While a stunning majority of Americans favor President Obama’s decision to withdraw troops from Iraq by this December 31, some neo-conservatives and Pentagon factions are lobbying hard for a contingent of American troops to remain. The internal battle may continue deep into December, while Congress is out of session.
According to a Washington Post-ABC poll reported on November 6, the Obama withdrawal is "a rare example of a broadly popular policy decision," as shown in remarkable survey numbers:
- 78% favor the decision to withdraw all forces, including 90% of Democrats, 81% of independents, and 58% of all Republicans;
- Only 33% think the war was worth fighting, including 19% of Democrats, 30% of independents, and the same percentage of Republicans, 58%.
- a majority of Tea Party supporters and "very conservative" voters oppose Obama’s withdrawal decision.
Elements of the Pentagon are balking at their commander-in-chief’s decision and battling the White House over keeping US Special Forces operatives in Iraq for "training and assistance" purposes. (New York Times, November 6, 2011) They claim that a US withdrawal will lead to "a new surge of Al Qaeda terror." But so might leaving a small contingent of US forces in the midst of abiding sectarian conflicts. Many Iraqi Sunnis are alarmed by a wave of arrests last week on charges of conspiracy against the Iraqi government. Those Sunnis, who originally supported the insurgency against the US, now are reported as fearing "the American military can no longer guarantee their safety." (New York Times, November 1, 2011)
After a decade of a failed war, Iraq remains a failed state in many ways, propped up by US and Western public relations campaigns. Iraqi factions cannot agree on the leadership of either the Defense or Interior ministries. Control of Kirkuk is disputed by Iraqis and Kurds. The Iraqi parliament cannot agree on how to divide up revenues from its oil and gas industries.
Progressives in Congress and in anti-war groups have yet to weigh in against the growing effort to undermine the Obama decision.
The political agenda of neo-conservatives like Frederick and Kimberly Kagan is to blame the White House withdrawal decision for allowing Iran to "defeat the United States in Iraq" and "throughout the Middle East." (Los Angeles Times, November 27, 2011) A dozen Republican senators have called for Congressional hearings, declaring, "the complete withdrawal of our forces from Iraq is likely to be viewed as a strategic victory by our enemies in the Middle East, especially the Iranian regime." Experts like Anthony Cordesman opined that Iraq "will be unable to defend itself for at least a decade." (New York Times, October 30, 2011)
Tensions between the US and Iran now are expected to ramp up heading into the 2012 election year, with Israelis and some neo-conservatives engaging in brinksmanship. Iran is the target of hostility by both Israel and Sunni powers led by Saudi Arabia. (The Iraqi regime installed by American military power is predominantly Shiite, and leans towards Iran in the regional power balance.)
President Obama will meet with Iraqi leaders in December to discuss a future "strategic partnership", which may or may not include a modest future role for US advisers and counterterrorism units. The December 31 withdrawal day, itself, will be one of carefully managed celebrations in both Washington and Baghdad.
Meanwhile, the withdrawal plan has been accompanied by a large scaling-back of US State Department plans, underscoring "the reality that a post-America Iraq is taking shape more rapidly and completely than many Iraqis and Americans had envisioned." (New York Times, October 23, 2011) The US diplomatic presence will be “much smaller than imagined”, with plans shelved for a 700-person US consulate in Mosul, another in Kirkuk, and a branch office in Diyala, all centers of continuing conflict.
The scaling back is due to the Pentagon’s failure to persuade the Obama administration to keep 20,000 troops as a residual force.
As long expected, however, the US will redeploy thousands of combat troops to the Persian Gulf, particularly Kuwait, to possibly respond to crises in either Iraq or Iran. Already there are 40,000 US troops in the Gulf region, including 23,000 in Kuwait alone. The US will be aligned with status quo rulers in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan and the tiny states of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Iraq is invited to participate in a joint military exercise with Jordan next year, titled "Eager Lion 12".