Those who bought into the slogans "Hope"
and "Change" last fall should have read the fine print. We were warned.
Over and over during the campaign for the presidency Barack Obama made
it clear that "withdrawal" from Iraq on his flexible 16-month
timetable meant only the removal of "combat forces." He has also
made it clear all along that "combat forces" means whatever he wants
it to mean until he decides to change his mind.
At least he's honest.
On Friday, Obama announced in a speech
at Camp Lejeune that 16 months have become 18, and that 50,000 soldiers and
Marines will be continuing the occupation until 2012 under the guise of training
Iraqi army and police forces, "counter-terrorism," and force protection.
No mention was made of the largest embassy one nation has ever built in another,
the future use of air power, or the 100,000-plus contractors and mercenaries
still inside the country.
These glaring omissions, along with the announced intention to maintain 50,000-plus
troops in the country after the summer of 2010, add up to nothing but a ruse,
a loophole for mission creep right back to full-blown occupation. Since many
of the troops scheduled to leave the country will only be headed off to another
war zone in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the entire exercise may end up amounting
to nothing but an escalation of the Afghanistan occupation while the door is
left wide open for more troops to be sent back into Iraq.
The alleged need to leave "counter-terrorism" forces in country
is a farce. "Al-Qaeda in Iraq" only came into existence in opposition
to the U.S. invasion and occupation, and it never amounted to anything but
the smallest percentage of the Sunni insurgency, which tolerated them only
as allies against the occupation. Long
before the "surge" of 2007-2008 and the so-called Awakening movement
surrounding those insurgents eventually put on the payroll by Gen. Petraeus,
Iraqi Sunnis had decided they had had enough and marginalized al-Qaeda in Iraq
virtually out of existence. The idea that without U.S. troops there, foreign
jihadists would be able to take over and use their land as a safe haven to
provoke the United States into invading again is beyond
far-fetched. Worse is the belief that leaving "counter-terrorism"
forces inside the country will make terrorism less likely. It was, of course,
part, the blockade and ritual bombing of Iraq from Saudi Arabia in the
1990s that provoked the 9/11 attacks on America in the first place, and it
has been the occupation that has provoked the hundreds of suicide bombings
in Iraq over the last six years.
Obama's claim that the mission is now changing from combat to training the
Iraqi military to take our soldiers' place ought to be considered no different
from George W. Bush's claim, when debuting his "Strategy for Victory"
in December 2005, that "as they stand up, we'll stand down." It was
a sham to delay leaving then, and it remains so.
The U.S. "embassy"
in Baghdad a monument to the hubris that gripped America's imperial
court as it rushed to launch this war, and a symbol of their contempt for the
democracy they proclaim so loudly to uphold and deliver to the world
is now the size of a small city-state within the heart of Baghdad. Its construction
alone is proof of the widely held belief in the American establishment that
they have stolen Iraq fair and square and intend to hold onto it until the
last helicopter leaves the roof.
Which brings us to "force protection." This is the most obvious
excuse to leave infantry divisions in the country beyond the summer of 2010.
In the speech, the president said he remained committed to the status
of forces agreement (SOFA) and its mandate for the withdrawal of the entire
U.S. military presence by the end of 2011, but if the withdrawal agreement
remains the law up to 2012 and all forces are removed, it will have been at
the insistence of the Iraqi people and government despite all of the best efforts
of the empire to find a reason to stay.
Gareth Porter's recent
series for IPS
News has examined
the push by Secretary of Defense Gates and Generals Petraeus and Odierno to
convince President Obama to extend the timetable for the combat troops' withdrawal
and begin renaming infantry divisions as "force protection" for the
long haul. He doesn't seem to have required too much convincing.
The generals seem to be betting that the SOFA can be renegotiated indefinitely,
as Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki will certainly, they believe, ask them
to stay and help him maintain his grip on power.
However, the War Party's ability to count on Maliki to backtrack on the withdrawal
agreement in favor of prolonging the occupation may be in real doubt. Middle
East corespondent Patrick
Cockburn of England's Independent newspaper reports that Maliki
and his Da'wa Party's position has increased relative to other major Shi'ite
factions led by the Islamic Supreme Council of Iraq and Muqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi
Army, and that the day when the Green Zone government is able to maintain itself
in power without U.S. help may have already come. When Cockburn first broke
the story of the negotiations over the SOFA early last summer, the Bush
administration was pushing to keep 58
bases in Iraq indefinitely, but over the course of the rest of the year,
Maliki stuck to his position and forced Bush to agree to the 2011 timeline
for complete withdrawal of all forces.
As Iraqi public opinion remains in opposition to the occupation by supermajorities,
whatever legitimacy Maliki does have among them is mostly a function of his
resistance to U.S. demands. There seems to be little incentive for him to back
down now, though NBC News is reporting that the Pentagon wants to stay for
years and is already negotiating the option of retaining a permanent airbase
near Kirkuk, an idea floated by Secretary of State Clinton during the presidential
campaign last year, as though the SOFA never existed.
Despite all the propaganda about how "the surge worked," no one
seems to notice that most of the political benchmarks the surge was supposed
to accomplish by October 2007 have yet to be achieved, and that a temporary
strategy of buying off and arming up every faction can only be
Whether the Sunni tribal councils and the Shi'ite-dominated Iraqi government
can work out a long-term power-sharing deal remains to be seen, as does the
fate of Kirkuk and many other parts of Iraq that are still in dispute. The
"surge" has done nothing to resolve these problems.
Any violence over these outstanding issues will undoubtedly serve as an excuse
to abandon the withdrawal and continue the war indefinitely.
Many Iraqis watching Obama's speech may have been surprised to hear what a
great favor the U.S. has done them by invading and destroying their country.
They may be sorry to find out there's more help where that came from.