Revolution #63, October 1, 2006


Talk Grows for Troop Escalation

Six months ago, the politicians and media promoted the notion that U.S. troop levels in Iraq would be below 100,000 by November, and dip from there.

Not anymore. The head of the military this week proclaimed that the current level of troops in Iraq—147,000—would be needed until at least April. Bush echoed him. And powerful forces within the ruling class have been and are calling for yet more troops to be added.

Senator John McCain, the leading Republican presidential contender for 2008, called for more troops on the NBC TV show Meet the Press on August 20. A few weeks later William Kristol and Rich Lowry—editors of the extreme right-wing magazines The Weekly Standard and National Review—published a joint piece calling on Bush to order “a substantial surge in overall troop levels in Iraq, with the additional forces focused on securing Baghdad.” They said that the current military strategy wasn’t working and “simply requires more manpower.” In support, they cited Harvard Law School’s William Stuntz:

“The territory over which we fight is among the most strategically important in the world. Victory will place the most dangerous regime on the planet, Iran’s fascist theocracy, in serious peril. Defeat will leave that same regime inestimably strengthened. If there is any significant possibility that the presence of more American soldiers on the ground would raise the odds of success, not putting those soldiers on the ground is a crime.”

(Here we must say in passing that Stuntz’ characterization of “the most dangerous regime on the planet” applies to the U.S.—and that the term “fascist theocracy” may very soon become applicable as well. As for the strategic importance of the “territory over which we fight,” that resides in which imperialist power will control the oil fields in that region—that is to say, which slavemaster will own the greatest number of slaves.)

Meanwhile, the Washington Post broke the story on September 11 that Marine intelligence chief Peter Devlin said that Anbar province in Iraq would likely be lost without another U.S. division—10,000 troops—being added. NBC Newsman Jim Miklaszewski reported two days later that “one senior military official” went even further, saying “it would take 50,000–60,000 more U.S. ground forces to secure al-Anbar.” The overall commander of U.S. troops in Iraq shot back that the emphasis would remain on Baghdad, but conceded that more was needed in Anbar. This rare public argument indicates the intensity of the contradiction facing the army and the Bush regime overall.

Others have argued against such an escalation. Why? Because, they say, as it stands now the army simply cannot provide more troops and that, indeed, the current level of commitment is even endangering the army! Replying to Kristol and Lowry, Lawrence J. Korb (an assistant secretary of defense under Reagan) and Peter Ogden said, “Sending more troops to Iraq would, at the moment, threaten to break our nation’s all-volunteer Army and undermine our national security. This is not a risk our country can afford to take.”

U.S. Military Situation Deteriorates

The debate has broken out so sharply because the U.S. military situation in Iraq has deteriorated. (The U.S. position in Afghanistan has also deteriorated, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.) The resistance to the U.S. occupation of Iraq has gained ground. At the same time, sectarian warfare between Shia and Sunni forces—with each side’s militia targeting the other’s population—has radically intensified, especially in Baghdad. Fueling that warfare has been the inability of the U.S. to forge a new social and political compact for Iraq that has any support. Different forces in Iraq have radically different views over how to divide its oil wealth (most of which is located in the principally Shia south); how to relate to Iran; how much autonomy should be accorded to the different provinces; how much religious domination there should be of Iraqi civil life; etc. The U.S. has not been able to come up with a political structure that can cohere all that, nor does it currently have the military strength sufficient to prevent the Iraqis themselves from a) resisting the U.S., or b) battling with each other over the character of whatever political structure does eventually come into being.

But it is not the low number of troops alone that stands in the way of U.S. victory. There is struggle within the American military over how to sort out and deal with the two different battles going on—the anti-U.S. insurgency and the civil war between different sections of Iraqi society. These battles are distinct and at the same time related, and this causes tactical and even strategic difficulties for U.S. forces: Are they principally fighting a counter-insurgency? Or are they attempting to contain a civil war—or at least direct it into paths that they, the U.S., find advantageous? Meanwhile, the U.S. troops themselves are becoming even less motivated—all of which is exacerbated by both their growing sense that the Iraqi people hate them and that there is justice in that hatred. Their long tours and the conflicts over strategy at the top add to the stress. At the nub of it is this: the U.S. Army and Marine Corps are imperialist armed forces, oppressing the country they are occupying and made up in large part of troops from the working class and lower middle class whose fundamental interests lie opposed to those of the imperialists. This influences everything from who fights, how they fight, and with what—and some of the problems inherent in that have now emerged into sharp relief.

But the U.S. ruling class does not accept the prospect of defeat in Iraq. It is not that “terrorists would follow us here,” as the commanding officer of the U.S. forces recently claimed and as Bush immediately echoed. No, the real way they see the problem is this: such a defeat would expose the limitations of U.S. military power to rivals of different kinds, and different forces would rush in to fill what they perceived to be a “power vacuum.” Such a defeat would play havoc with the U.S. ruling class aim to dominate the world as an unchallenged and unchallengeable power. They will not tolerate that prospect, and they find it well worth it to slaughter tens of thousands of Iraqis and sacrifice thousands of U.S. soldiers to prevent its realization.

The Democrats for the most part have been unable to agree on a strategy beyond the mealy-mouthed nostrum of “phased redeployment”—which can mean anything, really, depending on the circumstances—and assurances that they are NOT for “cutting and running.” These Democrats don’t “lack ideas”—their ideas are conditioned by the fact that they serve the same system as the Republicans and see things in terms of the interests of that system, and those who run it. (Even Kerry, who calls for setting a date to withdraw, also demanded on September 10 that the U.S. send more troops to Afghanistan, to join the 21,000 already there, and the 19,000 NATO troops with them.) There is no major Democrat with either the desire to simply and clearly state, or the interest in stating, the truth: this war is a criminal enterprise, built upon lies, and designed only to protect the continued ability of a few people at the top of society to dominate and exploit the world and its people.

The imperialists will almost certainly have to find some way to increase the size of the army and to raise U.S. troop levels in Iraq. And here the question of the draft comes in—though hardly any of the principals in this debate mention it. Except, that is, for John Murtha, the Democratic Congressman from Pennsylvania. Murtha publicly broke with the war nearly a year ago, warning that the army was in danger of being broken. Many people who are against the war, but who still believe in the Democratic Party, seized on Murtha as a ray of hope.

On September 6, Murtha said that “we cannot sustain the President’s open-ended, vague and bankrupting war policies indefinitely. He should try less rhetoric and more action. If we are to fight this war with the same sense of dedication and vigor as we did prior wars, we cannot do it without a surge in force.” Murtha then challenged Bush to either change course or reinstitute the draft. While most Democrats won’t openly support the draft, they do echo the call for “shared sacrifice” and “national service,” which creates the ideological underpinnings of a draft.

The charade-like election debate—”phased redeployment” vs “cutting and running”; who can fight the “war on terror” more efficiently—is being used to form a consensus for escalation and, perhaps, the draft. Bringing back the draft would be a highly risky political move for the imperialists. But they, from their angle, are caught between a rock and a hard place. And so we get the rhetoric, to grease the skids. “We” can’t afford to lose. “We” are not for cutting and running. “We” need more troops. “We” should share the burden. Therefore, “we” should have a draft—and you should answer the call to fight in this bloody war, or else go to jail.

And “they”—the Iraqi people—should continue to die by the thousands each month for the greater good of U.S. imperialism.

That horrific imperialist logic must be broken with, resisted, and defeated—and the war it justifies, halted.

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