American Arrogance Accidentally Leads to Good Outcome

The Iraqi government, sensitive to its public’s perception that occupying U.S. forces have run roughshod over the indigenous population, refused to give immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law for any future lawbreaking by the occupier’s soldiers. The United States had made this rather imperial demand and refused to keep troops in Iraq unless it was fulfilled. This threat rang hollow to the Iraqi public, which overwhelmingly wants the long foreign occupation of its country to end. The Iraqi government is not so sure, given the threat of further ethno-sectarian violence internally and the danger of foreign meddling or attack from outside.

Of course, some way could still be found to allow U.S. uniformed trainers to stay before the scheduled withdrawal date for all U.S. troops at the end of 2011, but this small force would not help much with the two aforementioned threats. Furthermore, 4,000 to 5,000 private U.S. State Department contractors remaining to provide security present much less of a U.S. political commitment and lower risk that the United States will be drawn back into the quagmire of any ensuing Iraqi civil strife.

Historically, U.S. forces rarely leave any country to which they have been sent — for example, they remain in Western Europe and Japan long after the demise of the Eastern bloc and in South Korea long after that nation has become vastly more wealthy than its nemesis, North Korea. Also, the imperial desire on the part of the United States to get returns on the eight-year expenditure of hundreds of billions of dollars and the lives of thousands of troops is still strong. Weapon sales and training will still occur, and a substantial CIA presence will remain.

Nevertheless, if the U.S. does withdraw, by the end of the year, all but a few troops providing embassy security, the United States will have significantly and commendably loosened its ties to the future of Iraq. While not a clean break, President Obama should be commended for carrying out the agreement with Iraq for a complete U.S. withdrawal originally signed by President George W. Bush in 2008.

Yet Obama got no support from Republican presidential candidates when he announced the withdrawal decision. Mitt Romney, the leading bet to be Obama’s opponent in the 2012 general election, excoriated the president for putting the sacrifices of American soldiers in jeopardy and questioned whether Obama had been motivated by “naked political calculation or simply sheer ineptitude in negotiations with the Iraqi government.” Yet, given the United States’ dire economic straits, the war can’t last forever, and America can no longer afford to maintain costly military presence in such places as Iraq. The negotiations with Iraq failed not because of Obama’s incompetence but because given the lack of imminent threats, the condescending demand by the American military for immunity from Iraq’s laws for its troops made a new agreement with Iraqis, disgruntled by eight years of foreign occupation, impossible. Any agreement containing that immunity would have been radioactive with the Iraqi public.

In recent comments on CBS’ Face the Nation, Republican candidate Michele Bachmann outdid Romney and echoed the arrogance of most conservatives in foreign policy. She expressed concern that U.S. withdrawal would leave the Iranians “waiting in the wings” to dominate the Persian Gulf region. But George W. Bush should have thought about that before he invaded Iraq and removed Saddam Hussein, the main counterweight to Iranian power in the region.

Bachmann also was indignant at the Iraqis’ apparent lack of gratitude toward the United States.

[W]e are there as the nation that liberated these people. That’s the thanks that the United States is getting after 4,400 lives were expended and over $800 billion? So on the way out, we’re being kicked out of the country? I think this is absolutely outrageous what’s happened.

She added a characteristic American big-headed demand:

I believe that Iraq should reimburse the United States fully for the amount of money that we have spent to liberate these people. They are not a poor country. They’re a wealthy country.

What is truly outrageous is that Bachmann thinks Iraqis should thank the United States, and even provide reimbursement, for invading, occupying, and destabilizing their fractured country to the point of chaos from internecine civil strife!

That any major political candidate could display such chutzpah says a lot about how much humbling U.S. foreign policy will need in times of economic distress at home. Yet, at least in the case of Iraq, the silver lining of American arrogance may be the best outcome: a total withdrawal that brings the troops home by Christmas.

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Author: Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and author of Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty.