3 September 2010

NEW YORK – Last week, President Barack Obama told Americans his nation’s seven-year US occupation of Iraq was over. America is leaving Iraq. But it is also staying.

Obama looked grim, uncomfortable and out of character as he delivered this confusing message. He even praised former President George W. Bush, the man responsible for the destruction of Iraq in a totally unnecessary war that wounded America’s image around the globe.

As a candidate, Obama had vowed to end the Iraq war. But in office, he became a prisoner of domestic politics.

The president is aware that total withdrawal of US troops could lead to the collapse of the unstable Maliki government in Baghdad. If this happens, Republicans, who already taste Democratic blood on the political waters, would tear Obama apart as the man who “lost” the Iraq war.

Republicans and their media have convinced themselves and many Americans that the Bush administration actually “won” the Iraq conflict thanks to its troop “surge,” and has managed to establish a stable democracy in Baghdad.

These Republicans give little thought to the hundreds of thousands of Iraqis who died as a result of the US invasion and ensuing civil war, 40,000 US military casualties, or the war’s gigantic one trillion dollar cost.

Among more thoughtful Americans, however, there is growing opposition to the ongoing occupation of Iraq. They are going to feel betrayed when it becomes clear that Washington still retains control of Iraq and ownership of all its problems.

America’s military is also very anxious to get out of Iraq. The seven-year US occupation has exhausted troops, worn out aircraft and ground equipment, and over-stretched military forces. Transferring large US troop formations to Afghanistan will only continue these problems of imperial over-reach.

The thought of a possible conflict with Iran keeps Pentagon planners awake at night. The president and Pentagon strongly oppose any use of force, but a Republican victory in November mid-term elections could mean a more aggressive approach to Iran, even outright war.

A weakened President Obama would find it much harder to resist pressure for war against Iran from the militant Republican right’s pro-Israel and Christian fundamentalist supporters.

So the Obama administration has to engage in the charade of “withdrawal” while keeping 50,000 US combat troops in Iraq (now re-branded “assistance troops.”) Kuwait-based US troops will be ready to intervene in hours. The big US oil firms that re-entered Iraq after the US invasion will also have their own mercenaries to protect pipelines and installations.

Nearly 100,000 US-paid mercenaries (“contractors”) will remain in Iraq, along with 7,000 new CIA and State Department military units. Equally important, the US will keep total and all-important control of Iraq’s air space.

Obama vows all US troops will be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, but don’t count on it. US troops can always be retained to fight “terrorism” or alleged outside threats. Sixty years after the Korean War, 37,000 US troops still remain in South Korea.

The Obama administration is thus following the same formula the British Empire used to control Iraq in the 1920’s: a native army with white officers, British rapid intervention forces, and the RAF ready to bomb any disturbers of the Pax Brittanica.

Domestic politics also affected the latest round of empty Israel-Palestinian “peace” talks held last week in Washington. President Obama is absolutely right in trying to end the endless suffering of Palestinians. It is an affront to humanity and gravely undermines America’s security and prestige.

But Obama’s recent attempts to press Israel into halting building settlements were scornfully rejected. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden were humiliated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Instead of being infuriate that their president had been openly shamed, Israel’s American partisans bombarded the White House with complaints, threats and cut-offs of donations.

President Obama, a good, decent man, but still a politician, heard the Israel lobby’s warnings, loud and clear. Talks about peace talks between are ok, provided nothing concrete is done.

This has been the dismal pattern of so-called “peace” talks for the past decade, and so it continues. Meanwhile, Israel continues to gobble up the West Bank and grab its water. No one even remembers Syria’s Israel-occupied Golan Heights. Israel’s ruling right-wing coalition even refuses to define its borders.

This post is in: Mideast, Military and Security Affairs

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