Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Paul Rogers, "America in the Persian Gulf: a choice of futures," openDemocracy, March 3, 2009.

The future of the United States's global "war on terror" was a constant, if usually background, drumbeat throughout the long presidential-election campaign in 2007-08. In particular, policy towards Iraq became a clear dividing-line between the two candidates left standing at the end: with John McCain strongly supporting the military "surge" and promoting the Republican narrative of victory, while Barack Obama insisted that an early if phased withdrawal was needed to extricate the US from what at its core was a disastrous enterprise.

True, Obama's rhetoric was in the campaign's latter months less emphatic and prescriptive than before; a trend that owed something to the issue's partial eclipse by the economy, something to the fluid events on the ground in Iraq itself, and something to the need to keep options open amid an increasing likelihood that Obama would inherit responsibility for managing a difficult transition.

The immense significance of Iraq's and the wider region's oil reserves for the United States and its position in the world economy have always created doubts that it would ever truly withdraw from Iraq. But the plan agreed after a lengthy process of negotiation between Washington and the Baghdad government of Nouri al-Maliki, and ratified by Iraq's parliament in the last weeks of George W Bush's administration, does commit the US to a timetable that will ostensibly result in a total withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2011. The new president has put his own stamp on the issue, by declaring on 27 February 2009 the intention to pull out the troops (save 35,000-50,000 training and advisory forces) over these three years (see Peter Baker "Obama lays out plan for Iraq pullout", International Herald Tribune, 27 February 2009).

If this does indeed happen, it will amount to an extraordinary change in the US's security posture - possibly on the level of the retreat from Vietnam that culminated in the humiliation of 30 April 1975. But there remain substantial questions about what is really intended in the military and political spheres.

  ...while the US does not import huge amounts of oil from the Gulf at present, its strategy and thinking is predicated on an enduring belief that preserving military dominance in the region is key to its aim of remaining the world's superpower.

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