President Obama's announcement of a total troop withdrawal from Iraq by the end of this year is a watershed moment in U.S. foreign policy, and one that should be applauded. Those critics, mainly in the GOP, who excoriate the President for "prematurely" disengaging from Iraq demonstrate their fundamental incomprehension of the situation. This moment is one toward which the U.S. has been heading ever since the invasion of Iraq in March of 2003, and it is transpiring under circumstances more optimistic than those for which I and many other opponents of this war had dared to hope. The assertion that this withdrawal may confidently and definitively be deemed "too early" is based on the same kinds of flawed premises that led to the ill-conceived invasion from the outset.
Critics of the withdrawal are not wrong to hope that Iraq will remain relatively stable, peaceful, and prosperous. However misguided our initial invasion of Iraq may have been, since the defeat of Saddam Hussien our soldiers have been fighting and dying to secure the Iraqi people a future free from violence and terror, and it would be a tragic squandering of their sacrifice if Iraq slips back into civil war and anarchy. It is delusional, however, given the experience of the last nine years, to imagine that the long-term stability and prosperity of Iraq hinges on any actions by the United States right now. Since the first tanks rolled across the border in 2003, Iraq has served as an object lesson in the limits of U.S. power. Though America had the might to bring a swift end to the Hussein regime, from that point on it lost control of the situation. Iraqis, representing various constituencies, under varying degrees of pressure and influence from the U.S., have been driving events in Iraq for most of the nine years leading up to President Obama's withdrawal declaration. The removal of our last military personnel brings our strategic influence down to a new nadir, but this is a change to the situation in degree, not in kind.
Those pundits and gurus who declare that the failure to leave 5,000 trainers in Iraq is a disastrous mistake betray either cynicism or ignorance. After nine years of blood and struggle, Iraq remains a conflicted society whose state rests on a tenuous foundation. Perhaps the retention of 5,000 U.S. soldiers could spell the difference between continued stability and a slide into chaos, perhaps not. There is no real way to know. This last fact is not an argument for the ill wisdom of President Obama's order to withdraw. It is proof that the invasion of Iraq should never have been undertaken in the first place.