All Troops Out By 2011? Not So Fast; Why Obama's Iraq Speech Deserves a Second Look
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Some anti-war analysts find hope in President Barack Obama's address at Camp Lejuene in North Carolina on Friday, in which he appeared to spell out a clear date for withdrawal from Iraq.
"I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011," Obama said in a speech that quickly generated headlines announcing that an end to the occupation is on the horizon. As far as rhetoric goes, Obama's statement seems very clear. But in reality, it is far more complicated.
Obama's plan, as his advisors have often said, is subject to "conditions on the ground," meaning it can be altered at any point between now and 2011. Underscoring this point, a spokesperson for New York Rep. John McHugh, the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, said on Friday that Obama "assured [McHugh] he will revisit the tempo of the withdrawal, or he will revisit the withdrawal plan if the situation on the ground dictates it. … The president assured him that there was a Plan B."
Despite Obama's declarations Friday and the celebrations they have sparked on the liberal blogosphere, the Pentagon certainly seems to believe its forces may well be in Iraq after 2011. NBC's Pentagon correspondent Jim Miklaszeswki reported on Friday that "military commanders, despite this Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government that all U.S. forces would be out by the end of 2011, are already making plans for a significant number of American troops to remain in Iraq beyond that 2011 deadline, assuming that Status of Forces Agreement agreement would be renegotiated. And one senior military commander told us that he expects large numbers of American troops to be in Iraq for the next 15 to 20 years."
Some have suggested that such statements from the military are insubordination and contrary to Obama's orders, but they could also reflect discussions between the White House and the Pentagon to which the public is not privy.
Then there's the monstrous U.S. embassy unveiled last month in Baghdad, the largest of any nation anywhere in the history of the planet and itself resembling a military base. Maintaining this fortified city will require a sizable armed U.S. presence in Baghdad and will regularly place U.S. diplomats in armed convoys that put Iraqi civilian lives in jeopardy.
Whether this job is performed by State Department Diplomatic Security or mercenaries from the company formerly known as Blackwater (or else a corporation more acceptable to the Obama administration), the U.S. will have a substantial paramilitary force regularly escorting U.S. VIPs around Iraq -- a proven recipe for civilian deaths and injuries. Obama's speech on Friday did not even address the question of military contractors -- a crucial omission given that their presence rivals that of U.S. troops by a ratio of over 1-to-1.
Finally, the Status of Forces Agreement, which supposedly lays out a timetable for U.S. withdrawal, contains a gaping loophole that leaves open the possibility of a continuation of the occupation and a sustained presence of U.S. forces well beyond 2011, "upon request by the government of Iraq." Article 27 of the SOFA allows the U.S. to undertake military action, "or any other measure," inside Iraq's borders "In the event of any external or internal threat or aggression against Iraq." Could this mean an election where the wrong candidate or party wins? What is the definition of a threat?
The Democrats' Response
Earlier in the week, when details of Obama's official Iraq plan began to emerge, expressions of surprise poured from the offices of the congressional Democratic leadership over his intention to keep a force of 35,000 to 50,000 troops in the country beyond 2010.