The VP Debate: Dishonest Foreign Policies

The October 3 debate between Alaska Governor Sarah Palin and Delaware Senator Joe Biden was disturbing for those of us hoping for a more enlightened and honest foreign policy during the next four years. In its aftermath, pundits mainly focused on Palin’s failure to self-destruct and Biden’s relatively cogent arguments. Here’s an annotation of the foreign policy issues raised during the vice-presidential debate, which was packed with demonstrably false and misleading statements.

Getting the Facts Wrong on Iraq

PALIN: I am very thankful that we do have a good plan and the surge and the counterinsurgency strategy in Iraq that has proven to work… You guys opposed the surge. The surge worked. Barack Obama still can’t admit the surge works.

Obama actually has claimed that the surge worked. This makes both he and Palin wrong, however. The decline in violence in Iraq in recent months has largely resulted from a shift in the alignment of internal Iraqi forces and the tragic de facto partitioning of Baghdad into sectarian enclaves. What’s more, the current relative equilibrium is probably temporary. The decision by certain Sunni tribal militias that had been battling U.S. forces to turn their weapons against al-Qaeda-related extremists took place before the surge was even announced. Similarly, militant opposition leader Muqtada al-Sadr’s unilateral ceasefire resulted from internal Shia politics rather than any U.S. actions.

PALIN: And with the surge that has worked we’re now down to pre-surge numbers in Iraq.

This is completely untrue. Prior to the “surge” in January 2007, the United States had approximately 132,000 troops in Iraq. Currently, there are 146,000 troops in Iraq This is less than at the surge’s peak, but the decline had to do with the fact that U.S. forces could not be realistically maintained at that level, not from a decision to pull down the number of forces because of any success.

For no apparent reason, Biden didn’t challenge Palin on this clear misstatement.

BIDEN: With regard to Iraq, I gave the president the power [in the October 2002 Iraq War Resolution]. I voted for the power because he said he needed it not to go to war but to keep the United States, the UN in line, to keep sanctions on Iraq and not let them be lifted.

This was perhaps the most seriously misleading statement of the entire debate.

Palin correctly countered with the fact that “it was a war resolution.” Indeed, the resolution supported by Biden explicitly stated that “The president is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate.” Biden certainly knew that.

It’s also hard to imagine that Biden actually believed Bush’s claim that it was necessary to “keep sanctions on Iraq and not let them be lifted.” There was absolutely no serious effort in the UN or anywhere else at that time to lift any sanctions against Iraq in a manner that could have conceivably aided Iraq’s ability to make war, develop “weapons of mass destruction,” or in any other way strengthen Saddam Hussein’s regime.

It’s particularly disturbing that a man who may well be the next vice president seems to think that the United States has the right to try to “to keep the UN in line.” The United States is legally bound — by a signed and ratified international treaty pursuant to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution — to provisions of the UN Charter. And the charter prohibits wars of aggression, such as the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The UN’s job is to keep nation-states in line regarding international law, which the Iraq War — made possible in part through Biden’s vote in support its authorization — was one of the most serious and blatant violations since the world body’s establishment in 1945.

In any case, at the time of the Iraq War resolution, the UN had for well over a decade imposed the most comprehensive disarmament regime in history and had already successfully disarmed Iraq of its biological and chemical weapons; its biological, chemical and nuclear weapons programs; and its long-range delivery systems. Furthermore, at the time of the resolution and as a result of pressure from the UN, Iraq had already agreed to the return of UN inspectors under strict modalities guaranteeing unfettered access to confirm Iraq’s disarmament. As a result, Biden’s belief that the United States had to “keep the UN in line” is indicative of his contempt for the UN Charter and the post-World War II international legal order, thereby raising serious questions regarding Obama’s judgment in choosing him as his running mate.

PALIN: I know that the other ticket. . . opposed funding for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In reality, Biden has consistently supported unconditional funding for Bush’s war in Iraq and Afghanistan, even as evidence of torture, widespread killings of civilians, the resulting insurgency, and other problems have become apparent. Furthermore, as Biden pointed out, John McCain also voted against “funding for our troops” when the appropriation was tied to certain conditions he disliked. Similarly, Obama’s votes against other appropriations bills were because he had objections to certain provisions.

PALIN: We cannot afford to lose against al-Qaeda and the Shia extremists who are still there, still fighting us, but we’re getting closer and closer to victory. And it would be a travesty if we quit now in Iraq.

There was no heavily-armed al-Qaeda or Shia extremists in Iraq until the Bush administration — backed by Senators McCain and Biden — decided to invade that country and overthrow Saddam Hussein, who had prevented such groups from emerging. Prior to the invasion, authorities on Iraq repeatedly pointed out the possibility of such extremists gaining influence in Iraq. If the Republicans were actually concerned about the rise of such extremist groups, they would never have supported the war in the first place. This is simply an excuse to defend the long-planned indefinite occupation of Iraq to control its natural resources and maintain a permanent U.S. military presence in this strategically important region. Claims of being “closer and closer to victory” have been made by Republican leaders ever since the initial invasion in March 2003, and it remains doubtful whether a military victory can ever be achieved.

PALIN: Your plan is a white flag of surrender in Iraq and that is not what our troops need to hear today, that’s for sure. And it’s not what our nation needs to be able to count on.

As Biden pointed out, Prime Minister Nouri al–Maliki has pushed for a withdrawal plan that’s essentially the same as Obama’s. And public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans — including most U.S. troops currently in Iraq — prefer Obama’s plan over McCain’s open-ended indefinite commitment of U.S. forces. And Obama’s plan calls only for the redeployment of combat units, which would not be completed until well into 2010.

Much to the disappointment of those in the anti-war movement, Obama’s plan also calls for maintaining thousands of other U.S. troops within the country to ostensibly protect U.S. personnel, train Iraqi forces, and engage in counter-terrorism operations. Furthermore, Obama’s plan calls for stationing many tens of thousands of U.S. forces in neighboring countries for possible short-term incursions into Iraq.

To claim that this is the same as “a white flag of surrender” is demagoguery at its most extreme.

BIDEN: But let’s get straight who has been right and wrong: …John McCain was saying the Sunnis and Shias got along with each other without reading the history of the last 700 years.

McCain was indeed wrong about many things in regard to Iraq, but the fact is that Sunnis and Shias in Iraq largely did “get along” – until the U.S. invasion supported by Biden created the conditions that led to the subsequent sectarian conflict. Saddam’s secular regime did persecute Shia, but the widespread sectarian massacres of recent years were a direct consequence of the divide-and-rule policies of the U.S. occupation. Prior to the U.S. invasion, millions of Sunni and Shia Iraqis lived peacefully together in mixed neighborhoods, intermarriage was common (particularly in urban areas), and many in rural areas worshiped in the same mosques.

Furthermore, as with conflict in Northern Ireland, the inter-communal violence in Iraq hasn’t simply resulted from religious differences but has erupted over perceived national loyalties, with the Sunnis traditionally identifying with pan-Arabist nationalists and the U.S.-backed ruling Shia parties historically allying with Iran.

Distorting Iran

PALIN: Israel is in jeopardy of course when we’re dealing with Ahmadinejad as a leader of Iran. Iran claiming that Israel…should be wiped off the face of the earth. Now a leader like Ahmadinejad who is not sane or stable when he says things like that is not one whom we can allow to acquire nuclear energy, nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad…seek[s] to acquire nuclear weapons and wipe off the face of the earth an ally like we have in Israel.

Ahmadinejad never said that “Israel should be wiped off the face of the Earth.” That idiom doesn’t even exist in the Persian language. The Iranian president was quoting the late Ayatollah Khomeini from more than 20 years earlier when, in a statement largely ignored at the time, he said that “the regime occupying Jerusalem should vanish from the pages of time.” While certainly an extreme and deplorable statement, the actual quote’s emphasis on the Israeli “regime” rather than the country itself and its use of an intransitive verb makes the statement far less threatening than Palin was trying to make it sound. As recently as the week before the debate, Ahmadinejad once again clarified that the statement was analogous to the way that the Soviet Union is today no longer on the map, emphasizing his desire for Israel’s dissolution as a state, not the country’s physical destruction. Biden inexplicably refused to challenge this apparently deliberate effort by Palin to make American viewers believe Iran is a greater and more imminent threat than it actually is.

Palin’s argument that nuclear energy is something the United States cannot “allow [Iran] to acquire” was rather bizarre since Iran has had nuclear power since the 1950s, as a result of a program initiated by the United States. The United States continued to be the primary supporter for Iran’s nuclear program through the 1970s.

Finally, as Biden observed, Ahmadinejad doesn’t control Iran’s security apparatus. Unlike in the United States, the Iranian president isn’t the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Such responsibilities lie with the Supreme Leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Indeed, the Iranian presidency is relatively weak compared with other centers of power in that regime.

PALIN: “Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il, the Castro brothers, others who are dangerous dictators are ones that Barack Obama has said he would be willing to meet without preconditions being met first. And an issue like that taken up by a presidential candidate goes beyond naiveté and goes beyond poor judgment. A statement that he made like that is downright dangerous. “…These dictators who hate America and hate what we stand for, with our freedoms, our democracy, our tolerance, our respect for women’s rights, those who would try to destroy what we stand for cannot be met with just sitting down on a presidential level as Barack Obama had said he would be willing to do. That is beyond bad judgment. That is dangerous…But diplomacy is hard work by serious people. It’s lining out clear objectives and having your friends and your allies ready to back you up there and have sanctions lined up before any kind of presidential summit would take place.”

As Biden observed, Obama never said he would meet with Ahmadinejad, but with Iranian leaders, presumably those with more power and less extremist views than the Iranian president. And, for reasons mentioned above, while Ahmadinejad is part of an oppressive, authoritarian regime, he is not, strictly speaking, a “dictator.”

Secondly, if it is really poor judgment and “downright dangerous” to meet with dictators without preconditions, why hasn’t Palin ever taken issue with decisions by such former Republican presidents as Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, and Bush, who met with dictators who were as bad or worse than the ones she mentioned and did so without self-defeating preconditions like those demanded by the current administration and by McCain? Indeed, President Bush himself has met with the king of Saudi Arabia, whose regime is far more repressive in terms of freedom, democracy, tolerance, and women’s rights than Castro’s Cuba: the rights of women under Castro have improved greatly relative to previous Cuban regimes, while the U.S.-backed family dictatorship in Saudi Arabia remains the most reactionary and misogynist regime on the planet; religious tolerance is Cuba is far greater than in Saudi Arabia, where non-Muslims are forbidden to worship openly; and, while individual freedom and electoral democracy is certainly quite limited in Cuba, that country still compares favorably to Saudi Arabia.

Finally, Palin’s insistence that the goal of the Cuban, North Korean, and Iranian regimes is to “destroy” America’s freedom, democracy, tolerance, and respect for women’s rights is completely inaccurate and ahistorical. The anti-Americanism of these regimes is rooted not in opposition to America’s values, but U.S. militarism and intervention in relation to those countries, which were taken not in defense of freedom and democracy, but in support for previous Cuban, Korean, and Iranian dictatorships. Biden, however, didn’t challenge Palin on this simplistic distortion.

Israel and its Neighbors

BIDEN: Here’s what the president [Bush] said when we said no. He insisted on elections on the West Bank, when I said, and others said, and Barack Obama said, “Big mistake. Hamas will win. You’ll legitimize them.” What happened? Hamas won.

Biden’s position of opposing democratic elections in Arab countries is quite disturbing and represents a significant step back from the Bush administration’s limited support for such elections. The lesson that should have been learned from Hamas’ victory in the January 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections isn’t that the United States should oppose free elections. Instead, Biden should have recognized that Hamas’ victory came about as a direct result of U.S. policies, supported by Biden, that have provided Israeli occupation forces with the sufficient military, financial, and diplomatic support to engage in its ongoing repression and colonization in the Palestinian West Bank. It’s such policies that led to the rise of this radical Islamist group, which did not even exist until after a quarter century of U.S.-backed Israeli occupation and the failure of the United States to move the peace process forward in a manner that could have provided the Palestinians with any realistic hope that a viable Palestinian state would result.

Failure to prevent the Palestinian government from allowing all major Palestinian political parties from participating in a parliamentary election doesn’t “legitimize” Hamas. Unfortunately, Hamas was already seen as legitimate by the plurality of Palestinian voters who gave them their parliamentary majority.

PALIN: “We will support Israel[,]…this peace-seeking nation, and they have a track record of being able to forge these peace agreements…They succeeded with Egypt. I’m sure that we’re going to see more success there, also.”

Israel “succeeded” in its peace agreement with Egypt because, under pressure from the Carter administration, the Israeli government agreed to withdraw from all Egyptian territory captured in the 1967 war. By contrast, Israel — with the support of the Bush administration as well as Senators McCain and Biden — has refused to consider a complete withdrawal from Palestinian and Syrian territory despite assurances by Syrian, Palestinian, and other Arab leaders of full diplomatic relations and strict security guarantees in return.

The refusal of Israel to agree to a complete withdrawal from these occupied territories — even with minor and reciprocal border adjustments — as called for in a series of landmark UN Security Council resolutions and by virtually the entire international community, raises serious questions regarding Palin’s characterization of Israel as a “peace-seeking” nation.

BIDEN: When [in 2006] …along with France, we kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon, I said and Barack said, “Move NATO forces in there. Fill the vacuum, because…if you don’t, Hezbollah will control it.” Now what’s happened? Hezbollah is a legitimate part of the government in the country immediately to the north of Israel.

Neither France nor the United States “kicked Hezbollah out of Lebanon.” France was the primary supporter of the August 2006 UN Security Council resolution — initially opposed by the United States because it wanted the devastating war to continue in the hopes of a more clear-cut Israeli victory — which required forces of Hezbollah’s armed militia to withdraw from areas south of the Litani River, located about 20 miles north of the Israeli border. Hezbollah forces withdrew and UN peacekeeping forces have moved into the area. (These forces include troops from NATO countries, but aren’t part of a NATO operation, which would have likely been unnecessarily provocative in a region that had suffered under the colonial rule of three NATO countries.) There’s no “vacuum” in the southernmost parts of Lebanon where the UN peacekeeping forces are stationed and Hezbollah does not “control it.”

In any case, there was never a serious attempt to kick Hezbollah — which is one of Lebanon’s largest political parties, not simply an armed militia — out of Lebanon as a whole.

Furthermore Hezbollah was already “a legitimate part of the government” of Lebanon during the time period referred to by Biden; the Lebanese government at that time included one Hezbollah cabinet member and a second cabinet minister of an allied party. It’s not “what’s happened” subsequent to the alleged failures of the Bush administration to push for the deployment of NATO forces, as Biden claimed. Biden actually knows this: he was a cosponsor of a Senate resolution in July 2006 that included the clause, “the Government of Lebanon, which includes representatives of Hezbollah,…”

BIDEN: Iran[’s] … proxies now have a major stake in Lebanon, as well as in the Gaza Strip with Hamas.

Neither the Palestinian Hamas nor the Lebanese Hezbollah are “proxies” of Iran.

Hamas evolved out of the Muslim Brotherhood, a Sunni movement that came into being decades before the Iranian revolution and that has had no significant ties with Iran. From Hamas’ founding in the early 1980s until just a few years ago, this Palestinian Islamist group’s primary outside funding came from Saudi Arabia and other Arab monarchies in the Gulf region that have traditionally been hostile to Iran. Since the U.S-led international sanctions against the Hamas-led branch of the Palestine Authority was launched in early 2006, Iran has contributed funds to help keep the government functioning, but this does not make Hamas an Iranian “proxy.”

By contrast, Iran played a significant role in the establishment of Hezbollah as an armed resistance movement against the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in the mid-1980s, and Iran has provided some funding and armaments for the militia. However, Hezbollah has long evolved into a populist political party with substantial support from Lebanon’s Shiite population — the country’s largest community — and follows its own agenda.

Afghanistan and Pakistan

PALIN: Barack Obama had said that all we’re doing in Afghanistan is air-raiding villages and killing civilians. And such a reckless, reckless comment and untrue comment, again, hurts our cause.

Obama never said that that is “all we’re doing in Afghanistan.” Furthermore, it’s well-documented by the Afghan government, independent journalists, reputable human rights groups, and even the U.S. military itself that U.S. air strikes on Afghan villages have killed civilians. Indeed, the civilian death toll is in the thousands and has been a major contributing factor in losing the hearts and minds of the Afghan population, particularly in the countryside. Strangely, however, Biden refused to defend Obama on this point.

BIDEN: There have been 7,000 madrassas built along that [Afghan-Pakistani] border. We should be helping them build schools to compete for those hearts and minds of the people in the region so that we’re actually able to take on terrorism …

A madrassa is a school. Most madrassas offer a general education with a special emphasis on Islamic principles. Only a small minority are affiliated with reactionary strains of Islam that preach the kind of doctrine that rationalizes terrorism. Biden’s comment simply reinforces Islamphobic bigotry.

It’s also important to note that most of the extremist madrassas in that area were started in the 1980s when the United States — in a policy Biden supported – armed and financed hard-line fundamentalist mujahideen fighters based in that border region who were then engaged in a war against the Communist regime and its Soviet backers then in power in Afghanistan.

Clinton’s GWU Iraq Speech

On March 17, New York Senator and Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton gave a speech at George Washington University outlining her plans to de-escalate U.S. military involvement in Iraq. Though she called for the gradual withdrawal of U.S. combat brigades over the next several years, she continued to refuse to apologize for her 2002 vote authorizing the invasion, to acknowledge the illegality of the war, or to fully explain her false claims made at that time regarding Iraq’s military capabilities and alleged ties to al-Qaeda. Nor was she able to offer an explanation as to what led to her dramatic shift from a supporter of the ongoing war and occupation as recently as a year and a half ago to her current more critical perspective.

Below are excerpts from her speech, followed by annotated comments:

“It has been five years this week since our president took us to war in Iraq.”

President George W. Bush was not solely responsible for taking the United States to war. He had accomplices, such as Hillary Clinton. Bush was only able launch the invasion as a result of being provided with the authorization to do so by a Congressional resolution. Clinton was among a minority of congressional Democrats who – combined with a Republican majority – provided sufficient votes to give the go-ahead for this illegal and disastrous war.

“Bringing lasting stability to the region will take a president with the strength and determination, the knowledge and confidence…to rebuild our military readiness, to care for our veterans, and to redouble our efforts against al-Qaeda. If you give me the chance, I will be that president.”

As predicted prior to the invasion, the over-extension of the U.S. armed forces, the enormous costs, and the high casualty rates resulting from the war has greatly harmed U.S. military readiness, the ability to care for veterans, and the struggle against al-Qaeda. It’s hard to imagine how someone who supported the invasion can be trusted to be the kind of president who will be able to address those needs.

“Nearly 4,000 of [our troops] have, by now, made that ultimate sacrifice. Tens of thousands more have suffered wounds both visible and invisible to their bodies, their minds, and their hearts. Their families have sacrificed, too, in empty places at the dinner table, in the struggle to raise children alone, in the wrenching reversal of parents burying children… Our armed forces are stretched to near the breaking point with many of our troops on their second, third, or fourth tours of duty. … Taking into consideration the long-term costs of replacing equipment and providing medical care for troops and survivors’ benefits for their families, the war in Iraq could ultimately cost well over $1 trillion.”

In scholarly journals, in newspaper columns, in congressional testimony, on this web site, and elsewhere, there were ample warnings of just such disastrous consequences resulting from a U.S. invasion of Iraq. Regardless, Clinton apparently believed at the time that seizing control of that oil-rich country was worth the sacrifice. Only since public opinion polls indicated that she had no hope of winning the Democratic presidential nomination if she continued to support the war, did she start talking about the war’s negative consequences.

“I have met with our soldiers and military leaders [in Iraq]. I have met with Iraqi local, regional, and national elected and other influential officials.”

During her one trip to Iraq, in February 2005, she insisted that the U.S. occupation was “functioning quite well,” although the security situation had deteriorated so badly that the four-lane divided highway on flat open terrain connecting the airport with the capital could not be secured at the time of her arrival, requiring a helicopter to transport her to the Green Zone. Though 55 Iraqis and one American soldier were killed during her brief visit, she insisted – in a manner remarkably similar to statements by Vice President Dick Cheney – that the rise in suicide bombings was evidence that the insurgency was failing.

“The American people don’t have to guess whether I’m ready to lead or whether I understand the realities on the ground in Iraq or whether I’d be too dependent on advisers to help me determine the right way forward. I’ve been working day-in and day-out in the Senate to provide leadership to end this war.”

In reality, until very recently, Clinton was one of the leading senators supporting the war. Even after the U.S. forces invaded and occupied Iraq and confirmed that – contrary to Clinton’s initial justification for the U.S. conquest – Iraq did not have “weapons of mass destruction,” active WMD programs, offensive delivery systems, or ties to al-Qaeda as she and other supporters of the war had claimed, she defended her vote to authorize the invasion anyway. When Representative John Murtha (D-PA) made his first call for the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq in November 2005, she denounced his effort, calling a withdrawal of U.S. forces “a big mistake.” In 2006, when Senator John Kerry sponsored an amendment that would have required the redeployment of U.S. forces from Iraq in order to advance a political solution to the growing sectarian strife, she voted against it.

“Now, my Democratic opponent talks a great deal about a speech he gave in 2002. He is asking us to judge him by his words, and words can be powerful, but only if the speaker translates them into action and solutions. Senator Obama holds up his original opposition to the war on the campaign trail, but he didn’t start working aggressively to end the war until he started running for president. So when he had a chance to act on his speech, he chose silence instead.”

It’s ironic that Clinton, in a desperate effort to cover up for her support for the war and her lies to justify it, would belittle Obama’s accurate and prescient understanding that invading Iraq was wrong. Back in October 2002, Obama publicly acknowledged that “Saddam poses no imminent and direct threat to the United States, or to his neighbors” and that “even a successful war against Iraq will require a U.S. occupation of undetermined length, at undetermined cost, with undetermined consequences.” He also recognized that “an invasion of Iraq without a clear rationale and without strong international support will only fan the flames of the Middle East, and encourage the worst, rather than best, impulses of the Arab world, and strengthen the recruitment arm of al-Qaeda.” That same month in Washington, however, Clinton was insisting incorrectly that Iraq was such a dire threat to U.S. national security that it required her, “in the best interests of our nation,” to vote to authorize the invasion.

Furthermore, Obama did a lot more than give a speech: he gave interviews, lobbied members of Congress, and made a series of other statements in which he warned of the violent sectarian and ethnic divisions which could emerge following a U.S. invasion and occupation, the risks of a long-term U.S. military commitment, and the dangerous precedent of giving a carte blanche for a pre-emptive war.

It was true that, much to the disappointment of many of his supporters, Obama did not initially take leadership in opposition to the war once he was elected to the U.S. Senate, though it is customary for freshman senators to take a back seat on foreign policy issues during the early part of their first term. Yet, by November of his first year in office, while Clinton was still backing Bush administration policy, Obama was calling for a reduction in U.S. forces. Within a year, Obama introduced legislation setting a date for the withdrawal of U.S. troops, well prior to Clinton supporting such legislation.

“As we bring our troops and contractors home, we cannot lose sight of our strategic interests in this region. The reality is that this war has made the terrorists stronger. Well, they may not have been in Iraq before the war, they are there now, and we cannot allow Iraq to become a breeding ground and safe haven for terrorists who seek to attack us and our friends and allies. So let me be clear – under my plan, withdrawing from Iraq will not mean retreating from fighting terrorism in Iraq. That’s why I will order small, elite strike forces to engage in targeted operations against al- Qaeda in Iraq. This will protect Iraqi citizens, our allies, and our families right here at home.”

Clinton did not always acknowledge the absence of terrorist operations in Iraq prior to the U.S. invasion and occupation. Indeed, in order to justify her vote to authorize the invasion, she insisted that Saddam had “given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members.” This came despite top strategic analysts correctly informing her that there were no apparent links between Saddam Hussein’s secular nationalist regime and the radical Islamist al-Qaeda, despite doubts of such claims appearing in the National Intelligence Estimates made available to her, and despite a subsequent definitive report by the Department of Defense which noted that not only did no such link exist, but that no such link could have even been reasonably suggested based upon the evidence available at that time. Now, as a direct consequence of the invasion and occupation she helped make possible, Clinton uses the very real presence of terrorist groups, including at least major faction which identifies with al-Qaeda, as an excuse to continue prosecuting the war.

Bush’s Last State of the Union

On January 28, President George W. Bush gave the last State of the Union address of his two-term tenure. Many of his remarks centered on foreign policy. FPIF’s Stephen Zunes annotates the president’s claims and statements.

“On trade, we must trust American workers to compete with anyone in the world and empower them by opening up new markets overseas. Today, our economic growth increasingly depends on our ability to sell American goods and crops and services all over the world. So we’re working to break down barriers to trade and investment wherever we can.”

The record at this point is quite clear that free trade has hurt American workers. The resulting lower tariffs has made it easier for transnational corporations to shut down manufacturing facilities in the United States and take advantage of cheap labor, lower taxes, and weaker worker safety and environmental standards in foreign countries. This has contributed directly to the decline in economic growth in the United States and the real income of American workers in recent years. Meanwhile, through U.S.-backed structural adjustment programs imposed by international financial institutions and other measures, wages and government spending in most countries of Latin America, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East are kept low. As a result, there is not enough money left for foreign consumers to spend on U.S.-manufactured goods that could make up for U.S. losses in wages and tax revenues from the runaway shops.

“These [free trade] agreements also promote America’s strategic interests. The first agreement that will come before you is with Colombia, a friend of America that is confronting violence and terror, and fighting drug traffickers. If we fail to pass this agreement, we will embolden the purveyors of false populism in our hemisphere. So we must come together, pass this agreement, and show our neighbors in the region that democracy leads to a better life.”

Though Colombia holds competitive elections, it hardly provides its Latin American neighbors a very good model for “democracy” or “a better life.” There is indeed a lot of violence and terror directed at the Colombian government and its supporters, but the U.S.-armed Colombian government is itself guilty of violence and terror as well. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have reported a “steep rise in reports of extrajudicial executions by the Colombian military” in recent years and months, making this a particularly inauspicious time for Congress to approve a free trade agreement with that repressive government. Amnesty also reports how Columbia has become “one of the most dangerous places in the world for trade unionists,” who are routinely murdered by government forces and government-backed death squads, raising questions as to why Congress should support “free trade” with such an unfree country in which labor rights are so severely repressed.

“The United States is committed to strengthening our energy security and confronting global climate change. And the best way to meet these goals is for America to continue leading the way toward the development of cleaner and more energy-efficient technology.”

If the United States were really concerned about climate change, the Bush administration would sign and support binding agreements to reduce greenhouse emissions. Currently the United States is the only advanced industrialized country that has failed to sign on to the Kyoto Protocol. The United States would also dramatically scale back its military operations and basing throughout the globe, which contribute enormously to carbon emissions. In addition, U.S. foreign aid would primarily support the development of appropriate technology and sustainable agriculture that stresses self-sufficiency rather than help facilitate the massive carbon-emitting international trade of commodities that can be produced locally. Furthermore, rather than subsidize giant corporations for dubious capital-intensive oil-substitution projects, the Bush administration needs to get serious about dramatically increasing federal support for public transportation, encouraging conservation efforts, and backing the development of renewable sources of energy.

“In the long run, men and women who are free to determine their own destinies will reject terror and refuse to live in tyranny. And that is why the terrorists are fighting to deny this choice to the people in Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Palestinian Territories. And that is why, for the security of America and the peace of the world, we are spreading the hope of freedom.”

The Bush administration has been doing more than the terrorists to set back the hope of freedom and deny people the right to determine their own destinies. Bush has been an outspoken supporter of Pakistani dictator Pervez Musharraf – who has brutally suppressed pro-democracy demonstrators, censored the press, fired independent judges, rigged elections, and jailed human rights activists – subsidizing his tyranny with billions of U.S. taxpayer dollars. In Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. forces have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians. They have denied these countries’ democratically elected governments their sovereign rights to determine the nature and scope of U.S. military operations inside their borders, to prosecute criminal activity by those working under U.S. contracts, or to pursue economic development and trade policies of their choosing. The United States is the principal military, financial, and diplomatic supporter of Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory seized in the 1967 war and has refused to pressure Israel to allow for the establishment of a viable independent Palestinian state. The United States was the world’s key supporter of Israel’s 2006 assault on Lebanon, which resulted in the deaths of more then 800 civilians and billions of dollars in damage to the country’s infrastructure, and is currently applying heavy pressure on the country’s more conservative parties to block efforts to compromise with opposition groups to form a sustainable representative coalition government.

“While the enemy is still dangerous and more work remains, the American and Iraqi surges have achieved results few of us could have imagined just one year ago. When we met last year, many said that containing the violence was impossible. A year later, high profile terrorist attacks are down, civilian deaths are down, sectarian killings are down.”

Terrorist attacks and sectarian killings are down, but they are still alarmingly high. Such terrorist attacks and sectarian killings were not happening at all prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. So it is odd that – to the sound of bipartisan applause – President Bush is taking credit for the recent, and likely temporary, drop in such violence. It is also unclear as to whether the “surge” or any Bush administration policies during the past year have contributed to the lessening slaughter. Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which was responsible for much of the sectarian killings and terrorist attacks, has seen its operational capabilities eroded primarily by Sunni tribal leaders who have focused their militias for an indefinite period on defeating the transnational organization, a decision that took place six months prior to the launch of the surge. Furthermore, another reason for the decline in sectarian violence – which had been the leading cause of civilian deaths in the past couple of years – has been a consequence of the ethnic cleansing and displacement of millions of Iraqis from mixed neighborhoods, many of whom are now in walled-off communities behind fortified gates, which can hardly be considered a positive development.

“When we met last year, militia extremists — some armed and trained by Iran — were wreaking havoc in large areas of Iraq. A year later, coalition and Iraqi forces have killed or captured hundreds of militia fighters. And Iraqis of all backgrounds increasingly realize that defeating these militia fighters is critical to the future of their country.”

The decline of militia violence cannot necessarily be attributed to U.S. policy. Rather, the reduction has come about as a result of decisions made independently by the leading Shiite groups, which had been largely fighting each other, to observe a ceasefire and settle their differences by other means. Sunni militias – which have never been armed and trained by Iran and which are responsible for the vast majority of attacks on U.S. forces – are still active.

“Ladies and gentlemen, some may deny the surge is working, but among the terrorists there is no doubt. Al-Qaeda is on the run in Iraq, and this enemy will be defeated.”

Not only have al-Qaeda’s setbacks been a result, not of the surge, but of Iraqis themselves turning against them, al-Qaeda has always represented well under 10% of the insurgents fighting U.S. forces. Polls show that a majority of Iraqis – both Sunni and Shiite – see the United States as an occupier rather than a liberator and approve of attacks against U.S. forces. Such popular resistance to the U.S. military presence in their country raises serious questions about having that kind of confidence in a military victory.

“When we met last year, our troop levels in Iraq were on the rise. Today, because of the progress just described, we are implementing a policy of “return on success,” and the surge forces we sent to Iraq are beginning to come home.”

U.S. military commanders have made it clear for some time that American forces simply can not sustain the current level of combat troops in Iraq and that there would need to be a withdrawal to pre-surge levels at this point regardless of the situation on the ground. The current drawdown had been planned many months ago as there are insufficient fresh forces available to sustain the escalated troop levels.

“… a failed Iraq would embolden the extremists, strengthen Iran, and give terrorists a base from which to launch new attacks on our friends, our allies, and our homeland. The enemy has made its intentions clear. At a time when the momentum seemed to favor them, al Qaida’s top commander in Iraq declared that they will not rest until they have attacked us here in Washington.”

It was the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq that emboldened extremists, strengthened Iran, and provided terrorists a base of operations in that country. There was no radical Islamist insurgency in until after the United States invaded and occupied Iraq in 2003. Similarly, there was no “al-Qaeda in Iraq.” That group was formed only after the U.S. invasion. And, except for a tiny enclave in the Kurdish region outside of Baghdad’s control, there were no base for Islamist extremists prior to five years ago. A recent National Intelligence Estimate, based on analysis of all 16 of America’s intelligence agencies, revealed that the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation and counter-insurgency campaign had actually increased the threat to the United States from Islamic terrorism and had become the primary recruiting vehicle for a new generation of extremists from the Arab world and beyond. The longer the United States stays in Iraq, then, the greater this threat will grow.

Despite similar claims during the Vietnam War that “if we don’t fight them over there we’ll have to fight them here,” the Vietnamese fighting U.S. forces did not move the battlefield to America once U.S. troops got out of their country. The Afghans fighting Soviet forces did not move the battlefield to Russia when the Soviets got out of their country. Similarly, the Iraqis fighting U.S. forces will not move the battlefield to America once we get out of their country. It is the ongoing occupation of Iraq by U.S. forces, the bombing and shelling of Iraqi cities, the torture of Iraqi detainees, and the chaos and destruction inflicted on that ancient land as a result of the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation that is prompting the insurgency. The U.S. war in Iraq is creating terrorists faster than we can kill them.

“Tehran is also developing ballistic missiles of increasing range, and continues to develop its capability to enrich uranium, which could be used to create a nuclear weapon.”

Bush makes it sound like Iran is the only country in the region to pose this kind of threat. Yet Iran’s neighbors Israel, Pakistan, and India already have nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, with no objections from the Bush administration, which provides these countries with billions of dollars worth of weapons to increase their offensive military capabilities. While Iran’s nuclear capabilities and missile development are subjects of legitimate concern, they can only be realistically addressed in the context of regional disarmament efforts, not demands by the United States for Iran to halt their programs unilaterally.

“Our message to the people of Iran is clear: We have no quarrel with you. We respect your traditions and your history. We look forward to the day when you have your freedom.”

If this is really true, why hasn’t the Bush administration apologized for the 1953 U.S. overthrow of Iran’s last democratic government and the critical role of U.S. security assistance and training for the repressive and autocratic regime of the Shah for the quarter century that followed? The United States has historically demonstrated little regard for Iranian traditions, history, or freedom.

“Our message to the leaders of Iran is also clear: Verifiably suspend your nuclear enrichment, so negotiations can begin.”

Why must Iran unilaterally suspend its enrichment program before negotiations can begin? Virtually every successful negotiations to end a country’s potential for developing nuclear weapons – including the one ending Libya’s nuclear program in 2003 – involved some kind of quid pro quo and were not subjected to such unilateral pre-conditions. Iran offered to end its enrichment program more than four years ago in return for an end of U.S. threats against its regime and normal relations, similar to the deal worked out with the Libyans. But the Bush administration refused.

“But above all, know this: America will confront those who threaten our troops. We will stand by our allies, and we will defend our vital interests in the Persian Gulf.”

This is a clear threat of war against Iran, made all the more chillingly real by the bipartisan cheers that followed this statement. This comes despite the fact that virtually every claim and reported incident by the Bush administration regarding alleged Iranian threats to U.S. forces in Iraq and the Persian Gulf have later been shown to have been false or grossly exaggerated.

“Protecting our nation from the dangers of a new century requires more than good intelligence and a strong military. It also requires changing the conditions that breed resentment and allow extremists to prey on despair. So America is using its influence to build a freer, more hopeful, and more compassionate world. This is a reflection of our national interest; it is the calling of our conscience.”

This noble calling is not supported by the facts. By virtually any measure, there has been an increase in repression, despair, and intolerance in the world since Bush launched the “war on terror” and the invasion of Iraq, as the United States and other countries have diverted their resources towards military spending and away from meeting human needs, as governments around the world have used security rationales to crack down on civil liberties, and as xenophobia and religious extremism has grown as a result.

“We support freedom in countries from Cuba and Zimbabwe to Belarus and Burma.”

The United States should indeed support freedom in those countries, yet Bush has been curiously silent about supporting freedom in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Oman, Equatorial Guinea, Azerbaijan, Cameroon, Kazakhstan, Chad, Moroccan-occupied Western Sahara, and other countries suffering under repressive regimes kept in power in large part through billions of dollars worth of U.S. arms transfers and security assistance. As long as the U.S. government only goes on record supporting “freedom” in countries whose repressive governments oppose U.S. hegemony while propping up other repressive governments that support U.S. hegemony, this double-standard makes it easier for the regimes of these targeted countries to depict the genuine freedom movements challenging their rule as agents of the United States.

“This month in Ramallah and Jerusalem, I assured leaders from both sides that America will do, and I will do, everything we can to help them achieve a peace agreement that defines a Palestinian state by the end of this year.”

Rather than doing “everything we can,” the Bush administration rejects taking the necessary steps to make peace possible. It has refused to insist on a full Israeli withdrawal (with possible minor and reciprocal border adjustments), an end to Israeli colonization in the occupied territories, and the acceptance of a shared co-capital of Jerusalem. Nor has Bush even demanded that Israel engage in confidence-building measures, such as a putting a freeze on the expansion of settlements, ending its siege of Palestinian cities and the construction of its illegal separation barrier deep inside the occupied West Bank, and releasing Palestinian prisoners not involved in terrorism.

President Bush was asked at a press conference during his recent Ramallah visit why the United States refused to insist that Israel abide by a series of UN Security Council resolutions addressing the outstanding issues in the peace process. He responded by proclaiming that “the choice was whether to remain stuck in the past, or to move on.” This was necessary, according to the president, because “the UN deal didn’t work in the past,” ignoring the fact that these earlier UN efforts failed as a direct result of the United States blocking the Security Council from enforcing its resolutions regarding Israel’s international legal obligations.

Bush has rejected calls by the international community that the conflict must be settled on the basis of international law, which forbids the expansion of any country’s territory by force. The United States has ignored the kind of settlement called for in the longstanding UN Security Council resolution 242 and recognized by previous presidents as the basis for Arab-Israeli peace. Instead, the Bush administration has opted to use as its starting point the status quo based on Israel’s 40-year occupation. This underscores the longstanding and inherent contradiction between the United States simultaneously playing the role of chief mediator in the conflict and being the chief military, financial, and diplomatic supporter of the more powerful of the two parties. As a result, Israel, the occupying power, has little incentive to compromise, and the relatively powerless Palestinians under occupation have little leverage to advance their struggle for an independent viable state.

Annotate This… President Bush’s Sept 13 Speech to the Nation on Iraq

Instead of charting a new direction for U.S. policy in Iraq, President Bush’s speech to the nation last evening was an impassioned plea to the American public to stay the course. But much of Bush’s argument for staying the course was based on spin instead of reality. In this edition of Annotate This… Stephen Zunes and Erik Leaver analyze Bush’s statements and offer an alternative interpretation of the situation on the ground.

“Terrorists and extremists who are at war with us around the world are seeking to topple Iraq’s government, dominate the region, and attack us here at home…”

While the al-Qaeda still is indeed operating world wide, President Bush failed to acknowledge findings of his own intelligence agencies that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq has dramatically increased terrorism and extremism in the Middle East and beyond. Furthermore, the vast majority of those fighting U.S. and Iraqi government forces are not affiliated with al-Qaeda, which represents only a small minority of the insurgency, the majority of which are Iraqi Arab nationalists. Many of the insurgents do embrace a hard-line interpretation of Islam, but have no desire to dominate the region or attack Americans in the United States. A comprehensive nationwide poll of Iraqis by ABC/BBC/NHK earlier this month found that while Al-Qaeda had virtually no support, a full 60% see attacks on U.S.-led forces as justified.

“Anbar province is a good example of how our strategy is working. Last year, an intelligence report concluded that Anbar had been lost to al-Qaeda. Some cited this report as evidence that we had failed in Iraq and should cut our losses and pull out. Instead, we kept the pressure on the terrorists. The local people were suffering under the Taliban-like rule of al-Qaeda, and they were sick of it. So they asked us for help. To take advantage of this opportunity, I sent an additional 4,000 Marines to Anbar as part of the surge. Together, local sheiks, Iraqi forces, and Coalition troops drove the terrorists from the capital of Ramadi and other population centers. Today, a city where al-Qaeda once planted its flag is beginning to return to normal.”

As General Petreaus acknowledged, the Anbar Salvation Council – the coalition of local sheiks and Sunni militias which came together to fight al-Qaeda forces – was formed last September, four months before the “surge” in U.S. forces into the province began. These local forces had been fighting alongside al-Qaeda against U.S. and Iraqi government troops previously, but al-Qaeda’s extremist Islamist ideology and its massacres of civilians so alienated the populace that the local leaders have been willing to make a temporary alliance with U.S. forces to drive out the extremists, many of whom come from Saudi Arabia and other foreign countries. The hostility of those in the Anbar Salvation Council to the Iraqi government (which they see as dominated by pro-Iranian Shiite fundamentalists) as well as to the United States (which they see as a foreign occupier) raises the likelihood that once the al-Qaeda forces are marginalized, they will turn their guns once again on U.S. and Iraqi government forces. Unlike the extremists, those in the Anbar Salvation Council have widespread popular support and — thanks to American arms and training provided in recent months — could end up being a bigger threat to the Iraqi government and U.S. forces than al-Qaeda, a possibility acknowledged in a recent National Intelligence Estimate. And they are unlikely to be placated, as Prime Minister Malaki has explicitly ruled out working with some of the Sunni groups temporarily allied with U.S. forces in Anbar.

Even in the short term, this western part of Iraq does not constitute as much of a success as President Bush claims. Some of the sheiks have taken advantage of this alliance to settle old scores with other tribes unaffiliated with the extremists. And many of the al-Qaeda-related extremists have moved on to the neighboring province of Ninevah, which has seen a dramatic increase in violence this year. Even in Anbar itself, there has been an increase in factional fighting. A recent poll indicated that 62% of the population of that province rate local security negatively overall. In addition, there has been an increase in complaints regarding alleged human rights abuses by American and Iraqi government forces.

“One year ago, much of Baghdad was under siege. Schools were closed, markets were shuttered, and sectarian violence was spiraling out of control. Today, most of Baghdad’s neighborhoods are being patrolled by Coalition and Iraqi forces who live among the people they protect. Many schools and markets are reopening. Citizens are coming forward with vital intelligence. Sectarian killings are down. And ordinary life is beginning to return.”

Baghdad is still under siege. A recent report from the Government Accountability Office noted how “The average number of daily attacks against civilians remained about the same over the last six months; 25 in February versus 26 in July.” The Iraqi Interior ministry confirmed that there has been no drop in civilian deaths. Figures released by the Bush administration purporting to cite a decline in sectarian killings appear to be based on some rather arbitrary calculations, including a determination that being shot in the back of the head is a sectarian attack whereas being shot in the front of the head is a criminal act, even in cases where eyewitnesses indicated the frontal killing was indeed sectarian in motivation. All car bombings, even those apparently sectarian in motivation, are also excluded from Bush administration calculations.

If indeed there actually has been a slight decline in sectarian killings in Baghdad over the past six months, it could be attributed to the hundreds of thousands of Sunnis and Shiites who have fled mixed neighborhoods — at a rate of over 50,000 per month — into segregated enclaves, many with concrete walls erected around them to keep out militants from the other side.

Meanwhile, in a city where, prior to the U.S. invasion, kidnapping and power blackouts were rare, an average of forty people are kidnapped in Baghdad every day and electrical power is available only two to six hours.

This is what President Bush considers to be “ordinary life is beginning to return.”

“Iraq’s national leaders are getting some things done…”

Given that the stated purpose of the escalation in U.S. forces this year was to provide the political space for the Iraqi government to address the pressing political issues that would make peace possible, this is faint praise indeed. There is no major legislation pending on any of the most crucial issues, such as a plan to disarm the militias, and the legislature has barely managed a quorum since it returned form its extended summer vacation.

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office indicated that the Iraqi government had failed to meet eleven of the eighteen legislative, security and economic benchmarks set put forward by Congress and made only limited progress on four others, noting that “Key legislation has not been passed, violence remains high, and it is unclear whether the Iraqi government will spend $10 billion in reconstruction funds.” Ambassador Crocker and General Petreaus admitted there was little serious progress on the political front. The Iraqi cabinet has almost as many vacancies as sitting members.

The Associated Press reported on September 12 that the fundamentalist Shiite parties that dominate the Iraqi government feels no pressure for reform since they are confident that the United States will keep funding and troop levels high as long as Bush is president, so they are instead focusing their energies on shoring up their positions.

“And local reconciliation is taking place. The key now is to link this progress in the provinces to progress in Baghdad. As local politics change, so will national politics.”

Claims by President Bush of reconciliation around the provinces have little relation to reality. This may be in part because the Administration’s figures purporting to show a decline in sectarian violence exclude such tragic mass killings as the slaughter of 322 Yazidi Kurds in northern Iraq in August or the growing violence in Basra, Karbala and elsewhere in southern Iraq between rival Shiite factions. Estimates based on records from Iraqi morgues, hospitals and police headquarters around the country reveal that the numbers of civilians killed daily is almost twice as high as last year’s level. Six out of ten Iraqis in the recent poll indicate that their security situation has worsened since the surge began and only one out of ten say that it has improved. Seven out of ten believe that the surge has “hampered conditions for political dialogue, reconstruction and economic development.”

And, no matter what happens on the local level, there is no indication that the ruling Shiite political parties have any intention to sharing political power with the Sunni minority in any meaningful way.

“Our troops in Iraq are performing brilliantly. Along with Iraqi forces, they have captured or killed an average of more than 1,500 enemy fighters per month since January.”

Even while the U.S. military is capturing and killing fighters, new recruits are joining the insurgency at equal levels. The number of foreign fighters, estimated at between 700 and 2,000, does not appear to have decreased since 2005. The estimated size of Iraqi insurgents — somewhere between 16,000 and 30,000 — has also remained relatively constant. And, even as the prison population escalates, the levels of violence have not decreased. Instead of illustrating the capabilities of the U.S. armed forces, his statement about the number of killed and captured shows the futility of such operations in reducing the insurgencies. Like the infamously misleading “body counts” of the Vietnam War, they are not an adequate reflection of the how the war is going for U.S. forces.

“Because of this success, Gen. Petraeus believes we have now reached the point where we can maintain our security gains with fewer American forces. He has recommended that we not replace about 2,200 Marines scheduled to leave Anbar province later this month. In addition, he says it will soon be possible to bring home an Army combat brigade, for a total force reduction of 5,700 troops by Christmas. And he expects that by July, we will be able to reduce our troop levels in Iraq from 20 combat brigades to 15.”

In reality, there will be virtually no reduction of troops by December nor will there be a reduction of forces beyond the numbers prior to the pre-surge levels by next July. The Pentagon currently has plans to add an additional 4,000 Army troops by the end of the month, more than making up for the 2,200 Marines ending their tour of duty in Anbar and nearly making up for the 4,500 additional forces he plans to pull out by Christmas. Furthermore, the larger reduction of five combat brigades expected by next July will place the total number of combat troops at levels no less than there were prior to the start of the surge, when the Baker Commission — representing the consensus of the foreign policy establishment — called for the complete withdrawal of regular combat forces by that same month.

“The principle guiding my decisions on troop levels in Iraq is ‘return on success.’ The more successful we are, the more American troops can return home. And in all we do, I will ensure that our commanders on the ground have the troops and flexibility they need to defeat the enemy. . . . Americans want our country to be safe and our troops to begin coming home from Iraq. Yet those of us who believe success in Iraq is essential to our security, and those who believe we should bring our troops home, have been at odds. Now, because of the measure of success we are seeing in Iraq, we can begin seeing troops come home.

“The way forward I have described tonight makes it possible, for the first time in years, for people who have been on opposite sides of this difficult debate to come together.”

U.S. military commanders have made it clear that American forces simply cannot sustain the current level of combat troops in Iraq and there would need to be a withdrawal to pre-surge levels regardless of the situation on the ground. The drawdown recommended by General Petreaus and announced by President Bush had already been planned months ago as there will be insufficient fresh forces available to sustain the escalation. As a result, this is unlikely to appease those who want to bring the troops home.

“Return on success” is simply another version of the President’s strategy he outlined in June 2005, “Our strategy can be summed up this way: As the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.” It is the same promise and policy that has not worked for the last two years.

“Over time, our troops will shift from leading operations, to partnering with Iraqi forces, and eventually to overwatching those forces. As this transition in our mission takes place, our troops will focus on a more limited set of tasks, including counterterrorism operations and training, equipping, and supporting Iraqi forces”

This promise has been made repeatedly over the past four years but is yet to be fulfilled. When President Bush announced the escalation in U.S. forces in January, he claimed that Iraqi forces would be responsible for security in most of the country by this November. In reality, Iraqi forces appear to be even less capable of taking part in military operations without U.S. leadership than they were at the time the surge began. In July, the White House admitted that there had been a “slight” reduction in the number of capable Iraqi units capable of operating independently while the GAO report noted that the number of capable Iraqi army units had declined from ten in March to just six in August. Over the past year, Americans have trained an additional 60,000 Iraqi forces, yet the U.S. forces are no closer to shifting their mode of operations from leading virtually all combat operations themselves.

Meanwhile, despite American efforts to arm and train the Iraqi police, U.S. Army General James Jones reported earlier this summer that Iraq’s police forces are completely dysfunctional and there is no realistic path of reforming them.

And let us not forget how General Petraeus, in a op-ed in the Washington Post just six weeks before Bush’s narrow re-election victory, wrote confidently about the “tangible progress” in building up “Iraqi security elements” so “to enable Iraqis to shoulder more of the load for their own security.” Three years and $450 billion later, Iraqis are no more able to take charge of their own security than they were when General Petreaus made his earlier optimistic prediction, raising questions as to what makes him and President Bush so confident now.

Finally, it is noteworthy that President Bush declared that the eventual goal for U.S. troops is “overwatching” — a term we could not locate in any dictionary — Iraqi forces. This suggests that allowing Iraqi forces to act independently is not even considered a long-range prospect anymore and that the Bush administration intends for American armed forces to ultimately be in charge of security in Iraq indefinitely.

“This vision for a reduced American presence also has the support of Iraqi leaders from all communities. At the same time, they understand that their success will require U.S. political, economic, and security engagement that extends beyond my presidency. These Iraqi leaders have asked for an enduring relationship with America. And we are ready to begin building that relationship — in a way that protects our interests in the region and requires many fewer American troops.”

This is totally false. Polls show that 79% percent of Iraqis oppose the presence of U.S. forces in their country and just 18% believe American troops are improving the security situation. Polls also indicate that a large majority oppose the neo-liberal economic model imposed by the United States on their country and the establishment of permanent military bases or any political alliance. Excluding the Kurdish minority in their autonomous enclave in the north, where the majority is still pro-American, these figures would show and even more dramatic opposition to any enduring political, economic and security engagement with the United States.

“If we were to be driven out of Iraq, extremists of all strains would be emboldened. Al Qaeda could gain new recruits and new sanctuaries.”

It cannot be stressed enough that there was no radical Islamist insurgency in Iraq until after the United States invaded and occupied that country in 2003. There was no “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia” — that group was formed only after the U.S. invasion. And, except for a tiny enclave in the Kurdish region outside of Baghdad’s control, there were no sanctuaries for Islamist extremists prior to four and half years ago.

Consisting of no more than that 10% of the overall insurgency, al-Qaeda is in no position to carve out new sanctuaries in the event of an American withdrawal, particularly since its closest allies have turned on them.

“If we were to be driven out of Iraq, … Iran would benefit from the chaos and would be encouraged in its efforts to gain nuclear weapons and dominate the region.”

First of all, it is highly debatable as to whether Iraq would suffer from any more chaos than it does now under U.S. military occupation.

Secondly, Iran had very little influence in Iraq under its arch-enemy Saddam Hussein — a secular Sunni Baathist — but has come to exert considerable political influence following the U.S. invasion and occupation of that country and the subsequent decision by the Bush administration to support the rise of Shiite fundamentalist parties to ally against the Sunni-dominated insurgency. It is doubtful that Iran could have any more influence than it has today.

Finally, it is hard to see how a withdrawal of U.S. forces would further encourage Iran to pursue nuclear weapons. If anything, there are reasons to believe that Iran’s nuclear ambitions have been accelerated as a direct consequence of the U.S. invasion and occupation of its neighbors and subsequent threats by the United States to attack them as well.

“If we were to be driven out of Iraq…Extremists could control a key part of the global energy supply.”

Sunni extremists — in the form of the Wahhabi-dominated kingdom of Saudi Arabia — already control a key part of the global energy supply with little objections from the Bush administration, which sells billions of dollars of armaments and security assistance annually to that misogynist family dictatorship. And, in case less-acceptable extremists should end up in control of Iraq, the international community could simply refuse to buy the oil, as was done during part of Saddam Hussein’s reign, without a serious negative impact on global markets.

“If we were to be driven out of Iraq…Iraq could face a humanitarian nightmare.”

Iraq is already a humanitarian nightmare. Since the U.S. invasion, as many as 750,000 civilians have died as a result of the violence and disruption of basic services that have resulted. An estimated 2.6 million Iraqis have fled country and an addition 2.2 million Iraqis within that country have been displaced. There is no longer safe and reliable drinking water from any water works and only 30% of Iraqis have access to clean water of any kind, only half as many as there were at the time of the U.S. invasion.

“If we were to be driven out of Iraq… Democracy movements would be violently reversed.”

Unfortunately, there has been little progress toward democracy in the Middle East and there is a fair amount of evidence that the U.S. invasion of Iraq and the resulting chaos has actually set back pro-democracy movements in the region.

Furthermore, President Bush was unable to provide any evidence as to why a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would lead to the violent reversal in the few areas where pro-democracy movements in the region actually have made some progress in recent years, such as in Lebanon and Kuwait, which came as a result of indigenous movements based upon national issues irrespective of what was happening in Iraq.

“If we were to be driven out of Iraq… We would leave our children to face a far more dangerous world. And as we saw on September 11, 2001, those dangers can reach our cities and kill our people.”

The Iraqis who are fighting American forces in Iraq have nothing to do with those responsible for the 9/11 attacks on the United States. Indeed, none of the hijackers, none of the al-Qaeda leadership and none of the money trail came from Iraq. There is also serious question as to whether the insurgent group calling itself “al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia” has any formal affiliation with Osama bin Laden’s group or whether they just appropriated the name.

If the escalation in American troop strength in Iraq was really resulting in the finding and elimination of terrorists who could attack the United States, nobody would want to withdraw any troops. But this simply is not the case. Indeed, in response to a question by Republican Senator John Warner as to whether the administration’s policies in Iraq was really making the United States safer, General Petraeus replied, “Sir, I don’t know, actually.”

A National Intelligence Estimate prepared one year ago, based on analysis of all sixteen of America’s intelligence agencies, revealed that the U.S. invasion and subsequent occupation and counter-insurgency campaign had actually increased the threat to the United States from Islamic terrorism and had become the primary recruiting vehicle for a new generation of extremists from the Arab world and beyond. The longer the United States stays in Iraq, then, the greater this threat will grow.

Annotate This! Misleading Rhetoric in 2004 State of the Union Address

As we gather tonight, hundreds of thousands of American servicemen and women are deployed across the world in the war on terror. By bringing hope to the oppressed and delivering justice to the violent, they are making America more secure.

Though no one should question the commitment and bravery of American servicemen and women, their missions of invading and occupying foreign countries and engaging in high altitude bombing and urban counterinsurgency operations that kill civilians has brought more fear than hope, delivered more violence than justice, and has created an unprecedented level of anti-American sentiment in the Islamic world and beyond that has actually made America less secure.

We have faced serious challenges together and now we face a choice: We can go forward with confidence and resolve or we can turn back to the dangerous illusion that terrorists are not plotting and outlaw regimes are no threat to us.

This assumes that those who believe that the Bush administration’s policies are illegal, immoral, and counterproductive are living under illusions that deny the dangers from terrorists and despots. This rhetorical device ignores the many national security analysts and ordinary Americans who are fully aware of the forces arrayed against the United States yet believe the country must choose better means to protect itself than continuing the policies of the Bush administration.

The first to see our determination were the Taliban, who made Afghanistan the primary training base of al Qaeda killers. Businesses are opening, health care centers are being established, and the boys and girls of Afghanistan are back in school. With help from the new Afghan Army, our coalition is leading aggressive raids against surviving members of the Taliban and al Qaeda.

While life has improved markedly in the capital of Kabul, the vast majority of Afghanistan is under the grip of warlords, ethnic militias, opium magnates, and overall lawlessness. While women and girls are now legally able to attend school and go out of their houses unaccompanied, many are now too afraid to do so because of the breakdown of law and order.

Furthermore, the aggressive raids led by the United States are unfortunately not just against surviving members of the Taliban and al Qaeda, but often end up being against innocent villagers. Indeed, more Afghan civilians have been killed from U.S. bombing raids than American civilians were killed from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Since we last met in this chamber, combat forces of the United States and other countries enforced the demands of the United Nations, ended the rule of Saddam Hussein, and the people of Iraq are free.

The United Nations did not demand an invasion of Iraq or an end to Saddam’s regime. It demanded that the Iraqi government destroy its weapons of mass destruction and delivery systems and open up to intrusive inspections to confirm that it had done so. Iraq eventually came into compliance with these demands, allowing UN inspectors to return to conduct unimpeded inspections anywhere in the country in 2002 and apparently eliminating its WMDs and delivery systems some years earlier. An invasion was not necessary for Iraq to comply with the demands of the United Nations since it had already done so.

While the people of Iraq are free from Saddam Hussein’s rule, they are not free. They are living under a foreign military occupation and the United States occupation authorities has thus far rejected popular demands by the Iraqis for direct elections to choose their own government.

Having broken the Baathist regime, we face a remnant of violent Saddam supporters. These killers, joined by foreign terrorists, are a serious, continuing danger. We are dealing with these thugs in Iraq, just as surely as we dealt with Saddam Hussein’s evil regime.

While Baathists are apparently taking the dominant role leading the armed resistance to the U.S. occupation, increasing numbers of Iraqis fighting U.S. forces are not supporters of the former regime, but are non-Baathist nationalists who resent their country being controlled by a foreign army. If U.S. forces were simply battling remnants of the old regime and some foreign supporters, it would largely be a mopping up operation where attacks would be decreasing over time. Instead, the resistance has been growing. While those planting bombs in crowded civilian areas are undeniably thugs and terrorists, the vast majority of attacks are against uniformed foreign occupation forces which, while most unfortunate, are generally recognized as legitimate acts of resistance under international law.

Today our coalition is working with the Iraqi Governing Council to draft a basic law, with a bill of rights. We are working with Iraqis and the United Nations to prepare for a transition to full Iraqi sovereignty by the end of June.

Unfortunately, the Bush administration and its handpicked Iraqi Governing Council are trying to set up a government through regional caucuses that they can control, rejecting popular demands for direct elections. Under this system and with U.S. occupation forces remaining in the country, it would be a stretch to consider the establishment of such a government full Iraqi sovereignty. The United Nations has thus far been understandably reluctant to support the establishment of what many would see as a puppet regime.

As democracy takes hold in Iraq, the enemies of freedom will do all in their power to spread violence and fear. They are trying to shake the will of our country and our friends, but the United States of America will never be intimidated by thugs and assassins. The killers will fail, and the Iraqi people will live in freedom.

By defining the U.S. occupation as democracy and those who are fighting the occupation as enemies of freedom who are trying to shake the will of our country, President Bush is trying to make Americans and others who are calling for a U.S. withdrawal appear to be unprincipled cowards.

Last month, the leader of Libya voluntarily pledged to disclose and dismantle all of his regime’s weapons of mass destruction programs, including a uranium enrichment project for nuclear weapons. Nine months of intense negotiations involving the United States and Great Britain succeeded with Libya, while 12 years of diplomacy with Iraq did not. And one reason is clear: For diplomacy to be effective, words must be credible and no one can now doubt the word of America.

This is misleading on several counts. First of all, Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs had been well-developed, whereas Libya’s WMD efforts were in their infancy. Secondly, there was no direct diplomacy between the United States and Iraq in the twelve years prior to the invasion: there were sanctions, threats, and air strikes. Most importantly, the implication that the U.S. invasion of Iraq was what led Libya to give up its program flies in the face of logic: Not only did Iraq give up its WMD programs through United Nations efforts prior to the U.S. invasion, but despite dismantling its weapons and opening up to inspections the United States invaded anyway.

Let us be candid about the consequences of leaving Saddam in power. Already the Kay Report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations. Had we failed to act, the dictator’s weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day.

Last year, President Bush falsely claimed Iraq had large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. At most, all he can claim now is that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction-related program activities. These were virtually all legal and inconsequential remnants of old programs, not new WMD programs starting up again that posed a potential threat. With strict sanctions remaining in place against the importation of military equipment, dual use technologies, and raw materials to Iraq that could be used for WMD development (which, unlike the economic sanctions, were strongly supported worldwide) it is hard to imagine how Saddam Hussein could have ever restarted his WMD programs.

Had we failed to act, Security Council resolutions on Iraq would have been revealed as empty threats, weakening the United Nations and encouraging defiance by dictators around the world.

Not only does it appear that Iraq was apparently in compliance with UN Security Council resolutions at the time of the U.S. invasion, there are more than ninety UN Security Council resolutions currently being violated by countries other than Iraq, the vast majority by governments supported by the Bush administration. U.S. policy has done far more than Saddam Hussein in weakening the authority of the United Nations.

The world without Saddam Hussein’s regime is a better and safer place.

Putting aside the fact that previous Republican administrations helped keep the regime in power during the 1980s (its most dangerous and repressive period), many of Iraq’s neighbors and independent strategic analysts believe that a weak and disarmed Iraqi regime even under Saddam’s oppressive rule represented a better and safer environment than the current situation, where Iraq is torn by guerrilla warfare, terrorist attacks, separatist movements, and a rising tide of Islamic extremism.

Some critics have said our duties in Iraq must be internationalized. This particular criticism is hard to explain to our partners in Britain, Australia, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Poland, Denmark, Hungary, Bulgaria, Ukraine, Romania, the Netherlands, Norway, El Salvador, and the 17 other countries that have committed troops to Iraq.

Despite some notable exceptions, most of the 34 countries contributing to the U.S. occupation have sent only very small and highly specialized units (such as medical teams or construction workers) and have done so only under diplomatic pressure and financial incentives. Americans make up over 85% of the occupation forces and have control over virtually all of the political, military, and reconstruction operations by these other countries. By contrast, most of those who are calling for internationalizing the operations in Iraq are advocating placing Iraq under a United Nations trusteeship similar to that which guided East Timor to independence following the 1999 Indonesian withdrawal.

From the beginning, America has sought international support for operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, and we have gained much support. There is a difference, however, between leading a coalition of many nations, and submitting to the objections of a few. America will never seek a permission slip to defend the security of our people.

In reality, it was not a few nations, but an overwhelming majority of the world’s nations that opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Furthermore, public opinion polls show that even in countries whose governments did support the U.S. invasion, the majority of these countries’ populations opposed it. It is highly unlikely that there would be any opposition in the United Nations Security Council or anywhere else for the U.S. government to defend the security of our people. The invasion of Iraq, however, was not about defending the security of the American people but an illegal act of aggression, according to the United Nations Charter, which has been signed and ratified by the United States and virtually every country in the world.

As long as the Middle East remains a place of tyranny, despair, and anger, it will continue to produce men and movements that threaten the safety of America and our friends. So America is pursuing a forward strategy of freedom in the greater Middle East. We will challenge the enemies of reform, confront the allies of terror, and expect a higher standard from our friends.

The unfortunate reality is that the United States is not pursuing a strategy of freedom, but continues to be the primary military, financial, and diplomatic supporter of the majority of tyrannical regimes in the Middle East. The United States supplies the equipment and training for internal security forces for dictatorial governments in countries like Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Uzbekistan that crush popular movements for reform as well as providing the military equipment for occupation armies that suppress movements for national self-determination from Western Sahara to the West Bank.

Our aim is a democratic peace, a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman. America acts in this cause with friends and allies at our side, yet we understand our special calling: This great republic will lead the cause of freedom.

No country has given more military and economic support to more dictatorships and occupation armies in the Middle East and in the world as a whole than has the United States . The monetary value of U.S. military aid to Middle Eastern countries is six times our economic aid. The top commercial export from the United States to the Middle East is not consumer items, high technology, or foodstuffs but armaments. Virtually all the recipients of such weaponry are governments that engage in gross and systematic human rights abuses. Unfortunately, U.S. policy has little to do with peace or freedom.

Perhaps even more disheartening than these misleading statements by President Bush during his State of the Union address is that, in their formal responses to Bush’s speech, Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Tom Daschle failed to challenge them other than a vague appeal for stronger diplomatic efforts. None of the analysts on the major networks challenged these misleading statements either. Meanwhile, the two Democratic presidential contenders who dominated the Iowa caucuses the previous evening were senators who have largely supported Bush administration policy in Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel/Palestine, and elsewhere in the Middle East.

President Bush can get away with such misleading rhetoric because he knows the mainstream media and the Democratic Party will allow him to do so. Unless the American public demands greater accountability from the news media and the Democratic Party leadership, George W. Bush will have four more opportunities to make similar State of the Union speeches.