by Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis
Since coming to Washington, Barack Obama has won a Nobel Prize for Peace, but he hasn't been much of a peacemaker. Instead, he has doubled down on his predecessor's wars while launching blatantly illegal ones of his own. But, as his supporters would be quick to point out, at least he's standing by his pledge to bring the troops home from Iraq.
Obama's statement was a welcome reaffirmation of what he promised on the campaign trail. "If we have not gotten our troops out by the time I am President, it is the first thing I will do," he thundered in the fall of 2007. "I will get our troops home. We will bring an end to this war. You can take that to the bank."
But don't count on cashing that check. The Washington Post brings the unsurprising news that Iraqi leaders have agreed to begin talks with the U.S. on allowing the foreign military occupation of their country to continue beyond this year -- re-branded, naturally, as a mission of "training" and "support." The move comes after an increasingly public campaign by top White House and military officials to pressure Iraqi leaders into tearing up the Status of Forces Agreement they signed with the Bush administration, which mandates the removal of all foreign troops by the end of 2011.
And as is to be expected when one maintains the most powerful -- and expensive -- military in world history, there are strong institutional pressures within the Pentagon for maintaining the status quo. Peace may be good for children and other living things, but it's boring for generals -- especially politically ambitious ones -- and bad for bomb manufacturers.
The longer U.S. troops stay in Iraq and ensure that country's fidelity to U.S. policy, the more weapons the Iraqi government will buy from American companies. Indeed, Prime Minister Maliki just announced that Iraq would buy 38 F-16 fighters, taking billions of dollars away from food and shelter for poor Iraqis while boosting Lockheed Martin's war chest. Add in the fact that Iraq is situated right next to Iran, the one oil-rich country in the region opposed to U.S. hegemony, and you've got a good recipe for indefinite occupation.
Of course, if Obama was as committed to withdrawing "all troops from Iraq" as he claims, all he would need to do is stick by the Bush-era agreement for troops to leave by December 31. Doing so would not only provide him cover from claims he is surrendering to the terrorists -- hey, a Republican negotiated the deal -- but it would fulfill a key campaign pledge and help soothe liberal anger over his escalation of Afghanistan and his illegal war in Libya.
Obama has no plans for a full withdrawal, though, as his hand-picked appointees make clear. You can almost hear him thinking: What are liberals going to do, vote Republican?
Echoing the top military brass, former Defense Secretary Robert Gates first noted earlier this year supposed Iraqi "interest in having a continuing presence" in Iraq. His successor, Leon Panetta, then told senators during his June confirmation hearing that he had "every confidence" the Iraqi government would ask for such a U.S. presence beyond 2011.
Like clockwork, Iraqi leaders are set to ask for just that, with The Washington Post reporting that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and his allies have decided any request to extend the U.S. occupation will "not require signing a new accord." That means no messy parliamentary battles or referendums, where the popular anti-American sentiment would surface.
The Obama administration is prepared to keep about 10,000 troops in Iraq, and their "non-combat" tasks could include training, air defense, intelligence, reconnaissance and joint counter-terrorism missions. These are the same sort of operations that have left at least 56 U.S. soldiers dead since Obama announced the end of U.S. combat operations last August.