This morning when, Wanda, long time Global Exchange board member, called after President Obama announced a date for the return of all US troops from Iraq my reaction was the same as almost everyone else in our office. “Is this for real? What is he not telling us?” But you can listen to it over and over again:
“After nearly nine years, the long war in Iraq will come to an end……and all the troops will home for the holidays this year.”
Why aren’t we aren’t dancing in the streets the same way we did when he was elected with the promise to end the war in his first term?
Obama announced that he and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki agreed that the troop withdrawal marks a beginning for a “new and enduring partnership” based on a “normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.” He said that “We’ll build new ties of trade and of commerce, culture and education, that unleash the potential of the Iraqi people. “
In fact, the two of them have been meeting to hash out the Strategic Framework for the Status of Forces since 2008 and are actually complying with a treaty that Maliki and Presisdent Bush made three years ago, which the Prime Minister is refusing to modify in order to accommodate the US’s desire to maintain a military presence beyond this year. The Status of Forces agreement eliminates immunity for military actions, making it impossible to keep US forces there since they would actually be held accountable in Iraqi courts for civilian deaths and destruction.
So yes, this Friday’s announcement is good news, and somewhere enduring peace activists should be dancing in the streets. In Iraq, I’m sure people are feeling proud of the fact that they have stood up to the most powerful nation in the world and insisted on their own sovereignty and their right to an equal partnership. Obama would not have been forced to make this announcement today, which will definitely mean less death and destruction, had it not been for the strength of the peace movement at the end of the Bush era and without the steadfast Iraqi resistance to US occupation.
The price has been high — over 4400 US deaths, and an untold number of Iraqi deaths (over 112 000, according to Iraq Body Count), destruction of infrastructure for water, health and electricity and irreplaceable cultural and historical treasures. There are millions of refugees who have fled to all parts of the world who now have to contemplate uprooting their lives again and joining the massive rebuild effort, or remain exiles.
Questions still remain because of the murky status of “contractors” paid for by US tax payers. Thousand of these contractors will remain in Iraq to train Iraqi police. The US will continue to operate the world’s largest embassy in Baghdad. It’s not clear if these 4000-5000 trainers will have immunity from the Status Agreement.
And now 40,000 US soldiers are coming home to a country where no jobs await them. Global Exchange’s co-founder, Medea Benjamin, who has traveled to Iraq 5 times since 2003, has organized with a campaign with CodePink to “Bring the War Dollars Home” in order to draw attention to how the economic crisis in the US is inextricably tied to excessive military spending. She says,
“January 1st will be a historic moment to disentangle us from the quagmire in Iraq, but we are still left with the one in Afghanistan that is now scheduled to drag on for years to come in a statement regarding the troop withdrawal, “We call on President Obama to recognize how the unwinnable Afghan war is contributing to the economic crisis and to put a quick end the US involvement in that tragedy as well.”
I wish our response to the announcement were more unqualified – that instead of questioning the meaning of “bringing the troops home”, we knew it would happen and that we would begin the process of making it right. Iraqis deserve reparations — we should support the Iraqi economy from afar, bring our troops home from every other foreign nation as well, and use the “savings” ($3 billion a week) to begin converting our own economy to nonviolent, clean industries which create jobs for our people and stability for the region.
UPDATE ADDED 10/24/2011:
To read more on the topic, check out this article co-written by Global Exchange Co-founder Medea Benjamin and Charles Davis: “Only ‘Success’ in Iraq Is That US Troops are Leaving.”