As you may have heard, our military engagement in Iraq officially ended yesterday. The last U.S. convoy will leave Iraq tomorrow, making good on the status-of-forces agreement signed by President Bush and approved by the Iraqi Parliament more than three years ago, in which the U.S. agreed to withdraw all our military forces from Iraq by December 31, 2011. Doubts persist, however, about the Iraqis' ability to defend themselves against foreign aggression and internal threats. Many Iraqis have expressed concerns that sectarian strife will return and throw their fragile democracy into chaos. Here at home, some have called our withdrawal "precipitous," and military leaders worry that it is a bit premature for the still-maturing Iraqi security forces, who face continuing struggles to develop the logistics, air operations, surveillance and intelligence-sharing capabilities they will need in what has long been a difficult region. Top U.S. military commanders had recommended leaving a residual force of about 15,000 troops to train and support Iraq's fledgling forces, but the Obama administration was unable to reach a deal with Iraqi political leaders whereby our troops would be granted legal immunity, a practical necessity (and, in my humble opinion, a relatively small price to exact from an Iraqi government that really owes its existence to us).
Still, despite these legitimate reservations about the premature evacuation and concerns about what lies ahead, it's difficult to say our troops are not coming home as victors, and it's worth reflecting on those days when the outlook for Iraq and the War on Terror in general was much more bleak.
Nearly five years ago, Pres. George W. Bush went on national television to announce a critical shift in strategy in a war that had become increasingly costly, unpopular and difficult to prosecute. In selling the country on the counter-insurgency strategy (a.k.a. the “Surge”), then-President Bush didn’t mince words about the sobering reality of what the months and years ahead would bring:
“The terrorists and insurgents in Iraq are without conscience, and they will make the year ahead bloody and violent,” he said. “Even if our new strategy works exactly as planned, deadly acts of violence will continue -- and we must expect more Iraqi and American casualties.”
While averring his unequivocal belief that "our new strategy will bring us closer to success," the President made clear that victory in Iraq “will not look like the ones our fathers and grandfathers achieved. There will be no surrender ceremony on the deck of a battleship.”
No kidding. What began with “shock and awe” ended rather unceremoniously, marked by the lowering of Old Glory at Baghdad Airport. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta officially called our military mission to an end, saying that, while “the cost was high, in blood and treasure for the United States and also for the Iraqi people ... those lives have not been lost in vain. They gave birth to an independent, free and sovereign Iraq.”
They did, and we must not forget that. But we must also not forget that this in not the end of a war; the War on Terror continues; it is just now being fought on one less front.
Before I conclude, I want to return to that night in January 2007, when the war-weary commander-in-chief of a war-weary military addressed a war-weary nation to announce an escalation of U.S. forces in Iraq.
Most Democrats predictably voiced their opposition to this ultimately successful change in strategy, even those who had called for deployment of more troops to stabilize Iraq. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin, a lawyer who had spent much of his professional life as a member of Congress but never served in the military, delivered his party's official response to the president's speech. I can remember watching both speeches, and it was obvious that Durbin had not changed/altered his prepared remarks after hearing what President Bush actually said. The Illinois Democrat predictibaly asserted that "the president's plan moves the American commitment in Iraq in the wrong direction."
He said that it was "time for the Iraqis to stand and defend their own nation," adding:
The government of Iraq must now prove that it will make the hard political decisions which will bring an end to this bloody civil war, disband the militias and death squads, create an environment of safety and opportunity for every Iraqi, and begin to restore the basics of electricity and water and health care that define the quality of life.
No word from Durbin or other Democrats on how they intended to facilitate the Iraqis in doing this, nor did the No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. Senate explain why it was not our duty to help the Iraqi government out.
That same night, Durbin's fellow U.S. Sen. from Illinois said:
I am not persuaded that 20,000 additional troops in Iraq is going to solve the sectarian violence there. In fact, I think it will do the reverse.
So confident was Barack Obama in his position that he sponsored a bill that would have prevented the deployment of any more troops to Iraq and initiated a "phased redeployment" beginning on May 1, 2007, with a goal of total redeployment of combat forces by March 31, 2008. The bill died in committee.
In the months that followed, as it became increasingly clear that the surge was having the desired effect, many on the Left stubbornly insisted that it was not working. Realizing that they were losing credibility on this issue, Democrats trotted out more respectable figures to recite their talking points. In September, after President Bush delivered another address to the country, this time speaking on the progress that had been made in Iraq and the work left to be done, Sen. John Reed (D-RI), a Vietnam veteran and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, followed him with a response that was long on politics and short on substance. He actually had the gall to declare that "too often, the President’s Iraq policies have worsened America’s security," without providing anything--anything at all--to support such a ridiculous claim. (Then-Senator Obama also offerred up his keen foreign policy insight, but his remarks from that night have curiously been scrubbed from his web site.) As I read over the transcript of Reed's speech today, one line stood out to me: "An endless and unlimited military presence in Iraq is not an option." Such a statement could have easily been dismissed as absurd at the time by pointing out our permanent military presence in Germany and South Korea, where no serious person would argue our troops are in constant danger, but it seems even more inane now that we've withdrawn all our forces from Iraq, just a little more than four years later.
Despite the Democrats' efforts to make foreign policy heavyweights like Reed the unofficial spokesmen for their opposition to victory in Iraq, they couldn't stop some of their more loquacious gadflies from voicing their considered opinions on the subject. In a November 11 appearance on Meet the Press, Obama, now in full campaign mode, said very clearly, “not only have we not seen improvements, but we're actually worsening, potentially, a situation there.”
What I did find amusing was the visible split that developed between Democrats who began to grudgingly acknowledge the success of the Surge and those who continued to stick to their guns. In a debate at St. Anselm College on January 5, 2008, Obama claimed that he “had no doubt ... that given how wonderfully our troops perform, if we place 30,000 more troops in there, then we would see an improvement in the security situation and we would see a reduction in the violence.” Apparently, he even said as much "at the time when [he] opposed the surge."
Someone must have brought him back in line, however, because later that month, after President Bush delivered his final State of the Union address, his would-be successor was quoted as saying, “Tonight we heard President Bush say that the Surge in Iraq is working, when we know that's just not true.” In time, he would come to acknowledge that the counterinsurgency strategy in the Iraq war had been a success, if only by proxy.
I wouldn't have taken such pains to revisit George W. Bush's immense political courage in calling for the Surge and defending it against relentless criticism and attacks that bordered on treason if it weren't for the atrocious behavior of so many on the Left who insist on showering the current president with praise and exaltation while giving no credit where credit is due, viz., Obama's predecessor.
To his credit, President Obama has not overtly claimed credit for bringing Operation Enduring Freedom to a peaceful conclusion, nor should he. However, his surrogates in the media have not been so discrete. In an interview with Mike Huckabee set to air as part of the former Arkansas governor's FOX News show this weekend, Democratic apparatchik Jehmu Greene told the former presidential candidate, "As--you know--he said that he was going to end the War, and as a president, he has. ... I have a question for you, Governor. Given that he has, like, lived up to every single promise he made with Iraq, is he not the greatest commander-in-chief in modern history of presidents, not just the 21st Century, but the 20th Century?" (The audience rightly booed her, and Huckabee politely reminded her that Obama "inherited a War that had turned because of a surge that he opposed.")
Perhaps Ms. Greene was just being provocative, but I doubt the same could be said of Vice President Bident when he told CNN’s Larry King last year that Iraq "could be one of the great achievements of this administration." I suppose that getting elected and taking office after someone else has done the heavy lifting and taken all the political flak necessary to bring about a victory in Iraq is an "achievement" per se, but I doubt that's what Biden was referring to. (I might also be willing to cut the VP a little slack had he not said in 2007, “This whole notion that the surge is working is fantasy.")
The unwarranted adulation of Obama/slights to Bush is not limited to Iraq. After Navy SEAL Team Six iced Osama bin Laden in Pakistan without losing any of their own, President Obama had the decency to call his predecessor before going on national TV to announce what was a historic moment. George W. Bush, in turn, graciously refrained from rushing to claim credit or even speaking publicly on the demise of the Earth's most loathsome creature, save for acknowledging what a great thing it was for America and the World to be rid of him. Unfortunately, the Left did not follow suit. I could list examples of anti-Bush Obamapologists dissing the former commander-in-chief while exalting their messiah for smiting bin Laden, but the media was so replete with such behavior seven months ago that I don't frankly see the need to. Conjure up your own memories to supplement this commentary: I'll acknowledge that President Obama had a decision to make when he received actionable intelligence as to the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. He had options, and the course of action he chose was the best one. I don't even object to people giving him some credit for finding and killing Osama bin Laden. What I take umbrage at is giving him more credit than former President Bush. Remember, all the intelligence that enabled the CIA to ascertain the location of Osama bin Laden was collected during the Bush administration. The Obama administration and the U.S. Navy used the tools provided by the Bush administration to carry out this ultimately successful mission. Is that so hard to admit?
For some people, it is, but I digress. The "War in Iraq" (a term I never liked, as I didn't see our operations in Iraq as a separate war) is over. We won. Those brave men and women who were fortunate enough to make it home alive are not only heroes; they are victors. Millions of people--not just here and in Iraq, but across the globe--are better off because of them and their fellow soldiers who our allies sent over to fight alongside them. As we revel in this tremendous victory, the forgotten cries of defeatism from the not-too-distant past echo in the distance:
"Victory is no longer an option in Iraq, if it ever was."
--Editorial in the New York Times, March 29, 2007
"I believe ... that this war is lost, and that the surge is not accomplishing anything, as indicated by the extreme violence in Iraq yesterday."
--Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, April 19, 2007
"The reality is [that] despite heroic efforts by U.S. troops, the Bush surge is not working."
--Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), September 7, 2007
“We are sending our troops where they’re not wanted, with no end in sight, into the middle of a civil war, into the middle of the mother of all mistakes.”
--Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), September 11, 2007
"Tonight, ... the President failed to provide either a plan to successfully end the war or a convincing rationale to continue it."
--Sen. John "Jack" Reed (D-RI), September 12, 2007
"We are going in the wrong direction in Iraq."
--Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), February 7, 2008
Are they the least bit happy now? Will they ever be?