Iraq: Change Is in the Air, or Isn't It? Is talk of withdrawal, just the same old election year deception?

In recent weeks there has been a shift in the views of the American public, as well as in the actions of elected officials, U.S. military leaders and the Iraqi leadership. The shift in all areas is toward withdrawal of U.S. troops. But, whether this a real shift or election year deception is difficult to tell. Too often politicians in the United States talk about avoiding or ending war and then when they get elected do the opposite.

There is good reason for talk about getting out of Iraq. All polls show a strong trend toward withdrawal; most show a majority now favor withdrawal. A USA Today/Gallup poll shows that a large majority of Americans, 57%, believe Congress should pass a resolution that outlines a plan for withdrawing from Iraq. Only 39% believe that decision should be left to the president and his advisors. Similarly, a poll by Opinion Research Corporation released by CNN found by a 53% to 41% majority, Americans think the United States should set a timetable for the withdrawal of troops from Iraq. The Washington Post/ABC poll did not find majority support for withdrawal, by a slim margin of 51% to 47%, but the poll found the trend strongly moving toward withdrawal in all categoreies of voters.

All these polls come at a time of a PR blitz by the Bush administration — the killing of Zarqawi, the new "unity" government taking shape in Iraq and the president’s surprise visit to Iraq. Despite all this "good" news the unpopularity of the war is hurting the president.

Perhaps the American public is seeing through the good-news propaganda offensive. In fact, the news on the ground is anything but good. On the same day that Bush went to Baghdad, a memo to the State Department from the U.S. ambassador in Iraq described things on the ground in Baghdad to be deteriorating by all measures. Associated Press reported a deadly week for US soldiers with 16 GI’s killed in Iraq. And in Baghdad, Iraq’s Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, tightened an already draconian security clampdown by calling for a state of emergency in the city. Downtown streets were seeing hours-long gun battles involving Iraq and American troops fighting Shiite and Sunni Arab gunmen. This was occurring despite ten days of thousands of troops being put into the streets of Baghdad trying to restore some semblance of order.

At the same time Maliki was releasing a plan to end the occupation and the insurgency. However, the plan offered by Maliki was severally muted from the original draft proposed. Newsweek reports intense pressure on Maliki to change the plan and reported significant changes reporting:

"Four key clauses were taken out, including one that insisted on distinguishing between u2018national resistance’ forces and u2018terrorists,’ and another one that would reverse the dismissals of many former Baathist party officials under the country’s deBaathfication program. Explicit language about controlling party militias and u2018death squads’ was missing as well from the final draft. That left a much vaguer statement of principles, but one that everyone could agree to put on the table."

The plan also calls for withdrawal, but does not specify an actual date. There continues to be conflict with some in the Parliament who want to set an actual date of withdrawal. Newsweek reports that a senior coalition military official, who did not want to be identified "did not outright rule out the idea of a date. u2018One of the advantages of a timetable — all of a sudden there is a date which is a much more explicit thing than an abstract condition,’ he said. u2018That’s the sort of assurance that [the Sunnis] are looking for.’"

One of the most controversial issues raised in the discussions over Maliki’s plan is amnesty for insurgents. Newsweek reports: "Everyone agrees for instance that a bomb set off in a mosque is terrorism. But if a roadside bomb is set off targeting soldiers, but killing innocent bystanders — is that resistance, or terrorism?"

While the U.S. and Maliki trumpeted support of some insurgent groups for the plan, the key insurgent groups refused to accept it. Eleven insurgent groups said they do not recognize the legitimacy of the Maliki government. And, they want a more rapid withdrawal of U.S. troops, release of all prisoners from U.S. and Iraqi jails, and the funding for the rebuilding of homes and infrastructure in Iraq destroyed by the occupation. An unidentified insurgent commander told the London Times: "The government is very aware that those it says it is negotiating with are not representatives of the main organizations. This whole so-called reconciliation plan is being exaggerated as a breakthrough to help to promote Maliki and his government as well as to aid the Americans to find a face-saving way out of Iraq." More likely that "a face-saving way out of Iraq" the Maliki plan is more to assist President Bush’s party in the mid-term elections. Similarly, talk of a U.S. withdrawal at home is being overblown. Democrats, who lost votes in the Senate calling for withdrawal, hailed a statement by General George Casey. The plan was called for a withdrawal of a mere 7,000 troops before the mid-term elections and potentially half the remaining troops being withdrawn in 2007. Thus, at best it was a very slow partial withdrawal, but Democrats applauded anyway. The bubble burst a day later when President Bush and his spokesperson, Tony Snow, played down talk of a withdrawal, saying it was one of many options presented by Casey.

Bob Herbert, the New York Times columnist, wrote on June 26 that this is mere political posturing by the Bush-Rove team, writing "From the Bush-Rove perspective, General Casey’s plan is not a serious strategic proposal. It’s a straw in the political wind."

And, columnist, Justin Raimando puts it all in historical perspective in "A Plague on Both Their Houses" where he writes how often politicians fool U.S. voters during an election year:

"In 1916, Woodrow Wilson was reelected to the presidency chiefly on the strength of a slogan: u2018He kept us out of war.’ By 1917, the peacenik prez was leading the charge against Germany, jailing antiwar activists, and exhorting Americans to fight a u2018war to end all wars.’ In 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt told the voters: u2018I have said this before, but I shall say it again and again and again: your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars.’ Behind the scenes, however, he was maneuvering to do just that — and by the end of 1941, we were fighting a two-front war, embracing u2018Uncle‘ Joe Stalin as a fellow u2018anti-fascist,’ and planning the internment of the Japanese-American population."

Just as today, the politicians of the two old parties — the two parties that consistently fight war after war — are out of step with the American voters. And, they know it. They see the polls. They know Americans don’t want to be losing American lives and spending hundreds of billions in tax dollars to police the world, or worse, make the world safe for America’s big business interests. So, what do they do — when an election year comes they do their best to confuse the voter.

U.S. voters need to judge politicians on their actions, not on their words. We need to look at the Baghdad skyline and see whether the massive U.S. embassy is still under construction or whether the long-term military bases being built throughout Iraq are still under construction. The reality is they are and that means the U.S. is not planning on leaving anytime soon — the U.S. is putting down long and deep roots in Iraq.

Political Theatre

LRC Blog

LRC Podcasts