Page 1 of 2

So Long, American Imperial Dream

Our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan haven't turned out the way the Bush administration expected. Is it time to admit defeat?

| Tue Nov. 8, 2011 3:52 PM EST

How about a moment of silence for the passing of the American Dream? M.R.I.C. (May it rest in carnage.)

No, I'm not talking about the old dream of opportunity that involved homeownership, a better job than your parents had, a decent pension, and all the rest of the package that's so yesterday, so underwater, so OWS. I'm talking about a far more recent dream, a truly audacious one that's similarly gone with the wind.

I'm talking about George W. Bush's American Dream. If people here remember the invasion of Iraq—and most Americans would undoubtedly prefer to forget it—what's recalled is kited intelligence, Saddam Hussein's nonexistent nuclear arsenal, dumb and even dumber decisions, a bloody civil war, dead Americans, crony corporations, a trillion or more taxpayer dollars flushed down the toilet... well, you know the story. What few care to remember was that original dream —call it The Dream—and boy, was it a beaut!

Advertise on MotherJones.com

An American Dream

It went something like this: Back in early 2003, the top officials of the Bush administration had no doubt that Saddam Hussein's Iraq, drained by years of war, no-fly zones, and sanctions, would be a pushover; that the US military, which they idolized and romanticized, would waltz to Baghdad. (The word one of their supporters used in the Washington Post for the onrushing invasion was a "cakewalk.") Nor did they doubt that those troops would be greeted as liberators, even saviors, by throngs of adoring, previously suppressed Shiites strewing flowers in their path. (No kidding, no exaggeration.)

How easy it would be then to install a "democratic" government in Baghdad—which meant their autocratic candidate Ahmad Chalabi—set up four or five strategically situated military mega-bases, exceedingly well-armed American small towns already on the drawing boards before the invasion began, and so dominate the oil heartlands of the planet in ways even the Brits, at the height of their empire, wouldn't have dreamed possible. (Yes, the neocons were then bragging that we would outdo the Roman and British empires rolled into one!)

As there would be no real resistance, the American invasion force could begin withdrawing as early as the fall of 2003, leaving perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 troops, the US Air Force, and various spooks and private contractors behind to garrison a grateful country ad infinitum (on what was then called "the South Korean model"). Iraq's state-run economy would be privatized and its oil resources thrown open to giant global energy companies, especially American ones, which would rebuild the industry and begin pumping millions of barrels of that country's vast reserves, thus undermining the OPEC cartel's control over the oil market.

And mind you, it would hardly cost a cent. Well, at its unlikely worst, maybe $100 billion to $200 billion, but as Iraq, in the phrase of then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, "floats on a sea of oil," most of it could undoubtedly be covered, in the end, by the Iraqis themselves.

Now, doesn't going down memory lane just take your breath away? And yet, Iraq was a bare beginning for Bush's dreamers, who clearly felt like so many proverbial kids in a candy shop (even if they acted like bulls in a china shop). Syria, caught in a strategic pincer between Israel and American Iraq, would naturally bow down; the Iranians, caught similarly between American Iraq and American Afghanistan, would go down big time, too—or simply be taken down Iraqi-style, and who would complain? (As the neocon quip of the moment went: "Everyone wants to go to Baghdad. Real men want to go to Tehran.")

And that wasn't all. Bush's top officials had been fervent Cold Warriors in the days before the US became "the sole superpower," and they saw the new Russia stepping into those old Soviet boots. Having taken down the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, they were already building a network of bases there, too. (Let a thousand Korean models bloom!) Next on the agenda would be rolling the Russians right out of their "near abroad," the former Soviet Socialist Republics, now independent states, of Central Asia.

What glory! Thanks to the unparalleled power of the US military, Washington would control the Greater Middle East from the Mediterranean to the Chinese border and would be beholden to no one when victory came. Great powers, phooey! They were talking about a Pax Americana on which the sun could never set. Meanwhile, there were so many other handy perks: the White House would be loosed from its constitutional bounds via a "unitary executive" and, success breeding success, a Pax Republicana would be established in the US for eons to come (with the Democratic—or as they said sneeringly, the "Democrat"—Party playing the role of Iran and going down in a similar fashion).

 

An American Nightmare

When you wake up in a cold sweat, your heart pounding, from a dream that's turned truly sour, sometimes it's worth trying to remember it before it evaporates, leaving only a feeling of devastation behind.

So hold Bush's American Dream in your head for a few moments longer and consider the devastation that followed. Of Iraq, that multi-trillion-dollar war, what's left? An American expeditionary force, still 30,000-odd troops who were supposed to hunker down there forever, are instead packing their gear and heading "over the horizon." Those giant American towns—with their massive PXs, fast-food restaurants, gift shops, fire stations, and everything else—are soon to be ghost towns, likely as not looted and stripped by Iraqis.

Multi-billions of taxpayer dollars were, of course, sunk into those American ziggurats. Now, assumedly, they are goners except for the monster embassy-cum-citadel the Bush administration built in Baghdad for three-quarters of a billion dollars. It's to house part of a 17,000-person State Department "mission" to Iraq, including 5,000 armed mercenaries, all of whom are assumedly there to ensure that American folly is not utterly absent from that country even after "withdrawal."

Put any spin you want on that withdrawal, but this still represents a defeat of the first order, humiliation on a scale and in a time frame that would have been unimaginable in the invasion year of 2003. After all, the US military was ejected from Iraq by... well, whom exactly?

Then, of course, there's Afghanistan, where the ultimate, inevitable departure has yet to happen, where another trillion-dollar war is still going strong as if there were no holes in American pockets. The US is still taking casualties, still building up its massive base structure, still training an Afghan security force of perhaps 400,000 men in a county too poor to pay for a tenth of that (which means it's ours to fund forever and a day).

Washington still has its stimulus program in Kabul. Its diplomats and military officials shuttle in and out of Afghanistan and Pakistan in search of "reconciliation" with the Taliban, even as CIA drones pound the enemy across the Afghan border and anyone else in the vicinity. As once upon a time in Iraq, the military and the Pentagon still talk about progress being made, even while Washington's unease grows about a war that everyone is now officially willing to call "unwinnable."

In fact, it's remarkable how consistently things that are officially going so well are actually going so badly. Just the other day, for instance, despite the fact that the US is training up a storm, Major General Peter Fuller, running the training program for Afghan forces, was dismissed by war commander General John Allen for dissing Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his generals. He called them "isolated from reality."

Isolated from reality? Here's the US record on the subject: it's costing Washington (and so the American taxpayer) $11.6 billion this year alone to train those security forces and yet, after years of such training, "not a single Afghan army battalion can operate without assistance from US or allied units."

You don't have to be a seer to know that this, too, represents a form of defeat, even if the enemy, as in Iraq, is an underwhelming set of ragtag minority insurgencies. Still, it's more or less a given that any American dreams for Afghanistan, like Britain's and Russia's before it, will be buried someday in the rubble of a devastated but resistant land, no matter what resources Washington choses to continue to squander on the task.

This, simply put, is part of a larger landscape of imperial defeat.

Page 1 of 2