Alexander Cockburn’s comments about the left’s inability to acknowledge US defeat in Iraq and the bogus ‘war for oil’ thesis are perceptive. But in Tariq Ali and Seumas Milne he has chosen the wrong avatars for this odd belief in the empire’s invincibility. Tariq is a good friend and I have had this conversation with him several times. I know for a fact that he rejects the reductionist ‘war for oil’ argument. (He made his position clear in the Q&A after his recent London Review of Books lecture.) Milne sometimes hews to the establishment left line, but has shown far more independence and courage than some other left luminaries. I’d rather Cockburn had directed his criticism at Noam Chomsky, whose defective and predictable analysis of the Middle East continues to mislead many.
“The US isn’t withdrawing from Iraq at all – it’s rebranding the occupation… What is abundantly clear is that the US , whose embassy in Baghdad is now the size of Vatican City , has no intention of letting go of Iraq any time soon.” So declared Seumas Milne of The Guardian on August 4.
Milne is not alone among writers on the left arguing that even though most Americans think it’s all over, They say that Uncle Sam still effectively occupies Iraq, still rules the roost there. They gesture at 50,000 US troops in 94 military bases, “advising” and training the Iraqi army, “providing security” and carrying out “counter-terrorism” missions. Outside US government forces there is what Jeremy Scahill calls the “coming surge” of contractors in Iraq , swelling up from the present 100,000. Hillary Clinton wants to increase the number of military contractors working for the state department alone from 2,700 to 7,000. Of these contractors 11,000 are armed mercenaries, mostly “third country nationals, typically from the developing world. “The advantage of an outsourced occupation,” Milne writes, “ is clearly that someone other than US soldiers can do the dying to maintain control of Iraq.