Monday, August 23, 2010

Iraq: U.S. on the way out

U.S. troops leaving Basra last year.

ABC News political correspondent Jake Tepper reports that President Obama will be addressing the nation on August 31 to make some points about the Iraq war:

1) Expressing gratitude to US forces -- military and civilian -- who worked so hard and sacrificed so much;

2) Pointing out that the president is keeping a promise he made on the campaign trail for the respoinsible withdrawal of US troops (all troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2011, per the Status Of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government);

3) Putting the war in Iraq in the larger context of US national security challenges and the need to focus on larger threats -- such as al Qaeda.

This final message, along with the president underlining that the US commitment to Iraq remains in place, will be part of an overall message that hard work remains on national security issues -- that mission is not "accomplished."

If we already know what he is going to say, do we have to watch?

Over at FireDogLake, David Dayen makes a good point about the upcoming speech:

One thing this type of major speech does: it makes it less possible to renege on the follow-through of that promise, to remove all troops by the end of 2011.

That seems right. I belong to the school of thought that holds that the U.S. peace movement, while remaining vigilant, should applaud Obama keeping his promise to honor the agreement with the Iraqis -- and also recognize that the Iraqis are not likely to agree to his going back on it. Ultimately we're leaving because Iraqis don't want us mucking around in their country and we have no compelling interest in paying the cost in lives and cash it would take to stay.
As usual, it's all too easy here across the oceans to forget what our Iraq enterprise looks like in the rest of the world. This, from Bernhard Zand in the German newspaper Der Spiegel, provides a stinging antidote to any triumphal feelings we may be harboring.

America chose the time of the attack, and also of the appropriate victory speech, which Bush gave six weeks later on board the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln: mission accomplished. ... What came afterwards -- the terror, the civil war, the 100,000 dead, the widows and the amputees and the tiny sliver of optimism that followed -- was no longer America's choice. It was the consequence of Bush's hubris and his disastrous blunders made right at the beginning of the occupation. Today these mistakes continue to plague Iraq. ...

Now comes another "time of our choosing," the penultimate one that Bush negotiated before he left office. Barack Obama is gratefully adhering to the inherited timetable because it benefits him in the mid-term election campaign: On Aug. 31 the combat mission will officially be terminated for the second time. Last Thursday, the last combat brigade left the country. A total of 50,000 US soldiers, now called "trainers," will remain until the end of 2011. "Iraq! We've won! America!" yelled a soldier as his Humvee rolled across the border. ...

... Is the Iraq War over? Was it worth it? Who won? ... there is no security, unless we declare as "secure" a country in which hundreds of people continue to be murdered every month. There were 222 murders in July, according to the statistics compiled by the Americans. The Iraqis, who have now assumed responsibility themselves and therefore don't tend toward exaggeration, have counted 535 dead.

The freedom that they enjoy today is an abstract achievement for most Iraqis. Last Friday, the temperature in Baghdad soared to 47 degrees Celsius (116 degrees Fahrenheit). The electric fans ran twice -- shortly in the morning and shortly at night -- for a total of two hours.

The inability of the U.S. occupation to get Iraq's electricity running has always seemed a metaphor for the criminal pointlessness of this war. Iraq was once a functioning country. Now it is a baking hellhole, denuded of its professional class who have largely fled the insecurity and futility, waiting for some faction to establish an authoritarian regime that can impose some order.

The U.S. government is not going to pay the reparations we owe to Iraqis -- but peace activists in the United States need to do what we can to maintain some sense of responsibility to a country our nation has trashed.

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