The troops are coming home by the end of the year. In a rather bold statement for President Obama, he committed to his 2008 campaign promise and stated that almost 39,000 soldiers will be home for the holidays. Finally, after almost nine years, the bulk of American troops will not be in Iraq manning the streets.
This is a very, very good thing. It makes Obama look good, since he gets to keep a campaign promise (a privilege few politicians have the chance to do). From a less politically cynical point of view, it also signals a growing perception of confidence in the Iraqi government, internally as well as externally.
Although earlier in the war a comparison to Vietnam may not have been too far from the truth, the conclusion of the two campaigns is markedly different. While there is no clear-cut victory, at least the war has not become a clear-cut defeat either.
That sectarian violence has decreased over time shows that the different tribes are slowly growing comfortable with working within the newly laid government system. This newfound confidence could not have come sooner for us, either.
Economically, we are no longer capable of continuing this war when costs need to be cut so budgets can be met. Not only that, but there is social unrest at home too, with students and protesters “occupying” all over the place, just another sign that the United States needs to refocus its priorities back on its somewhat discontented (if not united, but that’s another story!) citizens.
While it will have the hawks in Congress howling, the war in Iraq was winding down and, at some point, troops needed to be pulled out. Some, like John McCain, call this a mistake and an unnecessary risk that reduces our influence.
That may be true. We don’t yet know what the end results will be. However, deadlines cannot always be pushed back, like they have been in Afghanistan, and the troops cannot stay indefinitely. Indeed, it would seem that most Iraqis think we have already overstayed our welcome.
After all, it is their country, and if we really want long-lasting influence in Iraq, we are going to have to earn it by being just as supportive of their fledgling democracy when we aren’t occupying their soil with our troops. As Defense Secretary Leon Panetta stated at a press conference on the issue, “As we … look at developing this normal relationship, a lot of it is going to depend on what they want, what their needs are and how we can best meet them.”
This withdrawal marks a transition in political policy as well as military procedure. Politicians and generals alike would do well to remember that. Even as our country needs to be wary of its role for the future, it deserves to let out a sigh of relief. That we are able to pull out at all is something to savor. We may not see such a chance in Afghanistan.