Iraq Troop Withdrawl Looks Far Off
- Bush/Cheney appear benched by Baker/Daddy Bush “Coup”.
- What can we expect from the Baker Iraq Study Group?
- New plans for taming resistance likely to be very bloody.
By Nick Mottern, Director, Consumers for Peace
The removal of Donald Rumsfeld as Secretary of Defense is being described in the press as a step planned by President George W. Bush even before the Democrats swept both houses of Congress to clear the way for changes in U.S. policy and action in Iraq. It is a step that has raised hope of less bloodshed and an early return home of U.S. troops. But in spite of Democratic statements calling for quick withdrawal, this hope may not be realized any time soon.
This is in large part because the departure of Mr. Rumsfeld may be simply part of an intervention by a group of extremely wealthy players with long-standing oil connections, including George H.W. Bush, the father of the President, aimed at somehow fulfilling pre-invasion plans to give the world’s major private oil companies favorable access to Iraq’s oil. A related goal would be to restore the perception that the U.S. is dominant in the oil-rich Middle East, a perception nearly destroyed by the resistance forces in Iraq.
Although George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have been good friends to the oil industry and business in general, it was becoming clear well before the Democratic sweep that the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld smash mouth/torture style of politics, abetted by presidential mentor and election fixer Karl Rove, was going to mean big losses for big oil in Iraq and at home.
Given this situation, it seems likely that those who engineered Mr. Rumsfeld’s removal also intend to have broad influence on, if not total control of, crisis management in the Executive Branch, beyond just Iraq.
Other matters of deep concern to this group would be the possibility of excess profits taxes for the oil majors and other steps to exact more income for the public purse from U.S. energy resources. In addition, these people are likely concerned about the prospect of Congressional investigations that can affect a variety of businesses, with oil and pharmaceuticals high on the list.
The point person for this intervention group, whose full membership is not clear at the moment, appears to be James W. Baker III, co-chair with former Democratic Congressman Lee Hamilton of the Iraq Study Group. The study group, described in the mass press as being chiefly guided by Mr. Baker, has reportedly been looking at policy alternatives for the U.S. in dealing with the disintegration of Iraq.
Another member of the Iraq Study Group is Vernon E. Jordan, former advisor to President Clinton and a lawyer in Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld Ltd., a firm that has represented the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, ExxonMobil and the Chinese national oil company. Mr. Jordan is also an investment banker in Lazard Ltd.
The Baker study group is being viewed by Washington politicians of both parties as possibly providing the magic answer for the U.S. in Iraq. Mr. Baker has conjured the aura of a profoundly wise political operative who has risen above partisanship. His history suggests his loyalty is primarily to wealth in general and oil wealth in particular.
Mr. Baker’s most notorious business connection may be as a counselor to the Carlyle Group, a privately held investment company that advertises itself as having $44.3 billion in managed assets. It controls not only oil and gas companies but weapons makers, telecommunications and media. It owns Hertz, Dunkin Donuts and Baskin & Robbins. Mr. Baker reportedly got George H.W. Bush a job with Carlyle after the elder Bush left the White House.
The Baker base of operations is the international law firm Baker Botts, headquartered in Houston. Baker Botts has represented ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, Marathon and Occidental oil companies, as well as Halliburton and the Saudi royal family. Mr. Baker has defended Saudi Arabia against a lawsuit brought by 9/11 families. He engineered the process that threw the 2000 Presidential election into the Supreme Court and got the younger Bush into office. He also was a lobbyist for Enron and has negotiated for oil deals in the Caspian region.
He was selected in 2004 by George W. Bush to try to negotiate down Iraq’s international debts, given the U.S.’s total responsibility for Iraq’s economy upon invasion. The Nation reported that in this position, Mr. Baker arranged a complex deal with Kuwait that resulted in the possibility of $1 billion in investment funds for the Carlyle kitty. Mr. Baker’s prominence as head of the Iraq Study Group may offer him some protection against Congressional investigation of this dramatic conflict of interest.
Mr. Baker goes back with the Bush family to the 1950s, according to an excellent article on Baker Botts published in The Nation September 23, 2004. He reportedly came to know the elder Bush while both were playing tennis in Houston, and he eventually represented Mr. Bush’s Zapata Petroleum firm. He is described as a long-time family friend.
THE LONELY “W”
Watching President George W. Bush at his post-election press conference Nov. 8, it was easy to imagine that his father held counsel with Mr. Baker and others and that it was decided that day-to-day decisions on Iraq, and possibly other matters, had to be removed from the hands of Mr. Rumsfeld, his White House ally Vice President Dick Cheney and George W. Bush.
At the Nov. 8 press conference, the younger Bush appeared to be a much diminished, broken personality. He surpassed himself in his inability to answer reporters’ questions beyond canned, campaign-appearance sloganeering. He awkwardly made the embarrassed admission that he lied to reporters right before the election when he said he did not intend to replace Mr. Rumsfeld. Mr. Bush’s responses to questions were so rambling and off - point that one sensed a restraint among reporters to not press him too hard.
His performance was sufficiently shocking to cause Mark Leibovich of the New York Times to report that Mr. Bush “appeared strangely giddy, like someone who is acting a little odd after suffering a blow to the head, or a ‘thumpin’,’ to use the official presidential description.” At one point, the President, for no apparent reason, asked whether a reporter thought he, the President, was “nuts” or had lost his senses from too much campaigning. And this was before it was clear that the Democrats would control both houses of Congress.
Mr. Bush was clearly humiliated by the election results and petulantly outraged with Karl Rove, his political mentor and election manipulator. He gave off a sense that he was not grounded in a detailed knowledge of the effects of the policies for which he has been the pitchman and was simply concerned with how the election made him look.
And, most significantly, he had the look of a person who had been relieved of command but who was expected to continue to play his role as commander. A television commentator remarked after the press conference that the younger Bush was now alone. As the President walked away from the podium at the press conference, he looked not only alone, but effectively powerless.
It has been widely reported that Mr. Cheney opposed the removal of Mr. Rumsfeld. The removal of Mr. Rumsfeld very likely removed Mr. Cheney from managing war policy, work central to Mr. Cheney’s power within the executive branch. Philip Stevens, a columnist in The Financial Times last week called him an “obstacle” and said that if Mr. Bush “wants to salvage anything from the mess that is Iraq, Mr. Bush will tell the vice-president to spend the next two years improving his aim on those duck shoots.” (Mr. Cheney wounded a hunting companion earlier this year on a quail hunt, but he also kills ducks.)
I believe it is quite likely that the Baker/elder Bush group told the younger Bush weeks ago that he would be dumping Mr. Rumsfeld. (Unfortunately for Republicans who lost their elections by whisker-thin margins, Mr. Bush did not let the public know Mr. Rumsfeld was going to be sacked.)
BIG OIL’S BIG THRIST
Big Oil is thirsty for Iraq oil in the context of the global struggle by major privately -held oil companies in the West, such as ExxonMobil, for continued and greater access to the limited supply of the world’s oil reserves. This concern is evidenced in a forum sponsored in 2005 by Mr. Baker’s Energy Institute at Rice University in Houston entitled “The Role of National Oil Companies.” The first paper presented, by Hess oil, set out the problem simply, observing that oil operations of national governments around the world control over 80% of the world’s oil reserves. The forum focused on the question of how non-governmental oil companies like Hess, or ExxonMobil, or Shell, could fit into this situation and continue to make their current levels of profit.
The urgency felt by the non-governmental oil giants is understandable in the light of a new report by the International Energy Agency, which says, according to The Financial Times, that “the oilfields on which Europe and the US had come to depend to reduce their reliance on the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) would peak in the next five to seven years. These include those in Russia, the US, Mexico and Norway…The three countries on which the world will depend most for its future oil supply, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq, are also among its most unstable.”
The Times goes on to say, that a “similar problem is emerging in natural gas, with half of the world’s reserves found in Iran and Russia.”
THE BAKER SOLUTION
The major, likely unstated, goal of the Baker task force is necessarily to achieve favorable access to Iraq oil for U.S. firms, which need a safe security situation in which to invest. What will the study group recommend?
Mr. Baker may choose for Iraq a solution that was pursued in Western Sahara, where he was a U.N. envoy from 1997 to 2004. The Polisario Front has been seeking independence for Western Sahara from Morocco since decolonization in 1975, with a referendum on the issue a long-standing idea for resolving the conflict. After several years of negotiation, Mr. Baker proposed a Morocco-inspired referendum plan. However, the plan was not acceptable to the U.N. Security Council because it did not provide for self-determination. While negotiations continued, Morocco, a long-time ally of the U.S., gave permission for oil exploration by Kerr-McGee and others off Western Sahara shores.
At the end of 2002, Mr. Baker proposed another referendum plan that would give Western Sahara five years of autonomy and then a referendum on self-determination. This was unacceptable to Morocco. No referendum has been held, and none is scheduled. The oil companies apparently found less oil in Western Sahara than anticipated and have departed. They were also faced with boycotts led by Western Polisario supporters.
A referendum on the future of Iraq, for example whether it would be partitioned into north, central and southern regions, could be offered as a way of forestalling violence and giving a chance for oil exploration and development by Western firms. The referendum might be suggested for 2010. YNET news.com has reported that the Baker study group will recommend that 5 percent of U.S. troops depart Iraq every two months, which would put the final pullout more than three years away.
The U.S. could promise all segments of Iraqi society massive reconstruction spending and other aid, along the lines of U.S. aid given to Israel and Egypt to forestall warfare. (Unstated, but probably a part of the planning of such a proposal, would be an earmarking of funds for bribes to Iraqis viewed as key to the success of the plan.) The U.S. might propose an international authority to work with Iraqis in overseeing a equitable distribution of Iraq’s oil revenue throughout the country. Iran and Syria might be asked to help pacify the situation, which would mean significant concessions to them by the U.S. The U.S would weigh Israel’s view of this also.
The task force might recommend that U.S. forces take on policing and training tasks running up to a referendum. A significant task for U.S. military and mercenary forces would be the guarding of Iraqi oil fields, oil lines and transportation terminals to ensure oil companies a safe environment. The bulk of the forces could be redeployed, possibly to Kuwait, close enough for intervention.
MORE BLOODSHED LIKELY
The Iraqi resistance is unlikely to approve any deal that leaves any U.S. military forces in Iraq until 2010 or even through next year, particularly since the U.S. has already lost control of the country. Additionally, the various elements of the society have reached a point of high distrust of the United States and a keen understanding of their own self-interest.
This does not mean that the U.S. will not continue to try to subdue the resistance, which may very well increase its attacks.
The appointment of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense suggests a continued bloody, but possibly less public, campaign to subdue the resistance.
Mr. Gates, a long-time Washington functionary from the Central Intelligence Agency, is not only a member of the Baker study group, but is connected to Mr. Baker and the elder Bush through his business relationships with Carlyle. Mr. Gates was in the CIA during the U.S. campaign to destroy the Sandinista government in Nicaragua in the 1980s; he was Deputy Director of the CIA from April 1986 until March 1989.
The campaign against the Sandinistas involved creation by the U.S. of an anti-Sandinista army, know as the contra, whose tactics included murder, torture and rape. There is evidence that money for this force was generated not only by illegal arms transactions with Iran but through cocaine trading.
John Negroponte, now the U.S. national intelligence chief, was U.S. ambassador to Honduras during the creation of the contra. He recently visited Iraq, an odd mission for an official concerned about broad issues of intelligence-gathering.
The involvement of Messers, Gates and Negroponte in Iraq suggests the U.S. may try to dismantle the resistance by attempting to create chaos within it and through more effective spying and interrogation, with the hope of identifying leaders and capturing and/or killing them. This strategy might be carried out primarily by mercenary forces from the U.S. and other countries, thus taking U.S. troops out of killing zones and diminishing the chances that they will be involved in war crimes.
Evidence of the possibility of a bloody time ahead can also be found in the appointment of Army Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno to be second in command of U.S. forces in Iraq, as reported recently in the Wall Street Journal.
The history of Lt. Gen. Odierno’s 4th Infantry Division in Iraq is characterized in the book “Fiasco” as one involving massive detentions of Iraqi civilians and widespread abuses of civilians, including killing. One reported result of the wholesale rounding up of civilians conducted by his division was the abuse at Abu Ghraib.
“What wasn’t widely understood at the time,” writes Thomas Ricks in “Fiasco”, “or now outside the military, is that the overcrowding at the prison, and some of the resulting lapses in supervision, resulted directly from tactical decisions by (Lt. Gen. Ricardo) Sanchez and his division commanders, most notably the 4th ID’s Gen. Odierno. In the fall of 2003 they were stuffing Abu Ghraib with thousands of detainees, the majority of them bystanders caught up in sweeps.”
Mr. Ricks documents abuses of the 4th ID under Odierno’s command that appear to constitute war crimes. He reports that one fellow officer thought Odierno showed “very sound” leadership, but that a senior intelligence officer “thought Odierno intentionally turned a blind eye to certain brutalities: ‘He’s a good guy. But he would say to his colonels, ‘I don’t want to hear the bad shit.’”
Also of note is that a Pentagon committee reviewing the future of U.S. troop levels in Iraq is being headed by Marine Lt. Gen. John Sattler, commander of U.S. during the November, 2004 seige and destruction of Fallujah. This operation resulted in a variety of war crimes, outlined in “U.S. War Crimes in Iraq and Mechanisms for Accountability”, available elsewhere on this website.
U.S. TROOPS OUT OF IRAQ, NOW
As documented in the above mentioned war crimes report, the history of American troops in Iraq is one of widespread illegal activity, from the invasion itself through the continuing occupation. The fact that Democrats and Republicans in Congress are awaiting the Baker study group report before taking action on Iraq indicates that they have not understood the fundamental illegality of U.S. conduct toward Iraq.
The Baker recommendations almost certainly will represent to most Iraqis the recommendations of a bank robber who has occupied the bank, killed bank employees and wants to negotiate a way out, with the money.
The primary obstacle to Iraqi self-determination and political equilibrium is the presence of U.S. troops, as it has been since the invasion and occupation. Immediate removal of U.S. troops and mercenaries and payment of reparations continue to be the most respectful, humane and practical steps that the U.S. government can take.