Why We're Withdrawing From Iraq

Monday, October 24, 2011

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on The Brian Lehrer ShowFred Kaplan writer of the War Stories column for Slate and author of 1959: the Year Everything Changed, talked about the news that the Obama administration will pull troops out of Iraq by the end of the year.

'They just don't want us there anymore'

The United States has meant to withdraw its troops from Iraq by December 31st, 2011, for years. What was surprising about President Obama's announcement last week was that we're really going to keep that promise.

The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) signed in 2008 by President George W. Bush set the date, but popular perception among insiders and observers was that this deadline was given with a wink: It could and probably would get pushed back, and when or if the day finally came it probably wouldn't see the complete withdrawal of troops.

Fred Kaplan said that those decisions were ultimately up to Iraqis, not Americans. That we're leaving now is as much a sign of their will as it is ours.

[SOFA] says this may be revised, cancelled, and if it is it has to be cancelled by the Iraqi parliament...A majority of the Iraqi parliament and the Iraqi people just don't want us there anymore.

Twiddling their thumbs

Kaplan noted that there haven't been any U.S. combat forces in Iraqi cities, villages, or towns for about a year and a half, and that there haven't been combat brigades anywhere in the country for six months. The prolonged absence of combat personnel bolsters the argument for leaving. So does a glowing statistical milestone.

About 95 percent of American troops there are waiting to leave. They're twiddling their thumbs; there isn't much to do. Right now we have the lowest number of U.S. and Iraqi civilian fatalities and of armed attacks in Iraq—all three of those statistics—since the war began.

Unrealistic critiques

Republicans are lining up with gripes about the withdrawal: We should be there longer; this is being done for political reasons, not strategic ones; we should ensure troop "immunity" first. Michelle Bachmann argues that we should get our money back from the Iraqis.

Kaplan flatly rejected all of these complaints. Negotiators for the U.S. dating back to the Bush administration have not been able to find reasons or resources to stay, and that's that.

The kinds of premises you'd have to accept for these critiques...Let's not even talk about Bachmann, this idiocy of wanting Iraqis to pay us back. We've spent a lot of money compensating Iraqis for damage that we've done.

Are we really leaving?

The kinds of numbers for a continued presence initially sought by negotiators was somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 troops. Kaplan said the real number is considerably lower.

Those hoping for the U.S. military's complete and total absence from Iraq will be disappointed; the U.S. has a military presence in almost every country, at least for embassy security, and Iraq will be no different. There will also be a small transitional force that's not responsible for security. Kaplan explained:

There's still gonna be trainers, logistics people...It's not like we're going to be gone, but we're not going to be fighting there. There will be about 3,000 people, mainly contractors to protect embassy officials and remaining facilities, but that's fairly standard stuff.

Iraq's legacy

How will history record the legacy of this near-decade-long war? Kaplan told Brian Lehrer to ask him in 30 years.

But maybe we should be looking to the past, not the future. In a way, the war's legacy had been decided before it began, at least by the people Kaplan talked to at the time.

I know plenty of military people who thought this was a vast strategic error from the beginning, and that it diverted forces from Afghanistan where we really could have ended it right away.


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Comments [14]

Harrison Bergeron from NYC

The fact is: there was never any reason to invade Iraq.

My main concern about leaving now is demonstrated by the recent example of our military adventure in southeast Asia. After US troops withdrew from Viet Nam, maybe 2,000,000 people died in the confusion that followed.

So we invaded Iraq, busted up the existing social structure and influenced them to build an American-style capitalist democracy -- in spite of the obvious fact that their own civilization has been moving in other directions for the past five thousand years. This is a disturbing example of our own shallow collective ego, (God makes man in His own image).

So can any clear thinking person have any expectation that there will be social stability there in the foreseeable future?

Oct. 25 2011 12:49 PM
tom from LI

To the caller who said approx 15K troops is still an occupying force...

Not when you consider that approx. half of that number would be support personnel...

The future problems will likely be created by Contractors. Mercs...Xe, etc, companies billing the US Govt millions for little to show - but likely more Iraqi animosity.

Oct. 24 2011 06:34 PM
rose-ellen from Jackson hts.

Though we toppled the regime of Saddam Hussein and killed and displaced millions of iraqis ,we lost the war. That we have weappns that enable us to kill any and everyone we want is no victory. And as the toppling of dictators without our invasions in egypt, libya and tunisia show-it probably would have happened in iraq too.
We lost because the iraqi government listened to their people-not to our demands that our troops be immune to prosecution. As Bob Dylan says-sometimes we push too far. When the media and right wing politicians were all over the media publicaly saying our troops should have the right to terrorize the iraqis-even murder them-and should not be prosecuted for crimes-then the iraqi government had to push back. The iraqis are men[and wome ,not mice and when you make a point to be in their face demanding your right to tyranize other people then you are asserting standard colonial tyranical values.[anyone we choose to deprive of their inherent human right should have no recourse to justice] .This is racist nazism -pure and simple.The iraqi people understood that and their government booted us out. And our 50 billion dollar plus vatican city size embassy,our version of the "trriumphalist mosque", started by the right wing Bush-rallied the iraqis against our presence there. That structure blatentely expressed our intent to be there and to be there for a long time -a base from which we could control them and the whole mid east.Again in our desire to not only dominate but to make it clear we were dominating them-we pushed too far. Kudos for the iraqi government for acting like men-not mice and booting us out. Hence the low keyed response by the right wing media about this startling decision to pull all troops out by christmas.
When you can't get them to meet our conditions and when you meet their demands that we leave, then they won,we lost. As well it should be. if only one day we could see americans tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity for invading and occupying iraq[and crimes committed while there]-that would be real justice.Maybe one day!For now I only hope they go the step further and dismanrtle that vatican cit size US embassy! Kudos for the iraqi government not heeling to our tyranical demands and booting us out. Kudos to the iraqi people for asserting that they are men ,not mice.
Not surprising the american right wingers are won't own up to what happened but turn the subject to what will iran do nowand how obasma messed up .Obama didn't mess up-Bush, building that truimphalist embassy and the right wing publicaly demanding they heel to our tyrany over them[ expressing their nazi racist contempt for them] messed up.

Oct. 24 2011 12:58 PM
The Truth from Becky

How can anyone be opposed to bringing the troops home? Especially from a country that does not want us there?!!

Oct. 24 2011 11:33 AM
Soldier's Father from Westchester

We officially invaded to restore (install?) democracy in Iraq. Now that new democracy is asking us to leave -- and we are complying. This is real "American Exceptionalism", not the vain "We're Number 1", "USA, USA" chest-thumping and chanting by politicians.

Oct. 24 2011 11:13 AM

You talk about Iraq in a very abstract manner.
The occupation is NOT over. The US has totally destroyed this country and for WHAT ???? You need to examine the toll of this war on the Iraqi people, who have either been killed or have become refugees. And the toll it has taken on our young people, who have come back changed and emotionaly distraught. Please invite some refugees and give a voice to those who have suffered tremendously.

Oct. 24 2011 10:56 AM
Jack Jackson from Central New Jersey

...and who do you think was the major beneficiary of these 'do nothing' projects - treatments plants with no pipes, electrical plants with no substations...

I can't prove it but I'd bet that 4 out of 5 dollars went to companies that support GOP candidates.

Hell, the fact that we didn't use 'Theater Only Scrip' rather than send billions of greenbacks to Iraq shows that the game was rigged from Day One in order to rip off the US Treasury.

Gosh, I really am down on the GOP today...

Oct. 24 2011 10:52 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

We couldn't have ended anything right away in Afghanistan. The people are hardened fighters and chased other big military's away.
Unless we're interested in a 50 year war.

Oct. 24 2011 10:50 AM
Brooklyn B from Williamsburg

What about the number of contractors that will remain?

Oct. 24 2011 10:49 AM
The Truth from Becky

His voice is annoying but his points are spot on!

Oct. 24 2011 10:44 AM
Sophie from Poughkeepsie, NY

Why should they pay us? We invaded them!
Talk about revised history.

Oct. 24 2011 10:42 AM
Jeff Pappas from Ct

Obama won a pre emptive Nobel Peace Prize, so he should push for the USA to join the International Criminal Court.
Then he could not get this " immunity " deal in Iraq.
I and millions of Americans are fed up with the Hypocrisy and Double Standards America foists upon the rest of the World.

Oct. 24 2011 10:39 AM

Of course this is a purely political issue - for Republicans. They made it very clear from the moment he was elected - Obama is wrong on every issue every time. It is literally impossible from a Republican standpoint for him to ever do anything right. Every single opinion he has or action he takes is wrong, regardless of the circumstances, logical thinking, or reality.

Oct. 24 2011 10:38 AM
Robert from nyc

I think there should be a Bachmann interpreter whenever she says something. Did anyone understand what she said? I didn't and usually don't.

Oct. 24 2011 10:35 AM

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