Obama Announces Iraq Pull-Out
See the full text and video of his speech here.
This is not everything a Christian pacifist and nonviolent activist like myself could want, but it is a GREAT step in the right direction. He has adjusted the timeline: “Combat” troops out by August 2010; Residual force (mostly for training Iraqis) of 30-50,000 (seems large); ALL troops out by 2011–respecting the Status of Forces Agreement Bush made with Iraq. We’ve been in Iraq WAAAAY too long and if we in the peace movement can put pressure into stepping up the pace, we should. But ALL troops out is more than Obama would commit to as a candidate.
Some on the left and some peace folk are purists who are never satisfied when politicians make good steps. Others are “true believers” who never want to criticize their leader. I think both stances are a mistake. I have criticisms to make, but I want us to notice the good and celebrate it first:
- Obama was against the invasion of Iraq from the beginning. This is important to note because this marks a first in U.S. history: The very first time that a principled opponent of a particular war was elected president WHILE THAT WAR WAS STILL ONGOING–and while campaigning to end it.
- The economic crisis (recession, depression–who knows) helps him work to end it–we simply cannot afford this war any longer.
- The phase out will involve the United Nations and the surrounding countries–a huge change from Bush’s “go it alone” policies.
- Honoring the SOFU with Iraq, honoring Iraqi sovereignty, is a major step in rebuilding our compliance with international law.
- Obama’s withdrawal timetable now has the support of McCain and other Republicans! I know, this surprised me, too, especially since McCain spent the entire general election campaign last year calling Obama “naive” on foreign policy and suggesting that he wouldn’t care if we were in Iraq 100 years! But this bi-partisan support–even if the number of GOP supporters is few–will make it harder for the rightwing hawks (in and out of the military) to pressure Obama into slowing down the withdrawal or stopping it–or make political hay out of his keeping this campaign pledge.
- On the other hand, both Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) are expressing concern about the number of residual troops in Iraq and the speed of withdrawal. This is also good news on several levels: It shows Congress reasserting itself as a separate and EQUAL branch of government again (per the Constitution, remember?) even with the same party in charge of both houses of Congress and the presidency. It also gives us allies in pushing for quicker, more complete withdrawal. (Pelosi noted in that interview that the House voted to end the Iraq war repeatedly in ’07 and ’08, but a timetable got out of the Senate only once and Bush vetoed it. She did not say why she then kept impeachment off the table–since that could have ended the war sooner.)
Now for the major criticism: As we are winding down Iraq, we are increasing troops in Afghanistan–and without much national or Congressional debate, with no timeline, no clearly defined mission. I have mentioned before that I believe Afghanistan could be for Obama what Vietnam was for LBJ–the Achilles’ heal that undoes much of the good he tries to do domestically. We need to Get Afghanistan Right! and that means recognizing that there is no military solution–even if there theoretically was one when Bush largely abandoned Afghanistan to invade Iraq–a nation uninvolved with al-Qaeda or 9/11 and which was no threat to us!
Watch the video, sign the petition, and contact your members of Congress to Rethink Afghanistan! New polling suggests that the American people want to find a way out of Afghanistan, too–certainly by 2012 at the very latest.
Meanwhile, Paul Rieckhoff of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), points out that the country needs to get ready for the return of these vets. We already have too many homeless and jobless vets and these returning soldiers will be coming back into the worst economy in decades. We aren’t prepared for their return and MUST get that way, quickly.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is heading to the Middle East next week to begin work on peace in the region and between Palestine and Israel particularly. It is my hope that she lays the groundwork for a full Middle East Peace Summit by July–with full participation by the Arab League, the EU, the UN, the US, etc.–and with Pres. Obama front and center in this process. (A July date gives time for planning, is during Congressional recess so Obama can’t work on more of his domestic challenges just then, and is hopefully soon enough that the hawks of the new Israeli cabinet will not be able to sabatouge things. Hawks from other groups, like Hamas and Hezbollah, however don’t seem to operate on a predictable timetablee. Much to pray about here!)
Overall, these are positive developments. Now, as peacemakers and persons of faith, let’s do our part to keep things moving in these directions.
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