Credit Obama For Leaving Iraq, But The U.S. Remains Over-Committed

As a presidential candidate in 2008, Barack Obama pledged to remove the U.S. military from Iraq, where it had been lodged since March 2003, within 16 months of assuming office (by the end of 2010). Mr. Obama fulfilled that pledge this month, albeit a year late, and he deserves great credit for doing so. He showed political courage, too, since his position wasn’t nearly as popular in 2008 as it is now.

A CBS News poll last November found 77% of Americans and 63% of registered Republicans saying it was past time to get out of Iraq. Meanwhile, however, nearly every neo-conservative and Republican Party leader (except for Ron Paul) opposed the pullout and lambasted Obama for it, insisting that the murky mission be prolonged indefinitely.

Leading the opposition to Obama’s wise pull-out from Iraq is long-time imperialist Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who on the Senate floor this month barked that “the decision of a complete pullout [from Iraq] was dictated by politics, and not our national security interest. I believe history will judge this president’s leadership with the scorn and disdain that it deserves.” Well, there’s much to oppose in Obama’s “leadership” skills, but not in the case of Iraq. Obama’s only blame is that he took a year longer to withdraw from Iraq than he first promised – and of course he hasn’t been as resolute about exiting Afghanistan, too.

The fact remains that the U.S. military mission in Iraq was an abject failure for America from the very start, especially because it was based on a handful of false premises, including that Iraq sponsored the 9/11 attack, that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, or that Iraq threatened America’s national interests and security. None of those premises were valid.

Knowing all this, nevertheless in 2008 GOP presidential candidate McCain pledged to keep U.S. troops in Iraq (and Afghanistan) for another century, if necessary. And still today McCain’s most vocal allies, like Rudy Giuliani, say things like this (as he did this month): “America has to be willing to have a military presence in the Middle East for the next fifty years, like we’ve had in Europe. We want to make a statement to our enemies. The people planning to kill us are in that part of the world, so our troops should be there.” This is the mentality that today has more than 300,000 U.S. troops still deployed and stationed at hundreds of military bases all over the world, few of which actually provide for America’s national defense, which is the U.S. military’s only valid constitutional purpose.

The case made by McCain and his neo-conservative allies is the case for perpetual and ubiquitous war, of unending sacrifice of America’s self-interest, wealth, and troops. It’s the self-defeating military premise first pushed so aggressively about a century ago by the “progressives,” whether Republican (Teddy Roosevelt) or Democratic (Woodrow Wilson). Roosevelt believed war was a worthy pursuit because it made men selfless, caused pain, embodied an “ennobling” self-sacrifice, and instilled a sense of the “collective” and national good. Wilson believed America should sacrifice her wealth and her best young men to “make the world safe for democracy,” even though the U.S. Constitution specifically guarantees a republic, not a democracy (and for Americans, not foreigners), and even though the Declaration states a right to pursue our own happiness.

The cost to America for the Iraq debacle has been enormous. American military deaths totaled 4,487, or 50% more than the number murdered at the World Trade Center on 9/11. In financial terms, the Pentagon “officially” claims a cost of $832 billion, but it will cost at least $3 trillion (roughly 20% of the current national debt), if one includes the future interest costs of borrowing to pay for it, the cost of the newly-built U.S. Embassy in Iraq (with its ridiculously large contingent of 16,000 U.S. “diplomats”), and the future medical, welfare and pension costs to be incurred by the 32,226 U.S. troops who were disabled in the war. In addition, tallies reveal that in Iraq 1,554 private contractors were killed and 43,880 were wounded.

GOP conservatives complain loudly that Mr. Obama’s pull-out from Iraq will invite political instability and renewed terrorism in that country, as well as dangerous infiltration by next-door-neighbor and sworn U.S. enemy, Iran. But if so, that’s solely the failing of the conservatives themselves, who concocted this mission and then failed in it.

The Iraq debacle was not Obama’s doing but Bush’s doing – and the doings of the neo-conservatives. Now, after more than eight years in Iraq, the U.S. finds that it cannot leave behind a stable political-military infrastructure. Whose fault is that? Would another eight (or eighty) years do the trick? No. The rational and worthy institutions of government require a rational underlying political philosophy, with an abiding respect for individual rights and the rule of law. That’s wholly absent from Iraq, and from most of the Middle East, and no sum of U.S. troops, tanks, guns, or food rations can instill such a foundation. What’s left in Iraq is a constitution that embodies Sharia law – that is, the codified oppressions of Islam. So why did the U.S. fight in Iraq? Not for capitalism – nor freedom – nor even democracy – but for barbarism


Those neo-conservatives who now worry that Iran might begin to exert greater influence in Iraq are quite right to worry, perhaps – but again, the likelihood of that outcome doesn’t buttress their case for staying in Iraq; the likelihood is solely their own fault, not Obama’s. Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a sworn enemy of Iran. It’s well known that for eight years in the 1980s those two nations were at war; to Iraq’s credit, it killed hundreds of thousands of anti-American Iranians. For the U.S. to depose Saddam Hussein and then to sponsor the establishment of a Shiite-dominated political regime in Iraq, as it has, is to help create yet another Iranian-style regime in the region. This is exactly what I predicted would happen, in April 2003, only a month after the U.S. invasion began, in an article titled “Turning Iraq Into Another Iran.” I wrote this:

Those familiar with political theory and practice will know that democracy does not ensure that the resulting government protects individual rights – including property rights – or civil liberties. Democracy simply means one-man, one-vote; it does not specify the kind of government or policies that one votes for (or gets). For example, on a deserted island consisting of three survivors, ‘democracy’ would not prevent two of the survivors from voting to cook and eat the third one. Democracy is nothing but a form of mob rule – and the [American] Founders were against it. . . . The problem in Iraq is that 60% of the population consists of Shiite Muslims. They are more religious and more anti-American than the other two tribes (Kurd and Sunni) that comprise the population. The Shiites in Iraq are similar to those who run the dictatorial, terror-sponsoring theocracy in Iran. By deposing the Shah of Iran in 1979, the U.S. helped terrorist Shiites take hold of Iran. Will the U.S. now do the same thing in Iraq? It certainly will if it concedes to ‘one-man, one-vote’ in that country – with no constitution protecting individual rights. If that is the result, the U.S. will have wasted its war effort, by allowing an Iran-style government to develop next to Iran.

Those who applaud the U.S. military withdrawal from Iraq and who now demand an equally-warranted withdrawal from Afghanistan (why the foot-dragging on that case, Mr. Obama?) typically are accused of being “isolationists.” That’s a red herring. The choice is not between being an “internationalist” or an “isolationist.”

The internationalist seeks to intervene militarily almost anywhere in the world, for any reason whatever, regardless of American interests and costs. The isolationist is disinclined to use the U.S. military anywhere abroad, for any purpose whatever, regardless of American interests and costs. The internationalist risks militaristic imperialism and exposes us to harm for the sake of strangers; the isolationist risks pacifistic appeasement and exposes us to attacks from abroad.

Notice how this false alternative invariably entails a sacrifice of American interests. We must reject national self-sacrifice in any form. The proper standard in foreign-military policy is whatever redounds to the national defense of the security and rights of Americans (and crucial allies), not of foreign peoples per se – especially not those who are hostile to America’s interests.

Despite Obama’s proper withdrawal from Iraq, the U.S. military remains over-committed. Washington has far too many assets deployed abroad for motives and reasons other than America’s rational self-interest and other than the constitutionally-defined purpose of providing for the national defense of Americans. These assets are deployed, instead, for the national defense of non-Americans – or for imperialistic reasons – or to keep bases open as a form of foreign aid or as jobs programs. None of these are proper purposes. We must learn to distinguish between spending on the “military” and spending on “national defense.” The two are by no means equivalent. Only the latter type of spending is justified. How much U.S. military spending today is truly defense spending? Perhaps less than half. The improper half of “military spending” ought to be slashed.