In his first 45 days or so as president of the United States, Barack Obama has chalked up some impressive accomplishments. He has ordered an end to the torturing of political prisoners, set a date for the closing of the U.S.’s most notorious torture chamber in Guantanamo, and met with that Yankee Poodle wannabe, Canada’s Stephen Harper, to discuss measures to slow global warming. Undoing eight years of disastrous decisions cannot be undone overnight, or even in 45 days, but Mr. Obama is trying.
On another front, however, one seems to see a ‘business as usual’ attitude. Candidate Obama promised an end to the Iraq war within sixteen months of his inauguration. The fact that he has now stretched that out to nineteen months is not in itself significant. “Let me say this as plainly as I can: By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.” So said Mr. Obama during a speech at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
On the surface, that is wonderful news. As the president himself stated, the Iraq war has been a long one “by any measure” and it is time to “bring our troops home with the honor they have earned.”
Noble words, indeed, but it is important to read the fine print: some number between 35,000 and 50,000 U.S. soldiers will remain in Iraq until the last day of 2011, more than two years after the ‘combat mission’ in Iraq will have ended.
Is this possibly the anti-surge? Instead of a large and significant increase (can we ever forget, try as we might, former Secretary of State Condoleezza (Oil Princess) Rice explaining with a straight face that the addition of tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers to Iraq was not an escalation but merely an ‘augmentation’?), what we are being given by Mr. Obama is a large and significant decrease in the number of soldiers in Iraq. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but it does not end the war. It does not even come close to ending U.S. involvement in the war. Perhaps it might be called a readjustment; surely Ms. Rice would approve of such semantics.
And why, one wants to know, is there still any ‘combat mission’ left in Iraq? Just what is it the U.S. hopes to accomplish there?
And need anyone point out to Mr. Obama that not all the soldiers who served in Iraq have done so with honor?
Mr. Obama made several other comments during that speech that should certainly send red flags flying all over the computer screens of those who seek the change we were told we could believe in. A look at a few is alarming:
The U.S. military, said he, “exceeded every expectation” in suppressing the insurgency in Iraq. It did? Didn’t former president and war-monger George Bush declare, not three months after the invasion, ‘mission accomplished’? If every expectation was exceeded, why has the war dragged on for more than five years since that ‘accomplishment’? And why, one desperately wants to know, are Iraqi freedom fighters, who are doing exactly what one would expect U.S. citizens to do if foreign invaders were occupying U.S. cities and patrolling its streets, called ‘insurgents’ by Mr. Obama?
“We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime and you got the job done”, he curiously told the soldiers in his audience. Why, one wonders, is that a good thing? Who or what ever gave the U.S. the right to depose dictators it doesn’t like? And didn’t the U.S. invade to prevent Iraq from using its non-existent weapons of mass destruction from being hurled against U.S. cities? Mr. Bush sent dedicated soldiers on a fools errand; Mr. Obama does them no service by perpetrating his lie.
U.S. soldiers, said Mr. Obama, “cannot police Iraq’s streets indefinitely until they are completely safe.” The U.S. cannot make its own streets safe; no one expects it to make Iraq’s safe. And at the risk of repeating what has been said often before, the streets of Iraq were relatively safe prior to the U.S. invasion. And no, before anyone thinks otherwise, the U.S. cannot stay long enough to even bring Iraq back to where it was before that invasion.
Al Qaeda in Iraq had been dealt “a serious blow.” Please, please tell us that Mr. Obama is not stooping to that old dog bone. Is there anyone left in the U.S. who still believes, despite all the evidence to the contrary, including a bipartisan Congressional study and report, that Iraq had any but the most minor, trivial association with Al Qaeda?
Adding to the questionable statements of President Obama listed here, is this non-reassurance coming from none other than Republican Senator John McCain, perhaps war’s biggest fan in the U.S. senate. He deemed Mr. Obama’s plan ‘reasonable’ and is ‘cautiously optimistic’ that it will be successful.
As was such a frequent problem during the tedious presidential campaign, Mr. McCain does not define ‘success’. One suspects it means that the U.S. will, at last, be able to steal all the oil it wants from Iraq. After all, there will still be between 35,000 and 50,000 U.S. soldiers to terrorize the countryside and assure that the oil goes just where the U.S. wants it to. That the Iraqis may have other ideas is not important; what on earth ever made them think that the oil under their sands belongs to them and not to the U.S.? After all, didn’t the U.S. overthrow their murderous dictator? We won’t bother to mention that Iraq never asked that their dictator be overthrown, or that in doing so the U.S. killed over 1,000,000 citizens, displaced over 3,000,000, destroyed the infrastructure and deprived significant portions of the population the basic services they need. So U.S. soldiers were never greeted with flowers tossed beneath their feet as former Vice President Dick Cheney predicted. Leave tens of thousands of soldiers behind to assure that the ‘success’ of the invasion and years-long occupation is what the U.S. defines it to be.
And while so many troops will remain in Iraq, Mr. Obama is turning his attention to Afghanistan. As usual when the U.S. focuses on any nation, the citizens of that nation have cause for alarm. Along with increased diplomacy (a word uttered only with scorn by Mr. Bush and his cronies for eight years), Mr. Obama is deploying at least 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Will the ‘readjustment’ of one war result only in the ‘augmentation’ of the other?
One hesitates to criticize Mr. Obama too strongly. Rarely, if ever, in the history of the United States has a president inherited such a colossal mess, ranging from the implosion of the U.S. and world economy, to two disastrous and ill-conceived wars. The president has made strides; he has already brought about greater transparency, and many of his actions are commendable. But the carnage must stop, and only he can stop it. Let us all hope that his diplomatic gestures overshadow his military ones, and that the hope the world embraced with his presidency is not disappointed.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.