Obama May Break His Promise on Iraq Withdrawal

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U.S. troops were supposed to be gone by year's end. But the White House is now offering to leave behind a force 10,000 strong.

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During Pres. Bush's last year in office, he agreed to a timetable for troop withdrawals in Iraq: U.S. forces would leave by the end of 2011. The same year, Barack Obama insisted that if elected he would end the Iraq War. In a speech given shortly after his inauguration, he repeated the promise. "Let me say this as plainly as I can: By August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end," he said. "I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011."

Now he may not honor his promise: AP reports that the Obama Administration has offered to leave 10,000 troops in Iraq if its government so requests. Already the White House "has worked out options to keep 8,500 to 10,000 active-duty troops in Iraq to continue training security forces."

The Los Angeles Times has more:

The Obama administration has been debating how large a force to propose leaving in Iraq. It made its proposal now in hopes of spurring a request from Prime Minister Nouri Maliki's government, and to give the Pentagon time to plan, the officials said. The troops would be based around Baghdad and in a small number of other strategic locations around the country, the officials said.

Noting that Iraq had not asked yet for troops to stay, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said: "There's only so much time here available for the Iraqi government to make such a request. If they do, we will consider it."

Sen. Harry Reid is opposed to a continued American presence: "It is time for our own troops to return home by the end of the year and for these precious resources to be directed elsewhere."

What's important to observe here is that wars almost always last longer than the public is led to expect. This is true whether they're being waged by presidents who launched them or successors who reluctantly inherited them. It is true so often that our presumption should be that any proposed war will last many times longer and cost many billions more than its advocates say.

Among Americans our troops bear the heaviest burden: As of today, "at least 4,469 members of the U.S. military had died in the Iraq war," AP reports, and "32,130 U.S. service members have been wounded in hostile action." 15 American soldiers were killed in June, the deadliest month for our forces in three years. At minimum, tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians have also been killed.

If 10,000 American troops do remain in Iraq come 2012, will it hurt Obama in the election? After all, it'll mean that he broke his promise to anti-war voters, having already betrayed civil libertarians, executive power critics, and medical marijuana advocates.

Says Spencer Ackerman:

No one in the United States gives a shit about Iraq anymore. "Forgotten war" doesn't begin to cover it... So I wonder if there would be any political consequence to Obama putting an asterisk on his promise... Obama 2012: He Ended* The Iraq War. It won't be true. Just true enough for American appetites.

I suspect that's right, unless the GOP nominee tries running to Obama's "left" on Iraq.

And that's unlikely.

Image credit: Reuters

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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