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May 19, 2009

Obama and Iraq

Steve Coll writes in the New Yorker:

On Iraq, Obama has persuaded the American people that he is ending the war, when in fact what he is doing is attempting to manage a responsible transition that reduces American combat activity considerably but leaves large numbers of American forces in the country to promote Iraqi stability and protect American interests.

That's pretty accurate, except for the part about managing a responsible transition. As long as large numbers of American troops remain in Iraq to protect American interests and "promote stability," there's no transition at all. That's what the troops are supposedly doing right now, before the promised end of the war. I'm all for declaring victory and going home, as long as we actually go home. Re-branding occupation as victory is neither transformative nor responsible.

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Jon Stewart on Obama and Bush saying the same things about what the US is doing in Iraq:

http://www.thedailyshow.com/video/index.jhtml?videoId=220241&title=mess-opotamia-the-iraq-war-is

I don't really get this critique. If nothing else, it's not like anyone other than Richardson was ever pretending we were going to pull out 150,000 troops all at once or anything, and I'm not really aware of anyone who thinks that would be a helpful way to withdraw. And I certainly don't get the "OMGZ Obama is Bush on Iraq!1!!1!" stuff.

We have a status of forces agreement worked out with Iraq as a map of sorts for our withdrawal. It's perfectly fair to think that the particulars of the agreement are suboptimal, but it's really *not* fair to look at actions that are in line with said agreement and constantly come back to say "see they LIED to us about Iraq!" If we start talking about something that violates SOFA, or pushes the ultimate date of withdrawal back past the 2011 date, then that's different. But anything in line with SOFA is, well, in line with ur agreement with the Iraqis.

I'm not saying that we're violating the SOFA. I'm saying that as long as we're committed to keeping significant numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq over the long term, we just scaling the war back. I'm all in favor of scaling back, but we shouldn't confuse that with ending the war. If we're at war now, we'll still be at war with a smaller number of troops on essentially the same mission. You can call them "advisers" instead of combatants, like we tried to do in Vietnam, but it doesn't change what's going on.

I'd strongly recommend Maureen Dowd's latest column...

And Brien: Obama said the US would be out of Iraq, entirely, within 16 months. Obama's prolonging it because he knows that the second the US is out, the government will align itself with Iran, in a less violent repeat of the fall of Saigon. The Iraqi government is already pro-Iranian, but as long as there are US troops there, the US can pretend Iraq is pro-American, which keeps security voters happy.

I don't really get this critique. If nothing else, it's not like anyone other than Richardson was ever pretending we were going to pull out 150,000 troops all at once or anything,

I see this kind of comment a lot, and I don't get it. I don't see why something has to be a surprise to be eligible for complaint. If I see someone's fist flying at my face before he hits me, I don't see that it means that I shouldn't be angry when he does.

"I'm not saying that we're violating the SOFA. I'm saying that as long as we're committed to keeping significant numbers of U.S. troops in Iraq over the long term, we just scaling the war back. I'm all in favor of scaling back, but we shouldn't confuse that with ending the war. If we're at war now, we'll still be at war with a smaller number of troops on essentially the same mission. You can call them "advisers" instead of combatants, like we tried to do in Vietnam, but it doesn't change what's going on."

What's the "long term?" The target date for full withdrawal is 2011, as it has been since SOFA was agreed to. After that, the only "residual" forces left in Iraq are embassy guards, which is standard.

There is no announced plan to leave significant levels of troops occupying Iraq over the long term.

"I see this kind of comment a lot, and I don't get it. I don't see why something has to be a surprise to be eligible for complaint. If I see someone's fist flying at my face before he hits me, I don't see that it means that I shouldn't be angry when he does."

Because the complaint is that it's a surprise. Coll's complaint as excerpted is exactly that Obama is doing something other than what he says/said.

"And Brien: Obama said the US would be out of Iraq, entirely, within 16 months. Obama's prolonging it because he knows that the second the US is out, the government will align itself with Iran, in a less violent repeat of the fall of Saigon. The Iraqi government is already pro-Iranian, but as long as there are US troops there, the US can pretend Iraq is pro-American, which keeps security voters happy."

Obama used 16 months as a baseline. But even if it was meant as a hard timeline, SOFA was finalized and agreed to before Obama took office. Should Obama's first act as President vis-a-vis Iraq have been to unilaterally renege on an agreement with the Iraqi government that they were satisfied with?

Coll's saying that Obama hasn't ended the war, and he hasn't. The general public thinks that he's made good on his promise to end the war in Iraq, but he hasn't delivered yet.

It's dangerous to assume that the end of the war is assured. Troops can be put back in just as easily as they were pulled out. The underlying rationale for having the troops there will be the same in 16 months as it is today.

I'm pretty sure I've heard Obama make reference to "fighting two wars," so I'm not sure how accurate to say that Obama claims to have ended, in the past tense, the war in Iraq.

Obama claims to have plans to withdrawal, in line with the plan outlined in SOFA, and that plan has been followed thus far without violation.

I agree with Steve Coll that a lot of people believe that Obama is ending the war in Iraq. I'm addressing the perception, not criticizing Obama personally for misleading anyone. If he's saying explicitly that we're still fighting two wars, then I guess it's not his fault that people aren't getting the message.

But that's not really what Coll said:

" Obama has persuaded the American people that he is ending the war.."

"Obama persuaded" implies an explicit attempt has been made by Obama to persuade.

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