In a speech before an organization of disabled veterans Monday in Atlanta, President Barack Obama, in keeping with his campaign promise, said that beginning next month the United States’ role in the seven-year-plus war in Iraq would change from primarily military to diplomatic. The U.S. combat mission in Iraq will end at the end of the month, with some 50,000 U.S. troops slated to remain there at that time, down from more than 140,000 since his inauguration. Good idea? Or first step toward creating a power vacuum that will result in even more deaths and future attacks? Here to discuss are Press Senior Editor Spencer Rumsey, News Editor Timothy Bolger and Hofstra University Professor of Law Julian Ku, an expert on the “War on Terror” and international law.
Why wait any longer? We have to take the training wheels off sometime, and we certainly couldn’t have sustained the troop levels at where they were indefinitely. Especially not with things heating up in Afghanistan.
Remember “Mission Accomplished”? That was great campaign propaganda. Most Americans bought President George W. Bush’s line, until reality intervened. Now here we are again, billions of dollars later, and after far too many deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. President Obama seems to be imitating both Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson with their problematic strategies to unwind our involvement in Vietnam. Obama ran for president more like the anti-war equivalent of the peace candidate Eugene McCarthy, but here he is committing our troops to a no-win situation just to save “American interests.”
I think what is most interesting about the current Iraq withdrawal plan is the strong political consensus in favor of it from both Republicans and Democrats. The withdrawal plan is largely the product of the Bush Administration, and the Obama Administration is sticking to it (and even claiming credit for it). As a result, Iraq is simply no longer the political issue it used to be, for either side. In this way, the change of administrations has been a very good thing for American Iraq policy, because it has forced both pro- and anti-war politicians to reach a political consensus on what I think is a sensible policy result. We aren’t staying forever, but we aren’t going to abandon the Iraqis like we abandoned the South Vietnamese.
We were bamboozled by Bush, who sold us a war he refused to pay for. His White House had al-Qaida on the run in Afghanistan and let them out of their sights. I still want to hold him, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld accountable, and it bothers me that the Beltway elite now want us to let it go while our empire is hollowed out from within by an economy that leaves millions of people here without jobs. In the end, what have we gained with our Iraq invasion? We still have to leave that country. If we plan our departure better than the fall of Saigon, fine—that was a debacle. But civil war might still ensue with us caught in the middle.
Seems to me that this is more the equivalent of Korea as far as the approximate troop level that will remain after the drawdown, although we didn’t divide the nation into north and south in this case. But with respect to the Sunni and Shiite infighting and the potential for an all-out Iraqi civil war, well, there are no easy answers. But should it erupt, we shouldn’t let it draw us back in.
I don’t want to mix domestic economic issues with the Iraq war, but it is worth noting that the 2009 stimulus package by itself cost more than seven years of the Iraq and Afghan wars put together. So there is plenty of blame to spread around for the nation’s domestic economic problems, but I don’t think the cost of the Iraq or Afghan war has much to do with the current unemployment rate. I want to emphasize again, though, that the change in administration has really been helpful in depoliticizing the discussion about the war. Voters simply don’t care about the Iraq war anymore, and didn’t even care that much in 2008. This has resulted in a remarkable bipartisan consensus in favor of a careful drawdown of U.S. forces with a continuing commitment to the region’s security. I know that many folks like Spencer would still disagree with this policy, but I for one think we should applaud the few examples of bipartisan consensus that we as a nation have left.
Subtract the cost of the wars from our national debt and the “stimulus package” might have been bigger and more effective, given that the Obama Administration had to overcome steep Congressional opposition (from Republicans and conservative Democrats) to get it done. The division on Capitol Hill is toxic to our democracy. But I worry that making Iraq less of a hot-button issue, as this drawdown seems to do, will wind up hurting our veterans more because the country will sweep them under the rug of inadequate social programs and bury their sacrifice deeper in our collective unconscious.