Thursday, February 26, 2009

Iraq Withdraw to Afghanistan: The Perils of Empire

If one believes President Obama, the US is going to leave Iraq within the next few years. The sad truth is that we are not leaving Iraq, 4, 6, probably not in the next 20 years from now. If you look at the President's proposal, the US is going to disembark approximately two-thirds of our forces, by 2010 or 2012 (or 2013, if the President so chooses in his extra contingency plans). What is not mentioned by the liberals fawning over this proposal, or the war hawks who ache for a post-apocalypse, is that by the end of Obama's first term the US is still going to have 50,000 troops in Iraq.

To put this in context for you, that is more troops than we have in Europe (including the Balkans), even though the US is the lead power in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (and by rule always in command). It is more troops than we have in South Korea, even though the US is still technically at war with North Korea. It is more troops than we will have in Afghanistan by this summer, when we double our troop "surge" to over 35,000 (in a theater of operations most anyone would still call a war). How is that ending a war? No honest person can look at that situation and think that those 50,000 soldiers are going to be necessary for supply duty or, as President Obama euphemistically calls it, "protecting American interests." Unless the US built some baseball fields or new unguarded office buildings, the troops will be there for one purpose: to occupy Iraq. In addition, the contingencies are an obvious insurance for a maintained occupation if Iraq does not stabilize well enough to become a truly viable and self-governing state.

Obama's Iraq plan, if implemented, means the violation of the agreement that Iraq signed with the US this last autumn, which stipulates a full US military withdraw by 2011. This agreement was downplayed by the media at the height of the presidential campaign, which itself was mired in the worries over our decomposing economy. Nevertheless, how is it that Bush's last months in office appear more dovish by comparison to Obama's "withdraw" plan? How can anti-war progressives not be fulminating at the thought of our newly elected government keeping the equivalent of at least 3-4 divisions of troops for the next several years in a country we had agreed not long before to exit by the end of 2011? And what does this say about the General Petraeuses and Senator McCains, who extolled the 2007-2008 surge as a "great success," when we still have to keep behind so many soldiers indefinitely? I have yet to receive an answer on these questions from what constitutes our media or, the executive branch, or Congressional leaders of either of the two parties. Sadly, it is starting to become all too clear as to why candidate Obama did not extensively stress his opposition to the Iraq war during the campaign.

This is what denotes courage in American foreign policy. A maintained military occupation and an expansion of war in another country that is by anyone's account unwinnable. Does anyone honestly think 35,000 US troops in Afghanistan is going to pacify a population that over 100,000 Soviet soldiers, millions of its planted land mines, strewn throughout the countryside, and mustard gas could not?

To be sure, one could argue that there is some value in staying, for the sake of capturing/killing Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, and their associates, but it is improbable that any of those responsible for the 9/11 attacks are in hiding in Afghanistan. It is more plausible that they are living in freedom with the protection of their religious brethren in places like Waziristan. There is only so many drones you can send to bomb their camps. I doubt they are dumb enough to travel alone, during the day, or without major disguise to avoid detection. If the Pakistani government is going to sign cease fire agreements with the Taliban in these provincial border areas, it limits the choices of the US military--outside of a full scale invasion or use of Special Forces in those contested areas. This would have dire political consequences for the US and Pakistan's non-Islamist elected government.

None of these are good options and if there is no endgame in a place like Afghanistan, whose state capacity is historically almost non-existent, then what is the point of the expanded intervention? None is really offered, except under the same generic terms about fighting terrorism--the kind of terminology that rightly earned the previous President his record low approval ratings.

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