NEW YORK—Obama won the Democratic nomination and the presidency by speaking out against the Iraq War. Now that he's packing for Washington, however, the old Chicago lawyer is using Harvard Law weasel words to make sure the war goes on for years.
Germans are organized. The French are snotty. Americans have a national character trait, too: inattention. It's now obvious that Obama exploited our hard-wired inability to read between the lines to lay the groundwork for what many of his supporters will soon view as a terrible betrayal.
Right there, in a July 14 op/ed, is Obama's triumph of plausible deniability: "The differences on Iraq in this campaign are deep," he wrote in The New York Times. "Unlike Sen. John McCain, I opposed the war in Iraq before it began, and would end it as president."
Seems clear. End means end. Finito. No more. But there's an interesting phrase in Obama's promises to pull out, repeated throughout the campaign: "combat troops." "We should seize this moment to begin the phased redeployment of combat troops that I have long advocated," he wrote in his op/ed. "We can safely redeploy our combat brigades."
"It's time to end this war," Obama concluded. Ending the war would mean following the political cartoonist Matt Bors' prescription: The troops would go to the airport. They would board planes. They would fly away.
But Obama doesn't want to end the war.
Obama will classify some units as "combat troops" and send them to Afghanistan, which he wants to expand into an even bigger war. But tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of troops, will remain in Iraq, killing and getting killed.
"Even though the [U.S.] agreement with the Iraq government calls for all American combat troops to be out of the cities by the end of June ," reported the Times on Dec. 22, military planners are "now quietly acknowledging that many will stay behind as renamed 'trainers' and 'advisers' in what are effectively combat roles. In other words, they will still be engaged in combat, just called something else."
Obama isn't just recycling Bill Clinton's staff. He's also into his aphorisms: It depends on what the meaning of "combat troop" is.
How many non-combat combat troops will still be shooting and bombing Iraqis after 2011? "My guess is that you're looking at perhaps several tens of thousands of American troops," said Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a George W. Bush appointee who has been asked by Obama to stay on—presumably because he approves of the superb job the Bush administration has done in Iraq. Obama's military advisers, reports the Los Angeles Times, "have said that residual force could consist of as many as 50,000 troops."
When Americans hear about military advisers helping to train foreign forces, they think of JFK, who sent a skeleton crew of 1,400 advisers to South Vietnam in 1961. (Let's not dwell on how that turned out.)
Fifty thousand troops—this being the Pentagon, you know it'll be more—is a full-scale war. When President George H.W. Bush invaded Panama and overthrew its government in 1989, he used 57,000 troops.
Of course, we should have seen this coming. Obama talked and talked and talked about his opposition to the Iraq War. He's good at that. But whenever he had a chance to put his vote where his mouth was, he chumped out. Time after time, he voted for Bush's requests to send billions of taxpayer dollars to Halliburton and other war profiteers. He never voted no.
"I have been very clear even as a candidate that, once we were in, that we were going to have some responsibility to make it work as best we could, and more importantly that our troops had the best resources they needed to get home safely," Obama said during the campaign. "So I don't think there is any contradiction there." But the money isn't provided to get our troops home safely. It's to keep them in Iraq, fighting and killing and being killed. As Obama well knew.
With Detroit automakers and 3 million jobs teetering on the brink of disaster for lack of a $25 billion bailout, you'd think Obama would want to end a war that wastes that much in 12 weeks. Yet, even in a depression, Barack Obama is no less devoted to the pit of blood and treasure that is Iraq than Bush. Forget preemptive war. How about preemptive impeachment?
Ted Rall is the author of the seminal Generation X manifesto Revenge of the Latchkey Kids and a former loan officer for The Industrial Bank of Japan. He draws cartoons and writes columns for Universal Press Syndicate.