US President Barack Obama announced Friday that the remaining US troops in Iraq would be withdrawn from the country before the end of December, following the collapse of talks with the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki on extending the US presence into 2012.
Obama, in a statement delivered on short notice at a hastily called press appearance, portrayed the decision as the realization of a promise from the 2008 election campaign to end the war in Iraq. The pretense of fidelity to a campaign promise is ludicrous, given that the Obama administration has been striving for most of this year to overturn the December 31, 2011 deadline for a full US withdrawal, negotiated by the Bush administration in 2008.
US political and military officials have shuttled in and out of Iraq for months seeking to browbeat the Maliki government into a deal that would keep US troops in Iraq into 2012 and beyond. They proposed first to keep tens of thousands, then 18,000, then 5,000, then 3,000, but ultimately no deal could be finalized before the deadline.
Obama extended the war for nearly three years after taking office, and essentially carried out the policy adopted by the Bush administration before its departure.
The lack of advance notice of Obama's White House announcement of the supposed end of the nearly nine-year war and the curious timing of the announcement -- shortly before 1 PM on a Friday afternoon -- suggest an attempt to keep the statement low-key and direct it largely to an Iraqi audience.
Obama's announcement was broadcast live in Iraq at about 8 PM local time. This indicates that the statement, claiming an end to the US occupation and the beginning of a new relationship between "sovereign" and "equal" partners, was aimed at least in part at placating mass hostility in Iraq to the US troop presence, while providing Iraqi parliamentarians and politicians with political cover to negotiate some new deal to return US troops to the country.
The Iraqi defense minister followed Obama's statement with one of his own declaring the need for a continued US troop presence, ostensibly to train Iraqi forces.
Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki is to visit Washington in December for further talks, and Obama held out the possibility of a future agreement to station US troops in Iraq in the guise of training Iraqi soldiers in the use of weapons systems the Iraqi government is buying from American military contractors.
There is no disguising, however, the debacle for the foreign policy of American imperialism. After nine years of warfare, with 4,400 US troops killed, tens of thousands wounded, and trillions of dollars squandered, the United States will lose its privileged access to bases on Iraqi soil as well as the legal immunity enjoyed by US soldiers.
The announcement produced bitter recriminations from Republican presidential candidates and representatives of the core of neoconservative pundits and strategists who played a central role in the Bush administration's drive to war in Iraq.
Frederick Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, a leading adviser to General David Petraeus in the 2008 "surge" of US troops into Iraq, condemned the action as empowering the regime in neighboring Iran. "I don't see how you can talk about containing Iran when you leave Iraq to its own devices in such a way that it has no ability to protect itself," he told the Wall Street Journal.
Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney denounced the decision, declaring, "President Obama's astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women."
Congresswoman Michele Bachmann complained that the United States was being "kicked out" of Iraq "by the very people we liberated." She complained, "Once we're finished in Iraq, we'll have more troops in Honduras than we'll be leaving behind in Iraq."
Significantly, however, the congressional Republican leadership was far more cautious in its response. House Speaker John Boehner claimed that the war in Iraq was a military victory won by American troops "under the strategy developed and implemented by our generals, and the leadership of both President Bush and President Obama."
Romney, his chief rival Texas Governor Rick Perry, and several other Republican presidential candidates suggested that in taking the action, Obama was caving in to antiwar public opinion in the United States. "President Obama is putting political expediency ahead of sound military and security judgment," Perry said, while Romney chimed in that he wanted to know what the US military advice to Obama had been--ignoring the inconvenient fact that it was political opposition within Iraq, not in the United States, that blocked an agreement.
In the face of overwhelming popular hostility to a continued American occupation, not one of the parties represented in the Iraqi parliament was willing to support an agreement that declared that US soldiers could not be held accountable under Iraqi law for crimes committed against Iraqi citizens.