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).

Buy the Book

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”?

America Doesn’t Have A Foreign Policy, It Has A Business Plan

Business as usual

W.J. Astore

America doesn’t have a foreign policy, it has a business plan, and it’s business as usual in the Biden administration. Joe Biden promised his donors that nothing would fundamentally change in his administration. Kamala Harris said her agenda wasn’t about substantive change. So what we’re getting under the Biden/Harris team is eminently predictable:

  1. More blank checks for Israel, and no recognition of any rights for Palestinians.
  2. A revival of the old Cold War, with China as the leading “threat” but with Russia not forgotten.
  3. Politics subordinated to the military, rather than the military in service of political aims. In brief, military dominance is America’s foreign policy.
  4. Related to (1-3) is dominance of the world’s trade in weapons. The State Department has become a tiny branch of the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex. It’s all about closing arms deals, moving hardware, selling weaponry, making a buck.
  5. Naturally, one of Biden’s first acts as president was to bomb a foreign country, in this case Syria. So presidential!

In Joe Biden, America has a fading and flailing man to lead a fading and flailing empire. In Kamala Harris, America has an example of old wine in new packaging. She’s a woman, she’s Black, she’s South Asian — and she thinks like Hillary Clinton and Henry Kissinger.

Joined at the hip

Remember when Joe Biden said he’d be all about diplomacy? That the power of America’s example would rule over the example of our power? Nice words, but that’s all they’ve been so far. Words.

Two examples where Biden has appeared to offer meaningful change are with Afghanistan and Yemen. With Afghanistan, Biden has promised a complete military withdrawal by 9/11/2021. But does this apply only to combat troops while excluding mercenaries, the CIA, special forces “trainers,” and the like? It’s not yet clear. Plus anything can happen between now and 9/11 for Biden to switch gears and keep some combat troops in place.

With Yemen, Biden made a point about excluding offensive arms sales to Saudi Arabia while still allowing defensive ones. Almost any weapon can be labeled as defensive in nature, so it’s doubtful whether Saudi operations in Yemen will be impacted at all by Biden’s weasel-word policies.

The Biden/Harris foreign policy, such as it is, is retrograde. It’s a return to the Cold War, with an emphasis on new nuclear weapons and larger Pentagon budgets. It’s about global dominance while America at home burns. It’s foolish and stupid yet it will make a few people richer for a few more business cycles.

And thus it’s business as usual in Washington, which is exactly what Biden/Harris were hired for.

Yet Another Wartime President

Enjoy America’s De-escalatory Bombs!

W.J. Astore

Who was the last U.S. president with a reputation for peace?

By bombing Syria this week, Joe Biden has become yet another “wartime” president. Apparently Iranian-backed militias from Iraq operating inside Syria were the intended target of the bombs. Perhaps as many as 22 “militants” were killed in these attacks. Using language that would make Big Brother blush, the Biden administration claimed the attacks aimed “to de-escalate the overall situation in both Eastern Syria and Iraq.”

I’ve heard of precision bombing, but this is the first time I’ve heard of de-escalatory bombing. Naturally, Congress wasn’t consulted.

Along with this provocative and needless act of aggression, the Biden administration is currently weighing its options in Afghanistan. Three options seem to be on the table: withdrawing all U.S. troops and ending the war; prolonging the war indefinitely; and continued “negotiations” with modest increases of those troops. The last option is considered the sober sensible one by Beltway sages. Complete withdrawal after twenty years of turmoil and death is predictably seen as too risky, whereas a wholehearted commitment to generational war in Afghanistan, a la General Petraeus, is seen as politically unpopular, even if the end result of the sober sensible option is exactly that: more war fought in the (false) name of (eventual) peace.

So, under Joe Biden, we have bombing for de-escalation and more war for peace. Again, Biden deserves praise when he promised that nothing would fundamentally change under his administration.

The Bernie Meme

Bernie with Ulysses S. Grant

W.J. Astore

The Bernie Sanders meme has been good fun over the last few days. At an inauguration ceremony where everyone was dressed to the nines, like the rulers of the Capitol in “Hunger Games,” Bernie looked like one of the downtrodden from the districts. He looked like one of us. A no-frills man of the people. And so the photo of him with his practical coat and handmade mittens has caught on exactly because it was real. As Caitlin Johnstone put it,

“This is why something as simple as Bernie Sanders turning up in mittens captured everyone’s hearts and imaginations. It was such a glitch in the whole phony performance and such a nice break from being lied to all the fucking time. We need to give people that experience way more.”

Special Guest Star: Mitten Man

Bernie has already been pushing and pressuring the Biden administration to be more aggressive in helping people suffering in the districts, to use “Hunger Games” terminology. (We’d say “flyover country.”) Meanwhile, back in the Capitol, people were gushing over Michelle Obama’s fashion sense, or Lady Gaga’s inaugural outfit, with its huge golden bird that truly echoed the privileged getups of Capitol denizens (credit to Ron Placone for the Gaga/Hunger Games reference).

CNN was gushing over the splendor of Michelle Obama’s outfit
A full-throated Lady Gaga. If only that golden bird had been a mockingjay.

As Bernie wrote in his recent op-ed:

“In this moment of unprecedented crises, Congress and the Biden administration must respond through unprecedented action. No more business as usual. No more same old, same old.

Democrats, who will now control the White House, the Senate and the House, must summon the courage to demonstrate to the American people that government can effectively and rapidly respond to their pain and anxiety. As the incoming chairman of the Senate budget committee that is exactly what I intend to do.”

Good luck, Mitten Man. We need you now more than ever.

Democrats Win in Georgia — Now What?

Photo by Thomas Cizauskas

W.J. Astore

The Democrats have carried both Senate seats in Georgia, meaning the Senate is now effectively tied at 50-50, eliminating Mitch McConnell as Senate majority leader and leaving it to Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to be the Senate’s tiebreaking vote.

The question is: What will Democrats do with this (very weak) majority? Or, as Greg Laxer put it here, “BUT…do the Dems have sufficient internal discipline to pass any legislation remotely progressive or to seat a SCOTUS nominee deemed controversial?” Good question.

Of course, it’s not just about “internal discipline.” Joe Biden, a mealy-mouthed corporatist, is on the record as saying that nothing will fundamentally change under his administration. I don’t see him or Nancy Pelosi or Chuck Schumer pushing for a progressive agenda. These “leaders” are DINOs, Democrats in name only, and it will be interesting to see if Biden & Co. even come through on their promise to elevate relief checks from $600 to $2000.

I’m glad Democrats won in Georgia, but not because I expect great things and transformative change from them now. Just look at what Obama/Biden produced in 2009 with a “supermajority” in Congress: a bailout for banks and corporations and Romneycare without a public option, later rebranded as Obamacare. Obama/Biden also saw the failed Afghan surge, the Libyan disaster, and a major escalation in drone strikes, among other warmongering acts.

So, why am I glad about Georgia? Because now Biden and Pelosi and Co. can’t blame Mitch McConnell for blocking all their “noble” efforts in the Senate. Now we’ll really see the priorities of Biden/Pelosi laid bare. And they both have very long and strong records of serving elite interests at the expense of regular people.

It’s good to see awful Republican candidates lose in Georgia; even better to see Mitch McConnell removed from his position of power and obstruction. Now what, Democrats? Care to help the poor while ending war? Or will you continue to serve the rich while making war?

These next two years will be interesting indeed. If Democrats don’t go big, they will go home, as in losing both houses of Congress in 2022. If past performance is indicative of future gains and losses, I’m not bullish on Biden/Pelosi producing big gains for Main Street USA. But I’d be happy to be proven wrong.

Biden’s Motto: Same As It Ever Was

Biden: A scold with no vision and no new ideas

W.J. Astore

An old friend and faithful reader sent me this query: Biden’s Defense/National Security Team looks like a tired Obama 2.0 retread. Iran nuclear deal back? Middle East entanglements/deployments suddenly fashionable again? Drone strikes? Russia fixation? Averting eyes from China?

He’s right about the retread. As Biden himself promised to his corporate sponsors, nothing would fundamentally change under his administration. Think about that for a moment. He’s been running for president off and on for 30+ years, and yet when he finally wins, he’s got no vision. None. He just wants to occupy the Oval Office and change nothing.

What’s the point of running for president and being a leader if you want to do nothing? I don’t see the point, but I understand Biden’s corporate sponsors who profit from the status quo. They like America and the way rich people are gaining even more money and power — why change a good thing?

We see this with America’s military-industrial-Congressional complex. A retired general who works for Raytheon is announced as the next “civilian” defense secretary. Men who were for the Iraq war, a disastrous decision that you’d think would be disqualifying, are those who get high positions as national security advisers or as secretary of state. Not a single progressive or skeptical voice against war gets hired, even though the last 20 years of endless wars have been disastrous.

The “defense” budget at $740 billion remains untouchable. It recently passed with strong, veto-proof, bipartisan support in Congress. The main American enemy of the moment is Covid-19 and the collateral damage of deaths, loss of jobs, bankruptcies, and forthcoming evictions and foreclosures, yet Congress can’t pass a stimulus bill to help the working classes. Yet a stimulus bill for weapons makers is easily passed — we just happen to call it the NDAA, or the national defense authorization act.

Remember when there were serious Congressional debates about guns and butter? We settled those in favor of the guns. Domestic issues take a back seat to the need to fund the Pentagon and its global network of bases and installations. We’re so busy exporting money and violence that we don’t even see how we’ve become our own worst enemies.

Biden didn’t have much of a slogan when he ran for president. It was something like “build back better.” It really should have been “same as it ever was,” as in the same “legalized” corruption, the same misguided priorities, and the same stale ideas.

Imagine running for president with no new ideas … forgive me for repeating myself, but how sad is that?