The So Called “Withdrawal” From Iraq: A Made For TV Drama

It’s a wonderful thing to see any number of American troops return home and reunite with their family and loved ones. But, to realize that the event is little more than a staged performance, replaces the sense of relief and accomplishment with the frustration that comes with the knowledge that you’ve been manipulated and betrayed.

The attempt at a production of a glorious withdrawal of combat troops played out instead like a predawn ‘walk of shame’, casting just 4000 troops as extras in this live theatre. This meager convoy, that was nothing more than a scaled-down symbolic representation of what a withdrawal might look like, drove uneventfully into Kuwait with lights blazing and cameras rolling. A live MSNBC broadcast, with Rachel Maddow and Richard Engel on the scene, allowed us all to watch this supposed triumphant moment from the comfort of our own homes.

Less than eight hours after the broadcast of this staged withdrawal, reunions in America were being broadcast on all the major networks. No one addressed the fact that it was completely impossible for these troops to be the same ones that were shown cruising out of Iraq in the middle of the night. The optics were too good to pass up. First the Stryker brigade is shown crossing over the border into Kuwait, and only hours later we see happy reunions at the Lewis-McChord Air Force base in Washington State. It couldn’t have been scripted better. Kudos to the producers.

Although every news outlet has been declaring the end of combat operations, and the 42 Stryker brigade has been publicly presented as the last combat troops to leave Iraq, 2500 combat troops still remain in the country. These 2500 troops, the later-than-last combat troops that weren’t cast for the television role of ‘last combat troops’, are due to leave by the end of this month. It is also understood that these troops, as well as any others needed, may be redeployed into Iraq if it is deemed necessary. What would constitute this necessity has not yet been defined.

Only 7% of the troops in Iraq actually left that morning; a mere 4000, while 52,500 still remain. The force that remains now, and the 50,000 of them that will continue to remain in Iraq after September 1, 2010, is greater than 1/3 of the force of 144,000 that occupied the country at the height of the war in 2007. Fifty thousand troops will still be in that country, and we’re expected to celebrate a withdrawal and end of combat operations simply because the remaining troops are now euphemistically referred to as counterinsurgency troops.

The number of troops that left Iraq in the wee hours of the morning of August 19, 2010, are almost equal to the number of soldiers killed since the last time a President of the United States declared the end of combat operations in this war-ravaged country. At least George Bush, landing a plane on an aircraft carrier, put on a better show.

Coincidentally, 3500 private mercenaries have been scheduled to replace those troops that are leaving, joining thousands of private mercenaries already stationed in Iraq, and not counted among the 50,000 regular forces. After this shell game is complete, the real reduction of troops in Iraq will be only 3000; around 4% of the force that was there only days ago.

Further insult was added when callous comparisons were made to the tragic events of the fall of Saigon in 1975. Other than the commonalities of failed policies based on poor intelligence, these conflicts, and certainly these withdrawals, have little in common. The comparison of this supposed withdrawal to that of April 30, 1975, in Saigon, is completely inappropriate and hurtful to anyone that remembers the pain, trauma, and loss of life that day.

The 50,000 troops that will continue to be stationed in Iraq will be subject to a thorough rebranding. ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ is now labelled ‘Operation New Dawn,’ and will surely be accompanied by all the swag and memorabilia modern American military campaigns have come to produce. Combat troops will now be designated anti-insurgent troops, and the mission statement will change from engagement, to training and support of engagements. Somehow, this shuffling and rebranding is supposed to convince all that something profound has actually transpired.

One Iraqi reporter accurately explained that there’s not really any difference. The troops are still carrying the same guns, and doing the same things. “It’s not as if they’re carrying fly swatters,” he said. Nothing has been discussed regarding any change in the rules of engagement for these troops. They have not been described as passive observers, nor have their credentials as training officers been established.

On September 1 we will be treated to the second part of this performance when a formal ceremony will be held and the reigns of power will supposedly be transferred from the U.S. military to the civilian Iraqi government. There will undoubtedly be thorough media coverage of this purportedly historic event with all the pomp and circumstance that one might expect.

It has been five months since the March 26 election that gave the Secular Party of Ayad Allawi, once considered an American puppet, an extremely thin victory over opponents. A massive power vacuum exists and a stable and functioning government has yet to be formed. However, we are being asked to believe that General Petraeus will relinquish some sort of meaningful control of 50,000 American counterinsurgency troops to a factious and unstable Iraqi government.

The reality of the situation is that there will be approximately 3000 less American combat/counterinsurgency troops in Iraq by the end of the month while 50,000 troops, and thousands of private mercenaries, remain. Everything else is just smoke and mirrors.

In one year from now, the remaining American forces, whatever they are being called at the time, are supposed to leave Iraq. This is what we are told to expect. The stage will be set for a very interesting sequel with undoubtedly more rebranding, troop shuffling, mission paraphrasing, and increased opportunities for networks to support military propaganda with more made-for-TV drama.


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