This is the third in a series of posts on Barack Obama’s Middle East dilemmas. The topic for Part I was the war on terror, and Part II was Afghanistan. Tomorrow, Part IV will cover the Israel-Palestine conflict, and Part V will be Iran. Today: Iraq.
Iraq is not stable. The “surge” didn’t work. The US-Iraq “Status of Forces Agreement” is only a piece of paper. The country is plagued with violence. Key political actors in Iraq are bolstered by paramilitary armies, including the Badr Brigade, the Mahdi Army, and the Sons of Iraq (“Awakening”) movement. Vast numbers of Iraqis are unemployed. Industry has collapsed, and basic services — electricity, water, gas, sanitation — are intermittent or nonexistent. The army and police are corrupt and infiltrated by militias, and the army’s loyalty is suspect. Most of Iraq’s political movements are backed by or have ties to one or more of Iraq’s neighbors. Baghdad is a warren of blast walls and walled-off enclaves, reeling from years of ethnic cleansing, and Iraq’s provincial capitals are rife with intrigue, with many of them — Kirkuk, Mosul, Baquba, Basra, for instance — perched at the bring of outright civil war.
That’s the Iraq that Obama is inheriting from the decider.
As president, Obama has no choice other than to follow through on the central promise of his campaign: to withdraw one to two brigades of US troops each month. The New York Times reports today that US military planners, anticipating an order from Obama, “are drawing up plans for a faster withdrawal of American troops from Iraq in anticipation that President-elect Barack Obama will reject current proposals as too slow, Pentagon and military officials said Wednesday.” That’s the first concrete sign that Obama is prepared to stand up to the generals, who’d proposed a much slower drawdown of American forces that Obama had promised in 2008.
Indeed, when it comes to Iraq, Obama is in full control. He is not bound by any agreement or plans signed by George W. Bush. He isn’t hemmed in by the three-year timetable of the Status of Forces Agreement, which calls for US forces to stay in Iraq through 2011. And he isn’t tied to any timetables sketched out by Admiral Mullen of the Joint Chiefs, General Petraues of Centcom, and General Odierno, the US commander in Iraq. He is, yes, the commander-in-chief. In that regard, the Times report is an encouraging indication that he plans to act like one.