Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Appearing on NBC's Today Show this morning, US Vice President Joe Biden spoke with Matt Lauer and the issue of Iraq was raised at the end of the exchange when Lauer brought up the reports that US President Barack Obama would be announcing a draw down plan for some troops which would be done over a nineteen-month period:
Matt Lauer: Now you guys ran on a pledge to withdraw all US combat troops within 16 months. I'm not going to split hairs on the three months, I don't think anybody will, but I want to get these troop numbers down.  That would not be a withdrawal of all combat troops, would it?
Joe Biden: Look, the president's going to make an announcement on Friday -- I believe it's Friday -- or very soon on this very point, Matt.  And I'd rather have him speak to that and he'll speak to it in detail.  I think the American public will be -- understand exactly what we're doing and they will be pleased.
Matt Lauer: But are we going -- are you keeping a campaign promise or breaking a campaign promise?
Joe Biden: We're keeping a campaign committment.
The question was necessary because, as Ross Colvin (Reuters) notes, "When former President George W. Bush addressed the U.S. Congress in January 2008 he gave three pages of his speech to the Iraq war.  On Tuesday night his successor Barack Obama spoke a single sentence."  That was Barack's 52-minute speech last night, where he yet again made clear that the Iraq War isn't a topic he wants to be pinned down on despite the White House running to reporters all yesterday insisting Iraq would be part of the speech.  And his inattention to the topic is being registering.  Gordon Lubold and Jane Arraf (Christian Science Monitor) report, "One Iraqi official says the US and Iraq have not yet begun negotiations on the size of the residual force, adding that the Obama administration, currently focused on the American economy and ramping up operations in Afghanistan, was far less engaged with Iraq policy than the previous administration." Yesterday on CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, David Martin reported on the expected announcements regarding the draw down in Iraq, noting the speculation of insiders that Barack has elected to go with a 19-month timeline to withdraw "combat" troops from Iraq.

David Martin: But there would still be tens of thousands of troops in Iraq, perhaps as many as 50,000. They would be formed into so-called 'training and assistance' brigades to support the Iraqi army and police but they would still be capable of conducting combat operations and would be able to call in strikes from carrier or land-based aircraft.

And, yes, there would be. ABC News' Martha Raddatz was raising that issue back in January on PBS' Washington Week --  Ava and I noted it here:

Martha Raddatz: They laid out plans or started to lay out plans for the sixteen-month withdrawal, which President Obama says he wants, or the three-year withdrawal which is the Status Of Forces Agreement that the US has gone into with the Iraqis. And they talked about the risks with each of those. Ray Odierno, who is the general in charge of Iraqi forces, said, 'If you run out in sixteen months -- if you get out in sixteen months, there are risks. The security gains could go down the tube. If you wait three years, there are other risks because you can't get forces into Afghanistan as quickly.' So President Obama made no decisions. Again, he's going to meet with Joint Chiefs next week and probably will make a military decision. But also a key there is how many troops he leaves behind. That's something we're not talking about so much, he's not talking about so much. This residual force that could be 50, 60, 70,000 troops even if he withdraws --

Gwen Ifill: That's not exactly getting out of Iraq.

Martha Raddatz: Not exactly getting out completely.

This morning, Elisabeth Bumiller and Peter Baker (New York Times) reported that "defense officials said they did not know how many combat troops would stay behind in new missions as trainers, advisers or counterterrorism forces, at least some of whom would still be effectively in combat roles.  Military planners have said that in order to meet withdrawal deadlines, they would reassign some combat troops to training and support of the Iraqis, even though the troops would still be armed and go on combat patrols with their Iraqi counterparts."  Ann Scott Tyson and Anne E. Kornblut (Washington Post) note that the possible Friday announcement could take place in North Carolina (Barack will be visiting bases) and that the 19-months being tossed around is "three months later than promised during his campaign".  Depending on the news outlet, the estimates for the number of US troops currently on the ground in Iraq goes from approximately 142,000 (Ann Scott Tyson and Anne E. Kornblut as well as David Martin go with that figure) to 147,000 (especially popular with AFP and Scottish outlets).  (Yes, the Pentagon should have a running count to clear the issue up.)  Matt Lauer can decide he's not going to make an issue out of it -- as he demonstrated -- but he's a morning talk show host.  He's not been elected by anyone to speak on behalf of Americans.  He may be fine and dandy with three extra months (that will not even lead to a withdrawal) but let's be clear that three months could mean 44 dead Americans.  That is the number of US service members who have died in Iraq in the last three months (February isn't done yet so the number could rise).  Matt's fond of taking Jack along on interviews with Barack.  If Jack Lauer were over in Iraq, possibly the thought of 44 more deaths might be of interest to Matt.  You don't play the lotto with human lives.  So, yes, three months do matter. 
Military Families Speak Out's Elaine Brower (writing at World Can't Wait) has a son who is on his third tour of Iraq.  It matters. 
This is wrong.  The occupation is wrong, and those of us in the anti-war movement have been screaming this at the top of our lungs for the last 6 years, even before the first boots were on the ground in Iraq.  Even before the campaign of "shock and awe" even lit up the skies above innocent people.  What the hell are we thinking?            
Because it isn't Bush and Cheney, those loathsome characters we so love to hate that isn't doing this, it's OK?  That because it isn't Don Rumsfeld, that warmongering war criminal of a pig, it's OK?  Because the face of the occupation is now Barack Obama it's OK?   
Well I have a newsflash, it's NOT OK! We have in our infinite wisdom killed over 1 million Iraqis, displaced 2 million, destroyed hospitals, mosques, historical sites, homes, agricultural, stolen natural resources, orphaned children, made widows, killed entire families, sent over 4,200 soldiers to their deaths, severly wounded another 50,000, not including those who have PTSD and are committing suicide in record-breaking amounts, and we think we shouldn't be out in the streets demanding an end to this now?  Why is that?  
It also matter that Barack left an impression with the American people as to his 'plan' -- left that impression throughout his primary and general campaigns (which is what Matt was trying to get to on Today this morning).  Thomas E. Ricks (author of The Gamble) appeared on CBS' Washington Unplugged (click here for just the Ricks' segment) two Fridays ago and explained how Barack's 'promise' came across to Americans:

Thomas E. Ricks: I think there well indeed might be a clash by the end of the year. Obama's campaign promise to get American troops out of Iraq in sixteen months was a fatuous promise. When Americans heard it, what they heard was 'I will have no American troops dying in 16 months.' But it was a false phraseology: "combat troops." Well, newsflash for Obama, there is no such thing as non-combat troops. There's no pacifistic branch of the US Army. Anytime you have American troops out there, there are going to be some of them fighting and dying -- in counter-terror missions against al Qaeda, if you have American advisers with Iraqi troops, they're going to be getting into fights, some Americans will be dying. So I think we're there for a long time and as long as we're there -- unlike, say, the occupations of Korea, Japan and Germany, American troops will be engaged in combat. General Odierno says in the book he'd like to see 35,000 troops there as late as 2015. Well into . . . it will be Obama's second term. So I think that at the end of this year, you're going to see a conflict. Obama's going to want to see troop numbers coming down. Odierno, the other big O, as they call him in Iraq, is going to say, "Wait a minute, you're holding general elections here in December, in Iraq. That's exactly the wrong time to take troops out."
Barack deliberately misled the American people -- a large faction was willing to be misled and wanted to be.  Equally true is that, when pressed (he was rarely pressed), he would admit that he would not just stop withdrawing troops but reverse the direction (send more troops back in) depending upon 'the situation on the ground.'  That was his policy -- outlined best to the New York Times -- in the transcript of the interview, not the bad write up and it was covered at length in the November 2, 2007 snapshot -- and it can be boiled down as: "My concerns is if you draw down in response too rapidly, draw down in response to American political pressure, instead of as the Iraqis take over area, then there are other ares of Iraq that don't have a government presence that desperately need one, and rather than bring our forces home we should be moving into those areas.  When we have all of Iraq with a security presence, that is significant enough to make a difference, then we can start drawing down .  . . "  And that quote?  It's actually from Col Thomas Hammes (retired) and he explained the 'plan' on The NewsHour (PBS -- link has video and text) back in December 23, 2005.  No, there's not a bit of difference between Barack and Bush.   
And that was noticeable in November 2007.  Tom Hayden showed up making like Helen Morgan and singing "The Man I Love" over the write-up Michael Gordon and Jeff Zeleny did.  Then, when the transcript was pointed out to him, he was a bit more somber and had one of those You-listen-to-me-Barack moments.  (They fade quickly. And Billie Holiday also recorded a strong version of "The Man I Love," I just find it more apt to compare Tom-Tom to Helen Morgan.)  It was always there: The bases around -- but not in -- Iraq, the need for a 'residual presence' even after 'withdrawal,' admitting he'd send US troops back into Iraq in the midst of 'withdrawal' dickering over terms to maintain 'combat troops' had been removed -- in fact, let's provide an example of that:
Obama: But they aren't necessarily military missions.  

NYT: But how do you go back into Iraq without military forces?  

Obama: No, no, no, no, no. You conflated three things. The latter two that you are talked about are not military missions. Let's just be clear about that. 

NYT: An armed escort is not a military mission?  
Again, it was known.  From that day's snapshot:
Though Obama says he wants "to be clear," he refuses to answer that yes or no question and the interview is over."  
So let's be clear that the 'anti-war' Obama told the paper he would send troops back into Iraq. Furthermore, when asked if he would be willing to do that unilaterally, he attempts to beg off with, "We're talking too speculatively right now for me to answer." But this is his heavily pimped September (non)plan, dusted off again, with a shiny new binder. The story is that Barack Obama will NOT bring all US troops home. Even if the illegal war ended, Obama would still keep troops stationed in Iraq (although he'd really, really love it US forces could be stationed in Kuwait exclusively), he would still use them to train (the police0 and still use them to protect the US fortress/embassy and still use them to conduct counter-terrorism actions.  
If any of the above surprises you, you can scream at the media (and should) but it's also time for you to take a little accountability for your own willful ignorance.  Moving to some calling out the nonsense today and starting with Chris Floyd (via CounterPunch) who was one of the few calling it out when it mattered:
It would be surperflous in us to point out that a plan to "end" a war which includes the continued garrisoning of up to 50,000 troops in a hostile land is, in reality, a continuation of that war, not its cessation.  To produce such a plan and claim that it "ends" a war is the precise equivalent of, say, relieving one's bladder on the back of one's neighbor and telling him that the liquid is actually life-giving rain.  
But this is exactly what we are going to get from the Obama Administration in Iraq.  Word has now come from on high -- that is, from "senior administration officials" using "respectable newspapers" as a wholly uncritical conduit for government spin -- that President Obama has reached a grand compromise with his generals (or rather, the generals and Pentagon poobahs he has inherited -- and eagerly retained -- from George W. Bush) on a plan to withdraw some American troops from the country that the United States destroyed in an unprovoked war of aggression. 
Meanwhile John Walsh (Dissident Voice) notes how cozy and familiar with the right-wing Katrina vanden Heuvel (editor and publisher of The Nation magazine) and Leslie Cagan (pension drawer in retirement pretending to lead an 'anti-war' movement):
Vanden Heuvel's most recent piece in The Nation runs under a title in the form of a query, "Obama's War?" Whose war does she think it is anyway? Even the mainstream media calls it Obama's war -- sans question mark. Her piece ran shortly after Obama ordered 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan and almost a month after both Afghan and Pakistani civilians were first bombed at Obama's orders. She concludes her piece, after citing the deployment of additional troops, "Up to this point the Afghan war belonged to George W. Bush, but Obama's escalation threatens to make it his own. There's still time to change direction. President Obama don't make this your war"! (Emphasis mine. If escalation of the AfPak war (the war on Afghanistan and Pakistan) only "threatens" to make the war Obama's, what will it take to give him ownership?)
Having supported Obama during the election when he was very clear about his coming Crusade in Afghanistan and having made no demands in exchange for their support, the liberals are now reduced, their leverage gone, to begging for a change in course. Pity, pathos, disgust or a sense of betrayal -- it is hard to know what to feel when one encounters this stuff.  
Similarly Cagan's United for Peace and Justice, dominated by the "Progressive" Democrats of America ("P"DA) and the "Communist" Party of the U.S.A ("C"PUSA) -- more or less the same thing, not because "P"DA is radical but because the "C"PUSA is not -- has been all too silent on Obama's AfPak War. As a result there have been discordant rumblings among the rank and file about UFPJ's failure to call a national demonstration against the wars flaring from Iraq to Pakistan and refusal to join the only one called, that by ANSWER (Act Now To Stop War and End Racism) for March 21.  
The March 21st action around the corner and organizations participating include The National Assembly to End the Wars, the ANSWER coalition, World Can't Wait and Iraq Veterans Against the War. Here's IVAW's announcement of the March action:   

IVAW's Afghanistan Resolution and National Mobilization March 21stAs an organization of service men and women who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, stateside, and around the world, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War have seen the impact that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have had on the people of these occupied countries and our fellow service members and veterans, as well as the cost of the wars at home and abroad. In recognition that our struggle to withdraw troops from Iraq and demand reparations for the Iraqi people is only part of the struggle to right the wrongs being committed in our name, Iraq Veterans Against the War has voted to adopt an official resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and reparations for the Afghan people. (To read the full resolution, click here.)                                
To that end, Iraq Veterans Against the War will be joining a national coalition which is being mobilized to march on the Pentagon, March 21st, to demand the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan and further our mission and goals in solidarity with the national anti-war movement. This demonstration will be the first opportunity to show President Obama and the new administration that our struggle was not only against the Bush administration - and that we will not sit around and hope that troops are removed under his rule, but that we will demand they be removed immediately.For more information on the March 21st March on the Pentagon, and additional events being organized in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Orlando, to include transportation, meetings, and how you can get involved, please visit: or
Meanwhile Michael Collins (Dissident Voice) asks why aren't the Iraqi people consulted on this issue: "Who asked the Iraqi people about the withdrawal schedule?  As the self-proclaimed proponents for democracy and human rights, shouldn't the United States inquire as to the will of the people before initiating any policy changes? . . . Relying on the ever-shifting positions of a very unpopular Iraqi government is useless in assessing the will of the Iraqi people.  The only way to determine their will is through a national election."