Friday, February 27, 2009

Obama Ending US "Combat Mission" in Iraq by Aug. 2010?

So the NYT reports this afternoon, but as many as 50,000 troops will be there until the end of 2011, by which time, according to the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated by the Bush administration, all US troops will be out. The schedule and the number of troops does not jive well with Obama's campaign promises, and he has had to spend some political capital calming down some of the Democratic Congressional leadership on that score - not to mention the more progressive elements in the party. But John McCain has now endorsed Obama's withdrawal plan on the Senate floor, patting himself on the back in the process by reminding us all of how well the Surge that he advocated so strongly "worked." And Obama borrows from one of McCain's stock campaign expressions as well, saying that this plan ensures that US troops can leave Iraq "with honor."

But read closely, my friends (if I may borrow another McCainism), because (1) a lot of wiggle room has been built into this schedule, as an Andrew Sullivan piece I sent out earlier points out; and (2) as Reuters reports, there are a number of possible scenarios taking shape in Iraq right now as we look ahead to a US troop drawdown, and most of them are dicey. At the earliest signs of an uptick in violence (be it in Mosul, Kirkuk, between Shiite militias in the south, or by resurgent Sunni elements if they feel that the Baghdad government is short-changing them), US military commanders will be pressuring Obama to keep the US troop presence strong in Iraq, so that all the "gains" and "sacrifice" are not wasted.

By no means do I mean to denigrate that sacrifice, but prolonging the US troop presence in Iraq ensures that more Americans (and Iraqis) make that ultimate sacrifice, all of them for what can never be the happy ending that Bush was banking on when he sent US forces in in 2003. The best possible ending, no matter how long US troops stay and are killed in Iraq, will be an Iraq that

  1. is on excellent terms with Iran (in my opinion, hardly a bad thing in itself, but something that US policy-makers did not want to see happen;
  2. is on poor terms with Israel, not at all what the neocons who promoted the US invasion were expecting;
  3. is internally very combustible, because a lasting rapprochement between Arabs and Kurds in Iraq is simply not in the cards; and
  4. is full of people who will forever hate the US for trashing their country and causing the often horrible extinguishing of hundreds of thousands of Muslim lives.

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