By David Swanson
I know, I know, Bush liberated the Iraqis. But when will we liberate them from Bush’s liberation? Well, ideally, the American people will rise up tomorrow and force Congress to cease funding the occupation and to vote an immediate and complete withdrawal with a veto-overriding supermajority, not to mention impeaching Bush and Cheney. I raise that possibility not so much because I’ve been drinking as because long-term movements for systemic reform require awareness of what we’re missing. If we ever replace a Congress dominated by money, media, and parties with one loyal to us the people, it will be because we tragically realize what so very easily could have been.
In fact, Congress has an ideal excuse at the moment to end the war we’ve been electing it to end for years now. The U.N. authorization of the occupation expires on December 31st. Bush has negotiated a treaty with Iraq to authorize three more years of war. In Iraq, the parliament failed to approve the treaty with the two-thirds majority required by the Iraqi Constitution, but did pass it with a slim and corrupt majority against the overwhelming will of the Iraqi people. The result may be a rise in violence. And the approval was temporary and conditional. The Iraqi people will be allowed to reject the treaty in a public referendum in June. If they do, and if all parties take the language of the treaty seriously, the treaty will remain valid for 12 months from that date. The other possibility is that the treaty will be immediately canceled and we’ll bring everyone home for the Fourth of July.
In Washington, D.C., in contrast, the Senate has chosen to ignore its Constitutional right and responsibility to approve or reject treaties, not to mention the responsibility of Congress to declare war, which renders unconstitutional any treaty authorizing three years of war. Congress could reject the treaty or at the very least approve it, but Congress is now a rubberstamp for a different president. So, rather than formally approving the treaty and asserting its continued existence, Congress will silently approve it and stick another dagger into its institutional reason for being.
Well, what about that incoming president? Military recruiters are already having some success in talking kids into signing up by claiming that the election of Obama means nobody else will be sent to Iraq. Many months of television and campaign propaganda convinced people that Obama would quickly and decisively end the war. People imagined they were voting against Bush, Cheney, and the occupation of Iraq, and for transformational change. Obama’s website is at change.gov. In reality, of course, Obama’s few specific policy commitments were for indiscernible change more than transformational. Obama promised to enlarge the world’s largest ever military, to always be open to any military option including illegal aggressive strikes, and to escalate the occupation of Afghanistan. Before we voted for him he chose Joe Biden as his running mate, professed (as did John McCain) his intention to appoint Robert Gates as Secretary of “Defense,” and proposed making Colin Powell part of his administration and Rahm Emanuel his chief of staff. We knew all of that.
But we also knew that Obama was promising, as he still is promising, to remove “1 to 2” brigades from Iraq every month, thereby removing them all in 16 months, by May 20, 2010, or — as Obama’s website puts it — “the summer of 2010.” The catch is that by “all” Obama has always said he meant all of the “combat troops.” So, at some point over the course of his first 16 months in office, Obama would have to explain what a non-combat troop was, and those troops would be left as a “residual force … to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions against al Qaeda in Iraq [without combat!] and protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel [and] … to train and support the Iraqi security forces as long as Iraqi leaders move toward political reconciliation and away from sectarianism.”
Now, there is nothing in the new unconstitutional and possibly short-lived treaty to prevent Obama from sticking to his plan to withdraw most of the troops in 16 months. But there is language that he could claim weighed against that if he wanted to. And he has publicly supported the treaty. It reads, in part:
“The Government of Iraq requests the temporary assistance of the United States Forces for the purposes of supporting Iraq in its efforts to maintain security and stability in Iraq….”
We can’t very well deny requested assistance, can we? Of course we can, legally, morally, and practically, but that doesn’t mean Obama or Congress will do so in the absence of intense pressure from us. The treaty includes this key section:
“The United States recognizes the sovereign right of the Government of Iraq to request the departure of the United States Forces from Iraq at any time. The Government of Iraq recognizes the sovereign right of the United States to withdraw the United States Forces from Iraq at any time.”
There is, however, something in the treaty — or the so-called Status of Forces Agreement — that would (if it survives and is honored and is not extended, etc.) prevent Obama from leaving his “residual force” in Iraq beyond the end of 2011. This treaty is not actually called a Status of Forces Agreement, but rather an “Agreement Between the United States and the Republic of Iraq on the Withdrawal of the United States Forces from Iraq….” That’s the title of the thing, and it does what Bush swore he would never do: it sets a firm date for complete withdrawal:
“All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011.”
Nothing in the treaty would prevent an earlier withdrawal. All that would be needed to extend the occupation beyond the firm withdrawal date would be for the United States of America to violate a treaty. Aside from the role treaty violation played in the genocide of the native Americans, we violated the U.N. Charter when we first invaded Iraq, and we tossed out the Geneva Conventions and several other treaties when the Iraqis objected to the occupation.
The withdrawal agreement creates some other factors that may impact the question of withdrawal, and how those other sections of the agreement are enforced or violated may provide some indication of how much teeth the withdrawal clause has. U.S. forces are required to contract with Iraqi suppliers of materials and services “when their bids are competitive and constitute best value.” What are the chances of that? Will staff changes at the Pentagon make such a thing imaginable? U.S. contractors and mercenaries are now subject to Iraqi law. They may even be charged (it’s not clear) with crimes they have committed in the past. And U.S. troops are subject to Iraqi law if they are off-base and fail to claim to be on duty. Clearly the bigger concern here is the fate of criminal mercenaries, but that concern could be decisive if the mercenary companies pull out and the Pentagon decides it can’t do without them. The United States is banned from detaining or arresting Iraqis and from searching Iraqi houses or other buildings except as approved by the Iraqi government, and those now detained by the United States will be arrested by Iraq or freed. In addition, U.S. “combat forces” must withdraw from all Iraqi cities, villages, and localities (and remain inside their bases outside of town) by June 30, 2009, the same date by which Iraqis will vote on the treaty.
Clearly much depends on the degree to which the Iraqi government acts independently from the United States government. Arguably it showed great independence in negotiating what was originally a treaty for permanent occupation into a treaty for withdrawal. But a majority of the Iraqi people would have preferred no treaty at all, and the tough positions staked out in the treaty are only tough if they are enforced. If the U.S. troops (and, as you may have gathered, this is a U.S. treaty, all pretense of a “coalition” having finally been abandoned) cease raiding homes and detaining people, and begin withdrawing from towns and cities, we may see a reduction in violence. If violence explodes in the coming days in reaction to the treaty, we may see that used (stupidly and self-defeatingly, but predictably) as an excuse not to withdraw.
Obama always hedged his campaign promise with the intention to allow his military commanders to change his plans. This makes it rather unfortunate that Obama appears likely to keep the same commanders in place in Iraq and at the top of the Pentagon, people who have already opposed his plan. Obama and some of his loyal supporters cheer for his appointees when they approve of them but claim that appointees make absolutely no difference in policy when they disapprove of them. This would be funny were it not for the fact that they rightly disapprove of almost all of them.
For six months or so, the Obama vs. Clinton primary contest was one of the top stories in the news. Obama won because of his limited and inconsistent opposition to the war and Clinton’s refusal to even express regret for having voted to let Bush invade. Obama also opposed telecom immunity while Clinton supported it. After he’d won, they both voted counter to their statements. He’s now making her his Secretary of State (if the Senate unconstitutionally confirms one of its own to take a position the salary for which was raised during her current term), and the bulk of Obama’s top staff and cabinet are going to be people who worked for her husband.
While people were told they were voting for major changes and for peace, the 153 members of the House and Senate who voted against invading Iraq were excluded from any lists of individuals under consideration for any positions in the Obama administration. Did not a single one of them qualify as a Washington insider with good managerial skills? Was it necessary to pick the most pro-war Democrats from the Senate and the House for Vice President and Chief of Staff? Would no one else do? Even if you had to go with an Indiscernible Change candidate for Secretary of “Defense,” did it have to be the very same individual who had worked for Bush? Didn’t most people who wanted Transformational Change consider serving Bush a crime? Did your National Security Advisor have to be a board member of both Boeing AND Chevron? Wouldn’t one or the other have been sufficient “pragmatic” and “insider” credentials?
In announcing the new team, Obama and his nominees produced some excellent, but completely vague, rhetoric. If Obama wanted to reassure me and all of the other active citizens of the United States who have the gall to still express their opinions, he could announce his firm commitment to stick to the 16-month timetable and to combine it with honoring the Bush-Iraq treaty for complete withdrawal. In other words: every single troop and mercenary out by May 20, 2010, and no residual forces. Or better yet, Congress could legislate it. That would be change I could believe in. It’s also change I can work for, and if — and only if — we all work for it, it will happen.