In a front page exposé on January 4, the Washington Post revealed that sneaky Persian agitators are conspiring to thwart the Pentagon’s noble aim of keeping 10,000-30,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan on "non-permanent," "non-U.S." bases after "all foreign troops are supposed to be withdrawn" in 2014, just as these sneaky Persians conspired to thwart the Pentagon’s noble aim of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq.
The Post story is quite instructive, even if it is not exactly "news" in the common sense of the term. It presents the world from the point of view of diehard Pentagon revanchists who want to keep US troops in Muslim countries forever against the will of the majority of Americans and against the will of the majority of people who live in these countries. It presents this diehard Pentagon revanchist view as if there were no interests in the world besides those of Pentagon revanchists and wily Persian agitators, such as the interests of the majority of people who happen to live in the United States, Afghanistan, and Iraq. Of course, in the world view of the diehard Pentagon revanchist, the concerns of these mere residents are largely irrelevant, if they have no military implications. How many divisions do these mere residents control? These mere residents are just pawns in a game of Pentagon-sneaky Persian chess.
It is a story, moreover, that is spectacularly contradicted by the Post’s own previous reporting, as well as that of other major American newspapers.
The story informs us:
Iran’s strategy in Afghanistan is reminiscent of its maneuvering in Iraq, where it helped fuel the insurgency and persuaded Iraqi politicians not to yield on allowing the Americans a small military presence beyond 2011.
That gives the game away, doesn’t it? Here we have a diehard Pentagon revanchist causation story for why the Obama Administration did not succeed in renegotiating the Bush Administration’s agreement to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011: it was because sneaky Persians persuaded Iraqi politicians not to yield. If it hadn’t been for the meddling of those sneaky Persians, those Iraqi politicians would have been like putty in the Pentagon’s hands. "And I would have gotten away with it too, if it weren’t for you meddling kids!"
That’s instructive, isn’t it?
There are certainly competing causation stories for why the Obama Administration complied with the Bush agreement, which you would have no idea about from reading this article. There is the John McCain/neocon story, which is that the Obama Administration did not try hard enough to negotiate a new agreement to keep U.S. troops in Iraq, because President Obama didn’t have enough enthusiasm for the Pentagon/neocon keep-troops-in-Iraq-forever project. There is the Obama Administration’s main causation story, which is that they did try, but the Iraqi parliament would not agree to immunity for U.S. troops from Iraqi prosecution for committing crimes. There is the anti-war activists’ causation story, which is that it was to force US troops to be withdrawn that we knocked on doors for Ned Lamont in Connecticut and Barack Obama in Indiana. There is the U.S. public opinion causation story, which is that U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq is what the overwhelming majority of Americans wanted, including the majority of Republicans.
And then there is the causation story that actually appeared in the news pages of the Washington Post and the New York Times at the time that the final withdrawal was announced: Iraqis wouldn’t tolerate for U.S. troops to stay, because the Pentagon killed too many Iraqi civilians, and no-one was held responsible.
Liz Sly reported in the Washington Post:
In the accounting of what was won and lost in America’s Iraq war, [Haditha] will rank as a place where almost everything was lost…. in dueling [Iraqi and American] perceptions, over the killings in Haditha and others nationwide, lay the undoing of the U.S. military’s hopes of maintaining a long-term presence here. When it came to deciding the future of American troops in Iraq, the irreconcilable difference that stood in the way of an agreement was a demand by Iraqi politicians for an end to the grant of immunity that has protected on-duty U.S. soldiers from Iraqi courts.
"The image of the American soldier is as a killer, not a defender. And how can you give a killer immunity?" said Sami al-Askari, a lawmaker who is also a close aide to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.
Michael Schmidt reported in the New York Times:
Charges were dropped against six of the accused Marines in the Haditha episode, one was acquitted and the last remaining case against one Marine is scheduled to go to trial next year.
That sense of American impunity ultimately poisoned any chance for American forces to remain in Iraq, because the Iraqis would not let them stay without being subject to Iraqi laws and courts, a condition the White House could not accept.
What are we to make, then, of the Pentagon’s kvetching that sneaky Persians are trying to obstruct its noble aim to keep U.S. troops in Afghanistan forever, given that keeping U.S. troops in Afghanistan forever is not what the majority of Americans want, and that many people who happen to live in Afghanistan actually have their own legitimate reasons for opposing the Pentagon’s plans, such as the Pentagon’s hated night raids into Afghans’ private homes, without which the Pentagon claims there is no point in having U.S. troops there?
It’s been a very heavy lift, working to get U.S. politicians and the Pentagon to bend to the will of the majority of Americans who don’t want U.S. troops fighting in these countries forever for the ability to keep U.S. troops in these countries against the will of the people who live there. But here’s some consolation for our slow progress in holding our own public institutions accountable to our will: the sneaky Persians have reportedly been doing the bidding of the majority of Americans, even though we never voted for them and give them none of our tax dollars. We can’t even send flowers to the sneaky Persians for their yeoman service to U.S. public opinion; that’s prohibited under U.S. sanctions. But we can congratulate the sneaky Persians for their apparent success in our shared endeavor: Mazl tov![Note: I am indebted to "Axis of Evil Tour" comedian Maz Jobrani for the phrase, "sneaky Persian."]
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.