Commentary By Earl Ofari Hutchinson
Many pundits and politicians critical of Obama have been saying that the scheduled Iraq withdrawal is much less than meets the eye. Their points of criticism are that 50,000 troops will stay in the country, at a cost of billions more in U.S. tax dollars, and there’s no firm guarantee that they’ll all go packing any time soon.
The biggest criticism, though, is that President Obama fudged on his campaign promise to end the war and remove all troops from the country by the end of 2011. He made the promise two years ago, and when he made it he was careful to note that he meant withdrawal of combat troops. By ending the war, he meant ending American direct involvement in ground action.
But many progressives and anti-war Democrats took his “end the war” pledge too literally; the nuances were either ignored, tuned out, or, in a euphoric and wildly hopeful moment, distorted.
The Iraq withdrawal by any measure is a solid accomplishment by the Obama administration. The six-year ground war, with U.S. troops taking casualties, inflicting death and destruction on towns and villages, and the heavy collateral damage, i.e. civilian deaths, stirred hatred of the United States, and reaffirmed the U.S. image as the bully of the world. The war was a colossal domestic and international disaster, and the mountainous lies and deception that Team Bush used to get and keep the United States in Iraq will be a permanent mark of historical disgrace and shame on the Bush legacy.
The 50,000 or so troops that will stay in the country is unfortunate, but a necessity. The final withdrawal date of December 2011 for the 50,000 spelled out in the U.S.-Iraqi treaty can easily be shaken by any number of events and contingencies, the worst being a full-blown descent into factional religious or civil war in the country, with the U.S. forces caught in the middle. The troops are supposedly there to see that that doesn’t happen, and the training and logistical support for the Iraqi army is intended to do just that.
But the remaining troops are at best incidental. Far more important are the political consequences of the withdrawal. The Iraq war was never simply a military contest to get rid of a hated dictator, in a country that supposedly posed a massive threat to Israel and moderate Arab governments. It was a political war waged to assert American political dominance, control strategic oil resources, bolster the military hawk credentials of the Bush administration and boost Bush’s tenuous and sagging personal image and popularity on the home front. Obama understood that as long as American bullets flew at Iraqi targets, the United States would continue to suffer the deeply flawed and failed political consequences of its overt military involvement in the country.
Obama also learned another lesson, a negative one, from Bush’s Iraq folly. He did not declare, “Mission accomplished” with the withdrawal. The “mission accomplished” boast would be tantamount to declaring the war a U.S. victory. To tout a war that should never have been fought would be laughable and insulting, especially considering that according to an AP estimate, more civilians were killed in Iraq in July than were killed in Afghanistan. But the crucial point is the death and mayhem civilians are suffering there is being wreaked on Iraqis by other Iraqis, not by U.S. troops.
The Iraq war was an ugly and shameful page in U.S. history. Obama early on recognized that millions of Americans were furious and frustrated by it, and that the candidate who turned the page would be cheered by Americans.
Obama deserves cheers for that. For progressives who cheered him the loudest for pledging to get out during the campaign, there’s no reason to stop cheering him now in the White House. Obama’s Iraq withdrawal is a great deal.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. He hosts a nationally broadcast political affairs radio talk show on Pacifica and KTYM Radio Los Angeles. Follow Earl Ofari Hutchinson on Twitter: http://twitter.com/earlhutchinson