[Marxism] Gilbert Achcar rejoinder to Juan Cole on his opposition to Out Now

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Tue Aug 23 07:52:26 MDT 2005


Achcar on Cole Proposals for Withdrawal of US Ground Troops

     ' Dear Juan,

     As a regular reader and occasional contributor to your blog, which I 
believe is doing a real service to all those concerned with the situation 
in Iraq, and as an activist in the antiwar movement, I feel it necessary to 
comment on your last piece of argumentation posted today, August 22, 2005, 
where you argue at length against the “US Out Now” position. I was 
surprised to see that, on this score, you are quite a bit softer toward the 
US occupation of Iraq than Andrew Bacevich, whose piece The Washington Post 
ran yesterday.

     The core of your argument is stated from the beginning when you talk 
about “the lid the US military is keeping on what could be a volcano.” 
Using the same “lid” metaphor, I would reply that the lid that the US 
military is keeping on the Iraqi situation is precisely what makes the pot 
boil so dangerously and threaten to explode at any moment.

     You add: “All it would take would be for Sunni Arab guerrillas to 
assassinate Grand Ayatollah Sistani. And, boom.” Agreed: that could 
definitely lead to a disaster. But, aside from the fact that Sistani does 
not rely for his protection on US or any other foreign troops, do you 
seriously believe for one second that, if he were assassinated, the 
presence of US troops would prevent the disaster? You know quite well that, 
not only is this last assumption highly unlikely, but it is also quite 
possible to make the opposite point: that such an explosion in the presence 
of US troops would just make things worse, by greatly increasing the number 
of casualties when the US military resorts to the “conventional” weapons of 
mass destruction that it possesses and has not hesitated to use in cases 
like Fallujah.

     The only hope one could have of avoiding the slide into a full-blown, 
devastating civil war — if Sistani were to be assassinated — is if the 
forces involved in the political process, i.e. those not already involved 
in the low-intensity civil war going on in Iraq, were successful in 
achieving control over their constituencies after an inevitable first 
outburst of anger, by emphasizing that the perpetrators are either the 
Baathists or Zarqawi’s followers or the like, that their objective is 
exactly to ignite a civil war, and that the best reply to that is precisely 
to pay heed to Sistani’s insistence on the necessity of avoiding any kind 
of sectarian war.

     As for the other argument that you make implicitly, namely that the 
presence of US troops in Iraq would prevent the shift from a local civil 
war to “a regional war, drawing in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and 
Turkey,” this too is unconvincing. One could more easily argue that it is 
the very presence of US troops in Iraq, combined with Washington’s 
provocative policy toward Iran and Syria, that threatens very concretely to 
ignite a regional war, with all the consequences that you may imagine, 
including those on the price of oil, the importance of which you underline. 
Isn’t it already quite clear, by the way, that Washington’s saber rattling 
toward Teheran is responsible for a great deal of the recent hike in oil 

     Let me now comment on the “responsible stance” that you advocate in 
the guise of an “exit strategy.” I’ll take up your main arguments:

         1) “US ground troops should be withdrawn ASAP from urban areas as 
a first step. Iraqi police will just have to do the policing. We are no 
good at it. If local militias take over, that is the Iraqi government's 
problem. The prime minister will have to either compromise with the militia 
leaders or send in other Iraqi militias to take them on. Who runs Iraqi 
cities can no longer be a primary concern of the US military

     Strange indeed! If the argument against the “Out Now” position is that 
the withdrawal of the troops ASAP would lead to civil war, everything in 
the above paragraph backfires completely.

     2,3&4) US ground troops would be withdrawn, in a second phase, while 
US air bases would be kept and US air forces used in support of the Iraqi 
government: “we would replicate our tactics in Afghanistan of providing the 
air force for the Northern Alliance infantry and cavalry.” This, you 
believe, “could prevent the outbreak of fullscale war.” And than you add: 
“This way of proceeding, which was opened up by the Afghanistan War of 
2001-2002, and which depends on smart weapons and having allies on the 
ground, is the major difference between today and the Vietnam era, when 
dumb bombs (and even carpet bombing) couldn't have been deployed 
effectively to ensure the enemy did not take or hold substantial territory.”

     First, starting from the end, I am surprised that, whereas you stress 
the difference between Vietnam and Afghanistan, you don’t see the much 
greater one — in terms of the nature of the terrain, of the kind of war 
(urban vs. rural guerilla), etc. — between Afghanistan and Iraq. From the 
military point of view, your suggestion of a replica in Iraq of US support 
to the Northern Alliance troops in Afghanistan is, to be frank, quite 
nonsensical. The proof of the pudding is that, if anything of the kind 
could work in Iraq, I am sure the Pentagon would not have waited until they 
read your blog.

     Second, have you considered that the goal of the Bush administration 
might precisely be to keep US air bases in Iraq for the long haul, and that 
arguments such as yours are very likely to be used to support this goal? 
Keeping in mind the nature of the dominant political forces in Iraq, and 
everything you yourself have written repeatedly about their Iranian 
connections, do you seriously believe that Iraqi majority leaders would 
agree to US air bases remaining in their country after the withdrawal of 
all ground troops? And even if we assumed that to be the case, don’t you 
see that this would be the best recipe for the continuation of the 
“insurgency” and for regional conflicts, for that matter?

         7&8) “The US should demand as a quid pro quo for further help” — 
a. “that elections in Iraq henceforward be held on a district basis so as 
to ensure proper representation in parliament for the Sunni Arab 
provinces.” ; and b. “that the Iraqi government announce an amnesty for all 
former Baath Party members who cannot be proven to have committed serious 
crimes, including crimes against humanity. Former Baathists who have been 
fired from the schools and civil bureaucracy must be reinstated, and no 
further firings are to take place.”

     First of all, let me state clearly that I am resolutely opposed to the 
US government demanding any quid pro quo for “help” it could offer the 
Iraqi authorities: this reminds me of the Godfather’s “offer you can’t 
refuse.” Second, the procedure of Iraqi elections is no more the business 
of the US than that of US elections is the business of Iraq. Third, 
Washington’s imposition of an amnesty for whatever Baathists, aside from 
its reaching the highest degree of cynicism, would be the best way to 
replace the frustration of the “Sunni Arab political elites” that you are 
keen to quench with the frustration of the overwhelming majority of the 
Kurdish and Shia Arab masses and political elites (except Allawi and his 
crowd)! Of course, Washington, with its global arrogance, sees no problem 
with ignoring the basic principles of peoples’ right to self-determination 
and non-interference of a state in the internal affairs of another — both 
inscribed in the UN Charter of which the US is the foremost world violator 
— but surely the antiwar movement shouldn't take a similar position.

     For the rest, I think that Bacevich, a Vietnam veteran himself and 
definitely not a radical, has made very clearly the main commonsensical 
arguments for the call for bringing US troops home now so that I don’t need 
to repeat them here. I am sure, Juan, that you are genuinely seeking to 
elaborate a “responsible stance,” as you call it, which would be in the 
best interest of both the US and Iraqi peoples. I believe, however, that 
you are on the wrong track and hope that you will rethink your stance 
accordingly and join the increasing majority of both populations calling 
for a total and immediate withdrawal of US troops from Iraq.

     With my best regards,

     Gilbert Achcar



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