In fact, Congress has an ideal excuse at the moment to end the war we've been electing it to end for years now. The U.N. authorization of the occupation expires on December 31st. Bush has negotiated a treaty with Iraq to authorize three more years of war. In Iraq, the parliament failed to approve the treaty with the two-thirds majority required by the Iraqi Constitution, but did pass it with a slim and corrupt majority against the overwhelming will of the Iraqi people. The result may be a rise in violence. And the approval was temporary and conditional. The Iraqi people will be allowed to reject the treaty in a public referendum in June. If they do, and if all parties take the language of the treaty seriously, the treaty will remain valid for 12 months from that date. The other possibility is that the treaty will be immediately canceled and we'll bring everyone home for the Fourth of July.
Well, what about that incoming president? Military recruiters are already having some success in talking kids into signing up by claiming that the election of Obama means nobody else will be sent to Iraq. Many months of television and campaign propaganda convinced people that Obama would quickly and decisively end the war. People imagined they were voting against Bush, Cheney, and the occupation of Iraq, and for transformational change. Obama's website is at change.gov. In reality, of course, Obama's few specific policy commitments were for indiscernible change more than transformational. Obama promised to enlarge the world's largest ever military, to always be open to any military option including illegal aggressive strikes, and to escalate the occupation of Afghanistan. Before we voted for him he chose Joe Biden as his running mate, professed (as did John McCain) his intention to appoint Robert Gates as Secretary of "Defense," and proposed making Colin Powell part of his administration and Rahm Emanuel his chief of staff. We knew all of that.
But we also knew that Obama was promising, as he still is promising, to remove "1 to 2" brigades from Iraq every month, thereby removing them all in 16 months, by May 20, 2010, or -- as Obama's website puts it -- "the summer of 2010." The catch is that by "all" Obama has always said he meant all of the "combat troops." So, at some point over the course of his first 16 months in office, Obama would have to explain what a non-combat troop was, and those troops would be left as a "residual force … to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions against al Qaeda in Iraq [without combat!] and protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel [and] … to train and support the Iraqi security forces as long as Iraqi leaders move toward political reconciliation and away from sectarianism."
Now, there is nothing in the new unconstitutional and possibly short-lived treaty to prevent Obama from sticking to his plan to withdraw most of the troops in 16 months. But there is language that he could claim weighed against that if he wanted to. And he has publicly supported the treaty. It reads, in part:
We can't very well deny requested assistance, can we? Of course we can, legally, morally, and practically, but that doesn't mean Obama or Congress will do so in the absence of intense pressure from us. The treaty includes this key section:
"The United States recognizes the sovereign right of the Government of Iraq to request the departure of the United States Forces from Iraq at any time. The Government of Iraq recognizes the sovereign right of the United States to withdraw the United States Forces from Iraq at any time."
There is, however, something in the treaty -- or the so-called Status of Forces Agreement -- that would (if it survives and is honored and is not extended, etc.) prevent Obama from leaving his "residual force" in Iraq beyond the end of 2011. This treaty is not actually called a Status of Forces Agreement, but rather an "Agreement Between the United States and the Republic of Iraq on the Withdrawal of the United States Forces from Iraq…." That's the title of the thing, and it does what Bush swore he would never do: it sets a firm date for complete withdrawal:
"All the United States Forces shall withdraw from all Iraqi territory no later than December 31, 2011."
Nothing in the treaty would prevent an earlier withdrawal. All that would be needed to extend the occupation beyond the firm withdrawal date would be for the United States of America to violate a treaty. Aside from the role treaty violation played in the genocide of the native Americans, we violated the U.N. Charter when we first invaded Iraq, and we tossed out the Geneva Conventions and several other treaties when the Iraqis objected to the occupation.
The withdrawal agreement creates some other factors that may impact the question of withdrawal, and how those other sections of the agreement are enforced or violated may provide some indication of how much teeth the withdrawal clause has. U.S. forces are required to contract with Iraqi suppliers of materials and services "when their bids are competitive and constitute best value." What are the chances of that? Will staff changes at the Pentagon make such a thing imaginable? U.S. contractors and mercenaries are now subject to Iraqi law. They may even be charged (it's not clear) with crimes they have committed in the past. And U.S. troops are subject to Iraqi law if they are off-base and fail to claim to be on duty. Clearly the bigger concern here is the fate of criminal mercenaries, but that concern could be decisive if the mercenary companies pull out and the Pentagon decides it can't do without them. The United States is banned from detaining or arresting Iraqis and from searching Iraqi houses or other buildings except as approved by the Iraqi government, and those now detained by the United States will be arrested by Iraq or freed. In addition, U.S. "combat forces" must withdraw from all Iraqi cities, villages, and localities (and remain inside their bases outside of town) by June 30, 2009, the same date by which Iraqis will vote on the treaty.
Obama always hedged his campaign promise with the intention to allow his military commanders to change his plans. This makes it rather unfortunate that Obama appears likely to keep the same commanders in place in Iraq and at the top of the Pentagon, people who have already opposed his plan. Obama and some of his loyal supporters cheer for his appointees when they approve of them but claim that appointees make absolutely no difference in policy when they disapprove of them. This would be funny were it not for the fact that they rightly disapprove of almost all of them.
For six months or so, the Obama vs. Clinton primary contest was one of the top stories in the news. Obama won because of his limited and inconsistent opposition to the war and Clinton's refusal to even express regret for having voted to let Bush invade. Obama also opposed telecom immunity while Clinton supported it. After he'd won, they both voted counter to their statements. He's now making her his Secretary of State (if the Senate unconstitutionally confirms one of its own to take a position the salary for which was raised during her current term), and the bulk of Obama's top staff and cabinet are going to be people who worked for her husband.