George Packer’s “Planning for Defeat”

An Analysis of a Plea for Occupation

The journalist George Packer has an article (“Planning for Defeat”) about the situation in Iraq in the September 17, 2007 issue of The New Yorker. It is very informative, but unfortunately, veers from reportage into advocacy, and not just any advocacy, but advocacy of placing Iraq under semi-permanent military occupation by the US — in fact making it an economic colony of American capitalism.

Additional information:

*8 million Iraqis require emergency aid

*About one-fourth of Iraqi children are malnourished

*5 million Iraqis depend on the country’s food rationing system; only 3 million have reliable access to it

*3 to 4 million Iraqis are internally or internationally displaced

*80% of Iraqis lack effective sanitation

*70% lack sanitary water

*50% unemployment

*12,000 doctors have left Iraq due to the violence

— From the United Nations, International Red Crescent, Oxfam, IRIN News, United for Peace and Justice

I relate some pertinent facts about the current situation in Iraq from Packer’s article, then present my justifications for the above conclusion. He tells us that Moqtada al-Sadr (the Mahdi Army, a fearsome and powerful Shia militia is loyal to him) is “perhaps the most important political figure” in the country. A most interesting observation considering that the US has spent four years fighting in Iraq, and spent billions of dollars trying to undermine him. At one time Bush and his generals even talked about “arresting” him. The dreams of a paper tiger!

Packer’s article appeared before the Petraeus-Crocker farce was performed on Capitol Hill (and for Fox News) last week. He reported that everyone concerned knew in advance what they were going to say, namely “military progress, a political stalemate among Iraqis, more time needed.” He got that right.

Packer, who has been to Iraq, and whose New Yorker connections has given him access to the high and mighty, is in a position to tell us what the insider thinking is about Iraq, as opposed to the pabulum dished up in the mass popular media, And that is, with reference to the “military progress” that “the inadequacy of the surge is already clear, if one honestly assesses the daily lives of the Iraqis.” The fact that the surge is being touted by Bush, the Republicans, most of the press, and of course Petraeus (the new Westmoreland) is because none of them ultimately give a hoot about the daily lives of the Iraqis.

And, as any freshman ROTC student could tell Petraeus, when an incompetent, but highly armed conventional army floods an area, the insurgency melts away only to return after the invading troops have shot their wad. Thus, Packer writes, “The militias, which have become less conspicuous as they wait out the surge, are nevertheless growing in strength….”

The surge and heightened troop levels cannot be maintained. Special advisors to Gen. George Casey (Army chief of staff) have “estimated that the number of soldiers and marines who can be kept in Iraq into 2009 will be, at a maximum, a hundred and thirty thousand.” That is pre-surge level. They will be facing, if what Packer said is correct about the growing power of the militias, an even more formidable insurgency that will emerge. Then, the boys playing soldier at the Pentagon will have even more problems.

Packer next discusses a report entitled “Phased Transition” put out by a think tank called the Center for a New American Security, which he calls “center-left.” Only in America would this right wing pro-imperialist outfit be nominated “center-left.”

It argues for a reduction of troops to 60,000 by 2009 and a “complete withdrawal by 2012. Thus not only would Iraq be the subject for next year’s presidential election, but the next one after that as well. How long is Bush’s albatross to be us?

The purpose of this timetable is to allow us to train the Iraqis to take care of themselves. This is an old refrain and we have already seen how likely it is that the comprador group we placed in power is likely to pull this off.

Packer talked to Colin Kahl who teaches “security studies” at Georgetown and helped write the report. “Kahl argued, President Bush needs to be forced to compromise now, or else the war will end in a precipitate, chaotic flight.”

He then quotes Kahl directly, “If Bush keeps the pedal on the surge until the end of his Presidency, we will rocket off the cliff, and it guarantees that the next President will get elected on a pledge to get us out of Iraq now.” But that is just what the left, and I would argue, everyone who has the real interests of the American people at heart and is not a shill for the big corporations, wants. Not a rocket off a cliff, but a pledge to get us out of Iraq now. Perhaps, however, rocketing off a cliff would be less costly in terms of human life and the erosion of our own values through this mindless warmongering of the Republicans and their allies than prolonging the agony of defeat another four years.

The President and his general are telling us that the surge is working, especially in Anbar province where the Sunnis are “working with us.” But, Packer points out, “without a functioning state in Iraq, U.S. support of these Sunni forces could easily lead to renewed violence and warlordism.”

That the Iraqi “state” is nonfunctioning, a joke really, was recently demonstrated when it attempted to expel the U.S. State Department’s murderous mercenary private army, Blackwater, from the country. One phone call from Condoleezza Rice put Prime Minister al-Malaki in his place and let him know who really runs the show in Iraq: Blackwater stays.

So, what are the options for solving the problems we have created for ourselves and the Iraqis by Bush’s criminal intervention. Since Congress won’t impeach him and turn him and his accomplices over to an international war crimes tribunal and then pay for the reconstruction of Iraq and compensate the Iraqi victims of this mass murderers assault upon them (the only just solution), some less satisfying resolution is necessary.

How about “partition”? This is Senator Biden’s solution. He thinks he is playing Risk. “But,” Packer reminds us, “the idea of partition can’t be imposed by outsiders [sorry Senator] and, so far, has no support from Iraqis [except the Kurdish minority].”

There has been a positive development, from the secular point of view. That is that “Civil war and sectarian rule have tarnished the prestige of religious parties and increased the appeal of a nonsectarian government.” One of the weaknesses of this article is the lack of any comprehensive discussion of the role of the labor movement, or the Communist Party and other secular forces (the women’s movement for example) in the current struggle to rid the country of the illegal occupation.

But what if there is no good way to exit Iraq? What it the choice is either build up more troops and fight to the finish, or immediate withdrawal a la our flight from Saigon and the rest of Vietnam? Packer quotes Stephen Biddle (Council of Foreign Relations) who says all the step by step withdrawal plans involve a reduction of combat forces, but it is our forces that are protecting us and “capping violence around the country” so gradual withdrawal “means that the violence is only going to increase.” This increase will fuel demands to just get out entirely. So why not just “do it sooner” and save all the lives that would be lost in the meantime. An excellent argument for an immediate withdrawal.

Packer also gives us the opinions of David Kilcullen who was an advisor on General Petraeus’s staff. The issue for him is “What do we want Iraq to look like” once we are on the way out and finally gone. The question shows the problem of imperialism. It doesn’t matter what we want. Its up to the Iraqis to do what they want.

As long as we are in the “we want” mode the killing will go on. Kilcullen also participated in a “strategic-assessment team” (these people have no idea what they are doing) that at least put the lie to Bush’s version of what is going on in Iraq (democracy and freedom). The team decided that we should work, over the next two years, on attaining “sustainable security” but it also appears that most of the team “believed that it was too late to achieve this goal.” Nice.

We must work for “core American interests” in Iraq. Kilcullen lists six that he gave to the State Department and White House. We are really in a bad way if they hadn’t figured these out on their own. They are all either outrageous and/or ridiculous and are unattainable because of the war not attainable as a result of it. Here they are, with suitable comments of my own.

1. Keep the oil and gas flowing. The real purpose of the war — to steal the Iraqi oil, as even Greenspan now tacitly admits. It will flow after we leave.

2. No safe haven for Al Qaeda. The evidence is that Iraqis will get rid of Al Qaeda on their own. Al Qaeda gets more powerful because we are in Iraq.

3. Contain Iranian influence. Forget it.

4. Prevent a Rwanda scale humanitarian catastrophe. He’s got to be kidding. We have already caused a humanitarian catastrophe that is greater that Rwanda.

5. Restore American credibility. Get out of Iraq, stop threatening Iran, and put the screws on Israel until it makes an honest deal with the Palestinians, gets out the West Bank, and returns the Golan Heights. Otherwise, forget it.

At this point in his article Packer ceases to be a reporter and becomes an advocate for the failed imperialist policies of US monopoly capitalism. He also, if he really believes what he says, shows he has learned nothing about the causes and consequences of US policy.

“The notion,” he writes, “that Iraq and the Middle East will be more stable without an American occupation, as the Center for American Progress claims, misunderstands the role that America has come to play in Iraq: as a brake on the violent forces let loose by the war.”

Let me get this right. The US starts the war, it becomes violent, and the US is the brake to stop the violence. Mr. Packer should be a contestant on “Do You Know More than a Fifth Grader.” But he better not take the Middle East as one of his subjects. This is the argument the Germans gave after taking over Poland and other areas of Europe. Gott in Himmel, we can’t leave now, look at the violence that would breakout.

If we don’t remain an occupier, Packer says, “Iraq’s predatory neighbors will take advantage of the power vacuum to pursue their own interests.” Well, all the neighbors have said, and it is objectively true, that their best interests would be a free, independent and stable Iraq free of a foreign occupation. The only predator is the US who has invaded and taken over (or is still trying to) a country in a, lets hope, vain attempt to control its oil and set up a government to its liking regardless of the interests and desires of the people.

It is incredible both that Packer can advocate for such a brazen criminal continuation of war and murder and that The New Yorker would give him the pages to do so.

Packer also says, “the burden of proof lies on anyone who claims that Iraqis without Americans around won’t be substantially worse off and might even fare better.” This simple minded attempt to shift “the burden of proof” away from the warmongers to the peace movement and the critics of Bush’s folly won’t stand up.

The millions of Iraqi dead and wounded, the displacement of millions more as both internal and external refugees, the destruction of the country’s infrastructure, its medical and educational systems, the barbarous treatment of the civilian population by the occupation forces and its mercenary contingents, the attempts to privatize and loot its natural resources, the creation of sectarian violence, the murder of hundreds of thousands of its children, all this is the gift of the Americans and the continued occupation promises more of the same.

In the face of this The New Yorker has the cheek, and the moral insensitivity to publish an article that says that those who advocate peace and the cessation of war and occupation “have the burden of proof” that the Iraqi people would be better off without us. Well, just ask them. Every poll shows they want us gone, one way or the other gone, and they don’t want to be occupied. There has never been an imperialist power that didn’t think the “natives” were better off under its control than on their own.

Packer could care less for the Iraqi people. What is important is that “Iraq still matters to the United States, whoever is in the White House, and it will for years to come.” The reason? Iraq sits “in the geographical heart of the Middle East, on top of all that oil”– don’t forget that OIL (we want it desperately — it should be ours). Oh yes, there is “radicalism” too. Where does that come from? Could people be radical because we occupy their country? Let’s occupy their country to prevent radicalism.

Packer knows all of this by the way. But national (corporate) interest will out. “Whenever,” he writes, “this country decides that the bloody experience in Iraq requires the departure of American troops, complete disengagement [Iraqis be damned!] will be neither desirable nor possible [!]. We might want to be rid of Iraq, but Iraq won’t let it happened.” Not as long as it is “on top of all that oil.”

Thomas Riggins is currently the associate editor of Political Affairs online. Read other articles by Thomas.

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  1. Max Shields said on September 20th, 2007 at 9:12am #

    Packard another very dangerous man with a massive megaphone ala Thomas Friedman.