Iraq: The Endless Occupation

Obama's broken promise

by , May 14, 2010

Keeping his campaign promises has not been Barack Obama’s strong point, as those who hoped the closing of Guantanamo would end a shameful chapter in American history have learnt to their sorrow: and surely those who hoped “change” meant a new era in American foreign policy have reason to be disappointed. As usual, on most issues Obama gave himself a lot of wiggle room, so that if a strategic shift were required he could dance around the contradiction with ease, but on one question he painted himself into a corner: 

“Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.” 

He said that, not only during the campaign, but in a speech at Camp Lejeune last year. However, it looks like his administration is preparing to backtrack, as the Guardian reports

“The White House is likely to delay the withdrawal of the first large phase of combat troops from Iraq for at least a month after escalating bloodshed and political instability in the country. … The withdrawal order is eagerly awaited by the 92,000 US troops still in Iraq – they mostly remain confined to their bases. This month Odierno was supposed to have ordered the pullout of 12,500, a figure that was meant to escalate every week between now and 31 August, when only 50,000 US troops are set to remain – all of them non-combat forces.” 

Odierno’s order, however, has yet to be issued, and the likelihood it will be postponed indefinitely is rising. 

With a complicit Democratic majority in Congress, and a Republican minority all too eager to keep us bogged down in Iraq until Kingdom come, no one is holding the Obama administration accountable – and the American public, which never hears anything about Iraq in the “mainstream” media, doesn’t even know what’s happening. They voted for Obama, in the Democratic primaries and the general election, in large part because he promised to end the war. That he now appears to be reneging on his firm pledge comes as no surprise to us foreign policy mavens, never mind observers of the Obama Method – which is to strike an angular stance, and then come up with all sorts of convincing reasons for abandoning his position.  

To the majority of Americans, however, the pledge to get out of Iraq is carved in stone, and the only way to erase it is to shatter the tablet on which the President’s electoral mandate is written.  

What the Democrats are counting on is the complicity of the “opposition” party, which is not going to make Iraq an election year issue — except insofar as they see it as a “model” for how to win the war in Afghanistan. The administration is also counting on the silence of the “antiwar” left, in congress and at the grassroots, simply because these forces – easily bought off, and/or intimidated — haven’t given them any reason to worry in the past.  

The excuse being given is that, while the “surge” supposedly worked like a charm, the political component has so far eluded Iraqi stakeholders, and so it would be “premature” to leave before the job is done. But what, exactly, is this job we’re supposed to have agreed to do: and, by the way, whatever happened to “Mission accomplished”?  

The Iraqi elections have been a showcase of everything that was wrong with our intitial decision to invade, with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki furiously struggling to retain power, no matter what the election results are, and the US-backed Sunni-secular alliance, led by CIA-M16 asset Ayad Allawi, claiming election fraud and intimidation, not to mention outright repression of the Sunni bloc.  

Now we’re being told that “outside forces” – Syria, Iran, and even Turkey (a NATO member) – are interfering in Iraqi politics and trying to take advantage of the political turmoil. The implication here – given voice by Iraq’s foreign minister – is that Iraq’s neighbors are in some way stirring the pot, although that’s one pot that sees plenty of action in any event. 

In addition, the alleged “threat” from supposedly radical factions aligned with Moqtada al Sadr is cited as a reason to keep US forces in the country, although if Sadr comes to power it will likely be because he won an election rather than due to a palace revolution. A political settlement, in any case, is very far from happening – and, with that excuse in his pocket, the President is likely to delay the much-heralded withdrawal of US troops, which are sorely needed on the Afghan front. 

It isn’t only the dysfunctional state of Iraqi politics that will factor into the decision to delay withdrawal: as usual, domestic political considerations trump all. And the rising possibility that Gen. David Petraeus, the author of the “surge” and of the military’s new counterinsurgency doctrine, has presidential ambitions doubtless enters into it. Petraeus gave a speech to the American Enterprise Institute recently in which he made clear that, despite of his numerous denials, he wasn’t ruling out altogether the prospect of becoming the neocons’ Napoleon.  

Bereft of any credible candidates, and discredited by a war – and a foreign policy – that turned into what the late Gen. William E.Odom described as the worst disaster in American military history, the neocons have by no means been knocked out of contention. They’ve wormed their way into the periphery of the Obama administration, at least in the foreign policy realm, and they are plotting a comeback, of that you can be sure. With Petraeus as their front man, they think they can bamboozle conservatives – and the country – into forgetting eight long years of futile bloodshed ending in bankruptcy. Thus re-empowered, their project of “transforming” the Middle East into a bastion of democratic capitalism will be given a second chance to wreak untold havoc and destruction in the region.  

They want to keep Iraq in our orbit, indefinitely, and certainly the War Party’s goal of confronting Iran would be congruent with prolonging the occupation of its southern neighbor. The present Iraqi government has strong ties to Iran, and has stubbornly refused to let their country become a launching pad for Washington’s terroristic campaign against Tehran. We’ve had to use the Sunni radicals in Baluchistan, instead, an inconvenience when US troops and logistical assistance are poised right on Iraq’s very long border with Iran.  

Obama’s apparent capitulation on ending the occupation of Iraq bodes ill for the future. What it means is that the Obama-ites are proceeding along the same path that Bush was, albeit with some disturbing innovations. Even John “Boots on the ground” McCain was perturbed by Obama’s contention, during the campaign, that he wouldn’t rule out going into Pakistan to root out supposed al Qaeda encampments. Today, the President is more than fulfilling that threat – and Iran suddenly finds itself confronted by the US on two fronts instead of just one.  

The silence of the “progressives” on the Iraq question is a scandal, but even worse is the silence of the so-called antiwar movement: so-called because the organizations that make up its more “respectable” wing, such as United for Peace and Justice, run by old-time Communist party types, function more like an Obama-ite cheerleading squad than a movement devoted to ending the present conflict(s). UFJP hailed Obama’s election as a great victory — and hasn’t been heard from since. The more radical-left ANSWER coaltion, led by something calling itself the Party for Socialism and Liberation (not to be confused with the Party for Liberation and Socialism), dutifully calls demonstrations at which rapidly dwindling numbers of aging lefties show up. 

On the right, opposition to our crazed foreign policy is growing. The logic of the anti-government populism sweeping the country leads, inevitably, to anti-interventionism: wars, after all, are expensive, and a nation on the brink of bankruptcy can hardly afford the luxury of empire.  

So far, however, the connection between liberty and prosperity at home – or the lack of it – and our eternal wars abroad has yet to be clarified in the conservative mind. “Isolationist” sentiments, springing up from the grassroots, lack any organized expression outside the groups associated with Ron Paul: the Campaign for Liberty, and the affiliated Young Americans for Liberty. There has been no organized effort to bring the anti-interventionist message to the tea party movement, although there have been spontaneous outbursts of “isolationist” sentiment at some of these gatherings. In short, the potential is there, but has yet to be developed.  

What this means is that the majority of Americans, who want out of Iraq and are souring on Afghanistan – who want the US, in the phraseology of a recent Pew poll, to “mind its own business” when it comes to foreign affairs – have no voice, no vehicle, no way to register their protest in the voting booth, or, indeed, anywhere else. Their main voice, when it comes to matters such as these, is right here – on this web site. And that, at least for the moment, is pretty much it. 

It’s sad to think that a once mighty movement, the American peace movement, is basically just this little old web site, but there you have it: the depressing truth. Abandoned by much of the left, and disdained by a great deal of the right, those who want the US government to mind its own damned business have no vote, and not even much of a voice, when it comes to the question of war and peace.  

Our voice is here, on Antiwar.com, where such arbitrary categories as “left” and “right” melt into meaninglessness, and both progressives and paleo-conservatives take out after the bloated parody of itself that the American empire has become. That’s why it’s so important to build – and maintain – independent institutions for the peace movement, ones that lie outside ideologically-driven and inevitably partisan political groupings. We have already seen this with the silence of the Obama cult “progressives,” who have trimmed  their anti-interventionist sails for political advantage.   

No, I’m not putting on airs when I say Antiwar.com is above that, because we are indeed above it. Sure, we’re libertarians, but that hasn’t stopped us – specifically, me – from criticizing all sorts of people who call themselves libertarians, and quite clearly we don’t endorse candidates, or any political party. Our goal is to educate the public on the often arcane details of a subject most of them don’t know much about: US foreign policy — how it’s made, by whom, and to whose political and financial advantage. Over the last decade or so, we’ve established a presence, a wide readership, and a dedicated group of supporters whose politics range from “far left” to “far right” and several points in between.  

We depend on you, our readers and supporters, for the funding we need to keep going: and we’ve been going, in one form or another, for some fifteen years. That’s an accomplishment, but we’re by no means resting on our laurels. The recession has hit us hard, as it has hit all of us: and we were among the first to feel its effects. Charitable giving always declines early on in a recession, and we certainly learned that first hand starting in September, 2008. I never looked forward to our fundraising campaigns, but ever since that grim September I’ve positively dreaded them: and now another one is upon us…. 

Look, I don’t mean to hector you, and, no, this column wasn’t merely a set up for the inevitable fundraising pitch. But people are constantly asking me what they can personally do to effect issues that seem so much bigger than the ordinary human being, so far above their ability to impact: I tell them “Support Antiwar.com.” Because this truly is the voice of the silent majority, a phrase that has been ill-used in the past, and yet nothing better describes the cause of peace. It’s always a militant minority that is screaming for war, usually on behalf of some foreign or financial interest, often both, while the majority sits passively by and is one day surprised to wake up to a shooting war in progress.  

Antiwar.com is your early warning system, your security alarm: it goes off whenever our leaders are trying to pull a fast one, such as the recent claim that the Times Square Fizzler was part of a conspiracy by the Pakistani Taliban to pull off a mini-9/11. We were among the first – and practically the only – news site to bust that scam wide open. Just like we were among the first to name Scooter Libby as the “outer” of CIA operative Valerie Plame – and just as we were among the few who maintained from the beginning that Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” were a figment of the neoconservative imagination.  

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