The Iraq War is Over

December 12, 2011

Today, President Obama meets with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki at the White House. The two leaders will discuss the next phase of U.S.-Iraqi relations following the full withdrawal of American troops by the end of the year. That meeting, part of a series of events this week, underscores a larger milestone: After more than eight years, the Iraq war is over. Credit for this success belongs to U.S. troops and civilians who served there, as well as the Iraqi people. Their dedication and sacrifice leaves Iraq fully sovereign, a democracy and a U.S. partner. This is a promise kept for President Obama, who has been at the forefront of the movement to end the war since he was an Illinois state senator. Ending the war will make America safer by allowing us to shift resources and attention towards a broader set of priorities — specifically Asia, fighting terror and rebuilding the U.S. economy.

The Iraq war is over. After nearly a decade of combat, as President Obama has said, “the tide of war is receding.” There were some 142,000 troops in Iraq when the president took office; by the end of the year, no U.S. troops will be permanently based there. This week the military will mark the end with a ceremony, case its colors in Baghdad and return them to the U.S. The Iraq war is done. As Daniel Serwer of the Middle East Institute writes, “By the end of the year, U.S. troops will be out of Iraq, except for the ‘normal’ but large defense cooperation office headquartered in the Embassy. A total uniformed contingent of 250-400 plus supporting contractors will be stationed at 10 Iraqi bases around the country. The continuing security relationship will include substantial sales of U.S. equipment, to the tune of $11 billion (including F16s). The Iraqis are fully capable of handling internal security. The U.S. focus will be on external security, as well as police ‘train the trainers.’ The war is ending ‘responsibly.’” [Barack Obama, 6/22/11. Daniel Serwer, 12/10/11]

It’s time to honor those who served. Our troops have made immense sacrifices and fought bravely and with honor. As Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testified last month, “Today, thanks to innumerable sacrifices from all involved, Iraq is governing itself.  It is a sovereign nation.  It is an emerging source of stability in a vital part of the world.  And as an emerging democracy, it is capable of being able to address its own security needs… more than a million Americans have served in Iraq.  More than 32,000 have been wounded, and as we know, nearly 4,500 service members have made the ultimate sacrifice for this mission.  Americans will never forget the service and sacrifice of this next greatest generation and we’ll always owe them a heavy debt.  In the coming weeks, as our forces leave Iraq, they can be proud of what they’ve accomplished. And they and all veterans of the Iraq campaign have earned the nation’s most profound gratitude.” [Leon Panetta, 11/15/11]

The president kept his promise to end the Iraq war. When President Obama announced that all U.S. troops would leave Iraq by the end of the year, he noted that, “As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end — for the sake of our national security and to strengthen American leadership around the world.  After taking office, I announced a new strategy that would end our combat mission in Iraq and remove all of our troops by the end of 2011… So today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year.  After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.” As the New York Times noted at the time of President Obama’s announcement, “When Mr. Obama took office, there were about 142,000 Americans fighting in Iraq. The president deserves credit for fulfilling his campaign promise to bring the conflict to a close.” [Barack Obama, 10/21/11. New York Times, 10/21/11]

Ending the Iraq war is part of a rebalancing of American national security to focus on Asia, fighting terror and rebuilding our economy. The wars of the last 10 years have consumed vast resources. The Iraq war cost $1 trillion in direct spending; its downstream costs will make it more expensive than World War II. As the war ends, it’s time to focus on renewing American economic strength, focusing on the fight against terror and shifting our attention towards Asia. As Foreign Policy magazine’s David Rothkopf writes, that shift is already happening: “We are not only winding down our wars in the Middle East and shifting our focus to Asia, not just moving away from massive conventional ground wars against terrorist but mastering more surgical drone, intelligence and special forces-driven tactics, not just closing the book on exceptionalist, unilateralist policies and moving to toward multilateralist, rules-based approaches, not just setting aside reckless defense spending and moving toward living within our means, not just ditching the binary ‘you’re with us or you’re against us’ rhetoric for policies open to more complex realities (as with China, our rival and key partner), but we have also made a pronounced move toward recognizing that the foundations of U.S. national security are also economic and so too are some of our most potent tools.” [CS Monitor, 10/25/11. David Rothkopf, 11/28/11]

What We’re Reading

Twenty-three people were killed in various cities across Syria as clashes between anti-government protestors and Syrian military forces continued.

U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Ryan Crocker stated that a suicide bombing in Kabul which targeted Shiite worshippers was unlikely to start a new round of sectarian violence in Afghanistan.

The CIA has vacated an air base in western Pakistan that the agency had used for drone strikes as a part of Pakistan’s continued retaliation against NATO for an air strike that killed 26 Pakistani troops.

A new unity government in Yemen was sworn in following the departure of President Ali Abdullah Saleh last month, in preparation for new elections to be held in February.

British Prime Minister David Cameron is losing support from members of his ruling coalition for being the only European leader to oppose the terms of the new EU budget pact.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered an investigation into allegations of election fraud during recent Duma elections, as protests against the election results expand.

Election observers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo declared that the recent presidential elections lack credibility due to widespread voting irregularities, as both President Joseph Kabila and opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi claimed victory.

Three bomb attacks in the Nigerian city of Jos linked to the Islamist militant group Boko Haram killed one and injured 11.

A Chinese fishing boat captain killed one South Korean coast guardsman and injured another after his boat was stopped off the coast of Incheon for illegal fishing.

Former Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega has been returned to Panama to complete a 20-year prison sentence in connection with killings he ordered during his rule in the 1980s.

Mexican soldiers have found a trans-border tunnel entering Nogalez, Arizona believed to be used to smuggle drugs and weapons from Mexico into the U.S.

Commentary of the Day

Mehdi Hasan argues that only Syrians can successfully oust President Bashar al Assad, and that Western intervention would not succeed.

Paul Starobin explains why a Russia without Vladimir Putin would not be any more democratic than it is now.

Der Spiegel’s editorial staff analyzes how the negotiated terms of the EU budget pact may harm the European Union in the long run.

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