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Commentary Last Updated: Jan 4th, 2007 - 01:08:31

Bush lights a powder keg
By Mike Whitney
Online Journal Contributing Writer

Dec 4, 2006, 00:22

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"You�ll find a day when there are no Sunnis left in Baghdad. Saudi Arabia and Jordan are panicking about this, and they are hoping that the US will in some way arm or support Sunnis militias. It�s hard for me to imagine that Sunni nations in the region will stand by and watch Sunnis pushed out of Baghdad, because there is this terror of the Shia threat. So you�ll see greater support from Saudi Arabia, from Jordan, perhaps from Yemen, from Egypt for Sunni militias. And the civil war will spread and become a regional one." --Nir Rosen; interview with Amy Goodman, Democracy Now!

President Bush�s latest round of "Disaster Diplomacy" has turned into a tragedy worthy of Eugene O� Neill. In Riga, Latvia he was coolly greeted by foreign leaders in NATO who flatly rejected his request for more troops in Afghanistan or for redeploying troops to the south where the fighting is fiercest.

The next leg of Bush�s trip, a stopover in Amman, Jordan, turned out to be an even bigger flop. Bush was supposed to meet with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki, but Al-Maliki decided to follow the orders of Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, and pulled a "no show". This left the "most powerful man in the world", the President of the United States, looking like a schoolgirl who had been dumped on prom night. Bush's humiliation appeared as headline news around the world.

All in all, it was a tough week for Bush. The trip has exposed the fault-lines in US foreign policy and the steady erosion of American power. Bush seems completely oblivious to the damage he�s doing to the country by refusing to change the present strategy and by blundering ahead, blindly pushing us deeper and deeper into the quagmire:

"I�m not going to pull our troops off the battlefield before the mission is complete," Bush growled to the NATO assembly.

Translation: "Stay the course, stay the course, stay the course"; repeat into infinity.

NATO: America�s cat's paw

NATO has been a useful tool for the United States. It�s helped to conceal America�s imperial ambitions behind the mask of US-European solidarity. Now Bush is putting the alliance at risk by using it to enlist European support for a global resource war.

It�s a foolish plan which could jeopardize the future of the organization, but Bush doesn�t care. These alliances are only measured in terms of how successfully they advance the agenda of Western elites; everything else is incidental.

But there�s no support in Europe for "messianic missions" like the war on terror. Already there�s grumbling about "cleaning up America�s mess" in Afghanistan. How long will it be before the member states realize that it�s really not in their interests to keep tweaking Putin�s nose by pushing into former Soviet Republics like Ukraine and Georgia? The EU economies are already strong and self-sufficient. They don�t need to follow the neocons' madcap "master plan" of making trouble for Russia. They can simply buy their resources on the open market and avoid the unnecessary aggravation.

It�s different for the Bush troupe. They see themselves as ruling the world. For them, expansion is an integral part of a larger militaristic strategy which they embrace with gusto. But no one in Europe is keen on following Generalissimo Bush into another century of war. The administration is miscalculating how far Europe will go before they reach the breaking point. Eventually, America will have to go it alone.

If Bush were wise, he�d pay more attention to the growing discontent among the allies and stop trying to rally the troops for a hopeless cause. NATO won�t prevail in Afghanistan. That�s just the dream of fanatics who base their decisions on ideology rather than history. In fact, Pakistan's foreign minister announced to the NATO members just days ago that they should "accept defeat" and leave.

That�s good advice. The mission is over. None of America�s promises, like Bush�s Marshall Plan, has ever materialized, nor will they. It was all baloney. Five years later, Afghanistan is still a basket case; the vast majority of people toil away in grinding poverty with no access to clean water, medicine or employment. The central government is weak and is unable to provide security beyond the capital. The plan to create a thriving Western-style democracy has failed utterly. It�s time to pack up and head home.

The dominant ethnic group, the Pashtun, is rising up en masse and is determined to end the occupation. The Western media dismiss this loose-confederation of tribal-units as "the Taliban", but it�s more complex than that. These are the indigenous people who are tired of the corruption, the lack of security, and the US puppet regime in Kabul. They have rejected a system which is governed exclusively by warlords, drug-smugglers, bandits and the American military. They want the same assurances of security that everyone seeks, and they are willing to put up with the Taliban to get them.

Nothing can be gained by prolonging our stay in Afghanistan. If there were a chance that military force could produce a "prosperous democracy" (as was promised), then that opportunity is gone. History can�t be undone. NATO members should ignore Bush�s cheerleading and prepare to hand over control of the country to the Afghans. There�s nothing we can do to forestall the violence that will erupt when we withdraw. That�s the unfortunate cost of aggression; innocent people die.

NATO should be more concerned about its own future. Europe needs a defensive capability that is independent of America. That has never been more apparent than today when we can see how the Bush administration has co-opted NATO for their imperial objectives. Europe does not need a foothold in Central Asia or in the Middle East. Nor do they need a behemoth military that functions as a security apparatus for global corporations. They merely need a credible deterrent for potential enemies.

That�s all they need.

Afghanistan will probably be the wedge issue that finally splits the continents apart and sets America adrift. Within a year (and no more than two), we�ll see a chasm open up between Europe and America. This can�t be avoided. The EU and America have already chosen their respective paths; it�s just a matter of acknowledging their irreconcilable differences and moving forward. As Afghanistan continues to drag on, Europeans will get increasingly restless and force their leaders to respond. This is bound to trigger a crisis within NATO that will rupture the Transatlantic Alliance. These problems will further intensify as the greenback plummets in value and the American economy goes on life-support. By then, the European leaders will no longer feel required to pay attention to Bush�s ravings and they�ll gradually realign with allies in the more promising markets of Asia and Latin America.

The continental drift between America and Europe is already widening. It just needs one more calamity to snap. Asia and Latin America have already realigned; forming security and economic pacts which will only strengthen as the century unfolds. The US has ignored these developments believing that its brief moment as the world�s only superpower will be long-lived. Regrettably, America�s present trajectory suggests otherwise. A giant, lumbering military is of little value in a world where power and prosperity depend mainly on commerce.

Iraq; a Zero-sum Game

While the future of NATO seems uncertain, the situation in Iraq is even more dismal. The midterm elections sent a clear message that the American people wanted a substantial change in the policy. Bush has not only ignored that message, but has "preemptively" disregarded the recommendations of the Iraq Study Group which is calling for a "gradual pullback of 15 American combat brigades" and negotiations with Iran and Syria.

Bush responded in Jordan saying, "I know there�s a lot of speculation that these reports in Washington mean there�s going to be some kind of graceful exit out of Iraq. [But] we�re going to stay in Iraq to get the job done so long as the government wants us there."

Refrain: "Stay the course, stay the course, stay the course"; repeat into infinity.

Bush is still under Dick Cheney�s influence and Cheney is not budging. He won�t talk to Iran or Syria and he won�t set a timetable for withdrawal. But neither Bush nor Cheney control events on the ground in Iraq. The real boss is Muqtada al-Sadr.

Al-Maliki�s "snub" was highlighted in the media because it was seen as an insult to Bush, but that is irrelevant. The real meaning of al-Maliki�s "no show" was to indicate that al-Sadr is running the country. He calls the shots and he pulls al-Maliki�s strings. Obviously this wasn�t lost on the White House warlords who now understand the source of Iraqi power.

Al-Sadr is the most powerful man in Iraq and the Medhi Army the strongest militia. This puts Bush in the unenviable position of either fighting al-Sadr now (even though the US trained and provided weapons for many of the Shiite militias in the Interior Ministry) or trying to negotiate with the leaders in the Ba�athist-led resistance to cobble together a coalition government. Either way; America loses and the region descends into chaos.

The Shiite militias have been working furiously to kill as many military-aged Sunnis as possible to ensure that the Ba�athist Party never regains power. It is widely believed that the US is secretly working out a "reconciliation plan" to bring the Sunnis back into the government so they can begin to purge the militias and establish order. The Shia will never allow this to happen. In fact, Iran is bound to join the fighting if there�s any chance that their archrivals, the Ba�athists, are being restored to power.

On the other hand, if Bush takes on the Shiite militias, which are a vital part of the state security apparatus, he will be fighting the Sunnis and Shiites simultaneously; ensuring that his supply routes will be cut and his army surrounded. This is the fast track to disaster.

There are no good options. If Bush ignores al-Sadr, then the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis in Baghdad will continue and the number of civilian casualties will steeply rise. As author Nir Rosen stated in our opening quote, "You�ll find a day when there are no Sunnis left in Baghdad". Rosen�s prediction is becoming more likely by the day.

The Ba�athist leaders, who left the country with enormous wealth (and now live in Syria, Jordan and Saudi Arabia), will not sit idly by while their fellow Sunnis are butchered in Baghdad. They will continue to fund the armed resistance and do whatever they can to destabilize the new Iraqi government. Additionally, they will support guerilla activities which target American facilities in the region to repay the people who created this holocaust. Already, Sunni cleric, Sheikh Harith al-Dhari, the head of the Muslim Scholars Association, is traveling through the Middle East enlisting support from other Sunni leaders. He will probably establish a funding-stream for providing material support for the resistance. This illustrates how the war is gradually expanding beyond the confines of Iraq.

In an article which appeared last Monday in the Washington Post, Saudi Arabia�s ambassador to the US, Turki al-Faisal, said, "Since America came into Iraq uninvited, it should not leave uninvited.� If it does, one of the first consequences will be massive Saudi intervention to stop Iranian-backed militias from butchering Iraqi Sunnis."

It is likely that Sunnis in the other Middle East capitals share al-Faisal�s sentiments and will be equally willing to contribute generously to their "brothers-in-arms" in Iraq.

The invasion has opened a Pandora�s Box and disrupted the regional balance of power. Now there�s no telling how far the war will spread. The ferocity of the sectarian fighting suggests that a much larger conflagration is on the way. Foreign leaders are already preparing for the worst. Bush�s misguided fantasies of "Victory" in Iraq have lit a powder keg and it's probably just a matter of time before the entire Middle East is consumed by war.

Mike Whitney lives in Washington state. He can be reached at:

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