The United States has lost the war in Iraq, and that’s a good thing.
I don’t mean that the loss of American and Iraqi lives is to be celebrated. The death and destruction are numbingly tragic, and the suffering in Iraq is hard for most of us in the United States to comprehend. The tragedy is compounded because these deaths haven’t protected Americans or brought freedom to Iraqis — they have come in the quest to extend the American empire in this so-called “new American century.”
So, as a U.S. citizen, I welcome the U.S. defeat, for a simple reason: It isn’t the defeat of the United States — its people or their ideals — but of that empire. And it’s essential the American empire be defeated and dismantled.
The fact the Bush administration says we are fighting for freedom and democracy (having long ago abandoned fictions about weapons of mass destruction and terrorist ties) does not make it so. We must look at the reality, no matter how painful. The people of Iraq are better off without Saddam Hussein’s despised regime, but that does not prove our benevolent intentions nor guarantee the United States will work to bring meaningful democracy to Iraq.
Throughout history, our support for democracies has depended on their support for U.S. policy. When democratic governments follow an independent course, they typically end up as targets of U.S. power, military or economic. Ask Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez or Haiti’s Jean-Bertrand Aristide.
In Iraq, the Bush administration invaded not to liberate but to extend and deepen U.S. domination. When Bush says, “We have no territorial ambitions; we don’t seek an empire,” he tells a half-truth. The United States doesn’t want to absorb Iraq nor take direct possession of its oil. That’s not the way of empire today — it’s about control over the flow of oil and oil profits, not ownership.
In a world that runs on oil, the nation that controls the flow of oil has great strategic power. U.S. policymakers want leverage over the economies of its competitors — Western Europe, Japan and China — which are more dependent on Middle Eastern oil. Hence the longstanding U.S. policy of support for reactionary regimes (Saudi Arabia), dictatorships (Iran under the Shah) and regional military surrogates (Israel), aimed at maintaining control.
The Bush administration has invested money and lives in making Iraq a platform from which the United States can project power — from permanent U.S. bases, officials hope. That requires not the liberation of Iraq, but its subordination. But most Iraqis don’t want to be subordinated, which is why the United States in some sense lost the war the day it invaded. One lesson of contemporary history is that occupying armies generate resistance that, inevitably, prevails over imperial power.
Most Iraqis are glad Saddam is gone, and most want the United States gone. When we admit defeat and pull out — not if, but when — the fate of Iraqis depends in part on whether the United States (1) makes good on legal and moral obligations to pay reparations, and (2) allows international institutions to aid in creating a truly sovereign Iraq.
We shouldn’t expect politicians to do either without pressure. An anti-empire movement — the joining of antiwar forces with the movement to reject corporate globalization — must create that pressure. Failure will add to the suffering in Iraq and more clearly mark the United States as a rogue state and an impediment to a just and peaceful world.
So, I’m glad for the U.S. military defeat in Iraq, but with no joy in my heart. We should all carry a profound sense of sadness at where decisions made by U.S. policy-makers — not just the gang in power today, but a string of Republican and Democratic administrations — have left us and the Iraqis. But that sadness should not keep us from pursuing the most courageous act of citizenship in the United States today: Pledging to dismantle the American empire….
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