The Withdrawal A Great Deal for Obama -- Nothing for Iraq
On May 1, 2003, US President George W. Bush announced the end of combat operations in Iraq. This month, President Barack Obama will end the fight for a second time. But who won? Certainly not the Iraqis.
It started with an ultimatum, with the arrogance of a man who not only commanded the world's largest military force, but also appeared to hold sway over time. "Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours," George W. Bush ordered on the evening of March 17, 2003. "Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict commenced at a time of our choosing." This was in total disregard of the United Nations, whose Security Council has the sole legitimate authority to declare such a war. And for those allies who refused to take part, the US president had nothing but disdain.
America chose the time of the attack, and also of the presumptuous victory speech which Bush gave six weeks later on board the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln: mission accomplished.
What came afterwards -- the terror, the civil war, the 100,000 dead, the widows and the amputees and the tiny sliver of optimism that followed -- was no longer America's choice. It was the consequence of Bush's hubris and his disastrous blunders made right at the beginning of the occupation. Today these mistakes continue to plague Iraq. Today there is no end in sight to the war -- it is merely gradually slipping from our attention.
Now comes another "time of our choosing," the penultimate one that Bush negotiated before he left office. Barack Obama is gratefully adhering to the inherited timetable because it benefits him in the mid-term election campaign: On Aug. 31 the combat mission will officially be terminated for the second time. Last Thursday, the last combat brigade left the country. A total of 50,000 US soldiers, now called "trainers," will remain until the end of 2011. "Iraq! We've won! America!" yelled a soldier as his Humvee rolled across the border.
Is the Iraq War over? Was it worth it? Who won? Saddam and his sons are gone, that is to America's credit. A parliament was elected three times -- the only relatively free elections in the Arab world. That is an accomplishment.
But there is no security, unless we declare as "secure" a country in which hundreds of people continue to be murdered every month. There were 222 murders in July, according to the statistics compiled by the Americans. The Iraqis, who have now assumed responsibility themselves and therefore don't tend toward exaggeration, have counted 535 dead.
The freedom that they enjoy today is an abstract achievement for most Iraqis. Last Friday, the temperature in Baghdad soared to 47 degrees Celsius (116 degrees Fahrenheit). The electric fans ran twice -- shortly in the morning and shortly at night -- for a total of two hours.
Iraq, the energy giant whose enormous potential America set out to unleash, is now producing less oil than under Saddam. Only 1 percent of the workforce is employed by the oil industry, which produces 95 percent of government revenue.
And, nearly six months after the last election, they are still squabbling over the oil -- the same party and militia leaders whose hatred drove the country into civil war four years ago. There is no new government.
A Great Deal for Obama
America has failed to create a buttress that would hold this state together. It too quickly dissolved an army that it is now painstakingly trying to put back together again. Yet today the Iraqi army's officers openly talk about which bridges over the Tigris they would block in the event of a putsch. Their chief of staff said in mid-August: "The US Army has to stay until the Iraqi army is fully operational in 2020."
The Iraq War has stirred things up in the Middle East, but it has made no headway. It has a winner that nobody wanted: Iran, whose arch enemy Saddam has been eliminated. It has a loser: America's reputation as a power capable of restoring order. And it has left behind a country that is just as divided today as the day it was founded.
King Faisal, who was placed in power by the British, complained that in Iraq "there is still no nation, but rather an unmanageable mass of people who are adverse to every patriotic idea, steeped in religious absurdities, bound by no commonalities, susceptible to anarchy and prepared to revolt against every type of government." His dynasty lasted 37 years, survived two attempted coups, and is recognized as the most stable period in the history of modern Iraq.
What does it mean in this country, in this part of the world, if America declares that its war is over for the second time? A great deal for Obama -- and nothing for Iraq.