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Point of View:

“There are people in Washington…who never intend to withdraw military forces from Iraq and they’re looking for 10, 20, 50 years in the future…the reason that we went into Iraq was to establish a permanent military base in the gulf region, and I have never heard any of our leaders say that they would commit themselves to the Iraqi people that 10 years from now there will be no military bases of the United States in Iraq.”

– Former President Jimmy Carter (2/3/06)

For all the talk about timetables and benchmarks, one might think that the US will end the military occupation of Iraq within the lifetimes of the readers of this column. Think again.

There is to be no withdrawal from Iraq, just as there has been no withdrawal from hundreds of places around the world that are outposts of the American empire. As UC professor emeritus Chalmers Johnson put it recently, “One of the reasons we had no exit plan from Iraq is that we didn’t intend to leave.”

The United States maintains 737 military bases in 130 countries around the globe. They exist for the purpose of defending the economic interests of the US, what is euphemistically called “national security.” In order to secure favorable access to Iraq’s vast reserves of light crude, the US is spending billions on the construction of at least five large permanent military bases throughout the country.

A new Iraq oil law, largely written by the US-dominated Coalition Provisional Authority, is planned for ratification by June of this year. This law cedes control of Iraq’s oil to Western powers for at least a generation. There is major opposition to the proposed law within Iraq, especially among the country’s five trade union federations that represent hundreds of thousands of oil workers. The US is working hard to surmount this opposition.

The attack upon, and subsequent occupation of, Iraq can be seen as a direct result of the 2001 National Energy Policy Development Group (better known as vice president Cheney’s energy task force) that was comprised largely of oil and energy company executives. This task force – the proceedings of which have been kept secret by the administration on the grounds of “executive privilege” – recommended that the US government support initiatives in Middle Eastern countries “to open up areas of their energy sector to foreign investment.” As Antonio Juhasz, an analyst with Oil Change International, wrote recently in the New York Times, “One invasion and a great deal of political engineering by the Bush administration later, this is exactly what the proposed Iraq oil law would achieve.”

The people of the United States have indicated, in the national election last November and in countless polls, that they no longer support the Bush administration’s war. The Scooter Libby trial revealed that top administration officials, including the vice president, “cherry-picked” and distorted intelligence in order to sell an illegal “preemptive” war to a spooked public. The squandering of hundreds of billions of dollars, some billions of which, according to Seymour Hersh writing in the New Yorker, is being siphoned into “black-ops” programs being run out of Mr. Cheney’s office (a stunning redux of Iran-Contra carried out by many of the same actors), has also strained the patience and credulity of the American people.

Another betrayal is the “contracting out” of “war-related activities” to corporate cronies like Halliburton, Bechtel, Chemonics and Blackwater. Halliburton, vice president Cheney’s previous employer, calls itself an “energy services company” but has tentacles reaching into nearly every aspect of the war (originally dubbed Operation Iraqi Liberation until some bright bulb among the Bushies realized that “OIL” might not be the best handle for an oil grab). Halliburton has also profited handsomely from no-bid government contracts awarded in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the construction of the national embarrassment known as “Gitmo” and, most recently, from the fiasco at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington, DC. Cheney himself has enjoyed a financial boon; his Halliburton stock options rose over 3000 percent in value over his years as a “public servant” in the Bush administration.

Unfortunately, all this corruption, mayhem and death are good for some (or it wouldn’t go on). The profits of the military-industrial complex (yes, President Eisenhower was right!) continue to soar along with stock portfolios of the Bushes, Bakers and Blums. They even have their very own Frankenstein monster known as The Carlyle Group, a “global private equity investment firm” that sucks up the profits of war-making. The US military budget, larger than that of the rest of the world combined, continues skyward, even without all the “supplementals” passed regularly by Congress to fight the “war on terror.”

The question we must ask as citizens is this: Is the US a democratic republic or an empire? History demonstrates that it’s not possible to be both.

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