Is the Iraq War on a path to ending?

There was the guy at the Bureau of Indian Affairs who was found sobbing at his desk. What's the trouble? He raised his head. "My Indian died."

Ronald Reagan joke as related by Peggy Noonan

When we on the left comment on President Obama's speech concerning the winding down of the Iraq War, it's been a real fear of mine that we would be seen as defending our own interests by saying that nothing has changed and that the war continues. In the joke above, the bureaucrat at the BIA had a job for as long as a particular Native American remained alive. The bureaucrat was crying for himself because when the Native American perished, the bureaucrat had to go out, in Reagan's thinking, into the "real world" and find himself a "real job," he couldn't depend on some "cushy, taxpayer-funded job" anymore. Of course, the two situations are not the same in that being a member of the anti-war movement is not a job that pays anything. I listened to lots of accusations back before the war started that communists and/or foreigners were funding the anti-war movement.

Being unemployed at the time, I assured the accusers that if there was any money to be made in opposing the war, I would have found a way to make some.

In any event, I don't want us in the anti-war movement to be seen as defending "our turf" by saying "The war continues." The President certainly doesn't try to make it sound as though everything is peachy-keen and that the US can start drawdowns with ease or that all is smooth sailing ahead:

"But let there be no doubt: Iraq is not yet secure, and there will be difficult days ahead. Violence will continue to be a part of life in Iraq. Too many fundamental political questions about Iraq’s future remain unresolved. Too many Iraqis are still displaced or destitute. Declining oil revenues will put an added strain on a government that has had difficulty delivering basic services. Not all of Iraq’s neighbors are contributing to its security. Some are working at times to undermine it. And even as Iraq’s government is on a surer footing, it is not yet a full partner – politically and economically – in the region, or with the international community."

As a veteran, I appreciated his words for the troops:

"For the men and women of America’s armed forces – and for your families – this war has been one of the most extraordinary chapters of service in the history of our nation. You have endured tour after tour after tour of duty. You have known the dangers of combat and the lonely distance of loved ones. You have fought against tyranny and disorder. You have bled for your best friends and for unknown Iraqis. And you have borne an enormous burden for your fellow citizens, while extending a precious opportunity to the people of Iraq. Under tough circumstances, the men and women of the United States military have served with honor, and succeeded beyond any expectation."

The drawdown is clearly split up into two distinct pieces, and after 31 August 2010, we'll get to the second part of it:

"After we remove our combat brigades, our mission will change from combat to supporting the Iraqi government and its Security Forces as they take the absolute lead in securing their country. As I have long said, we will retain a transitional force to carry out three distinct functions: training, equipping, and advising Iraqi Security Forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq. Initially, this force will likely be made up of 35-50,000 U.S. troops."

Obama promises to work with the region as a whole, including Iran and Syria.

"This reflects a fundamental truth: we can no longer deal with regional challenges in isolation – we need a smarter, more sustainable and comprehensive approach. That is why we are renewing our diplomacy, while relieving the burden on our military. That is why we are refocusing on al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing a strategy to use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon; and actively seeking a lasting peace between Israel and the Arab world."

Concerns here, but a generally sound and sensible policy. And yes, this speech is absolute music to my ears after Bush's lies and nonsense and straw-man arguments and simplistic verities. The liberal blogger Juan Cole asks: "So has Obama been reduced to 'Bush Lite' on the Tigris?" commenting that Obama "has made the left of his party as nervous as a vegan in a butcher shop." Cole points out that producing a navy and an air force are developments that will take an independent Iraq many, many years to accomplish, so we shouldn't expect any quick drawdown of either. Cole swats aside the claim that Bush's policies prepared the way for Obama to achieve such a success. He makes it clear that staying out of Iraq to begin with would have been the better, less destructive policy.

John McCain, like an Arizonan Cassandra, harped on the small terrorist movement that styled itself "al-Qaida in Mesopotamia," and predicted that "If we leave Iraq there will be chaos, there will be genocide, and they will follow us home." Obama's compromise decisively rejects McCain-style fear-mongering and his quixotic quest for long-term bases.
The new president forcefully rejected Bushian mission creep. Obama admitted, "We cannot rid Iraq of all who oppose America or sympathize with our adversaries. We cannot police Iraq's streets until they are completely safe, nor stay until Iraq's union is perfected." In other words, he is prepared to depart Iraq even if it remains somewhat divided, even if a drumbeat of subdued violence continues in its cities, and even if anti-Americanism retains a certain purchase on the population.

Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) feels that as the US has been training Iraqis since the war began, then there's really very little hope that their training will be completed any time soon. The interviewer pointed that he called Obama's speech a "step in the right direction" four times in four minutes. Siun of firedoglake points out that:

At the same time, the level of control Obama has granted the Petraues/Odierno team over the withdrawal is worrying– in particular, his willingness to allow them to keep the bulk of US forces in Iraq through the next election – and then some.
Here’s why:
Nowhere in the speech (nor in the various commentaries) have I seen a mention of our plans for withdrawing US forces to bases this June as required by the SOFA. This requirement - meant to get US forces out of the day to day active involvement in Iraq security seems to be forgotten – and given Odierno’s statements even as the SOFA was being signed that we could ignore that requirement – why not?
The SOFA is the Status Of Forces Agreement that Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki insisted that President Bush agree to. Bush clearly agreed because he saw no alternative.

Askari said the United States didn't give in to Iraqi demands for the power to prosecute American soldiers but that Maliki decided this was the best deal Iraq could get.

Maliki may have felt that he had to settle for the details of the final deal, but clearly, the deal was not simply dictated by the US. It was the result of intense bargaining between the US and Iraq.

It's troubling that the SOFA was not spoken of as the final word on the deal. Cole agrees that large-scale troop withdrawals might have to wait until after the Parliamentary elections of December 2009. March to December is an awfully long time to wait and still keep up political pressure to see to it that withdrawals happen on schedule.

It's also troubling that there appears to be some mission creep going on.

"But I think that we can say without equivocation that our military was successful, and if we get it right over the next few months and years, that there is the strong possibility that we can leave Iraq as a stable, peaceful partner in the region."

If this is indeed a redefinition of the mission, then it could turn out to cause very major problems down the road. If the US is determined to withdraw, period, that's one thing. If the country adopts the goal of leaving Iraq in a particular shape, then it's very hard to say when, or even if, we'll see a withdrawal occur.

And it's not like things will be quiet here on the domestic front until after the Parliamentary elections in Iraq. Obama seems to be taking a seriously positive, progressive approach to the economic mess that the last president left us. NY Times columnist and economist Paul Krugman explains how the housing crisis happened. And concerning the televised rant on the Chicago trading floor a little while ago:

Commodity trader Rick Santelli made himself into a national hero of sorts with his televised diatribe about being forced to pay the mortgages of "losers" who could not afford, or would not pay, the full cost of their mortgage. Santelli apparently hit a chord among those who want to blame deadbeat homeowners for the country's economic woes.

Was his rant a hit among "The Village," the Washington DC-based press corps? Oh my, yes!

In terms of revealing deep truths about the corporate media, I'd suggest Santelli's off-kilter tirade, followed by his puffed-up prancing around, and the press corps that cheered him on, told us a helluva lot more abut the press than did Matthews' split-second "Oh God" utterance.

The historical parallel appears to be that of Lyndon Johnson trying to have both guns and butter and ultimately having to "go all in" on Vietnam. Obama has proven himself to be a very smart fellow, see his proposed approach to handling further Republican obstructionism on the budget (He's threatening to use the budget reconciliation process to make the 60-vote margin for Senate votes irrelevant) and I'm unwilling to say flat-out that he'll end up as badly as Johnson did.

Progressives on the left can certainly make a convincing case that Obama intends to allow the Iraq War to continue, but it's certainly a harder sell than it was under Bush.There are many open questions and Obama's a lot smarter than the last guy was.

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