Obama's Wars is a recurring feature exploring the myriad wars America is currently fighting.
The Iraq War ended in 2008 when Obama got elected, according to the media. Iraq once dominated headlines, but since Obama’s election we've lost our collective interest in the country we broke. Obama had distinguished himself from Clinton in large part through his opposition to Iraq, which he famously dubbed a “dumb war.” When he took office with a mandate to end the war, the press corp decided Iraq was a dead story and shifted to Afghanistan.
For the latest installment of Obama’s Wars, I focus on Iraq over the past two years, since the press went MIA. Did the war actually end? If so, what’s keeping tens of thousands of our troops there? What are they doing? Will they withdraw at the end of the year as scheduled? Then what? And most important to our daily lives, did we get our precious oil?
Obama has kept his campaign promises on Iraq, and on foreign policy in general. Throughout the election race, Obama frequently called for drawdown in Iraq (which has happened) combined with ramp up in Afghanistan (also happened) and greater belligerence against Pakistan (a hat trick of kept promises). Troop withdrawal has been slightly slower than expected, but boots are leaving the ground and authority is gradually being transferred to the Iraqi army. The death rate is down across the board, and lately more American troops in Iraq have died by suicide than have died in combat.
None of this is to suggest you should plan a trip to Baghdad anytime soon. An AP standards editor recently reminded journalists not to repeat the popular "combat operations are over" meme. American troops are still fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Iraqi army. Violence remains a fact of life in Iraq, though the targets have changed somewhat. Creating IEDs to kill American troops has fallen somewhat out of favor, with direct assassination of Iraqi government officials becoming the hip new trend. It's been tough for Iraq to build a meaningful democratic government when civil servants from legislators down to police officers quickly get Harvey Milked.
The No-Press Protests
The failure of the media to report on Iraqi bombings and assassinations is a bit understandable, as they're probably sick of writing identical stories for nearly a decade now. What's aggravating is their failure to report on the protests sweeping Iraq as part of the so-called "Arab Spring." We've heard much fuss about the protesters in Egypt and Tunisia toppling their moderately oppressive governments, but heard very little about the same sort of protesters in Iraq taking to the streets to overthrow the government we built for them.
Iraqi citizens hopped on the protesting bandwagon early in the game. The Iraqi people have been protesting against the 30% unemployment rate, ineffective national security, lack of public services like electricity and water, and overall government corruption. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has attempted to quell protests by subsidizing electricity costs, giving up some of his salary, promising to step down at the end of his term in a few years, and good old-fashioned brute force.
By the way, if you're trying to keep track of the protests in the Middle East, here's a helpful guide of how you're expected to tune your moral compass:
Protesters = Good Guys
Protesters = Bad Guys
Protesters = Ignored
Should We Stay or Should We Go
The downside of America's rush to leave the country is that the government being left behind is horribly inefficient and corrupt, recently being ranked the fourth most corrupt in the world. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has maintained his grip on power in part by creating a series of "Detention Squads" who crack down violently on his political rivals. Additionally, the rank and file Iraqi troops are unconcerned about following the rules of war. One of the major Wikileaks revelations was not only that the Iraqi army systematically practices torture, rape and murder, but that the Americans knew about it and refused to investigate. Our policy is pretty much to get our luggage and get out before the checkout deadline.
It's a matter of some debate whether we'll actually be out of Iraq by the end of the year or not. This would be interesting to bet on (hint hint Intrade), as it's really anybody's guess. The main argument that the troops will leave is that it would be politically embarrassing for Obama to keep our soldiers around after his self-imposed deadline. With a political campaign coming up, "I killed Osama and ended the Iraq War" makes a more compelling campaign slogan than "I actually voted for the Iraq War before I voted against it."
On the other hand, the troops haven't yet received notification that their tour is winding down. Maliki has started to hint that he wouldn't mind if Americans stuck around a bit longer, giving Obama possible cover if he decides to stick around. Some in the region believe the Iraqi government is not strong enough to survive if America withdraws its military backing. It's anybody's guess what will actually happen if America withdrew... increased government brutality, government collapse, civil war, Nazis riding dinosaurs... but if these stories started to bubble up it could look bad for Obama's campaign.
A final caveat: whether we officially withdraw our troops by this deadline or not, it's certain that an American presence will stick around anyway. Private military contractors will definitely stick around, as they already have an order to double their presence around year's end. We'll also retain the lavish US embassy we've constructed, which is our largest embassy in the entire world. Our stately embassy consisting of 21 buildings on 104 acres to house over five thousand people, primarily security forces.
Oil Dressed Up, Nowhere to Go
If the Iraq War was conducted just to get access to Iraq's rich oil reserves, then the war was an utter bust. When rebuilding their government, we could have simply taken control of all of Iraq's oil, but instead we handed the keys to the Iraqi government. It took half a decade for the new government to start auctioning oil supplies to the world, and they did so at terms heavily favorable to themselves. Of the 47 international companies who gained some access to Iraq's oil production, only two are from the United States, representing just about 16% of Iraq's oil supply.
However, it's not a total loss for the US of A. The oil may eventually be owned by countries around the world, but there's also a fair chunk of money to be made getting the oil out of the ground. Business Insider identified this sector as the best investment for investors looking to profit off Iraq's oil fields, and picked Halliburton, Weatherford, Schlumberger, and Baker Hughes as the most likely to profit from building out the infrastructure of Iraq's oil fields. All these companies are global, but have a footprint in the United States.