An important milestone in the war in Iraq was reached last week when the last combat brigade drove across the border of Kuwait, bringing to a nominal end to combat operations in Iraq. Whatever your politics and whatever happens next in the Middle East, this is a historic moment in the conflict that began seven-and-a-half years ago in March 2003.
As I mentioned, though, it’s a resolution in name only – hence my quotes around “end” in the title. Combat operations may be over on paper, but some 50,000 troops will remain on the ground in an advisory capacity, however that will be defined in the months and years ahead. Don’t be fooled – we haven’t left Iraq despite the triumphant news bleats to the contrary.
Iraqi security forces assert they’re up to the task of handling things, a claim that will be put to the test with the recent gridlock in Iraqi parliamentary elections. Iran will no doubt be watching their progress carefully, as will Syria and Turkey to be sure. With the security risks and the potential for disaster, a no-holds-barred withdrawal probably isn’t the best strategic decision.
As commander-in-chief, President Obama deserves some credit for this moment as well as forgoing the naked political urge to play up this instance for partisan advantage. But those who would use this as the crowning achievement for Obama the great peacemaker, I’d say, “Not so fast.”
President Obama set the Iraqi withdrawal timetable but not much else. Slapping a date on the calendar is an important step both logistically and psychologically, but the “end” isn’t a result of a substantive shift in war policy. Indeed, a drawdown in troops seemed on the horizon under Bush when the surge was deemed a success. Obama put the RSVP in the mail, so to speak, and good for him – but let’s not bestow too much credit upon the shoulders of a man who has said he was wary of using the term “victory” as it brings up uncomfortable (to him, apparently) images of Japanese officers surrendering to allied forces.
To all those who have fought in Iraq, I give you my most humble respect and admiration. To all those who died on that foreign soil, no mere words will ever be sufficient to capture the heartbreak of your sacrifice. America in many ways has moved beyond the division of the Iraq War, but we should take care that we never forget the veterans and the fallen of this conflict.