War is Over? Not

President Barack Obama wants Americans to believe that he is bringing the war in Iraq to an end and will do the same in Afghanistan shortly, but his own words raise serious doubts about his intentions.

Speaking to a convention of disabled veterans on Aug. 2, the president promised to fulfill a major campaign pledge and “bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end.”

“Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility,” he said. “And I made it clear that by Aug. 31, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end. And that is exactly what we are doing, as promised and on schedule.”

Notice the language: “responsible end” rather than “end,” “combat mission” rather than “war.” It is language designed to appease both sides in an unbridgeable debate, to win back his liberal, antiwar base without offending a Washington foreign policy establishment that views as unserious politicians who refuse to bow down before the war gods.

Obama, as journalist and historian Gareth Porter wrote for the Inter Press Service after the August speech, omitted an important caveat that he offered in February 2009, that “combat brigades” would be leaving.

In his February 2009 speech, Obama made it clear that the end of the combat mission would not necessarily mean the end of combat or of American involvement in Iraq. Rather, it would represent a change in mission from “combat to supporting the Iraqi government and its Security Forces as they take the absolute lead in securing their country.” A “transitional force” of between 35,000 and 50,000 troops would remain “to carry out three distinct functions: training, equipping, and advising Iraqi Security Forces as long as they remain non-sectarian; conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions; and protecting our ongoing civilian and military efforts within Iraq.”

Porter quotes an unidentified “senior administration official” confirming that “the 50,000 US troops remaining in Iraq beyond the deadline will have the same combat capabilities as the combat brigades that have been withdrawn” and that “the troops will engage in some combat but suggested that the combat would be ‘mostly’ for defensive purposes.”

In this case, the end of combat does not mean the end of the war.

This, of course, is how Washington thinks it’s supposed to work. As Andrew Bacevich, professor of history and international relations at Boston University, told Rachel Maddow after the president’s speech, the two parties have colluded in the creation of a national security consensus that goes “all the way back to the beginning of the Cold War” and continues to the present day.

Bacevich’s consensus, as described by Maddow, “boils down to Washington rules, this credo that America has to determine sort of the means by which the rest of the world is allowed to run and that we need to enforce that by global military dominance.”

Bacevich, in an essay for, says that approach — the notion that “war remains a viable instrument of statecraft” — has proven a failure. That, unfortunately, has not resulted in the cessation of the American obsession with using military means to reach non-military ends.

Whether we are talking about Iraq, Afghanistan or our next target — Yemen, perhaps? — the national security state and the military-industrial complex that Eisenhower warned us about use their influence in Washington to crowd out dissenting views and push us closer and closer to war.

As Glenn Greenwald has pointed out, antiwar voices are not taken seriously — even after their criticisms of American military misadventures prove correct. The reason, as Bacevich makes clear, is that maintaining the illusion that war is a viable option helps maintain the power of the foreign policy establishment.

“Washington has a vested interest in preserving the status quo, no matter how much it costs or where it leads,” Bacevich wrote on (July 29). “For the military-industrial complex, there are contracts to win and buckets of money to be made. For those who dwell in the bowels of the national security state, there are prerogatives to protect. For elected officials, there are campaign contributors to satisfy. For appointed officials, civilian and military, there are ambitions to be pursued.”

“Backsliding,” as he says, is a threat to the elite, so “views that they deem heretical” are marginalized and excluded. The debate that ultimately takes place, as a result, is between the Obama opposed-to-bad-wars-but-not-all-wars clique and the McCain-Cheney bomb-Iran faction.

It is a sham, as he says, and will continue to be one unless those of us who have been marginalized make our voices heard. If not, we can expect that the discussion over Iraq and Afghanistan this time next year will sound eerily like the one we are having now and both wars will continue to grind on and on.

Hank Kalet is a poet and newspaper editor in New Jersey. E-mail; blog,

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2010

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