This article originally appeared on TomDispatch.
The Bush administration invaded Iraq in March 2003 with a force of approximately 130,000 troops. Top White House and Pentagon officials like Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz were convinced that by August those troops, welcomed with open arms by the oppressed Iraqis, would be drawn down to 30,000-40,000 and housed in newly built, permanent military bases, largely away from the country’s urban areas. This was to be part of what now is called a “strategic partnership” in the Middle East.
Almost five-and-a-half years later, the United States still has approximately 130,000 troops in Iraq. Top administration officials are now talking about “modestly accelerated” rates of troop withdrawal, if all goes well. By August 2010, the Obama administration expects to have only 30,000-50,000 troops housed mainly on American mega-bases largely away from urban areas, part of a special American/Iraqi strategic partnership in the region.
This passes for progress in Iraq.
A History of the Bicycle in Iraq
In imagistic terms, the Bush administration biked into Iraq. Back in its salad days, when all was green and upbeat, its top officials loved the idea that they were training the eager Iraqi kid in how to ride the bike of democracy. President George W. Bush liked to talk about the moment when we might take the ” training wheels” off the Iraqi bike and let the little fella ride into the democratic sunset on his own. His secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, ran with an allied image–the difficult moment when a parent has to decide whether to take that steadying hand off the bike seat and let the tyke pedal on his own. “You’re running down the street,” as he put it in 2004, “holding onto the back of the seat. You know that if you take your hand off they could fall, so you take a finger off and then two fingers, and pretty soon you’re just barely touching it.”
Some years later, after kid and parent had made it around one of those “corners” they were always turning–on the way to various “tipping points” in the Iraq War–and found themselves instead at the “precipice,” after Rumsfeld had, in fact, been asked to resign by his president, he wrote a final memo, the last of his famed “snowflakes,” to the White House, on “new options” in Iraq. In it, he suggested: “Begin modest withdrawals of US and Coalition forces (start ‘taking our hand off the bicycle seat’), so Iraqis know they have to pull up their socks, step up and take responsibility for their country.”