The American people did not elect the Pentagon. They elected Barack Obama based a good deal on his promise to get US troops out of Iraq sooner rather than later. Since he was elected, Mr. Obama has hedged on this promise. Since he was inaugurated, the Pentagon and its civilian boss Robert Gates have hedged even more. Now, they insist, US troops should remain until the Iraqis hold a national election that is as of today not even scheduled. Then, even after that election is held, the departure of some US troops should depend on the outcome of the election. In other words, the Pentagon and Defense Department are telling Mr. Obama that no US troops should leave Iraq unless the election results meet the expectations of Washington.
This is exactly why Robert Gates should be removed from his position. Just like the American voters did not elect any of the generals pushing for a continued occupation of Iraq, neither did they elect Mr. Gates. His continued presence in the halls of official Washington is an ugly reminder of the destructive, disastrous and disavowed policies of the Bush and Cheney regime now in exile. It is bad enough that even if Barack Obama overrides the Pentagon and Mr. Gates and sticks to his sixteen month withdrawal plan there will still be around fifty thousand US troops in Iraq. This is because Obama’s call to bring all troops home from Iraq that began his campaign somehow morphed into a call to bring home only those troops determined to be “combat troops.” This categorization involves a constantly changing number of troops and is a definition that seems to fluctuate at the whim of Generals Petraeus and Odierno.
No matter what, it is not what millions of US voters voted for on November 4, 2008. It is also why those millions have no reason to give Mr. Obama an inch of slack on this issue. If he won’t stand up to those men and women that insist on carrying out the policies of his predecessor, then Mr. Obama deserves to hear that from those voters. Democracy in the United States didn’t end with Obama’s inauguration. Indeed, the time to exercise one’s voice and raise it in opposition to the actions and policies of the elected government is when it actually starts to govern. Unless the Obama administration is held to the fire on its promise to end the Iraq war and occupation within 16 months, it is unlikely that it will end then. Furthermore, the likelihood of all troops being out of Iraq by 2011 as promised in the Status of Forces Agreement signed in 2008 diminishes, also. After all, what motive would there be to end the occupation in 2011 if there is no demand from the American people that the Obama administration stick to its promises regarding Iraq?
Many US voters across the spectrum believe that Mr. Obama deserves a little time to establish himself as president. Give him a few months, they say. While this is a worthy and magnanimous gesture, it does not apply to the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both of these operations have not achieved their stated goals and the continued killing of local citizens by US and their client forces will not achieve those goals in the future. To pretend otherwise is pure folly and defies the basic facts of the past eight years. A good part of the reason the violence in Iraq has died down lies with the expectation that US forces will be leaving soon. There are other reasons, including the security clampdown across the country and the sheer fact of a population exhausted from conflict, but a substantial reason for the lull in violence is the hope that with the US leaving there will come a new Iraqi sovereignty and some kind of genuine peace. This hope can die very quickly if the resistance forces inside Iraq come to believe that the US intends to stay.
As for Afghanistan, the seven years of US war and occupation of that land has done nothing but further destroy that broken nation’s infrastructure, increase support for the Taliban, enhance the production of opium, and stifle the nascent movement for better treatment of women and children. That’s just the obvious failures of this ill-informed mission. There was never a good reason to invade that country in the first place. The motivation for the original attacks was revenge, plain and simple. There was little or no connection between the thousands of Afghan civilians killed since that first attack and the forces that killed thousands in New York and Virginia, but the people in Washington wanted blood so they went after Afghanistan. There is no reason to continue the killing. It is time to stop. Washington can trade partners and install a new regime that won’t criticize US air raids, but it can not change the fact that its battle in Afghanistan will drain the swagger from the US empire just as it has done to the Soviet and the British empires before it.
There are at least two antiwar protests coming up in spring 2009. If Barack Obama is not taking the path towards peace that he was elected to take by then, it is essential that those who voted for him with the understanding that US troops would be leaving Iraq (and not going to Afghanistan) attend at least one of these protests. That is what democracy really means.
RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground, which is just republished by Verso. Jacobs’ essay on Big Bill Broonzy is featured in CounterPunch’s collection on music, art and sex, Serpents in the Garden. His first novel, Short Order Frame Up, is published by Mainstay Press. He can be reached at: email@example.com