In March of 2003, a pretend president launched a war of choice to pretend he was protecting America. The war, called Operation Iraqi Freedom, began under the premise that Iraq was in possession of 26,000 liters of anthrax, 38,000 liters of botulinum toxin, 500 tons – which is 1,000,000 pounds – of sarin, VX and mustard gas, 30,000 munitions to deliver the stuff, mobile biological weapons labs, uranium from Niger for use in a “robust” nuclear weapons program, and connections to al Qaeda that led directly to the attacks of September 11. George W. Bush said these things, and the media decided it must be so, and we were off to the races.
More than seven years later, Operation Iraqi Freedom has yielded exactly none of the menaces we were warned about and terrified with, though sales of plastic sheeting and duct tape did go through the roof. Almost 5,000 U.S. troops have been killed, some 50,000 more have been brutally wounded, and more than a million Iraqi civilians have been slaughtered and maimed. Millions more have been displaced, their homes destroyed and their lives ruined. “Defense” contractors have pocketed hundreds of billions of our tax dollars, enriching them while adding to our woes during this Bushian recession, and the nation of Iraq has been delivered into the Shi’ite hands of Iran; Dawa and SCIRI, Iranian terrorist groups responsible for acts such as the bombing of US Marines in Beirut in 1983, are now the leading political parties in Iraq.
During his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama swore an oath to bring the war in Iraq to a close. He cited two benchmarks: the end of U.S. combat operations by the end of August 2010, and the withdrawal of all U.S. forces by the end of 2011. These goals were further underscored by a “status of forces” agreement reached between Iraq and the U.S. in 2008. Upon his announcement on Monday that all but 50,000 troops will withdraw from Iraq by the end of August, it appears that the first of those goals is about to be met.
On the surface, it would appear to be a signal achievement and the fulfillment of an important promise: Operation Iraqi Freedom, one of the most epic non sequitors in the history of the English language, is coming to an end. In its place will be something called Operation New Dawn, a new phase in which U.S. troops will cease combat operations. The 50,000 troops staying behind represent a 65% decrease in the total number of U.S. troops in Iraq, based on 2009 numbers. They will be used to train Iraqi forces, perform “targeted attacks” on suspected terrorists (the word “assassinations” being too sensitive to use), and provide security for the large American diplomatic corps remaining in Iraq.
Operation New Dawn is not a total withdrawal from Iraq – that isn’t supposed to happen until the end of next year – but it would appear to be a great leap forward, one that analysts like me doubted would ever come. Back in May, I penned the following lines:
President Obama will not get the United States out of Iraq in his first term. If he wins a second term, it is highly unlikely he will get us out of Iraq before he finally leaves office. Print that out and tack it to your wall. Six years from now, it will still be hanging there, yellow and curled, but entirely correct. We’re not going anywhere.
After President Obama’s announcement on Monday, it would seem such dire predictions were far off the mark. Scratch the surface, however, and we find that the differences between Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn are largely cosmetic. The change in policy will certainly make a difference to the 65% of U.S. troops who will be leaving at the end of the month, but to the people of Iraq, who have been suffering under the yoke of this war for nearly 3,000 days now, the new boss will still look a hell of a lot like the old boss.
The reason for this, beyond the 50,000 troops that will remain in Iraq, concerns the thousands of private military contractors who have been in Iraq since the beginning, and whose responsibilities will grow in both scope and lethality within the framework of New Dawn. From a July McClatchy report:
Can diplomats field their own army? The State Department is laying plans to do precisely that in Iraq, in an unprecedented experiment that U.S. officials and some nervous lawmakers say could be risky. In little more than a year, State Department contractors in Iraq could be driving armored vehicles, flying aircraft, operating surveillance systems, even retrieving casualties if there are violent incidents and disposing of unexploded ordnance.
Under the terms of a 2008 status of forces agreement, all U.S. troops must be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, but they’ll leave behind a sizable American civilian presence, including the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, the largest in the world, and five consulate-like “Enduring Presence Posts” in the Iraqi hinterlands. Iraq remains a battle zone, and the American diplomats and other civilian government employees will need security. The U.S. military will be gone. Iraq’s army and police, despite billions of dollars and years of American training, aren’t yet capable of doing the job. The State Department, better known for negotiating treaties and delivering diplomatic notes, will have to fend for itself in what remains an active danger zone.
The arrangement is “one more step in the blurring of the lines between military activities and State Department or diplomatic activities,” said Richard Fontaine of the Center for a New American Security, a Washington research center. “This is no longer (just) the foreign service officer standing in the canape line, and the military out in the field.”
“The State Department is trying to become increasingly expeditionary,” he said
“Enduring Presence” posts? Indeed, that says it all right there. Military contractors from companies like Xe, formerly known as Blackwater, will be virtually indistinguishable from U.S. troops when they are operating armored vehicles and Blackhawk helicopters in Baghdad, Tikrit and Mosul. The only difference for the Iraqi people will be the colors on the uniforms of the soldiers who continue to occupy their country. The “Enduring Presence” of a massive U.S. diplomatic corps will continue after 2011, so bet the farm that companies like Xe will still be in Iraq after the “New Dawn” of 2011.
As for the 65% of U.S. soldiers who will be out of Iraq at the end of the month, don’t expect any tickertape parades or tearful, permanent homecomings. If they make it back to the States at all, many of them will be retrained and retooled for deployment in Afghanistan to support President Obama’s escalation of that war.
Different name, same wars, and no “Iraqi Freedom” to speak of. It’s the same old story.