By James Brooks
‘Everyone in town is talking “surge” now’, a Pentagon adviser explained to NPR listeners the other day, and you could almost feel the country buckle up its mind for another bloody disaster ahead. One big “final” push to defeat the popular resistance of the Iraqi people. Just to see if we can do it, before we leave. ‘It probably won’t work, but it’s worth a try.’
For an alternative to this patent nonsense, we are told to look to the deliberations of the Iraq Study Group, which only offer proof that the US has no intention of either leaving Iraq or letting Iraqi oil slip out of its grasp. In addition to an indefinite military presence, the ISG recommends a number of specific steps to tighten controls over Iraqi petroleum and economic policy in favor of corporate oil. It’s simply an elite debate about how best to achieve the common objective, which has nothing to do with the expressed goal of the American people, i.e. to get the hell out of there.
Yet, once the inter-generational/bi-partisan drama of the ISG moment was past and the “intensive” White House policy review was complete, just about any “solution” could be blown down the throat of an election-satisfied public, at least for a while. Provided, that is, the Democratic Party didn’t spoil the scene by speaking any awkward truths, which it hasn’t since it won the elections.
The weather in Iraq is cool now, and we can “accelerate” 20,000 partially trained recruits into on-the-job training under fire while we “extend” the agony of 20,000 more soldiers who have earned their trip home. It’s the perfect time for “surge”. Naturally, the Democrats installed “surge” proponents in the Congressional leadership, ensuring that no one could be blamed later for the likely failure of this “face-saving” operation.
This is not the first time the US has adopted a policy of failure in Iraq. The Salvador Option, reported out of the Pentagon two years ago, involves much more than a network of paramilitary death squads attacking the popular insurgency. It is also a known recipe for extremely bloody civil war, as demonstrated in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras, to name a few.
When the Salvador Option is invoked, it is an admission that the “battle for hearts and minds” is lost. Once it is triggered, the victim nation will be subjected to an indefinite reign of terror until it “comes to its senses” and accepts “international standards”.
Bishops may be assassinated while saying Mass. Nuns may be raped, tortured, murdered, and mutilated. Native Indians may be murdered by the tens of thousands. Anything goes. Meanwhile, the diplomatic, economic, and intelligence meddling will continue unabated, and the American public will eat a parade of stories about new “peace plans” and “early exit” strategies. That is the history of the Salvador Option.
It is a policy of winning while losing. It is reminiscent in a general way of Nixon’s “plan to end the war”, which merely led to another “surge” for victory involving the apocalyptic carpet-bombing of Cambodia and Vietnam. Five years after America voted for his “secret” plan, Nixon resigned in disgrace. But the US military was still in Vietnam, “training its replacements”.
The sober lesson to be drawn is that, in the eyes of US policy makers, any amount of pointless suffering and death is preferable to an admission of defeat. Even the symbolic defeat involved in bringing the troops home “before their mission is complete” is deemed unacceptable, as a political risk, as a return on investment, and as a matter of imperial strategy, especially at this “moment of perceived weakness”.
The deaths of 650,000 Iraqis and the destruction of their country have not perceptibly altered the thinking in Washington. More chaos is on the way, in part because we sustain our deterrent power by proving that we are willing to fail until we win. We are even willing to earn the universal hatred of the population because, the confident strategist would assure us, ‘by the time they get fed up with killing each other, they’ll be begging us to settle their disputes.’
Is US influence waning in the Middle East? According to the rules of the previous state of affairs, it certainly is. In the history of US interventions and occupations, however, influence assumes a variety of forms. When the levers of good will and popular propaganda have been exhausted, the battle for influence has just begun.