Obama’s Troop Removal: “A Risk That is Unacceptable”

Barack Obama’s imagination management representatives were widely deployed on day one of his presidency. Fervent supporters were told to go slow — the NY Times described “sobering challenges,” Congressman Dave Obey cautioned against looking for “economic salvation” while an Associated Press article praised Obama’s “cold-eyed realism.” No matter which analogy is employed, the widening gulf between popular expectations and governmental willingness [or unwillingness] to act is potential source for a more radical set of politics.

Of course, Obama is no George W. Bush. He knows well how to pick off the low-hanging political fruit in order to forestall decisions which threaten to bring his administration into conflict with organized interest blocs. Moving swiftly to close the moral eyesore that is the detention center in Guantanamo Bay signals a return to the normal operation of US Empire. Equally useful is his enactment of measures furthering governmental transparency. This may sooth lingering doubts about Obama’s associations with now-impeached Illinois Governor Rod “Let’s Make a Deal” Blagojevich. It would be difficult to discover many speakers – apart from those on the fringe of the radical right — willing to defend either Guantanamo or Presidential secrecy.

More significant resistance will be provided to any serious attempt to end the US occupation of Iraq. Evidence of this was provided during the nightly News Hour program aired on Wednesday January 21st. The segment was entitled “Next Steps for Iraq,” and featured the pro-Bush retired General Jack Keane and the Obama-ally retired General Wesley Clark. Both Keane and Clark delivered a clear message — no troop removal anytime soon.

Keane, the military author of Bush’s “surge strategy,” claimed that Obama’s campaign pledge to remove troops by 2010 “rather dramatically increases the risks” in Iraq. He recommended a “minimal force reduction” in order to “protect the political situation.” Though a 2010 departure was “a risk that is unacceptable,” Keane assured viewers that “Everyone knows that we are going to take our troops out of Iraq.”

The Democratic Party’s dog in the fight, Wesley Clark had little bite as be agreed with Keane’s assessment “it [Obama’s troop removal pledge] is risky.” “When President Obama made that pledge almost a year ago,” Clark claimed, “the context of what combat troops was, was taken from the legislation that was going back and forth through the House and the Senate.” He then provided a key qualification, “Distinguishing combat troops from trainers, from counter-insurgency troops or counter-terrorist troops that would go against Al-Quada in Iraq and distinguishing them from the logistics troops.” “So,” Clark concluded, “to say that all combat troops will be out in 2010 in sixteen months doesn’t necessarily mean that all troops will be out by 2010.”

If this double-speak was not enough, Clark then provided another clear signal that the Obama campaign pledge may fall far short of anything resembling a remotely anti-war position. Clark praised Keane as the architect of the surge policy and “the success that has been achieved through it.”

Not surprisingly, Keane agreed with the non-combative Clark. He “understands the distinction” between combat and other types of troops. Even if some combat troops were removed, Iraq would still require “a significant number of combat troops” to protect the other types of American troops. Clark then introduced a new term to the discussion (any possibility of a debate had long since passed) — “re-deployed.” He ended his contributions by highlighting the “the need for troops in Afghanistan.”

The Clark-Keane discussion should be quite useful for anti-war activists. It clearly signals that the “surge-consensus” forged by the Bush administration is still fully operative among the military establishment in Washington. Obama’s desire for continuity in military strategy, signaled clearly through his re-appointment of Robert Gates as Secretary of Defense, should be understood as his acceptance of the positions articulated by Keane and Clark. This presents a sharp challenge to the anti-war movement.

Two tasks are clear. The first is to articulate a clear demand for the complete removal of all US military forces from Iraq. The anti-war movement cannot allow distinctions to be made between combat or counter-insurgency troops, military advisers or technicians. All troops need to be removed immediately. Second, and perhaps even more challenging, is the demand to remove all troops from Afghanistan and to resist any attempt at re-deployment from Iraq. Perhaps a bit of “cold-eye realism,” beginning with the fact that more than one million Iraqis have died as a result of the US occupation, should be employed by the anti-war movement as we begin the process of challenging an Obama presidency whose military policy has started off sounding a lot like a re-hashed version of George W. Bush.

Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. He can be reached at: whartonbilly@gmail.com. Read other articles by Billy, or visit Billy's website.

11 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on January 22nd, 2009 at 12:15pm #

    US controls alien pops by threats; both explicit and implicit, and invasions/occupations.
    so, reagan, nixon, kennedy, clinton came and went but the control/subjugation goes on (jugum=yoke).
    exactly as the previous wars heralded. ey, folks, it is not my suprahuman intelligence that told me this; just those darn wars; 190, i think?

    domestics are also controled; mostly by miseducation by all layers of americana, africana, chicana, asiana, and, of course, the whites; save the hobo class.

    of course, had the ‘education’ failed to educate macs, joes, janes ‘properly’, uncle cld always use the plan B; i.e, fall back on cia, fbi, army, rats, et al.

    but uncle ‘knew’ (my eduction) that the ‘education’ in germany from ’33-44 worked so well that 40+ germans went to die to prove that they were enlightened.
    the other 50+ germans were overjoyed to send their kids to sow and reap goodies for deutscland, fuer den vaterland.
    but it does seem that about half of amers are not elated about sending their offspring to ‘defend’ the greatness of america.
    that’s s’mwhat surprising as it doesn’t come near den deutschen froelichkeit und gemuetlichkeit fuer den kriegen. danke, spasibo, sheshe, sayonara.

  2. John Hatch said on January 22nd, 2009 at 2:02pm #

    I noticed that even before Mr. Obama was President, both Generals Petraeus and Odniero were contradicting his stated plan to get out of Iraq, saying that leaving would be ‘dangerous’ (to whom?). President Obama is going to have to establish who’s in charge.

    And let’s quit the nonsense about the ‘surge’. It was just a combination of ethnic cleansing and bribery. Enough!

    And one more thing- getting even more mired in Afghanistan is about the dumbest thing America could do- they’re not going to take on the drug/warlords who control all of the country that the Taliban doesn’t, so it’s impossible and hopeless. Karzai, the corrupt little oil guy is the President of about three blocks in Kabul, and his own brother is a drug dealer. Good luck!

  3. Suthiano said on January 22nd, 2009 at 2:03pm #

    the anti-war “movement” shouldn’t be realizing this now… i suppose they would rather continue bobbing their heads in unison to the democratic party, cheering for “change”. If those in the “anti-war movement” (the people making up its mass, thus force) haven’t figured out that you can’t stop war by dealing with the democrats, they’re either ignorant or not interested in stopping war (in that they still desire the lifestyle benefits derived from the wars, but would rather not have to think that they were in complicit in such acts).

    Take an honest look at the mass hysteria, the force behind Obama’s election, and then try to argue that it wasn’t (largely) a collective attempt of clearing the recent atrocities from the “national conscience”, while simultaneously attempting to preserve the way of life that demands such actions. (I would point here to the issues debated: Iraq, Gitmo, etc., as well as to the sudden shift in the focus of the discourse when the financial gods finally determined and declared that we were indeed in a recession).

    That’s the reason for the existence of the Democratic party at this point in history; after declarations of “crusades,” “New World Orders”, and the necessity of torture, much of the “progressive” public feel the need to “wipe the slate clean”, with a party of hope…. reality plays a very small role in this conception of the democratic party…Rather they “must” be the good guys, if the other guys were so bad (after all, this is America, ONE side must be good). Anyone who tries to suggest that attention should be paid to either “rules of the game” or how these rules manifest themselves in policy via the congress and senate, is ignored.

    For the force that calls itself “the anti-war movement” to be accomplishing anything close to such a label, should forget about working with the Democratic party, no matter the symbol is at its helm.

  4. Michael Hureaux said on January 22nd, 2009 at 3:34pm #

    Amazing, though, how far euphoria can carry people. It’s hard to believe it’s been two years since the Democrats were handed the Congress in order to quell their whining about how they didn’t have the votes to stop the war. They’ve had the votes to stop the war for two years now, but the war continues, the occupation continues, and it’s all business as usual. The mass of people who were part of the anti-war movement got sucked into the “democratic” party, and most of them never found their way out.

    In fact, they just lined up beween the Presidential Piper. The “democrats” now have control of both houses of congress and the executive seat, but there’s nothing to be done because now we need to become fiscally responsible and help capitalism become competitive at our own expense. Sigh. Forty years I’ve been watching this shit now. New faces, but the same old game. And the war, the occupation? Oh, well, that might be over with in sixteen months. But anyway, he’s closing Guatanamo. In a year.

    Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

  5. DavidG. said on January 22nd, 2009 at 4:44pm #

    It seems an irony that America, the world’s chief warmonger and occupier, gives out Freedom Medals. Bush recently gave them to John Howard and Henry Kissinger.

    I wonder who Obama will award them to? Hopefully not Olmert or the DIME Armament Manufacturers.

  6. Brian said on January 22nd, 2009 at 5:12pm #

    Michael Hureaux is, of course, correct. The new boss is the same as the old boss.

    How could it be any different?

    Obama isn’t going to turn into a progressive, no matter how much pressure he gets.

    This is a deeply conservative man who praised Raygun’s defense spending—a totally absurd position that would have been laughed out of any credible opposition party.

    His now famous 2004 DNC speech was all pull yourself up by your bootstraps crap.

    A guy like Obama can only win the presidency in a society that is focused on personality over policy, superficial over seriousness, and celebrity over the cerebral.

    For all the praise this guy gets for his intellect look at his actual policy proposals. The only legislative “successes” he had were in blunting progressive proposals. He’s basically a front man for corporate and military power. Far better than Bush from the elite point of view. A man who can sell the policies—in a captivating fashion—to a largely uninformed, attention diverted public.

  7. UNK said on January 22nd, 2009 at 5:42pm #

    To clarify, “Re-deployment” in military-speak does not mean to deploy again (that would make more sense, but remember, it’s the military.) It means a unit returns to its home station.

  8. William Wharton said on January 22nd, 2009 at 5:57pm #

    Thanks UNK. Clarke used the term just prior to describing Afghanistan and Obama had made a campaign pledge to transfer troops. I assumed the two were linked and the word had a civilian logical meaning. Thanks for the catch!


  9. ms in la said on January 22nd, 2009 at 11:13pm #

    Just a spelling correction, please.

    It’s General Wesley CLARK (no “e” at the end).

    Thank you.

  10. Ramsefall said on January 23rd, 2009 at 8:30am #

    Defending an immediate withdraw from Iraq on the basis of being ¨too dangerous¨aligns with Washington and Corporate Amerika’s perspective — it threatens their hegemony in the region and the profits being raked in by companies like Halliburton and Bechtel. So they are correct, it is too dangerous, for them and their interests — the only real interest at stake.

    Imagine how quickly the financial crisis could be reduced by withdrawing troops not only from Iraq, but from around the world. Breaking up is hard to do for lovers, and so is giving up power for the imperialists. Until a rational proposal to stand down militarily, close bases around the world and stop the proliferation of US hegemony, the economic crisis will NOT be resolved. If Obama doesn’t see it this way, he’s barely viewing reality through one good eye.

    It must be hard to make a sacrifice as such when the nation’s most profitable exports are war and arms. What a pathetically insecure bunch of mongers they are.

    Thanks for the article, William.

    Best to you.

  11. Erroll said on January 23rd, 2009 at 12:26pm #

    Very good article. It should also be pointed out that Obama, the former [alleged] antiwar candidate, stated in his inaugural speech that “our security emanates from the justness of our cause, the force of our example…” Will anyone in our less than intrepid media inquire of Obama why it is just to have illegally invaded and occupied two countries which have never threatened anyone in these United States by “the force of our example”?

    Unfortunately, it is highly unlikely if anyone in the mainstream media, outside of Helen Thomas, will ask this most relevant question of Obama or his press secretary.