• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous supporter has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Obama Junks 2009 "Troops Out" Pledge

Seventeen months after President Barack Obama pledged to withdraw all combat brigades from Iraq by Sep. 1, 2010, he quietly abandoned that pledge Monday, admitting implicitly that such combat brigades would remain until the end of 2011.

Obama declared in a speech to disabled U.S. veterans in Atlanta that “America’s combat mission in Iraq” would end by the end of August, to be replaced by a mission of “supporting and training Iraqi security forces”.

That statement was in line with the pledge he had made on Feb. 27, 2009, when he said, “Let me say this as plainly as I can: by Aug. 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.”

In the sentence preceding that pledge, however, he had said, “I have chosen a timeline that will remove our combat brigades over the next 18 months.” Obama said nothing in his speech Monday about withdrawing “combat brigades” or “combat troops” from Iraq until the end of 2011.

Even the concept of “ending the U.S. combat mission” may be highly misleading, much like the concept of “withdrawing U.S. combat brigades” was in 2009.

Under the administration’s definition of the concept, combat operations will continue after August 2010, but will be defined as the secondary role of U.S. forces in Iraq. The primary role will be to “advise and assist” Iraqi forces.

An official who spoke with me on condition that his statements would be attributed to a “senior administration official” acknowledged that the 50,000 U.S. troops remaining in Iraq beyond the deadline will have the same combat capabilities as the combat brigades that have been withdrawn.

The official also acknowledged that the troops will engage in some combat but suggested that the combat would be “mostly” for defensive purposes.

That language implied that there might be circumstances in which U.S. forces would carry out offensive operations as well.

I have learned, in fact, that the question of what kind of combat U.S. troops might become involved in depends in part on the Iraqi government, which will still be able to request offensive military actions by U.S. troops if it feels it necessary.

Obama’s jettisoning of one of his key campaign promises and of a high-profile pledge early in his administration without explicit acknowledgement highlights the way in which language on national security policy can be manipulated for political benefit with the acquiescence of the news media.

Obama’s apparent pledge of withdrawal of combat troops by the Sep. 1 deadline in his Feb. 27, 2009 speech generated headlines across the commercial news media. That allowed the administration to satisfy its anti-war Democratic Party base on a pivotal national security policy issue.

At the same time, however, it allowed Obama to back away from his campaign promise on Iraq withdrawal, and to signal to those political and bureaucratic forces backing a long- term military presence in Iraq that he had no intention of pulling out all combat troops at least until the end of 2011.

He could do so because the news media were inclined to let the apparent Obama withdrawal pledge stand as the dominant narrative line, even though the evidence indicated it was a falsehood.

Only a few days after the Obama speech, Secretary of Defence Robert Gates was more forthright about the policy. In an appearance on Meet the Press March. 1, 2009, Gates said the “transition force” remaining after Aug. 31, 2010 would have “a very different kind of mission”, and that the units remaining in Iraq “will be characterized differently”.

“They will be called advisory and assistance brigades,” said Gates. “They won’t be called combat brigades.”

But “advisory and assistance brigades” were configured with the same combat capabilities as the “combat brigade teams” which had been the basic U.S. military unit of combat organization for six years, as IPS reported in March 20009.

Gates was thus signaling that the military solution to the problem of Obama’s combat troop withdrawal pledge had been accepted by the White House.

That plan had been developed in late 2008 by Gen. David Petraeus, the CENTCOM chief, and Gen. Ray Odierno, the top commander in Iraq, who were determined to get Obama to abandon his pledge to withdraw all U.S. combat brigades from Iraq within 16 months of taking office.

They came up with the idea of “remissioning” – sticking a non-combat label on the combat brigade teams — as a way for Obama to appear to be delivering on his campaign pledge while actually abandoning it.

The “remissioning” scheme was then presented to Obama by Gates and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, in Chicago on Dec. 15, 2008, according a report in the New York Times three days later.

It was hardly a secret that the Obama administration was using the “remissioning” ploy to get around the political problem created by his acceding to military demands to maintain combat troops in Iraq for nearly three more years.

Despite the fact that the disparity between Obama’s public declaration and the reality of the policy was an obvious and major political story, however, the news media – including the New York Times, which had carried multiple stories about the military’s “remissioning” scheme – failed to report on it.

The “senior administration official” told me that Obama is still “committed to withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the end of 2011”. That is the withdrawal deadline in the U.S.-Iraq withdrawal agreement of November 2008.

But the same military and Pentagon officials who prevailed on Obama to back down on his withdrawal pledge also have pressed in the past for continued U.S. military presence in Iraq beyond 2011, regardless of the U.S. withdrawal agreement with the Iraqi government.

In November 2008, after Obama’s election, Gen. Odierno was asked by Washington Post correspondent Tom Ricks “what the U.S. military presence would look like around 2014 or 2015”. Odierno said he “would like to see a …force probably around 30,000 or so, 35,000”, which would still be carrying out combat operations.

Last February, Odierno requested that a combat brigade be stationed in Kirkuk to avoid an outbreak of war involving Kurdish and Iraqi forces vying for the region’s oil resources – and that it be openly labeled as such – according to Ricks.

In light of the fact that Obama had already agreed to Odierno’s “remissioning” dodge, the only reason for such a request would be to lay the groundwork for keeping a brigade there beyond the 2011 withdrawal deadline.

Obama brushed off the proposal, according to Ricks, but it was unclear whether the reason was that Iraqi political negotiations over a new government were still ongoing.

In July, Odierno suggested that a U.N. peacekeeping force might be needed in Kirkuk after 2011, along with a hint that a continued U.S. presence there might be requested by the Iraqi government.

GARETH PORTER is an investigative historian and journalist with Inter-Press Service specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, “Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam“, was published in 2006.

 

WORDS THAT STICK
?

 

More articles by:

Gareth Porter is an independent investigative journalist and winner of the 2012 Gellhorn Prize for journalism. He is the author of the newly published Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 15, 2019
Victor Grossman
The Berlin Wall, Thirty Years Later
Raouf Halaby
Kurdish Massacres: One of Britain’s Many Original Sins
Robert Fisk
Trump and Erdogan have Much in Common – and the Kurds will be the Tragic Victims of Their Idiocy
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal in the Levant
Wilma Salgado
Ecuador: Lenin Moreno’s Government Sacrifices the Poor to Satisfy the IMF
Ralph Nader
The Congress Has to Draw the Line
William A. Cohn
The Don Fought the Law…
John W. Whitehead
One Man Against the Monster: John Lennon vs. the Deep State
Lara Merling – Leo Baunach
Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Not Falling Prey to Vultures
Norman Solomon
The More Joe Biden Stumbles, the More Corporate Democrats Freak Out
Jim Britell
The Problem With Partnerships and Roundtables
Howard Lisnoff
More Incitement to Violence by Trump’s Fellow Travelers
Binoy Kampmark
University Woes: the Managerial Class Gets Uppity
Joe Emersberger
Media Smears, Political Persecution Set the Stage for Austerity and the Backlash Against It in Ecuador
Thomas Mountain
Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Wins Nobel Peace Prize, But It Takes Two to Make Peace
Wim Laven
Citizens Must Remove Trump From Office
October 14, 2019
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
Class Struggle is Still the Issue
Mike Miller
Global Climate Strike: From Protest To Power?
Patrick Cockburn
As Turkey Prepares to Slice Through Syria, the US has Cleared a New Breeding Ground for Isis
John Feffer
Trump’s Undeclared State of Emergency
Dean Baker
The Economics and Politics of Financial Transactions Taxes and Wealth Taxes
Jonah Raskin
What Evil Empire?
Nino Pagliccia
The Apotheosis of Emperors
Evaggelos Vallianatos
A Passion for Writing
Basav Sen
The Oil Despots
Brett Wilkins
‘No Friend But the Mountains’: A History of US Betrayal of the Kurds
John Kendall Hawkins
Assange: Enema of the State
Scott Owen
Truth, Justice and Life
Thomas Knapp
“The Grid” is the Problem, Not the Solution
Rob Kall
Republicans Are Going to Remove Trump Soon
Cesar Chelala
Lebanon, Dreamland
Weekend Edition
October 11, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Becky Grant
CounterPunch in Peril?
Anthony DiMaggio
Fake News in Trump’s America
Andrew Levine
Trump’s End Days
Jeffrey St. Clair
High Plains Grifter: the Life and Crimes of George W. Bush
Patrick Cockburn
Kurdish Fighters Always Feared Trump Would be a Treacherous Ally
Paul Street
On the TrumpenLeft and False Equivalence
Dave Lindorff
Sure Trump is ‘Betraying the Kurds!’ But What’s New about That?
Rob Urie
Democrats Impeach Joe Biden, Fiddle as the Planet Burns
Sam Pizzigati
Inequality is Literally Killing Us
Jill Richardson
What Life on the Margins Feels Like
Mitchell Zimmerman
IMPOTUS: Droit de seigneur at Mar-a-Lago
Robert Hunziker
Methane SOS
Lawrence Davidson
Donald Trump, the Christian Warrior
William Hartung – Mandy Smithburger
The Pentagon is Pledging to Reform Itself, Again. It Won’t.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail