The Withdrawal Follies
The Bush Administration Plants Its Flag in the Future
By Tom Engelhardt
Withdrawal is now so mainstream. Last week, debate about it led to a sleep-in protest in the Senate and, this week, it’s hit the cover of TIME Magazine, of which there’s no mainer-stream around. The TIME cover couldn’t be more graphic. The word “IRAQ” is in giant type, the “I,” “R,” and “Q” all black, and a helicopter is carting off a stars-and-stripes “A” to reveal the phrase, “What will happen when we leave.” (Mind you, some military blogs now claim that the helicopter in silhouette is actually an old Soviet Mi-24 Hind; if so, maybe the designer had the embattled Russian withdrawal from Afghanistan in mind.)
Still, is there anyplace in the news where you can’t find the word “withdrawal,” or its pals “exit,” “pull out,” and “leaving” right now? Here are just a few recent headlines featuring the word that has come in from the cold: “Most Americans want Congress to make withdrawal decision, according to poll”; “The Logistics of Exiting Iraq”; “U.S. withdrawal from Iraq would be a massive undertaking”; “Americans Want Withdrawal, Deadline in Iraq”; “Washington’s House Democrats join in calling for Iraq troop withdrawal”; “Withdrawal fallout could lead to chaos”; “Exit strategies”; “Iraq warns against early US withdrawal”; and so on ad infinitum.
Think of that as “progress” — as in our Baghdad commander General David Petraeus’ upcoming mid-September “Progress Report” to Congress. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that no one (except obscure sites on the Internet) was talking about withdrawing American forces from Iraq.
Here’s the odd thing, though: “Withdrawal,” as an idea, has been undergoing a transformation in full public view. In the world of the Washington Consensus and in the mainstream press, it has been edging ever closer to what normally might be thought of as “non-withdrawal” (just as happened in the Vietnam era). In fact, you can search far and wide for reports on “withdrawal” plans that suggest a full-scale American withdrawal from Iraq and, most of the time, find nothing amid the pelting rain of withdrawal words.
As imagined these last months, withdrawal turns out to be a very partial affair that will leave sizeable numbers of American occupation forces in Iraq for a long period. If anything, the latest versions of “withdrawal” have been used as cudgels to beat upon real withdrawal types.
The President, Vice President, top administration officials and spokespeople, and the increasingly gung-ho team of commanders in Iraq — most of whom haven’t, in recent years, been able to deliver on a single prediction, or even pressure the Iraqis into achieving one major administration-set “benchmark” — have nonetheless managed to take possession of the future. They now claim to know what it holds better than the rest of us and are turning that “knowledge” against any suggestion of genuine withdrawal.