Congress: Yankee Come Home; Iraq, Pakistan: Yankee Go Home

Between 70,000 and 100,000 members of the Sadrist Shiite political bloc rallied in Baghdad on Thursday, demanding that the some 47,000 US troops still in Iraq leave altogether. Sadrist leader Muqtada al-Sadr says that if the troops remain, he will reactivate his Mahdi Army militia. It is a powerful threat. But in some ways, his political clout is more important than any such prospect of renewed paramilitary activity. It was Sadr’s support that allowed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to form a government late last fall, and the government could easily fall if Sadr pulled out.

Al-Maliki said a couple of weeks ago that he would go to each of the major political blocs for advice on whether to request a new agreement with the US to leave some troops in Iraq. This statement was widely misinterpreted, I think, in the West. What al-Maliki was actually saying was that he refused unilaterally to extend the US troop presence. The main US hope for keeping American soldiers in Iraq is that al-Maliki would ask them to do so unilaterally, acting sort of presidentially. Instead, he has signalled that he will do no such thing, but will act as a prime minister, beholden to his coalition in parliament. I can’t imagine that any of the major blocs in parliament with the possible exception of the Kurds will advise al-Maliki to do a new SOFA that retains American soldiers in his country. And so it seems to me most likely that the US will have to leave, in part because of sheer political inertia in Iraq, as well as because the Sadrists have made it very clear that a US departure is a prerequisite for social peace. The Mahdi Army militia roiled the country in 2004 and could do so again. The US sees them as a proxy for Iran, but this view is largely incorrect. They are Shiite Iraqi nativists and don’t like foreigners in general, sort of an Iraqi Tea Party.

Now Pakistan is kicking out US special forces troops, showing its government’s displeasure with unilateral security operations on Pakistani soil. This move is in part a reaction against the Raymond Davis case, where a CIA operative shot two Pakistanis in broad daylight. But it also responds to the US incursion into Pakistan, when SEALS killed Usamah Bin Laden.

And as Iraqis and Pakistanis sought an end to US troop presence in their countries, the US House of Representatives surprised itself by almost passing a resolution urging a speed-up of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. the measure failed by only 12 votes, garnering 204 votes, 28 from Republicans. This is substantially more than a similar measure gained last summer in a Democratic-controlled House.

President Obama’s plan to begin drawing down US troops in July, 2011, had originally been controversial, opposed by generals like David Petraeus and by most Republicans. There was speculation that the Republican majority that came in last fall would attempt to stop the withdrawal. But the interminable Afghanistan War, the clear unreliability of President Hamid Karzai, and the killing of Usamah Bin Laden have all changed the political landscape so that momentum is building in the House for a quicker withdrawal than Obama initially proposed. Vice President Joe Biden has spoken about 2014 as an end date for the US military effort in Afghanistan, but it is unclear that the electorate will be patient for that long. Nearly 60 percent of Americans want out.

Younger Americans cannot remember when the US was not at war. Could we be seeing the glimmerings of a time, not long into the future, when no US soldiers will be fighting and dying anywhere on the globe? And, how long before a weary public finally demands that the bloated US war department budget finally be reduced, commensurate with the country’s increasingly straitened circumstances? (No other country beggars itself with military spending as the US does, and most do better economically and seem perfectly secure militarily).

11 Responses

  1. You mention younger Americans not remembering when the US was not at war. I am 60. I was born during the Korean War, came of age during Viet Nam and I find it hard to remember a time when wee were not at war.

    • I’m 46, and what I can recall is how miserable we all were after Vietnam because we weren’t beating up on anybody, then how great we felt when Reagan ramped up the war machine and staged pathetic mismatches like Grenada to build up our spirits for bigger wars.

      I think the politicians believe they’ve learned their lesson.

  2. The Sadrists are a group formed in Iraq ‘related to its contemporary state and politics’. The group is commenting on the presence of American troops and its relation to the overall state of the country… transitioning into independent rule…

    Absence of description for the group forms and person relations of the article.

  3. For America, war is business. War is a jobs program. It is necessary. Ending this lucrative business would be like privatizing Social Security. I believe this business will end when America is hit by a nuclear bomb, which I sincerely believe will happen within a few decades. As new and improved technology makes it easier to kill people, the next 9/11 will look more like Hiroshima. It will be the ultimate blowback that we, again, brought upon ourselves.

    • Actually, continuing this lucrative business would be like privatizing Social Security. In both cases, the State would be collecting tax dollars for a public service, but then handing it over to arrogant, ideologically deranged corporations for their supposed expertise in free-market “management”. Practically the whole military budget now goes to private contractors or to salaries.

      According to Kevin Phillips’ “American Theocracy”, this militarization is pretty hard to avert in a declining empire. He sees it in terms both of the increasing short-sightedness of capital, which abandons productive industry for the financial rackets, and a growing self-love that turns patriotism into a religion of national restoration (if we’re just fanatical enough, God will start favoring us again like he did during the old conquests).

  4. Isn’t rallying for the remaining US troops to leave Iraq a bit like rallying for January to come? I’ll give you seven more months, or look out! Don’t make me mad!

    This seems like a PR effort by a political party, and I think it’s great to see the Sadrists acting like a political faction seeking to boost its visibility and vote share.

    Ballots, not bullets.

    • Even with a botched occupation like this one, the US has many ways of influencing the countries where it operates. Because it was botched, what we have left in Iraq is largely towards keeping the poor powerless and manufacturing a pro-capitalist ruling elite. Sadr is an admirer of Hezbollah, which you could argue is an anti-capitalist movement of right-wing poor Shiites, but that seems terribly simplistic. The mere fact that it takes Mohammed’s call for charity and brotherhood seriously, and the fact that Islam never legalized usury as Protestantism did, puts Hezbollah essentially at odds with Lebanon’s capitalist elites, and in Iraq the capitalists were ruined long ago. Once the US clears out it can no longer sabotage Sadr’s experiments in Islamic non-capitalism. But this has its own dangers: Hezbollah had to be pragmatic in Lebanon’s coalition-driven society; Sadr could take a much harder line (Islamobolshevism?) with impoverished Shia being so much of the population, and miss the chance to develop something useful. Or he could just sell out his populism to his local military-industrial complex like Ahmadinejad did.

  5. “And so it seems to me most likely that the US will have to leave…”

    You left out the best part. It’s the unspoken “…and don’t let the door hit you on the as@# on the way out.”

    I think the Iraqis have been INCREDIBLY tolerant of our presence since day 1… and all the days after in which we demolished their country and society… Literally, either allowed the looting of, or built military bases on top of (Babylon) their ‘antiquities’ and cultural history,an in some many other ways acted like the Imperial Invaders we really were (are).

    What was it Woodrow Wilson said on the eve of WWI? Quoting Cobb: “Once lead this people into war,” Wilson predicted, “and they’ll forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance. To fight you must be brutal and ruthless,”

    Wilson suggested thereafter that the US Constitution “would not survive” and Americans would revert to barbarism.

    I think our war on Iraq for no legally valid reason ever stated publicly and proved not to be a total fabrication is the proof of that, and more.

  6. I’d like to see us leave Afghanistan, but wonder whether it is the proximity of the Pakistani Taliban to Pakistan’s nuclear weapons that will keep us in the region. After Abbotabhad and the Karachi base attack it is hardly likely these weapons are secure. Pakistan will keep our anxiety over this ratcheted up to keep our support coming. I doubt that we will ever be able to quit each other.

  7. “No other country beggars itself with military spending as the US does, and most do better economically and seem perfectly secure militarily).”

    maybe North Korea.

    As the USA sends troops and equipment around the world, China is sending money, buying land in Africa, ports in Mexico, oil in the tarsands of Canada;

    I don’t like that either, but it makes a lot more sense than the American way, at least from a national point of view.

    I agree with the first poster, I’m 62, and I don’t remember a time the USA was not at war, or seriously threatening war.

    all options are always on the table, with the USA.

  8. I am 74 and I don’t remember a time of no wars being waged by this country. Of course, we didn’t always call them wars, remember the euphamism of “Police
    Action” we used in Korea. We have squandered our children and grandchildren and probably our great-great-greatgrandchildren’s futures for what have generally, in retrospect, been useless exerises of power and might. We are gradually waking up to the fact and thank god for that, but we always seem in the begining of the adventures in complete agreement with the “need” to go to war. We are a very gulable people as a whole, it seems. And have very short memories, it appears.

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