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Posted by on Nov 28, 2007 in At TMV | 18 comments

The U.S., Iraq & Empire Building (Or: When a War Becomes a Business Deal)

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“War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses.” — Maj. Gen. Smedley Butler, USMC (1933)

There inevitably are charges of American empire building in the wake of the sweetheart deal between the U.S. and Iraq under which the abjectly corrupt Baghdad government gets a long-term nanny in the form of U.S. troops stationed at permanent bases and the U.S. gets first dibs at Iraq’s riches, which is to say its vast untapped oil reserves.

Jonah Goldberg and Ed Morrissey, among other leading conservative lights, argue that just because America is the leader of the free word does not make this a case of empire building.

They’re absolutely right. What is happening in Iraq in 2007 is different than what happened when the U.S. occupied Cuba in 1898 or annexed the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century, or during the Banana Wars in the 1920s when Marines intervened in Latin and South American countries to protect or advance U.S. commercial interests, typically bananas, tobacco and sugar cane.

But just because what is happening in Iraq in 2007 bears scant resemblance to those antecedents doesn’t make it right.

This is lost on Captain Ed, or he chooses not to acknowledge it:

“We have fought and bled and died all over the world, but not for conquest; we have liberated lands from empire, not built our own. As Colin Powell and others have noted, the only land we required was enough to bury our dead. That hardly fits with the notion of imperialism in any real sense, and the accusation of empire insults the memory of those who lie in those graves. It’s time we started to make that counterargument.”

Which he does, but it’s to the wrong argument. Let’s proffer the right argument:

What the Bush administration has done is craft a brilliant and spectacularly amoral solution to ending the Iraq war.

It can claim that it will only stick around as long as the Iraqis want us knowing full well that the Shiite-dominated, benchmarked-impaired, democracy-deficient Al-Maliki regime is willing to barter Iraq’s oil riches for long-term coup insurance.

This keeps U.S. boots on the ground indefinitely and the wells pumping for Big Oil indefinitely without congressional approval because, you see, the deal is a “strategic framework agreement” and not a treaty. Lieutenant General Douglas Lute, Bush’s point man on Iraq, has said as much.

If there is a fly in the ointment, it’s not whether the White House has co-opted Congress, which it has done early and often and more recently with Democratic acquiesence, it is whether Iraq’s Parliament will get on board.

While the historic past of the Great White Fleet (photo) and America’s other imperialist ambitions of yesteryear don’t play very well in this context, the historic present does. As I wrote barely two months ago when Iraq was still a war and not a business deal that would make a crony capitalist blush, there are three different groups of Americans:

*The vast majority who just want Iraq to go away and are literally and figuratively shopping at the mall. These are the people that the White House has counted on and they’ve come through spectacularly.

* The small but vocal minority like the Goldbergs and Morrisseys for whom the war started in January with the advent of the Surge strategy. The nearly four years between the fall of Saddam Hussein at the Surge are a blur or don’t count when it comes to embracing the Bush-Al-Maliki deal.

*
The also small but vocal minority whose memories are not so short. We have not forgotten the non-existent WMD, the collapse of the Provisional Coalition Authority, the first battle of Falluja, the Abu Ghraib scandal, the onset of a civil war and the emergence of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia as a result of a failed occupation, all of which go a long way to making the deal that has resulted from these disgraces such a disgrace itself.

Okay. Now lets hear the counterargument to the right argument.

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Copyright 2007 The Moderate Voice
  • jonst

    Ed wrote:

    “As Colin Powell and others have noted, the only land we required was enough to bury our dead”. Oh, that is rich. Priceless! Really, I mean it is very good. For the domestic audience, anyway. they will eat shit spoon fed propaganda up, and plead for more. Ah, the foreign audience? I would not put my money on it.

  • As Heston said to a small ape: ‘Keep’em flying. the flags of discontent.’

    Shaun, every day that passes, and each bit of info that trickles from ex-Bushies, shows that Bushco had nothing on old Dr. Zaius re: Coverups.

    Of course, you’re just a cynical, anti-American, Commie, traitor. Die, Shaun, die!

  • Rudi

    congrats to the h/t at Andrew Sullivan for yesterdays post.

  • Rudi:

    Nuthin’ like my dumb sappery being noted far and wide. (Wink!)

  • I doubt that the Iraqi parliament will be for the deal. This is strictly between al-Malaki and Bush. I’m sure Bush has well versed al-Malaki in the art of cutting off the legislative body from the head though so they’ll find no problems there.

    The parliament of Iraq has been calling for a timetable from Bush to pull out for months and al-Malaki just swept it under the rug in true Bush style: http://www.deathbymachine.com/archives/212

  • Idiosyncrat

    Rudi:

    Nuthin’ like my dumb sappery being noted far and wide. (Wink!)

    Shaun, don’t get too excited — it’s just Andrew trying to regain his conservative credentials by linking to those right-wing bloggers 😉

  • Well said! I’ve quoted your previous note on this and linked to this article here (my trackbacks don’t work):

  • kritt

    “We have fought and bled and died all over the world, but not for conquest; we have liberated lands from empire, not built our own. As Colin Powell and others have noted, the only land we required was enough to bury our dead. That hardly fits with the notion of imperialism in any real sense, and the accusation of empire insults the memory of those who lie in those graves. It’s time we started to make that counterargument.”

    Wow, Captain Ed certainly has romanticized recent events. Our Cold War efforts were fought in our own interests-not the natives- and we entered Vietnam to support the French imperialists. Our recent attempts have certainly strayed a bit from liberation—and wandered into the realm of supporting corrupt, dysfunctional governments in both Afghanistan and Iraq. And while we have not acquired territory in any real sense, that was never what we were after. Bush just needed to make his buddies in KBR, Halliburton and Blackwater big profits.

  • Rudi

    While visiting ArmsControlWonks they linked to an interesting site – Nukes of Hazzard, another “librul” arms control site. What this site has up is a petition against a military strike against Iran.
    Here’s those links if anyone is interested or wants to sign the petition.
    http://www.armscontrolcenter.org/iran/

    Nukes of Hazard is a project of the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation. It provides a view from the Hill to Congressional action on nuclear weapons and nonproliferation issues.

    http://www.armscontrolcenter.org/iran/

    The Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation opposes any potential nuclear weapons program in Iran, but we believe that Iran is not an imminent threat to U.S. national security and is unlikely to be for several years. U.S. policy should focus first on tough, strong-minded diplomacy and negotiation. If we have learned nothing else from Iraq, it is that there are limitations to the use of military force.

    Please join our efforts by adding your name to our petition urging Congress to prevent a military attack on Iran. Our goal is to gather at least 1 million signatures before we deliver the petition to Congress. Make your opposition heard in Washington!

  • domajot

    I wish I hadn’t read Lute’s commnets. It’s easier to stomach the bitter pill if no one pretends it’s a lump of sugar.
    This is not comparable to our military im S.Korea. For one thing, in S.Korea, the threat was/is external. In Iraq, the threat is internal. In S. Korea, we are backing a government. In Iraq, we are protecting a person.

    I’m waiting to see what the Iraqis will say about this.
    It’s hard to believe that they are no longer unhappy with accepting a permanent occupation. New reason for an insurgency?

    I’m waiting to see what our allies will say about this.
    If it’s openly a US show,the incentive for European countries to care waht happens has just been lessened, I would think.

    I’m waitng to see how this will affect the region now that the US is permanently in Iraq.
    An openly US-Iraq partnership is a different entity than Iraq as an independent counry. What will be the reaction be in the Sunni countries?

    In an effort to be utterly fair, I’m also waiting to see just how exclusive the awarding of oil contracts will be. Will non-US oil companies be utterly shut out, or will there be something like open bidding?

    No matter how much the administration tries to downplay this. The signing of a formal document changes the picture dramatically.
    Of course, there are some who will be as happy as clams. Principles other than financial gain are going out of style, anyway.

  • kritt

    BTW- Our dead don’t get buried in Iraq or Afghanistan they come back in flag -draped coffins-don’t know what the Captain was smokin’, lol.

  • Sam

    This is probably the biggest outrage of the entire adminstration. War turned into a business deal indeed. If I were related to to any of the dead soldiers I ‘d want Bush and Cheney in chains.

  • Shaun may talk a good song and dance here, but when it comes time to elect someone who won’t start the next war, he’ll pretend like our political discourse, and the callous rich bastards who perpetuate it, are just fine. Watch as the next democratic candidate goes down over flip-flopping! Watch as Shaun acts like it’s just another day at the office!

  • Sorry that should have been “flip-flopping”, in quotes.

  • DLS

    Well, only a fool would demand that any Democratic president in 2009 immediately yank our troops out of Iraq, no matter what the consequences (though Shaun could continue to blame Bush for these, other unfortunate events in the years to come, cancer, the common cold, etc.), and only a fool would accuse a Democrat of being “conservative” (none of them are) for not doing what the farther Left demands be done immediately.

  • Entropy

    I would be nice to a bit of history regarding these types of “less than treaty” agreements. ISTM that if a treaty isn’t involved there’s no legal obligation to stick to it. Who’s to say the next President won’t unilaterally change this, provided it goes through in the first place?

  • It’s questionable. The withdrawal from Lebanon was lightning-fast, and the aftermath has been pretty much in line with expectations, until Olmert decided he needed to act tough…

    Of course Iraq’s bigger, but given the recent trend of declining violence, it’s possible the ethnic cleansing / civil war is moving towards completion. In that case, our troops may just be stimulating violence, by disrupting territories that tribes have won, by injecting guns and money, and by being a target. So while a rapid withdrawal may cause a spike in violence, a larger destabilization of the situation in Iraq is unlikely, and the absence of foreigners may well reduce violence. Of course, there’s no way to test that sort of thing in real life: if we’re there we’re there, and if we leave, we’ve left.

    If the reason to stay is geopolitical, screw it. That’s a game rich people play, and it only brings the rest of us misery.

  • kritt

    Well, war has always been a business with definite winners and losers. Defense contractors with pull are definitely the winners here—as we see from the bottomless pit the defense spending bills have become.

    Unlike spending for domestic agendas, few have the guts to vote down new weapons systems or to insist on more accountability from the Pentagon. Eight billion can disappear overseas or a hundred thousand weapons, and it gets very little attention from the taxpayers footing the bill.

    The very people screaming that helping middle class families afford healthcare for their kids is bringing us a step closer to socialism, are strangely silent when it comes to the hideous amounts we have paid for Blackwater’s mercenaries to ride roughshod over the Iraqis.

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