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Gilbert Achcar: “The Very Presence of U.S. Troops Fuels the Insurgency”

StoryNovember 02, 2005
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We are joined in our New York studio by University of Paris professor, author and analyst, Gilbert Achcar, who has been engaged in a public online debate with University of Michigan Professor Juan Cole about whether the U.S. should immediately withdraw from Iraq. [includes rush transcript]

Achcar has argued in favor of immediate withdrawal and Juan Cole has warned that this could lead to a civil war. We play an excerpt of what Juan Cole had to say and hear from Gilbert Achcar.

  • Gilbert Achcar, author of several books including “The Clash of Barbarisms: September 11 and the Making of the New World Disorder.” Achcar lives in France and teaches at the University of Paris. He is a contributor to Le Monde Diplomatique but is perhaps best known in this country for his frequent contributions to University of Michigan professor Juan Cole”s popular blog, “Informed Comment”–at

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Scott Armstrong and Bob Parry, I want to switch gear as little bit with Gilbert Achcar. In recent months you have been engaged in a public online debate with University of Michigan professor, Juan Cole, about whether the U.S. should immediately withdraw from Iraq. You have argued in favor of immediate withdrawal. Juan Cole has warned this could lead to a civil war. We recently talked to Juan Cole, and I wanted to play an excerpt of what he had to say and then get your response. Juan Cole.

JUAN COLE: Right, well, I believe that the issue so far has been put in too simplistic a manner. People are saying, well, “Troops out now” or “U.S. out now,” or “We have to stay the course.” And it seems to me that we have lots of options besides those two things, both of which, I think, are very dangerous. So, first of all, we learned from Kosovo and Afghanistan that you can accomplish a very great deal by giving close air support to an ally on the ground. So, I agree that U.S. troops should come out of Iraq. First, I think they should come out of the cities, and then ultimately I’d like to see ground forces withdrawn in the main.

And the danger in doing that, of course, is — and all of my Iraqi friends unanimously insist that if were U.S. troops to withdraw precipitately, there would be a civil war amongst the Sunni Arabs, the Shiites and the Kurds. But it seems to me that could be prevented by giving close air support to the new Iraqi army and to other allied forces on the ground. And I was in Lebanon during the civil war. I have seen what a civil war really is. What’s going on in Iraq right now is not really a civil war. It’s a kind of low intensity conflict, but in a civil war, you have militias mounting set-piece battles, 2,000 guys on each side, and firing mortars and shooting at one another. And the U.S. could use its air power to prevent that kind of a large scale civil war in the aftermath of a U.S. withdrawal.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s University of Michigan professor, Juan Cole. Gilbert Achcar, author of Clash of Barbarisms, your response?

GILBERT ACHCAR: Well, I think there’s a contradiction in what Juan has just been saying, because if the purpose is to avoid a civil war, I mean, what he is proposing is basically that U.S. interfere in what would be then very clearly a civil war, because he gives the examples of Kosovo and Afghanistan. Well, if that means that the U.S. should be giving, you know, military support to one faction of the Iraqi people against another faction of the Iraqi people, what’s the name of that, if not a civil war? And I would say a much more dangerous situation than the one we’re in right now where the United States is waging a war against, let’s say, a segment of the Iraqi population, but not with a direct participation of the other segment.

So, that’s — I mean, I think there’s some contradiction here, and besides, the idea of, you know, removing the ground troops and leaving air bases is basically, you know, promoting an idea which resembles the Anglo-Iraqi Treaty of 1930, which was a curse on the new Iraqi state and which led to the fact that the Iraqi monarchy was very much hated by the whole population as some kind of, you know, agency of British imperialism. And if that is what any government in Iraq intends to make, that would be a disaster for this government and for the future of Iraq.

So, I think — I mean, the whole evolution of the situation in the country, the fact that, you know, we in the anti-war movement, we’re saying if the United States invade that country, you will have chaos, okay? And chaos is there now, and now you have people saying, well, the same people who used to say — I’m not saying that Juan’s case — but most of the people who used to say that would be a cakewalk and everything will be fine, now are saying, “Oh, but if we go, that will be chaos.” Well, I mean, chaos is there, and it is a product of the U.S. invasion and occupation, and as General Casey himself said, the very presence of U.S. troops as occupation troops fuels the insurgency. I mean, one cannot say it in better words. And the conclusion of that is that U.S. troops should get out of this country as soon as possible if we want to have any hope of some kind of a reconciliation and rebuilding of national unity in Iraq.

AMY GOODMAN: U.S. forces should pull out today?

GILBERT ACHCAR: Well, you know, even if George W. Bush took that decision, they wouldn’t be able to do it in 48 hours, and they would have to, you know, discuss some kind of a short-term timetable with the Iraqi authorities. But the issue is to decide right now to pull out the troops. Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: What about the situation, beyond Iraq, in Iran, in Syria? The U.S. is very fierce; Condoleezza Rice speaking recently in Congress, talking about, well, already there are cross-border attacks and cross-border bombings the U.S. military is engaged in. What about Syria?

GILBERT ACHCAR: Well, Syria is in, let’s say, quite a difficult position, because the Syrian regime is trying its best to, you know, abide by everything the United States is asking of the regime, in terms of Iraqi situation, control of the borders, and all that. And the more they concede, the more they are being asked, and that’s the situation in which they are, but as a whole, I they Lebanon, specifically, is being used as a kind of pressure issue on Syria, on the Syrian regime, and there’s some kind of bargaining, some kind of deal going on between Washington on the one hand, and Damascus on the other.

AMY GOODMAN: Bob Parry, you also have been looking at Syria and the U.S. government.

ROBERT PARRY: Well, I think the main point about the report that came out recently on Prime Minister Hariri’s assassination in Lebanon is that the American press corps and the international press corps should look at all of the information that is being put on the table very skeptically, wherever it comes from, whether it comes from a U.N. investigator or from the United States or wherever. And I think one of the lessons we should have learned and taken to heart from the problem in Iraq, which now seems so intractable, is that you should definitely get the facts right and be very skeptical going in, because it’s very difficult to get out sometimes.

So, in the case of the report that came out recently — I did a piece for, which said that there were — it was a preliminary report. While it did point fingers at the Syrian government and officials in the Lebanon government, as well, there were holes in the report. It was not a complete report. And it seems to me that when we approach this, both as journalists and as citizens, we have to make sure that this evidence is good, that it’s not something that is going to be exaggerated like we saw in 2002 and 2003 about Iraq. So, I think the main point I would put across is that it really is time for the journalists to do their jobs and to be skeptical and look at everything over and over and over again until they can make real sense out of it and not just accept what anyone tells them.

AMY GOODMAN: Last comment, Gilbert, on that issue.

GILBERT ACHCAR: Well, I agree entirely with what has been said. I mean, we have to be very much skeptical about all kind of, you know, investigations coming from bodies which we know are under U.S. control, actually, and that’s also the case of the U.N. It’s not to say that everything in the report is wrong or false, but, I mean, people have been struck by, first of all, the way this report has been published, even, you know, you have had the two versions and all that, and people feel there are some tricks behind that, and also the fact that there are a lot of allegations without concrete proofs, and that’s rather strange for, you know, for that kind of judicial procedure.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. I want to thank Bob Parry with Consortium News, investigative reporter; Scott Armstrong of the Information Trust; and Gilbert Achcar, who is here in this country, a columnist and a well-known anti-war analyst. He has just flown in to the United States, and he will be speaking tonight in Montclair, New Jersey, tomorrow at the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Community Center in Manhattan, and in New Britain, Connecticut on Friday.

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