Wayne M. O’Leary

Forging a Permanent Presence in Iraq

Operation “Enduring Relationship,” the latest campaign in the endless war, is under way in Iraq. In late November, while Americans and their mass media were distracted by the military surge in Baghdad and the political surges of the various presidential candidates, a development of potentially immense import slid by under the nation’s radar screen. President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki signed a so-called US-Iraq Declaration of Principles, a statement of intent to begin negotiating future bilateral relations between the two nations.

In theory, the declaration is supposed to lead to detailed arrangements for a long-term relationship between Washington and Baghdad once the United Nations military mandate currently governing Iraq’s coalition occupation ends a year from now. That relationship will supposedly be one between “two fully sovereign and independent states with common interests;” in actuality, it will be between the world’s dominant superpower and a client state of its own creation.

As the joint declaration (signed on Nov. 26) affirms, the US and Iraq agree to build a common bond that protects their “mutual interests.” For Maliki, this translates into permanent security guarantees for his government from threats both foreign and domestic. For Bush, it translates into Iraq’s integration with the international financial system and its opening to foreign corporate investment. The agreed tradeoff will include, as the Maliki government interprets it, the indefinite presence of approximately 50,000 US troops and the establishment of semi- permanent US military bases on the periphery of Iraq’s cities; it will also include, as the Bush administration interprets it, preferential treatment for American investments in Iraq, as well as preferred access to Iraqi oil resources, which US companies will presumably help develop.

The key to implementing the proposed enduring relationship is that the declaration of principles does not envision the need to obtain Senate approval for any of this, since the anticipated negotiations will produce a binding “executive agreement” and not a formal treaty requiring the advice and consent of the congressional upper house. You might call it the mother of all power grabs by an administration that increasingly shows no respect for the US Constitution and, if Congress does not respond, the mother of all abdications by a representative body that has already surrendered its war-making powers.

Once the details are worked out free of American congressional and Iraqi parliamentary interference, the Bush-Malaki accord will deliver something for a number of interested parties, while disregarding the needs and wishes of numerous others. The neocons get their long-cherished bases in Iraq — the better to pursue the dream of imperial ascendancy. The White House and the Pentagon get to keep a large American presence in the country to pursue an all- out counterinsurgency strategy and avoid perceptions of defeat. The oil companies get their oil, favorably priced through lucrative production-sharing deals involving long-term leases of Iraqi petroleum fields. The Maliki government, for its part, gets the military protection necessary to fend off the Sunni insurgency and keep itself in power regardless of its unpopularity and incompetence.

So who are the losers? It’s a long list. We might start with the American people, who will continue to fund some form of military occupation well into the future and continue to absorb the blood sacrifice that goes with it. In the meantime, any serious domestic spending by the government will be placed on hold, including those elaborate health-care plans and mortgage-rescue schemes the presidential candidates are promising. Wars have a way of derailing popular reform efforts at home: World War I ended the Progressive Movement, World War II killed the New Deal, and Vietnam eviscerated the Great Society. The continuing trillion-dollar adventure in Iraq will likewise choke off any nascent response to the logjam of internal problems built up over the past 25 years.

The American military is another potential casualty. Its generals will get carte blanche to continue fighting their war through to “victory” (whatever that is), but the force fighting it will be so exhausted, degraded, and dispirited as to be effectively useless to confront any other threats for a generation. Defense experts are already conceding that without the ongoing privatization of the US Army’s functions, the Iraq project couldn’t be long carried on. Only immigrant enlistments and those prompted by working-class underemployment (a kind of economic draft) are presently allowing the uniformed military itself to survive in any substantive form.

Also losing out is the cause of independent self-government in Iraq, as well as the true interests of the Iraqi people on whose supposed behalf the policy of endless war and occupation was designed. Part of the administration’s stated strategy is to pressure the incumbent Iraq government to meet political “benchmarks,” among them passage of a national oil law permitting the aforementioned access to Iraq’s oil fields by foreign multinationals. The as-yet-unenacted draft proposal, heavily influenced if not written by Washington, gives jurisdiction over Iraq’s petroleum to the Iraqi National Oil Company.

Preferable to outright privatization from an Iraqi nationalist standpoint, the controversial legislation would nevertheless place natural-resource control in the hands of a Baghdad government dependent on the US for its very existence under the pending Bush-Maliki agreement. Few doubt that special treatment for US oil companies is the price Maliki will gladly pay for staying in power with American help. Good for Exxon and good for Maliki, but bad for the citizens of Iraq.

Still one more loser in the Bush-Maliki deal is the next president, whoever it may be. Upon taking office in 2009, Bush’s successor could well be faced with a fait accompli, a precedent-setting agreement exceedingly hard to break. That successor will probably be a Democrat, and tying a Democratic president’s hands on Iraq policy so as to preserve his malignant legacy is no doubt a deliberate Bush calculation. This being the case, it behooves the Democratic Congress to take the initiative in opposing the US-Iraq Declaration of Principles, blocking any so-called executive agreement, and reasserting its Constitutional prerogatives in foreign policy. The Reid-Pelosi Congress has accomplished little else to date; perhaps it can do one thing right.

Wayne O’Leary is a writer in Orono, Maine.

From The Progressive Populist, March 1, 2008

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