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Iraq Withdrawal Lite

Posted on Feb 27, 2009

Since he was elected president, Barack Obama has said he plans to withdraw most of the U.S. troops stationed in Iraq by August 2010. That’s a little more time than he said he’d take to do the job before he was voted into office. Does this constitute a major violation of his pre-election pledge? This week’s Mosaic Intelligence Report considers the question.

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By FiftyGigs, March 2, 2009 at 9:00 am Link to this comment

dihey, marvelous article! Accurate, reasoned. Very nice.

A couple of comments to maybe open up further avenues of discussion: “SOFA is not a pact ratified by our Senate hence can in principle be ignored by President Obama.” That’s true, however, history has shown that it could be ignored even if it was ratified. (See: Geneva Conventions)

I appreciate you saying Obama “could” ignore SOFA instead of asserting that he “would”. That said, the way your article reads implies it. If so, you may be right. I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until the time comes.

I do disagree with this, though: “These Generals know that Mr. Obama has not the foggiest idea of the state of Iraq.” Obama is dependent greatly on what the military tells him, true. But not entirely. He has other sources of information, like an ambassador, the diplomatic channels of the state department with OTHER diplomats in the country, and the smart, independent people you see on television and read about in the papers. The White House has a tv, I’m sure.

There’s a tendency on this board to depict the US military as war-crazed sadists injecting their tentacles into the secret nooks of government for the purpose of hearing civilian’s scream in torture chambers or of making a buck.

I know a little of the military, and I won’t rewrite Eisenhower’s wise concerns about it as an industry. But I also know there are truly decent people in the services, and they are generally not people who want to die or be parted from the families. Not even the Generals. They take their duty seriously and approach it honestly. They are generally smart enough to know that if the OTHER guy is at risk of dying, so are they. All that kind of stuff ALSO forms part of their calculation which plays into such things as “redefining SOFA”.

I might also add, there’s considerable dead weight in the military. Too many guys, I’ve found, did honest service, got a retirement, and now are simply keeping time in some defense service until they get another retirement. They’re simply soaking the system, contributing little-to-nothing. The waste is huge, but that’s another topic.

Thanks again, dihey.

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By dihey, March 1, 2009 at 5:53 pm Link to this comment

In order to fathom the possible future relationship of our country with Iraq one must delve into the underlying complexity of the so-called SOFA agreement. SOFA was needed to finesse the United Nations deadline of December 31, 2008 after which date our troops would not have been “allowed” to remain in Iraq.

I do not understand and perhaps we will never find out why President Bush did not tell the U.N. “we did not ask for your permission to invade Iraq and we do not ask your permission to remain there as long as we want”. Such a statement would have been in character for Bush. He opted for SOFA instead.

Initially SOFA was never meant by us to withdraw our troops from Iraq but was a stratagem (trick if you wish) to keep our troops there past December 31, 2008.

The Bush administration began to negotiate seriously with the Iraq government in mid-2008. Very quickly it became evident that the Iraq government would not only be a hard bargainer but held most of the trump cards. Bush needed SOFA; they did not absolutely need that agreement.

There were several contentious issues which were almost left unresolved as December 31, 2008 neared. Perhaps the most severe of these was the issue of deadlines for the withdrawal of our troops. Remember that Bush did not want deadlines at all but the Iraq government had him cornered and at last he assented, hence the absolute deadline of December 31, 2011 when all foreign soldiers must have left Iraq.

SOFA is not a pact ratified by our Senate hence can in principle be ignored by President Obama.

When one reads SOFA it becomes clear that the Iraq government had apparently scored a major victory. However, neither Bush or the Pentagon liked SOFA and all indications are today that the Pentagon either wants to change SOFA with new or no deadlines, or will simply ignore the deadlines. Especially the military is dead set against the December 31, 2011 deadline because they do not want to be saddled with another “lost” war like that in Vietnam. In other words, the Pentagon does not want to lose control over Iraq until it is absolutely “safe” to do so. In international relations agreements are only kept when they serve their purpose. From the point of view off Bush and the Pentagon SOFA has already served its purpose to prevent the U. N. from demanding that we leave Iraq. The agreement is therefore no longer useful to them.

Superimposed on this slippery slope is the game that President Obama plays. For public use his speeches resound with the intention to abide by SOFA. Nevertheless his promises are diluted by the nonsensical distinction of “combat soldiers” vs. “non-combat soldiers” and the adage that his “responsible withdrawal” will be guided by what the “Generals On The Ground” tell him. Since these Generals know that Mr. Obama has not the foggiest idea of the state of Iraq they will continue their mantra that “things have improved but the situation is still very dicey”. Remember Petraeus saying that in Congress? He knows that it works.

Several years ago Mr. Obama told the Chicago Tribune that the U.S. had to maintain its hegemony in that region. U.S. hegemony is based on military power hence I expect that President Obama will ultimately team up with the military trying to change SOFA or to ignore it. He will have to keep more troops in Iraq which, combined with the demand of Afghanistan, is a Gordian Knot which he tries to untangle by increasing the size of the armed forces.

The most powerful brake on “staying longer in Iraq” are the Iraqi people. In that comes to pass expect huge anti-US demonstrations organized and led by El Sadr, the fall of the Iraq government, and possibly a takeover by a military-supported dictator.

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By Harris Campbell, March 1, 2009 at 4:56 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Here go read the speech. He is following his plan.

Remarks of Senator Barack Obama: Turning the Page in Iraq
Clinton, IA | September 12, 2007

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By FiftyGigs, March 1, 2009 at 9:20 am Link to this comment

Oh, no, omniadeo. I’m not saying that at all.

I was referencing your point—“The wrong people had the profit, and that is what causes the war.”

There is some truth in what you say (if I understand it correctly) that war is sometimes caused by the wrong people getting the profit. It’s sometimes for greed. And you were correct in large part about the Shah and that part of Mid East history, I think.

I was trying to fit your idea into the context of “the point has never been about supply, but about ownership.” It seems to me there’s a connection in your argument between war, ownership, and profit. The piece I’m having trouble with is why the gas prices of the largest, most affluent, and heaviest consuming continent are among the lowest—if not the actual lowest—in the world.

The United States has been too inclined to go to war since WWII. Vietnam was immoral because the reasoning behind it was false, and opponents of Vietnam have been proven right by history. The dominoes didn’t fall.

Cuba. Dumb and wrong. Grenada. Who the hell knows what that was about! Kuwait, I think was about oil, but I think it was noble. Well, I’m sure you’re not interested in my blow-by-blow assessment of every conflict, but my point about war is that it can be raised for all kinds of reasons. Some good, some bad.

Your statement—“Civilization has never been a moral enterprise on it’s borders and supply routes.”—I think is brilliant. Even given that, though, I’m more comfortable with the trigger in the hands of someone like Obama as opposed to most other recent Presidents—even Bush Sr.

So, to get back our original discussion, I don’t consider Obama to be playing word games because he’s just “another” of the same type of President. There are wars for different reasons and I believe different Presidents would command differently. I don’t summarily dismiss Obama because he’s not being radical enough.

I’m not convinced that Obama is on the side of military imperialism. What I see is that Obama has actually stated the first sensible context and game plan for the Mid East since 2001, and given the mess there, I think it points to a way that could potentially solve and settle at least the most overt conflicts among all parties and interests that could trigger a major war.

omniadeo, hasn’t history shown us that World Wars start over small incidents that don’t necessarily have anything to do with the profit motive?

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By Virginia from Virginia, February 28, 2009 at 9:37 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Why do we Americans keep insisting that we have gone to war over OIL?  If we remember, the hijackers and their supporters said, “It is the U.S. Mid East policies” which they dispise that prompted their attack on U.S. on 9/11.  I too dispise our vile Mid East policies.
And also recall that it was mostly Saudis who were the hijackers.
Yes, yes, I know that Al Qaeda had camps in Afghanistan.  Supposedly, we quickly defeated Al Qaeda but left Afghanistan too quickly so we could attack Iraq.
It seems so crazy to attack Iraq for absolutely NO reason and stay at war in Afghanistan for whatever but give Saudi Arabia a pass.  I know.  I know.  We LIKE the Saudis.

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By omniadeo, February 28, 2009 at 9:12 pm Link to this comment


No worries, sarcasm aimed at ideas, not people, is fair game in my book.

You say, “...but, I wonder, if that were so wouldn’t gas prices be skyrocketing here like health care costs? Instead, we have relatively cheap gas.”

First, please, I am not going for moral one-upsmanship in these things. Civilization has never been a moral enterprise on it’s borders and supply routes. But lets be clear about what is being said: We need to go to war occasionally and keep bases in the area to keep gas prices low.

Or am I misunderstanding you?

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By FiftyGigs, February 28, 2009 at 8:44 pm Link to this comment

omniadeo, thanks for good reply.

It’s a bit unfair to say that we can’t talk about Bush, but then jump back to the Shah. I see now that you and I have a lot in agreement. My main disagreement is your statement that “There was actually no substantive difference between Bush, Obama and McCain on Iraq.”

I understand the argument you’re trying to make, but I think there was significant differences actually, between all three. Of the three, Obama expressed more ideas that I agreed with than the others.

Now, let me try to straighten out some of my points.

I’m well aware of where the hijackers came from, and I’ve stated often since 2001 that Bush’s insurgency into Iraq was immoral. Nevertheless, the attackers did not come from South America or New Zealand, but from the Mid East, so I think we can generally agree on the region.

Yes, I somewhat understand the history of the area and the complicity of US (and Britain and the Soviet Union) in screwing up that area. We agree that two wrongs don’t make a right. I disagree that Obama is trying to implement the second wrong, though.

I’m not sure I agree with your opinion that it has been about ownership and not about supply. Maybe we’re both parsing history too fine, but I’ll have to think about that some more. From a strategic point of view, the primary goal is to keep the oil flowing. Your argument about ownership and profits is very compelling, but, I wonder, if that were so wouldn’t gas prices be skyrocketing here like health care costs? Instead, we have relatively cheap gas.

Again, you may be right. I’m not sure.

Finally, alternate fuels. Don’t get me started. If the US had followed through on Carter’s lead to reduce dependency 30 year ago, we’d be in a different place. But part of the blame has to rest on the American people who chose gas guzzlers and Republicans instead of even aggressive CAFE standards.

My main point is to disagree with the conclusion that Obama is part of the same game if he isn’t doing something wildly radical to reverse DECADES of ... call it what you will, corruption, stupidity, whatever. I don’t think that, because Bush stupidly destroyed Iraq, the solution is to simply walk away. I agree with you, however, that that doesn’t mean we’re going to try state building under a different name, and I don’t think Obama is doing that.

I read his policy to be (very simplified) that we all (incl Jews and Muslims) need to get along and we’re all more likely to so if we have mutual interests and shared relationships, and I think that’s right.

Thanks again for holding off on name calling. I apologize for my last message being a bit heavy on sarcasm, but I had been wading through a bunch of nonsense comments here.

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By omniadeo, February 28, 2009 at 8:01 pm Link to this comment


A discussion about Bush is a waste of time. He is the latest bit player in decades of intrigue and violence in this part of the world centered around oil, and millenia of the same centered around real estate and military positions.

Please be more explicit about how people “in that part of the world” have attacked the west. I am not aware of any attacks on the US by Iraqis before the invasion.

If you are talking about Al Qaeda, please give me the name of one major Al Qaeda figure who was not associated with US intelligence or military at one time. Whether one sees false flags or blowblack in that, the basic point is that we have created and carefully nurtured the very monster you complain about.

If you are saying that we need to kill over a million civilians and lose 4000 troops to power the internet you are wrong on several counts.

First, the point has never been about supply, but about ownership. When Iran wanted to nationalize the oil fields, there was no doubt that we could still have bought the oil—instead we bought a revolution and put the Shah in place so that the oil companies could own the oil. We did buy Iraq’s oil (indirectly even some after the embargo) till we invaded the second time. We will buy Venezuela’s oil till we do the same thing there some day, probably.

The point is, we had the oil. The wrong people had the profit, and that is what causes the war.

Second, the stranglehold of the oil companies on development of alternate forms of energy for energy independence has had a very real bearing on where we get our energy. Had half of the money we have spent on wars in the ME been spent on development of wind solar and bio fuel, together with energy efficiency technology, we would be in a very different place.

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By FiftyGigs, February 28, 2009 at 7:25 pm Link to this comment

*sigh* Is that it? It that all you got? You know who Obama really is or what he “really” wants?

Do I have to beg you to impart your brilliance into giving us mere mortals at least one crumb of an actual concrete idea that will be better than his?

omniadeo, I understand your sarcasm, but the way I see it is that Bush screwed up a lot royally. Nevertheless, the MidEast was a mess before that. (Something tells me this is a waste of time.)

Now, the fact is that without oil, your precious Internet happy surf life is dead. Huge chunks of our oil supply come through that area. Would it be your policy as President that if we just stayed away from the MidEast, that no Bin Laden nimnod would ever think of plugging the shipping lane and bringing the US to its knees?

You realize, people in that region attacked us and other countries too, right? That was real. New York, Spain, England? That was not a video game. The attackers came from a region that is vital to the world, a region that has been in turmoil for a long time.

If it’s your plan to hide and hope nothing bad happens, don’t expect my vote. Obama has presented the cogent strategy since 9/11. That area has to be settled WITHOUT military… it requires the development of economic interrelationships among countries in the REGION. And yes with the USA too, and yes that means lotsa oil.

godistwaddle, I disagree. I don’t believe Iraqis want to kill Americans any more than you and I want to kill them. Obama has told them we aren’t their enemy. We’re not. If they believe him, that’d be good. Why do you want to undermine his credibility?

dihey, I disagree. History has shown that people who “talk the talk” like Obama “talks the talk” do so because they know what they’re talking about. I do appreciate that you tried to offers some facts to bolster your argument, though.

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By dihey, February 28, 2009 at 1:56 pm Link to this comment

Don’t you understand that “campaign pledges” are so much hot air?

Don’t you understand that Mr. Obama is himself a bag of hot air?

He talks the talk but rarely walks it.

Either he is conned by Petraeus or Petraeus is conned by him. We will see.

The crux of Iraq is that General Petraeus hates to become a gigantic failure when the various groups in Iraq will begin to kill one another again. Yes, President Obama is the “commander-in-chief” of the armed forces but it takes cojones to oppose their demands. Does he have them? Or is he all hot air?

In fact, Obama’s only argument for taking troops out of Iraq is to increase the troops in Afghanistan, a strategy that Petraeus applauds as long as he does not get too weak in Iraq.

Obama is not a peacemaker. He opposes “dumb” wars, which by implication means that the war in Afghanistan is a “clever” war.

More than one year ago I predicted on the basis of his interviews with the Chicago Tribune and his speech at AIPAC that this imperialist-lite will start his own war. He has. Good luck America! Obama can ask God a million times to bless our country but to no avail because God sees trough his lies.

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By godistwaddle, February 28, 2009 at 10:32 am Link to this comment

Iraqi nationalism, which we must applaud, demands that every decent Iraqi has a patriotic duty to kill Americans.

I don’t see how we can stay.

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By omniadeo, February 28, 2009 at 9:53 am Link to this comment


You know, I never got it before. Thanks for explaining the complexity of the situation.

“Obama…described his strategy to engage the entire region in order to settle it…”

(Just what the US knows how to do best: settle the old frontier. Good thing Mesopotamia has been an unsettled wasteland for the past 3000 years waiting for settlement by US Troops and manifest destiny, just like the Old West—and Palestine. Once we put the Injuns, (or ragheads or whatever they call the savages in those parts) on reservations, we can call Baghdad “New Dodge City” and Miss Kitty and Matt Dillon can run the town right.)

“ creating trade relationships vital to the economic interests of the USA (i.e. oil)...”

(We’ll call the oil producing regions “New Texas” and we can have some good old fashioned boom towns with whores and Southern preachers and everything.)

“... and the countries of the region.”

(Nice afterthought. I mean they don’t have to be sovereign or anything, controlling their own airspace and military and oil. I guess we’ll draw up some kinda borders, though and call them countries.)

“Besides being the only practical option with any hope of succeeding…”

(Because we will bomb the shit out of them and invade them again if it doesn’t.)

“...this idea infers a “long-term presence” in the region…”

(Goddamn right!)

Thanks again for making it all clear.

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By FiftyGigs, February 28, 2009 at 8:54 am Link to this comment

“Does this constitute a major violation of his pre-election pledge?”

As a candidate, when he crafted this so-called pledge, was he privy to the same information he has now as President?

No? Then are people complaining because he’s a… bad guesser? Certainly no one believes his campaign strategy was to fool everybody because he has a fetish for military deployment that he now gets to realize as President???

Obama, in that same speech, described his strategy to engage the entire region in order to settle it by creating trade relationships vital to the economic interests of the USA (i.e. oil) and the countries of the region. Besides being the only practical option with any hope of succeeding, this idea infers a “long-term presence” in the region. But Obama’s presence is decidedly different from Cheney’s.

I think we have yet to hear Obama’s position on militaristic imperialism, but I think we can pretty much guess it. Obama rightly sees a specific, limited role for military in any society, a position espoused by military leaders prior to Bush/Cheney’s perverted interpretation of pre-emptive strike.

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By John, February 28, 2009 at 6:55 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

obama just another boot lickin coward.

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By omniadeo, February 27, 2009 at 11:39 pm Link to this comment

Obama has never called for withdrawal from Iraq. He has called for removal of combat troops: In other words he will leave air bases and fortified points of entry in case the natives get out of hand and want their own oil, or the US military needs territory from which to strike Iran.

By the time Obama was elected even Bush had a accepted a “time horizon” for withdrawal. There was actually no substantive difference between Bush, Obama and McCain on Iraq. There was a lot of playing to their bases. “Iraq was a mistake.” “The surge worked.” Big deal, the policy was essentially the same. The timetable for moving to bases only had already been negotiated in principal with the Iraqi gov.

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By Slow, February 27, 2009 at 11:05 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

As I recall, during the campaign, Obama talked about removing “combat troops.”  So, as is now typical of those skilled in washingtonspeak, all we need to do is change the name to something like monitoring troops or beauty pageant troops or virtual troops…. The number of troops could even be increased, as long as they are not “combat troops.”

Also, apparently in washingtonthink, it is not our fault that the people of Iraq Forced us to invade and destroy their lives. Now they are arrogantly forcing us to take over their oil. How long will they force us to control their land?  We are so easily manipulated!  Just wait and see. When the people of Iraq run out of things that they can force us to take away from them, they will probably let us go without a word of thanks.

But, at LEAST, we still have our pride.

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By randyha, February 27, 2009 at 10:07 pm Link to this comment

This does not sound like a withdrawal. It looks like we will be in Iraq but maintain long term presence like Germany after WWII.

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By CJ, February 27, 2009 at 9:23 pm Link to this comment

I did watch—live—and listen too. The answer to question here is, yes, Obama is violating campaign pledge, vague as that was the whole time. (Obama is fine wordsmith who chooses words very carefully.)

See Olbermann’s interview with Thomas Ricks this Friday evening on the reality that is Iraq, including of Ricks’ figuring Iraq would change Obama before Obama changed policy.

Good for Ricks for saying it all, and good for Olbermann for allowing Ricks to say it all.

Not difficult to imagine Bush over in Dallas laughing that staccato laugh as he watched and listened to Obama at Lejeune.

There’s nothing any earthly citizen can say to get America’s so-called leaders’ attention.

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