Obama Ends Major Combat Operations in Iraq
Given that OTB got started during the run-up to the Iraq War and that my commentary on that subject was what first got me noticed by some major blogs, it’s perhaps ironic that I’ve hardly written about the subject lately. Partly, it’s a function of my now doing most of my foreign policy blogging at New Atlanticist, where Iraq discussion doesn’t really fit. Mostly, though, it’s because the war has been in status quo mode since shortly after the Surge and there’s not much going on that I’m interested in writing about.
Yesterday, of course, President Obama announced his Iraq withdrawal plan.
For the most part, I agree with Christian Brose ‘s analysis. I especially want to emphasize this:
Obama can say all he wants that he’s “ending the war” by August 2010, but believing that is nutty, and being surprised that by then we’ll still have 30-50,000 troops in Iraq, as some on the left are, is even nuttier. We knew this was coming. From the moment he said during the campaign that he’d pull all U.S. troops out of Iraq in 16 months, Obama has backtracked — first drawing a false distinction between “combat” and “non-combat” troops, and now pretending that a “residual force” of 30-50,000 Americans under arms, many of whom will be fighting al Qaeda, constitutes “ending the war.”
We knew this was coming and, frankly, it was coming in much the same way regardless of whether Obama or McCain won. Despite all the cute talk about “100 years of war,” the Surge was going to end and a drawdown of forces was going to commence. Hell, George W. Bush had already signed a status of forces agreement requiring it.
And we’re going to keep a sizable force in theater for the foreseeable future which will be in harm’s way. Bruce McQuain is right: That’s not exactly “ending this war.”
But we’ve known since the primaries that Obama wasn’t going to totally remove forces from Iraq and he’s always left wiggle room for “events on the ground” and “the advice of military commanders.” He appears, in fact, to actually be taking said advice. And that’s a good thing.
Obama started the process that led to his becoming president as a novice — a bright, charismatic fellow who could inspire progressives hungry for change. He said some imprudent things in his naive enthusiasm. Thankfully, since he was elected and will serve as president for at least four years, he demonstrated that he could learn and that his positions could quickly evolve in light of new understanding.
On the matter of Iraq, he started off sounding like one of the Kos Kids but quickly became much more nuanced and thoughtful. Because he had been an early, forceful opponent of the war, he retained strong credibility on the left. Because his policy statements evolved, centrists’ fears that he would be rash were mollified. And because he’s such a disciplined communicator, quite a few people managed to hear what they wanted to hear, emphasizing the parts of his speeches they liked and discounting caveats as “just politics.”
Beyond that, all presidents change upon taking office, adapting to the role of commander-in-chief. Those who take over ongoing wars tend not to want to “lose” them on their watch. So, Obama will naturally play out the string carefully.
As to the outcome of the war, quite a few of the blogs on the Right are proclaiming victory. That’s right only if we define winning as “this is turning out better than anyone would have guessed two years ago.” Even if we go for something less than “a model Arab democracy that will create a wave of democratic movements in the region,” settling for, say, “a stable, democratic government capable of providing for its own security,” we ain’t there yet. And, so long as we have tens thousands of American troops there engaged in counter-terrorist operations, it ain’t over.