Today isn’t the day Obama promised we’d be out of Iraq
Over at his blog, E.D. Kain writes:
The potentially big viral video of the day is this one. It’s of Barack Obama promising, 16 months ago, that by today – May 21st, 2010 – we’d be out of Iraq.
Now politicians make promises and politicians break promises. I wish they’d make fewer so that they’d break fewer, but I certainly hope they don’t keep the ones they make simply because they value their word over the reality on the ground. Sure, honesty is the best policy as the saying goes, but should Obama really withdraw all American troops out of Iraq simply because he promised he would a year and a half ago? Should he do this despite any and all possible ramifications this might lead to – including increased violence and instability there?
It should be said that I agree with E.D’s general sentiment: it’s important to keep promises, but that needs to be weighed against the actual situation at hand. However, it isn’t entirely accurate to say that Obama broke his promise; one month after entering office, Obama gave a speech outlining his plan for withdrawing troops from Iraq. In it, he pledges to have combat brigades out of the country in the next 18 months or by August 31st, 2010. After combat withdrawal, a transitional force will remain until the end of 2011, at which the United States will withdraw all troops. You can watch this speech here:
At present, the question isn’t “has Obama broken his promise?” It’s “what has Obama done to move the nation closer to fulfilling his promise?” And by all accounts, the United States is on track to draw down to 50,000 troops by September 1st, 2010. Here’s the University of Michigan’s Juan Cole on the prospects for withdrawal:
There are now roughly 92,000 – 94,000 US troops in that country, down from 160,000 when President Obama was first elected. Another 5,000 are expected to come out in May, and the pace will pick up to 10,000 a month this summer.
The withdrawal isn’t entirely as advertised, of course, and won’t be as complete as the SOFA imagines. The 50,000 non-combat troops in Iraq as of September will actually be combat troops rebranded as trainers, and will include 4500 special operations forces actively tracking down and fighting guerrilla cells. But aside from the special operations guys, most of the US troops will not be doing active war fighting and will in fact mostly be training Iraqi troops, the quality and capabilities of which are definitely improving.
From September 2010 until December 2011, roughly 3,000 troops on average will come out each month (though that is just an average and the departures may be more bunched up at some points).
In the end, a very small force may remain, of trainers, special operations, and air force. Iraq’s air force planes and helicopters have been ordered but won’t arrive until 2013 and Iraqi pilots will need long and complicated training on them. The remaining US troops will be there, if at all, with the consent of the Iraqi government. They are unlikely to do any war fighting at all on their own.
I don’t know as much as I should about our Iraq policy, but Juan Cole does, and I trust that his optimism is justified. If our withdrawal from Iraq is on schedule — and it seems to be — then I think President Obama deserves the benefit of the doubt here.