There is an increasing recognition in Washington of the positive impact that the antiwar movement has had since the war began in 2003. Pressure from Democrats in Congress and the threat of withdrawal pushed Iraqi leaders into action and reinforced the message that U.S. troops will only stay in Iraq if the Iraq government matches our efforts.
In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Colin Kahl discusses the impact that the Democratic takeover of Congress in the 2006 mid-term elections and the rising pro-withdrawal sentiment had in Iraq. Kahl writes that, in Anbar Province, “the risk that U.S. forces would leave pushed the Sunnis to cut a deal to protect their interests while they still could.” Although political progress in Iraq is minimal, Kahl attributes the success to the prospect that the Democrats in Congress might force a withdrawal. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates agrees: “The debate in Congress…has been helpful in demonstrating to the Iraqis that American patience is limited. The strong feelings expressed in the Congress about the timetable probably has had a positive impact…in terms of communicating to the Iraqis that this is not an open-ended commitment.”
Michael O’Hanlon of the Brookings Institute agrees with that assessment. In a forum discussion I wrote about a few weeks ago, O’Hanlon and Kenneth Pollack, also with Brookings, credited the Democratic leadership with reinforcing the notion that America’s presence in Iraq must not be taken for granted and our effort is contingent upon a matched effort by Iraq. O’Hanlon stated: “Pressure from Democrats has been important…in making sure the Iraqis get the message that our help is not to be taken for granted, there’s not a blank check, and if there is not greater Iraqi help in this mission and greater Iraqi cooperation politically working with themselves, we won’t stay indefinitely.”
The antiwar movement and pressure from Democrats in Congress to bring our troops home has helped to change the atmosphere in Iraq and bring about encouraging progress.
Photo Caption: Thousands take part in an anti-war protest. Monthly Review Foundation