Foreign Policy

Obama's Retreat on Iraq

Whatever happened to the antiwar candidate?

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A sound, if cynical, policy for elections is to never vote for a candidate whose policies match your own. Since politicians often renege on their promises, you are better off voting for a candidate who says he'll do the opposite of what you want—and trusting that he's a liar.

George H.W. Bush, after all, gave an emphatic promise not to raise taxes and then raised taxes. Bill Clinton vowed to crack down on China's human rights abuses and didn't. George W. Bush championed a humble foreign policy.

Barack Obama opposed the war in Iraq from the outset, promised to bring our troops home in short order, and criticized John McCain for his "stubborn refusal to end this misguided war." Without his stance against the war, he would not have won the Democratic nomination and he would not have won the election. But the meaning of his speech Friday at Camp Lejeune is that we shouldn't have believed him.

During the campaign, Obama pushed a plan to withdraw one or two combat brigades per month until they were all out. Only two things have changed in Obama's 16-month departure plan: It will take longer than 16 months, and we won't depart.

Instead of May 2010, the target date has been pushed back to August of that year. Nor will he bring back one or two combat brigades each month. Instead, The New York Times reports, Obama plans to withdraw only two between now and December, or one combat brigade every five months.

The administration claims it will speed up the pace of withdrawal next year. But if someone says he's going to sober up tomorrow, it doesn't mean he will definitely do it tomorrow. It just means he definitely won't do it today.

What we can deduce from the new timetable is that for now, we are staying put. As for what happens next year—well, why cross that bridge before we come to it?

Assuming the president adheres to this backloaded schedule, a large U.S. force will remain for some time. After August 2010, the administration plans to keep as many as 50,000 troops in Iraq. That's 16,000 more than we currently have to fight the war in Afghanistan. We'll also be spending $50 billion on the effort in 2011.

Oh, and remember that promise to remove all the combat brigades? Here's the trick to it: leaving some of them there but under a different designation. They would be referred to as "Advisory Training Brigades" or "Advisory Assistance Brigades," says The New York Times.

When administrations begin indulging in the generous use of bland euphemisms, we know what it means: They are not willing to do what the public wants and they are not willing to let the public know it. This "transition force" looks like a way of avoiding a transition, not making one.

The president says we will be entirely out by 2012, as required in our status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government. Maybe so, but given how much Obama has yielded on his original plan, it's chancy to assume he'll stick to this one.

Though the American people voted for a different policy, the president is reluctant to take the risk of something unpleasant happening if we actually leave Iraq. That inclination, says Massachusetts Institute of Technology defense scholar Barry Posen, raises a question: "What's the difference between him and Bush on this?"

Bush, you may recall, promised that the surge he began in 2007 would "hasten the day our troops begin coming home." Yet we somehow have more troops in Iraq today than we had then.

Obama could conclude that since there is a high risk of failure even if we leave later, we might as well leave earlier—which essentially was his campaign position. But he has moved a long way toward Bush's view that we cannot leave until some sort of victory or success has been achieved.

What he doesn't tell us is what he will do if that day fails to come, or if things get worse. But we can figure it out.

In Thomas Ricks' new book, The Gamble: General David Petraeus and the American Military Adventure in Iraq, 2006-2008, the author asks an officer who advised Petraeus on the surge how our military involvement in Iraq will finally end. His answer: "I don't think it does end."

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61 responses to “Obama's Retreat on Iraq

  1. Politician reneges on campaign promise, film at 11.

    -jcr

  2. Stay in Iraq forever? Yes! We! Can!

  3. So, he changed his position eh?

    I’ll be damned. That’s change I can believe in!

  4. Who is this Barack Obama fellow? He seems so clean and articulate, unlike Steve Chapman.

  5. Ugh. Violence is down in Iraq. The surge worked. Declare victory and bring the troops home. But no, he wants to time the draw down so he can trumpet it at the peak of the 2010 election. The silence from the anti-war crowd over the next two years will be deafening. Too many people put politics over principle.

  6. I just had a thought. The Republicans woke up and started opposing government spending only after they lost in 2008. They lost partly because conservatives stayed home or voted libertarian out of disgust over their spending splurge. If Libertarians emphasize a restrainded foriegn policy and an end to the drug war in our ads for the next two years, could we pressure Democrats to enact these policies?

  7. The left side of the pro-despotism/anti-war argument was always about tribalism, not about practical reality. They expressed their solidarity to one another by opposing the democratization of Iraq and Afghanistan. Most could not even grasped the realist, “we broke, we bought it argument.” This is the same egocentric, naval gazing type thinking that 40 years drove the same political segment to believe that turning Cambodia over to Pol Pot was a good idea.

    Obama will destroy his legacy forever if he abandons Iraq and it descends into civil war and mass murder. He doesn’t need the pro-Pol Pot crowd anymore and even if he did, they have nowhere else to go.

  8. Obama’s schedule may be too slow, but at least he wants us out of Iraq. McCain might have done much the same, but more likely his preference would have been to stay forever (fighting “terrorism” or whatever).

    Note: in 2002/’03 Obama was against the Iraq War and McCain (and almost the entire right) was enthusiastically for it. If Obama (or Gore, for that matter) had been president back then, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.

  9. If Libertarians emphasize a restrainded foriegn policy and an end to the drug war in our ads for the next two years, could we pressure Democrats to enact these policies?

    lol?

  10. the pro-despotism/anti-war argument

    Holy shit you fucking neocons are annoying. So anti-war is pro-despostism?

    You do realize that everything you say reads as a recitation of neocon talking points, right? You hit every note: if you’re not for war, you’re for dictators. If we “abandon” Iraq, even after removing the dictator, it’s our fault what happens so that’s why we have to stay–yet it wasn’t a reason to not go in in the first place.

    You could basically be a ‘bot programmed with a few boilerplate statements. It’s funny that guys like you and TallDave can’t see how utterly predictable you are.

  11. Chains you can believe in!

  12. If Libertarians emphasize a restrainded foriegn policy and an end to the drug war in our ads for the next two years, could we pressure Democrats to enact these policies?

    (Emphasis added)

    An end to the drug war would be great. But I’m not so optimistic to think that we could accomplish this within two years, even if pro-freedom people emphasize it in their ads.

  13. Another question for the Neocon dead enders: if Iraq will turn into Pol Pot’s Cambodia if we leave, did the Surge really work ?

  14. Shannon Love,

    Really? Are you off your medicine, or did you just suffer some sort of traumatic head injury?

  15. I actually like the route the President’s going here. Phased withdrawal? Good…but you really don’t want to commit to leaving too quickly without shoring the situation up as much as you can.

  16. A “phased withdrawal” (I suspect people call it that just to sound serious) is much better than no withdrawal. But the longer the goodbye, the greater the risk that if/when Iraq blows we’re in the worst possible position: one foot in, one foot out. That may not happen. Iraq may stay relatively calm for the next couple years. But only a fool (or a neocon, but I repeat myself) would bet on Iraqi stability. Is the American public really going to support going back in ? Nope — and the public would be right, too.

  17. Obama’s schedule may be too slow, but at least he wants us out of Iraq. McCain might have done much the same, but more likely his preference would have been to stay forever (fighting “terrorism” or whatever).

    Obama can’t really withdraw any faster than the Bush SOFA calls for, due to realities on the ground having to do with the difficulty of withdrawing a force that size from Iraq and the desire to not “lose” Iraq, at least not now that the loss will be laid at his feet.

    McCain couldn’t have stayed in Iraq any longer than the Bush SOFA calls for, at least not without the consent of the Iraqi government in a renegotiated SOFA.

    So, really, Bush tied both of their hands, and once the SOFA was signed, Iraq became pretty much a non-issue. Which didn’t prevent the ignorant and ill-informed from voting for Obama because of his now-irrelevant position on Iraq, of course.

  18. …naval gazing…

    Not sure exactly what this means. Does it involve watching Carrier Strike Groups or something? Or is it some kind of homoeroticism involving men in blue uniforms?

    Not sure what any of that has to do with the rest of the nonsense in Shannon Love’s comment.

  19. “if you’re not for war, you’re for dictators”

    Episarch,
    You’re either with us or for the terrorist Nimrod!

  20. But hey, thanks for giving aid and comfort to the evil doers!

  21. Obama can’t really withdraw any faster than the Bush SOFA calls for, due to realities on the ground having to do with the difficulty of withdrawing a force that size from Iraq

    As I recall, it didn’t take very long, a month or so, to bring the troops into Iraq, despite the Iraqi military shooting at them. Are you saying it would take much, much longer to leave Iraq with the Iraqis enthusiastically cheering us on for leaving and not shooting at us?

    We could do it in two weeks if we weren’t all that concerned about the military gear left behind.

  22. “Shannon Love says

    Most could not even grasped the realist, “we broke, we bought it argument.”

    But the person who said “we broke, we bought it argument”, was Powel and he along with Bush, Rumsfeld, etc are the ones who broke it, yet they are sitting at home. So when are they going to Iraq and fix what they broke?

    Plus the people who are suppose to run Iraq are Iraqis, so let have the US leave and let them run their own country. They after all now have democracy and isn’t democracy suppose to mean that they run their own country?

  23. Obama’s schedule may be too slow, but at least he wants us out of Iraq. McCain might have done much the same, but more likely his preference would have been to stay forever (fighting “terrorism” or whatever).

    I’ll have the troops out in 16 months.

    After 60 days in office it’s 19 months with the niggling detail of 50,000 troops staying until ???

    Open ended commitments may not be forever commitments, but in practice it is very difficult to discern the difference. I knew this was coming.

    Mister DJ, play Won’t Get Fooled Again. Again and again and again.

  24. Naval gazing is verboten; that’s why Cheney had Google Earth’s pictures pixilated.

  25. On election night, the Democrats in Reno, Nevada had their victory celebration at the Grand Sierra Resort. I was playing Texas Hold ‘Em in the poker room, and after the celebration wound down at midnight, a flock of Obama’s young lambs dropped in to try their luck.

    They were so full of childlike hope and change that I was certain that they would drop a ton of cash on the table. I didn’t want to piss anyone off so much that they’d leave the table, so I didn’t want to engage in any political discussion. (A bad idea at a poker table at any time.)

    But, when one dimwit commented that the troops should be happy with Obama’s victory because they would all be coming home, I just laughed and said dourly that by the end of his term there would still be 40,000 in Iraq, about the same as if McCain were elected. Seems now like I underestimated.

    Anyway, it was a very profitable evening. “Hope” doesn’t work very well in Texas Hold ‘Em.

  26. Obama’s Iraqization policy will be just as successful as Nixon’s Vietnamization was.

    We can fix Iraq* if we stay two generations and ruthlessly re-engineer their society.

    * Make the society amenable to representative democracy, respect for minority and expression rights (see First amendment for details), and the peaceful transition of power. The rush back to authoritarian rule commences as soon as we leave, be it now or ten years from now.

  27. Maybe you guys missed the memo but we are not leaving in 2010. We are leaving 50K or more people there to do “training”. But combat operations will be over. If you beleive that I have some hope to sell you. Obama is going to leave troops in Iraq indefinitely. There is no difference between his actions and all of the worst things that people said about McCain.

    The fact is that the entire “anti-war” movement was a lie and a fraud. No one, including the people on here, really objected to the war or gave shit. If they did, they would be angry as hell at Obama over this instead of making excuses like they are up and down this thread. The anti-war movement such as it was was always about culture. It was always about sticking it to anyone who was patriotic. It was about objecting to all the evil bubbas out in flyover country and evil fundies. As long as war and endless occupation of a country is delivered by cultural lefties and comes without any obligation to serve, anti-war lefties and anti-war Libertarians think it is AOK.

  28. Jesus christ people, let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is another largely content-free Chapman column.

    “niggling detail of 50,000 troops staying until ???”

    until nlt Dec 31, 2011.

    Look, I’m a cynical about politicians as the next dude, possibly more so because I’m actually still in the war business. And before fri, I would have totally agreed that the current administration had been pretty coy about what the long term plan in Iraq was – always promising specifics about ‘combat troops’ but being vague about the long term, i.e. after the first 16-22 months. My prior take is even if the SOFA was clear, it would have been renegotiated – Korben Dallas style, if required.

    But the speech friday was Obama’s read my lips moment. He did not equivocate on the either the short or medium term timelines nor leave himself any wiggle room. I simply don’t see how if mid-2012 rolls around, and there is anything but embassy Marines in Iraq, Obama gets re-elected. One, because it’ll be possibly set off an insurgency again. But mostly, because his left flank will abandon him, much like Bush 1’s right flank jumped ship over read my lips.

  29. “niggling detail of 50,000 troops staying until ???”

    until nlt Dec 31, 2011.”

    Where does it say that. From the Economist

    Only two combat brigades (out of 14 now in the country) will leave Iraq before this year’s parliamentary election in December. And in the long term, some 50,000 combat soldiers (some 142,000 troops are in Iraq at the moment), may stay, re-hatted as counter-terrorism or training forces”

    http://www.economist.com/world/unitedstates/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13208576

    I think they are going to stay indefinitely. I have never seen the 2011 date. Further, the left will not abandom Obama. They are not anti-war. They are just anti-republican. They couldn’t care less how long he stays in Iraq. It was all a lie.

  30. The way I heard it Obama had said 16 months, the military asked for 23, and he said 19. That’s not awful, and McCain would surely have said 23. I’m not sure it’s a big deal (four months) but it is “better” if what you want is us out…

    My problem is that it seems he plans to send them right on to Afghanistan, and one big reason I opposed the war was the initial and running costs. Simply moving them elsewhere ain’t helpful there…

  31. The Republicans woke up and started opposing government spending only after they lost in 2008. They lost partly because conservatives stayed home or voted libertarian out of disgust over their spending splurge.

    conservatives voted libertarian? Really? maybe 100 or so of them.

  32. this is another largely content-free Chapman column.

    You actually read the article?

  33. But the speech friday was Obama’s read my lips moment. He did not equivocate on the either the short or medium term timelines nor leave himself any wiggle room.

    You do recall that “read my lips” first happened when Bush the Elder said that he would absolutely not raise taxes? And then he raised taxes?

    So if this really is Obama’s “read my lips” moment, then he was promising to pull the troops out eventually, and then he will renege on that promise when it turns out to be inconvenient.

    Which seems like an increasingly likely scenario.

  34. “The way I heard it Obama had said 16 months, the military asked for 23, and he said 19. That’s not awful, and McCain would surely have said 23. I’m not sure it’s a big deal (four months) but it is “better” if what you want is us out…”

    You are talking about “combat operations” versus training. If 50K troops are there, training, how are we out of Iraq? Further, those guys are going to be training and getting shot at. Further, notice the Economist article says training or counter terrorism. Again, how is counter terrorism any different than combat operations? It is a slight of hand. All it does is give the left a fig leaf to say “we stopped combat operations in Iraq” and nothing else. In the end, the plan is the same as it would have been if Bush would have written it.

    Understand, I don’t think it is a bad plan. I just think that the anti-war people who excuse it just show how they really were just frauds.

  35. No one, including the people on here, really objected to the war or gave shit.

    Wrong, as usual.

  36. Kohole,

    Interesting the 2011 date is not getting played up in the press. I can’t find a single reference to it in any of the stories about the speech. But, as you point out he clearly said it.

    I don’t beleive for a moment it is a read my lips moment. I also don’t think they will really by gone by 2011. Time will tell. One thing that is for sure is that no one on theleft is going to care if they are not. No one cares that we are escalating in Afghanistan and no one is going to care if Obama stays in Iraq. The left only cares about wars if Republicans wage them.

  37. P Brooks

    really? You cared so much. I am sure. Lets here you talk about Obama continueing this illegal war. Where is your objection to Obama attacking the sovereign territory of Pakistan without UN authorization? come on let’s here it. Being ant-war just isn’t fun anymore with Obama in charge is it?

  38. P Brooks,

    Obama could fucking invade Mexico tommorow and the you would be saying how it really wasn’t that bad.

  39. prole @11:14

    that’s precisely my point, except for predicting which scenario (promise kept or promise broken) will actually transpire.

    john@11:19

    the ‘mainstream’ left is going along with Obama for now on Afghanistan. The ‘netroots’ otoh are already antagonized by it, but are currently mostly quiescent by the lessons of naderization

  40. “the ‘mainstream’ left is going along with Obama for now on Afghanistan. The ‘netroots’ otoh are already antagonized by it, but are currently mostly quiescent by the lessons of naderization”

    1. It is not an election year so carping doesn’t really matter.

    2. There is no draft. The left turned on Johnson because they actually had to fight the war. Once they got rid of the college deferments it got very personal for the student left. Bamabi won’t ask any of the people in the nutroots to do one thing in support of this war. In their view the only people who serve are ignorant rednecks. So it is not like anyone in the nutroots are going to be too upset about casualty numbers.

  41. “niggling detail of 50,000 troops staying until ???”

    until nlt Dec 31, 2011.

    Pelosi is going to clamp down on earmarks anyday now. Obama is going to end the revolving door for lobbyists simultaneously.

    Bridge for sale! Get yer bridges right here!

    I’m not from Missouri, but I am a show me kind of guy. As with ending warrantless wire tapping, indefinite detention for “enemy combatants” and “supporters of terrorism” and rendition of the same to other nation (who promise not to torture, Whoo Hoo!), I reserve the right to be a little more than skeptical. It’s served me very well with both red and blue regimes.

  42. John-

    Still wrong. But that’s what I’ve come to expect from you.

  43. Episiarch,

    Apparently the “founders” were also pro-despotism:

    “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” – Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776

  44. I think it is very probable that the SOFA will be renegotiated and that we’ll have a significant number of personnel who will actively be engaged in combat past 2012.

  45. Bingo and BG, I guess you guys are right. We’re not going to see a complete overturn in policy over two years. Still, I think it’s worth considering. Will we maximize the effects of our efforts if our slogans for the next two years are “Victory achieved in Iraq. Bring our troops home.” and “Medical Marijuana. Let the states decide.” or something to that affect.

  46. Who is this Barack Obama fellow? He seems so clean and articulate, …

    That’s a storybook, man!

  47. Mister DJ, play Won’t Get Fooled Again. Again and again and again.

    With respect, I say “Bullshit, sir”, you underestimate the stupidity of the american public.

    That said, at least Obama’s flopping and flailing has resulted in joe free blog for now, a positive change.

  48. Since nobody’s said it yet:

    The President is a niggler!

  49. Without his stance against the war, he would not have won the Democratic nomination and he would not have won the election. But the meaning of his speech Friday at Camp Lejeune, writes Steve Chapman, is that we shouldn’t have believed him.

    While the first sentence is probably true, I also know quite a few people that would not have voted for him except that they were sure that his stance against the war would be modified. They wanted him to be lying. And I know people who felt the same way on free trade, and on a host of issues.

    His vagueness and intelligent openness convinced a lot of people that whenever Obama said something with which they disagreed, that he didn’t really mean it and was only saying it for tactical reasons.

    Plenty of people wanted him to be lying; maybe not on all issues, but on particular issues of importance to them. Should we be surprised by anything?

  50. Shannon Love, got to love her,still sticking to the neocon talking points.

    John as usual is full of shit.

  51. Obama can’t really withdraw any faster than the Bush SOFA calls for, due to realities on the ground having to do with the difficulty of withdrawing a force that size….

    Ever heard of Dunkirk? A force twice the size of the US occupying army in Iraq was withdrawn from France…. in 10 days, not 10 months.

  52. John,
    You’re exactly right in regards to the liberals (i.e. suddenly not being anti-war when Obama is in charge of it), but I do believe that the libertarians here (i.e. not joe) really are anti-war regardless of POTUS.

  53. “Ever heard of Dunkirk?”

    I have! The only reason the Brits got all those troops withdrawn in 10 days is because they left huge amounts of equipment behind.

  54. 2009-03-03
    Isn’t this a great proof about the race equality?! (after the ugly cartoon published recently by New York Post of Rupert Murdoch when many critics said the cartoon played on historically racist images…”)

    But wait – Obama is learning-resistant?
    And that after the the team of Dick “Dick” Cheney and George W. Bush left so little of value to study? (They left a large mound of garbage, sure).
    …And Rupert Murdoch apologized.
    “I can assure you — without a doubt — that the only intent of that cartoon was to mock a badly written piece of legislation.”

  55. First off, he is being responsible. What a dark horse candidate says (or what you THOUGHT he said) two years before the election does not reflect the relatities of power and the moment NOW.

    Second, this is pretty much what he said he was going to do.

  56. I’m not sold the idea that the American people voted for Obama because of his anti-war position. Remember Obama began beating McCain in the polls really only after the financial meltdown. Nor do I think being the fireeating anti-war candidate consequences be damned is a tenable position. I also find it interesting that the far more significant promise Obama made to govern as an economic moderate, a promise seemingly totally abandoned, receives no comment. Fixating on a war that is pretty much drawing down in the face of such a far more relevant set of false promises seems very myopic.

  57. Craig:

    – the troops in Dunkirk were concentrated in one small place, and not over a country of size of Iraq,

    – it was 30 km from home, not over half of the globe,

    – any fishing vessel that could float was be used for transporting the people in reasonable safety,

    – and yes, all the equipment was left behind.

    From all practical points of view, Dunkirk was not a withdrawal, it was a rout.

  58. The desire of so-called libertarians such as Steve Chapman to betray the Iraqi people and deliver them to the likes of Al Qaeda and/or the Iranian mullahs is truly disgraceful. When it comes to foreign policy many so-called libertarians have drunk the same witches’ brew of cowardice, stupidity, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism as has the left.

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