I'm Sorry I Called Obama a Liar on Iraq Too Soon

By David Swanson

If I’m going to properly confess my sins, I’ll need to start at the beginning. In the beginning were the campaign promises, and let’s just say that only flies and loyal partisans could stand the smell of them.

“I will promise you this, that if we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am president, it is the first thing I will do. I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank.” Thus spoke candidate Obama, and he hit the same theme over and over again at countless campaign events.

When President Bush failed to pull out of Iraq, Senator Obama in 2007 said that Congress should overrule the president and end the war in order to represent the American people. Amen, brother!

What candidate Obama explained in serious interviews was a little different. He said repeatedly that he would begin a withdrawal his first month in office, pull out one to two brigades per month and be done in 16 months. That would have been back in May.

Of course, Obama did not do that. He also dropped his objections to the unconstitutional treaty Bush and Maliki had drawn up and ceased suggesting that the United States Senate should exercise its constitutional duty to consent to or reject any treaties made with foreign (even puppet) nations. President Obama did, however, lay out a schedule for withdrawal of all but 50,000 “non-combat troops” by the end of this month (August 2010).

In May Obama delayed part of that withdrawal, and I dared to suggest he was not being straight with us and was scrapping the withdrawal plan. The uproar at the Democratic websites was tremendous. I was obliged to withdraw my withdrawal comment. I did take notice, however, in July when Obama shipped more “non-troop” mercenaries to Iraq.

Then on Tuesday, I got this bit of news from Gareth Porter:

“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 IPS 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. IPS has 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 Mar. 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 characterised 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 organisation for six years, as IPS reported in March 20009. . . .

“. . . The ‘senior administration official’ told IPS 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. . . . 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.”

This excellent report by Porter followed Dave Lindorff’s reaction on Monday to the same news:

“I was listening to NPR’s ‘Morning Edition’ broadcast this morning in the car, and I heard a reporter say that President Obama was ‘redefining’ the American role in Iraq, now that he had brought the number of US forces in that country down to ‘only’ 50,000 troops, and that ‘combat operations’ would be ending effective this month. The remaining forces, the reporter announced, with no hint of irony and no explanation, would ‘only’ be engaged in helping to train Iraqi troops and police, and in ‘counter-insurgency’ operations. Excuse me, but aren’t we at war in Afghanistan, and isn’t that operation, involving about 200,000 US, Australian, and NATO troops (excluding the Dutch, who are pulling out after the country’s participation in it brought down the conservative government), called a ‘counter-insurgency’ campaign? Isn’t counter-insurgency by definition a kind of ‘combat’?

“WTF? This crap is called journalism?

“By the way, about that 50,000 number. For the record, that is a lot of soldiers. It is for one thing two times the number of US troops stationed in South Korea. It is twice the number of troops that were employed in the invasion of Panama in 1989. It is about the number of troops the US had in Vietnam in early 1964 after the first round of escalation by then President Lyndon Johnson . . . .

“. . . The Obama administration and the Pentagon are trying to trick a war-weary American public into believing that the 50,000 US troops that will be more or less permanently garrisoned in the rather permanent-looking bases that the US has constructed around Baghdad and elsewhere in Iraq will be just like the US troops lodged more or less permanently in Germany, Italy, Japan and Korea and in other countries around the world. But those troops aren’t doing any fighting, except in bars, and are mostly just hanging around playing at soldiering and wasting taxpayer money on prostitutes, gambling, drinking and cars. That will not be the case for the soldiers based in Iraq, however, which is a country still torn by internecine conflicts created or unleashed by the US invasion, and which also has many armed fighters who are committed to ousting the US entirely from their occupied country. And indeed, that 50,000-troop army is actually an army of occupation. Its role in training an Iraqi army and police force, as in Afghanistan, is to create a puppet military that will do its bidding. This is fundamentally different from the role of garrisons in South Korea, Japan, Italy or Germany.”

In fact, Obama is escalating troop presence in Afghanistan, while somewhat reducing it in Iraq, even though Iraq is no more peaceful or stable than Afghanistan. The different approaches are all about US politics and the stories the US corporate media and Democratic loyalists allow to be told.

Lindorff appears to have doubts that the complete withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2011 will happen on schedule, or ever. I predicted as much the day Bush and Maliki announced the treaty, and I suggested that anyone who took it seriously should have a talk with some Native Americans. I’ve learned my lesson, however, and will never object to the continued presence into 2012 before it’s 2012. That just wouldn’t be appropriate.

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