A debate is unfolding in official Washington about whether the Obama administration should leave any troops in Iraq, and, if so, how many. Negotiations are ongoing between the U.S and Iraqi governments on the issue, as a 2008 agreement requires that all American troops leave by the end of the year.
But largely missing from the discussion is the fact that if Obama leaves any troops in Iraq, he will be violating one of the first major promises of his presidency. In February 2009, just a month into his tenure, Obama delivered an Iraq speech at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, declaring:
"I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned."
Obama is now poised to break that promise. Administration and military officials have talked about leaving anywhere between 3,000 and 17,000 U.S. troops in the country. There are currently 45,000 troops still in Iraq, according to the AP.
Obama's original promise about withdrawing all troops was always a bit of a red herring. As the New York Times recently reported, all sorts of armed U.S. personnel and contractors will be staying in Iraq well beyond 2011, no matter how many uniformed military stay behind:
Even as the military reduces its troop strength in Iraq, the C.I.A. will continue to have a major presence in the country, as will security contractors working for the State Department.
And of course there is still the American mega-embassy in Baghdad:
In some ways, the debate over an American military presence is a rhetorical one. The administration has already drawn up plans for an extensive expansion of the American Embassy and its operations, bolstered by thousands of paramilitary security contractors. It has also created an Office of Security Cooperation that, like similar ones in countries like Egypt, would be staffed by civilians and military personnel overseeing the training and equipping of Iraq’s security forces.
For a man who built his political career and his candidacy for president on his opposition to the Iraq war, this seems like a significant shift. Here's a flashback to candidate Obama in October 2007, promising to bring the troops home: