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In the second part of this series, professor Michael Schwartz compares the terms of the US-Iraq security pact – assuming the US will abide by them – with the initial, grandiose neocon plan which would have Iraq as an American colony peppered with US military bases projecting power all over the Middle East. He stresses it’s unlikely the Pentagon and US Big Oil will abandon their dreams of Iraq domination.

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PEPE ESCOBAR, SENIOR ANALYST, TRNN: Okay, Michael, I think that takes us to the big picture. Okay. Page 271 of your book, you write that in a land the size of California with 26 million people, an amalgam of Baathists, fundamentalists, former military men, union organizers, democratic secularists, local tribal leaders, politically active clerics, and, of course, with outraged ordinary citizens, everybody managed to thwart the plans of a self-proclaimed New Rome, the hyperpower and global sheriff of planet Earth. When you wrote the book, you said this fact, even in the first glancing assessment of history, may indeed prove historic. So, of course, we don’t have the benefit of hindsight of our historian friends in 22nd century, but how would you sum up these five years of disaster in Iraq in the light of this new SOFA being approved—as you said, an act of desperation, maybe, from the Bush administration?

MICHAEL SCHWARTZ, PROF. OF SOCIOLOGY, STONY BROOK UNIV.: Well, you know, I think that if you take into account what the optimistic visions of the Bush administration were when they went into Iraq, in which they expected to have a war that cost approximately $40 billion that would rapidly be repaid from a vast expansion in Iraqi oil production that the United States would simply shave a piece off the top to use to pay for their war and occupation, that they would have five major military bases functioning in Iraq, and that Iraq would be the headquarters for an ongoing campaign for the United States to dominate the political economy of the Middle East, if you start with that vision and you realize that, I think, these guys were very serious and quite confident that they were going to be able to accomplish this not in five years but in three years on the outside, and in five years they would be well on their way to expanding Iraqi oil production to somewhere between 6 and 8 million barrels a day, right, whereas in fact they’re still struggling to reach 2.5 million barrels a day, which was the production levels before we began, right, if we look at their original expansive goals, we see that the war in Iraq has been a miserable failure on all those accounts, and in addition has put a kind of a strain on the US economy that is really quite intolerable, has undermined the position of the US in the world, and certainly resulted in a reversal of the fondest visions that the neocons had when they first entered office, which was the idea that the United States military power would be seen as so preeminent and so overwhelming that the United States could simply use the threat of that military power to extract all manner of economic concessions around the world, and most particularly from, let’s say, Iran, in which, you know, their demand to Iran had been that Iran stop controlling the amount and the way in which the oil was being pumped in Iran and instead, you know, deliver the Iranian oil over to the international market in much larger quantities, and pumping it at much faster levels, and allowing the flow of oil to be controlled by international oil companies. All of this was supposed to have happened by now. So by that measure this has been a horrible failure. And, you know, as I said in that quote you read, I think the only place we can look, from the point of view of resistance to this decision, is to the Iraqi people, who have done an amazing job of frustrating all these ambitions. The leadership of the United States—and I don’t just mean the Bush administration, but certainly the Democratic leadership also—thought we’re well within reach. They really thought they were well within reach, and, unfortunately, most of the rest of them thought they were well within reach. So the Iraqi people have done an incredible job of preventing this, and now what we see is the United States signing an agreement which they hope to break that actually says, no, you’re not going to be able to use Iraq as a permanent headquarters for your Middle East adventure and your Middle East domination. You’re not going to have a government that is a true client of the US. I mean, the government that they are now touting there is much more of a client of Iran than it is of the US. You know. And so they’ve lost on that account. And they’ve also lost miserably on the whole question of how to manage the oil. I mean, even the best things that have happened to them from the point of view of oil in Iraq have been an agreement that was signed between the Iraqi government and the Chinese government. Yeah, that’s been their best thing, because it’s at least an agreement that’s supposed to expand production, alright? And yet it’s with America’s chief economic rival in the future, if not in the present. So it’s quite a miserable condition for the Bush administration from the point of view of its original goals.

ESCOBAR: But, Michael, let’s talk a little bit of realpolitik here. The Pentagon has been stressing since 2001 that it’s fighting an arc of instability that runs from the horn of Africa, through the Middle East, to Central Asia and western Sino, Xinjiang province in Western China. Would they realistically abandon the possibility of having at least four or five giant military bases in the heart of the whole thing, which is Iraq, just because of this agreement? And Mullen has been starting to send—commander of the joint chiefs of staff, he has started emitting signals that everything is renegotiable. And maybe we have Robert Gates confront the secretary of defense. Would the industrial-military complex realistically abandon all hopes on being permanently implanted in Iraq?

SCHWARTZ: Well, I think we can confidently say that they haven’t abandoned those hopes. Can we say that they won’t abandon those hopes? I’m not so sure of that. I think the situation is quite tenuous. But if you listen to Obama’s statements, starting when he started running for president and all the way, looking at his website as it stands now, he never alters from the commitment. His withdrawal from Iraq will leave behind a resident force capable of [inaudible] well, he says capable of striking at al-Qaeda wherever it might be. That’s just American political rhetoric for permanent bases that give us a sufficient military force to fight a war in any area in the Middle East in the arc of instability. So he’s fully committed to an American military presence in Iraq of the same sort that Bush has been pursuing since then, which really means the five major bases. And those five major bases were originally designed to hold 50,000 troops. And if you kind of go through Obama’s statements, it always adds up to about 50,000 troops that he’s talking about keeping. So I think that we see that Obama is committed to the same enterprise that Bush set out to do, and in fact his rhetoric generally says that. He says we should be ready to settle in Iraq for the minimal demands that we need to have answered for our intervention. And that always includes, for example, a client regime in Iraq. He often uses the phrase “a reliable ally”. You know, he often uses that phrase. So I think that we see an Obama commitment to fulfilling the imperial vision now, at the same time that you have this agreement that says they’re going to be out of there. So, clearly, he has to be planning to compromise that agreement in some way, and it will be very interesting to see what Obama tries to do in order to retrieve that. On the other hand, I think that they are facing, you know, a situation in which their position in Iraq is becoming more tenuous all the time. I think a good symptom of that is simply the incapacity, their incapacity to get this oil law passed, or for them to get any kind of oil contract signed that would actually fit the larger American plan.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Michael Schwartz is a professor of Sociology and the founding director of the Undergraduate College of Global Studies at Stony Brook University (SUNY). He has written extensively on the war in Iraq for publications including Mother Jones, Asia Times, ZNet and TomDispatch and is the author of War Without End: The Iraq War in Context (Haymarket, 2008).