Sunday, February 13, 2005

ASSESSMENT : Why the US is set to continue its occupation of Iraq

+ The neo-conservatives also believe that America should use its power to promote democracy - by force if necessary. Neoconservatives, William Kristol and Robert Kagan first sounded this trumpet in Foreign Affairs. They state: “Now that the evil empire is vanquished, the US must aspire to exercise a benevolent American hegemony. For never has the US had such a golden opportunity to promote democracy and free markets abroad, while Americans themselves have never had it so good. Hence, the appropriate goal of the United States should be to preserve that hegemony as far into the future as possible.” Many neo-conservatives and senior officials in the Bush administration believed that democratising Iraq would be relatively straightforward. +


Why the US is set to continue its occupation of Iraq
Abid Mustafa

For the past few months, America has been trying to persuade the world that the transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqis after the elections is real and not cosmetic. However a close scrutiny of America’s objectives for Iraq and beyond reveals that the American occupation of Iraq is set to continue for many years to come. This is because the Bush administration has so far failed to secure America’s strategic interests in Iraq and the wider Muslim world. These interests are represented by coperate America, the neo-conservatives, and their supporters who dominate the Bush administration. What follows is a short explanation regarding these interests.

1. Iraq an opportunity to reshape the Middle East and the wider Muslim world Well before September 11th 2001, the neo-conservatives and their supporters were planning to reshape the Middle East and its oil supply through the removal of Saddam and the subsequent occupation of Iraq. The neo-conservatives established a think tank called ‘The Project for the New American Century’ (PNAC) through which they expressed their views. What distinguishes PNAC from other think tanks is the nature of its founding members, America’s vice-president Dick Cheney, Lewis Libby (his Chief of Staff), Donald Rumsfeld (the defence secretary), Paul Wolfowitz (deputy defence secretary), and Zalmay Khalilzad (the US ambassador to Afghanistan). In 1998 PNAC pleaded with Bill Clinton to use military force against Iraq and remove Saddam from power. They wrote, “We urge you to seize the opportunity, and to enunciate a new strategy that would secure the interests of the US and our friends and allies around the world. That strategy should aim, above all, at the removal of Saddam Hussein’s regime from power. We urge you to turn your administrations attention to implementing a strategy for removing Saddam’s regime from power…we believe the US has the authority under the existing UN resolutions to take the necessary steps, including military steps, to protect our vital interests in the Gulf. In any case, American policy cannot continue to be crippled by a misguided insistence on unanimity in the UN Security Council.” The signatories to the letter read like a who’s who of the current Bush administration. Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Armitage, Elliott Abrams, John Bolton, Zalmay Khalilzad and Robert Zoellick.[1]

2. Clinton refuses to attack Iraq

Following Clinton’s refusal to accept their advice the neo-conservatives persisted in writing to the former speaker of the house, Newt Gingrich and senate republican leader Trent Lott. In the letter unashamedly they advocated that America: “establish and maintain a strong US military presence in the region and be prepared to use that force to protect our vital interests in the Gulf – and, if necessary, to help remove Saddam from power…only the US can lead the way in demonstrating that his rule is not legitimate and that time is not on the side of his regime.” They go on to observe the perils of leaving Saddam unchallenged, noting that “the safety of American troops in the region, of our friends and allies like Israel and the moderate Arab states, and a significant portion of the worlds supply of oil will all be put at hazard…the only acceptable strategy is one that eliminates the possibility that Iraq will be able to use or threaten to use weapons of mass destruction. In the near term, this means a willingness to undertake military action…in the long term, it means removing Saddam and his regime from power.” [2]

3. George Bush enters the scene

During the presidential election campaign George Bush junior the neo-conservatives had another opportunity to put forward their agenda of reshaping the Middle East. In September 2000 Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Lewis Libby contributed to a paper, entitled “Rebuilding America’s Defences“: Strategies, Forces and Resources for a New Century. The paper revealed that some of President Bush’s future cabinet intended to take military control of the Gulf region regardless of whether Saddam Hussein was in power. The paper stated: “The United States has for decades sought to play a more permanent role in Gulf regional security. While the unresolved conflict with Iraq provides the immediate justification, the need for a substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein.” [3]

4. Bush enters office and September 11

After coming into office after the disputed election of 2000, the agenda remained within the background until the tumultuous events of September 11th 2001. After these attacks, some of the neo-conservatives sought to take advantage of the deaths of almost 3000 Americans by trying to impress their agenda on President Bush. On May 9 2003, in an interview with Vanity Fair’s Sam Tannenhaus, Paul Wolfowitz said, “On the surface of the debate it at least appeared to be about not whether but when…” Tannenhaus reported that Wolfowitz was referring to September 13 2001, a meeting at Camp David with President Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and others.[4] He discussed with President Bush the prospects of launching an attack against Iraq. On September 20 2001, The New York Times ran a front-page article under the title ‘Bush’s Advisers Split on Scope of Retaliation’. The article reported that Libby and Wolfowitz were listed as pressing the case for Iraq, while Powell was opposed.

5. Iraq goes to the top of the agenda

The neo-conservatives who have a significant influence within the Pentagon succeeded in finally winning over George Bush to their point of view regarding Iraq and the Middle East. It was November 21 2001, when Bush made up his mind that Iraq was America’s next target after Afghanistan. ”I want to know what the options are”, Bush remarked. Bush said he knew it was a big step and that it entailed preparing the country and the world for war have no idea what it takes to cause the Pentagon to respond to a request since I’ve never been there. I presume Don Rumsfeld was making sure that the product got done and the process didn’t linger.”[5] This was well before August 26 2002 when Vice President Dick Cheney became the first official in the Bush administration to publicly acknowledge that Saddam Hussein was amassing weapons of mass destruction in a threatening fashion. He said,”Simply stated, there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction [and] there is no doubt that he is amassing them to use them against our friends, our allies and against us.”[6] It was also before President Bush’s speech to the UN on September 12 2002, where he told the UN General Assembly that America would seek a new resolution to disarm Iraq. Clearly this demonstrates that the Bush administration was planning to attack Iraq long before the Iraqi WMD arguments became common currency. It also illustrates that President Bush was in agreement with the neo-conservative vision for Iraq and the Middle East.

6. The wider Middle East

Immediately after the fall of Baghdad the neo-conservatives and their supporters used America’s military presence in Iraq to call for regime change in Iran and Syria. In an address entitled “Time to Focus on Iran—The Mother of Modern Terrorism,” for the policy forum of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) on April 30 2003, leading neo-conservative Michael Leeden declared, “the time for diplomacy is at an end; it is time for a free Iran, free Syria and free Lebanon.”. He also wrote:“No one I know wants to wage war on Iran and Syria, but I believe there is now a clear recognition that we must defend ourselves against them”.[7] “It would be in the interest of the world and most particularly of the Iranian people to have a regime change in Iran,” said US senator Joseph Lieberman [8]. President George Bush issued a strident new warning to Iran and Syria yesterday, accusing them of harbouring terrorists and hinting at the consequences. He said, “States that continue to harbour terrorists will be held completely accountable.”[9]

7. Iraq a model democracy for the whole Middle East

The neo-conservatives also believe that America should use its power to promote democracy - by force if necessary. Neoconservatives, William Kristol and Robert Kagan first sounded this trumpet in Foreign Affairs. [10] They state: “Now that the evil empire is vanquished, the US must aspire to exercise a benevolent American hegemony. For never has the US had such a golden opportunity to promote democracy and free markets abroad, while Americans themselves have never had it so good. Hence, the appropriate goal of the United States should be to preserve that hegemony as far into the future as possible.” Many neo-conservatives and senior officials in the Bush administration believed that democratising Iraq would be relatively straightforward. Paul Wolfowitz the most powerful neo-conservative in the Pentagon has long argued that Iraq should become a template for democracy for the rest of the region. But just weeks after the fall of Baghdad, the Bush administration started to back pedal and started to argue that democracy in Iraq would take a very long time indeed. Speaking at an event in Los Angeles, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice said, “There is no ‘one size fits all’ template for democracy,” adding that the United States will stay the course in Iraq until a working democracy was in place. She said she often tells leaders in developing nations that installing a democracy is a difficult task. After all, the United States has been at it for more than 220 years, she said, “and there’s still some parts of it we’re trying to get right.”[11]

Democratising Iraq was not the main argument put forward by the White House to justify regime change in Iraq. But the rising cost of the Iraq occupation, the increasing number of US causalities and the failure to find WMD led the Bush administration to declare a new strategy for Iraq and the Middle East. Drawing a parallel with Reagan’s fight against communism President Bush said, “The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution. Our commitment to democracy is also tested in the Middle East, which is my focus today and must be a focus of American policy for decades to come. Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before.”[12] What is particularly noteworthy about the speech is that the Bush administration passionately believes that a democratic Iraq will produce a democratic revolution across the Middle East. As Bush has indicated in unambiguous terms America is prepared to spend several years to achieve this goal.

8. Iraq to become the new military hub for America’s armed forces

The US also requires a huge military presence in Iraq not only to stabilise the country but also to safeguard its interests in the region. The need for a large military footprint in Iraq has grown, especially after Saudi Arabia refused to allow the US the use of their bases and facilities to host American troops on its soil. When asked if the kingdom would allow the United States to use Saudi facilities for such an attack, Prince Saud, the Saudi defence minister said: “We have told them we don’t (want) them to use Saudi grounds.”[13] A year later, America transferred control of portions of Prince Sultan Air Base to Saudi officials at a high profile ceremony. Speaking at the Ceremony Major General Robert J. Elder Jr said, ”Today ends more than a decade of military operations in this strategic Middle East nation. The end of (major combat operation in Iraq) and Saddam Hussein’s government means the American military mission here is over.”[14] The Bush administration views Iraq as a key base of operations for its plans to achieve its strategic objectives across the Middle East. With this in mind, the Bush administration sought last year to seek a number of permanent military bases in Iraq. Citing senior US officials, the New York Times revealed on April 20 2003 that the Pentagon was planning to maintain at least four bases in key locations in Iraq indefinitely. These include: the international airport just outside Baghdad; Tallil air field near Nasiriya in the south, an isolated airstrip known as H-1 in the western desert; and the Bashur air base in the northern Kurdish areas. Senior republican Richard Lugar, chairman of the senate foreign relations committee said, “at least we ought to be thinking of a period of five years”, adding “that may understate it.”[15] A week earlier at the regular weekly “Black Coffee Briefing on the War on Iraq” of the neo-conservative American Enterprise Institute April 15 2003, resident analyst Thomas Donnelly bluntly stated: “American forces will be in the region, in Iraq, a long, long time. Decades.” The Iraq war has also allowed America to press ahead with plans to scale down its established military bases in Western Europe, particularly Germany, and open up a series of new installations in Eastern Europe. Barred from exploiting Turkey to open a northern front against Baghdad, the US military used a Rumanian air base near the Black Sea port of Constanta to airlift US troops. The Bulgarian airport at Burgas, also on the Black Sea, was used for refuelling US military aircraft and Hungary opened up a military base for the US to provide military training to Iraqi exiles. Ian Traynor reported: “the past two years have seen a rapid extension of American military deployments across thousands of miles stretching from the Balkans to the Chinese border and taking in the Caucasus, Central Asia, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. Thirteen new bases in nine countries ringing Afghanistan were rapidly established as Russia’s underbelly in Central Asia became an American theatre for the first time.”[16] The transformation of Iraq into a
US protectorate is a key element in this wider scheme, which is aimed in the final analysis at undermining the economic and strategic interests of its major rivals in Europe and Asia over the Middle East.

9. Commercial interests entrench American presence in Iraq

US policy towards Iraq has always been shaped by the country’s rich oil resources, its strategic location on the Gulf and its regional weight. Iraq ranks only second to Saudi Arabia in terms of oil reserves, and was the world’s second largest oil exporter before the Iraq-Iran war broke out in 1980. The US has always been a key importer of Iraqi oil. Even under the UN sanctions,US companies imported some 750,000 barrels per day (bpd) from Iraq until the end of 2002. Based on current estimates, Iraq’s oil reserves stand at about 115 billion barrels, equivalent to the total oil reserves of the US, Canada, Mexico, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand, China and the whole of Asia. The US controlled CPA hopes that Iraq would soon be able to export about 600,000-700,000 barrels a day, mostly to the US, in addition to 300,000-400,000 barrels produced for domestic consumption. Exports could be back to the pre-war level of 2.5 million barrels a day, say US occupation officials. [17] No matter what the Bush administration says to distance itself from Iraq’s lucrative oil, US policy makers will always place Iraq at the centreof America’s stratagem for the Middle East. “If you are trying to talk about Iraq and if you were not encumbered by the fear that your actions would be linked to Exxon Mobil or the oil industry,” a Bush adviser said, “you’d be talking about oil issues.”[18]

Another reason for America’s undue attention towards Iraq’s oil is that America’s relations with Saudi Arabia have become turbulent in recent years. Numerous reports have appeared citing senior US officials that America wants to reduce its dependency on oil from Saudi Arabia and specifically the Persian Gulf. Indeed this has become a plank of senator John Kerry’s election campaign in 2004. President Bush, asked on the ABC News program “20/20” about the importance of Saudi Arabian oil, said that “we must have an energy policy that diversifies away from dependency” on foreign sources of oil — including some that “don’t like America.”[19] Despite the strategies of diversification, the US whose imported oil requirements will rise substantially in the next twenty years will become even more dependent upon Iraqi and Middle Eastern oil This is not through choice but due to oil mathematics. This is illustrated by in an article titled The Coming Energy Crunch A $2 gallon of gas is just the beginning. [20] Here Aaron Naparstek writes the following: “As we approach the global oil peak, the world will grow increasingly dependent on Middle Eastern oil supplies. Already, 50 oil-producing countries have passed their peak, including the United States, which now imports 60 percent of its oil. The only excess production capacity in the world—that is, the only countries that are able to meet increasing daily demand—resides in the handful of oil-rich Persian Gulf states. The Middle East accounts for nearly one-third of the world’s total daily oil supply, and as other oil provinces reach their peak and begin to decline, that share is growing. Saudi Arabia alone controls one-quarter of these reserves. But despite Saudi assurances about the size of their future reserves, analysts are increasingly worried about the steady flow of Saudi oil that the world so depends upon.”[21] Though the oil debate has become a victim of the often shrill and exaggerated debate between the left and the current US administration, the idea that US policy towards Iraq has nothing to do with oil is also somewhat unbelievable in the context of oil production and consumption that is forecast in the next twenty years Besides oil, America has already established and is establishing strong commercial interests in Iraq. Bechtel Corp., the engineering and construction giant closely tied to the Bush administration was awarded a $1.8 billion contract to rebuild Iraq’s electrical and water systems, roads and schools. Kellogg, Brown, and Root (KBR) the Halliburton subsidiary and a no-bid contractor is responsible for rebuilding Iraq’s oil infrastructure.[22] The US government has ensured that American companies will play the lead role in reconstructing Iraq’s railways and financial sector. Through favouring its own corporations and an over reliance on imported expatriates, much of the reconstruction proceeds have been utilised on security and building safe housing compounds for foreign employees. As a result of this, the benefits to ordinary Iraqis in terms of employment have been minimal to say the least thus far.


The Bush administration though containing a spectrum of divergent political views has largely has embraced the neoconservative vision for reshaping Iraq, the Middle East and the wider Muslim world. This consists of controlling the oil and security of Iraq and then expanding America’s influence to the neighbouring countries and beyond. To facilitate this, America has planned a number of permanent bases in Iraq to ensure it has the necessary capability, flexibility and threat. These bases are likely to become the biggest staging ground for American military operations in the region adopting the new transformational flexible approach that the US army now adopts. The ideological aspect of this vision demands that America democratise the Middle East, so as to try and drain the swamp of Islamic radicalism and prevent the emergence of a new Caliphate. The springboard for this venture is to make Iraq the model democracy for the region, a shiny beacon for the whole of the Middle East. After this, America intends to impose its democratic values on the wider Muslim world. President Bush’s Greater Middle Eastern Initiative and his 2005 inaugural speech is a confirmation of this plan. On the economic front, America has poured in billions of dollars to remove Saddam in anticipation that American companies will at least be able to enjoy significant benefits from the Iraq’s oil and the reconstruction programme. However the stark reality is that the realisation of this new vision has so far eluded the Bush administration. The rising costs of the occupation estimated to be in the region of $300 billion, the mounting causalities, the scandal at Abu Ghraib and the worsening security situation in Iraq means that America has failed at the first hurdle i.e. to secure Iraq, win the battle for western values and protect her commercial and strategic interests. It is very unlikely that the second Bush administration will change its policy in Iraq and the Muslim world in the short term. The neoconservatives in the pentagon are set to dominate the affairs of the Muslim world.Elections or not, America will remain in Iraq for years to come and this will surely quash any hopes of an independent sovereign Iraqi state.

Email to Dak Bangla from Abid Mustafa who writes from London, UK

References not linked:

[5] Woodward, Bob. Plan of Attack, page 30

[6] Bumiller, Elisabeth and James Dao. “Cheney Says Peril of Nuclear Iraq justifies Attack.” New York Times August 27 2002

[7] Toronto Globe and Mail, May 6 2003

[8] Fox News, May 25 2003

[9] Campbell, Duncan. “Bush in new threat to Iran and Syria.” Guardian Newspaper July 22 2003

[10] “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign Policy,” July-August 1996 [16]Traynor, Ian. “How American power girds the globe with a ring of steel.” Guardian Newspaper April 21 2003

[17]Ahmad, Quni. “Iraq oil - the target for years.” Al Jazeera August 10 2003

[18]Gerth, Jeff. “Saudi oil keeps leash tight as ever on US” New York Times November 27 2002

[19]Gerth, Jeff. “Growing US Need for Oil From the Mideast Is Forecast.” New York Times December 26 2002

[22]US companies loot Iraq & US taxpayers , People’s weekly online newspaper, Jan 10 2004