Condoleezza Rice's Neo-colonial Manifesto
by Patrick Seale Released: 13 Jun 2008
In the teeth of much local and regional opposition, Washington is pressuring Iraq's Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki to conclude a "strategic alliance" with the United States, which would allow it to keep substantial military forces in Iraq for the foreseeable future.
Even at the cost of 4,100 of its soldiers killed, another 30,000 or more seriously wounded, its reputation sorely tarnished, and a trillion dollar hole in its public accounts, the United States has clearly not yet learned the lesson that occupation breeds insurrection.
The invasion of Iraq in 2003 -- the smashing and near-dismemberment of the country, the killing and displacement of millions of its people -- must surely be judged one of the great crimes of our time. To seek to stay on after this unmitigated catastrophe -- making nonsense of Iraq's independence and sovereignty -- not only perpetuates the crime, but is a grave strategic mistake for which both the United States and its Iraqi vassals are likely to pay dearly.
As had long been suspected, it looks as if the Bush administration is seeking to tie its successor to its own failed policies, and make it difficult, if not impossible, for a candidate like Barack Obama, if he is elected President, to withdraw U.S. forces from Iraq, as he has pledged.
The United States wants Iraq to sign a so-called Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) by 31 July, to replace the United Nations mandate, which expires on 31 December, and which has so far provided the legal cover for the presence of coalition forces in Iraq.
The obvious and far better alternative would be for the United States to seek a new and brief UN mandate -- say of six months -- to allow the next American President to assess the situation next year and make his own decisions.
Although U.S.-Iraqi negotiations are being held in secret, the terms of the proposed SOFA have been widely leaked to the British newspaper, The Independent. They include the long-term U.S. use of 50 bases in Iraq; U.S. freedom to conduct military operations and arrest anyone it wants in pursuit of the 'war on terror', without consulting the Baghdad government; immunity from Iraqi law for U.S. troops and contractors; and control of Iraqi airspace below 29,000 feet. This is nothing less than a neo-colonial strait-jacket, which has already mobilized strong political and religious opposition in Iraq.
A striking example of the Bush administration's divorce from reality may be seen in Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's 9,000 word article in the current issue of the U.S. journal Foreign Affairs.
"The democratization of Iraq and the democratization of the Middle East [are] linked," she writes. "As Iraq emerges from its difficulties, the impact of this transformation is being felt in the rest of the region… Our long-term partnership with Afghanistan and Iraq, to which we must remain deeply committed, our new relationships in Central Asia, and our long-standing partnerships in the Persian Gulf provide a solid geostrategic foundation for the generational work ahead in helping to bring about a better, more democratic, and more prosperous Middle East."
It is hard to know whether to laugh or cry when one reads this manifesto. The Iraqis don't want to be 'democratized' by American military power; the Afghans don't want a Western model of society forced upon them; the impact of Iraq's 'transformation' -- that is to say its destruction -- has been highly destabilizing for the whole region; some Gulf rulers may misguidedly feel the need for U.S. military protection, but most of their subjects emphatically do not. Arab prosperity, such as it is, owes nothing to the American military presence and everything to oil and to Arab trading skills.
Ms. Rice appears to have no inkling of the long struggle of the local people to rid themselves of foreign occupiers. The Iraqis fought the British occupation in 1920, and were crushed. They tried to expel British military bases in 1941, and were put down and the generals involved were hanged. They rebelled against a treaty which Britain tried to force on them in 1948; and they finally overthrew the British-backed monarchy in a 1958 bloodbath. Disguised as a woman, Britain's man in Iraq, Nuri al-Said, tried to flee Baghdad but was recognized and lynched.
In Egypt, Gamal Abd al-Nasser became a hero -- whose name resonates among Arab nationalists to this day -- because he managed to expel British troops and nationalize the Suez Canal. The British and French, in shameful collusion with Israel, then tried to overthrow him and reverse the situation by their Suez expedition of 1956, but they failed, thus putting an end to their colonial ambitions.
Lebanon's Prime Minister Riad el-Solh managed to wrest his country's independence from the French in 1943, and expel French troops in 1946, winning a lasting reputation as the architect of his country's sovereignty.
In our own time, Hizbullah won a region-wide reputation for expelling Israeli troops from Lebanon in 2000, after a 22 year occupation. Israel's Lebanese puppet, General Antoine Lahad, fled with the remnants of his treacherous Israeli-backed South Lebanese Army, and now runs a restaurant in Tel Aviv.
Someone should teach Ms. Rice some elementary history. Men like Nuri al-Maliki in Iraq, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora in Lebanon, or Mahmud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, are not strengthened by American or -- in the case of Abbas -- Israeli backing, but are, on the contrary, greatly weakened. They are nervous and insecure because robbed of the support of much of their own people.
By destroying Iraq, the United States overturned the balance in the Gulf and made Iran a major regional power. This situation cannot easily be reversed -- however much Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, Israel's Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and the pro-Israeli neo-cons may long to do so. Like it or not, the Islamic Republic is now an unavoidable actor on the scene.
What does Tehran want? It wants to protect itself against a U.S./Israel attack, the explicit threat of which it faces almost daily. This, no doubt, explains its attempt to acquire a deterrent capability. It has painful memories of the eight year Iran-Iraq war -- when the whole Arab world (with the exception of Syria) backed Iraq's aggression against it. It, therefore, wants to keep Iraq under Shia governance and in close coordination with itself. It wants a united Iraq, but not one so strong as again to threaten it with war.
Iran wants to ensure that Iraq and the Gulf States will not allow the United States to use their territory for an attack on it. In a word, it wants U.S. troops to go home.
Instead of pursuing the will o' the wisp of Ms. Rice's "solid geopolitical foundations," Washington would be far better advised to withdraw from Iraq, engage diplomatically with Iran, and devote itself -- with will, fairness and consistency -- to resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict before that suppurating sore, which has poisoned every relationship in the region, explodes in its face.
Patrick Seale is a leading British writer on the Middle East, and the author of The Struggle for Syria; also, Asad of Syria: The Struggle for the Middle East; and Abu Nidal: A Gun for Hire.
Copyright © 2008 Patrick Seale