Thursday, March 28, 2013

Whose choice?

Connor Friedersdorf recently posted an article in the Atlantic with an interesting premise. He quoted people who still defend George W. Bush's for war in Iraq; apparently, they claim American lack of will, and specifically President Obama's lack of will, caused the departure of American troops. Mr. Friedersdorf counters by claiming the American people will never accept long imperial wars and costly long occupations of foreign lands. As a general proposition, that makes sense; Americans have never fallen for the imperial idea in the same way the British did for most of the nineteenth century. But in the specific case of Iraq, he gets the source of the decision wrong.

By the time President Obama assumed office, the United States had already negotiated a "status of forces" agreement with Iraq. That agreement contained a schedule for the orderly departure of American troops, and no provision for any ground forces to remain in Iraq. At the time, I summed it up, in the popular phrase, as: don't let the doorknob hit you in the butt. The UN mandate for Americans to remain in Iraq expired late in 2008, so the Bush administration had no choice but to negotiate with the elected government of Iraq, and the Iraqis wanted American troops, and particularly American military contractors, to quit their country.

Americans spend more on their military than the rest of the world combined. Many Americans seem to believe that money buys them the ability to make critical decisions about world events. West Point boasts that much of the history they teach was made by those they taught. American media reports routinely describe the President of the United States as the most powerful person on Earth. But in this case, it seems that even libertarian critics of the Iraq war cannot bring themselves to state the plain fact: Iraqis, not Americans, chose the end of the Iraq war. Perhaps American military spending does not buy the Americans what they think it does.

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