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Celebrating US Withdrawal from Iraq? Shame on Us!

As many of you will remember, I wrote a lot of posts here at FDL about the war in Iraq before I got ill and had to take a break. While writing less, I am still on the various “progressive” emails lists where “activists” talk about issues like the war and the traffic in recent days shook me up.

The first was an email inviting activists to join one group in an informal cocktail hour to “celebrate” the end of the war. I found myself sitting and shaking at the thought. What celebrate? How many years and we … celebrate?

Then members of lists I’m on starting sending around their End of Iraq War posts … and it got worse.

We have, for example Tom Hayden in the LA Times writing:

As the United States completes its withdrawal from Iraq, it is worth pausing to remember the determined peace activists who opposed the war from the start, including one who took up their cause and became president.

Then Tom Matzzie wrote at Huffington Post:

Today the war in Iraq is ending. After nearly nine years our long national nightmare in Iraq is almost over. This day may not have come were it not for the years of work by all of the millions of Americans who volunteered, protested, lobbied, organized, donated, wept, prayed and voted for an end to this war. The American people have ended the war in Iraq through our democracy’s flawed but still great ability to correct itself…

This is the same movement that elected a president who opposed the start of the war and promised to end the war. This week President Obama has kept his promise to end the war in Iraq. He did not do it alone — the movement that mobilized the public was at his side.

I don’t praise the president as an act of partisan loyalty. There is plenty more for progressives to demand from this administration. But with the weight of foreign policy elites and establishment opinion pushing the president to stay in Iraq indefinitely, President Obama rejected a permanent occupation …

Matzzie’s phrase in his very first sentence about “our long national nightmare in Iraq” is quite telling as all these messages are about “us”, “our” and what “we” and “our troops” have suffered.

And then they repeat the lie that Obama kept his promise.

Let’s remember what that promise actually was:

Obama will immediately begin to remove our troops from Iraq. He will remove one to two combat brigades each month, and have all of our combat brigades out of Iraq within 16 months.

16 months – that would have been April 2010. Rather different from December 31, 2011.

And this withdrawal, 18 months after Obama’s own promised end date follows months of reports about Obama’s Pentagon begging the Iraqis to let us stay and threatening even more horrors if we left.

Of course, we also have not really left. While the troops are gone – though 4,000 will sit in Kuwait in case a “reaction force” and the 17,000 strong staff assigned to the largest US embassy anywhere will include an unannounced number of mercenaries as well as least 157 staffers “to help Iraqis acquire and then learn how to use military equipment they buy from the United States.”

Yet, if we look again at Tom Hayden piece, we discover that those of us pointing to the contradiction are just not sufficiently grateful:

Some peace activists view the fact that thousands of advisors and contractors will remain in Iraq on the U.S. Embassy payroll as evidence of a secret plan to continue the war by other means. But the war is as over as a war can be, and the peace movement should celebrate. Removing troops from Iraq will save tens of billions of dollars a year, and it will also save lives.

These posts go on to encourage us to take credit for “ending” the war, a claim hard to stomach if you remember MoveOn’s decision during Matzzie’s tenure to work against the effort to force an actual timeline for ending the war — and a hard sell when the war wound on for nine years and seemed less to end than to be transferred to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and other locations when the Iraqis proved too resistant to that full-on permanent occupation Obama continued to try to impose.

Not surprisingly, neither mention the release by the New York Times of the most appropriate memorial for withdrawal day – the Haditha testimony documents:

Iraqi civilians were being killed all the time. Maj. Gen. Steve Johnson, the commander of American forces in Anbar, in his own testimony, described it as “a cost of doing business.”

The stress of combat left some soldiers paralyzed, the testimony shows. Troops, traumatized by the rising violence and feeling constantly under siege, grew increasingly twitchy, killing more and more civilians in accidental encounters. Others became so desensitized and inured to the killing that they fired on Iraqi civilians deliberately while their fellow soldiers snapped pictures, and were court-martialed. The bodies piled up at a time when the war had gone horribly wrong.

Charges were dropped against six of the accused Marines in the Haditha episode, one was acquitted and the last remaining case against one Marine is scheduled to go to trial next year.

That sense of American impunity ultimately poisoned any chance for American forces to remain in Iraq, because the Iraqis would not let them stay without being subject to Iraqi laws and courts, a condition the White House could not accept.

For all that writers like Matzzie and Hayden think we should be celebrating and patting ourselves on the back, as American “progressives” we showed no ability to stop the war, continue to ignore what was really done to Iraq in our name — and now praise Obama for his lies? Celebration is the very last word that comes to mind.

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Siun is a proud Old Town resident who shares her home with two cats and a Great Pyrenees. She’s worked in media relations and on the net since before the www, led the development of a corporate responsibility news service, and knows what a mult box is thanks to Nico. When not swimming in the Lake, she leads a team working on sustainability tools.

Email: media dot firedoglake at gmail dot com