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The Coming Military Extension in Iraq That Nobody Knows About

I wanted to follow on Swopa’s story from over the weekend about Muqtada al-Sadr vowing to regard any US military in Iraq after the December 2011 withdrawal date as “an unjust invader” who “should be opposed with military resistance.”

It occurs to me that we’re about to put US troops in this kind of harm’s way without any public debate, or even public knowledge. The Obama Administration has not prepared the public for even the remote possibility that US troops will stay in Iraq past the end of the year. In every public comment, President Obama says our troops will be gone by December. He recently addressed supporters who are canvassing on his behalf by telling them to tell people, “On Iraq, you have a pretty simple answer, which is all our folks are going to be out of there by the end of the year.” Just a couple months ago, the Administration produced an infographic following the announcement of a drawdown in Afghanistan, which assumed that there would be a full withdrawal from Iraq by December.

And yet all of this was happening while the leading defense officials of the Administration were making obviously loaded statements about how, if Iraq wanted US troops to stay, they’d have to ask pretty soon. And now, the Iraqi government has agreed to negotiations about extending the presence.

The last time Iraq was on the front page was a year ago, when combat troops left the country. There are still 46,000 Americans serving over there, and they have been forgotten. The dominant message has been that the war is over and it’s just a matter of bringing the last men and women home. But this isn’t true. And when the public finds out about this, I’d expect a fair bit of outrage. It plays right into a narrative of capitulation and reversal that has characterized this Presidency, to many. The two dominant stories from progressives over the last decade concerned opposition to the Bush tax cuts and opposition to the war in Iraq. Within a few weeks, the President will have to announce that they’ve decided to extend the war, months after he decided to extend the Bush tax cuts. This will come right at the beginning of a re-election campaign!

VoteVets, the Democratic veterans group that is normally at least somewhat in step with the Administration, today became the first progressive group to even mention the likelihood of a troop extension, and how that will put those troops in danger. Ashwin Madia, the chairman of VoteVets, writes:

We warned it was coming. We’ve mobilized against it. But, it’s here. This week, the Iraqi government and American government are expected to start hammering out an agreement which would keep US Troops in Iraq for at least another two years, past our end-of-year deadline to leave. Meanwhile, Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr has promised more violence against US troops, if they stay. June already had been the most deadly month for US Troops in Iraq in two years. Sadr said, “They [US Troops] will be treated as anyone who stays in Iraq, as a tyrannical occupier that must be resisted by military means.” […]

Should we stay in Iraq past our deadline, it is clear that violent attacks will further increase, leading to more American deaths. The United States will then be forced to either endure the attacks or send in more troops to protect our forces. There is simply no outcome from staying past the end-of-year deadline that is acceptable or desirable.

VoteVets has a petition to Congress asking members to urge their representatives to end the war. That’s going to be yet another battle to be fought that progressives may have thought they already won.

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David Dayen

David Dayen