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Commentary :: Politics : War and Militarism
11 Mar 2008
Clinton and Obama each maintain that if elected they will immediately take steps to end the war in Iraq. But there is good reason to look at the fine print of their programs very carefully. Neither will end it quickly nor bring all the troops home.
By Jack A. Smith
March 10, 2008, Activist Newsletter

If right wing Republican Sen. John McCain wins the November presidential election, he says the war in Iraq will continue indefinitely until a U.S. victory, even suggesting seriously that 100 years in Iraq "would be fine with me."

But what if, as most of the peace movement hopes, Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton or Barack Obama becomes president? Both pledge to end the war. Clinton says "It is time to begin ending this war -- not next year, not next month -- but today." Obama most recently has declared: "I will bring this war to an end in 2009." These are encouraging words. What do they mean?

Given that Clinton approaches the Iraq war from the political center-right perspective that characterizes her foreign policy outlook, and Obama from the centrist vision that forms his view of international affairs, it is constructive to delve deeper into their campaign pronouncements. After all, neither contender has refuted earlier statements that not all U.S. troops will be removed from Iraq by the end of their first term in January 2012.

Clinton supported the war from the beginning, ignoring the grave doubts expressed by progressive Democrats who participated in the historic "preemptive" antiwar demonstrations that took place from September 2002 through March 2003, when the invasion began.

During the 2004 election campaign Sen. Clinton adopted the platform embraced by Sen. John F. Kerry, the Democratic presidential candidate, which amounted to criticizing President Bush for a blundering inability to attain an unambiguous victory against the resistance movement, declaring that only the Democrats could win the war. Under great constituent pressure during the 2006 congressional election campaign, Clinton began gravitating toward a limited antiwar position which accelerated last year when she entered the campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Obama opposed the war beginning in September 2002 as an Illinois state legislator through his 2004 campaign for a Senate seat, promising at the time not to vote for further funding of the war. But when he entered the U.S. Senate in January 2005 he began to distance himself from the peace issue. During his first two years in the upper chamber he voted along with Clinton to fund the war several times, allocating over $300 billion in the process.

The March 9 New York Times described Obama this way: "He was cautious — even on the Iraq war, which he had opposed as a Senate candidate. He voted against the withdrawal of troops and proposed legislation calling for a drawdown only after he was running for president and polls showed voters favoring it…. He disappointed some Democrats by not taking a more prominent role in opposition to the war — he voted against a troops withdrawal proposal by Sens. John Kerry and Russ Feingold in June 2006, arguing that a firm date on withdrawal would hamstring diplomats and military commanders in the field."

By 2007, as the presidential nomination campaign season got underway in a party where 90% of its supporters wanted to end the war within a year, Clinton and Obama declared themselves antiwar candidates. They voted that spring in favor of a proposal to begin the gradual withdrawal of some American troops. A few months later, not wanting to be outdone by the other, both for the first time voted to cut off funding on a supplementary war spending bill that was already doomed, and thus they would not be held accountable.

Here is Clinton's position today, according to her campaign website March 10: "We have heard for years now that as the Iraqis stand up, our troops will stand down. Every year, we hear about how next year they may start coming home. Now we are hearing a new version of that yet again from the president as he has more troops in Iraq than ever and the Iraqi government is more fractured and ineffective than ever. Well, the right strategy before the surge and post-escalation is the same: start bringing home America's troops now."

Clinton promises to begin a "phased redeployment" of American troops within her first two months in office. She would "focus American aid efforts during our redeployment on stabilizing Iraq, not propping up the Iraqi government." In addition, a President Clinton intends to launch an "intensive diplomatic initiative" that would bring together U.S. allies, the UN, "other global powers, and all of the states bordering Iraq," the purpose being "to create a stable Iraq."

Clinton's campaign headquarters then declares: "And as we replace military force with diplomacy and global leadership, Hillary will not lose sight of our very real strategic interests in the region. She would devote the resources we need to fight terrorism and will order specialized units to engage in narrow and targeted operations against al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations in the region."

Here is Obama's position, based on his March 10 website, which makes no mention, incidentally, of the Feb. 19 pledge to end the war next year: "Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months [May 2010]. Obama will make it clear that we will not build any permanent bases in Iraq. He will keep some troops in Iraq to protect our embassy and diplomats [and to train Iraqi troops, it is stated later]; if al Qaeda attempts to build a base within Iraq, he will keep troops in Iraq or elsewhere in the region to carry out targeted strikes on al Qaeda.

"The best way to press Iraq’s leaders to take responsibility for their future is to make it clear that we are leaving. As we remove our troops, Obama will engage representatives from all levels of Iraqi society – in and out of government – to seek a new accord on Iraq’s Constitution and governance. The United Nations will play a central role in this convention, which should not adjourn until a new national accord is reached addressing tough questions like federalism and oil revenue-sharing.

"Obama will launch the most aggressive diplomatic effort in recent American history to reach a new compact on the stability of Iraq and the Middle East. This effort will include all of Iraq’s neighbors — including Iran and Syria. This compact will aim to secure Iraq’s borders; keep neighboring countries from meddling inside Iraq; isolate al Qaeda; support reconciliation among Iraq’s sectarian groups; and provide financial support for Iraq’s reconstruction."

Listening to the speeches and reading the statements of Clinton and Obama, the average antiwar voter will conclude that the war will soon be over if either gets elected. Such a conclusion, however, is not accurate, even though both Democrats cannot be compared to an unmitigated warhawk like McCain. It is important to read between the lines and to look for omissions in the comments of Clinton and Obama.

The first omission is that no mention is made of removing all U.S. troops. Here are some of the others: The number of American soldiers and marines who will remain is not specified. There is no mention of a date for ending the occupation. No information is given about where U.S. combat troops will be 'deployed' — all back home? or much more likely, in the region around Iraq such as Kuwait or Turkey, ready to reenter when American forces inside Iraq need support? There is no reference to the U.S. Air Force, which, perforce, will play an expanded bombing role as combat troops start moving out. What about the Navy's enormous war-fighting force in close proximity to Iraq? How about the private mercenary army Uncle Sam has working in Iraq, along with those 'contractors' supplying the occupation force?

And just because the candidates speak of removing "combat troops" doesn't mean the fighting will end. Here is the scenario we predict unless Clinton and Obama really get serious about ending the war:

Between 30,000 to 60,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq indefinitely. About 20,000 or so will be from the Special Forces — some of the Pentagon's best fighters, but they are not part of the Army's combat brigades. They will focus on crushing al Qaeda and other resistance forces. Other troops will protect U.S. installations, the Green Zone, the huge new embassy, and the oil wells. Others will train the Iraqi army and police forces — an absolutely essential task. Then there is the Air Force, which is an essential support for the Iraqi Army when it goes on serious missions. An unspecified number of mercenaries will continue to protect American and Iraqi officials and politicians, as well as truck convoys, plus thousands of contractors will remain to perform functions for the occupation forces.

This is not about ending the war. It is about carrying out the war by training a very large Iraqi Army, entirely paid for by the U.S., to do much of the fighting instead of U.S. troops, but keeping a significant number of American forces in Iraq to back up the Iraqi soldiers and to safeguard Washington's interests. Needless to say, the Iraqi government will continue to be controlled from the U.S. And American leaders are hardly going to turn their backs on Iraqi oil, or give up a strategic military position in the very heartland of the oil-rich and Islamic Middle East.

Clinton and Obama actually share much in common regarding war and U.S. foreign and military policy. For instance, both candidates strongly support the Afghanistan war and will send more U.S. troops to that country. Both also support expanding the U.S. Armed Forces by 92,000 more troops, in order not to run short of combatants for Bush's broader War on Terrorism, which they evidently plan to continue for the indefinite future.

Both are critical of the Iraqi government for not being able to fulfill Washington's command to develop unity among the contending factions and for fulfilling America's many so-called benchmarks of performance. It's almost as though the U.S. is a self-sacrificing, benevolent and friendly country bending over backwards to help the incompetent, undisciplined Iraqi people, instead of an aggressive occupying power that has decimated the entire country, causing over a million deaths in the process.

Both want a bigger military and support the annual militarist budget. Both back the geostrategic U.S. policy of extending economic and political hegemony throughout the world, and do not propose veering away from the expansionist, interventionist international policy Washington has pursued since the end of World War II.

Both Democrats speak of the war as emanating from the Bush Administration's hubris, mistakes, blunders and untruths. This is true in part. But they do not mention the much more important part: The U.S. war in Iraq is illegal in terms of the UN and international laws to which Washington is a signatory. It is unjust in terms of age-old and accepted just-war theory, and universal ethical principles. It is immoral on the face of it. And of course it is a manifestation of imperialism.

Clinton and Obama conceal this reality because to acknowledge that the war is unjust, illegal and immoral would leave no credible alternative but to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq immediately, to modify the nature of American foreign policy, and to pledge massive compensation to the Iraqi people.

— The author is the editor of the Activist Newsletter. He may be reached at jacdon (at) The many articles in the March 10 edition may be viewed at

This work is in the public domain
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