President Barack Obama and his political team must have thought they struck a goldmine when they stumbled on the “responsible end.” Regardless of the Pentagon’s bruised ego, victory in Afghanistan was out of the question after 10 years of war and George Bush’s historic miscalculation. Obama wasn’t taking that chance because he knew, contrary to his public declaration, that America isn’t withdrawing from a position of strength but stalemate.
Thus the “responsible end” was born. It doesn’t seem very responsible, though, to affix this lodestar to Iraq. Not even with the country’s simmering war running at the bottom of U.S. public conscious.
Three more combat fatalities have brought America’s death toll to 14 in June, plus another non-combat casualty. While a “low” 62 U.S. troops were killed in Afghanistan, compared to 103 in June 2010, Iraq has witnessed its highest casualties since June 2009. 31 U.S. troops in total have been killed since combat operations “ended” in August 2010. Before a lull in the current month - “only” 20 Iraqi security forces and 42 civilians lost their lives in insurgent attacks - over a thousand Iraqis have been killed since Obama redeployed the bulk of U.S. forces.
Iraq is stabler in comparison to the civil war that America nearly induced. U.S. policy-makers claim to be satisfied with their results. Yet the end of America’s second war in Iraq is far from the responsible vision they were hoping for.
The cruel upside stabs a second dagger into Obama’s “responsible withdrawal.” Naturally this theory is imbued with controversy, but the U.S. government exploits its own casualties - civilian or military - to further military expansion. An uptick in death can only be explained by one factor, according to the Pentagon. Speaking to Bloomberg, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates used his final days in office to lobby one last volley at Iran. The Obama administration's most vocal (and often the only) proponent of a troop extension in Iraq warned that Iran is intent on, “killing as many as possible in order to demonstrate to the Iraqi people that, in effect, they drove us out of Iraq at the end of the year.”
Iran is “facilitating weapons, they’re facilitating training, there’s new technology that they’re providing. They’re stepping this up, and it’s a concern.”
Impossible as it is to deny Iran’s involvement in funding proxy Shia groups in Iraq, the excuse too conveniently fits with Gates’s push to rewrite the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Gates would prefer not to withdrawal every last troop by December, and has expressed his feelings on numerous occasions throughout the last 18 months. Baghdad had deferred for as long as possible, fearing a political crisis, but U.S. pressure has correspondingly increased. Meanwhile the Obama administration has cruised along in public, ignoring Gates’s statements and insisting the President will hold to Iraq’s SOFA.
The White House is aware that a residual force in Iraq warps Afghanistan’s time-line, which in reality is a heavier and longer challenge.
Billed a realist, Gates’s doesn’t seem to know when to quit. “They didn’t create the Arab Spring or start it,” he says of Iran, “but they are clearly trying to exploit it wherever they can.” It’s remarkable how people talk about others when they’re talking about themselves. Not only has the Obama administration exploited various revolutions in the Middle East, it’s using the Arab Spring, Afghanistan and Iraq to cancel each other out in the U.S. public sphere.
Perhaps Obama dodged the word “victory” in Afghanistan under the expectation that he could wield it when the last soldier exited Kabul. Or does he know enough to never expect a triumph?