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Obama and Iraq: ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’
Posted on Sep 20, 2010
By Scott Ritter
Even more incredible is the notion that this slight-of-hand political maneuvering can accomplish anything that would resolve the issues and problems in Iraq today. In opting to draw down American “combat troops” prior to Iraq resolving its considerable political and economic woes, President Obama has completely flipped the logical, yet flawed, plan that the United States had been acting on for the past seven years, a plan built on three central concepts: economic stability (oil), political stability (democracy) and internal stability (security). Left to its own devices, Iraq would have no choice but to proceed in this manner. The experience of Iraqi Kurdistan, through its autonomous exploitation of its energy resources, demonstrates the critical importance of building a solid economic foundation in order to preserve stability, even at a regional level. The decision to attract big oil to Iraq was driven more by corporate greed than the genuine will of the Iraqi people, as witnessed by the Iraqi Parliament’s continued inability to pass a national oil law. The economic benefits that could be accrued through the exploration and exploitation of Iraq’s oil fields by multinational energy companies are as controversial as they are hypothetical. The current production rate of 2.5 million barrels per day continues to fall short of Iraqi production rates prior to the U.S.-led invasion in April 2003, and optimistic estimates that Iraq will be able to reach a production rate of 12 million barrels per day by 2016, which many analysts scoff at as technically implausible, are unrealistic given the unresolved political and security crises which continue to grip Iraq.
The American occupation of Iraq has produced a subculture of social dependency which is almost colonial in nature. The majority of Iraqis involved in either government or security operations remain entirely dependent on American financial, political and military support. These are the voices that speak the loudest in favor of a continued American presence in Iraq, since any American withdrawal would result in their demise. And yet it is these very voices that have become increasingly marginalized in Iraq. The true centers of political influence lie in the very Shiite and Sunni segments of society the United States has been fighting against these past seven years—Sadr’s followers and the Sunni tribal groups once loyal to Saddam Hussein. The inevitable course of history mandates that these indigenous forces will ultimately prevail over the foreign-imposed artificiality that rules Iraq today. The continued presence of American troops prolongs the inevitable political realignment that must take place for Iraq to have any chance of succeeding as a viable nation state. The presence of American troops also ensures that this transformation will be much more violent than the natural course of events dictate.
For all of the political, economic and military investment made in Iraq by the United States, the reality is that the three Iraqi neighbors least consulted by the United States in the buildup to the 2003 invasion have become the most influential players in shaping Iraq’s internal political future and influencing the country’s ultimate regional alignment. These three nations—Turkey, Syria and Iran—continue to work toward an Iraq where the political and economic interests of Shiite, Sunni and Kurds are met in a mutually beneficial manner. The ultimate political makeup of Iraq’s eventual government is no longer something dictated by Washington, but rather negotiated through the offices of Ankara, Damascus and Tehran. The United States, through its exclusionary policies, is no longer viewed as a constructive force on shaping these issues, but rather as an obstacle to be navigated around or ignored. The only viable policy option that exists for the United States in Iraq today is to disengage as gracefully as possible, and leave Iraq’s future in the hands of its people and its neighbors.
Such a course of action is fraught with political risk. Instead, President Obama is hoping that the majority of Americans will reward him for keeping his promise to bring American combat troops home from Iraq by August 2010. The fact that 50,000 American troops remain in Iraq, configured into six “advisory and assist” brigades that are structurally identical to their “combat” counterparts, underscores the dishonesty of this action. American troops have already been killed in “noncombat” operations in Iraq, and they will continue to be killed. The 50,000 “noncombat” troops remaining in Iraq are little more than caretakers of a U.S. system—economic, political and military—in Iraq that has never taken hold, and is in fact rotting away from the inside out. Six months after “critical” national elections, Iraq has a Parliament which has met only once, and no government. No government means no oil law, and hence no economic recovery derived from effective exploitation of Iraqi oil resources. And the longer Iraq functions without a strong central government, the more fractured and sectarian its security forces will become.
The Obama administration’s so-called strategy for Iraq lacks any discernable benchmarks for success. Void of any coherent definition of what “success” in Iraq might actually look like, the “withdrawal” of “combat troops” from Iraq can be viewed as little more than an ineffective attempt by a faltering president to improve his image—and that of his floundering party—on the eve of critical midterm elections. By continuing to place American troops in harm’s way in Iraq for no reason other than to prop up his domestic political image, Obama has compounded his mistakes in ways that allow his political viability to be questioned, tarnish his legacy and undermine America’s image at home and abroad. Rather than living up to the promise of his inaugural address to “set aside childish things,” President Obama has given us a glimpse of the future “through a glass, darkly.”
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