Thomas Friedman's New York Times column today urges the president to go to the Green Zone in Baghdad and stay there until he can a) determine if the Iraqi government can resolve the power and oil revenue issues, b) sell the Iraqis on a partition plan and c) tell the Iraqis that the U.S. is willing to walk away if they refuse to do either of the above. That's a nice thought, but since George W. Bush's alleged powers to force events have gone the way of the pterodactyl, it's little more than blather.
Still, it's worth wondering if the president would do it if he could. Matthew Yglesias points out the obvious flaw in Friedman's argument:
It's time to face up to the possibility that the Bush administration's policies in occupied Iraq haven't been driven exclusively by a sincere and idealistic commitment to the well-being of the Iraqi people and the principles of liberty and democracy. Shocking, yes. But not to put too fine a point on it, it's the imperialism, stupid.
Bush won't adopt a bargaining strategy that involves walking away as an option, because he's not willing to walk away. The objective is to retain Iraq as a platform for the projection of American military power in the region, to continue a larger regional struggle against Iran and Syria, to maintain physical control over Iraq's oil resources, etc. That means Bush can't walk away and can't "let Iraqis sort this out on their own." To accomplish his objectives, the United States needs to be intimately involved in Iraqi affairs to give us leverage and prevent the possibility of the dread "Iranian influence." It's unrealistic war aims that launched this war, it's unrealistic aims that have made it last so long, and it's unrealistic aims that prevent it from ending.
Was it all about oil and empire? I dunno. But it was certainly a major factor, and yet unless you count Ann Coulter saying, "Why not go to war just for oil? We need oil," the country has never had a real debate on this. From the beginning, there has been a lot of smoke and mirrors about WMD and terrorism and spreadin' democracy, but the long-standing strategy and goals of many of those who made the decision to invade Iraq were never really aired outside the dark blogospheric alleys of online liberal commentary and a few episodes of "Frontline."
As most Salon readers undoubtedly already know, you can find it all in the neocon think tank Project for a New American Century's report from 2001 called "Rebuilding America's Defenses." It was based upon an earlier Defense Department review written by Paul Wolfowitz and Scooter Libby when they worked for Dick Cheney during the Bush I administration (and which was soundly denounced by the wiser men of that earlier time).
Here was the passage on the Middle East from 1992:
In the Middle East and Southwest Asia, our overall objective is to remain the predominant outside power in the region and preserve U.S. and Western access to the region's oil. We also seek to deter further aggression in the region, foster regional stability, protect U.S. nationals and property, and safeguard our access to international air and seaways. As demonstrated by Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, it remains fundamentally important to prevent a hegemony or alignment of powers from dominating the region. This pertains especially to the Arabian peninsula. Therefore, we must continue to play a role through enhanced deterrence and improved cooperative security.
That document evolved over time into the Bush Doctrine.
Those who decided to invade Iraq made their intentions pretty clear, but for some reason nobody talks about those intentions, even today, as we are debating the possible consequences of a withdrawal from Iraq. I've never understood why.