The Iraq War: Concluding or Continuing?
The Iraq War is undoubtedly one of the largest issues to face the United States within the past decade. In the 2008 presidential elections these differences, opinions, and arguments came out of the woodwork. On August 31, 2010, President Obama officially announced the withdrawal of approximately 100,000 combat troops and declared it to be the “end of our combat mission in Iraq” (MSNBC). Some representatives, such as Congressman Ron Paul, remain skeptical that U.S. policy in Iraq has or will seriously change under President Obama. Despite the assurances and promises from the Obama Administration, I submit that our occupation of Iraq is not finished and has no foreseeable end in sight.
During the 2008 presidential elections, the Iraq War was one of the prime issues discussed in heated debates between both Democrats and Republicans. Some candidates proposed immediate withdrawal, others suggested a time-table of withdrawal, while Senator John McCain stated it’d “be fine with me” if the U.S. occupied Iraq for up to “one hundred years” (crowecole). On November 15, 2007, then-Senator Barack Obama declared “I’m going to bring this war to a close,” and asserted he would pursue a policy of withdrawing all combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of his victory (BarackObamadotcom).
In February 2009, six weeks after winning the presidential elections, President Obama announced that all combat troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by August 31, 2010. The remaining 50,000 non-combat troops were slated to leave by December 31, 2011 (MSNBC). On August 31, 2010, President Obama confirmed the Bush-era mission objectives had come to a conclusion, stating, “Operation Iraqi Freedom is over” (MSNBC). As promised, combat troops were indeed out of Iraq by the scheduled date. The next day, September 1, Vice President Joe Biden presided over a ceremony to usher in “Operation New Dawn,” the new Iraq mission title of the Obama Administration (Southall).
However, this leaves us the question: what are “non-combat” troops? Do they actually not participate in any combat, or is it a sleek way for the U.S. to continue an occupation of Iraq?
On February 27, 2009, Defense Secretary Robert Gates explained “those [troops] that are left will have a combat capability.” Gates continued:
There will be, as the president said, targeted counterterrorism operations. There will be continued embeds with some of the Iraqi forces in a training capacity and so on. (Gates)
Gates’ explanation makes it clear that non-combat forces are expected to participate in ongoing violent conflicts within Iraq. He says “the mission has changed” and the method of combat “will be completely different” from the policies pursued prior to Obama’s presidency.
It seems to me that “non-combat troops” is a gross misrepresentation of the actual duties of the remaining 50,000 U.S. soldiers in Iraq. Yes, the mission has been altered and the focus of combat has shifted (a debatable point, some might counter), but that doesn’t change the fact that remaining troops are realistically engaged in violent and dangerous activities. Changing the name of the mission and the titles of the soldiers doesn’t change the reality of the actual war being fought on the ground.
On November 9, 2010, the Associated Press reported the “United States is open to the idea of keeping troops in Iraq past a deadline to leave next year if Iraq asks for it.” The article continued on the possibility of U.S. troops staying in Iraq past 2011:
U.S. and Iraqi officials have said for months that they expect Iraqi leaders to eventually ask for an extension of the military agreement with the U.S., but the political impasse has put the idea on hold. (The Associated Press)
This is critical because “Operation New Dawn” may not be as quick and simple of a process as people expected. Defense Secretary Gates does not paint a picture of a secure, reliable Iraqi government, and takes little hesitation to propose keeping U.S. forces there if it’s requested by a legitimate Iraqi group. I am not debating if this is a smart strategic military move, but rather using Gates’ words to question the dependability of the Obama Administration’s withdrawal date for non-combat troops. To put it bluntly, I believe the withdrawal date is not set in stone and it would not be out of the question for the date to extend indefinitely if the security situation in Iraq fails to improve.
One issue that gains relatively small media and political coverage is the role of contractors in the Iraq War. A July 2, 2010 report compiled by Moshe Schwartz, a specialist in defense acquisition, for the Congressional Research Service states as of March 2010 there were “95,461 DOD contractor personnel in Iraq compared to approximately 95,900 uniformed personnel” (Schwartz 7). The most common tasks performed by DOD contractors in Iraq are “Base Support” (facilities management, grounds maintenance, etc.) and “Security” (8).
The Department of State (DS) also hires Private Security Contractors (PSCs) and other contractor positions. On June 21, 2010, Deputy Assistant Security Charlene Lamb explained “the military withdrawal from Iraq will prompt a larger operational role for DS.” She continues in more detail, “DS anticipates that we will need between 6,000 and 7,000 security contractors to meet requirements in Baghdad,” and estimates show “2,200 PSC movement security personnel and as many as 4,600 PSC static guard personnel could be needed to secure these new facilities and support Department programs” (Lamb).
Contractors are not sitting in the background of the Iraq War performing minute tasks; they participate in dangerous operations and are most definitely a part of the action (as would be expected in a war). This is evidenced by the 468 confirmed contractor deaths in Iraq since the war began in 2003 (iCasualties.org). Contractors are very much involved in combat (both directly and indirectly), and must be part of any discussions of withdrawal from Iraq.
While “combat troops” are being withdrawn from Iraq, Charlene Lamb gives the impression that the State Department is essentially planning to fill the void left by the withdrawing troops with more private contractors. It is a mere shift of duties; more of the load is being placed on private contractors hired by the State and Defense Departments. Typically there have been more contractors than troops in Iraq, so the end of the Iraq War means not only the withdrawal of troops but of contractors as well. Contractors are private citizens paid and hired by the DOD and are an integral part of the Iraq occupation, yet the Obama Administration has not been forthright in discussing when or if contractors will be withdrawn. How can the War possibly be over if thousands of private contractors continue the duties of previous occupying forces?
Representative Ron Paul, a Congressman from Texas, is one of the few Republicans in office who opposed the Iraq War from the beginning under the Bush Administration. On December 21, 2001, Ron Paul vocally opposed the resolution to invade Iraq, explaining that invading Iraq “could serve to further Osama bin Laden’s twisted plans for a clash of civilizations between Islam and the West” (Paul). Representative Paul is not convinced that the withdrawal of combat troops means anything significant to ending the War in Iraq. “After eight long draining years,” Paul says, “I have to wonder if our government even understands what it is to end a war anymore.” Paul argues the drawdown of “combat troops” was nothing more than “political maneuvering and semantics in order to convince an increasingly war-weary public that the Iraq War is at last ending” (Paul).
In response to President Obama’s speech announcing the final removal of combat troops and the new era of “Operation New Dawn,” Representative Paul issued a press release stating, “The President’s announcement that all U.S. combat troops have left Iraq is no more believable than the ‘Mission Accomplished’ declaration was in 2003.” Because the 50,000 remaining troops will continue to carry guns and engage in combat missions, several U.S. military bases remain in Iraq, and the number of contractors in Iraq is expected to increase, Paul concludes the Obama Administration’s “new policy is not one of peace but merely a charade” (Business Wire).
Having observed and analyzed this evidence, I have little doubt that there is no foreseeable end in sight with U.S. military involvement in Iraq, particularly when accounting for the looseness of our final withdrawal date in 2011 and the federal government’s escalation of private military contractors in Iraq. The 50,000 armed forces that remain in Iraq today are still engaging in combat missions; little has changed except for their job title. I place value in the words of Representative Ron Paul, someone who adamantly opposed the War from the beginning after the events of September 11, when he calls it an “endless war” (Paul). There is no visible exit strategy proposed by the Obama Administration that takes into consideration the increased role of private contractors and the ongoing combat involvement with remaining troops. The U.S. remains militarily active in Iraq both with “non-combat troops” and private contractors and, judging from the Obama Administration’s actions thus far, there is no conscientious effort to pull out all U.S. forces and bring the War to a close.
“McCain: 100 years in Iraq ‘would be fine with me’”. YouTube.com. 5 January 2008. crowecole. 4 December 2010. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VFknKVjuyNk>
“Las Vegas Debate: Barack Obama on Iraq”. YouTube.com. 15 November 2007. BarackObamadotcom. 4 December 2010. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eFbMz9lpxMQ>
“Obama sets date to end Iraq combat mission”. MSNBC. 27 February 2009. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/29371588/ns/world_news-mideast/n_africa/ (4 December 2010)
“Obama’s full speech: ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom is over’”. MSNBC. 31 August 2010.
http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38944049/ns/politics-white_house/ (4 December 2010)
Southall, Ashley. “The Early Word: Operation New Dawn”. The New York Times. 1 September 2010. http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/01/the-early-word-operation-new-dawn/ (4 December 2010)
Gates, Robert. “Press Conference Call with Secretary Gates on President Obama’s Troop Withdrawal Plan”. GlobalSecurity.org. 27 February 2009. http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/2009/02/mil-090227-dod01.htm (4 December 2009)
“Gates: US open to request from Iraq to stay”. The Associated Press. 9 November 2010. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5i6l0KDe5kZGkWiL1AzaP6Wm9aZxg (4 December 2010)
Schwartz, Moshe. “Department of Defense Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan: Background and Analysis”. Congressional Research Service. 2 July 2010. http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/natsec/R40764.pdf (5 December 2010)
“Iraq Coalition Casualties: Contractors – A Partial List”. iCasualties.org. 15 Sept. 2010. Web. 5 December 2010.
Lamb, Charlene. “Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Programs Charlene Lamb’s Remarks on Private Contractors in Iraq”. U.S. Department of State. 21 June 2010. http://www.state.gov/m/ds/rls/rm/143420.htm (5 December 2010)
Paul, Ron. “Statement in Opposition to House Resolution on Iraq”. paul.house.gov. 19 December 2001.
http://paul.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=370&Itemid=60 (5 December 2009)
Paul, Ron. “Iraq – An End or an Escalation?”. paul.house.gov. 30 August 2010. http://paul.house.gov/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=1767&Itemid=69 (5 Dec. 2010)
“Ron Paul on Obama’s Iraq Speech: Mission Not Accomplished”. Business Wire. 1 September 2010.
http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20100901006229/en/Ron-Paul-Obama’s-Iraq-Speech-Mission-Accomplished (5 December 2010)