America's enduring fantasy about Iraq

PUBLISHED : Friday, 30 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 30 November, 2007, 12:00am

The word 'enduring' crops up a lot in connection with the United States' adventure in Iraq. As soon as the US army occupied the country in 2003, it began work on 14 enduring (that is, permanent) military bases to turn it into an American bastion at the head of the Gulf.

And now US President George W. Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki have signed an agreement to forge an 'enduring' US-Iraqi relationship once the UN mandate that authorises the US presence in the country expires at the end of next year.

The 'coalition' of other countries that contributed troops to the occupation of Iraq is melting away: the new Australian government is going to bring its troops home, the Japanese parliament has ended the country's naval support for the Iraq mission (the soldiers had already left), and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown is searching for a tactful way to pull out his troops.

Soon it will just be the Americans and the Iraqis, and the Bush administration, encouraged by the temporary improvement the 'surge' has wrought in the security situation in Iraq, is pushing on with its original plans for the country.

During the next year, the US will negotiate the military, political and economic terms of the 'enduring' relationship with Iraq that was always intended to follow the invasion of the country.

We may assume that the agreement will ratify the permanent presence of American armed forces in Iraq and grant preferential treatment to US investments in the country. But we might ask, just once more, why the US did all this.

As a rule of thumb, it's best to assume that US leaders are guided by strategic, rather than personal, considerations. It is also wise to be suspicious of the simpler oil-related explanations: Saddam Hussein lacked the standing to lead the other oil- exporting states in a switch from the US dollar to the euro, for example, even if he was toying with such an idea.

There is no need to invade countries in order to get oil from them. There could, however, be a requirement for large, permanent American military bases somewhere in the Gulf if the goal was to be able to stop oil from reaching some other country.

The only challenger to America's status as sole superpower is China, and the Bush administration has spent the past seven years in tireless pursuit of alliances or less-formal military arrangements with countries all around China's borders.

China is heavily dependent on imported oil, and the bulk of its imports come from the Gulf. An American hand on China's oil tap could be a major strategic asset.

Even this explanation doesn't make complete sense. America's navy owns half the major warships on the planet, and is perfectly capable of starving China of oil without any land bases in the Gulf.

It's only of concern to historians now, of course, because the 'enduring bases' are just part of the larger fantasy of US victory in Iraq. The 'surge' will end, the insurgents will come back out of their holes, and the attrition of US forces in Iraq will resume its usual pace. They will all go home eventually.

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries