Crack in the bell

Thursday, February 3rd, 2005

Couldn’t you just hear the Liberty Bell clang on Sunday, as brave Iraqis risked death to vote in the wreckage of their country?

If there is justice in the world, these votes will truly count and the election will not be the charade it appeared to be to anyone looking at it an inch below the sunny surface the U.S. media purveyed the next day. Let this surreal, bloody exercise in photo-op democracy be the “resounding success” President Bush proclaimed, oh Lord — and let the new government that eventually forms from it carry out the will of the people and evict Bush and his occupying army.

Even the New York Times, while taking pains to frame the election story in the official context — that plucky, freedom-loving Iraqis, under the watchful protection of freedom-loving Americans, defied the freedom-hating terrorists and planted democracy’s stake in the Middle East — had to get real for a moment, when it quoted an ordinary Iraqi, and hint at the undercurrent of rage and anti-U.S. sentiment afoot in the land.

“Things will go right if people leave us alone to do what we want to do,” a Najaf goldsmith named Muhammad Abdul-Ridha told a Times reporter as he voted. “If they leave the Iraqi people to decide for themselves, things will get better.”

Sorry, but that’s not actually on the table. Indeed, in an eerie parallel with our own election season that ended in November, the U.S occupation of Iraq was a non-issue in Sunday’s historic vote. It’s as though the Bush administration took pains to muffle the peal of Iraq’s Liberty Bell by exporting not just democracy but the accompanying irrelevance that guarantees widespread, American-style voter apathy.

For instance, the Christian Science Monitor reported recently that Interim Prime Minister (and former CIA hireling) Iyad Allawi had initially campaigned on a platform of “conditions-based” U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, only to reverse himself, calling a troop pullout “premature,” after the Bush people leaned on him.

From the occupiers’ point of view, U.S. troop withdrawal is simply unacceptable. We’re not in Iraq in a parental capacity, guiding a fledgling democracy gently to the point where it can stand on its own two feet, at which moment we give it our blessing and let it go. That’s just the cover story. We’re in Iraq because it’s in our interest to be there (can you spell O-I-L?), and one way or another we’re staying put.

Consider the clues to be found in a resurrected, nearly year-old story I came across in the Chicago Tribune about the 14 “enduring” military bases the U.S. is constructing in Iraq:

“As the U.S. scales back its military presence in Saudi Arabia,” the Tribune’s Christine Spolar wrote last March, “Iraq provides an option for an administration eager to maintain a robust military presence in the Middle East and intent on a muscular approach to seeding democracy in the region. The number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq, between 105,000 and 110,000, is expected to remain unchanged through 2006, according to military planners.”

Pay particular attention to those last four words: “according to military planners.” This is how much we give a damn about Iraqi sovereignty. We’re in Iraq till we decide not to be, and Sunday’s election did not — and was not intended to — change that, media hoopla and 50 election-day deaths notwithstanding.

How sinister is all this? The sky’s the limit. Without the least debate or media scrutiny, the Bush administration and its neocon brain trust have launched the United States on the path of empire and endless war, and every move it makes serves this agenda.

Consider that the Project for the New American Century, the think tank that spawned not only the political philosophy that undergirds the Bush administration but the players themselves (its membership roster includes Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and many, many more), has recently asked Congress to beef up the ranks of the U.S. military by 25,00 troops a year, or what William Rivers Pitt, writing for, called “the draft without actually using the ‘D’ word.”

Pitt noted: “In the last three years, PNAC has gotten every single thing it placed on its wish list back in 2000 (in its infamous manifesto, “Rebuilding America’s Defenses”). This is why their letter to Congress last week is so disturbing.”

Iraq is ours. We own the place. It’s our strategic foothold in the region and the Liberty Bell ringing there had a crack in it long before the first vote was cast.