I agree with Tom Hayden most of the time and value his insights and perspective. But I must part company with his effort to resuscitate Barack Obama's reputation as a passionate partisan of peace and advocate for an enlightened foreign policy. The record of the last three years speaks for itself, whether one looks at Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Yemen, Palestine, Guantanamo and on and on. But since Tom's essay is about Iraq, I will limit my comments to that sad country.
For a candidate who promised his first act as president would be to end the Iraq war, Obama as president betrayed that solemn promise and allowed the war to drag on right up to the deadline for withdrawal that he inherited under the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by George Bush.
Since he took office, 250 more U.S. military personnel have died and 1200 have been officially counted as wounded as a consequence of their service in Iraq. The number whose injuries (physical and psychic) were not diagnosed until they returned is unknown, but is almost certainly as large or larger than the number officially recognized as war casualties. How many Iraqis died or were injured or displaced as a direct result of the continuing U.S. military presence is also unknown.
Obama said he was not opposed to all wars, only "dumb" ones. He did not say he was opposed to immoral wars, or illegal ones, or imperialist wars, or wars for oil – only dumb wars. Yet when he had the power to bring that dumb war to a speedy end, he sat on his hands and let the generals have their way with Iraq, hoping to salvage something there they could claim as a "victory."
It has been within Obama's power and authority to end that travesty at any point since he took office in January of 2009. He did not. He let the SOFA run its course. Conveniently, the SOFA-determined deadline for departure is the end of this month, in time for Obama's spin doctors to paint him as the president who ended the war before the voters decide whether he will serve a second term. Obama's ample treasury of corporate contributions enables him to buy the best spin doctors in the nation. Leaders of the antiwar movement should not lend themselves to the unworthy task of restoring his image as a principled advocate for peace.
Right up until his celebratory speeches lauding the valiant service of returning U.S. forces, his administration doggedly sought to find a way to extend the presence of U.S. military forces in Iraq, but ultimately had to abandon that objective when it failed to convince the Iraqis to extend immunity to those forces. Had they agreed to continue immunity for U.S. forces, Obama's speeches would be very different, as he sought to explain to the US. public how extending their stay turned that dumb war into a smart one.
Tom speaks about the "long march to peace." From where I sit, we are still marching. Peace is hardly what one can say we have secured in Iraq. Certainly the Iraqis are under no illusions that the departure of U.S. forces will deliver the peace they crave. Aside from the private army of mercenaries who will remain (and many more likely yet to come), our forces leave a nation that has been consciously divided as a matter of U.S. policy along religious, sectarian, ethnic and regional lines. And each faction has been armed to the teeth, whether directly by U.S. forces, or as a consequence of weapons seized, pilfered or purchased. Private militias abound. Neighborhoods have been cleansed. Several million Iraqis remain displaced, living in abject poverty inside Iraq or as refugees in surrounding countries.
Human rights remains elusive in Iraq. The government the U.S. designed and created continues to brutalize dissenters. Workers who seek to organize unions continue to be repressed. The neo-liberal plan to privatize the Iraqi economy continues to unfold as foreign corporations gobble up as much of nation as they can lay their hands on.
No, I don't think "peace" is the term that should be applied to Iraq. Peace is not simply the absence of war. It requires the presence of justice.
I agree with Tom that the antiwar movements here and around the world (let's not forget Americans were not the only ones in the streets) can claim significant credit for reaching this juncture. Without its persistence over the course of nearly a decade, there is little doubt that the conflict there would have been far worse and our troops would likely remain garrisoned in Iraq for many more years to come. I know that Tom knows, but he failed to mention that far more than the U.S. peace movement, the Iraqi people get the lion's share of credit for the departure of U.S. forces. They had the lead roles in the Iraq tragedy, for which the U.S. antiwar movement had not unimportant but supportingparts. They did the lion's share of the suffering, the lion's share of the fighting and of the dying to reach this point. Our debt of gratitude most certainly should extend to them.
What I fear is that the departure of U.S. troops will result in the continuing crisis there turning invisible, not only for the U.S. media and public at large, but also for the U.S. antiwar movement. Our debt to Iraqis will not be paid by the withdrawal of U.S. military forces. Our obligation to stand in solidarity with them, to hold our government to account, to demand that our government abandon its interference in the internal affairs of Iraq, to struggle in support of their national sovereignty and human rights, and to demand that reparations without strings be paid, continues.
We most certainly should not seek to burnish Obama's tarnished reputation as an advocate of peace. He had and deserved that mantle as a candidate for president. He forfeited it many times over during the three years since he took office. If he wants to recover that reputation, he has the balance of his term to do that the old fashioned way, by earning it. He jumped off the peace train. He will now have to demonstrate by deeds not words that he deserves the opportunity to reboard.
Yes, there is cause for celebration as we reach the end of the military occupation of Iraq. But let it be a muted celebration that recognizes our work for real peace in Iraq is nowhere near ended.