Thoughts on Obama’s Speech at Camp Lejeune, NC

Posted February 28, 2009

Here are a few “talking points” for activists in response to Barack Obama’s speech last week [NYTimes link to transcription] which laid out his strategy for the “War on Terror.”

1. In President Obama’s Feb. 27 speech at Camp Lejeune, SC he spoke directly to soldiers about how they endured “tour after tour of duty,” fighting “against tyranny and disorder.” Nowhere in the speech is no mention of President Bush’s justification for the drive to war–that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction.” Of course we all know now that reason was concocted in order to sell the war! President Obama, who spoke out against the war when he was a state senator in Illinois, knows that too. Yet he goes on to say that the troops can begin to leave because the situation has improved: “the horrific sectarian killing of 2006 and 2007” has been “dealt a serious blow.” But neither sectarian killing nor Al Queda existed in pre-U.S. invasion Iraq. They were the consequence of a U.S. occupation.

2. Later in the speech Obama, still addressing the troops, stated “We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime and you got the job done. We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government-and you got the job done.” This total justification for being cop of the world despite having not having even the fig leaf of any legal authority to take on that role is disturbing.

3. President Obama plans to remove U.S. combat troops within 19 months, leaving something on the order of 30,000-50,000 troops. He did not even mention that there are another 150,000 U.S. “contractors” who have been responsible for killing and torturing Iraqi civilians. The continuing presence of U.S. troops and hired guns will only fuel violence within Iraq and prevent the Iraqi people from rebuilding their country. U.S. troops and all “contractors” should withdraw on an expedited schedule in order to remove the #1 cause of the violence, the presence of an occupying force.

4. President Obama presented the U.S. occupation as a benign force that must stay in order to stabilize Iraq. What are the reasons for the instability? Obama lists these as displacement and poverty, government inability to deliver basic services and that some of its neighbors are working to undermine it. The picture that is painted is disingenuous. The primary reason for the instability is the U.S. invasion and destruction of the infrastructure, and tolerating looting following the invasion. (As then U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld remarked about the looting, “Stuff happens.) Instead of taking responsibility for what another administration did-or repudiating what was done–Obama paints a picture of a country that is poor. In fact, even following the Iraq invasion of Kuwait, when there was a 10-year blockade imposed by both U.S. and European governments through the United Nations, the country’s infrastructure was more functional than today, six years after Washington launched its illegal attack.

5. President Obama states that “America has a strategic interest-and a moral responsibility–to act. However he never states what that strategic interest, presumably it is to “help” the Iraqi people. However people all over the world–and even a great many Americans–realize that Washington desires to control the Middle East’s oil and oil routes. That’s why U.S. foreign policy supports the repressive and fundamentalist Saudi Arabian regime, that’s why Bush really went into Iraq, that’s why Washington is frightened at the rise of Iran’s power in the region. (Many Americans might feel that since Washington caused such destruction, we have an obligation to stay and fix it as if we were the elephants that entered into the china shop. We certainly have a moral responsibility, but that doesn’t mean training the army and police. Rather it means providing the reparations money necessary to resettle the displaced and rebuild what has been destroyed.)

6. President Obama has promised to expand the health care services for wounded soldiers. This is important, particularly because he acknowledges “the signature wounds of this war: Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury….” But there is nothing in the speech to acknowledge that war trains soldiers to be violent. Many, when they return home, are unable to adjust, causing tremendous damage to themselves, their families and the entire society.

7. In fact, one of the saddest parts of Obama’s speech is the section that states he is increasing the military. We cannot afford the tremendous economic and emotional burden of the military machine we currently have. If there is to be a serious attempt to rebuild the country’s infrastructure, to expand job and educational opportunities, we need to cut the military budget, not expand it!

8. The Feb. 26th speech is a cover up. It covers up the real history of U.S. invasion and occupation, it covers up the main source of violence in Iraq, it pretends that the deaths of U.S. soldiers there was in the cause of freedom and friendship with the Iraqi people, it denies Washington’s intentions.

9. Further the speech promises a comprehensive U.S. approach to the region and offers three elements: refocusing on al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, developing a strategy to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and actively seeking a lasting peace between Israel and the Arab world. Notice that there is no mention of Palestinians anywhere in the speech.

    a. Given the deployment of 17,000 troops to Afghanistan (followed by at least 13,000 more) and the continued use of drones to bomb suspected al Qaeda targets in Pakistan, the first of the three elements seems to be more of the same process of invasion, occupation and destabilization that will bring more violence to those countries.
    b. When the shah ruled Iran, the country received the latest U.S. military technology and was encouraged to develop nuclear weapons. But that was when Iran was safely within Washington’s sphere of interest. Ironically, Washington’s overthrow of Saddam Hussein, Iran’s fiercest enemy, along with the UN overthrow of the Taliban, (another thorn in their side), has increased Iran’s power in the region. Given Iran’s strength, a direct U.S. attack could have serious consequences as even President Bush understood when he nixed Israel’s plans against Iran. Both in the case of Iran and Syria it is in Washington’s interest to work out some diplomatic accommodation; here is where U.S. interests and those of Israel may divide.
    c. Other administrations have aimed at an Israeli/Palestinian agreement and have been unable to do so. While the outline of such an agreement is easy enough to s–: Israel would pull back to the pre-1967 lines, refugees displaced since in 1948 would have the right of return (land or compensation), and there would be a recognition of Israel and Palestine as states–but it’s clear that Israel prefers to maintain the fiction that there is no negotiating partner.

10. The problem with the February 27th speech is that it appears Obama is taking responsibility for continuing the U.S. policies he has inherited. That means it is incumbent on all elements in the antiwar and social justice movements to oppose this prettification of war, occupation, torture and destruction and demand that the wars be ended and the troops brought home.


One response to “Thoughts on Obama’s Speech at Camp Lejeune, NC”

  1. JohnM Avatar

    Thanks for the remarks Dianne.

    The main point I think is #3. Removing “combat troops”;. but maintaining 30,000-50,000 US troops in Iraq! What do we call that? At least, it’s an occupation, a permanent siege and continued assault on the Iraqi people.

    That’s the really amazing coup Obama has pulled of – “ending the war”, merely by saying so, all the while committing his administration to the quagmires, death, and full support of US-control-of-the-Middle-East-no-matter-the-cost. Good ‘ol imperialism.

    A smarter-than-usual commentator pointed out that the 19-month-thing is NOT an Obama policy – in fact, it’s in line with the ‘status of forces’ agreement negotiated between Bush and the Iraqi government! It was in place before he was inaugurated. Obama’s blatantly trying to bullshit us.

    It’s flexible anyhow. Robert Gates, Bush’s – or, excuse me, Obama’s – Secretary of Defense, was asked if this remnant “counter-terrorism” force (at least 30,000!) will be allowed the “rules of engagement” of current US soldiers. In other words, can they shoot to kill Iraqi’s with full direction and cover by US military command. Gates’ answer – “Yes, of course”. Under Obama’s plan, on it’s own terms, Iraq is not being turned over to Iraqi’s in 19 months. It should be free now.

    Should we be surprised if, say, in 2011, Obama says we need an additional 20,000 troops added to the “counter-terrrorism efforts” in Iraq, supplementing the bombing and murder being committed in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Should we be surprised if this “war” is deemed over, while US troops slaughter and are themselves killed and maimed in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan…Iran? Then shame on us and our “peace” movement.