Why Can’t American Troops Just Leave Iraq?

W.J. Astore

The Biden administration says it wants to remove U.S. combat troops from Iraq. Hooray! Mission finally accomplished, right? It may be 18 years after George W. Bush declared it to be so, but who’s counting the years?

Not so fast. For President Biden still wants to keep roughly 2000 or so U.S. troops in Iraq for training and advisory purposes. So much for mission accomplished.

Why can’t U.S. troops just leave — for good? If Iraq can’t defend itself after nearly two decades of U.S. “training” in the war on terror, maybe it’s finally time to admit our limits (or our folly) and simply leave.

It almost seems like America’s system of “defense” is an imperial project — an effort to enlarge American power at almost any cost (and the Iraq war has cost America in the trillions of dollars).

This is the telling argument of Tom Engelhardt’s latest post at TomDispatch.com. The U.S. is the empire that dare not speak its name, even as it begins to collapse due to perpetual war externally and perpetual rancor internally. And, believe me, as former President Trump would say, those two are related. He should know, given how he tapped that rancor and aggravated it for his own purposes.

Here’s an excerpt from Engelhardt’s latest, where he points out what might be termed the Pentagon Paradox: The more America’s generals fail, the more they succeed (more money, more promotions, more power):

Still, let’s face it, this isn’t the set of conflicts that, once upon a time, involved invasions, massive air strikes, occupations, the killing of staggering numbers of civilians, widespread drone attacks, the disruption of whole countries, the uprooting and displacement of more than 37 million people, the deployment at one point of 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan alone, and the spending of untold trillions of American taxpayer dollars, all in the name of fighting terror and spreading democracy. And think of it as mission (un)accomplished in the truest sense imaginable.

In fact, that idea of spreading of democracy didn’t really outlast the Bush years. Ever since, there’s been remarkably little discussion in official Washington about what this country was really doing as it warred across significant parts of the planet. Yes, those two decades of conflict, those “forever wars,” as they came to be called first by critics and then by anyone in sight, are at least winding, or perhaps spiraling, down — and yet, here’s the strange thing: Wouldn’t you think that, as they ended in visible failure, the Pentagon’s stock might also be falling? Oddly enough, though, in the wake of all those years of losing wars, it’s still rising. The Pentagon budget only heads ever more for the stratosphere as foreign policy “pivots” from the Greater Middle East to Asia (and Russia and the Arctic and, well, anywhere but those places where terror groups still roam).

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In other words, when it comes to the U.S. military as it tries to leave its forever wars in someone else’s ditch, failure is the new success story.

And how! Maybe we need a new saying in America: Nothing succeeds like failure. It’s truly paradoxical until you realize that someone is always winning and profiting from this failure, even as the rest of America suffers.

Engelhardt’s book above has a well-judged title: “A Nation Unmade By War.” But perhaps we can improve it? How about “An Empire Unmade By War”?

45 thoughts on “Why Can’t American Troops Just Leave Iraq?

  1. File this under “Militarism in America”:

    The Senate Armed Services Committee voted to increase Biden’s proposed defense budget for 2022 by $25 billion. Progressive advocacy groups, including the Friends Committee on National Legislation, criticized the spending increase. At the very minimum, an end to the war in Afghanistan should bring a significant peace dividend, and not be replaced by expensive and unnecessary new weapons and preparations for new wars,” said FCNL’s Diana Ohlbaum. [BusinessWire / Timothy McHugh]

    Ha ha! Wars end and war funding goes up! Truly a FUBB moment (f*cked up beyond belief).

    Liked by 2 people

        1. Sorry. I left out the adverb, as in “Fucked Up Badly, As Required.”

          Control — which has facilitated the intimidation and long term looting — of the U.S. citizenry requires (the haunting specter of) “war” as the Global Corporate Oligarchy’s operative paradigm. As Sheldon explained in Democracy, Incorporated (2008):

          “… what attracted decision-makers to choosing ‘war’ is that Americans of the twentieth century had no direct experience of it and hence were receptive to having warfare imagined for them – and Hollywood happily obliged with ‘war movies.’ Save for actual combatants sent overseas and economic shortages at home, World War II was unexperienced. After 1945 ‘war’ was a tabula rasa on which opinion-makers and government decision-makers were free to constitute its meaning in terms that pretty much suited their purposes, allowing them to set the character of public debate and to acquire a vastly enlarged range of governmental powers – powers that, when they did not violate the Constitution, deformed it. … The meaning of war was given a plasticity that allowed the new image-makers to set its parameters as they pleased.”

          The American public overwhelmingly has no first-hand knowledge of war and so the transnational ruling class has only to offer them vicarious film and television “experience” as an easily fabricated substitute. In the United States — or North American Marketing Territory — theatricality alone provides the essential basis for control and exploitation of a willingly captive — and paying — audience.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. It does seem as if we’re eternally refighting an image of World War II, e.g. Saddam Hussein as “the new Hitler.”

            Too bad that most Americans don’t know that it was the Soviet Union that was most responsible for Hitler’s defeat. But, you know, Putin bad.

            Liked by 1 person

          2. one cannot subscribe to the psychological ambit of the audience’s being controlled and exploited, michael, when everyone has the option of turning off her/his electronic-drug machine, or defenestrating the lot altogether into the nearest trash tip. no one is forced to view the MSM/netflix’s pourriture. we all have choices in that regard, but the electronic drug is too prevalent and omnipotent, i fear, to sink back into the swamp where it belongs.

            Liked by 1 person

    1. I just got into Frantz Fannon’s, Wretched of the Earth. He wrote it in 1961 and was bemoaning the largess of the military budgets of the colonizing nations. He spoke out a warning all those years ago about the atomic powers foolish spending; and the harm such investments caused to the colonized nations, all those years ago! If a body can actually turn over in it’s grave; I would imagine he just had the other side install a rotisserie device on his casket.
      I was thinking about the length of these modern campaigns; and…. I wonder how individual portfolios for the military brass have grown after they mustered out and into the weapons manufacturing avenues of personal wealth enhancement at the taxpayers expense? Has there ever been a study? Could be the reason nobody ever leaves the war zones…. maybe those aren’t actual fighting military personnel ; maybe we just left a small contingent of arms dealers to keep the economy humming.

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  2. Everybody here stateside says that we the US can’t do ‘nation-building’–whatever that is, as ‘nation-building’ is one of those universally accepted hypothetical construction things that never gets explained you know*–but hey, look here–we, the world’s largest and most technically advanced military power, we can’t build militaries, either. I gotta admit, I’m impressed with this sort of thinking–after failing to build militaries in South Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Nicaragua, Angola, Afghanistan, Syria, you name the place–we’ve come to the pass where we look at our generation of failure in Iraq and decide that maybe the solution is another generation more of it, like maybe the grandkids there might get it you know. Seems to me that the cryingly out in the open yet totally permanently unmentioned question is just how blind we here in the US are to something this obvious. How badly broken and failing our politics, journalism, and brain trades are to wilfully ignore this obviousness the way they have for this long.

    The complete failure of our achieving any of our stated, much less any worthwhile, objective from our military involvement in those parts, and our country’s unwillingness to face up to that fact, that’s the story. Things are mighty damned broken here for that to be the case.

    *Hell I went to a major university. There never were any courses in ‘nation-building’ in the Government department, nor any over at the LBJ school either. Don’t recall any card catalog listings for books in the library on the subject. Maybe it is time we stopped using this euphemism for what it really is– our strongarming countries into doing what we want them to do when they don’t want to do it.

    Best– Dan


    Liked by 2 people

    1. Well put, Dan. As you know, the politicians and the press are bought off. Just about all of them are compromised, and some are just plain corrupt.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. In issuing the sentence, US District Judge Liam O’Grady cited the need to deter others from disclosing government secrets and told Hale that he had other options besides sharing classified information with a reporter.

        “You are not being prosecuted for speaking out about the drone program killing innocent people,” said O’Grady. “You could have been a whistleblower … without taking any of these documents.”

        Your “honor” sir,
        Since DARPA invented the internet communications platform; and controls all of it’s levers. Would it be fair to speculate, sir, that if Daniel did raise his objections to the drone death program through internal channels; might not DARPA use some of it’s billion dollar information budget to hire a private PR firm to create a propaganda narrative that would alter the truth of Daniel Hale’s testimony. Would it be fair to say that by the time the hired propaganda press got done telling us their scrubbed version of the truth, sir, that nobody who didn’t deserve to die died.?????
        Be careful speaking the truth in this country… You might just get locked up for 4 years. Just like the
        Daniel “The Truth” Hale did.
        Judge O’Grady was last seen tucking himself back into his handlers back pocket for a well deserved rest. BOOOOO!!!!!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Yes, the judge’s words were total BS. That’s like saying Daniel Ellsberg could have spoken out about the Vietnam War without leaking the Pentagon papers. Yes — except the idea was to inform the American people so that all the killing would finally be brought to an end.

          The judge needs to ask: Why are these documents classified? Is it really for national security, or is it CYA? When the government lies, when the government covers up those lies, what choice does an honorable person have other than to reveal those lies? Of course, we know most people don’t speak out precisely because they don’t want to go to prison for four years. Hence the sentence.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. All great points. This treatment of Daniel is most disturbing and just mangles the heart. It’s a pain filled journey that was set in motion from the inventors of drone technology that just keeps delivering horrific views of the territory we find ourselves trying to navigate. Everything about this seems inverted and hopefully Daniel will become whole and stand tall inside himself. He is an exceptional and one rare soul. Like you said…. not many are willing to venture into the territory he chose to navigate.

            Liked by 1 person

      1. not at all, denise. indeed, the US’ decline from its empire-building obsessions is a welcome prospect that i would be privileged to embrace, tho’ regrettably, i will not live long enough to witness its fruition. the rhetorical interrogative is, “will they ever learn?” as joan baez’s 1960’s ballad repines. as a flaming pyrrhonist, i vaticinate that no, they will not, no matter how many gifted, courageous, and honourable hedges follow in this remarkable investigative war journalist’s wake.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. The prospect terrifies ME. Save for the uber-wealthy, the entire population will be trapped in a nation convulsing as it collapses. Mass poverty, out-of-control inflation, the imposition of a police state, deadly struggles over resources….it will be hell on earth. Totally what we deserve, to be sure, as it’s what we’ve inflicted on other countries, but tens of millions of innocents here will suffer the consequences of the U.S.’ hubris. All the people who’ve protested wars, those who’ve worked for civil rights, who’ve fed the hungry, who’ve voted over and over for progressive values, all will be in the same boat, not to mention the multitudes of creatures who will be destroyed.

          Also, the fall of the U.S. will have a ripple effect, damaging or bringing down its trade partners and countries which benefit from U.S. aid. Yes, U.S. war depredations will end, an undeniable good. Other associated effects won’t be as positive.


          1. But don’t you think it is growth in itself that is going to be the world’s undoing? Questioned even less than the obscene US military budget is the accepted wisdom that economic growth is the answer to all things. It isn’t just the MIC that wants to grow, it’s every business.

            We all accept that there is no perpetual motion machine, but what should be even more clear to any thinking person is there can be no infinite growth. From the starving farmer in Africa who would like a hut that doesn’t leak water from the roof to Jeff Bezos who yearns for more profit by playing with spaceships, it is the rare individual who doesn’t dream of having more. As I ride my bicycle I marvel at people driving 400 horsepower Porsches and such in city traffic where it is impossible to average more than 22mph. I can do half of that on the bicycle.

            The problem is us, and our economic system that is designed to goad us ever onward to more, be it via billboards, radio, TV or the movies. Congress, bought as it is, is an instrument to promote this. The ride has been exhilarating and a fierce but fruitless fight to maintain it will intensify until the modern lifestyle is impossible to maintain.

            Liked by 2 people

            1. You’re absolutely right, Clif. There’s no such thing as infinite growth in a finite world. It has become a zero-sum game as we’ve reached capacity on multiple fronts. Perhaps the worst growth of all is that of population.


          2. Yes, we need conservation and preservation, not more growth. But it’s a lot easier to monetize growth.

            Plus Americans are sold on the idea that conservation and preservation are bad — living like a socialist European. Don’t tell me I can’t have more — this is America!

            Liked by 1 person

            1. I think Americans generally support the idea of preserving, say, historic buildings and sites, and conserving, say, national parks, but when it comes down to either the costs for the above, OR doing without in the name of conserving resources overall, well….that’s a whole ‘nother story.


          3. as you repine, denise, however, such is the ultimate outcome of dynamic evolutionary processes which will relentlessly, inexorably proceed apace… and will do so w/ or w/out our species’ foibles, idiocies, hubris, accomplishments, and noble deeds. eventually, as w/ 98.7% of all species who have ever gained regnancy on this planet, our species will fade into oblivion… the good samaritans and sadly misguided notwithstanding. devolution, demise, and death inevitably perpetuate neoteric singularities, the forms of which will not likely be witnessed by H.s.s… ‘Homo sapiens sapiens’. we are long past our sell-by date: ask the fauna and flora of forests, rivers, and seas struggling to survive the damage we have wreaked across nearly every hypaethral habitat they occupy.

            Liked by 1 person

          4. Jeanie, you are like Chris Hedges…probably right, but not leaving any room for hope. Not to say you and he don’t need to be heard. It surely would be wonderful if we of the species that forged far ahead intellectually and discovered the power of reason would also be able to reflect on our own emotionally driven behavior and save the day. Directing ourselves to preserving what we can of the planet with the same dedication that we fought WW2 would be a wonderful thing. I have to admit there is little to indicate this will happen.

            The critical difference is that war impressively demonstrates destruction and directly, immediately threatens survival. Mother Nature works gradually allowing us to pretend all is well and, in our immediate environment, not see that it isn’t. Even the wildfires in the west are well away from the big population centers. Imagine those fires going through LA or SF! Maybe the smoke will be enough, but look at the earthquake threat…is there a rush to move away before the big one? Is anyone not taking a flight because of the CO2?

            I’ve been checking on gas vs electric dryers. Electric is preferred environmentally because there is a good chance the electric utility is generating power in some degree from renewables. So I looked at the statistics for sales of clothes dryers. It shows people are almost on a stampede to buy those using gas in the statistics the end in 2019. Community curbside recycling is an inefficient, malfunctioning joke with no change on the horizon. Only 25% of plastic bottles get recycled.

            Ok, Jeanie, I’m ready to join your club.


            1. joining the nihilist club, clif9710, becomes more facile in its incunambulist ‘enswaddlement’ as one flies at warp-speed toward the end. if you are an atheistic octogenarian or beyond, you will understand, if not empathize w/, those of us who embrace ‘H.s.s.’ ‘s funereal, long-overdue goodbye. if reincarnation is an option, one might ‘hope’ that s-/he/it’s molecular structures could remix and recrudesce into a favoured life form, such as, for me, a cephalopod or a cetacean. nonetheless, it is a chimeric fantasy, as they will be, too prematurely, the stuff of myths and legends. b/c chris hedges is a god-daddy be’lie’ver [luv the paronomasia of that ‘lie’ meme at the core of believe], i suspect he has no compunction about embracing the end-amen mis-en-scène.


              1. I understand that every species has a limited lifespan. However, I can’t retain any equanimity at the thought that, if humans destroy the planet sooner rather than later, we’ll take uncounted non-human creatures with us, beings who would be cheated of lives rightfully theirs.


                1. a noteworthy and insightful response from a noteworthy and insightful consociate animal and plant promoter. thank you denise. if we were all pantheists, our species might be more proactively dedicated to preserving all who/which share the ever-shrinking resources of our remarkable gaia’s diverse ecosystems, most of which we have whacked off their axial balances due to our self-serving esurience and arrogance.

                  the cacodemons are laughing all the way to their banks, offshore accounts, islands-in-the-sun, tax havens, yachts, and the MIC killing fields they are never required to enter but deign to permit an oeillade on their electronic screens now and then.

                  Liked by 1 person

  3. I love how we always want to stay to provide “training” until our favored fighters can stand on their own. Decades of training but it is never enough. Who the hell is training the terrorists/insurgents/rebels? Everytime I see footage of them, they are running around in Toyota pickups with RPGs and AK-47’s and a canvas bag full rice or beans or whatever. I know it is more complicated than that but this never ending training is just bullshit.

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  4. is it a too naive to assume there are more readers to your timely, concise, and condign blog, WJA, than would appear to be the case given the dearth of diverse responders in the comments section? please no! your blog should be required reading in every US classroom. it should occupy the slot for reciting the standard pledge-of-allegiance-to-the-flag’s poppycock.

    a PS to clif9710: one should abandon his/her dryer altogether; no need to make a choice between gas or electric. instead, 2 changes of clothing, towels, washrags, and bedsheets are all anyone needs. after washing by hand in a washtub, the wet items can be hung on a line for drying, inside or outside, depending on the weather. here in the tropics of mindoro island, we don our sarongs when still damp to help cool our bodies, thus obviating the need for fans or air conditioners. even during our years in arctic climes, 130 clix north of the arctic circle, our 7 bantlings helped hang our wet clothes on the line outside in -40 celsius temperatures, after which they would shake all the ice crystals out till the clothes were bone-dry.


    1. Never had a dryer growing up. My parents hung the clothes out to dry; if it was too wet or cold, they were hung in the basement or even the kitchen on occasion.

      The good old days?


  5. The Romans had the “Pax Romana,” there are those who would claim there was at times a “Pax Britannica,” on which the Sun never set. And I’ve heard of “The American Century” and “the Greatest Generation” but nary a word of a “Pax Americana.”
    I’m afraid that’s all I’ve got at the moment, folks. In the words of Alfred Doolittle, “I puts it to you, and I leaves it to you.”


    1. I haven’t looked it up, so if I’m in error, mea culpa, but if memory serves, the pax Romana was said to prevail after the Roman’s had subdued much of Europe and North Africa. Pax Americana doesn’t exist because the U.S. is still in conquering mode.


      1. Quite true, Denise. But there were “benefits” to the Pax Romana: roads, aqueducts, a legal code, and protection from other warring tribes (no, I haven’t forgotten slavery, taxes, or conscription as “auxiliaries”). I think the Marshall Plan was a step in the direction of turning Europe into a giant “garrison town” (“we’ll fund & rebuild everything, in return you’ll see & do things our way, house our troops and help keep the Commies at bay”). But since then – especially since the fall of the “Evil Empire” – US foreign policy/military operations would seem to be conducted more in the spirit of Genghis Khan.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. I have to commend JerryS (July 27, 2021 at 9:30 PM) for calling “Bullshit!” on the word-like noise “training” as employed in the context of endless U.S. military adventurism in foreign lands far distant from any relationship to the security of the United States and its people. Bravo.

    I can appreciate the common-sense frustration inherent in the comment, but the well-chosen and appropriate epithet, by itself, does not explicate what the purposefully confusing rhetoric means in practice. The American public mistakenly believes that “training” means teaching someone to perform an activity independently so that they no longer require further commentary, suggestions, or advice from anyone else. In other words: “training” results in the trained “standing on their own,” so to speak. This more or less works with American enlisted personnel trained by other Americans over several months of “Basic Training,” which, in essence, amounts to “Hurry up and Wait” and “Nobody cares what you think. If the Navy wants to know what you think, the Navy will tell you what you think.” That sort of thing.

    But in actual practice with Americans training foreign vassal military forces, a sort of reverse Pavlov’s Conditioned Response takes place. Consider the following metaphorical illustration:

    American military “Trainer”: If I ring this bell every time I feed this dog, the dog will learn to drool in anticipation of another meal.

    Foreign “Trained” Dog: If I drool just a little bit, an American military trainer will supply me with a meal and some music to go along with it.

    Also precisely relevant to the current disintegrating situation in Afghanistan (if not Iraq, too) Chris Hedges in his book Death of the Liberal Class (2010) explains the actual nature of this U.S. military “training” for the Afghan Army (ANA):

    “The real purpose of American advisers assigned to ANA units, however, is not ultimately to train Afghans but rather to function as liaisons between Afghani units and American firepower and logistics. The ANA is unable to integrate ground units with artillery and air support. It has no functioning supply system. It depends on the U.S. military to do basic tasks. The United States even pays the bulk of ANA salaries.”

    I hope this clears up some of the misunderstanding that results from the U.S. military (and its attendant corporate camp followers) using the word-like noise “training” in a deliberately deceptive manner so as to obscure the true nature of their actual — and woefully inept — activities and results.


    1. Yes. Good point, Mike. Dependency, or perhaps even addiction to American “training,” is the name of the game. But these foreign forces do provide a scapegoat when they inevitably fold in action, handing their weapons to the other side; and if that fails, U.S. generals can always blame the antiwar movement or the Democrats or someone other than themselves. And the beatdown goes on …

      Liked by 1 person

  7. This morning I revisited “Predator” whilst enjoying my toast, tea, and orange juice. At one point early in the action, a character – who is already having misgivings and has good reason to suspect the mission plan is as phony as a 3-dollar bill – asks The Arnold, “Do you remember Afghanistan?”
    The Arnold replies, “I’m trying to forget it.”
    “Predator” – a work of fiction – was made in 1987.
    But I’d be willing to bet maybe 30% of next month’s Social Security that’s already the prevailing mood inside The Pentagram. By the end of the year, lower echelons will smilingly claim, “Afghanistan? That was so long ago I’ve forgotten all about it.”
    The upper echelons will blame it on spineless politicians, the lack of public support, and their predecessors, who didn’t fully appreciate what was going on. “But if I’d been running that show, things would have been different, you betcher star-spangled ass.”
    That’s where you really win wars – in retrospect.

    Liked by 2 people

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