[Marxism] A "Iraq strategy" for Washington "based on history"

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun May 23 17:59:27 MDT 2004

Here  basically is more "there is no Iraq" theorizing.  The key idea
expressed, although formally in response to a question about the
reluctance of large numbers of Americans to support open colonial
domination, comes toward the end when  this reactionary historian
proclaims "the age of throwing off the colonial yoke is way behind us"
by the devoted hagiographer of British imperialism, Niall Ferguson.  The
45 years of existence of an independent Iraq presents no insuperable
problems for an imperialist power that is truly determined to dominate,
the eminent academic insists.  All it takes is the will to crush the
enemy, and a bit of realism about tactics -- presumably giving up all
the bull about democracy and opposition to torture, etc., and getting on
with the business of winning Iraqi respect by showing that you stand
ready to kill all who are in your way.

This also means dropping or at least firmly containing the whining about
torture, a process that is now definitely underway, and accepting --
with a wink, if not openly -- that such tactics are needed to bring an
unruly people to heel.

This is hallucinatory, but I suspect it is common among military
commanders who are NOT Bushites, and the basic course likely to be
pursued, if he can get away with it, by  a Kerry administration.  It is
also the posture that the Bush administration is being pushed toward by
the defeat of the project of creating an occupied client state with a
democratic, popular façade -- on the assumption that the various classes
of Iraqi would not resist partial recolonization.  

That is why I think it highly unlikely that the current revolt and
breakdown will lead the imperialists to retreat decisively from the
occupation and the effort to dominate Iraq.  More troops, more
determined combat, and more "realistic" goals (drop the democracy crap
and come down on the savages like a ton of bricks) I think are the
consensus solution favored by the dominant sectors of the ruling class
(a coalition of disillusioned Bushites, and the ruling-clas critics of
Bush's "overoptimism" and hyped expectations. It will take a far bigger
and broader upsurge than we have seen   to date to cow the imperialists'
will and need to rule Iraq.

The implicit assumption of types like Gen. Kimmit, who show very little
interest in Bush's favorite institutions,  but are devoted to trying to
maintain the capacity of the killing machines under their command.

But these types share one idea in common with the neocons.  The era of
the struggle for independence among colonial peoples is over, that fight
has now definitively collapsed and cannot revive under any currently
available leadership. The experience of the masses with independence
has been so entirely negative under independence that they will not and
cannot fight to defend their independence the way they fought to win it
-- as long as the imperialists show sufficient determination and

The road is opened for the imperialist powers (with the United States in
the leading position and taking an overwhelming share) to redivide Asia,
Africa, and Latin America among them -- an attempt to which they are
being pressed both by declining profit rates and by instability in these
regions that makes them less reliable suppliers of surplus value
including debt service, discriminatory terms of trade, and other forms
of rent.

This is a concept that tends to represent a point of convergence between
the neocons and one hand and the sectarian socialist sects that insist
that the occupation of Iraq can or should be ended only by a socialist

The Socialist Workers Party, where  I first heard the party's central
leader proclaim "There is no Iraq" after Iraq's defeat in the Gulf War
in 1991, is the tendency of this type I know best for obvious reasons,
although the Spartacist League and even some of the currents emerging
out of the wreckage of the Communist Party of Iraq reflect this trend of
thought. Although "there is no Iraq" never appeared in an adopted
document, despite the fact that it was insisted on with great firmness
by all party leaders as required by the principle of "political
homogeneity." But I have come to the conclusion that it actually guided
the party's response to the aftermath of the successful occupation of
Iraq -- particularly the presentation of resistance to the occupation as
anti-working-class because of the bourgeois nationalist leadership, and
the stance that resistance to the occupation can produce nothing until
Iraqi vanguard workers carry out their assigned task  of building an
SWP-type party.

I believe this convergence of analysis led to their campaign a few
months ago that workers should accept the assessments of Rumsfeld and
Wolfowitz of the war and its success, not the liberals whom they decried
as spreading falsehoods in order to undermine Bush.  "Listen to
Rumsfeld, not the liberals [who, in their view, included all sectors of
the supposedly bourgeois-nationalist antiwar protests]" was the slogan
they insisted on at the time in the Militant and in leaflets distributed
at antiwar demonstrations.

There is no reason to believe their basic assessment of the situation
has changed. If the imperialists are determined, the reactionary
bourgeois-nationalist movement will collapse.  A PROGRESSIVE fight
against the occupation can be waged only in the very distant future --
under unprecedented conditions of US world hegemony and domination that
are an inevitable and necessary preparation for the masses (and thus an
example of the progressive role of capitalism is creating and training
their own gravediggers) -- as a struggle for socialism under communist

I review this sectarian trivia because I have come to realize that ideas
that seemed completely crackpot when coming from what one assumes is a
communist leadership -- like "There is no Iraq!" which never saw the
light of day in the SWP press partly because I (and I assume others with
more influence) openly opposed it -- actually don't come from nowhere in
terms of the real class struggle.  "There is no Iraq!" "There is no
Haiti!" and even for the boldest spirits, "There is no Venezuela! There
is no Cuba!" -- applied to these and other "failed states" is actually
one of the key ideological concepts of the imperialist war drive today.
Fred Feldman

An Iraq strategy based on history 
Newark Star Ledger
Sunday, May 23, 2004
The United States experience in Iraq isn't without precedent. In 1920,
the British -- who came to Iraq, as British Gen. Frederick Stanley Maude
told Iraqis at the time, "as liberators" -- faced a combined Sunni and
Shi'a revolt. Quelling the rebellion took three months and 10,000 Iraqi
lives. When it was over, the British revised their strategy in Iraq,
turning power over to a friendly Iraqi-led government. However, the
British maintained a military presence in Iraq until 1955. 

Historian Niall Ferguson argues that it's time for the United States to
squarely shoulder its own imperial burden. Ferguson is a professor at
New York University, a senior fellow of the Hoover Institution at
Stanford University and author of "Colosssus: The Price of America's
Empire" (Penguin Press). He talked about Iraq with Perspective editor
Deborah Jerome-Cohen. 

Q. Is it useful for the United States to study the British experience in
Iraq as a model for its own policies? 

A. Yes, it's useful because the United States needs to recognize how
difficult Iraq is as a target of nation-building policy. I'm not aware
of any serious discussion in Washington, before going into Iraq, about
the lessons of the British experience. One of most obvious lessons of
that experience is that after the initial military success there might
be insurgency, which at least temporarily could unite Shi'a and Sunni

The British experience shows that it is possible to achieve a transition
to political sovereignty without losing complete control. The British
maintained a presence in Iraq until 1955. But they took aggressive
action in 1920. And it required a long-term commitment of resources.
Iraq is not an easy country to occupy. If one wants to install a
friendly government there, one has to be prepared for long- term
military commitment. 

Q. What happens if, as scheduled, there are elections in early 2005 and
the elected government wants the United States to leave? 

A. Then the United States will leave, as has happened in recent times,
most notably in the Philippines. The United States maintains military
presences when invited. It would hardly be surprising, if you rush into
elections in Iraq, to find that a majority of people wants the United
States out. But the entire notion of democratic revolution in the Middle
East is a utopian one from the point of view of American self-interest. 

The rhetoric of democratic revolution has led the administration beyond
the realm of rational political calculation. It's just not based on
serious historical analysis. By January, there's no way the economic
situation will have improved sufficiently to produce a government
sympathetic to the United States. There's certainly no way that
institutions of civil society will have been established. If you simply
hold elections in an impoverished country without rule of law, history
shows that you don't end up with liberals in power. 

Q. Democracy was never achieved in Iraq, despite a long- term British
commitment. How was democracy achieved in India? 

A. In India, over many years the British laid the foundation for a
parliamentary system. The British involved Indians in British-style
civil service through the 19th century and created a British educational
system to create among Indians a British-style elite. Even then, the
transition to independence was a violent one. If you apply the British
model of gradual Anglicization to Iraq, we're trying to compress the
work of 100 years into two years. 

For a successful democracy, you have to have security and functioning
legal systems. You have to have noncorrupt administration. You have to
have a functioning educational system and a stable and effective press.
It's all very well to hold elections, but if you hold elections
prematurely in an unstable nation, you will not get a liberal democratic

Q. Was the Bush administration's approach to Iraq misguided? 

A. It was irresponsible to embark on regime change without admitting
that it would entail a major effort of national building and without
fully understanding how much it would cost in lives and money. If you're
not prepared to go the distance, which may be measurable in decades,
then you shouldn't attempt such undertakings. 

Q. It was a mistake to go into Iraq altogether? 

A. I argued that regime change was desirable quite awhile ago. Saddam
not only was involved with terrorist organizations but was clearly going
to remain in power indefinitely. The weapons inspection system was duped
by him, so that we had no way of knowing for sure whether or not he had
weapons of mass destruction. Continuing the status quo, with new U.N.
security resolutions on Iraq coming at the rate of one every two years,
was intolerable. Those who advocated containment were not the ones
paying for it. The U.S. and Britain were paying for it. Meanwhile, the
U.N. was keeping Saddam in power through the oil for food program. 

But I wrote a number of pieces before the war, warning that the war
would be easy and the peace much more difficult. British imperial
history shows us that this kind of endeavor takes time, and if your
metric is days, you have a big shock coming. I think the administration
was and to some extent remains wildly unrealistic in its financial and
manpower commitments. I regret that Saddam was ousted in such a way that
a huge opportunity was lost. There was good will there a year ago. We've
let the Iraqis down by not doing a better job of reconstruction. 

Q. Is there any way, at this point, to redeem the situation? 

A. Iraq is not a lost cause. The only real danger is complete loss of
nerve on the part of the U.S. The economic situation in Iraq is better
than the situation in Germany 14 months after the first American troops
crossed the Rhine in 1945. There is still a chance that Iraq can reach
economic and political stabilization. But the United States will have to
have troops in Iraq for some time to come. And I think it would be
disastrous for the United States to walk away. Iraq would probably
collapse into civil war. The only option, if one wants to avoid that, is
to make sure that economic reconstruction advances quickly and that
security is established. 

Troop strength may need to go up. And I think it's advisable for the
United States to make a more explicit financial commitment to
reconstruction. Marshall aid was an important part of the German
miracle, and in Iraq there's a moral and practical argument for that
kind of gesture. 

Q. Given the events at Abu Ghraib and Fallujah, especially, we're faced
with an increasingly hostile Iraqi public. What do we do about that? 

A. No one in the position of occupying power should expect to be loved.
There was tenacious resistance in Germany and Japan to the United States
prior to the final surrender. At first Americans were not welcomed; they
were resented. Had you held elections in Germany soon after the
occupation there would not have been a pro-Western outcome. 

But the American occupation does need to seek respect and credibility,
and both of these things have been lost over the last month. It's hard
to imagine complete repair being achieved after Abu Ghraib. One thing
that would help is a clear admission of just how high up chain of
command responsibility lies. 

The best way of restoring respect and credibility is results rather than
apologies. We shouldn't forget that there are positive achievements of
the occupation. Many parts of Iraq are not in the grip of endemic
violence. There's a misleading impression that Iraq is in a state of
anarchy. In fact, there have been significant improvements in the health
care system and the schooling system. The currency has been reformed.
Economically things are quite a bit better than they were before the
invasion. And remember that a certain amount of low-intensity conflict
comes with the territory in a country like Iraq. What's important is
that after several years, the benefits should outweigh the costs for
Iraqis. That's not inconceivable. 

Q. It's difficult for Americans, whose history begins with the
overthrowing of a colonial power, to assume the position of colonizer. 

A. The days of throwing off the colonial yoke lie way back in time. The
fact is that in its more recent history the United States has staged
occupations of foreign countries around the globe. When it has gone the
distance -- as it did in West Germany, Japan and South Korea -- the
results have been successful. When it has not -- as in the Dominican
Republic or Haiti -- the result has been failure. 

The lesson is: If you want to make a country transform itself, be
prepared for a long and far from cheap commitment. 

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