U.S. Troops to Stay in Iraq Until 2012?

by Joseph Palermo –

In yet another cynical ploy from the good offices of the George W. Bush Administration, we are now told that after “tough” negotiations the Iraqi Parliament has approved a December 31, 2011 exit date for American combat troops.

How any government under foreign occupation can “declare” anything is anybody’s guess. Despite the enthusiasm for the deal by Thomas Friedman of the New York Times and others who supported the 2003 invasion, even assuming the Shia government of Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki means business in wanting American troops out of the country, the so-called timetable agreement raises more questions than it answers.

First, the agreement should state honestly that American combat troops would remain in Iraq until 2012. Using the December 31, 2011 date as the deadline is nothing but a cheap deception like selling a plasma screen TV for $999.99.

Second, the United States was not “invited” into Iraq by any Iraqi government, puppet or otherwise, so the occupation remains essentially unilateral in nature. It will therefore require unilateral action to end it. Iraq’s government has nothing to say to the United States about when and how American combat troops are disengaged. The country has been under occupation for over five years, the regime is corrupt at every level, and it lacks legitimacy both abroad and with its own people. The United Nations “mandate” came after the U.S. had intervened. There is no “leader” in Iraq, or “parliament,” that can tell the American people they must continue to spend $12 billion each month on Iraq’s “security” until 2012. It was an American decision to go into Iraq. It will be an American decision to get out of Iraq. In the current context, the desires and demands of the fractured and dependent regime inside Baghdad’s “Green Zone” matter little.

Third, eventually the Iraqis are going to have a resurgence of violence akin to a civil war and there is nothing American troops or the Iraqi parliament can do about it. With the plummeting price of oil due to the global economic depression new pressures will mount on the control of the only viable resource in the country. None of the underlying political conflicts between the factions and sects have been resolved. The deep political divisions lurk just beneath the surface and they have been only papered over by the presence of 140,000 American troops and about 100,000 private contractors. The absence of those troops will create power vacuums in some areas and things will get messy. In November 2008, what the Iraqi parliament says it wants is immaterial. Nothing the United States does can stop the unfolding of Iraq’s own history. Ultimately, the Iraqi people will determine their country’s destiny and no action by the Americans or Europeans can change this simple fact.

Fourth, most Americans now believe it was a trillion dollar mistake to go into Iraq in the first place. They are through with this war and occupation that was sold to them on false pretenses by the most unpopular president in our history. Only Bush’s arrogance and ignorance have kept Americans dying in Iraq since the midterm elections of 2006 when the American people sent the clear message they want out of Iraq. The corrupt members of the Iraqi parliament are not the “deciders” about whether the U.S. continues to throw away lives and money to maintain an imperial illusion. The American people have already turned against this war and that fact should matter far more in Washington than anything coming out of Baghdad.

Fifth, part of the agreement reads like bad satire. The Iraqi parliament apparently believes that the U.S. military forces in Iraq are going to be answerable and accountable to the Iraqi government. The agreement demands that the U.S. seek approval from the Iraqi government before it conducts combat operations, and that it stand down if not approved; it even calls for prosecuting Americans who commit “grave premeditated felonies” in Iraq. Let me state this as clearly as I can: THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN! After thirty-plus years of hearing the Right Wing in America screaming about how U.S. “sovereignty” is sacrificed if American troops are ever under the “blue helmet” command of the United Nations — Now we’re going to accept what amounts to American soldiers taking orders from Arab military officers who are dependent on American taxpayer money for their survival? That’s not only a breach of the “command structure” of the American military, which is sure to enrage the Bill Kristols and the John Boltons, but it is a stupid move inside Iraq because it will only mean that various Iraqi factions will manipulate American combat missions for their own political benefit.

Sixth, since the Iraqi “status of forces agreement” with the United States will not be “ratified” by the U.S. Senate it is not a binding “treaty” under U.S. law. When Barack Obama is sworn in as president on January 20th his administration will not be bound by it. His role as Commander-in-Chief means he has the power — call it “flexibility” — to remove U.S. combat troops no matter what the Iraqi government says. Besides, given the precedents set over the past eight years, all President Obama might choose to do is issue a “signing statement” or “unsign” the agreement. Case closed. But he doesn’t even have to do that — He’ll have the power to get us out of Iraq the moment he’s sworn in.

Finally, the Iraqi parliament’s “agreement” calls for tens of thousands of American troops to remain in Iraq indefinitely to play “support” roles and “train” the Iraqi security services and military. The American troops will be, in effect, trying to prop up a pliable pro-U.S. regime in Baghdad. That is not an agreement that guarantees Iraq’s sovereignty. As long as U.S. soldiers are garrisoned in Iraq they will have to choose sides among the competing factions. (Obama should review this bad idea.) Their presence will continue to distort Iraqi internal politics and fuel nationalist resistance and terrorism. The continued footprint of U.S. military personnel, even as “advisers,” will be a constant reminder to Iraqis of the excesses of the occupation, their humiliation at the hands of foreigners, and that their security services are penetrated by both the CIA and the Mossad. It will be an enduring affront to their sovereignty.

The criticisms outlined above raise the simple question: What exactly does the Iraqi parliament’s troop withdrawal agreement change in the fundamental relationship between Iraq and the United States? The Answer is: Nothing.

Which brings me to Thomas Friedman who wrote in the New York Times, yet another rancid opinion piece on the Iraq occupation titled “Obama’s Iraq Inheritance.” In it Friedman still insists on measuring “progress” in Iraq in “Friedman Units”: “There is now, for the first time, a chance — still only a chance — that a reasonably stable democratizing government, though no doubt corrupt in places, can take root in the Iraqi political space.” Friedman has been saying the same thing for over five years now: “Success” in Iraq is just “six months” away. He continues to see the transformative effects of the 2003 invasion. “The most important reason for the Iraq war,” Friedman writes, was Bush and Cheney’s noble goal of “promoting a different politics in the Arab-Muslim world.” Here Friedman offers Times readers nothing but rehashed neo-conservative rubbish. The individuals and corporations profiting from the war and occupation never gave a damn about “promoting a different politics in the Arab-Muslim world.”

Friedman views the Iraqi parliament’s agreement as a sign that a “decent outcome” is within our grasp — Maybe just a “Friedman Unit” or two away? He insists American troops will leave Iraq because we are “now committed to do so by treaty.” But the United States Senate has not ratified any new “treaty” with Iraq.

joseph-palmero.gifFriedman twice in the piece refers to the country of Iraq as “geopolitical space.” I doubt if the Iraqi people view their nation as “geopolitical space,” which points to the crux of Friedman’s problem whenever he puts pen to paper on Iraq:

1). He sees the Arab world through the eyes of a neo-colonialist;

2). He has internalized the neo-con pipedream that the U.S. military occupation will somehow “build progressive politics and rule of law in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world”; and

3). He doesn’t know what the hell he is talking about.

by Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Associate Professor of American History at CSU, Sacramento. He’s the author of two books on Robert F. Kennedy: In His Own Right (2001) and RFK (2008).

Reprinted with permission from the author.

Articles by Joseph Palermo:

Published by the LA Progressive on December 5, 2008
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About Joseph Palermo

Joseph Palermo is Professor of History, California State University, Sacramento. Professor Palermo's most recent book is The Eighties (Pearson 2012). He has also written two other books: In His Own Right: The Political Odyssey of Senator Robert F. Kennedy (Columbia, 2001); and Robert F. Kennedy and the Death of American Idealism (Pearson, 2008). Before earning a Master's degree and Doctorate in History from Cornell University, Professor Palermo completed Bachelor's degrees in Sociology and Anthropology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a Master's degree in History from San Jose State University. His expertise includes the 1980s; political history; presidential politics and war powers; social movements of the 20th century; the 1960s; and the history of American foreign policy. Professor Palermo has also written articles for anthologies on the life of Father Daniel Berrigan, S.J. in The Human Tradition in America Since 1945 (Scholarly Resources Press, 2003); and on the Watergate scandal in Watergate and the Resignation of Richard Nixon (CQ Press, 2004).