Friday, October 21, 2011

Leaving Iraq

It's a good sign that President Obama, after proudly announcing yet another kill of a Bad Enemy yesterday (Muammar Qaddafi), thinks it beneficial to himself to stress his withdrawal of American troops from Iraq. The Nobel Peace Prize winner needs to advertise his peace credentials:

As Aljazeera English reports, the withdrawal was actually not what the Obama Administration had tried to negotiate. They wanted to keep military "trainers" there. The pro-Iranian Iraqi government refused to agree to American conditions that US troops there would be immune from prosecution under Iraqi law (Rosiland Jordan on Obama's withdrawal announcement 10/21/2011):

There was never any consensus after the end of the Vietnam War of what the "lessons of Vietnam" were. And there won't be one after the Iraq War, which for the US will officially end this year, on the schedule actually negotiated by the Cheney-Bush Administration, after nearly eight full years of war. Albeit a notably lower level of violence as American forces withdrew, two factors which are closely correlated.

But hopefully the democratic and peace movements will be able to make a major impression on how the general public in the US understands the Iraq War in retrospect. Juan Cole writes more in This is the Way the Iraq War Ends, with Bangs and Whimpers Informed Comment 10/16/2011 about the failure of the Administration's negotiations to extend the American presence in Iraq. This is an intriguing observation on his part:

It turns out that the day on which the US military lost Iraq once and for all was September 16, 2007, when Blackwater private security guards, all decorated ex-military, opened fire in Nisoor Square under the mistaken impression that they were under attack by the ordinary civilian motorists there. 17 were killed, dozens wounded, and the incident became a cause celebre for Iraqis eager to see an end to a foreign military presence in their country. That the US courts declined to punish the perpetrators of the massacre was a nail in the coffin for extraterritoriality. The Iraqis wouldn’t grant it after all that.
It turns out that those Iraqi Muslims who don't put the same high value on human life as good Christian Americans really didn't like it that Americans just thought they could gun down people at will.

Juan is much better positioned than I to judge how much of a turning point that was. But obviously, it was far from an isolated incident. Tom Friedman may have had orgasms over American soldiers busting down doors on houses late and night and pointing their cool techie weapons at A-rabs. But Iraqis didn't like that very much, it appears. The Nisoor Square massacre no doubt took on symbolic as well as immediate importance.

And, in any case, Iraq's closest ally now is Iran, and Iran and the US aren't on very good terms right now. Especially with the Mr. Bean assassination plot and all.

Cole draws an historical verdict on the Iraq War:

The US will leave behind a failed state. A determined guerrilla insurgency based in the Sunni Arab community (though not necessarily widely supported by the latter) continues to hit Baghdad, as it did on Wednesday in a series of attacks that targeted police and killed 25. ...

And so that is the way the war ends. No great demonstrations in the US against it in its twilight. It is ending almost by default, because the Iraqi parliament can seldom get real legislation done, the US is forced to adhere to the 2008 SOFA. In the background, the bombs are still going off and the country is riven by ethnic disputes. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been killed. The US will receive no benefit from its illegal war of aggression, no permanent bases, no bulwark against Iran, no new Arab friend to Israel, no $14 a barrel petroleum – all thing things Washington had dreamed of. Dreams that turned out to be flimsy and unsubstantial and tragic. [my emphasis]
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