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President Obama called on the nation Tuesday night to “move beyond our
differences” on the disastrous US Iraq policy, the Congressional
Republican leadership – John Boehner in the House and Mitch McConnell in
Senate- were delivering high-octane speeches attacking the president
for opposing the military surge of US forces in 2007 that they claim
turned the tide in the Iraq war.
In fact a surge did
turn out to be a key to changing direction in the catastrophe that
followed the US invasion and military occupation in
Iraq. But, it wasn’t the surge of military forces that Boehner,
McConnell and their fellow Iraq war apologists talk about, but the surge
in anti-war sentiment in both the United States and Iraq.
outrage and opposition to the war drove the mid-term US elections in
November 2006 and led to the ouster of the President’s party from
control of Congress the following January. As Brian Katulis of the
Center for American Progress pointed out this week on the PBS’ News
Hour, it was after Americans sent a clear signal that the days of the US
military occupation of Iraq were numbered that the Sunni “Anbar
turned against al Qaeda. “The thing that motivated them,” Katulis said,
“was the sense that the US would not be there forever.”
motivated US politicians in Washington was public sentiment against the
war. Bipartisan coalitions in Congress and a bipartisan study group
began calling for a change of course. Meanwhile, growing opposition to
the American military occupation among Iraqi citizens began to drive
politicians in Baghdad. Negotiations with the Americans over a Status of
Forces Agreement became more contentious as the Iraqi government
position hardened and demanded that a date certain be set for the
of all US forces. Nothing short would be acceptable to an
occupation-weary Iraqi public.
strong and growing opposition both at home and in Iraq, the Bush
administration reluctantly signed the Status of Forces Agreement
requiring a complete withdrawal of US forces by the end of 2011.
Katulis and Lawrence Korb argued recently in Foreign Policy,
establishing a firm deadline for the removal of US troops from Iraq –
that was demanded by a determined public – was key to making the
redeployment of US
combat forces out of Iraq possible. It will also be a key to ending US
combat operations in Afghanistan.
The good news is that 72% of Americans believe that the invasion of Iraq was not worth it and a majority now
support ending the US combat role in Afghanistan.
bad news is that pressure is building inside the Washington beltway to
eliminate the deadline for the removal of US forces from Iraq and the
date to start removing troops from Afghanistan.
numbers of news stories about Iraq now
include ominous references to a “growing consensus” among many
“experts” and “officials” that after a new Iraqi government is finally
formed in Iraq, it is likely that a new Status of Forces Agreement will
be negotiated that will include an extension of the presence of US
Republicans are pushing hard against the July 2011 date to begin the
removal of combat forces from Afghanistan and Obama administration
officials are in retreat, defensively arguing that the deadline actually
means little to nothing as they assert that the removal of US combat
forces will be “conditions
based.” Troops could, in fact, remain in Afghanistan for a very long
great American baseball sage Yogi Berra was right when he once famously
noted: “It aint over ‘till it’s over!” No one knows that more about the
wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than our soldiers who remain in harm’s way
and their families, regardless of whether or not a president declares
an end to combat operations.
again, the American public – and anti-war activists both in and out of
Congress – will play an important role in determining whether or not all
US combat forces are in fact removed from Iraq on schedule and if the
withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan next July really is the beginning
of the end of combat operations there.
surge in anti-war public sentiment, anti-war activism and Congressional
opposition played a decisive role in setting the stage for the
milestone declared by
President Obama last night about combat operations in Iraq. It will
very likely take a similar surge to overcome the fierce opposition that
stands in the way of finally getting all of our troops out of Iraq and
Afghanistan once and for all.
Tom Andrews, a former Member of Congress from the first Congressional District of Maine, is the President and CEO of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. Tom also served as National Director of Win Without War, a coalition of forty-two national membership organizations including the National Council of Churches, the NAACP, the National Organization of Women, the Sierra Club, and MoveOn. He is also co-founder of New Security Action.