Simon Williamson


2011-10-28 07:30

On Friday last week US President Barack Obama announced that all US troops in Iraq would be withdrawn by the end of the year. As the Americans like to say, "home for the holidays". The end of 2011 was an "aspirational" deadline set by the Bush administration (which, if you remember, started the nonsensical war while hunting for non-existent weapons of mass destruction) in 2008 - Obama only took office at the beginning of 2009.

Obama has been accused once every 13 seconds (according to stats I projected from people whining on news channels) of this being a political decision rather than one which is militarily justified. Basically, speculation says Obama is ending the war to increase his popularity rather than because it is a justified decision. You know, because there is an election coming up.

Well, "analysts" are forgetting that there is actually quite a lot of time before the next election. It is only in November next year - that's over a year since Obama made the withdrawal announcement (which was October 21 2011). These experts who are screaming that it is only in Obama's interest, and not in the national interest, are missing a fairly sizeable point.

Firstly, it is worth remembering that the Obama has far more access to information and background than any mainstream and a lot of localised media. Basically, his decision is based on far more facts to which anyone sitting outside Baghdad, and many sitting within it, has access. While the senior commander in charge of the mission, General Lloyd J Austin III (a rather large dissenter of the withdrawal), would also have access to large amounts of information as well, by virtue of leading a mission, there is a bucket-load of diplomatic data which he, most likely, has not seen.

There would be huge risks in withdrawing troops to boost his poll ratings if the situation in Iraq goes belly-up. There will be an outcry if the rate of violence in Baghdad begins to spike again (recent events have gone against more medium-term gains in stemming violence) or if US national security (which is what they call foreign policy a lot of the time here) is compromised in any way.

In fact, if troops are withdrawn from one of the countries in which the US is responsible for security, and then something happens on US soil, Obama is finished. The US takes national security incredibly seriously - as would a nation who has faced attacks like 9-11 and chats about domestic safety with BFF Israel. If Obama makes a decision which weakens the US' defence of its borders, he will be collecting unemployment from November next year. No question.

And I highly doubt the President Obama is only thinking up to this year's holidays. It is unlikely that anyone in Obama's administration, and yes, that includes defence secretary Leon Panetta, would allow the president to do so, in spite of Panetta's recommendation to maintain 3 000-4 000 troops in Iraq. Governments around the world think further than two months - most people older than five years think further than two months. While I can't conclusively prove to you that Obama is thinking past Christmas, he is surrounded by seasoned politicians - think Joe Biden, Panetta and Hillary Clinton - who would mop up any basic mistakes like that.

The other aspect of this whole deal that President Obama is taking in the neck deals with the fact that he was happy to allow a few thousand troops to remain but decided not to because the Iraqi government would not give them immunity. Opposition and other political figures have claimed that Obama couldn't get them immunity because he was "not committed".

I'd love to see them argue for keeping the armed forces, probably the most respected grouping of people in the US after the National Rifle Association, in Iraq without diplomatic and legal protection. In this sense, if anyone is trying to score political points, it is those public figures lashing Obama's decision.

- Simon Williamson is a freelance writer.

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