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William Pfaff: The Changed Debate on Leaving Iraq--1/10/08

The Changed Debate on Leaving Iraq

William Pfaff

Paris, January 10, 2008 – The main division on Iraq policy among the surviving U.S. presidential candidates is not Republicans versus Democrats but between those who favor an indefinitely long-term U.S. occupation of Iraq, with U.S. political domination of that country, and those accepting a limited presence.

The latter choice used to be called – at the time of the 2006 congressional elections -- "getting out" of the war. As Humpty-Dumpty said, "when I use a word it means just what I choose it to mean." Today, "getting out" means staying a while.

The Washington political community, including the presidential campaign press, has ruled that actually getting out -- meaning loading up and leaving the country -- would be unpatriotic, an unacceptable and humiliating American defeat, and would risk, so they say, a "destabilized" Middle East.

Therefore getting out has been redefined, for the benefit of candidates who wish to remain players on the national campaign scene, as actually staying on long enough to protect the American troops who are preparing Iraqi forces for security independence, protecting American installations, remaining available to back up Iraqi forces who are preventing terrorists from taking over, all of which will take time.

Hillary Clinton says she will start getting out of Iraq as soon as she becomes president, but that there probably will still be some American troops in Iraq eight years later, when she completes her expected second term in office. You could call this the long goodbye.

On the other hand a candidate can make a straightforward commitment to staying on as long as "it" takes (for 100 years if necessary, as John McCain suggested in a presumably unguarded moment). "It" is another term open to redefinition, but to most of those who believe in really staying on, it means establishing United States domination of the Middle East, via the occupation and fortification of Iraq, for the foreseeable future.

The countries there, under American-friendly leaders, are expected to evolve into a larger "democratic alliance" with the United States, which includes Israel and all the Sunnite Arab states from the Nile to Iran's frontier. This is more or less the original Neo-conservative plan for the Middle East, launched, lo those many years ago, in the run-up to the Iraq invasion. How far we have come! Or rather, how far we would still have to go for any such fantastical regional reconstruction.

However this is an attractive vision at a moment in the primary campaign when the "surge" is being presented as a success, and national attention is no longer, for the moment, fixed on Iraq. The Republican candidates mostly seem comfortable with it, except for libertarian Congressman Ron Paul, who really does believe in really leaving Iraq to work out its own future, and who, interestingly enough, and despite the vacuum of press attention within which he functions, has recently been raising as much money as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

Otherwise you could say that Iraq withdrawal has as a presidential campaign issue been "securitized," just like those sub-prime mortgages that the securities industry tidied up into new investment vehicles which the rating agencies evaluated as triple-A.

The war in Iraq now has been repackaged as a permanent element in America's own security, no longer open to question by "serious" people. It is like the 60-year U.S. occupation of South Korea and Okinawa (and for that matter, Germany and Italy). No one questions it, except for a certain number of South Koreans, Okinawans (and Italians).

Unfortunately the Middle East is not at all like that. It is not ripe for "securitization" because it is an affair of ongoing war and resistance against the United States and its allies. Whoever is elected president next year will find this out (if things do not blow up beforehand).

McCain is a third-generation military man determined that the United States will not lose another war. Rudy Giuliani is another Bush, with a foreign policy advisory panel composed of paleolithic and bloodthirsty neo-conservatives too weird to have been taken seriously even by the Bush administration.

The Democrats are advised by intellectually serious people who nonetheless nearly all remain imprisoned within the intellectual paradigms of America-as-supplier-of-global-security, and of global-progress-towards-a-Washington-led- universal-democracy. The latter is an ever-green American national ambition, popular since the divinely-inspired (his own view) Woodrow Wilson. Its most recent reformulation is called "the Union of the West."

Of the currently available major foreign policy thinkers on the Democratic side, the most intellectually and morally serious figure I know is Zbigniew Brzezinski. I have criticized him in the past, when he shared the idea of the U.S. as indispensable provider of world security. But he has escaped that paradigm-prison; has had a terrible lesson in unintended consequences when dealing with Afghanistan under Jimmy Carter; and during the Bush period has been one of the handful of major Washington figures consistently to denounce torture and to challenge the influence of the Israel lobby on American policy. Obama apparently takes him seriously. If so, the two will get my vote.

© Copyright 2008 by Tribune Media Services International. All Rights Reserved.

This article comes from William PFAFF

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