How, one wonders, could President-elect Barack Obama possibly hope to implement his announced foreign policy goals when he’s entrusted his enemies the Clntonites, and the Republicans to implement them? I’ve wondered that myself, but now the mystery is cleared up by Robert Gates, the GOP defense secretary who says we’ll be in Iraq "for decades." In an interview with George Will, Gates let the cat out of the bag:
"Regarding Iraq, Gates is parsimonious with his confidence, noting that the multisectarian democracy has not sunk very deep roots yet.’ He stresses, however, that there is bipartisan congressional support for a long-term residual presence’ of perhaps 40,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, and that the president-elect’s recent statements have not precluded that. Such a presence “for decades” has, he says, followed major US military operations since 1945, other than in Vietnam. And he says, Look at how long Britain has had troops in Cyprus.’"
Cyprus was a British colony in 1956 when a revolt, led by the EOKA group, broke out: 40,000 troops were tied down until 1960, when the Zurich accord was signed by Britain, Greece, and Turkey. Under the accord, the British retained the right to station troops in a 98-square-mile area, and they have bases there to this day. More than 3,000 British troops are stationed on the island, which is considered a key forward base and the headquarters of the UK’s Mediterranean presence.
This "Cypriot" outcome all neat and clean, no quagmire no problem is all well and good – that is, if you’re John McCain, and you envision a hundred year occupation. It’s no surprise Gates endorses the Cyprus solution, either. It is, however, most emphatically not what Obama promised American voters: he specifically disdained the idea of establishing "permanent bases," and pledged to get us out completely in 16 months from his first day in office.
To all those "progressives" so eager to give the President-elect of their dreams the benefit of every doubt to those who are already picking out their Inaugural outfits and angling for an invite to one of the "insider" Georgetown parties wake up and smell the sellout.
Unless and until Obama explicitly disavows Gates’s statements to Will, it is fair to assume the Defense secretary is speaking for the administration of which he will be a key part. The Cyprus solution is in the works, and it’s just a question of where the bases will be my guess: Kurdistan and how to finesse it politically.
Obama should have no real problem selling this to the Kurds: his secretary of state, after all, was the first to suggest it. However, some real finesse is going to be required on the home front. On the other hand, by that time, "progressives" will be so wedded to Obama’s Afghan campaign that their ostensible "antiwar" bona fides won’t matter quite so much any more. Although, to be fair, this just applies to the professed leaders and spokespersons for the Democratic and pro-Obama left, because I know there are many sincere (albeit misguided) people out there who have real faith in Obama’s foreign policy agenda, which they see as a decided improvement over the past eight years. The point I want to make to them is that the morphing of the 16-month pledge into a decades-long "residual" military presence is not an improvement, but a continuation of the Bushian policy.
I have not been very friendly to Obama: indeed, after an initial attack of Obama-mania, from which I soon recovered, this space has anticipated the apparent sellout for months. Yet even I am shocked at the bluntness of the betrayal.
Obama hasn’t even taken the oath of office, and already he’s reneged on the one campaign promise that catapulted him into the White House to begin with Iraq. And he used a Republican to telegraph it.
Obama’s stark differences with the Clintons over this issue enamored him to the Democratic party’s solidly antiwar grassroots, and struck a chord with independent and even Republican voters nationwide. The rest the humbling of Hillary, the celebrity, the recruiting of the media into his campaign came later. Talk about someone who’s forgotten his roots Obama, in power, is clearly turning out to be one of those politicians who gives opportunism a bad name.
I have to say, however, that I don’t assign all of the responsibility to Obama, personally, nor even to the gang of old-timer Clintonites and left-neocon holdovers who are peopling the upper and mid-level layers of the national security bureaucracy. Because to speak of the "left" wing of the Democratic party is to raise the question: does it exist?
I saw some guy from the Progressive Democrats of America on Chris Matthews, the other day, and neither he nor David Corn seemed to care much about the backing down from the 16-month pledge, with the former fixated on the post of Interior secretary, and Corn sadly nodding in mute resignation as Matthews wondered aloud how Hillary Clinton at State and Gates at Defense didn’t undermine Obama’s stated foreign policy objectives.
Well, then, what can progressives who took Obama’s promises seriously, and the broader anti-initerventionist movement, do, concretely, to stop the sellout of the 16-month pledge? First, and least probable, pressure the President-elect to either clarify his own position, or else nominate someone else to head up the Pentagon.
This, of course, will never happen. In spite of all the bull-bleep about "inclusiveness," and "democracy," this administration’s arrogance is going to make the haughtiness of the Bush era (I and II combined) seem positively self-effacing. These people haven’t just forgotten where they came from, and who gave them their power they are actively trying to forget.
As E. J. Dionne put it to the antiwar movement just the other day, "Obama made clear six years ago that while he was with them on Iraq, he was not one of them." I failed to note, at the time, Dionne’s use of the past tense: "he was with them on Iraq." Whether intentional or not, this turn of phrase turned out to be prescient, as secretary Gates’s comments make all too clear. Unless Obama disavows Gates, and withdraws his nomination, it’s time to admit that, on Iraq, he was with us, but he isn’t anymore.
Congressional Democrats are too busy pushing for a Universal Bailout to bother with the fate of foreigners. Besides, now that it’s their war, how likely is to end? Like any and all government programs, its life span tends naturally to immortality.
You’ll remember that the newly-seated "antiwar" Democrats, swept into power in the 2006 elections on the strength of popular opposition to the war, were talked out of voting against a military appropriations bill to escalate the war once the bill was loaded down with lots of local pork. With a little added pressure exerted by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the "sweetened" bill passed overwhelmingly. As the Blagovich saga underscores with comic clarity, Congress, along with everything else in the country, is up for sale and the bids don’t necessarily have to be very high.
Expect a repeat of the 06 buyout strategy, with the same resounding success; the War Party knows what it’s doing. With Congress scrambling for free money, and the President-Messiah now expected to perform miracles on the economic front, the foreign policy realm will be forgotten, buried under the rubble of the US economy.
Forgotten, but not gone because, as 9/11 taught us, the blowback from our actions in the international arena can be quite a painful reminder.