A Troop Withdrawal Deadline, But Not an End to the War

The Associated Press is reporting, and Spencer Ackerman has confirmed, that there is now a date certain for withdrawal of all U.S. combat troops from Iraq, minus 30,000 or 40,000 troops redefined as security and training personnel.

From the AP article:

President Barack Obama plans to remove all U.S. combat troops from Iraq by August 2010, administration officials said Tuesday, ending the war three months later than he had promised during his presidential campaign.

The withdrawal plan — an announcement could come as early as this week — calls for leaving a large contingent of troops behind, between 30,000 and 50,000 troops, to advise and train Iraqi security forces and to protect U.S. interests.
The contingent remaining will include intelligence and surveillance specialists and their equipment, including unmanned aircraft, according to two administration officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been made public.

The complete withdrawal of American forces will take place by December 2011, the period by which the U.S. agreed with Iraq to remove all troops.

Obama is expected to formally announce this timetable later this week.

Alan Stewart Carl, at Donklephant, cautions “anti-war folk” not to criticize Obama for “add[ing] three months onto his initial pledge.”

He continues:

… In fact, given that he now has access to information he lacked during the campaign, I’m surprised his withdrawal plan is so close to what he promised. I don’t know if this means the majority of commanders are in agreement that we can safely leave or if this means Obama is determined to follow through with removal of our troops, no matter the consequences.

I have always tried to view the Iraq situation in the present tense, looking at the situation as it is now and not as it was when we invaded or how I ardently wish it might be in the future. For a long time, I opposed withdrawal because I found the idea too reckless, more likely to cause greater turmoil than to bring any semblance of lasting peace. But with the success of the surge and other anti-insurgent policies (both American and Iraqi), we may have reached a point where the drawdown of our forces will not threaten Iraq’s or the greater region’s stability.

Yes, of course, the supposed “success” of the surge is being used now by many disgruntled war supporters (in which group I am not necessarily including Carl; I don’t know if he supported the war), as a way to avoid giving Obama credit for following through on a major campaign promise — and also as a way to ignore the fact that the former administration was using the surge’s “success” as a way to make precisely the opposite argument: that the U.S. needed to stay in Iraq indefinitely — or, at minimum, refuse to commit to a definite withdrawal timeline — because the accomplishments of the surge were “fragile” and subject to reversal at any time.

Spencer Ackerman sees the three-month delay from what Obama promised during the campaign as a clever compromise tactic:

… I’ve confirmed the AP story independently, and this is extremely well played. (A further withdrawal, post 19-months, is mandated by the Status of Forces Agreement by 2011, and the AP reports that Obama will abide by that.) Portraying a three-month delay in pulling combat forces out as a “compromise” with those who wanted a slower withdrawal is a great way to nullify bureaucratic opposition to withdrawal. The “23-months” option was mooted, considered, and rejected, and it’s very hard to see see how 90 extra days of combat could be substantively problematic to even hardcore antiwar forces Last year, withdrawing combat forces from Iraq on a fixed timetable was “reckless.” This year it’s the “compromise” policy of the U.S. government. Everyone gets something — thereby neutralizing rejectionism — and those who want to end the war get the lion’s share. Ironically, it’s wise counterinsurgency strategy.

Now let’s see if conservatives try and portray 90 days as an abandonment of a campaign promise and proof that Obama is just like Bush.

Actually, I am more concerned about whether it’s honest, ethical, or politically wise to characterize this withdrawal plan as “ending the war.” Not because there is anything wrong with Obama’s plan per se, but because I feel uneasy about the idea that any plan, no matter how good, to end the U.S. presence in Iraq can be called a plan to end the war.

The war will never end, because the damage has been done. The hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died as a result of the war are still dead and will remain so. Ditto for the thousands of American deaths and tens of thousands of wounded.

Even beyond that, though, are the permanent, or at least long-lasting, changes that have been done to the political dynamics and power alliances in the region. Some of those changes may turn out to be for the better, but many, probably most, of them, will not. And there is no way we can turn back the clock and undo what we have done.

I think that is important to remember, because Pres. Obama is going to be faced with a great deal of pressure from what Eric Martin calls the “vested interests of empire” to intervene in various ways again in the near and the longer-term future to resolve problems in the Middle East that these very policies implemented to such disastrous effect by the Bush administration have created. Will we learn from experience? We do not have such a terrific track record of learning from experience when it comes to foreign policy, do we?

At any rate, do read that post by Eric Martin. It’s by far the most thoughtful analysis of the larger meanings behind this, or any other, Iraq withdrawal plan.

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