posted at 3:27 pm on October 21, 2011 by Jazz Shaw
I first saw the news breaking from Jake Tapper on his Twitter account, and then at ABC. (In a close tie with James Joyner.) Assuming there isn’t yet another round of backtracking and “clarifications” over the coming weeks – a possibility which can never be ruled out in politics – Barack Obama will be removing all troops from Iraq by the end of the year with the exception of a small marine force at the embassy who will oversee the transfer of military equipment and security for the diplomats. Many questions remain, such as what will happen to the tens of thousands of civilian contractors and others who have existed under our wing there for some time.
That will all be sorted out in the months to come, for better or worse. But, as I said, barring a major reversal the end appears to be in sight. I would raise a glass to “celebrate” this, but it would be bitter indeed. This is more than nine years overdue.
I rarely write about foreign policy here, but this piece of news has some history for me personally. I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I opposed this war since before it began. Yes, I was one of those annoying (to most of our regular readers) people who was out there in the streets protesting the invasion of Iraq before the first bombs fell. It was the impetus which first drove me from writing dry technical documentation and local news pieces to national politics. You may feel free to rehash nearly a decade of arguments over this if you wish, but I’ve long since been done with that. I’ve heard it all before and nothing has altered my view of it. This misadventure was ill conceived to begin with and has cost us more than we will ever be able to measure in full. No matter what you may feel we gained from it, the price was too high by a factor of infinity for my tastes.
I am not now and have never been part of the “anti-war” movement beyond the hopefully fundamental view of all free persons that peace is always preferable to war when conflict can be productively avoided. I’m a veteran as were most of the men in my family. I supported the original Gulf War and the invasion of Afghanistan. (Though I’m rapidly growing tired of the latter.) But Iraq was a different animal and I never viewed it as a just casus belli.
I noted that, during his remarks, President Obama did not use the word “victory.” This was predicted by some of my friends on Twitter and will doubtless be fodder for attacks on his decision. But is it a victory? Or is it just the end of a long, hard scrabble road?
There will be some, I assure you, who will read more into this. There will be claims made that Obama is pulling the trigger too fast because of his plummeting poll numbers and unlikely reelection prospects. It was one of his campaign promises, after all, so people may well speculate that he’s just trying to check off another box on the list to gain favor with his base.
Perhaps that’s part of it. But other factors are coming to light, particularly given the lack of an assurance of immunity for Americans going forward and Iraqi buy-in on extending the SOF agreement. For me, those considerations pale in the longer lens.
This is one case where history truly will be the only judge. What did we gain? What do we leave behind? Whether Iraq remains stable and – as they have demonstrated on several occasions – slips more and more under the influence of Iran, or if it breaks down in chaos, it doesn’t have much of an effect on this decision from my perspective. Even if our departure results in additional blood and violence, I would part this episode with a question:
What would be different if we left in January? Or in 2013? or 2015? It was always going to end eventually and, given the nature of the region, I doubt it was ever going to end well. Our troops acted in the greatest tradition of our nation. They followed their orders and achieved all of the real victories on a day to day basis which ever truly mattered. But the end approaches and we need to thank them once again and close this chapter. It’s time to come home, and almost ten years too late at that.
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