President Obama recently announced that American troops would be withdrawn from Iraq on December 31st, effectively signaling an ended to America’s war there. After more than 8 years of fighting, resulting in 4,400 deaths and 32,000 wounded American soldiers, the bulk of the remaining 40,000 troops will come home. This is most certainly good news.
But, while President Obama proclaimed this good news on Friday, a few important details were left out of his particular speech.
The December 31st, 2011 deadline was actually negotiated by President Bush. This, of course, did not stop Obama from tying the troop withdrawal to his other “victories,” including the deaths of Osama bin Laden and Moammar Gadhafi. Killing people has been a real source of pride for the administration – American and foreign citizens alike.
Apparently, the “take the credit and run” tactic was a bit too transparent. As Ben Feller of the Associated Press wrote,
This was, in essence, the third time Obama had pronounced an end to the war, allowing him to remind the nation he had opposed it all along — a stance that helped his White House bid in 2008.
Shortly after taking office, Obama declared in February 2009 that the combat mission in Iraq would end by Aug. 31, 2010. And when that milestone arrived, he said it was “time to turn the page” on Iraq and put the focus back on building up the United States. On Friday, he said: “After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.”
Nearly nine years – about two or three years more than what Obama promised during the 2008 Presidential campaign. Obama also seems to have forgotten what he promised.
During Friday’s announcement, Obama said, “As promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.” As promised? By whom?
Of course, this will not stop Obama supporters from claiming it to be a fulfilled campaign promise. Election years seem to result in major outbreaks of selective memory loss in the minds of those who rally around failed presidents.
Another detail left out by the President is that not all of the American forces are coming home. Not only are 150-200 American troops remaining in Iraq to train Iraqi military and police, but roughly 5,500 private security forces will remain as well, under the command of the State Department.
The presence of such private security forces is quite disturbing. As Spencer Ackerman wrote:
The State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security does not have a promising record when it comes to managing its mercenaries. The 2007 Nisour Square shootings by State’s security contractors, in which 17 Iraqi civilians were killed, marked one of the low points of the war. Now, State will be commanding a much larger security presence, the equivalent of a heavy combat brigade. In July, Danger Room exclusively reported that the Department blocked the Congressionally-appointed watchdog for Iraq from acquiring basic information about contractor security operations, such as the contractors’ rules of engagement.
This announcement was made, not by Obama, but by Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough immediately after the President’s speech. In other words, Obama proclaimed an end to the war and it lasted for about 48 seconds. Most of our troops are coming home, but there will be thousands of private forces remaining and such forces have proven themselves to be quite violent. This does not even include the number of American troops that will remain at the embassy in Baghdad (likely to number in the thousands), the largest embassy in the world.
Speaking of those private security forces, given that those forces will be under U.S. government control, isn’t it far more honest to simply call them American soldiers? It is highly doubtful that the Iraqi people will overlook their presence simply because Washington is calling them by a different name. After all, machine gun fire by any other name is just as deadly.
So American military action in Iraq is far from over. Actually, some American war hawks are already using the withdrawal announcement as a platform for war or at least more aggression with Iran. They claim that the Iranian government will try to push the young Iraqi democracy around, so the U.S. needs to stick around in large numbers to defend their close ally.
Fortunately, some in the media are at least hinting at some of the problematic motives involved here. Eli Lake of The Daily Beast wrote, “The president, perhaps with one eye on his reelection bid, did not mention the fine print (of the sizable force remaining) as he declared an end to the conflict he had opposed even before winning election to the Senate, and which helped him win the presidency in 2008.”
“Perhaps with one eye on his reelection”? How about with both eyes and a few teleprompters on his reelection? This may be the most generous perhaps in the history of all “perhapses!”
Perhaps this was also why President Obama left out that he wanted to leave quite a few more troops in Iraq. But, “after months of intensive talks between Washington and Baghdad failed to reach agreement on conditions for leaving several thousand U.S. troops in Iraq as a training force,” Obama announced that the previously set December 31st deadline would be kept. In other words, in spite of the hawkish desire to be Iraq’s big brother, they did not want us there any longer.
The majority of America’s troops are coming home from Iraq and, again, that is wonderful news for them and their families. They have been placed in danger and emotional turmoil for far too long in this undeclared and unconstitutional war.
But President Obama has claimed victory for something he did not do and was quite selective, at best, in the details he offered. Thousands will remain in Iraq and Obama pushed for more. Fortunately, his push was not successful.
So, the war in Iraq will be over for many American troops, but it looks to continue for the people of Iraq.