Residual Force Hawk Backs Down

by: Chris Bowers

Thu Jan 15, 2009 at 23:45

It is worth noting that in 2007, Center for a New American Security co-founder Michele Flournoy co-authored a hawkish plan for Iraq that argued for leaving 60,000 American troops (and untold numbers of contractors) in Iraq for up to four and a half years after the start of "withdrawal" from Iraq.  Now, Flournoy is set to become Undersecretary of Defense for Policy in the Obama administration, the third highest-ranking position in the Department of Defense. On the surface, this is an extremely negative sign when it comes to American troops withdrawal in Iraq.

However, as Spencer Ackerman reports, today Flournoy backed off her hawkish position on residual forces in Iraq. When, during a Senate Armed Services committee hearing, Jim Webb asked her about the number of residual forces in her 2007 report, she repudiated her earlier stance:

"I think I would not be willing to stand behind that number at this time," she said, clarifying that "when I wrote that it was at a somewhat different time, there was no SOFA commitment, [and] the security environment was different." Flournoy added that a "very strong commitment" for the Obama administration and the Gates Pentagon was "implementing the SOFA and moving U.S. forces out of a combat role." What remained uncertain was what, in 2011, when the SOFA's requirments for a U.S. departure wrap up, "what support for Iraqi forces would look like, and we don't know if the Iraqi government would want any U.S. forces."

When pressed, she said it was "not necessarily" a requirement to keep a long-term U.S. military presence in Iraq.

There is a lot to unpack here. First, it is positive that she no longer favors 60,000 residual troops, especially given that she is supposed to be the "progressive" voice in the senior DoD leadership during this administration. Second, it is also a positive that she takes the SOFA seriously, along with the wishes of the Iraqi government in determining residual troop levels. This is a lot better than just the "listening to commanders" language we usually hear on this matter, which to my ears wanders way too close to a lack of civilian rule over the military.

The negatives are that she considers the number of troops in Iraq dependant upon the security environment, which holds neither to the principle of a timetable for withdrawal nor with the notion that the SOFA has set fixed dates and numbers. It is reasonable to be worried that there will be either an attempt to renegotiate SOFA in order to allow for residual troops after 2011, or that the Pentagon doesn't consider the dates in the SOFA to be binding. After all, American commanders and Iraqi governmental officials alike have already expressed both of these positions.

Still, given that foreign policy is one of the areas to be least optimistic about in the Obama administration (from a left-wing point of view, anyway), it is nice to point out positive signs when they come. When the author of the most hawkish residual force plan to back down on her numbers as she assumes the #3 post in the Pentagon, that is one such positive sign.  

Chris Bowers :: Residual Force Hawk Backs Down

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Hey, Michele is a very sensitive person! (0.00 / 0)
After a junket to Iraq, Michele Flournoy testified to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in April 2008 that the Surge had worked beautifully, and she added a "human touch" of her own.

"Judging from conversations with dozens of U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the Army's 15-month tours with only 12 months at home in between have been particularly hard on soldiers and their families."

Thanks for that brilliant insight, Michele!

But why did it take you 5 years to figure it out, you bloodless bureaucratic clown?

Residual force (4.00 / 1)
What if the presence of US forces in Kurdistan is needed to keep the Kurds from too much raiding into Turkey and to keep Turkey from invading and occupying Kurdistan?

Don't forget Kirkuk! (0.00 / 0)
Maybe the "residual force" can also prevent the Kurds from killing or otherwise "cleansing" Kirkuk of all other ethnicities and claiming it for themselves, along with all nearby oil reserves.


Kurdish leaders and citizens find it difficult to compromise on Kirkuk's absorption into the KRG. Indeed, the fate of disputed areas is an issue that maintains Kurdish unity and diverts political energy away from a domestic political reform process in the KRG. At a more practical level, physical and administrative control of Kirkuk is perhaps the sole bargaining chip the KRG holds in its struggle to draw predominantly Kurdish areas into the KRG, as well as to gain the right to directly benefit from the region's oil production. Arab and Turkmen leaders, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, likewise use Kirkuk as a means of displaying their ethnic or nationalist credentials. Al-Maliki's recent extension of mostly tribal "Support Councils" to Kirkuk was meant to exploit Arab and Turkmen fears of Kurdish control to boost his party's support base.

[ Parent ]
What about the 190,000+ contractors in Iraq? (0.00 / 0)
are they staying? and why does no one ever even mention them? and what about them -- and their beyond-enormous cost -- in terms of Obama's "surge" in Afghanistan?

related, too -- http://washingtonindependent.c...


... a close reading of the new Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, suggests that State Department contractors such as the Blackwater guards indicted for the shootings still won't be subject to any law at all.

The SOFA was drafted to provide a legal basis to continue U.S. military operations in Iraq beyond December 31, 2008, when the United Nations mandate expires. And mostly, it's garnered attention for its pledge to withdraw US forces from Iraq by the end of 2011.

But another important part of the agreement concerns the thousands of private contractors working for the US government in Iraq.

The new SOFA, ratified by the Iraqi parliament on November 27, 2008, grants Iraq "the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over United States contractors and United States contractor employees."

That would seem to answer the question.  Yet the definitions section of the agreement adds an important wrinkle:

"United States contractors" and "United States contractor employees" mean non-Iraqi persons or legal entities, and their employees, who are citizens of the United States or a third country and who are in Iraq to supply goods, services, and security in Iraq to or on behalf of the United States Forces under a contract or subcontract with or for the United States Forces.

In other words, the new SOFA seems to have created the same legal loophole as the 2004 amendment to the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act:  it only covers contractors working "on behalf of" or "under contract with" the United States military.

"It's a problem," said Fidell. "We've got something like 190,000 contractors in Iraq, and some of them are not Department of Defense contractors. The one thing you want to know is, whose rules apply?"

It may be that no rules apply at all. ...


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