Iraq: Is it a mistake to bring home U.S. troops?

Iraq's stability is extremely fragile, and the possibility of renewed conflict among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds is all too real.

When he announced last week that all U.S. troops would leave Iraq by the end of this year, said Victor Davis Hanson in, President Obama did his best to spin it as a victory—a fulfillment of a 2008 campaign pledge. After nine years, he said, U.S. troops would leave “with their heads held high, proud of their success. America’s war in Iraq will be over.” What everyone knows, however, is that the administration wanted to keep a residual force of about 3,000 troops there, because Iraq’s stability remains very fragile. Radicals still detonate car and suicide bombs on a regular basis, the government remains bitterly divided and ineffective, and there’s a continuing possibility that friction among Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds will erupt into civil war. But Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to grant U.S. troops immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts, and as a result, America “simply quit and bugged out.” If Iraq melts down in the future, said Max Boot in, Obama will bear full responsibility. He could have finessed some “face-saving” formula on the issue of immunity had he wanted to keep troops there, but instead he took the easy way out. To gain political credit for ending the war, Obama “risks undoing all the gains that so many Americans, Iraqis, and other allies have sacrificed so much to achieve.”

To blame Obama is absurd, said Marc Lynch in It was President Bush who signed a formal agreement with the Iraqi government in 2008 to withdraw all troops by the end of 2011. And the reality on the ground is that most Iraqis are very jealous of their sovereignty, and “simply didn’t want U.S. troops to stay.” Neither do most war-weary Americans, which is why our imminent departure “should be a cause for real celebration.” Iraqi democracy may still be in its troubled infancy, said E.J. Dionne in, but a few thousand U.S. troops would hardly guarantee stability. And what if they were attacked by the Shiite militias who resent our presence there? Would we send more troops to defend our tiny fighting force, and get sucked back in? America has already sacrificed 4,400 dead, 32,000 wounded, and at least $1 trillion on this ill-conceived war. Enough.

Obama probably had no choice, said Fareed Zakaria in, but make no mistake: Our departure will mark a clear disappointment for the U.S., and a “strategic victory” for Iran. The Iranians enjoy close ties to Iraq’s Shiite majority, including Prime Minister Maliki. He and President Jalal Talabani are both known to be friendly with the head of Iran’s Quds security force. With U.S. forces gone, said in an editorial, our political influence over the Iraqi government will wane, and the Shiites running the country will “tilt more and more Iran’s way.”

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But “wasn’t self-determination what the neocons always wanted” for Iraq? said Andrew Sullivan in The stated goal of those who promoted this war was to get rid of dictator Saddam Hussein, and establish Iraq as a democracy. That mission, at long last, has been accomplished. If Iraq’s democratically elected government and the majority of the Iraqi people want us to leave, how can we say no? Or was the neocons’ real goal to turn Iraq into a “neo-imperial satellite in the Middle East,” from which to project U.S. power? Sorry, but the Iraqis aren’t interested in serving as a U.S. military base. Look: If Iraq someday collapses into civil war, it won’t be Obama’s fault. “It will be because the entire project was built on wishful thinking from the get-go.”

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