However, rather than accept that their neocon crusade was a bloody folly wasting human lives and precious resources, the Post’s editors have repackaged their case for an open-ended U.S. military stay in Iraq as a humanitarian mission with an overlay of geopolitics.

“After the thousands of American lives lost and billions spent, it would be tragic if Iraq collapsed again into war or fell prey to Iran or other neighbors because of a security vacuum created by the U.S. withdrawal,” the Post wrote in an April 3 lead editorial, “Iraq’s Ticking Clock.

The Post called on President Barack Obama to press Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki into ignoring the widespread desire among Iraqis to see the occupation end and instead get Maliki to negotiate a revised “status of forces agreement” that would keep U.S. troops in Iraq beyond this year.

“With time running out, the United States should be looking for ways to get around the impasse” of Iraq’s inaction on revising the SOFA, the Post’s editors said. “A NATO training mission already operates in Iraq and could be extended and expanded; so could a planned U.S. office of defense cooperation.

“At a minimum, U.S. officials and commanders should be briefing Iraq political leaders on the consequences of a full American withdrawal and disabusing them of any illusions that Mr. Obama will come forward with an initiative.

“If Mr. Maliki does bring himself to propose a new force agreement, it’s likely he will delay as long as he can. The administration should be prepared to respond to a last-minute initiative.”

Instead of accepting the facts on the ground of an impending American defeat, the Post’s editors have chosen to spin new rationalizations -- and search out new excuses -- for continuing the U.S. occupation.

Some on the Right also have blamed Obama for the pending U.S. departure from Iraq, although it was President George W. Bush who accepted the SOFA that set the timetable for withdrawal.

Bush had hoped to negotiate a SOFA that would permit an open-ended American occupation, thus locking his successor into an indefinite continuation of the war. But Maliki issued a series of escalating demands for setting a timetable on a full U.S. withdrawal.

To get any SOFA at all for allowing American troops to remain legally after the end of 2008, Bush was forced to accept a deadline for the U.S. pullout, something that he had long resisted. The irony was that Bush’s desire to use the SOFA to cement a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq had the opposite result

As the Post editors noted in their editorial, Obama’s role has been primarily to let the clock keep ticking.

But the well-connected and well-funded neocons are not known for easily accepting defeat, although it’s never their physical safety on the line. So, they are still looking for ways to salvage something in Iraq as well as turning this year’s Arab uprisings into an extension of the neocon strategy of eliminating old and new adversaries of Israel.

Besides chiding Obama about Iraq, the Post’s editors and other leading neocons are advocating a bigger U.S. military commitment in Libya and a more aggressive stance regarding unrest in Syria and Iran. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Neocons Regroup on Libyan War.”]

Moving the Goal Posts

As for Iraq, the new neocon task is reworking the war rationale.

Initially, the argument for the Iraq War was American preemptive self-defense against Iraq’s (non-existent) WMD; then it was imposing “democracy” on the Middle East; then the need to crush “terrorists”; then a demand for respecting “the troops” who bravely carried out the “surge”; then there were the neocon boasts of “victory at last”; and now the requirement that all the sacrifice not to be in vain.

But the bitter pill is this: the U.S. strategic defeat in Iraq was apparent almost from the war’s outset when it became clear that many Iraqis would resist. [For instance, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Bay of Pigs Meets Blackhawk Down.”]

Possibly even worse, everything since the 2007 “surge” – including an additional 1,000 or so dead American soldiers and more bloodshed among Iraqis – was the price of buying a “decent interval” so Bush wouldn’t have to leave office with a clear-cut military defeat hanging around his neck.

The real decline in Iraqi violence – and it remains at troubling levels – came when Iraqis concluded that the United States was truly on its way out. In summer 2009, when President Obama met the first key deadline of the SOFA by moving U.S. troops out of the center of Iraqi cities, Iraqis broke out into widespread celebrations.

It was as if the Iraqis were serenading the U.S. withdrawal with an Arabic “Na-na-nah-na, na-na-nah-na, hey, hey, hey, goodbye.” Since then, Iraqi officials have been guiding the Americans to the exit door like polite but insistent hosts removing a boorish guest who has long overstayed his welcome.

But the neocons don’t want to accept this reality because it could be a death blow to their beloved and grandiose scheme for applying sophisticated U.S. military power against Middle Eastern regimes and movements regarded as hostile to Israel.

So, unwilling to admit that their glorious kick in Iraq sailed way-wide right, they keep trying to move the goal posts in that direction.

While an objective observer might see the consequence of the neocons’ grand experiment as a humanitarian disaster leaving behind deep-seated animosity toward the United States, the neocons view the results as problems to be spun. Stress the positive; put critics on the defensive; avoid any accountability; keep the game going.

After all, that approach has worked before. Some of the neocons who helped formulate Bush’s Iraq War strategy cut their teeth in the 1980s on Ronald Reagan’s interventions in Central America, which used a compliant Honduras as a staging area for assaults on leftist-ruled Nicaragua and against peasant insurgencies in nearby El Salvador and Guatemala.

Pitching the Central American outcome as a “success” – despite the horrendous death toll and the troubling legacy of anti-Americanism across Latin America – some of the neocons, such as Bush’s deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams, sought to apply those lessons to the Middle East, with Iraq playing the role of Honduras.

In the neocon dreams, the invasion of Iraq would transform it into a “free-market” ally of Israel and a base for pressuring regime change in other hard-line Muslim states, especially Syria and Iran. A favorite neocon joke in 2003 was to ask whether to next hit Damascus or Tehran, with the punch-line, “Real men go to Tehran.”

According to this vision, once Bush forced regime change in Syria and Iran, support would dry up for Hezbollah in Lebanon and for Hamas in the Palestinian territories, freeing Israel to dictate terms to its Arab adversaries and thus bring a form of enforced peace to the region.

A Clean Break

The early outlines of this aggressive concept for remaking the Middle East predated the 9/11 attacks by half a decade, when a group of American neocons, including Richard Perle and Douglas Feith, went to work for Israeli Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu during his 1996 campaign for prime minister.

The neocon strategy paper, called “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” advanced the idea that only regime change in hostile Muslim countries could achieve the necessary “clean break” from inconclusive peace negotiations.

Under the “clean break,” Israel would no longer seek peace through mutual understanding and compromise, but rather through confrontation, including the violent removal of leaders such as Iraq’s Saddam Hussein.

The plan called Hussein’s ouster “an important Israeli strategic objective in its own right,” but also one that would destabilize the Assad dynasty in Syria and thus topple the power dominoes into Lebanon, where Hezbollah might soon find itself without its key Syrian ally. Iran also could find itself in the cross-hairs of “regime change.”

But what the “clean break” needed was the military might of the United States, since some of the targets like Iraq were too far away and too powerful to be defeated even by Israel’s highly efficient military. The cost in Israeli lives and to Israel’s economy from such overreach would have been staggering.

In 1998, the U.S. neocon brain trust pushed the “clean break” plan another step forward with the creation of the Project for the New American Century, which urged President Bill Clinton to seek the ouster of Saddam Hussein.

However, Clinton would only go so far, maintaining a harsh embargo on Iraq and enforcing a “no-fly zone” which involved U.S. aircraft conducting periodic bombing raids. But a full-scale invasion was out of the question.

That political equation changed when the neocons helped put George W. Bush in the White House. But the path was not fully cleared until Al Qaeda terrorists attacked New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, leaving behind a political climate across America for war and revenge.

Though Hussein had no hand in 9/11 and rejected Al Qaeda’s religious extremism, Bush sided with his neocon advisers on the need to invade Iraq and thus set the “clean break” chain reaction in motion.

In early 2004, as the Iraqi insurgency was already gaining strength, I encountered this scheme, too, while talking to a leading neocon intellectual who told me that he had heard from his friends inside the Bush administration that the invasion of Syria was just around the corner.

But the violence in Iraq and the Bush administration’s inept war strategy soon made it clear that there would be no invasion of Syria – and that “real men” wouldn’t make it to Damascus or Tehran at least not anytime soon.

Of course, this underlying motive of the Iraq War – how to get young Americans from Tennessee, Idaho and other states to fight for Israel’s security – was rarely hinted at publicly. The American people were sold instead on the fanciful notion of Iraq’s WMD stockpiles being shared with Saddam Hussein’s supposed friends in Al Qaeda.

But the neocon dream of using Iraq as a land-based aircraft carrier to project American military power against Iran, Syria and other adversaries dies hard.

That’s why the Washington Post is mounting its latest rearguard battle to pressure Maliki and Obama to revise the SOFA and allow for at least a continuing U.S. military toehold in Iraq, with the hope for a much larger footprint later.

And, as long as the Iraq conflict continues, the neocons can evade a serious accounting for the strategic defeat, not to mention the countless thousands of unnecessary deaths and dismemberments and the wasted $1 trillion or so.

[For more on these topics, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege and Neck Deep, now available in a two-book set for the discount price of only $19. For details, click here.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth' are also available there.

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