I caught a little of a panel discussion on the Charlie Rose Show on the future of the U.S. occupation of Iraq. He had with him the scholars Stephen Biddle and Vali Nasr, as well as the famous New York Times' stenographer for the powerful, Michael Gordon. Vali Nasr made a couple of interesting points about Iraqi politics but the consensus of those intellects sitting around Mr. Rose's famous "oak table" seemed to be that "real progress" is being made in Iraq and American troops must stay there for years to come.
I was particularly taken aback when Michael Gordon asserted that the 140,000 U.S. soldiers garrisoned in Iraq constitute a "neutral" force in that country. The ever-ingratiating Mr. Rose let Gordon's statement stand without challenge even though it comes at a time when the Bush administration is doing everything in its power, including withholding $20 billion in frozen assets, to force the Nouri al-Maliki government to sign a modified "status of force" agreement that essentially strips Iraq of even the fig leaf of sovereignty. How can a "neutral force" seek 58 permanent military bases, legal immunity for all its personnel, and sweetheart deals for its oil corporations?
But what appalled me even more than Gordon's by now predictable "stay the course" tripe was that Rose allowed key problems regarding Americans' perceptions of the Iraq adventure to be omitted from the discussion altogether. I wish Rose would have forced the panel at least to engage the following four points on the Iraq War:
1). The panelists harbor the belief that it is now irrelevant that the Bush administration launched this war by lying and deceiving the American people. George W. Bush and company said the goal was to "disarm" the Saddam Hussein regime of its "weapons of mass destruction;" they said the war would be relatively costless and we'd be greeted as liberators. (Bush even flew in a jet fighter that landed on an aircraft carrier and declared victory.) After these lies were exposed Bush and Co. shifted the discussion to building "democracy" in the Middle East. And now we even hear them making the argument that a crucial objective of the occupation is to "defend" Iraq from the clutches of Iran (even though it was the overthrow of the Sunni government that strengthened Iran's hand in the first place). The panelists on this venerable PBS show seemed genuinely puzzled, given all the "progress," about why the American people would be dubious about the noble intentions of Bush's Iraq endeavor five years later.
2). Amidst the worst economic downturn in recent history and huge new challenges facing the American people relating to the environment and the health care crisis Charlie Rose's "wise" panelists agreed that the $700 billion our fellow citizens have already thrown at Iraq must be augmented with even more billions to ensure "success." What Rose and his panelists missed is at a time when federal, state, and municipal governments are telling Americans that we cannot afford adequate health care, or education, or even infrastructure the enormous expenditures in Iraq take on an added level of discomfort. Why would the American people agree to spend $2 trillion on Iraq over the next ten years while they face rising costs for everything at home? The assumption of the elite panelists is that the poor Plebeians just don't understand how important the experts' "grand strategy" is in the Middle East, which illustrates why foreign policy should be left to the likes of Michael Gordon.
3). Rose and his panelists also missed the common sense notion that if the war's supporters talk again and again about the great "success" in Iraq and the "diminution of violence" as encouraging signs of "progress" the American people have every right to ask the question: Why are our soldiers still there? If the "surge" and other Bush policies have worked so magnificently, and the U.S. is not interested in permanent bases or in Iraq's oil reserves, then why can't we bring our troops home? The "experts" only offered platitudes about how "fragile" the status quo is in Iraq requiring American troops to stay there for years and years. Stephen Biddle said the next president would have to bring home some troops because the current levels are "unsustainable," but we've heard that argument before.
4). Rose and his panelists must read the New York Times every morning and in today's paper there was a front page, above-the-fold article describing how the Iraq war contractor and former Halliburton subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root (KBR) bilked the U.S. Army for $1 billion in corrupt charges. Similar to so many other stories coming out of this administration the career officials who tried to stop this shocking profiteering on the part of Dick Cheney's old company were subordinated to political appointees who quickly squashed the investigation. Many "experts" who claim to be infinitely knowledgeable about the Iraq War go out of their way to ignore the shameless profiteering that has been part of this misguided adventure from the start. When foreign policy wonks advocate staying the course in Iraq they are really advocating continuing an inherently corrupt system of crony capitalism in the very dangerous form of a military occupation. All of the so-called intellectuals who support the Iraq occupation, from Christopher Hitchens and Kenneth Pollack, to Michael Gordon and Stephen Biddle, willfully avoid any mention of how this war has become a cash cow for connected companies and individuals while soldiers from the working class do all of the fighting and dying.
Next time, Charlie, please raise some of these issues when your topic of conversation is Iraq.
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