The Enduring Trap in Iraq

A showdown is brewing between Republicans and Democrats over the Iraq War once again. The Bush administration is stirring the pot once again by negotiating an agreement with the “sovereign” Iraqi government to place U.S. military troops and bases permanently on Iraqi soil despite strong objections from many Democrats.

Democratic presidential candidate, Senator Hillary Clinton has introduced legislation to force the administration to come to Congress for approval of the negotiated U.S.-Iraqi agreement, in the hopes of preventing long-term entanglements for the next president. Senator Barack Obama has pledged to join her. In contrast, John McCain, the Republican presidential candidate, is comfortable with leaving the troops in Iraq for as long as one hundred years. This is a recipe for an “enduring trap” for U.S. foreign policy in Iraq and across the Muslim world.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration and the Republican party is determined to continue the military, political, and economic occupation of 25 million Iraqis regardless of the views of the Iraqi people or the 1.7 billion Muslims around the world. This is consistent with those who claimed all along that the invasion of Iraq was for the “U.S. national interest” rather than to stop weapons of mass destruction. The agreement is an attempt to bind the Iraqi people (and the next U.S. president) with the occupation regardless of the future decisions of their representative government, if one ever comes to existence.

Bush’s plan for an “enduring presence” has a dual purpose. One is to intimidate future Iraqi governments from daring to break the relationship with the only superpower that can threaten their very existence. The second is to intimidate anyone who wins the U.S. presidential election with the accusation of “cutting and running” in Iraq. Against charges of such cowardice, the continuing occupation of Iraq may become palatable for weak-kneed politicians. Furthermore, Bush is undermining the very type of democracy he claims to be bringing to Iraq by trying to seal the deal on the “enduring presence” agreement without seeking approval from the United States Congress.

Iraqis have suffered since the invasion. They have been occupied by 180,000 foreign troops along with another 180,000 contractors. Over a million Iraqis have been injured and disabled in this war; hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have died. Four million Iraqis have been displaced. Millions of Iraqi children have been traumatized with the continuing occupation manifested with the sounds of guns, bombing, and the deaths of their friends and neighbors. And citizens live in daily fear from aerial attacks with 47,500 pounds of explosives have been dropped over the past five years. Thousands of Iraqi neighborhoods have been ethnically cleansed.

The Muslim world views the Iraq War and occupation as an army of foreign Christian troops “settling” a Muslim nation. No matter how much the United States claims they are in Iraq to fight al-Qaeda, the long occupation Bush is planning tells a more truthful story to them of the real intentions.

If Bush is able to strong arm a deal, Iraqi nationalists opposing foreign occupation will grow stronger, becoming the focal point of all Iraqi resistance to the occupation. The permanent presence of the United States or a puppet Iraqi government will fuel the nationalist movement. These nationalist forces will be supported by many in the Muslim world with many differing motives. Iraq will become no better than what Afghanistan and Pakistan are today.

There are two ways out of Iraq. The first is to continue the Bush policy of terrorizing the Iraqi people into submission while at the same time being kind to those who accept us as occupiers. This will have limited and only temporary success, but over the long term will result in further instability in Iraq and eventually a forced withdrawal of U.S. troops. The second way would be to set a timetable for a complete withdrawal from Iraq, help the Iraqis with reconstruction aid, and advise and fund an international peacekeeping force.

Bush’s Iraq legacy is already tarnished beyond repair. He shouldn’t be able to pen a new deal with Iraq for a permanent presence that will tie the hands for generations to come. The consequences at home and in Iraq are far too great.

Adil E. Shamoo, born and raised in Baghdad, is a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. He writes on ethics and public policy. He is an analyst for Foreign Policy In Focus.