The arguments for maintaining the occupation of Iraq crumbled a little further this week.
Tony Blair admitted, in an interview with David Frost on Al Jazeera English, that Iraq was a “disaster”, before leaving the country for a photo opportunity with troops fighting his other war in Afghanistan.
Margaret Hodge also chose last week to launch an attack on the war, the most senior cabinet member yet to do so. She said that Iraq was Blair’s “big mistake”.
Meanwhile, George Bush was hounded by huge anti?war demonstrations in Indonesia.
From the start, the war on Iraq was sold to a sceptical public through a series of lies – in particular about weapons of mass destruction and Al Qaida’s alleged links to Iraq.
Once these lies were exposed, the Bush administration adopted a series of new and equally dishonest mantras – “we are bringing democracy to Iraq”, “we are rebuilding Iraq”, “we are preventing civil war”.
Some in the anti?war movement, horrified by the sheer level of chaos and destruction, have accepted the need for foreign troops to remain – to maintain order and help rebuild the country.
But the reality is that the situation will get worse each day the occupation continues.
The arguments were already old in 1899 when Rudyard Kipling wrote his poem “The White Man’s Burden” in support of US colonisation of the Philippines. Similar lies were uttered by British and French politicians throughout the 19th century who sought to justify their continued presence in the colonies.
Just as in former colonial adventures, the US and Britain have sought to turn sections of the Iraqi population against each other. The longer the occupation of Iraq continues, the greater the chance that these divisions will spill over into civil war.
The Iraq occupation is tearing the country apart and making life hell for the population. An estimated 655,000 Iraqis have died as a result of the invasion. Torture is widespread, and more than 14,000 people are detained. Over 300,000 people have fled their homes so far this year.
Over three years after the invasion, the national electricity grid can only deliver electricity to the capital for one hour out of every four. A Pentagon study estimated that “about 25.9 percent of Iraqi children examined were stunted in their physical growth” due to chronic malnutrition which is on the rise across Iraq.
The parallels with Vietnam are increasingly clear. When the Vietnam War turned bad for the US, there was talk of “peace with honour”. Today the search is on for an exit strategy that can “salvage US prestige”.
Instead of “Vietnamisation” – the name given to the creation of local forces to do the work of the US – we have talk of “Iraqification”.
At best, this would involve a long term reduction of US forces to 50,000 – still 20,000 more than former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld hoped would remain in Iraq only months after the fall of Baghdad.
These troops would be pulled back into the enormous, permanent bases the US military has built in the region.
And any attempt to gradually withdraw troops will cause more horror. Just as in Vietnam, US troop levels cannot be slowly reduced in Iraq without increased use of air power.
The new US defence secretary Robert Gates, who replaced Rumsfeld earlier this month, laid out his thinking on phased withdrawal 18 months ago.
Some 60 years after the end of the Second World War, “there are still American troops in Germany,” he said.
“We’ve had troops in Korea for over 50 years. The British have had troops in Cyprus for 40 years. If you want to change history, you have to be prepared to stay as long as it takes to do the job.”
As the elites of US and Britain begin to panic over the quagmire they have created for themselves in Iraq, the anti?war movement cannot afford be complacent over the need for the immediate withdrawal of troops.
The US is determined to remain in Iraq to maintain its power over the region and to control vital oil resources. The price paid will be more Iraqi deaths, and the deadly toll will continue to rise as long as US and British forces remain.
How US credibility has been ‘shrivelled’
A year ago former US secretary of state and war criminal Henry Kissinger issued a stark warning on the consequences of defeat in Iraq.
“Defeat would shrivel US credibility around the world,” he argued. “Our leadership and the respect accorded to our views on other regional issues from Palestine to Iran would be weakened.
“The confidence of other major countries – China, Russia, Europe, Japan – in America’s potential contribution would be diminished. The respite from military efforts would be brief before even greater crises descended on us.”
He might have added that defeat for the world’s most powerful military machine would boost those fighting imperialism, corporate globalisation and attacks on human rights the world over.
Kissinger is a significant player in right wing US politics. He was secretary of state for republican president Richard Nixon, and helped develop the so called “peace with honour” strategy for withdrawing from South Vietnam in the wake of the last military defeat suffered by the US.
So it must have come as a shock to the neocons surrounding George Bush to hear Kissinger admit that exactly the kind of terrible defeat he described is now at hand.
Last weekend, he told the BBC, “If you mean by military victory, an Iraqi government that can be established and whose writ runs across the whole country, that gets the civil war under control and sectarian violence under control in a time period that the political processes of the democracies will support, I don’t believe that is possible.’’