What we didn't hear from Obama on Iraq
Obama's declared 'end of war in Iraq' obscures the legacy it will leave behind: death squads in Iraq, US troops in civilian guise and an ongoing economic and social crisis in Iraq and the US.
President Obama’s speech on the partial draw-down of U.S. troops in Iraq had one surprising moment. He admitted that the Iraq War as a “trillion dollar” war. That’s huge. I’m pretty sure he’s the first U.S. official to acknowledge that horrifying reality.
But what he left out was more significant. Just on the cost of war, while acknowledging the overall cost, and speaking separately about job loss and the economic crisis in the U.S., he didn’t make the crucial link between the two. He didn’t say, for instance, that the cost of keeping 50,000 troops in Iraq another year and a half, more than $12 billion, could instead pay for 240,000 new green union jobs back home – and still have funds left over to begin paying for real reconstruction and reparations in Iraq.
What else didn’t we hear? We didn’t hear that the 50,000 troops in Iraq now ARE still combat troops — even if the Pentagon has “re-missioned” them for training and assistance. We heard about the 4th Stryker Brigade leaving Iraq, but not about the 3,000 new combat troops from Fort Hood in Texas, from the Third Armored Cavalry — combat troops — who just deployed TO Iraq 10 days ago.
We didn’t hear about the 4,500 Special Forces among them. That group has two jobs: continuing their “counter-terrorism” operations, which means running around the country with a “capture or kill” list, authorizing those U.S. soldiers to do just that to anyone named on the list. Who knows what corruption, settling of old scores, or other factors led to some of those names? Their second job is to train their Iraqi counterparts, the Iraqi Special Operations Force, which seems to be becoming an El Salvador-style death squad. It’s accountable only to Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, not to the Iraqi government as a whole. The U.S. officer who set it up, Lt. Col. Roger Carstens, laughed while telling the Nation’s Shane Bauer that “all these guys want to do is go out and kill bad guys all day.” The U.S. head of the training unit, Brig. General Simeon Trombitas, who said he was “very proud of what was done in El Salvador,” also announced that the U.S. training in places like El Salvador and Colombia (he served in both) was “extremely transferable” to Iraq.
We didn’t hear much about that.
And, at the end of the day, we didn’t hear much about the 50,000 troops remaining. We didn’t hear about how the State Department is bringing in 7,000 armed security contractors, planes, surveillance drones, armored vehicles, and a “ready reaction” force of its own, to protect the 5,000 diplomats anticipated in the giant (Vatican City-sized) new embassy after the December 31, 2011 deadline for all U.S. troops and all of the Pentagon’s military contractors to leave Iraq. Thus instead of replacing U.S. power with independent and sovereign Iraqi power, the real transition underway is from the Pentagon to the State Department. Instead of replacing military force with diplomacy, the U.S. is just militarizing U.S. diplomacy.
And one more thing we didn’t hear. We didn’t hear Obama remind us of what he once understood so clearly: that Iraq is a “stupid war.” Instead, we heard a near-reiteration of George Bush. The war never was about “Iraqi Freedom.” But it sure doesn’t sound like a “New Dawn” either.
You can also listen to me debate the subject with Ret. General James Dubik and Washington Post editor Rajiv Chandrasekaran on The Diane Rehm Show. And before the speech I was on Al-Jazeera English.