The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed by President Bush in late 2008 legally required the U.S. to withdrawal all troops from the country by the end of 2011. The Bush administration was never keen on the plan, which was forced on U.S. leaders by Iraqi political official who were set on ending the occupation, in accord with the wishes of the vast majority of the Iraqi people. If Bush had remained in office long enough, there is little doubt that he would have opposed a full withdrawal, as setting a timetable for removing U.S. troops was long opposed by the President, who consistently and vigorously demanded that “conditions on the ground” dictate the removal or adding of forces.
President Obama has performed a rhetorical trick in his promises of withdrawal from Iraq. Obama promises that all “combat troops” will be removed from the country by this year, and that a full withdrawal will take place by December 31, 2011. A closer examination, however, leads one to re-evaluate Obama’s rhetoric in light of a more Machiavellian backpedalling from the president. A spokesperson for New York Republican House Representative John McHugh reports that Obama promised him that the promise for a full withdrawal may be reconsidered prior to the end of 2011, and is dependent upon conditions on the ground and whether they merit a full pullout. The president reported went on record promising that there was a “Plan B,” if the administration decides that troops need to remain.
Jim Miklaszeswki, NBC’s correspondent at the Pentagon, reports that the U.S. military is now considering plans for thousands of troops to remain in Iraq for years to come after 2011, perhaps for another 15 to 20 years. Such plans are premised upon assumptions that Obama will “renegotiate” the Status of Forces Agreement by applying tremendous pressure on Iraqi leaders to agree to an indefinite continuation of the occupation.
Many of the major U.S. bases in Iraq were always meant to be permanent, as the Bush administration announced during their construction that they would remain for the indefinite future. Obama appears to be continuing Bush’s original policy of an indefinite occupation, despite legal requirements of a full withdrawal.
It’s interesting to see how the story of Iraqi “withdrawal” has been reported in the U.S. media, which prefers Obama’s public rhetoric to his private concessions that the occupation may never end for the foreseeable future. The August 2nd headline for the New York Times, for example, uncritically reads: “In Speech on Iraq, Obama Reaffirms Drawdown.” The story reported that “The drawdown will bring the American force in Iraq to 50,000 troops by Aug. 31, down from 144,000 when Mr. Obama took office. The remaining ‘advise and assist’ brigades will officially focus on supporting and training Iraqi security forces, protecting American personnel and facilities, and mounting counterterrorism operations.” Similarly, the Washington Post headline from the 2nd of August states that “Obama Tells Veterans That End of Iraq War is About to Begin.” The story depicts Obama as carrying out his electoral withdrawal promise “largely on schedule,” and uncritically repeats Obama’s promise that “our commitment in Iraq is changing – from a military effort led by our troops to a civilian effort led by our diplomats.” Clearly, any plans for an indefinite occupation make such a promise null and void.
Any last minute announcement that the U.S. will be remaining in Iraq is bound to be met with controversy. The U.S. will be coercing the Iraqi government into revoking a past agreement that enjoys the support of the Iraqi masses, in addition to the American public. CNN polling shows that, as of May 2010, 62 percent of Americans oppose the war in Iraq. Sixty-four percent support the Obama announcement “that he will remove U.S. troops from Iraq by August of this year, but keep 35 thousand to 50 thousand troops in that country longer than that.” Polling from December 2009 by NBC and the Wall Street Journal finds that 70 percent of Americans support a full withdrawal by the end of 2011, in line with the United States’ legal requirements. The state of public opinion on Iraq is well known today.
Whether Obama will follow the wishes of the U.S. people in Iraq, however, remains an open question.
ANTHONY DiMAGGIO is the editor of media-ocracy (www.media-ocracy.com), a daily online magazine devoted to the study of media, public opinion, and current events. He has taught U.S. and Global Politics at Illinois State University and North Central College, and is the author of When Media Goes to War (2010) and Mass Media, Mass Propaganda (2008). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org