Under the disastrous Bush years, the U.S. military invaded a country that posed no threat to the United States, destroyed its infrastructure and plunged it into chaos. This led to the death and displacement of millions of Iraqis, squandered the lives of more than 4,000 U.S. troops and robbed our Treasury of billions of much-needed dollars.
Now that President Obama inherits George W. Bush’s legacy, he must make it perfectly clear to the Iraqis, the Americans and the world that he intends to keep his campaign promise to oversee a complete, orderly withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq no later than May 2010. Why?
The Iraqis want us out, as evidenced by poll after poll and the recent debate in the Iraqi parliament over the Status of Forces Agreement. The Iraqi people will vote on this agreement in July and will only pass it if the Iraqis are convinced that U.S. troops will soon be gone.
The American people want our troops out. The best reflection of this is that they elected Barack Obama to lead us out of Iraq. Obama needs to find solutions to the meltdown of the U.S. economy, not continue to waste billions of tax dollars occupying Iraq.
The presence of U.S. troops ensures ongoing violence by attracting armed opposition and postpones the day of reckoning among Iraqi factions. Sticking to a timeline will force the Iraqi government and the different ethnic and religious groups to negotiate power-sharing agreements.
Iraqi neighbors and the international community will feel obligated to engage in diplomatic and reconstruction efforts only if they understand the U.S. is serious about leaving. Chaos in Iraq is not in the interest of any nation, especially Iraq’s neighbors. Obama must immediately bring them into the transition process.
Obama’s administration needs to dramatically shift the image of the United States in the Muslim world. The unjustified U.S. invasion of an Arab nation has been a powerful tool in the recruitment of violent anti-American groups. This can and must be turned around, and leaving Iraq will help.
Obama must quickly show a radical change in policy by ending the U.S. occupation of Iraq (including military contractors), resettling the enormous refugee population it helped create, committing to diplomacy and rebuilding this war-torn nation.
Medea Benjamin is co-founder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace and Global Exchange.