Breaking a long Congressional silence on Iraq, 93 House members led by representatives Barbara Lee and Walter Jones have released a letter to President Obama calling for a complete military withdrawal by this December, as stipulated in the U.S.-Iraq pact of 2008. Withdrawal of the remaining 47,000 American troops would result in a net taxpayer savings of $50 billion annually.
Lee is considering legislation requiring that any extension of the current deadline receive Senate consent and House approval. The original pact was adopted as an executive agreement. A unilateral extension would diminish Congressional powers to endorse treaties and fund wars.
The Pentagon and other administration officials have encouraged a “request” from Iraq to continue stationing U.S. troops indefinitely. “The public relations game,” according to the New York Times (July 15) is to draft language that is “politically acceptable” while obscuring the reality that American soldiers “will almost certainly continue to die” in Iraq.
During the past two years, most American peace advocates have turned their attention to Afghanistan and the domestic economy, leaving the Iraq hawks to dominate the political debate at home.
Just this week, Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki declared plans to purchase 36 U.S. fighter-jets, which presumably would require U.S. military trainers. While al-Maliki seeks to develop this air power, Iraqi insurgents have been rocketing the U.S. embassy in Baghdad and the U.S. military headquarters at Camp Victory. Eighteen U.S. troops were killed in the past two-month period. In addition to aggressive militarism, al-Maliki has been exposed by the international Red Cross as running one or more torture facilities in the Green Zone (Los Angeles Times, July 15, 2011).
Lee’s letter, supported by networks of local peace activists, is a challenge to the president at a key moment in the decision-making process. Opposition to a continued U.S. presence in Iraq is based on the widespread belief that enough is enough:
- Even if all U.S. troops are withdrawn on schedule, the U.S. still will have its largest embassy in Baghdad with thousands of “civilians” on the State Deparment payroll;
- Americans overwhelming believe we have done enough for (and to) Iraq, and that the Iraqi dependence on U.S. military forces should be terminated;
- The taxpayer savings are significant (and are even factored into the Democratic Senate proposal for deficit reductions put forward by Sen. Reid this week);
- A residual force of 10-20,000 Americans cannot “win” in the midst of a sectarian war ahead;
- The proposed U.S. residual force would be no deterrent against Iranian troops just over the border;
- The U.S. would be representing Saudi (Sunni) interests in Shiite-dominated Iraq.
Perhaps the strongest political argument for complete withdrawal is that a majority of Americans will believe that Obama has broken a promise going into a crucial election year.
One lesson for peace advocates to contemplate is that public interest fades away when American casualties and costs plummet, as in Iraq compared to 2007. So-called low-intensity warfare is less likely to stir domestic resistance than large scale American combat.
The dilemma for advocates of counter-insurgency or low-intensity combat, on the other hand, is the strong popular opposition to U.S. troops and bases from within occupied countries, whether in El Salvador in the 1970s or today’s Iraq. American public opinion can obstruct large-scale interventions, but significant local resistance movements are required to extinguish a foreign occupation. It remains to be seen whether Iraq today, or Afghanistan tomorrow, will have the united nationalist will needed to end an occupation, or whether Western divide-and-conqer strategies will secure permanent bases.
The following 93 members of Congress signed the Lee-Jones letter on Iraq:
Baldwin, Bass (CA-33), Boswell, Braley, Capps, Capuano, Chu, Cicilline, Clark (MI-13), Clarke (NY-11), Clay, Cleaver, Clyburn, Cohen, Conyers, Costello, Davis (IL-7), DeFazio, DeLauro, Deutch, Doggett, Doyle, Duncan (TN-2), Edwards, Ellison, Farr, Filner, Frank, Fudge, Garamendi, Grijalva, Gutierrez, Hahn, Hanabusa, Hastings (FL-23), Heinrich, Hirono, Holt, Honda, Jackson Jr. (IL-2), Jackson-Lee, Johnson (IL-15), Johnson (TX-30), Jones, Kaptur, Kucinich, Larson, Lee, Lewis (GA-5), Loebsack, Lofgren, Lujan, Maloney, Matsui, McCollum, McDermott, McGovern, Michaud, Miller (CA-7), Moore, Nadler, Napolitano, Norton, Olver, Paul, Payne, Pingree, Polis, Rangel, Richardson, Rush, Sanchez (CA-39), Sanchez (CA-47), Schakowsky, Schrader, Scott (VA-3), Serrano, Sewell, Slaughter, Speier, Stark, Thompson (CA-1), Thompson (MS-2), Tonko, Towns, Tsongas, Velazquez, Waters, Watt, Welch, Wilson (FL-17), Woolsey.
The Lee-Jones Letter:
July 22, 2011
The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
We are writing to urge you to hold to our nation’s Status of Forces Agreement with the government of Iraq that commits our nation to bringing all of our troops and military contractors home at the end of this calendar year.
The American people have made it clear that the war in Iraq must end. By wide and overwhelming margins, Americans approve of your plan to remove all the troops from Iraq by the end of this year.
We are deeply concerned to learn that your Administration is considering plans to keep potentially thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq beyond the end of this year. Extending our presence in Iraq is counterproductive - the Iraqi people do not support our continued occupation.
Remaining in Iraq would only further strengthen the perception that we are an occupying force with no intention of leaving Iraq.
Leaving troops and military contractors in Iraq beyond the deadline is not in our nation’s security interests, it is not in our nation’s strategic interests, and it is not in our nation’s economic interests.
Mr. President, we look forward to working with you in maintaining our nation’s Status of Forces Agreement with the government of Iraq and bringing all of our troops and military contractors home at the end of this year.
Member of Congress
Walter B. Jones
Member of Congress