By Fu Mengzi
US forces in Iraq have been facing a dilemma for quite some time
now. US President George W. Bush finally said on September 14 in a
televised address that he had accepted Major General David Howell
Petraeus' proposal to pull 30,000 troops out of Iraq by mid-2008.
This was the first development in Bush's Iraq policy we had seen in
Bush has steadfastly refused to pull US forces out of Iraq and
said he would not even consider a timetable for such a move. To
him, having US forces leave Iraq would send the wrong signal to
terrorists and religious extremists, while making the mess in the
Gulf region worse. It could even allow Iraq to become a new hotbed
for terrorism and threaten the US' national security.
In a speech delivered at a Veterans of Foreign Wars National
Convention gathering in Kansas City on August 22, he said: "Three
decades later, there is a legitimate debate about how we got into
the Vietnam War and how we left."
The thought behind this statement is that Bush did not want to
repeat a past mistake by taking a hasty decision when neither
charging ahead nor falling back sounded good.
However, the situation in Iraq has not allowed Bush to go as far
as he would perhaps like. Since they invaded Iraq in 2003, US
forces have run up a bill of more than $500 billion, with more than
3,700 service people killed and 21,000 injured.
The war has lasted almost as long as World War II, but the
security situation in Iraq has yet to improve. The perception that
the US-backed Iraqi government does not represent the people of
Iraq has led to fierce conflicts among various religious sects
throughout the country, giving terrorist forces an opportunity to
enter Iraq and cause havoc.
According to the United Nations, thousands of Iraqi civilians
die violent deaths every month, and 2 million people have lost
their homes. Early last month, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown
announced that the United Kingdom, despite its close ties with the
US, would pull 1,000 of its troops out of Iraq before the end of
This was precisely why the war was the dominant issue during the
US Congressional mid-term elections last November and cost the
Republican Party dearly, as it lost majority rule in both the House
Meanwhile, attacks by the Democratic Party and some Republican
lawmakers on Bush's Iraq policy have shown no sign of abating, as
the situation in Iraq has resisted improving despite the "surge"
campaign Bush launched early this year when he sent more troops to
the war-torn country.
A public survey by US, British and Japanese media entities in
September found 70 percent of Iraqis thought the country's security
situation was getting worse, while 57 percent of them said they
"could understand" the attacks on US and UK forces and 47 percent
demanded an immediate pullout of US forces from Iraq.
It is clear that US forces cannot remain fighting unseen enemies
at the expense of US taxpayers forever. Pulling out has to be on
Washington's political agenda by now, especially with the
presidential election right around the corner and domestic pressure
mounting by the day. This is something Bush cannot take
Bush's announcement that he will reduce US forces in Iraq next
year will help placate the anti-war crowd at home and tamp down on
criticism from his rivals in Congress, but his planned partial
pullout refers only to the 30,000 reinforcements he ordered into
Iraq at best. That means his limited pullout is just a symbolic
gesture, which hardly suggests a policy U-turn.
The question people would probably like to ask next is: What
will the 130,000 US troops still in Iraq do?
I have examined the issue from the geopolitical angle, weighing
the interests in controlling Middle East oil resources and in
preventing regional hegemony. I have come to the conclusion that it
would be very difficult in the long run for the US to pull its
military forces out of Iraq completely.
Iraq may not be the only reason Washington wants to keep US
forces in the region, and Iran is quite likely the next target.
To America, it would appear that an oil- and natural gas-rich
Iran hell-bent on developing nuclear power cannot have the peaceful
use of nuclear energy in mind. Nuclear weapons must be a goal, too.
Separate negotiations between Iran and the International Atomic
Energy Agency and European Union have not gone smoothly, and the
United Nations has also seen plans tabled against Tehran.
Iran has repeatedly claimed that its nuclear program is for
peaceful uses. However, the US fears Iran could become a top
nuclear-capable nation in the Middle East, putting more pressure on
Iran today remains a "state sponsoring terrorism" in Bush's
eyes. Shi'ite Muslims have become the dominant religious sect in
Iraq since the demise of Saddam Hussein, resulting in the emergence
of a "Shi'ite crescent" straddling Iraq, Syria and Saudi
The US also claims that as a Shi'ite-dominated Muslim nation,
Iran is not only directly connected to attacks on US forces in
Iraq, but to the rise of Shi'ite fundamentalism throughout the
It has to be a mortal enemy of the US.
In order to solve the "Iran problem" for good, according to an
observation in the September 18 edition of Russia's
Izvestia newspaper, it is of great interest to the US
military to occupy Tehran with troops, just as it did in Iraq, and
then destroy Iran's nuclear facilities with one decisive strike,
which would get rid of the source of the "anti-US" movement in the
If somehow that is not an option, another could be that the
Pentagon would look to set Iran's nuclear program back a few
decades by paralyzing Tehran's strategic facilities with precision
strikes from the air and Gulf waters. The Pentagon has already
tabled a plan against Iran and is now waiting for Bush's
According to recent press reports, the Department of Defense has
finalized plans for attacks against 2,000 targets in Iranian
territory. Meanwhile, Washington is also trying hard to persuade
other countries to join a "financial campaign" against Iranian
banks in a bid to force Tehran to abandon its nuclear
It probably worries Iran more than Iraq that US forces could
stay in the latter indefinitely. People are waiting to see if the
US forces currently deployed in Iraq will take aim at Iran when the
efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis by diplomatic means
go down the drain and if the true reason for Bush's reluctance to
pull US forces out of Iraq is Iran rather than his other previously
The author is assistant president of China Institutes of
Contemporary International Relations
(China Daily November 6, 2007)