From the new November-December 2011 issue of News & Letters:
President Obama’s announcement on Oct. 20 that all troops in Iraq would be “home for the holidays” came as a surprise only against the steady leaks from the administration, and the Pentagon in particular, of pressure to maintain a uniformed military presence there. By all accounts, the administration had heard demands from generals to continue to garrison 18,000 troops–nearly half the 40,000 that remain in Iraq–and was pressing Iraq’s al-Maliki government to keep 3,000 to 5,000 troops in place.
Facing a political consensus among Iraqis–Kurds, Shia and Sunni alike–who viewed the U.S. occupation of their country as unwelcome, Obama did an about-face: “Today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year.”
PRESSURE AT HOME TO END THE WARS
It might have been Obama’s second choice, but by announcing withdrawal from Iraq he grudgingly acknowledged the strength of U.S. public opinion against war, especially the war in Iraq. There was already a national consensus against Bush’s invasion of Iraq and now polls show more than 70% approval for withdrawal from both Iraq and Afghanistan.
There is enough consensus that, even as the names of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan continued to be broadcast weekly, war policy was largely off the table in the 2010 Congressional elections and in the run-up to 2012. Republicans criticized Obama immediately after announcing withdrawal, but in a knee-jerk fashion, since he has faithfully continued George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq for three additional years.
To the consternation of the people who voted for an avowedly anti-Iraq war candidate, Obama will have withdrawn troops not one month earlier than Bush agreed to do in 2008 in the Status of Forces Agreement with Baghdad. He has continued indefinite detention at Guantanamo for prisoners that Bush had rounded up, and he renewed the Patriot Act.
ASTONISHING 13 YEARS AT WAR
Obama put in writing that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan will last an astonishing 13 years. The consensus for endless war among political leaders, regardless of party, has so far trumped the consensus among the masses to bring all the troops home now.
In Iraq he will continue one of the worst practices of Bush-Cheney: the proliferation of a private for-profit corporate army. Some of the same contractors with insider ties will employ 6,000 mercenaries out of the bloated embassy in Baghdad, and thousands more in other consulates.
Republicans like Romney have thus had to resort to blaming Obama for whatever happens in the future. They view with alarm the threat that they won’t approve the next Iraqi government. What alarms them more is their lack of control over contracts for exploiting Iraq’s estimated 150 billion barrels of oil.
U.S. OUT OF IRAQ–IS IRAN NEXT?
Neoconservatives pretend–after over 4,000 U.S. and 100,000 Iraqi lives lost–that Obama is withdrawing from an Iraq that was a bastion of U.S. influence for transforming the entire Middle East. They are now building up Iran as the ultimate threat.
Iraq appears to be untouched by Arab Spring, nor is it likely to be while still under the stifling U.S. occupation. Deputy Prime Minister Shaways calls it unlikely that Arab Spring could find a foothold even after U.S. withdrawal. But very few are happy with the blatantly corrupt al-Maliki government, and every uprising, from Tunisia to Egypt to Libya to Yemen and beyond, has been unlikely.
The right-wing war drums are now beating for confrontation with Iran. War is probably the only way that the mullahs could crush the forces of revolt, the youth, women and workers whose voices have not been totally stilled since 1979, even under the most brutal conditions. The Iranian masses still seethe, even since a new crackdown in 2009. War with the U.S. would give Iran’s rulers an excuse to wipe out those who oppose them. Given the bloody history of the U.S. ruling class, we cannot dismiss its drumbeat for war with Iran. This is no time for anti-war voices to be silent.