May 18, 2013
The Withdrawal Follies
Posted on Jul 26, 2007
Note: Originally published on TomDispatch.com.
The Withdrawal Follies
The Bush Administration Plants Its Flag in the Future
Withdrawal is now so mainstream. Last week, debate about it led to a sleep-in protest in the Senate and, this week, it’s hit the cover of TIME Magazine, of which there’s no mainer-stream around. The TIME cover couldn’t be more graphic. The word “IRAQ” is in giant type, the “I,” “R,” and “Q” all black, and a helicopter is carting off a stars-and-stripes “A” to reveal the phrase, “What will happen when we leave.” (Mind you, some military blogs now claim that the helicopter in silhouette is actually an old Soviet Mi-24 Hind; if so, maybe the designer had the embattled Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan in mind.)
Still, is there anyplace in the news where you can’t find the word “withdrawal,” or its pals “exit,” “pull out,” and “leaving” right now? Here are just a few recent headlines featuring the word that has come in from the cold: “Most Americans want Congress to make withdrawal decision, according to poll”; “The Logistics of Exiting Iraq”; “U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be a massive undertaking”; “Americans Want Withdrawal, Deadline in Iraq”; “Washington’s House Democrats join in calling for Iraq troop withdrawal”; “Withdrawal fallout could lead to chaos”; “Exit strategies”; “Iraq warns against early US withdrawal”; and so on ad infinitum.
Think of that as “progress”—as in our Baghdad commander General David Petraeus’ upcoming mid-September “Progress Report” to Congress. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that no one (except obscure sites on the Internet) was talking about withdrawing American forces from Iraq.
As imagined these last months, withdrawal turns out to be a very partial affair that will leave sizeable numbers of American occupation forces in Iraq for a long period. If anything, the latest versions of “withdrawal” have been used as cudgels to beat upon real withdrawal types.
The President, Vice President, top administration officials and spokespeople, and the increasingly gung-ho team of commanders in Iraq—most of whom haven’t, in recent years, been able to deliver on a single prediction, or even pressure the Iraqis into achieving one major administration-set “benchmark”—have nonetheless managed to take possession of the future. They now claim to know what it holds better than the rest of us and are turning that “knowledge” against any suggestion of genuine withdrawal.
Worst of all, we’ve already been through this in the Vietnam era, but since no one seems to remember, no lessons are drawn.
Fast-Forward to the Future
In recent months, General David Petraeus, our “surge” commander in Iraq, has popularized a double or triple clock image: ““We’re racing against the clock, certainly. We’re racing against the Washington clock, the London clock, a variety of other timepieces up there, and we’ve got to figure out how to speed up the Baghdad clock.” In fact, he and his commanders have done just that, resetting the “Baghdad clock” for future time.
There’s a history of the future to consider here. In the late 1950s, when nuclear weapons made war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union inconceivable, the Pentagon and associated think-tanks found themselves forced to enter the realm of the future—and so of fiction—to “fight” their wars. They began, in strategist Herman Kahn’s famous phrase, to “think the unthinkable” and so entered the realm of science fiction, the fantasy scenario, and the war game.
In those decades, possessing the future was of genuine significance to the Pentagon. It led to a culture in which weapons systems were planned out long years, sometimes decades, in advance and so the wars they were to fight had to be imagined as well. Today, Baghdad 2025 is becoming ever more real for the Pentagon as Baghdad 2007 descends into ever greater chaos.
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