leave Afghanistan?
Fifty thousand U.S. troops will still remain in Iraq through to the end of 2011, and the place of so many of the departing soldiers is now being taken not by Iraqis but by U.S. civilian contractors. We have not so much run down our military presence in that troubled country as privatized it. The President was clear in his August 31 Address that one important job for the troops left behind in Iraq is that of “protecting our civilians.” “As our military draws down,” he said, “our dedicated civilians – diplomats, aid workers, and advisors – are moving into the lead to support Iraq as it strengthens its government.” Well, we are leaving behind a remarkably large number of those “dedicated civilians” – the State Department will apparently need at least 6-7000 of them, all private contractors, for the defense of its Iraqi embassy alone! And we have built, and are continuing to build, ever more impregnable embassies and larger new military bases from which to protect them – embassies and bases taking up vast swathes of Iraqi land. Iraqi land and Afghan land: because the model is both countries is the same. Create and prop up a pro-American government, one that is more or less democratic, more or less corrupt, depending on the circumstances. Withdraw some troops, declaring their mission complete, but leave behind a mass of civilians in some “aid and support” role. Then reinforce those civilians with soldiers, bases, equipment and funds – lots of soldiers, lots of bases, and lots of funds. This is not old fashioned imperialism. It is, as Chalmers Johnson rightly labeled it, “stealth imperialism”. But it is imperialism nonetheless.
The pressure is now on in Washington from both military and Republican sources to intensify the “surge” in Afghanistan. It is a pressure than must be powerfully resisted. Spreading our military forces out globally in pursuit of al Qaeda plays directly into al Qaeda’s hands. The best defense we can mount against al Qaeda is a defense built on strength at home. The enormous costs that accrue to the countries we “liberate” and to us as “liberators” are in no way commensurate to the meager benefits such “liberation” brings either to the “liberated” or to us. The long-term security of this country requires an immediate pull-back from Iraq and Afghanistan, and a longer-term diminution in the number of our overseas bases and the size and cost of our military. I, for one, am with William Grieber, when he says this:
Come home, America. Instead of trying to run the world, let us tend our own wounded society. Let go of inflated claims to global dominance. Instead, redeem the fundamental values and sacred principles of the national inheritance. Do not resign from the world. Rejoin it on more practical and promising terms.”
Advice does not come much sounder than that. Let us hope that there are those in Washington who might yet heed it.
First posted at www.davidcoates.net
 For the data on this, see chapter 9 of David Coates, Answering Back, New York: Continuum Books, 2010
 The total comes to at least a straight trillion dollars if you add in the cost of the Afghan war; perhaps even to $3 trillion over the long haul, if the calculations of Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes hold. For those, see http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article3419840.ece
 Ted Koppel, “Nine Years after 9/11, let’s stop fulfilling bin Laden’s goals”, The Washington Post September 12, 2011
 This data is from Adil E. Shamoo, U.S. Occupation of Iraq More than Doubles Poverty, Sickness – Leaves Country a Total Disaster, posted on Alternet.org on August 22, 2010: available at http://www.alternet.org/story/147928
 The “electricity demand that cannot be met” was 15% in early 2003. It is now 42%. See Andrew England, “Uniform Unease: Iraq,” The Financial Times, August 26, 2010
 BBC News: Middle East, August 25, 2010
 See Martin Chulove, ‘Fears of al-Qaida return in Iraq as US-backed fighters defect,” The Guardian, August 11, 2010
 Not least by John McCain. See his “The Surge and Afghanistan”, The Wall Street Journal, August 31, 2010
 U.S. military casualties in Afghanistan now exceed 1,200, with an additional 7000 seriously injured military personnel. The growing scale of civilian deaths and injuries was revealed in the files released in July by Wikileaks, and in reports released by the UN’s Kabul mission. They found civilian deaths up 31% in 2010. (See the London-based Observer newspaper, August 11, 2010)
 See, for example, Rod Nordland, “Security in Afghanistan is Deteriorating, Aid Groups Say”, The New York Times, September 11, 2010, reporting 30% of Afghanistan now no longer safe for travel. The number of attacks, August-August, is also from this source.
 CIA Director Leon Panetta said this when asked how many al Qaeda operatives were left in Afghanistan. “At most, we’re looking at 50 to 100, maybe less.” (cited by Arianna Huffington in her The Afghan Paradox posted on The Huffington Post, June 28, 2010: available at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/arianna-huffington/the-afghanistan-paradox-w_b_628581.html )
 See Michael Gordon, ‘Civilians To Take U.S. Lead After Military Leaves Iraq,” The New York Times, August 18, 2010
 For the sheer scale of all this base-building and spending, see Tom Englehardt, America’s Tragic Descent into Empire posted on Alternet. Org on July 7, 2010: available at http://www.alternet.org/story/147428;
Chalmers Johnson, 10 Needed Steps for Obama to Start Dismantling America’s Gigantic Destructive Military Empire, posted on Alternet.org on August 25, 2010: available at http://www.alternet.org/story/147964; and Tom Englehardt and Nick Turse, So You Think You Know About the American Empire? posted on Alternet. Org on September 14, 2010: available at http://www.alternet.org/story/148179;
 Chalmers Johnson, Blowback, New York: Henry Holt, 2000. For details, see http://www.thirdworldtraveler.com/Blowback_CJohnson/Stealth_BCJ.html
 William Gieber, Come Home America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of our Country, New York: Rodale, 2009, p. 9