Leon Panetta in Iraq: More lies, more war

The author is an Iraq war veteran and a co-founder of March Forward!. This article originally appeared on the March Forward! website. To read more statements from March Forward! click here.

have finally said goodbye to our Pentagon boss, Secretary of Defense
Robert Gates, who for six years has given the orders that affect the
lives of millions of service members and their families.

Gates was yet another millionaire corporate fat cat who came from the
boardrooms for defense contractors and oil giants to send poor and
working-class people to be killed and maimed for the super-profits of
big business.

In the 2008 presidential election, the vast
majority of the U.S. public, most notably within the military, turned
against the Bush administration’s foreign policy. There was open and
widespread rebellion against the military adventures of Bush and Co.
that had produced a staggering body count, with absolutely no regard for
the lives of U.S. service members or the people whose countries we were
sent to occupy.

The election of President Obama and sweeping
electoral victories for the Democratic Party were a blatant repudiation
of the policies of the Bush administration—namely the endless engagement
in two bloody wars while people’s basic needs at home went unmet.

curiously, despite the “great democracy” of U.S. elections, the Obama
administration retained republican Robert Gates as secretary of defense
from the Bush administration. Not much “change” when it came to one of
the most important issues in the eyes of the masses: the ongoing wars
and occupations.

After presiding over the bloodiest period of
U.S. military life in recent history, service members have a lot at
stake with a new Pentagon head coming into office.

Taking the
reins is Leon Panetta, fresh from his position as director of the
Central Intelligence Agency. We did not have to wait long to see what
this new boss would bring; he revealed much on his first trip  to Iraq
as secretary of defense.

For service members and their loved
ones, for the millions of working families who foot the bill for the
war, and for the Iraqi people, who have endured one of the great
atrocities of the modern era, his trip was watched with one burning question in mind:

With so many dead, so many crippled, so many
traumatized; in a war long-exposed as being based on lies, a war that
clearly only benefits Big Oil and Wall Street; a war that people in the
United States and Iraq overwhelmingly oppose; when will it end? 

Recycling the Bush-era lies

occupied Baghdad, Panetta told U.S. troops there, “The reason you guys
are here is because on 9/11 the United States got attacked … and we’ve
been fighting as a result of that.”

It is possible that, for the
past eight years, Panetta had been too busy living the lavish life of
an establishment insider to know that the connection between Iraq and
9/11 was exposed as a lie and recognized as such by the majority of
people in the United States long ago.

According to the Center for
Public Integrity, in the two years after the 9/11 attacks, the Bush
administration knowingly made 935 false statements to the public
regarding the “national security” threat posed by Saddam Hussein and
trying to link him to the 9/11 attacks.

While the Defense
Intelligence Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency both released
reports admitting that there was no relationship between Iraq and
al-Qaeda, Bush administration officials repeated the lie over and over
as if it were fact, whipping up support for the war on false grounds.

corporate media dutifully and knowingly disseminated that false
information. Thousands of U.S. troops were sent to their deaths as a
result, more than a million Iraqis have been killed, and 5 million more
have been displaced.

It is no longer disputed that Iraq had
absolutely no link to al-Qaeda or the 9/11 attacks; or that invading and
occupying Iraq had anything to do with protecting U.S. soil from
“terrorism.” The exposed Bush administration scrapped the lie and
changed the language to focus on bringing “freedom and democracy” to the
Iraqi people.

Panetta, however, must have missed that memo. His
statement was a throwback to the notorious lies leading up to the
invasion of Iraq—the fact that he is still repeating them today is an
insult to the lives of those who have had to bear the brunt of the war.

Not a gaffe

his statement cannot be written off as a “gaffe,” or a mistake out of
ignorance. His statement reflects his true outlook; that the 9/11
attacks provided the political cover to bomb, sanction and invade any
independent country not within the sphere of U.S. domination under the
guise of the “war on terror.”

The “war on terror” became the
one-size-fits-all pretext to accelerate warfare against the many nations
already targeted for regime change by Wall Street’s lackeys in
Washington. Instead of saying we were there “because of 9/11,” Panetta
should have more accurately said we were there “because 9/11 gave us an
excuse to do what we had been trying to do for decades: return Iraq’s
resources to the hands of U.S. and European energy giants.”

like the rest of the political establishment, knows full well that the
war in Iraq—like the war in Afghanistan and the bombing of Libya,
Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia—are for the expansion of U.S. corporate
interests. But today’s empire cannot use the same brazen, openly
colonial justifications as empires past; they change the language, like
Panetta did, and use blatant lies to convince us that the wars are
somehow in our interests.

It was not just the repeat of the
buried, Bush-era 9/11 lie that made clear how much “change” Panetta
would bring to life in the military. The main thrust of Panetta’s Iraq
trip was to pressure the Iraqi government to extend the deadline for
withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq. Or, in Panetta’s own words, as
if scolding a teenager, “Dammit, make a decision!” (Wall Street Journal,
July 12)  

Does the U.S. government want to stay in Iraq?

U.S. government, because of intense pressure from the American public
demanding an end to the illegal war, and a near-defeat by the Iraqi
resistance, promised to remove all troops from Iraq by Dec. 31. But the
Status of Forces Agreement was manufactured exactly to allow for U.S.
troops to stay indefinitely, if requested by the Iraqi government, to
give the illusion of sovereignty.

The struggle against foreign
domination runs deep in Iraqi history, and is firmly rooted in the
consciousness of the Iraqi people. If U.S. forces were to completely
leave Iraq, the country would return to an independent path. Though the
United States would like to remove its troops from Iraq so that they can
be employed in other wars of aggression, it will not do so at the price
of losing control over one of the most geostrategicly important
countries in the Middle East.

Regardless of whether or not the
“troop withdrawal” is honored, the U.S. government will still leave in
place scores of military bases, business centers, consulates, the
world’s largest embassy and at least five heavily fortified compounds.
Where U.S. troops once stood post, the notorious mercenary armies will
flood in in their place, piloting attack drones and helicopters,
conducting patrols and operating as “quick-reaction forces.” Iraqi army
and police will drive U.S. armored vehicles, raid homes in U.S.
uniforms, and shoot protesters with U.S. weapons, taking orders from a
U.S.-backed government.

Conducting its new business ventures—like
the looting of Iraq’s oil, which is now underway—and using Iraq as a
staging ground to exert military dominance over the rest of the region,
the U.S. government will need to leave infrastructure in place.

the U.S. government’s true motives were to “free” Iraq and ensure they
posed no military threat to the United States, then there would be no
reason at all to leave such infrastructure behind—but the purpose was
controlling Iraq’s treasure and to serve as a launch-pad for more
imperial wars.

But even with leaving civilian business liaisons,
diplomats, government officials, military advisors and beefed-up private
military forces behind in their fortified compounds, removing actual
U.S. military forces from the ground makes securing those business and
military gains much more fragile.

The U.S. government does not
have over 800 military bases in around 130 countries (the vast majority
of countries on the planet) because of some “national security” threat.
Those bases secure a network of global domination through force and
intimidation; leaving military forces in a country is an indispensable
imperial tactic that cements the dominant role of U.S. interests in that
country’s politics—just ask the people of South Korea, the Philippines,
Puerto Rico, Japan, Bahrain, Columbia, Saudi Arabia and so on.

U.S. troops standing ready in Iraq, U.S. influence over Iraq’s politics
weaken, and a major barrier for the Iraqi people re-asserting their
independence is removed. Washington is well-aware that the Iraqi people
overwhelmingly oppose the U.S. occupation and the death and destruction
it brought to Iraq. With anti-U.S. sentiments so high, the U.S.
government fears that the Iraqi people will stand up and re-take their
country, as they did from British colonialism just 53 years ago in the
1958 Iraq Revolution.

If there is any way the U.S. government can
manage the political fallout, both in the U.S. and in Iraq, it will
leave troops in Iraq. Robert Gates, upon leaving his post, said he
“hoped” that Iraq would issue the formal request needed to extend  the
troop presence per the SOFA guidelines, and that “the United States will
be willing to say ‘yes’ when that time comes.” (Associated Press, May

No matter that the vast majority of Americans and Iraqis have
said “no” to any troops there since before the war even started and
have sparked historic resistance movements in both countries, and that
the U.S. public overwhelmingly voted against the war in 2008—that’s not
how democracy works in the “land of the free.”

Panetta’s mission: Extend the illegal, unpopular war

Panetta’s first mission as Obama’s new Pentagon boss was to do the
opposite of what propelled Obama and the Democrats to victory in 2008:
try to extend the occupation of Iraq indefinitely.

admittedly “frustrated” with the Iraqi government, had to turn up the
heat, because the clock is ticking on a formal request.

The Nouri
al-Maliki government is stalling because it is in a precarious
position; Maliki and his pro-U.S. bloc are extremely dependent on
Washington’s backing to remain in power—as any government elected under
an occupation, in an election crafted by the occupying army, would be.
But their desire to stay in bed with Washington is at odds with the
Iraqi masses and a significant bloc of the Iraqi government associated
with Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr.

Massive protests, on the wave
of the Arab revolts, have already rocked Iraq’s cities denouncing
government corruption and the occupation, including a massive march of
over 700,000 in May that vowed to return to full-scale armed resistance
if U.S. troops remained in Iraq just one day past the deadline.

that was of little concern to Panetta. After all, it is only young
enlisted soldiers in need of jobs and college money who will be at risk
should violence flare up. Panetta and his friends and family will be
safe at home.

Before Panetta’s visit, Maliki was extremely
tight-lipped about any indication that the withdrawal deadline would be
extended. But after Panetta met with Maliki in Iraq, he changed his
tune, saying that he expected “thousands” of U.S. troops to remain past
the withdrawal deadline.

Maliki began throwing around what may be
the government’s pro-U.S. elements’ only political cover: referring to
U.S. ground forces as “trainers” instead of “troops,” and calling their
outposts “training centers” instead of “military bases.” The
sleight-of-hand will not fool the Iraqi people, and we should not let it
fool us.

It was nearly a mission accomplished for Panetta; the
Iraqi government is now laying down the legal language to justify their
impending request to extend the occupation.

Shortly thereafter
General Ray Odierno, Obama’s nominee for the next Army chief of staff,
made several statements pushing for a continued occupation of Iraq.

must avoid our historical pattern of drawing down too fast and getting
too small,” he said. Apparently, the war that the Bush administration
said would last “weeks, not months,” is ending too fast for Odierno and
the Obama administration.

Forget about democracy. Forget about
the will of the people. Forget about national sovereignty. Forget about
the lives of U.S. troops and Iraqi civilians. Wall Street’s investment
in Iraq trumps all else.

Troop deaths on the rise; Panetta blames Iran

Obama administration has been under considerable pressure since
continuing combat deaths have exposed the “end of combat” declaration as
a farce. Panetta visited Iraq on the heels of the deadliest month for
U.S. troops in two years.

Panetta could not visit Iraq without
addressing this political reality: that the continued occupation—however
scaled-back and repackaged for public consumption—carries with it
continued U.S. troop casualties.

If troops (or “trainers”) remain
past Dec. 31, U.S. casualties will again spike, and the Obama
administration will have to answer to the families of the dead and
maimed: Why are we still being sent as cannon fodder in a war premised
on exposed lies, a war we voted to end, and a war this government
promised to end?

Panetta also used the opportunity to yet again
beat the war drums against Iran—another resource-rich country with
nationalized oil that the U.S. government has longed to dominate since
the 1979 Iranian Revolution threw out the brutal U.S.-backed dictator
who protected Western access to Iran’s wealth.

Panetta attributed
the death of 15 U.S. troops in June not to widespread hatred of the
U.S. occupation by the Iraqi people—one in three of whom have either
been killed, wounded or made a refugee by the U.S. occupation—but a
proxy war being waged by Iran. (Washington Post, June 30)

asserted that the Iranian government provided the weapons that killed
those soldiers, and that the attacks were carried out with the guidance,
and in the interests of, the Iranian government.

Of course,
Panetta would have us believe: It could not be the fact that the Iraqi
people have just endured eight years of “shock and awe,” night raids,
detentions, torture, checkpoints, chemical fallout, complete destruction
of their cities and over a million innocent people killed, not to
mention more than a decade of crippling sanctions that followed the 1991
Gulf War. It could not be that they will never accept this occupation,
and are stepping-up the pressure to ensure that it ends. It must be that
another country, which had the audacity to nationalize its oil, that is

Keeping with the theme of his trip, blaming Iran is
yet another old Bush-era lie. It is not a new claim. George W. Bush
told us he was “certain” that Iran was arming Iraqi fighters back in the
early months of the war and were responsible for troop deaths. This lie
was an attempt to mask the growing widespread opposition among the
Iraqi people to the U.S. occupation.

Panetta went beyond simply
blaming Iran for the troop deaths. He issued a threat: “[W]e cannot just
simply stand back and allow this to continue to happen.” No trip to the
Middle East by a Pentagon official would be complete without renewed
threats of war against the Iranian people.

Panetta’s trip reflects more of the same

trip to Iraq, his first high-profile act as secretary of defense, had
three striking features: Repeating the long-exposed lie that the war in
Iraq is somehow connected to 9/11; prodding the Iraqi government to
allow the occupation by U.S. troops to continue indefinitely; and
issuing unabashed threats of war against Iran.

His trip gave
quite an accurate glimpse of what is to come. Panetta shows us that
regardless of what politician sits in the oval office, regardless of
which of the two mainstream parties holds power, regardless of how many
people vote to change foreign policy, the U.S. war machine stays firmly
on course. The interests of big business rule supreme.

reality remains that if Washington is left to its own devices, countless
more service members will die and lose limbs in a war we know was
started based on lies, a war that virtually everyone vehemently
opposes—except for the multi-millionaires who have a stake in
investments in Iraq.

This begs the question: Why would we let
some clique of millionaires in three-piece suits order us, our friends
and our family to be killed, maimed and traumatized so ExxonMobil,
Boeing and Halliburton can please their shareholders?

It is an absurd equation. But it is one that we can alter.

service member has the right to disobey whatever profit-inspired orders
Panetta issues. And every family in the United States, who pay for the
wars with their tax dollars and their loved ones, has the right to step
outside the guidelines of the political establishment and take dramatic,
mass action to force change.

That, and only that, is the remedy
for the same old lies, the same old policies and the same old dynamic of
profits for the rich over the needs and desires of the people.

October 6, the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan, March
Forward! will join thousands in Washington, D.C. for a historic mass
protest against the wars.

The participation of united
veterans and service members will send a clear message to the U.S.
government that we can take our lives into our own hands, and will fight
against the reckless decisions that have destroyed so many lives.

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