Armistice Day

Breezily shrugging off United Nations’ weapons inspectors and the largest antiwar protests in history, George Walker Bush ordered the invasion and occupation of Iraq, a war crime and crime against humanity premised on a series of outrageous exaggerations, cherry-picked intelligence estimates, rank forgeries, jingoist paranoia, crude and completely false conflations with the events of September 11, 2001, and a fetid heap of outright lies. Almost nine years later, President Obama this week made good on his promise to withdraw US troops from Iraq.

Currently, though, a lot of commentary is content simply to recite the glib contention that President Obama’s actions are merely fulfillment of the Status of Forces Agreement Bush hurriedly negotiated with the Iraqis just before the 22nd Amendment relieved the United States and the world of his baleful and illegitimate presence. To those taking this position, I say, hoping not to betray the spirit of the season: Screw you.

In the interest of brevity, I’ll take up just one example. Please feel free to Google for more; you won’t find any shortage of results, or any significant variation among them.

Appearing with Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh in October, Glenn Greenwald sprained his considerable intellect trying to downplay in advance the significance of the withdrawal:

Yeah, this is really one of the more misleading storylines that we’ve seen in some time, this idea that President Obama has heroically ended the war in Iraq as promised. First of all, as the Obama White House itself is continuously pointing out, because they want to immunize themselves from criticism, the agreement with which they’re complying is a Status of Forces Agreement that was actually negotiated and put in place and ratified by the Bush administration before Obama took office… More incredibly and more significantly, the Obama administration has spent the last six months doing everything possible to persuade and convince and cajole and bully the Iraqi government into waiving this deadline and allowing it to keep more forces in Iraq beyond the 2011 deadline, and failed to do that because the condition that they were demanding, which is full legal immunity for our troops—just, you know, we don’t subject ourselves to the rule of law—is something that they couldn’t accept. And even with the withdrawal of troops from Iraq, we are keeping what McClatchy called a small army of private contractors and others under the control of the State Department. So the Obama administration tried to keep troops in Iraq and failed, and now is claiming credit for withdrawing them.

Yes, that certainly is incredible. Of course, Greenwald cites not a single example of anyone anywhere proclaiming that the President has done anything “heroic” here, least of all the President himself, a man no more apt get trussed up in a flight suit and do a victory jig on an aircraft carrier than he would be to proclaim at his next SOTU that he is, after all, a Kenyan socialist who attained office fraudulently.

As Greenwald acknowledges, the Obama administration hasn’t shied away from noting that the withdrawal is in keeping with the Status of Forces Agreement. How that “immunizes” them from criticism, though, Greenwald doesn’t say, probably because it’s a contention that lacks foundation, as Greenwald himself goes on to demonstrate by criticizing them six ways to Sunday.

Greenwald adduces no evidence to support his claim of the administration “doing everything possible to persuade and convince and cajole and bully the Iraqi government into waiving this deadline and allowing it to keep more forces in Iraq beyond the 2011 deadline.” This feverish narrative has been bouncing around the Leftosphere for months now; I’ve read a whole bunch of iterations and come away unconvinced and rather regretful that I wasted my time considering them. If Greenwald has anything persuasive to offer in support of this supposition, I’d be glad to see it; it would be a refreshing change of pace, at least.

What seems more likely – and, crucially, not so nefarious after all – is that an excess of caution by the military’s top brass (and very possibly, too, an excess of caution on the part of State and the White House – horrors!) resulted in a lot of late-in-the-day negotiation with the Iraqi government about residual forces, extended deadlines, localized exemptions and so forth, set against the frightening and very real possibility of a renewed bloodbath. Yet Greenwald, for reasons best left to him to explain, prefers to spin such negotiation as “persuade and convince and cajole and bully.”

As to the request for legal immunity, there’s certainly an odor of realpolitik wafting up from such an issue. As an attorney, though, Greenwald might be expected to understand that no international negotiation involving troops would omit such a clause, and that even had the Iraqis acceded to it, residual forces would still have been subject to the provisions of the UCMJ and the Geneva Conventions. Greenwald could have made a case for why such an agreement would be insufficient, but that approach doesn’t seem to suit his narrative.

Lacking Greenwald’s penchant for hyperbole, Al Jazeera summarizes all this with cold simplicity:

US officials were unable to reach an agreement with the Iraqis on legal issues and troop immunity that would have allowed a small training and counterterrorism force to remain.

As to that “small army of private contractors and others under the control of the State Department” which Greenwald seems to be insinuating will continue a stealth occupation even as our troops head home, other assessments of the situation read rather differently: Continue reading Armistice Day