President Barack Obama announced that the United States would pull the remaining troops out of Iraq by year's end. As he noted, “after nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.”
This claim has a nice political ring to it, but if parsed, it really means the U.S. participation in Iraq’s war is over, but the war goes on. In fact, U.S. withdrawal may exacerbate the violence on the ground. “The tide of war is receding” argues the president, but is that true?
For military commanders, including Gen. Lloyd Austin, U.S. Commander in Iraq, the president’s hypothesis is questionable. Without a secure, orderly transition, U.S. successes have been put at risk. Politics does not tolerate a vacuum. Iran’s ability to meddle in Iraqi politics has soared with the announced U.S. withdrawal.
From the Iranian point of view the Lebanon model that relies on Hezbollah as a political balance wheel is probably the strategy Iran has in mind for Iraq.
There are already signs of Iranian influence in the Maliki government. And it doesn’t involve high level strategic thinking to envision a Shiite vassal state with Iran’s quds force operating in the shadows to impose its will on the Iraqi people.
Alas, it is ironic that after spending our treasure and the blood of our soldiers to create the only working Arab democracy in the Middle East, its future is now dependent on the actions of our Iranian enemies.
President Obama may indeed believe the tide of war is receding, but the events he put in motion could yield a war far more intense than any we have recently encountered.
Iran, since, 1979, has made the point that United States’ forces must vacate the region. Their wish is now realized. It is only a question of time before American troops leave Afghanistan as well.
The question that remains is what is in store for this region with hostile regimes, religious friction, and nations possessing nuclear weapons, e.g. Pakistan, and most likely Iran.
Every sensible American wants to see our troops at home and war at an end. But it is simplistic to assume that if we walk away from a conflict our enemies will do the same. We are engaged in a long war with radical Islam. It is not likely to disappear because we have lost our appetite for battle.
A long peace, perhaps the word stability applies, is only possible through the demonstration of our strength, our willingness to stay the course.
The U.S. left thousands of troops in Germany after World War II and still retains close to 30,000 troops in South Korea in order to maintain stability in this hostile peninsula. These troops were and are deployed to maintain the gains achieved on the battlefield. The same could certainly be said for Iraq.
One can only hope that the president’s risky decision will not require redeployment of our forces at some time in the future. As I see it, there would be some sense in retaining a force of 15,000 in Iraq in order to bolster the Iraqi army. But that stance has been rejected.
So we are left with the strategy of prayer. Perhaps President Obama has a special relationship with the gods. If not, God help us all.
Herbert London is president emeritus of Hudson Institute and author of the book "Decline and Revival in Higher Education" (Transaction Publishers).
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