Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Positive Impact of the Antiwar Movement

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


John said...

I'm sorry that Michael didn't see fit to also reference the comments of Lt. General Odom in the same issue of "Foreign Affairs" which contained the comments of Colin Kahl:

"Serious discussion today must be about how to deal with the repercussions of the tragic error of the invasion. The key to thinking clearly about it is to give regional stability higher priority than some fantasy victory in Iraq. The first step toward restoring that stability is the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq. "

A few sentences later, Odom states:
"Fear of the chaos that a U.S. withdrawal would catalyze is the psychological block that prevents most observers from assessing the realities clearly. As such observers rightly claim, the United States will be blamed for this chaos, but they overlook the reality that the U.S. military presence now causes much of the chaos and has been doing so since 2003. The United States cannot prevent more chaos by remaining longer. Preventing it is simply not an option. The United States can, however, remove the cause of disorder by withdrawing its forces sooner rather than later. That is the only responsible option. "

I couldn't agree with Odom more. Bush & Co. look pretty ridiculous when they refuse to countenance the withdrawal timetable demanded by Maliki and our good friend Mowaffak al-Rubaie.

Michael Gaubinger said...

Thank you for your comment.

While I respect Lt. General Odom's opinion, he seems to offer more rhetoric than substantive solutions. The Bush administration rolled the dice (and clearly lost) in its rush to invade Iraq and its assumption that, once Saddam's regime was toppled, a new government would quickly and easily emerge.

Odom's proposal, to withdraw American troops as quickly as possible, is another roll of the dice which rests upon his simplified and erroneous assessment that the major cause of instability in Iraq is our military presence. He is correct that the U.S. causes some instability, but removing our troops would not "remove the cause of disorder." Even Obama acknowledges that we must "be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in." Odom's proposal would not be a careful exit.

Instead of rapid withdrawal, as Odom proposes, we must rebalance U.S. policy with an emphasis on diplomacy, development, humanitarian assistance, peace-building, and other non-military assistance.

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