"After a decade of war the nation we need to build and the nation we will build is our own, an America that sees its economic strength restored just as we've restored our leadership around the globe." -- President Barack Obama
President Obama has declared that the US troops from Iraq will be back home by the end of the year. He noted that after almost a decade in Iraq, the US needs to move forward and focus on a stronger economy and security at home. This has been the intent of the president since his campaign and he is delivering on his word.
The timing could not have been more opportune for a departure from the Middle East in general. After 9 years of fighting in Iraq, $800 billion spent and over 5,000 US casualties, the president has declared that the remaining 39,000 troops will be back home for the Christmas holidays, "heads held high, proud of their success." In light of the fragile state of the US economy, the president has also called on Congress to pass the American Jobs Act to rebuild the infrastructure of the country and to give tax breaks to the working class.
All this sounds wonderful and appropriate except for one thing: opposition from mostly Republicans in Congress in passing the American Jobs Act and a general opposition from the Republicans and Independents to bring back US forces from Iraq. Why? Good question.
The first part of the answer may lie in the fact that the tax breaks concerned are for the working class, leading to a higher rate of taxes for the wealthiest 1% of US corporations and individuals. The Republican Party sees a problem with that. Giving tax or any breaks to the working class has never been on the Republican agenda if we follow historical facts. Tax breaks had always been an exclusivity for the biggest and wealthiest corporations and individuals, under the pretext that penalising in any way the wealthiest will prevent them from injecting funds into the economy (and let's not forget, pouring in millions for Republican election campaigns).
The second answer regarding the departure of US forces from Iraq has its share of opposition also. Perhaps one of the most militant opposition to this decision came from Senator Joseph Lieberman, the Independent candidate from Connecticut who quite thankfully, will not be running in the 2012 US presidential elections.
Lieberman's viewpoints, which may very well be the reflection of many Republicans, are that the US troops departing from Iraq was a statement of failure. This is so because so many Americans have fought and sacrificed in order to make Iraq a self-governing and self-defending nation, fighting Islamist extremism and terrorism. It is further seen as a US weakness, as if the US was giving up and coming home with its tail between its legs.
Those who oppose the US departure from Iraq are perhaps forgetting or choosing to forget that it was a mutual decision taken by Iraq and the US in 2008, when George W. Bush was president. President Obama is simply implementing and exercising a promise made to the Iraqi people and equally to the American people to focus on building the economy of the US instead of a land far away. Prime Minister al-Maliki of Iraq is as much a supporter of this departure as is President Obama. It is a win-win situation for both leaders: both can claim victory. Obama maintains his campaign promise to finally end the war and al-Maliki will have ended the American presence in Iraq and restored Iraqi sovereignty.
One of the most important decision making factors here was the fact that Iraqi leaders have quite adamantly refused to give the US troops immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts and the Americans have refused to stay on without it. This risky factor was basically the deal breaker. Furthermore, there is a disagreement between Iraqi leaders on whether they want the American forces to stay.
All these points considered it will be a beneficial decision for the US to concentrate on precisely what Obama critics are always up in arms about: -- the economy and domestic issues. So, why the "deep disappointment" stated by Senator Lieberman and those who think likewise? No doubt, simply to oppose. It is not as though there are any logical, worthwhile alternative plans proposed by these opponents. In fact, there never are. If there had been, then that would have been a clear demonstration of a desire to work mutually towards a solution which benefits not a political party or one's personal agenda but the US as a country.
Another theory of why the US should continue its presence in Iraq is that it is a strategic point to keep checks on Iran. If the opponents of a US return from Iraq brushed up on the facts, they would have known that Iranian President Ahmadinejad is the moderate among the Iranian high officials, for instance the clergy. Many in Iran even believe that he would like relations to normalize between Iran and the US.
All this being said, what is of primary importance to look at here is the fact that we are faced with a situation of extreme bi-partisan rivalry at the expense of the American people, their tax dollars, the lives of the American troops, and the image that the US has created for itself worldwide as the global police force.
The past cannot be changed, unfortunately, but looking ahead to the future, it is mind boggling to think that there are still those who think that the US Treasury can actually afford to intervene in a huge military operation oversees at the expense of its own people and economy. With a limited budget, does one try to spy on the neighborhood and invest in its security issues or try to put food on the table for his own family? It is high time to leave behind the thoughts of the spreading democracy around the world (thank you, Mr. G.W. Bush for that. We cannot help but wonder whether you had actually verified the meaning of that word before trying to spread it to other nations!).
The time spent in bi-partisan warfare and rhetoric has largely taken its toll. It is time to move forward as a nation and to re-build what had made the US the great nation it had become in such a short period of time in historical terms to begin with. Those who do not get that, probably never will. But regardless, what is right is right. The troops need to come home. They have earned this right. Thank you, Mr. President for doing what is right.
Sabria Chowdhury is Senior Editorial Assistant of The Daily Star.