Robert Naiman
Robert Naiman
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.
To live within our means, let's leave Iraq
If the US is serious about reducing its debt, it could start by living up to its promise to withdraw troops by December.
Last Modified: 19 Aug 2011 07:21
 US forces are scheduled to withdraw from Iraq by the end of 2011 [REUTERS]

The Senate and the Roman People have declared that the US government is spending too much money. We have to live within our means. Difficult choices lie ahead. We can't do everything anyone might like us to do. Everything is on the table.

Therefore, instead of keeping US troops in Iraq past December, we should pull them out like we promised. If not now, when? John McCain once said there's no problem with keeping US troops in Iraq forever, just like we do in Germany, Japan, and South Korea. How liberals mocked him. But that's what the Obama Administration is now trying to do: keep US troops in Iraq forever.

Some members of Congress have a different idea: let's leave Iraq like we promised in the signed agreement between the two governments.

Representative Barbara Lee has introduced legislation that would prevent the Pentagon from keeping thousands of US troops in Iraq by cutting off funds for the war after December 31, 2011. In other words, the bill would cut off funds for violating the agreement with Iraq to pull out troops by December. It would cut off funds for violating Obama's campaign promise to end the war.

Permanent occupation?

The Pentagon doesn't want you to notice that at the same time Washington is seized with debt hysteria, and the nation's mainstream media are demanding cuts to social security and Medicare benefits on the preposterous claim that "we can no longer afford it", the Pentagon is laying plans to keep 10,000 US troops in Iraq forever. They call these troops "trainers", so we are not supposed to notice. But these "trainers" engage in combat: they kill Iraqis, and they get killed by Iraqis.

It's like the joke about the Jewish guy who was prevailed upon by his Catholic neighbours to convert to Catholicism so they'd no longer be bothered by the smell of grilled chicken on Friday. "Born a Jew, raised a Jew, now you're a Catholic." But the next Friday, they smelled chicken. When they went to investigate, they found him sprinkling holy water: "Born a chicken, raised a chicken, now you're a fish."

Combat soldier, now you're a "trainer".

Most of the debate about cuts to military spending in the $1.2tn in debt reduction over ten years that the Gang of 12 "Super Congress" is supposed to find by Thanksgiving has revolved around the "base" Pentagon budget, not the part of the Pentagon budget that funds current wars. This isn't surprising, because the "base budget" is where most of the money is; the base budget is where the ax of the automatic trigger will fall, if there is no agreement.

But the Gang of 12 can propose whatever it wants to come up with the $1.2tn, including bringing the troops home sooner than the Pentagon wants.

The money the Pentagon plans to use to keep US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan is also real money that we could use for debt reduction instead of cutting domestic spending or raising taxes. Nobody has bothered to calculate what it will cost to keep 10,000 US troops in Iraq forever, because Washington hasn't acknowledged yet that this is the Pentagon's plan. But here's a very crude estimate. If it costs a billion dollars to keep a thousand troops deployed for a year (a commonly used crude estimate) then will cost $100bn to keep 10,000 troops deployed in Iraq for ten years - the time horizon of the debt reduction exercise.

A billion here, a billion there: pretty soon you're talking about real money.

Tea Party leaders say it's time to cut the Pentagon budget, The Hill reports. On this issue, the Tea Party is right: it's time for the Pentagon to go on a real diet. Ending the Iraq war would be a great place to start. Tell Congress to cut off funding for the Iraq war after December.

Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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