Resignation Setting In?

I‘m not quite sure why I am not red-faced with anger at the fact that President Obama has set such a long tentative timetable for removing U.S. troops from Iraq. It’s to be 19 months before all “combat” troops are out, and after that 35,000-50,000 will be left, presumably as a sort of colonial permanent occupation force to keep the wogs under control. It might be that, like Chris Preble at Cato, I believe Obama will honor the status of forces agreement (SOFA – and how complacently Americans have become accustomed to that acronym) and have all American troops out by the end of 2011.

In fact, however, I don’t believe it. I strongly suspect that come 2011 the administration will conjure up, perhaps at the behest of the permanent military bureaucracy, some rationale for keeping U.S. troops in Iraq a little longer – perhaps 20,000 just to serve as a tripwire so a case can be made that our brave troops are vulnerable should some unpleasantness arise in the near future. Then, of course, we’ll have to rush in reinforcements to make sure nobody in the Middle East gets the notion that they are independent of the long arm of Uncle Sam.

Perhaps it’s gratitude that the thoroughly awful Dubya has finally returned to Texas and will be confined there for a few more weeks before giving self-justifying speeches to groups that will be unaccountably willing to pay him to mumble incoherently. He has been replaced by a man who seems to be able to string two or three sentences together without lapsing into babble. (Yes, I know, The One can sound a bit addlepated without a teleprompter, but at least he gives the impression when he pauses and umms that he is thinking about what to say next rather than that he’s in a panic because there’s nothing remotely coherent rattling around in his head.) In fact, however, I have had quite enough of Obama as president. I’m not surprised that he is such a thorough statist, though I had a vain hope or two in December that he might actually govern "from the center," whatever that cliché might mean.

Even (perhaps especially) those who supported Obama have reason to be upset that his timetable for leaving Iraq is virtually identical to John McCain’s preferred timetable and also that of the rightfully despised Bush. Although the issue faded in importance as the campaign dragged on, it is highly likely that had Barack Obama not separated himself from the pack as one who also opposed the war from the outset and was determined to end it as quickly as feasible, he would not be president now. He’s gone soft on arguably his most important implicit promise to voters. He looked for a while like a somewhat different kind of politician, but he is turning out to be very much a "liberal" interventionist in foreign policy, still ready to commit more troops to Afghanistan, however foolish that commitment seems to anybody with a sense of history, and still sending his increasingly befuddled-sounding secretary of state around the world to assure people that we will bring peace to the Middle East and keep running everything else.

Now I think that the longer U.S. troops stay in Iraq, even if only in a peripheral role, the longer Iraqis will have a crutch to keep them from taking responsibility for their own future. It’s incredibly patronizing and arrogant for U.S. officials to have the attitude that the guys who came in and wrecked the joint – the U.S. – and enhanced the regional power and potential dangerousness of the most militantly anti-American regime in the neighborhood – Iran – are the only thing that prevents a descent into chaos. Our imperial leaders remain incredibly ignorant about the countries they want to run, and they don’t feel any obligation to learn anything, expecting occupied countries to feel grateful to us for treating ancient cultures like adolescents who need our “adult” supervision.

I know, I know, at least one other thing. The logistics of withdrawal, even if the goal is to have a zero footprint in Mesopotamia at the end of the process, would take more than just a few months. There is so much materiel there – facilities that can and should be dismantled, vehicles, ammunition dumps, mess halls, recreational facilities – that it will take longer than three or six months just to get what needs to come back to the U.S. moving. But the process really should begin today, not a year or so from now.

Having gotten all that out of my system, however, it’s still hard to work up real anger, and I’m still not quite sure why. Perhaps it’s terminal cynicism about political leaders that keeps me from real disappointment. It helps not to expect anything constructive from the kind of people who strive mightily to place themselves in positions where they have power over others; such people are morally flawed from the outset, and we shouldn’t expect much.

In one sense, we should not be all that surprised. This is pretty much what Obama was promising – a few months longer, perhaps – since about the middle of last year. Americans and Iraqis will be killed for nothing but the foolish pride of our political leaders for another year and a half, but that’s been happening for the last six years already, and if we’re lucky the body count won’t be too high. The comments of John Kerry when he was younger and angrier, about what you say to the last person killed or maimed for nothing, will still be more relevant than the older and more complacent John Kerry, who was for this stupid war before he was against it, might be willing to acknowledge.

But most Americans are thoroughly benumbed about the lives wasted in the military, even as they pay little or no attention to the lives wasted in our domestic prisons. We can put both categories of people out of our minds quite readily, treating the one class as heroes of possibly superhuman proportions and the other as subhumans, but both as categorically different from our friends and neighbors, who deserve better than such psychologically distancing stereotyping.

Well, if President Obama betrays his earliest supporters once again and ends up keeping a permanent garrison in Iraq after 2011, there will be plenty of time to work up and encourage anger then, and I suspect it will manifest itself. And there’s plenty to worry about here at home, what with Obama trying to cure the bursting of an economic bubble with more of what created the bubble in the first place. And perhaps we can find solace in the possibility that it will become increasingly apparent that the empire is simply too expensive to be sustained, leading to the likelihood that it will be abandoned without our wise leaders acknowledging in public that they are abandoning it.

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Author: Alan Bock

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Alan Bock is senior essayist at the Orange County Register. He is the author of Ambush at Ruby Ridge (Putnam-Berkley, 1995).