Open thread on Obama's plans for Iraq

Longtime Bleeding Heartland readers know that I’ve always worried Barack Obama would leave too many U.S. troops in Iraq for too long. When he decided to stick with George W. Bush’s Secretary of Defense, some analysts argued that Robert Gates would give Obama cover to withdraw from Iraq, but I felt it was more likely that Gates would give Obama cover not to withdraw from Iraq, at least not fully.

This week President Obama announced his plans for Iraq. Supposedly “combat operations” will end by August 2010, meaning that the withdrawal will take 18 months rather than 16 months, as Obama promised during the campaign. My concern is not the extra two months, but Obama’s decision to leave a residual force of 35,000 to 50,000 in Iraq after August 2010. That sounds like too large a contingent to me and to many Congressional Democrats.

I suppose I should be grateful that Obama isn’t following the advice of Colin Kahl, who headed his Iraq working group during the campaign. Kahl has advocated leaving 60,000 to 80,000 troops in Iraq for years (see also here).

Seeing the glass half full, Chris Bowers is pleased that Obama says all U.S. military will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011:

In September of 2007, President Obama refused to promise to remove all troops from Iraq by January 20th, 2013. Now, he has promised to remove them all by December 31st, 2011. That is a positive shift.

This is huge for no residual forces proponents. Now that President Obama has made this pledge, in public, it will be difficult for him to go back on it. This is especially the case since turning back on a promise with a deadline of December 31st, 2011, means violating a pledge during 2012–the year President Obama will be running for re-election. Anti-war proponents need to be prepared to raise holy hell during 2012 if this promise is not kept.

It is frustrating that it took the Iraqi government, rather than internal anti-war pressure, to finally secure a no residual troop promise from the American government (and they actually succeeded in wringing it out of the Bush administration, something Democrats were entirely unable to achieve). Still, as someone who has opposed the Iraq war for more than six years, and who been has writing about the need for no residual American military forces in Iraq for more than two years, any promise of no residual forces from the American government, backed up by a binding, public document like the Status of Forces Agreement, it an extremely welcome development no matter how it was secured.

The Iraq war is going to end. No residual troops after 2011.

I am concerned that some excuse will be found by then to push back the deadline. (Seeing John McCain and other Republicans praise Obama’s plans for Iraq does not reassure me.) I have little confidence that the anti-war movement would raise “holy hell” during a presidential election year if Obama backs off on this promise.

But I am biased on this point, because I’ve never believed in Obama as a great anti-war hero.

So, I’m opening up the floor to the Bleeding Heartland community. Are you ecstatic, optimistic, skeptical, or disappointed with Obama’s Iraq policy? Do you believe he will stick to the deadlines he outlined this week for the end of combat operations and the withdrawal of all residual troops?

Feel free to discuss our Afghanistan policy in this thread too. Obama plans to increase the number of U.S. troops there, but Senator Russ Feingold and some others are wondering whether more troops will help us achieve our stated mission.

  • Unsurprising...

    I didn’t see anything in the Iraq proposal last week that I didn’t hear during the campaign.  I think Obama’s early stance against the war when he was a state senator gave him his anti-war creds, not the statements about what he would do as president in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Anyone who was surprised by what came out in last week’s plan clearly wasn’t listening very well during the months (and months and months) of last year’s campaign.

    • about that early stance against the war

      I remain convinced that had Obama been in the U.S. Senate in October 2002, as opposed to running for the Illinois Senate from a Democratic district, he would have voted for the resolution authorizing the use of force in Iraq just like Clinton, Kerry, Edwards, Harkin and so many others.

      All of his votes on Iraq while in the U.S. Senate, as well as his current plan for Iraq, are right in line with the Washington consensus and not with the anti-war community.

  • No surprise

    In December of 2007 Obama was asked in Perry if he would get all the troops out of Iraq or leave residual troops in Iraq.  Obama didn’t like the question.  He tried to suffle and skip around it.  When pressed he did finally say he would leave residual troops in Iraq.

    The only difference his Iraq plan will make is that the the 101st Armored Brigade will now be known as the the 101st Armored Kitchen.

  • My only regret

    is that I was otherwise detained so I couldn’t be in front of the Whitehouse on January 20th risking arrest to hold Obama’s feet to the fire on this issue.

    dmd, I can promise you we are and will continue to raise holy hell about Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of the next four years.

    And why is it that the Iraq war cost about a trillion dollars, and that is exactly the amount of economic stimulus being awarded?  I’m just asking is all.

    The military budget is only about fifty-one or two per cent of the total United States budget after all.

    How is it even going to be possible to maintain a presence anywhere given current economic trends? Isn’t somebody going to try and cash in their chips on all that debt at some point?

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