The Time of Withdrawal
The Time of Withdrawal
[Yaroslav Trofimov of the Wall Street Journal visited the U.S. Army's 21st
"'It was a mistake to discount the Iraqi resistance,' Col. Keslung said, adding, â€˜If someone invaded
"The U.S.-run government in
Two passages from an ongoing travesty. Let's start with the second of them, which looks to me for all the world like "Read my lips, no new aid." In 2005, if we're still in
Imagine such time-scapes and you know a great deal not about what's going to happen, but about the Bush administration's vision of our occupation of
Lt. Col. Kim Keslung, who won't even leave the base where she works because she knows full well what kinds of things happen to Americans "out there," is a far better historian than our president, our viceroy in
She's right. Invade
Empires invariably think that it's they who are bringing civilization and progress in their train and that only the barbarians, the terrorists, the bitter-enders resist for fear of being thrown onto that dust heap of history. But history is, as it turns out, filled to the brim with barbarians, terrorists, and bitter-enders, not to speak of enraged ordinary people who have seen their friends and relatives die, who feel the discomfort â€“ which has only grown more psychologically unbearable over the last century -- of watching well-armed, well-paid foreigners walk with impunity across their lands. They do resist, exactly as Texans would. Afterwards perhaps they fall on each other's throats. Such things are unpredictable.
But in recent centuries, if empire â€“ the Great Powers, the Great Game, Global Domination, the Great Rivalry, the Great Arms Race â€“ has been the Great Theme of history, the less publicized but perhaps more powerful one has been resistance. Resistance everywhere to occupation of any sort. Resistance by forgotten millions (not all of them wonderful human beings). If you need to be convinced of this, just read Jonathan Schell's new book The Unconquerable World.
Sooner or later, regimes of occupation withdraw or collapse. Or both. In our times, it seems, ever sooner. Even the
Having taken Iraq, eager to nail down its resources, to establish an imperial "democracy" as well as a string of permanent military bases there, and then drive a policy dreamt up inside Washington's Beltway directly through the Middle East, the sole Great Power on this planet, issuing documents on Global Domination till the end of time, without a Great Rival, playing a Great Game with no one, and in an Arms Race of one (but still developing plans for ever higher-tech weaponry for future decades), nonetheless finds itself driven by a modest if growing resistance movement in Iraq. The president of the greatest power on Earth is being forced by events in "5% of Iraq" to call in his advisers for endless meetings, shake up the structure of his administration, hold sudden news conferences, offer new and ever more farfetched explanations of American actions, and backtrack on claims -- all because of Iraqi resistance.
I think one thing is predictable in a world where predicting anything accurately is a low-percentage bet: Sooner or later, the time of withdrawal will be upon us. Some of us would like it to be sooner, not later.
An antiwar movement shut down for months â€“ but still emotionally in place â€“ is now reconstituting itself and one of its demands is already for withdrawal, for an "end to the occupation," for "bringing our troops home." But this demand still has the feel of a slogan without particular resonance or content. Part of the reason for this is quite logical. Everyone knows to the point of despair that we â€“ the antiwar movement, the anti-imperialists -- are not in control. They are and they don't want to leave. "We" will not withdraw from
Still, a demand is being made in the face of all those people who claim that we can't "cut and run," that we must "stay the course," that, whatever our thoughts about the war once were, we are all now somehow committed to an Iraqi occupation lest American "credibility" suffer grievous harm -- all statements that would have sounded no less credible, or incredible, nearly four decades ago when they were indeed part of the Vietnam playbook and the language of that era. Right now in the mainstream, with the exception of a few columnists like James Carroll of the Boston Globe and Bob Herbert of the New York Times, and the odd intellectual figure like the economist Jeffrey Sachs, withdrawal is not yet on anyone's agenda. The Democratic candidates, Kucinich aside, are criticizing how we got into the war without suggesting ways to get out any time soon.
But, given ongoing events in
Just the other day, a friend challenged me to stop ducking the subject. He claimed that in my dispatches I was taking the easy way out. And I think maybe he was right. It's time for us to do our best not just to put withdrawal on the American agenda as a slogan but to give it some thought and content.
Here, then, is my modest attempt to begin to think this out and get a discussion started.
Why we must leave Iraq
The Path of History: It's not only that history â€“ in its last centuries â€“ speaks eloquently against the imperial occupation of any country; a far more circumscribed, recent, and specific history speaks against this occupation as well. So let me start with that: