The key issue the candidates should be discussing about Iraq is not the way they voted in 2002 , nor whether the U.S. "surge" of 38,000 U.S. troops should continue after September. All this talk is just shadow play -- missing (I would say, purposely) the heart of the matter.
Over the past week, spokesmen for the Bush White House have made it clear that the administration is planning a major American presence in Iraq not for months or years but for decades. While the U.S. may withdraw "combat troops" in the near future, there is no way they will not be leaving tens of thousands of other American troops in sprawling city-sized bases already built across that country.
Whether those forces are labeled "combat," "American freedom providers" or whatever other cosmetic term the White House dreams, those bases, and the tens of thousands of troops populating them, will be an endless flashpoint for Iraqi nationalists and recruiting poster for Muslim jihadists around the globe.
Al Qaeda and its hundreds of spin-offs could wish for nothing more.
What's behind the Bush plans? The same motives that drove the British to create Iraq after World War I: access to the country's vast petroleum wealth and military bases to protect that access, as well as leaving no doubt -- to friends and enemies alike -- about who sits astride one of the most important geo-strategic parts of the globe.
But how much sense does such reasoning make?
The Bush administration makes its case by comparing Iraq and South Korea -- a comparison that, in this day and age, makes no sense whatsoever. Who is North Korea? Iran? For all Iran's current talk of becoming a nuclear power, what experts seriously believe that Iran's leaders would consider invading Iraq? Unlike the U.S., the Iranians have long realized the strength of Iraqi nationalism. Tehran may be quite content to see the U.S. occupier getting its head handed to it by Iraqi insurgents. There is no indication they would walk into a similar meat grinder themselves.
In any case, what makes anyone think that Iraqis -- once they are given a choice -- will agree to accept the bases? The great majority are already against the presence of Coalition -- a.k.a. American -- forces in Iraq.
Nothing makes that clearer than the binding resolution passed by the Iraqi Parliament on June 6th that will guarantee lawmakers an opportunity to block the extension of the U.N. mandate under which coalition troops now remain in Iraq when it comes up for renewal in December. The measure -- which will likely be vetoed by Prime Minister Maliki -- is in some ways a mirror image of recent attempts by the U.S. Congress to also limit the American occupation of Iraq.
How can anyone seriously think that some present or future Iraqi government could accept huge U.S. bases in their country and not be voted out of office the next day? Or is the White House so delusional that it still thinks it can manipulate the political forces in Iraq so that no future government ever demands that the U.S. pack up and leave?
As for the question of guaranteeing access to Iraq's petroleum, the U.S. is currently demanding Iraq enact new oil legislation. One extremely controversial provision would have the Iraqi government agree to long term exploration contracts with foreign oil companies, on extremely favorable terms -- to those oil companies. But -- even with such terms -- what foreign oil company is going to agree to come in knowing that a future Iraqi government may decide to revoke the terms that were rammed down the Parliament's throats in 2007 -- if they are indeed successful -- by a government dependent on American occupiers?
Does the White House really believe that a sprawling U.S. military presence in the country would make a difference to such a debate? Do they envisage installing friendly Iraqi politicians forever dependent on the U.S. military presence?
The British tried that 80 years ago and ultimately failed.
Any Democrats claiming that they didn't see this move coming are as cynical as those who say they voted for the original invasion because they had been fed faulty intelligence.
There was no lack of warning here. For years the Bush administration has been openly pouring billions of dollars into the construction of four mammoth bases in Iraq, plus other sprawling facilities There is no way these bases can be called "temporary," as the administration did, thus providing a pretext for Congress to vote the funds without asking any serious questions. Add to that the largest U.S. Embassy in the world.
So, the bottom line question for the candidates of both parties is: When you talk about withdrawing troops from Iraq are you talking about all troops? If not, how do you justify America's on-going occupation of that country, the tens of billions of dollars that will entail and the continued bloody conflict that will ensure?