-- George Orwell, 1984
It looks like the fat lady will become a Victoria’s Secret model before she sings the finale of our woebegone war in Iraq. On Friday Feb. 27, at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, young Mr. Obama announced that, “by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.” We can speculate till the troops come home why Obama chose to make this announcement on a Marine Corps base as opposed to, say, on an aircraft carrier, but it’s a dead cert that the mission will be no more accomplished by August 2010 than it was in May 2003.
Obama also said in his speech that 35,000 to 50,000 troops will remain in Iraq after August 2010. Re-label them trainers, force protectors or whatever you like, the troops that stay behind will be combat troops. They won’t be training Iraqi security forces to peel potatoes, nor will they be protecting the day care facility for children of single Iraqi soldiers.
What’s more, the enabling trainers are likely to be in Iraq past the December 2011 deadline called for by the Status of Forces agreement. Key Pentagon figures who have voiced opposition to any sort of withdrawal timeline include defense secretary Robert Gates, who may be the only civilian officer holder in Washington who understands less about warfare than Joe Lieberman. Joint Chiefs chairman Admiral Mike Mullen has said a deadline for withdrawal would be “dangerous,” and National Security Adviser James Jones, a retired Marine general, cautioned that a timeline to leave Iraq would be "against our national interest." General David Petraeus, as always, has avoided saying much on the subject that might stick to his body armor. Petraeus’s sidekick Ray Odierno, though, says he wants to keep at least 35,000 troops in Iraq through 2015, and the once credible Tom Ricks has echoed this metric over every major information outlet in America.
Both Odierno and Mullen kick started the “a lot can happen in three years” chant as soon as the Status of Forces agreement was signed. It’s evident that no one in the Pentagon considers the SOF and its 2011 benchmark a done deal, and why should they? They’re used to discarding treaties—the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and the Geneva Convention and the UN Convention on Torture—like day-old candy wrappers. The SOF isn’t even a treaty. The Senate never ratified it, so how hard could it be to abnegate?
The main vector of the warmongery’s timeline argument is that successful military operations can’t be conducted with time constraints. This flies in the face of reality, of course; if military operations didn’t have D-Days and H-Hours, the Normandy invasion would still be on hold.
Gates is probably unaware of this; he is quite possibly the only civilian officer holder in Washington who knows less about warfare than Joe Lieberman. Mullen and Odierno and Jones either a) know that timelines are essential to military operations and are lying or b) they’re as ignorant of the basic tenets of their profession as Gates and Lieberman are. It’s entirely possible that both a) and b) are true.
Ricks himself admits that Petraeus’s task was never to produce a victory in Iraq. He simply needed time, “to show enough genuine progress that the American people would be willing to stick with it even longer.” In other words, Petraeus needed time to fake us out of demanding a timeline.
Mullen and Gates were both circumspect message managers on last Sunday’s political gab show circuit. On CNN, Mullen said he is “comfortable” with Obama’s withdrawal schedule, but also said he is confident the president will be “flexible” with the timetable if conditions on the ground change. On NBC, Gates admitted that the troops remaining in Iraq will still be in harm’s way, “but at a very different level than in the past,” which is Newspeak for “the troops remaining in Iraq will still be in harm’s way.” Sounding eerily like Mullen, Gates noted that Obama has said he “retains the flexibility and the authority to change a plan or adjust it if he thinks it's in the national security [interest] of the United States.” Gates and Mullen both gave the impression that renegotiating the Status of Forces agreement would be along the same order of difficulty as getting a pizza delivered from Domino’s.
Both men also stressed the importance of following the advice of the military commander on the scene, who is now Ray Odierno. Thanks to a two-inch thick make-over by Ricks, Odierno has transformed from the raging ox who did nothing right in post-invasion Iraq to the military genius singularly responsible for the surge, so when he says he needs 35,000 troops in Iraq until at least 2015, gee, who’s to say he’s wrong? And oh, Gates made a point of confiding to David Gregory (with the rest of the world listening in) that “if the commanders had had complete say in this matter that, that they would have preferred that, that the combat mission not end until the end of 2010.” So anything that goes wrong after August happened because Obama didn’t listen to Ray of Arabia.
For the moment, Ricks is the chief propagandist of the Iraq Forever movement, but he has capable help from the likes of neocon luminaries Michael O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollock. In a Feb. 25 New York Times op-ed piece, O’Hanlon and Pollock baldly assert “The mission ceased to be a ‘war of choice’ the moment American forces crossed the border in March 2003. Now we have no choice but to see Iraq through to stability.” This is akin to saying that once we board an airplane, we have no choice but to ride it until it runs out of gas and crashes into the sea. Wahoos like O’Hanlon and Pollock never admit that there is a broad menu of sane alternatives to what they propose, the best of which amount to taking control of the airplane, returning to the airport and landing safely.
One hopes that Obama can resist the pressure from the lunatic right to perpetuate the counterproductive occupation of Iraq, but it’s important to note that in his Camp Lejeune speech, he said, “I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.”
Even in the Newspeak Dictionary, you could drive the entire Army and Marine Corps through the distance between intend and shall.