What It Means to Say That We've Lost in Iraq


If you're willing to admit that we've lost in Iraq, don't stop there: what are the implications?
by Jan Frel 

Most of us want the U.S. troops out of Iraq. "Out of Iraq, now!" It's what we've heard at protests, and read in thousands of op-eds. This is the simple, isolated point the U.S. anti-war movement has been calling for ever since we invaded. It's what I want too, but that's not all I want. There has always been something about that didn't sit well with me, and it wasn't the equally myopic argument that withdrawing from Iraq would prompt even greater bloodshed.

Why is "Out of Iraq, now!" an impossible, dash-yourself-against-rocks approach to ending the occupation in my opinion? I think it's because it doesn't admit to the breakdown of the American political system that has allowed the invasion of Iraq to happen, or the existence of the American empire that was required to undertake it.

If you bring in these two elements — that our 18th century political system is on its knees and the reality that there is an enormous empire operating in the name of the United States — to the debate about Iraq, we might get somewhere. But there's also the issue that "out of Iraq" means a lot more than just leaving it…


And Bush has started alluding to it. A few times recently, I've watched him say that a loss in Iraq would be catastrophic for the United States. He hasn't quite made the connection that we have lost in Iraq, and that this adds up to a looming catastrophe.; just that if we did lose, it would be bad.

It's funny; I read about six or seven essays from the progressive side about Iraq every day, and there is also scant mention of the fact that we've lost, and what losing means. Just that the occupation is horrible and violent and expensive… so we need to get out now.

A swathe of Americans and folks aligned with democratic causes haven't quite made the connection that getting out of Iraq is an end to everything from pro-West smorgasbords like Davos to our "cheap and easy motoring lifestyles" as James Howard Kunstler puts it. There is a salvage-the-empire current that crudely recognizes this. Everyone from Howard Dean to Joe Biden is essentially calling for it: "redeployment." Yes, it's out of Iraq, but the soldiers stay in the region and continue the process of Mideast domination… The problem with this is that they are ignoring that we have occupied Iraq for a few years now — a most radical act — and set in motion a series of events that will happen wherever these troops redeploy to — civil war in Iraq, an independent Kurdistan v. Turkey and Iran, a multination showdown of Shiites v. Sunnis, etc.

In other words, I think "redeployment" is neither a response to the kind of process that got us into Iraq in the first place, nor a response to the problems that our occupation of Iraq have given rise to. Dealing with Iraq itself is about regional diplomacy, UN peacekeeping, US reparations to Iraqis, a more equitable means of oil revenue distribution, among other things. "Redeployment" is an attempt to buffer this country from the psychic and material effects of losing a high-stakes military engagement: It's the wish that everything will go back to that wonderful "normal" we enjoyed in the 90's.

Two of the most radical things that can happen in a political state are when a nation declares war, and even more, when it loses that war. It will be devastating. Aside from the human and monetary side of things — the loss of a war will rip through all of our lives, permanently scarring the way we relate not only to the political state, but our family and our friends. I can feel elements of it channeling through my own life. And the truth is, the loss of this war hasn't come back to us in any significant way yet. But it will.

There's an effort in its embryonic stages from the "Out of Iraq, now!" activists and writers: leveraging the 2008 presidential race to push for an exit. This will be another fruitless enterprise, because as I wrote above, it offers no critique of our political system or our empire, and it concedes to the undemocratic insanity of one president for 300 million people.

The idea of leveraging a president to end the occupation is an extension of the well-established habit of blaming George Bush for each breakdown of our civil liberties, when in fact it's a process that's been going on ever since the ink dried on the Constitution. Sure, Bush may have sped up the decay, but Jefferson encouraged us to utterly rewrite our Constitution every 20 years, not just amend it occasionally. The longer the state remains unchanged, the harder it becomes for it to enforce any laws other than those that protect itself, including defending itself from its citizens.

A presidential candidate who was serious about the issue of Iraq would most certainly run on the platform of ending the presidency as it stands, and call for a total overhaul of the American political system. I don't think that is something you'll find even in Dennis Kucinich's playbook.

It is the executive itself that is at the heart of the problem. The presidency has turned into hideous creature of the 18th Century; it has accreted enormous power, rapidly accelerated since the New Deal. Tie this into the debate about the state of political representation in this country: it's stalled at whether the District of Columbia should get a voting member in the House, which would make it 436 members for 300 million citizens. How can you take a serious look at a number like that and expect serious executive oversight and representation, even from a pure majority of progressive ideologues? You can't.

So, as I see it, the way out of Iraq and never having an Iraq again is to make these two questions central: Do we want an empire and what does democracy in the 21st Century look like?


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