Promise Kept in Iraq Makes Us Safer

March 19, 2012

Yesterday marked nine years since the start of the Iraq War, a divisive conflict that had deeply negative consequences for U.S. national security. Three months after the last American troops left the country, Americans know this: our forces fought bravely, and President Obama kept his promise to end the Iraq War responsibly. As former Pentagon policy chief Michele Flournoy explains, ending the war in Iraq allowed for a rebalancing of America’s national security priorities. In addition, bringing the war to a close improved U.S. security by allowing America to focus on the fight against al Qaeda, restore military readiness and reduce the financial burden of war.

Bringing the Iraq War to a close is part of a larger rebalancing of strategic priorities to better serve U.S. interests. As former Pentagon policy chief Michele Flournoy writes in Politico, “The Iraq episode says a great deal about Obama’s approach to national security: He is committed to charting a strategic, pragmatic course that safeguards American interests and values. Obama has remained focused on long-term U.S. interests, even in the face of one near-term world crisis after another. As a result, the U.S. is stronger, safer and more respected around the world than it was three years ago… Obama’s performance suggests a different reality: a president who has delivered on his promises, confronted emerging challenges and put in place a long-term strategic vision to make America more secure. Consider: Beyond ending the war in Iraq, he authorized the daring raid that killed Osama bin Laden — closing two chapters the Bush administration left unresolved. Through an unrelenting, targeted counterterrorism campaign, more than two-thirds of Al Qaeda’s senior leadership ranks have been eliminated.”

Flournoy continues, noting that the end of the Iraq war allowed for a refocusing of U.S. attention towards Asia: “Even as Obama managed daily crises, his strategic perspective was evident in his insistence that we give greater priority to the Asia Pacific, adapting both our diplomacy and our military posture in the region most important to our long-term prosperity and security. This long view also informed his latest defense budget, which ensures that even in a time of austerity, the U.S. military will remain the world’s best fighting force. As this election season heats up, we can expect more fiery rhetoric from the Republican challenger. But deeds count more than words. Obama has tackled one tough challenge after another by taking a strong, pragmatic approach to safeguarding U.S. interests and values and strengthening U.S. global leadership.” [Michele Flournoy, 3/18/12]

Ending the Iraq war improves U.S. national security. Brian Katulis, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, explains: “The redeployment of U.S. troops from Iraq from 2008 to 2011 strengthened overall U.S. national security in five key ways:

  • Dedicated more resources to fight the Al Qaeda network
  • Restored U.S. military readiness
  • Expanded options to deal with other Middle East threats, including Iran and its nuclear program
  • Reduced the financial burden of the United States caused by war
  • Rebalanced overall U.S. national security strategy to deal with the real threats to our nation

Each of these achievements is worth reviewing this anniversary week.” [Brian Katulis, 3/16/12]

President Obama kept his promise to end the Iraq War responsibly. As Antony Blinken, deputy assistant to the president and national security advisor to the vice president, said last week: “[W]hat is beyond debate — and what news coverage of Iraq too often fails to acknowledge — is that Iraq today is less violent, more democratic and more prosperous — and the United States more deeply engaged there — than at any time in recent history.” Blinken continued: “That is a credit to our troops — who succeeded, at great cost, in restoring a measure of stability when all looked to be lost; and who trained an Iraqi Army that is now, in defiance of the doubters, capably providing security for its citizens. This created the time and space for what Vice President Biden calls the most important development in Iraq in recent years: politics supplanting violence as the dominant means of settling disputes and advancing interests… And in December, after more than eight wrenching years, President Obama kept his promise to end the Iraq war-responsibly.”

As Marc Lynch of George Washington University and the Center for a New American Security wrote in January, the withdrawal was better policy than politics: “In many ways, it would have been safer politically for Obama to keep the residual force in Iraq which hawks demanded to insulate himself against charges of having ‘lost Iraq’. But it would have been wrong on policy. It’s not just that the U.S. was obligated by the [Status of Forces Agreement] to withdraw its forces, once it proved unable to negotiate the terms of an extended troop presence with the immunity provisions which the Pentagon demanded. It’s that the remaining U.S. troops could do little for Iraqi security, had little positive effect on Iraqi politics, and would have soon become an active liability. This is the lesson of the last two years, when U.S. troops were reduced in number and largely withdrew to the bases under the terms of the SOFA. The American troop presence didn’t prevent bombings and murders, didn’t force political reconciliation, didn’t usher in real democracy, and didn’t significantly increase American diplomatic influence in the region. But nor did Iraq fall apart.” [Antony Blinken via Politico, 3/18/12. Marc Lynch, 1/12/12]

What We’re Reading

Two human rights groups issued a report suggesting the U.S. sent detainees to Afghan prisons where torture had previously been found.

Gunmen linked to al Qaeda killed an American English teacher in Yemen.

Dozens of opposition activists were arrested in Cuba ahead of the Pope’s visit next week.

China’s weapons imports have decreased, even with its growing defense budget, due to its local defense industry’s increased production.

The Red Cross announced that nearly 72,000 people dislocated by fighting in northern Mali are living in poor conditions and are in need of aid.

A gunman on a motorcycle killed four people outside a Jewish school in Toulouse, France.

The U.S. and other countries criticized North Korea after it revealed its plans to launch a satellite into space.

Greece’s prime minister said the country’s economy was over halfway to recovery.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the main television center in Moscow to protest a television program that purportedly shows opposition demonstrators getting paid for their work and plotting with the U.S. State Department.

A rights activist and former Lutheran pastor won the Germany’s presidential election by a large margin to become the nation’s eleventh postwar president.

Commentary of the Day

Bill Keller raises five important questions the president should ask before starting a war.

Noah Feldman ponders a withdrawal from Afghanistan before the November elections.

Walter Russell Mead says Putin’s power consolidation weakens Russia.

David Ignatius suggests that in the months and years before his death, Osama bin Laden sensed that his al Qaeda movement had lost its momentum.

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