The concerted efforts of the dominant fraction of the U.S. ruling class to force a readjustment of imperialist policy in Iraq has run into fierce resistance from hardline stalwarts in the Bush administration. Since the failure to change the ruling team in the 2004 elections, the administration has been under pressure to modify its failed policies. This pressure was exerted through external policy reviews, media campaigns, and political scandals. The administration has always responded half-heartedly, with just enough concessions to give the appearance that change was coming. Examples include the sacrifice of Paul Wolfowitz, the neoconservative deputy secretary of defense who was widely credited with being the architect of Iraq war policy, and the adoption of policy aimed at gradual troop withdrawals in January 2006.
However, as the situation in Iraq steadily worsened, by last winter a consensus had emerged within the dominant fraction that the situation in Iraq was an absolute mess, a quagmire that jeopardized the long range, global interests of American imperialism. The U.S. military was clearly stretched so thin by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that it was incapable of responding to threats in other parts of the world. This was an intolerable situation because the exercise of military might abroad is an absolute necessity for American imperialism in a period in which its hegemony is under increasing challenge. To make matters worse, the Bush administration’s bungling of the war in Iraq had completely squandered the ideological gains the U.S. ruling class had made in manipulating popular acceptance of its overseas imperialist adventures in the aftermath of 9/11.
This consensus led last March to creation of a bipartisan commission, the Iraq Study Group, led by James A. Baker, III, and former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamiliton. Baker has been a close adviser and friend to the elder George Bush, served as secretary of state under Bush senior during the first U.S. invasion of Iraq in 1991. Baker managed the current President Bush’s legal effort to successfully steal the 2000 election Florida, and is sometimes referred to as the Bush family “janitor,” who can always be counted upon to clean up Bush family messes. Hamilton also co-chaired the 9/11 Commission. Comprised overwhelmingly of prominent officials1 from the Reagan, Bush senior, and Clinton administrations, the commission in essence represented the continuity of the permanent state capitalist apparatus, which saw the need to force the ruling team to alter course.
The initial work of this commission was conducted secretly and in confidence, but in the course of the electoral campaign, its members, both Democrats and Republicans increasingly spoke out in public, critiquing specifically the administration’s polarizing political rhetoric, pitting “stay the course” vs. “cut and run,” as incapable of advancing national imperialist interests. The administration’s tendency to put in doubt the patriotism of its bourgeois critics was clearly unacceptable. Indeed the media conveyed the message, emanating from the commission, that this simplistic policy dichotomy reflected an untenable loss of touch with reality. So strong was this pressure, that by early September the President actually stopped using the “stay the course” slogan. Nevertheless, Bush still stubbornly certainly seemed to cling to this view. He still continued to denounce the Democrats as the party of “cut and run” and the content of his own message continued to stress the need to fight on in Iraq until victory was achieved. However the study group had effectively laid the basis for a change in policy even before the election.
In Internationalism 140 we predicted that the impending Democratic victory: "would increase pressure for extra-electoral adjustments in the administration, including perhaps the forced resignation of Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld."
Confirmation of this prediction came almost immediately with the announcement of the forced resignation of defense secretary Rumsfeld and the designation of a successor by 1pm the day after the election. If bourgeois media reports can be believed, as early as the weekend before the election, Bush had already asked Rumsfeld to step down and decided to replace him with Robert Gates, a veteran national security agent, who served as CIA director under the elder George Bush. Demonstrating even more graphically the potential influence of the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, it must be noted that Gates was in fact a member of the Iraq Study Group (he stepped down only after his nomination as defense secretary). Gates generally subscribes to Baker’s cautious approach to imperialist policy and criticisms of the current administration’s approach.
The reinvigoration of the democratic mystification accomplished by the November election is important for the bourgeoisie because a belief that the system works is a precondition for popular acquiescence in what is to come. Despite the popular revulsion against the war, particularly in the working class, the election is of course not a victory for peace, but rather a victory for the bourgeoisie’s effort to prepare for the next war, by repairing the damage done to the U.S. military, intelligence and foreign policy apparatus by the Bush administration’s mistakes.
The real debate within the bourgeoisie over Iraq does not pit hawks against doves, but hawks against hawks on how best to extricate themselves from the quagmire and prepare for the next overseas military adventure. As the “dovish” New York Times wrote in its editorial two days after the election, “Mr. Gates’s most urgent task, assuming he is confirmed, must be to reopen those necessary channels of communication with military, intelligence and foreign service professionals on the ground. After hearing what they have to say, he needs to recommend a realistic new strategy to Mr. Bush in place of the one that is now demonstrably failing…He will have to rebuild a badly overstretched Army, refocus military transformation by trading in unneeded cold war weapons for new technologies more relevant to current needs, and nurture a more constructive relationship with Congressional oversight committees.”
Since the election, the general chiefs of staff moved quickly to assert their independence from the discredited Rumsfeld. The chiefs have undertaken a reassessment of the military situation in Iraq, searching for their own policy alternatives even before Gates was confirmed and before the Iraq Study Group issues its recommendations in mid-December. The Army has already released a new training manual that reverses one of Rumsfeld’s more controversial policies regarding minimal troop levels for occupation and reconstruction operations following military invasions, a policy which has been disastrous in Iraq.
Freed from an obligation to toe the line set forth previously by the lame duck Rumsfeld, General Abizaid, director of U.S. Central Command, testified before Senate and House committees in mid-November and openly criticized and contradicted Rumsfeld’s and Bush’s past decisions and policies in Iraq. For instance, regarding the long simmering dispute between the armed services and Rumsfeld over necessary troop levels in Iraq, Abizaid testified that General Eric Shinseki who was fired by Rumsfeld in 2003 for criticizing Rumsfeld’s doctrine of sparse occupation force deployments and insisting that up to 300,000 troops might be necessary had been correct in his assessment of the situation and shouldn’t have been fired.
Abizaid also contradicted the administration’s long standing propaganda line by insisting that the greatest threat in Iraq came not from Al Qaeda but from sectarian militias that were on the brink of civil war. Abizaid opposed both a phased troop withdrawal, as advocated by some Democrats, and a deployment of thousands more troops, as advocated by Republican Senator John McCain. Instead he called for a policy change that would shift deployment of significant numbers of American troops from patrol and combat assignments to training Iraqi security forces.
Despite popular disenchantment with the war and widespread support for withdrawal, there will in fact be no quick military withdrawal from Iraq. Indeed the Bush administration has essentially rejected the study group’s recommendations and seems hell bent on escalating the war in Iraq. The hardliners in the administration have embraced Sen. McCain’s proposal for a “surge” in troop strength, with the deployment of perhaps 30,000 additional troops to quash resistance in Sunni areas, despite the fact that military leaders at the Joint Chiefs and in the field in Iraq are opposed to increasing troop levels. The military opposition to the “surge” stems from worries that this will only make the situation look more like an out and out occupation, increase the number of American targets on the ground and hence the number of casualties, and in the long run weaken the military’s ability to intervene elsewhere. It is indeed ironic that when the military wanted additional troops in 2003, the Bush administration refused and fired their leading general, and now when they don’t want more troops, the administration seems posed to ram them down their throats. Bush has responded by announcing a shake up in the military command. Military leaders opposing the escalation in the Central Command and in the field in Iraq have been reassigned elsewhere, and are being replaced with officers who accept the administration’s plan.
In all likelihood, despite expecting some stubborn resistance from certain neo-cons in the administration, the dominant fraction anticipated the implementation in large measure of the Iraq Study Group proposals, including particularly stepped up pressure on the Iraqi bourgeoisie to reach compromises within itself, some kind of timetable for phased withdrawal, and a reversal of the Bush administration’s refusal to talk to Syria and Iran and convening an international conference in the Middle East on the future of Iraq that would include participation of these two countries. In this regard, Baker has stressed publicly the importance of talking to your “enemies.” This is the only option available that would allow the U.S. to extricate itself from the Iraq quagmire, maintain a presence in the region, and counter European overtures toward Iran and Syria. While Bush appointed Gates as his new secretary of defense under pressure from the external forces within the bourgeoisie, Gates appears to be the only figure in the president’s war council currently capable of recognizing the gravity of the situation. Adjustment of the situation in the Middle East is crucial to the interests of the American imperialism, necessary in order to lay the basis for the American imperialism to more effectively orient itself towards challenges in the Far East and Latin America.
The Bush administration’s resistance to a significant midcourse correction poses grave dangers for the ruling class. It risks jeopardizing the reassertion of political discipline within the bourgeoisie, undercutting the rekindling of the democratic mystification, and intolerably aggravating the crisis of American imperialism. This will seriously aggravate the political crisis afflicting the ruling class and create even more political pressure on the administration. – J. Grevin, 12/1/07.
1 In addition to Baker and Hamilton, the commission included former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a Republican appointed to Court by Reagan; former U.S. Senator Alan Simpson, Republican; Edwin Meese, former attorney general and chief staff adviser to the President in the Reagan Administration, Lawrence Eagleburger, former secretary of state under the elder George Bush; Leon Pannetta, former White House Chief of Staff in Clinton administration; Vernon Jordan, a senior managing director of Lazard Freres & Co. and a former leader of the Urban League, and friend and adviser to Bill Clinton; William J. Perry, former secretary of defense during the Clinton administration, 1994-1997; Charles Robb, former Democratic senator from Virginia and son-in-law of Lyndon B. Johnson. Robert Gates, former CIA Director, served on the commission until resigning after announcement of his appointment as secretary of defense to replace Rumsfeld in November. Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, a Republican, served briefly on the commission and resigned last spring.