Feature

Iraq: Is Obama really ending the war?

Obama unveiled a timetable under which all “combat units” would leave Iraq by August 2010; the plan also allows for the continued presence of up to 50,000 “support troops” until December 2011.

Barack Obama has delivered on his pledge to end the war in Iraq—sort of, said Karen DeYoung in The Washington Post. As a candidate, Obama pledged to withdraw the 142,000 U.S. troops stationed in Iraq, promising that they “would all be home within 16 months” of his inauguration. Now that he’s president, though, he’s stretched that deadline—to just under three years—and has decided to leave far more troops behind than many of his supporters were expecting. Obama last week unveiled a timetable under which all “combat units” would leave Iraq by August 2010. But up to 50,000 “support troops” would remain to train Iraqi security forces, fight insurgents and terrorists, and protect civilians. Then, in December 2011, they would also pull out, even if, Obama suggested, a fully functioning Iraq still hasn’t been achieved. “We cannot police Iraq’s streets until they are completely safe,” Obama told thousands of Marines at Camp Lejeune, N.C., “nor stay until Iraq’s union is perfected.”

Obama clearly is growing into his role as commander in chief, said Michael Goodwin in the New York Daily News. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other liberals are upset that Obama is not getting us out faster. But a premature withdrawal could be disastrous. Iraq’s fragile peace could yet dissolve into sectarian bloodletting, or Iraq could fall prey to regional bullies such as Iran. And the Kurds could step up their demands for total independence. By bracing for these possibilities and offering a gradual drawdown, Obama is providing a “perfect example of the centrist leadership America needs.” He also happens to be vindicating President Bush’s blueprint for victory, said National Review Online in an editorial. When Obama last week praised our troops for having “succeeded beyond expectation,” he tacitly acknowledged that the surge has worked.

Don’t break out the “Welcome Home” signs just yet, said USA Today. The Status of Forces Agreement, which mandates the 2011 pullout, “isn’t set in concrete.” If the situation deteriorates, Obama could negotiate a new pact to keep us in Iraq longer. And the fact that he’s keeping 50,000 troops there suggests his “commitment to get out is part goal, part guessing game.” In fact, by reneging on his timetable, said Steve Chapman in the Chicago Tribune, Obama has moved toward Bush’s view “that we cannot leave until some sort of victory is achieved.” But what will he do “if that day fails to come?”

What an “ambiguous” endgame this turned out to be, said Kevin Connolly in BBCnews.com. When the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003 on the false pretense that Saddam Hussein harbored weapons of mass destruction, it “dreamed of constructing a new Iraq which would serve as a kind of beacon of democracy in the Middle East.” Under Obama, Washington will be content to leave behind “a relatively stable place that does not threaten either its neighbors or U.S. interests.” Even that “modest” goal is not assured.

And let’s not forget the terrible price we paid for this tragic misadventure, said Jeremy Scahill in Huffingtonpost.com. So far, 4,250 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis have died, and thousands more have been maimed. The war has cost U.S. taxpayers $700 billion, and counting. And for what? Yes, Saddam was toppled, but “rather than inspire hope among Iraqis, the U.S. occupation has devastated their country and opened the gates for unprecedented violence.” As a candidate, Obama “used to riff on these truths.” Now, he’s too busy just trying to figure out how to extricate us from this bloody mess.

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