Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Republic, If You Can Keep It

So said Benjamin Franklin after the Constitutional Convention, when asked what kind of a government the delegates had given them.  Today, 18 December 2011, the last American troops left Iraq and, at 6:59 a.m. EST, Secretary of Defense Panetta signed Mod 9 to EXORD 1003 Victor, formally ending Operation New Dawn—and by extension, the Iraq war.

This seems like a good occasion to write again, if only to record my thoughts.  I stared at the Defense Press Secretary’s tweet for some time (@PentagonPresSec), thinking of something substantive to add, and then simply retweeted it.  It seemed like something that shouldn’t just be a passing comment.

Which leaves us with the question, “What next?”  Last week, President Obama thanked returning troops, and in what may be the ultimate irony of his administration, praised them for leaving behind a sovereign, independent, democratic Iraq—the exact end state formulated by President George W. Bush and derided by the left, including candidate Obama.

Apologies in advance for politicizing this moment, but there are a couple things about this week that are bothering me.  I won’t go as far as some pundits who’ve said the President was trying to take credit for our success in Iraq.  (He wouldn’t say victory.)  Still, I find it interesting that he’s the President is quick to blame his predecessor for the economy being worse than he thought when taking office, but doesn’t seem to blame (or credit) Bush for saddling him with an Iraq withdrawal timeline.  I’d like to think otherwise, but I suspect we’ll hear reelection candidate Obama point out that he brought the Iraq war to a conclusion, as promised. 

That should be a mistake, because any opponent should quickly ridicule any such claim—this President withdrew the troops on the exact timeline established by his predecessor, three years after taking office, not the 18 months he kept repeating during the 2008 campaign.  The only thing substantive he can claim credit for is failing to reach an agreement to let the troops stay longer.  If I can make the argument, a Presidential candidate should certainly be able to.  (Add a couple quips about a pattern of diplomatic failure, etc., until the “time’s up” chime rings.)

But, with that off my chest, I will give President Obama some credit, on faith.  There is a reasonable intellectual argument that the only way we could ever prove to the Iraqis that we would leave—is by leaving.  Perhaps Iraq will be fine; perhaps the Iraqis will be asking us to return in 2014, but even the Sadrists can no longer claim we’re an occupation force. 

The Iraqi military and police probably aren’t as ready as we, or they, would like—but it’s their country, and they’ve stepped up, and you can’t always wait until everything is ready.  They still have to worry about Iran, but that will be a continued counterinsurgency fight.  Iraqi Freedom may not be the last state-on-state conventional land attack, but there won’t be another one for a while.  Most Iraqis may be Shia, but they don’t want to be ruled from Tehran any more than they want to be ruled from Washington, DC.  Why do you think Sadr called everyone liars when they said he was hiding in Iran?

So, while the politics of this day are inescapable, I’ll close with some thoughts of hope.

I think Iraq will be fine.  In fact, despite its rough neighborhood, I think Iraq is going to thrive.  And, I’ll stick to the prediction I made in May 2008—when Iraq looked into the abyss and stepped back—within 10 years, Iraq will be one of our “go to” partners when a coalition is needed, because of the tenacity, skill, and courage of their new army.

Some of which, I’d like to think, we taught them.  And some of which, they just needed to be shown they had, all along.