Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

The End of the Iraq Combat Mission?

While White House is trying to reassure its anti-war base that the U.S. military role in Iraq is coming to an end, there are indications that it intends to renegotiate its agreement with Baghdad to keep combat troops there into 2011.

Print Friendly

Inter Press Service

When the Barack Obama administration unveiled its plan last week for an improvised State Department-controlled army of contractors to replace all U.S. combat troops in Iraq by the end of 2011, critics associated with the U.S. command attacked the transition plan, insisting that the United States must continue to assume that U.S. combat forces should and can remain in Iraq indefinitely.

But the differences between the administration and its critics over the issue of a long-term U.S. presence may be more apparent than real.

All indications are that the administration expects to renegotiate the security agreement with the Iraqi government to allow a post-2011 combat presence of up to 10,000 troops, once a new government is formed in Baghdad.

But Obama, fearing a backlash from anti-war voters in the Democratic Party, who have already become disenchanted with him over Afghanistan, is trying to play down that possibility. Instead, the White House is trying to reassure its anti-war base that the U.S. military role in Iraq is coming to an end.

An unnamed administration official who favours a longer-term presence in Iraq suggested to New York Times correspondent Michael Gordon last week that the administration's refusal to openly refer to plans for such a U.S. combat force in Iraq beyond 2011 hinges on its concern about the coming Congressional elections and wariness about the continuing Iraqi negotiations on a new government.

Vice-President Joe Biden said in an address prepared for delivery Monday that it would take a "complete failure" of Iraqi security forces to prompt the United States to resume combat.

Obama referred to what he called "a transitional force" in his speech on Aug. 2, pledging that it would remain "until we remove all our troops from Iraq by the end of the next year".

He also declared an end to the U.S. "combat mission" in Iraq as of Aug. 31. But an official acknowledged told IPS that combat would continue and would not necessarily be confined to defending against attacks on U.S. personnel.

The administration decided on the transition from military to civilian responsibility for security at an interagency meeting the week of Jul. 19. It made the broad outlines of the plan public at an Aug. 16 State Department news briefing and another briefing the following day, even though crucial details had not been worked out.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence for Middle Eastern Affairs Colin Kahl and Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Michael Corbin presented the administration plan for what they called a "transition from a military to civilian relationship" with Iraq.

The plan involves replacing the official U.S. military presence in Iraq with a much smaller State Department-run force of private security contractors. Press reports have indicated that the force will number several thousand, and that it is seeking 29 helicopters, 60 IED-proof personnel carriers and a fleet of 1,320 armored cars.

The contractor force would also operate radars so it can call in airstrikes and fly reconnaissance drones, according to the New York Times Aug. 21.

Kahl argued that the transition is justified by security trends in Iraq. He said al Qaeda is "weaker than it's ever been", that Moqtada al Sadr's Mahdi Army has been "largely disbanded", and that there is no strategic threat to the regime.

That provoked predictable criticism from those whose careers have become linked to the fate of the U.S. military in Iraq and who continue to view the United States as having enormous power to decide the fate of the country.

Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution, a frequent visitor to Iraq at the invitation of Gen. David Petraeus and his successor Gen. Ray Odierno, dismissed the idea of giving the former U.S. military role in Iraq to the State Department and Kahl's assessment of security trends as far too optimistic.

Some officials were talking "as if we're on the five-yard line," Pollack told the Christian Science Monitor. "We're on more like the 40 – and it's probably our 40."

Pollack argued that the U.S. has great influence in Iraq, which it must use for "persuading" Iraqi leaders to do various things. If the U.S. troop presence ends in 2011, he argued, that U.S. power would suffer.

Other variants of that argument were offered by Stephen Biddle of the Council on Foreign Relations and Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution, both of whom have been frequent guests of the U.S. command in Iraq and have generally hewed to the military view of Iraq policy.

Former ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, who shared the media spotlight and adulation of Congress with Petraeus in 2007- 2009 before retiring from the Foreign Service, opined that the military needs to keep enough presence in Iraq to encourage Iraq's generals to stay out of politics.

The real position of the administration over the issue is not much different from that of its critics, however. In answer to a question after a briefing Aug.17, Kahl said, "We're not going to abandon them. We're in this for the long term."

Then Kahl observed, "Iraq is not going to need tens of thousands of [American] forces." That is consistent with the figure of 5,000 to 10,000 being called for by the military, according to the administration official quoted in New York Times Aug. 18.

At another point, Kahl said, "We'll just have to see what the Iraqi government will do," adding that the "vast majority of political actors in Iraq want a long-term partnership with the United States."

It is been generally assumed among U.S. officers and diplomats and the Iraqi officials with whom they talk that once a new Iraqi government is agreed on, it will begin talks on a longer-term U.S. troop presence, as former National Security Council official Brett H. McGurk told the New York Times last month.

At a Pentagon press conference Feb. 22, Gen. Odierno, U.S. overall commander in Iraq, referred to the purchase by the Iraqi government of "significant amounts of military material from the United States," including M1A1 tanks and helicopters.

Odierno said he expected it would require a "small contingent" to "train and advise" the Iraqis. That formula implicitly anticipated a continuation of the U.S. combat presence in the guise of "advisory and assistance" units.

But the administration apparently made it clear to Odierno and others that they were not to contradict the administration's public posture that U.S. troops were being withdrawn by the end of 2011.

During the interagency meeting that adopted the Obama administration transition plan, Odierno told reporters at a breakfast meeting Jul. 21 he expected U.S. troops to be down to zero by the end of 2011.

Meanwhile, the Nouri al-Maliki government is not admitting publicly that it would consider such an extension of the U.S. troop presence. The spokesman for al-Maliki said Aug. 12 there are alternatives to keeping U.S. troops in the country, such as signing "non-aggression and non- interference pacts" with neighbours.

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist specialising in U.S. national security policy. The paperback edition of his latest book, Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam, was published in 2006.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Although sometimes characterized as a Republican “maverick” for his bipartisan forays into domestic policy, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is one of the Senate’s more vocal hawks.


Former CIA director Michael Hayden, a stalwart advocate of the Bush-era policies on torture and warrantless wiretapping, has been a vocal critic of Donald Trump


The former GOP presidential candidate and Speaker of the House has been a vociferous proponent of the idea that the America faces an existential threat from “Islamofascists.”


David Albright is the founder of the Institute for Science and International Security, a non-proliferation think tank whose influential analyses of nuclear proliferation issues in the Middle East have been the source of intense disagreement and debate.


A right-wing Christian and governor of Kansas, Brownback previously served in the U.S. Senate, where he gained a reputation as a leading social conservative as well as an outspoken “pro-Israel” hawk on U.S. Middle East policy.


Steve Forbes, head of the Forbes magazine empire, is an active supporter of a number of militarist policy organizations that have pushed for aggressive U.S. foreign policies.


Stephen Hadley, an Iraq War hawk and former national security adviser to President George W. Bush, now chairs the U.S. Institute for Peace.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

The Trump administration appears to have been surprised by this breach among its friends in the critical Gulf strategic area. But it is difficult to envision an effective U.S. role in rebuilding this Humpty-Dumpty.


Print Friendly

A recent vote in the European Parliament shows how President Trump’s relentless hostility to Iran is likely to isolate Washington more than Tehran.


Print Friendly

The head of the Institute for Science and International Security—aka “the Good ISIS”—recently demonstrated again his penchant for using sloppy analysis as a basis for politically explosive charges about Iran, in this case using a faulty translation from Persian to misleadingly question whether Tehran is “mass producing advanced gas centrifuges.”


Print Friendly

Trump has exhibited a general preference for authoritarians over democrats, and that preference already has had impact on his foreign policy. Such an inclination has no more to do with realism than does a general preference for democrats over authoritarians.


Print Friendly

The President went to the region as a deal maker and a salesman for American weapon manufacturing. He talked about Islam, terrorism, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without the benefit of expert advice in any of these areas. After great showmanship in Riyadh, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, he and his family left the region without much to show for or to benefit the people of that war-torn region.


Print Friendly

Although the Comey memo scandal may well turn out to be what brings Trump down, this breach of trust may have had more lasting effect than any of Trump’s other numerous misadventures. It was an unprecedented betrayal of Israel’s confidence. Ironically, Trump has now done what even Barack Obama’s biggest detractors never accused him of: seriously compromised Israel’s security relationship with the United States.


Print Friendly

Congress and the public acquiesce in another military intervention or a sharp escalation of one of the U.S. wars already under way, perhaps it’s time to finally consider the true costs of war, American-style — in lives lost, dollars spent, and opportunities squandered. It’s a reasonable bet that never in history has a society spent more on war and gotten less bang for its copious bucks.


RightWeb
share