On Friday, speaking at Camp Lejeune, President Obama laid out his plan for withdrawing from Iraq. The date to keep in mind is August 31, 2010, when all combat troops are set to be out of the country. However, a force of 30,000 to 50,000 troops will remain to continue training the military and protecting construction and diplomatic efforts. These troops could potentially remain until Dec 31, 2011, the deadline that a security pact between the US and Iraq sets for all troops to withdraw. And in the overall picture, the troop reduction in Iraq will coincide with an increase in Afghanistan.
To my reading, this seems like a decent enough plan. I’m curious, though, to know what the most rabid anti-war activists, those who cast their votes for Obama thinking he’d bring the troops home immediately, think of this now 19-month phased withdrawal, with a sizable force staying on for another possible 16 months after that.
What I’m getting at is that I wonder how different this approach really is from what Bush and McCain wanted to do. The surge, opposed by Obama when he was a Senator, undoubtedly worked to stop the sectarian violence, but it seemed to me that the intent was always to do a sustained withdrawal under a similar timetable of a few years. Obama is undoubtedly more explicit about dates, but then again, Bush had to refrain from firmly setting Iraq policy in the waning months of his presidency to give his successor sufficient leeway on pursuing his own course.
Congressional Democrats aren’t crazy about the plan, saying the withdrawal takes too long and leaves too much of a force behind. Again, I side more with the President on this one, but I enjoy the irony of a man whose initial claim to fame was his opposition to the Iraq war drawing heat for staying in-country too long with too many soldiers. I wonder if some of his supporters will come to see how similar the Obama plan is to the Bush plan, and whether their own opposition to it the first time around was in a large part partisan. How loudly they protest against the policies will be the true indicator, one which will no doubt point to a failure to recognize that fact.
In any case, let it be said that no conservative who loves his country should want the Obama Iraq plan to fail – our soldiers are too precious and our national security is too important. That said, there are a number of potential hang-ups that could snarl the drawdown process, among them tension between the Kurds and the Iraqis. But above all, the specter of Iran looms over the region and any plans for peace. Obama has committed himself to more engagement with Tehran and Damascus, but if Iran test-fires a nuclear weapon, or makes overtures at taking more overt control in Iraq after we leave, I would hope the administration would be more flexible in our options than merely saying, “Well, we said we were leaving, didn’t we? Iran, just promise not to invade Iraq. Thanks.”
I sincerely hope the plan works, and I’ll be watching closely to see how this unfolds.