Rumors are rife that the United States will leave 3,000–4,000 troops behind in Iraq after the current December 31 deadline for total withdrawal, mainly as trainers for the Iraqi army. That would mean a withdrawal of some 45,000 American troops that are still currently there, and an annual taxpayer savings of $47 billion. In 2007, when Barack Obama was announcing his run for the presidency, 170,000 troops were deployed in Iraq, at a cost of $142.1 billion.
This deal is not done, however. On Wednesday administration officials emphasized that the Iraqis have made no request and the White House no decision. Fox broke the story anyway on Tuesday, reporting that new Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was recommending the 3,000–4,000 number, while the military was calling for 14,000–18,000 troops to remain. The Senate’s three military musketeers—Joseph Lieberman, John McCain and Lindsey Graham—immediately denounced Panetta’s proposed number as “dramatically lower” than the military’s request. The New York Times described the administration’s proposal as “token” in comparison with the “robust” presence the military commanders prefer.
In a telephone interview, Representative Barbara Lee said the proposal is a “move in the right direction” but “we have to keep the heat on.” Brian Katulis at the Center for American Progress told The Nation from Pakistan that he was “concerned about the fact that no matter what happens between now and the end of 2011, the United States is still going to have a substantial footprint on the ground in Iraq. We have a larger diplomatic presence there than any place in the world, and the fewer US troops we have there, the more private security contractors we will have. The State Department just doesn’t have a capacity to defend its personnel, so we’ll have to lean on a substantial private-contractor footprint. And quite likely there will be a number of ‘creative fictions’ that rebrand some of the current military functions.”
Nevertheless, a 97 percent US troop reduction in less than four years, and a 90 percent reduction in the next six months, are significant and rapid changes, even if hundreds of American operatives, bearded and in shades, are hidden behind embassy walls or embedded in Iraqi units. According to the Times, the proposal reflects “the mounting pressures to reduce the costs of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, both wars that have become increasingly unpopular as the 10th anniversary of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, approaches.”
It’s perhaps time to review the question, What does the peace movement want in Iraq?From the beginning, a dedicated core has demanded all troops out, all mercenaries out and all bases shut down, period. As the war dragged on and public opposition grew, the popular demand was moderated to include a negotiated settlement and withdrawal timetables. The establishment pivoted in 2007, when the Baker-Hamilton report proposed a phased withdrawal that would leave 10,000–20,000 US troops for training, rapid reaction, special operations and force protection. Candidate Obama employed the Baker-Hamilton report as his platform during the 2008 election campaign. Then, as the presidential transition approached, the US and Iraqi governments signed a pact delineating a staged withdrawal through the end of this year. In early 2009 then-President Obama promised to abide by the pact.