Jahanpour , TFF Associate
February 21, 2007
In a rare move, for
the first time since the repeal by Congress in 1971 of the Gulf of Tonkin
resolution authorising the Vietnam War, the House of Representative
has voted 246-to-182 formally repudiating President Bush's decision
to send 21,500 new combat troops to Iraq. Below Farhang Jahanpour examines
the background to this momentous decision.
The events of the past few months in the
United States have been as bewildering as they have been tragic. The mid-term
elections held in November had shown that the majority of Americans had
decisively turned against President George Bush's failed policies and
the threadbare plots of the Neoconservatives. The Democrats' control of
both the House and the Senate had provided the hope of a change of direction
or at least a course correction.
The unexpected dismissal of Donald Rumsfeld,
one of the main architects of the Iraq war, and his replacement by pragmatic
Richard Gates, who had been a member of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group,
and the sudden forced resignation of the Neoconservative UN Ambassador
John Bolton had provided grounds for optimism. That feeling of optimism
was further strengthened by the long awaited and much anticipated bipartisan
Iraq Study Group's report. The Iraq Study Group, led by two respected
veteran politicians, the former Republican Secretary of State James Baker
and the former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton, included some of the
most experienced and prominent US politicians.
Domestic and Foreign Reversals
Having suffered major reversals in Iraq and in mid-term elections, President
Bush and members of his Administration had indicated that they would welcome
that report. Coming on the heels of the Administration's humiliating defeats
at home and abroad, the success of the report seemed to be a certainty.
As the level of chaos and killings in Iraq had increased, leading to a
state of virtual civil war, even the president and some of his staunchest
allies could no longer repeat the mantra of 'staying the course'. With
the number of US casualties exceeding three thousand – not to mention
over half a million Iraqis killed and the creation of two million refugees
– the majority of Americans had turned against the continuation
of the war.
According to a recent CNN poll, only 20 per
cent of the American people supported it, a huge drop compared to the
75 per cent that had supported it at the beginning of the invasion when
it was wrongly linked to the war against terrorism and the proliferation
of weapons of mass destruction. Therefore, it seemed that the time had
come for the US Administration to take a fresh look at the realities and
cut its losses, and also save Iraq from the continuing catastrophe.
The report did not pull any punches. After painting a dismal picture of
America's options in Iraq, the report stated that there was an urgent
need for a complete change of direction. It pointed out that the continuation
of US policies in Iraq and the region would at best only postpone the
most probable scenario: Iraq’s collapse into a failed and fragmented
state, an intensifying and long-lasting civil war, as well as an increased
risk of foreign meddling in Iraq. It pointed out that the US forces were
seen as occupiers and not as liberators and their continued presence in
Iraq acted only as a provocation and intensified the insurgency.
What was needed was a clean break both in
the way the U.S. and other international actors dealt with the Iraqi government,
and in the way the U.S. dealt with the region as a whole.
The report advocated an end to unilateral policies and a new multinational
effort to achieve a new political compact between all relevant Iraqi constituents.
The Baker-Hamilton Iraqi Study Group made
three important recommendations:
1. Withdrawal of US forces from Iraq;
2. A new U.S. regional strategy, including
engagement with Iran and Syria, and an end to efforts at regime change;
3. Revitalisation of the moribund Arab-Israeli
Supporting the findings of the report, Senior Fellow of the Centre for
American Progress Lawrence J. Korb testified before the House Armed Services
Committee, and spoke about many mistakes over the past 46 months that
had created the current quagmire. He said:
1. The United States cannot solve Iraq’s problems militarily;
resolving Iraq’s civil war requires a new political strategy.
2. Open-ended U.S. combat deployment fosters a culture of dependency.
3. The absence of a new diplomatic and political strategy is the missing
link to Iraq’s neighbours playing a more constructive and necessary
4. The consequences of continued chaos in the Middle East would be disastrous.
5. Military escalation will not tackle the core problems with Iraq’s
security forces and would likely exacerbate the situation.
6. An escalation in Iraq prevents soldiers from being re-deployed to
7. Those who support military escalation lack credibility due to the
fact that they are the ones responsible for this misadventure.
8. Congress must not let the president continue to ignore the American
people and must exercise its constitutional powers to halt the escalation.
9. The United States must change course now rather than heed the dictates
of a president who has continued to mislead us about this war.
The Baker-Hamilton report pointed out that President Bush's desire to
bring peace to the Middle East, while at the same time providing total
backing for all Israeli expansionist policies while pursuing a hostile
policy towards Iran and Syria, were contradictory and unachievable. Senior
members of the Congress from both parties urged the president to talk
According to a recent poll, three-quarters
of the American public also want the president to talk to Iran (including
72 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Democrats). Even Secretary
of Defence Robert Gates—when he was the co-chair of a 2004 Council
of Foreign Relations task force—urged the president to talk to Iran.
Three high-ranking former US generals opposed a troops surge in Iraq and
warned against an attack on Iran.
A much-anticipated US intelligence report
warned that the rising violence in Iraq could permanently tear the country
apart and, in the worst case, create a state of anarchy with no legitimate
authority that would combine "extreme ethnosectarian violence with
debilitating intragroup clashes."
Rejection of Baker-Hamilton Report
While everybody was waiting to see how President Bush would implement
that important bipartisan report, the president did exactly the opposite.
Far from withdrawing forces from Iraq, he
ordered 21,500 extra troops to be sent to Baghdad and to Anbar province.
Instead of initiating a meaningful dialogue with Iran and Syria, he adopted
an even more hostile policy towards those two countries and openly called
on American troops to arrest or kill Iranians that they suspected of involvement
in helping the insurgents in Iraq.
Meanwhile, simultaneously with the president's
new directive, US forces attacked an Iranian liaison office in Erbil that
was functioning with the knowledge and approval of the Iraqi government,
and took five Iranian diplomats hostage. The Iraqi foreign minister said
that the office was due to be formally turned into a consulate, the work
that it had been doing in practice for the past 15 years. The illegal
arrest of Iranian diplomats resulted in open condemnation by the Iraqi
president and prime minister, as well as by the leader of the Iraqi Kurdistan,
Mas'ud Barzani. Earlier on, US forces had arrested three Iranian diplomats
who had been invited to Iraq by the Iraqi president during his visit to
Tehran, and after extensive protests US forces released them.
A Neoconservative Plan
While all this might have come as a complete surprise to all those who
were looking for a saner and more even-handed US policy in the Middle
East, those who were familiar with the stranglehold that the neocons and
the pro-Israeli lobbies have imposed on the Bush Administration were not
surprised at all.
As soon as the contents of the Baker-Hamilton
report were leaked, the neocons started a feverish campaign to undermine
it. A leading Neoconservative ideologue, Frederick W. Kagan of American
Enterprise Institute prepared a report entitled "Victory: A Plan
for Success in Iraq." He argued:
* Victory is still an option in Iraq. America, a country of 300 million
people with a GDP of $12 trillion, and more than 1 million soldiers and
marines can regain control of Iraq, a state the size of California with
a population of 25 million and a GDP under $100 billion. Victory in Iraq
is vital to America’s security. Defeat will lead to regional conflict,
humanitarian catastrophe, and increased global terrorism.
* Iraq has reached a critical point. The strategy of relying on a political
process to eliminate the insurgency has failed. Rising sectarian violence
threatens to break America’s will to fight. This violence will destroy
the Iraqi government, armed forces, and people if it is not rapidly controlled.
He further argued that all the three courses
of action that had been proposed would fail: 1) Withdraw immediately;
2) Engage Iraq’s neighbours, and 3) Increase embedded trainers dramatically.
He suggested a fourth option: Increase American forces and crush opposition.
He advocated a 'surge' of between 20,000-30,000 extra troops to directly
fight the insurgents.
When one reads President Bush's major
policy speech on 10 January or his State of the Union address, one will
see that his policy is taken almost word for word from the above-mentioned
document. All this shows that while the Neoconservatives are down,
they certainly are not out and still exert a pernicious influence on the
It is interesting that the Iraqi government
was not consulted regarding the new strategy. President Jalal Talabani
openly admitted that he had no idea of the new American plan. It is also
clear that the Americans have no intention of leaving Iraq, as was openly
admitted by Robert Gates who said that American forces would remain in
Iraq for a long time.
The important point to bear in mind about
the 'surge' of forces in Iraq is that it is not intended solely to fight
the insurgents – there had been at least two such surges in the
past and both had failed – but to intensify the pressure on Iran
False intelligence on Iran
In the same way that false intelligence was used prior to the invasion
of Iraq in order to establish a link between Saddam's regime and al-Qa'ida,
the neocons are busy doing the same in the case of Iran and Syria. Without
providing any evidence, President Bush linked the Sunni insurgency with
al-Qa'ida and Syria, and the Shi'i insurgency with Iran. He again linked
the situation in Iraq with the events of 9/11. In the State of the Union
address the president said: "This war is an ideological struggle.
... To prevail, we must remove the conditions that inspire blind hatred
and drove 19 men to get onto airplanes and to come to kill us." He
continued: "What every terrorist fears most is human freedom –
societies where men and women make their own choices."
More than 90 per cent of attacks on US forces
have come from Sunni insurgents. Iraqi officials allege that the Sunni
insurgents receive most of their support from Jordan and Saudi Arabia,
yet President Bush singled out Iran for blame as a country that supported
Iraqi insurgents. The overwhelming majority of those who are killed in
suicide bombings and attacks are in Shi'i districts, yet President Bush
blamed Iran for helping the Shi'is.
Leading neocons jumped on the bandwagon. Senator Joseph Lieberman repeated
the threat-conflation mantra on Meet the Press on January 14. Trying to
rally support for an escalation of the war in Iraq, he appealed to “the
American people, who have been attacked on 9/11 by the same enemy that
we’re fighting in Iraq today, supported by a rising Islamist radical
super-powered [sic] government in Iran.” National Security Advisor
Stephen Hadley declared the war in Iraq to be part of “a broad struggle
going on in the Middle East between the forces of freedom and democracy
and the forces of terror and tyranny—and Iran is behind a lot of
Ominous signs of a new conflict
These threats have not remained purely at the level of rhetoric, but there
are ominous signs of preparations for a conflict, this time involving
Iran. These are some of the measures taken by the Bush administration
in recent weeks. It has:
* Deployed additional aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf.
* Deployed US Patriot missiles to the Arab states in the Persian Gulf.
* Deployed F16 fighter planes to the Incirlik base in Turkey.
* Increased the number of US nuclear submarines in the Persian Gulf.
* There has been increased rhetoric and provocation against Iran.
* It has cut off two of Iran’s largest banks from the U.S. financial
* Admiral Fallon has been named Centcom commander, a useful person in
case of a naval attack on Iran.
* It has arrested several Iranian diplomats in Iraq in December and
in January, arrested six more in a raid on an office opened in Kurdistan
in 1992 that has been functioning as an Iranian consulate.
* Furthermore, Israeli pilots have undergone training for Iran bombing
* In his January 10 speech to the nation the president said: “We
will interrupt the flow of support from Iran and Syria. And we will
seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training
to our enemies in Iraq.”
Suspicions about the new plan
The exaggerated rhetoric also seems to signal a more sweeping intent.
Official statements parrot claims prominent for the past year in the Neoconservative
press, bizarrely linking Iran to September 11 and the president’s
declared “war on terror.” This feverish campaign has even
worried many US senators and congressmen. Senator Bill Nelson (D- FL)
told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a January 11 Senate hearing:
“I have supported you and the administration on the war, but I cannot
continue to support the administration's position...I have not been told
the truth over and over again."
Senator John D. Rockefeller IV, the West
Virginia Democrat who has recently taken control of the intelligence committee,
said that the administration was building a case against Tehran even as
American intelligence agencies still know little about either Iran’s
internal dynamics or its intentions in the Middle East. “To be quite
honest, I’m a little concerned that it’s Iraq again,”
Senator Rockefeller said during an interview in his office. “This
whole concept of moving against Iran is bizarre.”
The former commander of CENTCOM, General
John Abizaid and the former commander of US forces in Iraq General Casey
in testimonies before the Senate opposed the need for a troop surge. Both
of them were simply replaced.
Immediately after the president announced
his new policy, both the British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Secretary
of State Condoleezza Rice toured the Middle East to form an alliance of
regional democracies such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Jordan against Iran
and Syria. During her trip to the Middle East Condoleezza Rice said: "On
one side are reformers and responsible leaders", in which she included
"Saudi Arabia and the other countries of the Gulf, Egypt, Jordan,
the young democracies of Lebanon, of the Palestinian territory led by
Mahmoud Abbas [not the popularly elected government led by HAMAS], and
in Iraq... But on the other side of that divide are Iran, Syria and Hezbollah
and Hamas" who "...use violence to spread chaos, to undermine
democratic governments, and to impose agendas of hatred and intolerance,"
Negative reactions to the plan in the Middle East
The new US plan has come under a barrage of criticism at home and abroad.
Opinion polls in the United States have shown that nearly two-thirds of
Americans disapprove of the Bush plan. Even the countries that are supposed
to be the recipients of US favour do not seem to have been persuaded by
this new policy.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin
Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani chastised Washington for failing to consult the
Gulf Co-operation Council before formulating its new policy. He went on:
"I think it's important for American friends to coordinate their
policies with countries in the region ... before adopting them."
"The region's countries will be the first to be affected by their
policies," he said in Doha at a press conference with his Italian
counterpart Massimo D'Alema. "Those policies that led to this situation
have harmed the region."
The comments in most of the Middle East press,
even in countries that are friendly to America, have been dismissive of
In Saudi Arabia, the Okaz newspaper wrote:
"The American administration has no right to ask Iraqis and other
countries of the region to follow its strategy... when the administration
itself is incapable of convincing even Americans of this policy."
It continued: "A good number of observers do not expect the new American
strategy to succeed in improving the situation in Iraq. On the contrary,
they believe that it will lead to more chaos, more terrorist acts and
more victims." The US government should "first of all convince
its own people about the strategy before trying to convince the world,"
In the United Arab Emirates, the headline
on the Al-Khaleej mocked: "Rice comes... as a tourist." "If
Rice has come only to listen, it's a mixture of sarcasm and provocation.
Rice knows only too well the positions of the countries she is visiting
and doesn't need to listen further." The paper asked: "And even
after listening and understanding what others want, will she take that
In Jordan, another key US regional ally,
the independent Al-Arab Al-Yawm also dismissed the chance of Rice winning
support for Bush's plans for Iraq. It wrote: "Rice is not expected
to be successful in promoting Bush's strategy. When the secretary of state
asks moderate Arab countries to support the Maliki government, she is
in fact asking them to support Iran's influence in Iraq."
“The former pressure was an illusion and the lack of any pressure
now will push the crisis between the people and their rulers to the edge,”
said Ibrahim Eissa, the editor of Al Dustoor, a weekly independent newspaper
in Egypt that is critical of the government. That eliminates “all
false appearances that the Arab regimes are against the United States
in defense of their independent sovereignty and that the United States
is supporting democracy when it is in strict alliance with the oppressive
regimes,” he added.
The leading Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram carried
an article by Hassan Nafaa, professor of political science at Cairo University,
entitled "Time to say no". It argued: "To continue kowtowing
to the US administration's demands over Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon and
Palestine would be suicidal." Referring to the recent US policies
towards Iran and Iraq, he wrote: "Arab leaders who believed the claims
that ridding Iraq of Saddam Hussein would eliminate one of the greatest
impediments to regional stability should look at what has in fact been
eliminated. It is Iraq as a state that has been destroyed… As important
as the strategic relationship with the US might be, Arab leaders should
realise that Bush and his gang of neo-conservatives are not synonymous
with the United States. They are a band of thugs bent on steering the
world to unmitigated disaster, a fact grasped by the majority of the American
people upon whom it has dawned that this administration is no less fanatical
and racist than Hitler and the Nazis."
These are strong words by a major commentator
in a country that is allegedly friendly towards the United States.
All this shows the complete bankruptcy of US foreign policy and the state
of confusion in which the American foreign policy-makers find themselves.
Theirs is a foreign policy that has gone
totally berserk. It is opposed by the vast majority of the American people.
It is opposed by a sizeable majority of senators and congressmen. It is
opposed by many in the military. It was initiated behind the back of the
'democratically-elected' Iraqi government. It is rejected by the people
in the Middle East. It is simply meant to please a shrinking number of
fanatical neocons who do not seem to have had their fill of war and bloodshed
The Neoconservatives that pushed America
towards perhaps the worst disaster in her history, namely the illegal
war in Iraq, are likely to push her towards an even more disastrous decision
if they can manufacture an American invasion of Iran. The first time many
Americans were fooled by their false intelligence and extensive propaganda.
If they allow themselves to be fooled a second
time, it will be unforgivable.
Jahanpour is a former professor and dean of the Faculty of Languages at
the University of Isfahan, and a part-time tutor in the Department of
Continuing Education at the University of Oxford. Other articles by Jahanpour
© TFF & the author 1997 till today. All rights reserved.
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