I have suspended writing new posts for this blog. I watch the Republican presidential debates and listen to the debate about bombing Iran and am speechless. There is hardly anything left to say.
The Maliki government as well as other factions in Iraqi politics lost little time invoking their special kind of sovereignty just two days after President Obama declared the Iraqi War over for Americans. Well, at least formally. No troops doesn’t mean no Americans. The US Embassy will have 16,000 people attached to it, including military advisers and private contractors hired to replace American military trainers.
Yesterday the aftershocks of American military intervention began. One third of elected Iraqi parliamentarians, those affiliated with the Sunni-Secular Iraqiya Party, walked out as PM Maliki moved to arrest the Sunni Vice-President. No on has the pulse of the Middle East better than Juan Cole:
Only a couple days after US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta declared the Iraq War over and turned the last US base in Iraq over to the Iraqi military, Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has struck against a Sunni Arab vice President, Tariq al-Hashimi. Iraqi police have issued an arrest warrant for Hashimi, a member of the now Sunni-dominated Iraqiya Party. The Ministry of the Interior, which al-Maliki controls, confirmed the warrant.
Three members of the VP’s security detail had been under investigation in recent days, charged with engineering a car bombing inside Iraq’s Green Zone on November 28, allegedly in hopes of assassinating al-Maliki. The car bomb had been constructed inside the Green Zone (a protected area in downtown Baghdad encircling government offices and embassies) which admittedly does point to a member of the political elite. It is alleged to have gone off prematurely. Apparently Hashimi is now being fingered as the mastermind of the car bombing.
So much for leaving Iraq a stable, democratic model.
The back-story is that Sunnis have been denied autonomy and representation at the hands of a Shia-led government. Sectarian violence since 2003 has cut both ways, Sunni and Shia. The US responded with alarm:
The American ambassador, James F. Jeffrey, has raced to ease the political crisis. On Thursday and Friday, American officials contacted senior Iraqi political figures to try to establish the facts concerning the detentions, urge restraint and exhort the parties to support the vision of a pluralistic and democratic Iraq.
Republicans love the theory of the ‘slippery slope’ and have used against Obama policy proposals. For example, Obamacare builds a ‘slippery slope’ bound to result in ‘death panels’ and rationed health care.
Actually, the metaphor is most applicable to Iraq. Bush war planners were warned by many Iraqis and Iraq experts in the West that a US invasion of Iraq could lead to violent sectarian fighting, the complete rupture in civil society and chaos. And that’s what’s happened.
Colin Powell infamously said, ‘If we break it, we own it’. We don’t own it anymore. The Iraqis are left to clean up the mess themselves.
If you ever thought that Barack Obama would change the post-Cold War/War on Terror assumptions and find a new direction for US global security policy, the last nail has been hit into the coffin of hope.
The Obama administration plans to bolster the American military presence in the Persian Gulf after it withdraws the remaining troops from Iraq this year, according to officials and diplomats. That repositioning could include new combat forces in Kuwait able to respond to a collapse of security in Iraq or a military confrontation with Iran.
It is clear that the US ‘footprint’ in the Persian Gulf and Middle East will continue to expand with both the goal and justification of encircling Iran. Although overthrowing Saddam Hussein removed the ‘natural enemy’ of Iran, thus enhancing the latter’s influence in the region, it was also a war to clear the path of an aggressive US national security strategy. The US needed both an excuse and a place to establish a strong military presence in the region and was counting on a weak Iraq to provide both.
In addition, last year the Administration agreed to sell Saudi Arabia $60 billion in weapons and began building a tailored down ‘missile defense system’ against Iran. It will send more naval ships through international waters in the area and strengthen the Gulf Cooperation Council, composed of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and other assorted emirships and kingdoms (do we still need to add ‘undemocratic’).
Nuclear issue only part of Iran story?
The US is actively challenging Iran on its nuclear program. But this is only half the story. The real goal is to halt China and Russia from expanding their influence and economic partnerships in the region.
This is the stuff World Wars are made of.
Next time you hear a blowhard complain that a country such as Libya, whose rebels the US supports, dare to proclaim their state an Islamic Republic or their constitution based on Sharia Law and Islamic values, remind them that George Bush, Dick Cheney and Don Rumsfeld supported constitutions in Iraq and Afghanistan that did the same thing in 2004 and 2005.
Juan Cole translates:
Article One Ch. 1. Art. 1: Afghanistan is an Islamic Republic, independent, unitary and indivisible state.Article Two Ch. 1, Art. 2: The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam.
Followers of other religions are free to exercise their faith and perform their religious rites within the limits of the provisions of law.
Ch. 1, Art. 3
In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and laws [ahkam] of the sacred religion of Islam.
First: Islam is the official religion of the State and is the primary basis for legislation:
A. No legislation may be enacted that contradicts the established laws of Islam
B. No law may be enacted that contradicts the principles of democracy.
C. No law may be enacted that contradicts the rights and basic freedoms stipulated in this Constitution.
Second: This Constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the
Iraqi people and guarantees the full religious rights to freedom of religious belief
and practice of all individuals such as Christians, Yazidis, and Mandean Sabeans.
Wow. You’d think it was the Obama Administration that invaded Iraq the way opponents of US troop withdrawal tell it. Republicans and some foreign policy pundits are wringing their hands over the withdrawal schedule negotiated by George Bush in 2008. Incredibly, instead of cheering a decision made by an independent Iraqi government not to give immunity to US troops if some stayed behind, conservatives are once again dragging out their bankrupt ‘slippery slope’ argument to cover their butts. Saying President Obama had ‘failed’ to renegotiate the Status of Forces Agreement in which President Bush pledged that every US troop would be withdrawn by December 31, 2011, Republicans are setting President Obama up to blame for anything bad that happens in Iraq after US troops withdraw and into the future. Mitt Romney goes so far as to say that US troop withdrawal threatens all the ‘gains we’ve made’ since 2003. Lindsey Graham said the announcement of troop withdrawal is a victory for Iran!
Bad things could happen. But those same bad things would be possible whether the US withdraws now or in five years. Maybe, on the other hand, good things will happen as Iraqis are free of the tension and humiliation of occupation and regain their shared heritage. Or perhaps the withdrawal will prevent bad things from happening. After all, the Sadrists pledged to call up their militia again to fight any US troops left behind after this December.
Paternalism is thick in the conservative argument. The people who got us into this war thought it would go a certain way, sort of a ‘cakewalk’ was the expression. It didn’t. And now they want the American people to trust them again?
I’d love to see Romney go after Obama face-to-face on withdrawal from Iraq in one the pre-election debates. Running on keeping troops in Iraq is not a winning strategy.
UPDATE: From L.A. Times
In Iraq, however, many associate the U.S. presence with instability, violence and suspect motives in a conflict that is believed to have cost at least 100,000 Iraqi lives. These critics view U.S. troops as a lightning rod for militia attacks.
A representative of Prime Minister Nouri Maliki‘s Shiite-led ruling coalition said Iraqis were “thankful” for the role of the U.S. and other nations in ousting Hussein, but another official added that the Americans “put the country on the brink of civil war.”
“They were part of the reason behind the ethnic and sectarian tension,” said Saad Muttalbi.
The Shiites have long been cool to U.S. troops in Iraq. But leading politicians from Sunni and Kurdish blocs who once welcomed the American presence now also agree that the U.S. must leave.
The largely Sunni Iraqiya bloc headed by Iyad Allawi has gone on record against extending the stay of U.S. troops beyond the end of the year.Even lawmakers from Iraqi Kurdistan, where U.S. forces were warmly received in 2003, no longer seem enthusiastic about American boots on the ground.
“An American presence is not a condition to solve our problems,” said Mahmoud Othman, a member of the Kurdish coalition. “They’ve been here for years, and there are still problems in Iraq.”
In an interview with Christine Amanpour on ABC this morning, John McCain claimed that the Obama Administration didn’t really try to convince Iraq to keep a wresidual force (3,000 – 20,000) of American troops in Iraq past the legal deadline for withdrawal agreed to by the Bush Administration, December 31, 2011. Upon questioning how he could make such a claim, McCain said “I was there.” McCain then explained that over six months before, when he spoke to different representatives of the Iraqi government, they seemed agreeable to discussing amending the SOFA and retaining some American troops.
Let’s look at the facts:
It has been broadly reported that some in the Iraqi government wanted to keep US troops past the deadline for withdrawal. Others did not.
It has been broadly reported that the Administration entered talks on the subject months ag, with Maliki and the US Administration trying to work out some type of accommodation.
It has been broadly reported that the Iraqi government would not give American troops immunity past December 31, 2011, because it would violate their nation’s sovereignty and that the US could not accept leaving troops beyond the agreed-upon withdrawal date without this immunity
It has been widely reported that the Bush Administration invaded Iraq to ‘liberate it’ with the goal of leaving it a sovereign, independent nation and that Mr. McCain approved of and supported that invasion from the beginning.
The Iraqi government has spoken as a sovereign, independent nation. Yet, instead of celebrating that fact, Mr. McCain believes the Obama Administration should impose US paternalism and dictate the number of troops and conditions of operations to the Iraqis.
Mr. McCain is not a very smart politician. He knows that the US Embassy will have hundreds of contracted former soldiers defending it and its consulates in Iraq. He knows the State Department will hire independent contractors to fill in for American soldiers to train the Iraqi military. He knows the American people have no more stomach for the cost in lives and money of a continued war in Iraq.
A smart politician would have tried to take credit for the Bush strategy and insisted it worked. Instead McCain’s attacks on Obama for implementing the Bush SOFA and fulfilling a campaign pledge to bring the troops home seems shallow and outdated.
McCain ignores the internal politics in Iraq itself. He ignores the nationalist sentiment of Iraqis that has grown stronger the longer US troops have remained on the ground. Most Iraqis consider the US presence in Iraq an occupation and believe that sectarian divisions will moderate when the occupation ends. McCain ignores the Sadr movement, which vowed to challenge any remaining US troops militarily, that hold a sizable bloc of votes in the Iraqi Parliament.
By denouncing Obama for the Iraqi withdrawal, McCain displays his tin ear to the war fatigue of the American public and demands that the government focus on domestic concerns, not foreign policy adventures.
McCain is a figure of the past. He no longer represents the base of the Republican Party. But the American media is lazy and intellectually unable to keep up with foreign policy developments. It’s easier to go with the false perceptions of the same old same old .
That’s the logical conclusion to be drawn from Mitt Romney and Lindsey Graham as reported on Fox News Sunday. Mr. Romney issued a statement saying the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq by the end of the year ‘threatens’ all the ‘gains’ the US has made in Iraq. He invoked the thousands of American soldiers killed or injured as if to say it would all be for naught because Iraq can’t stand on its own. In an interview with Chris Wallace, Senator Graham asserted that bringing home US troops is one of Obama’s ‘strategically dangerous’ decisions Once again, Republican hawks point out that the commanders on the ground want to keep 20-40,000 troops in Iraq. They raise the need for US troops to counter the influence of Iran.
So, what’s the reality?
1. The troops are being brought home under the Bush-negotiated Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed with the Maliki government several years ago. SOFA stipulated the conditions under which US troops operated and how long they stay. Part of the SOFA agreement is that all US troops leave Iraq by December 31, 2011.
2. PM Maliki’s government and the Obama Administration have been in talks about amending SOFA to keep some American troops in Iraq longer, primarily for training and advising the Iraqi military. However, the Iraqis refused to extend immunity to any American soldiers who stayed behind. That was a deal-breaker from the beginning.
3. Romney and Graham may have forgotten that Iraq is once again an independent, sovereign nation. Maliki is representing the majority of Iraqis who want all foreign troops out of their country. Both countries have left open the possibility of American military trainers coming back at a later date. In the meantime, the US Embassy will employ contractors to train Iraqis.
4. Romney and Graham’s concern about leaving troops in Iraq to counter the influence of Iran, especially in the southern region is laughable. So far, since the invasion, the US military has been spectacularly unsuccessful in countering Iranian influence in Iraq militarily or diplomatically. In the not-to-distant-past, in fact, the US aligned itself with Saddam Hussein as a bulwark against Iran rising as a dominant power in the area. Americans taking out Iran’s nemesis, Hussein, was the best thing that could happen for Iran.
4. The hawkish Republican stance to keep US troops in Iraq could only be fulfilled if the US overrides the SOFA by force by staging an open US-supported coup against the Maliki government and/or re-invading the country.
See how that goes over in 2012.
President Obama announced today that all US troops will be out of Iraq by December 31st, 2011. Thus ends a controversial invasion of a nation that hadn’t attacked the US on false claims that it harbored MWD and worked with Al Queda. Although some in the Malaki government preferred to have some American troops stay behind to train Iraqis, the nationalist will of Iraqis to end the occupation won out. It was a big victory also for Muqtada Sadr, the militant leader of a Shiite militia who now controls a sizable block in the Iraqi Parliament.
“The last American soldiers will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success and knowing that the American people stand united in their support for our troops,” the president said. “That is how America’s military efforts in Iraq will end.”
The withdrawal also fulfills President Obama’s campaign pledge to bring the troops home. For the first time in 9 years, Americans will finally see a decline in American foreign adventures rather than escalation.
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