Laura Rozen at Politico:
In Morning Defense, POLITICO’s Jen DiMascio and Gordon Lubold make sense of the somewhat confusing drama last night as a convoy of troops from the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division crossed from Iraq into Kuwait:
OVERNIGHT — More than seven years after the U.S. invasion, the last U.S. combat troops rolled out of Iraq and into Kuwait in the early-morning darkness. That’s two weeks ahead of Barack Obama’s schedule, but it ain’t over ’til it’s over: A U.S. Army spokesman tells CBS that the U.S. still has “plenty of trigger-pullers there.”
THE PRESIDENT, IN OHIO: “We are keeping the promise I made when I began my campaign for the presidency. By the end of this month we will have removed 100,000 troops from Iraq and our combat mission will [end].”
THE AP’S REBECCA SANTANA IN KHABARI CROSSING, KUWAIT: “For these troops of the 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, it was a moment of relief fraught with symbolism. As their convoy reached the barbed wire at the border crossing out of Iraq on Wednesday, the soldiers whooped and cheered. Then they scrambled out of their stifling hot armored vehicles, unfurled an American flag and posed for group photos.” http://yhoo.it/dcT5Wj
It’s Thursday morning, and this is Morning Defense.
IRAQ BY THE NUMBERS, from Stars and Stripes:
U.S. troops killed: 4,414
U.S. troops wounded in action: 31,897
Number of U.S. troop amputees: 1,135
Iraqi civilian deaths: 113,166
War’s operating cost: $747.6 billion
Per American: $2,435; Per Iraqi: $25,828
Estimate of the total cost of the war: $3 trillion
Cost of maintaining 50,000 troops from now to end of 2011: $12.75 billion
Cost of medical care and disability compensation for Iraq war veterans over their lifetimes: $500 billion.
Max Fisher at The Atlantic with the round-up
Grim at Blackfive:
4/2 SBCT rides out.
The 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which left Iraq this week, was the final U.S. combat brigade to be pulled out of the country….”Operation Iraqi Freedom ends on your watch!” exclaimed Col. John Norris, the head of the brigade.
“Hooah!” the soldiers roared, using an Army battle cry.
Shortly before midnight Saturday, a group of infantrymen boarded Stryker fighting vehicles, left an increasingly sparse base behind and began scanning the sides of a desolate highway for bombs. For many veterans, including some who made the same trip in the opposite direction years ago under fire, it was a fitting way to exit.
“They’re leaving as heroes,” Norris said of his soldiers. “I want them to walk home with pride in their hearts.”
They are heroes. The advise and assist brigades, and the strong Special Operations contingent, remain behind for a time. It’s a strange war that ends this way; but as Clausewitz said, war is the continuation of politics by other means. We’re moving from war to a very tense political environment. That’s more or less what we should expect. What comes next? Either compromise arises that allows tensions to ramp down, so that the political takes over from the war; or it goes the other way, and war blooms anew from the failure of politics.
Victor Davis Hanson at The Corner:
The departure of the last combat brigade from Iraq is full of symbolic weight.
1. President Obama, to his credit, dropped the nonsense from his candidacy about promising withdrawal by March 2008 and stuck to the Bush-Petraeus plan.
2. While there is violence in Iraq (as there is in Pakistan and in many nations of the Arab Middle East), the surge worked, broke the back of the resistance, and allowed some sort of consensual government to survive.
3. We are reminded by the departure that the campaign-constructed “bad” war in Iraq become okay in late 2008, while the okay war in Afghanistan turned bad, something candidate “Let me at ’em in Afghanistan” Obama probably never anticipated, as his post-campaign surprise seems to suggest.
4. We should remember that while the surge coincided with a booming economy, the departure is taking place against the backdrop of a deep recession, and borrowed money is now as big a consideration as grand strategy (e.g., it will be difficult to ever reinsert the troops at their former levels should the terrorists return) . . .
5. . . . but the 50,000-something troops left in Iraq are not weaponless, and with air support can in extremis aid the Iraqi security forces.
6. If the calm holds, George Bush will be seen in a rather different light than when he left in January 2009, not just because Iraq miraculously has functioned under a constitutional system for years now, but because we have seen how different governance is from perpetual campaigning. In the latter, the rhetorical choices are always good and bad, rather than bad and worse, as is the case when one must be responsible for consequences. In short, despite all the “war is lost,” the “surge is not working,” and the “General Betray Us,” Bush’s persistence paid off — and now Joe Biden, of erstwhile “trisect Iraq” fame, thinks that Iraq could be one of the Obama’s administration’s “greatest achievements.”
James Jay Carafano at The Corner:
In the waning days of World War II, the OSS gave FDR a briefing that would have turned his hair white, if it hadn’t been white already. The president was told to expect a sea of German saboteurs and assassins running rampant through post-war Europe. They would number in the tens of thousands. It might take years to quell the havoc.
The briefers were wrong. The Nazis did, indeed, have a “Werewolf” campaign to continue the fight after armistice, but it largely fizzled. Hundreds of thousands of American troops flooded back home sooner than expected.
Yet some stayed and, for reasons that shifted over the years, American troops remain there today. They remain in Japan and South Korea, too.
This history is not recited to suggest that Iraq is on the road to becoming the next South Korea, but it is a reminder of how the future unfolds. There is no predictable linear path, and in matters of war, everybody gets a vote — enemies as well as allies. Anyone who tells you today just how many troops will be in Iraq ten years hence and just what shape the country will be in is guessing just as much as the OSS agents who briefed FDR on the post-war nightmare that never came.
Here is what we know for sure. 1) Given the state of Iraq in 2006, the country is in a much better place today that any reasonable observer then dared hope. 2) Iraq is better off than it was in the age of Saddam. Now the country has a future, and it rests in the hands of its people. Bonus: The world is rid one of its most dangerous and bloodthirsty thugs. Yes, it was a heavy price. Freedom rarely comes cheap. 3) The surge worked. The surge never promised a land of “milk and honey.” It just promised to break the cycle of continuous, unrelenting violence, to give the new Iraqi political process a chance, and to allow the Iraqis time to build the capacity for their own security. It did that. 4) Things didn’t turn out the way Bush planned. But the vision — a free Iraq without Saddam — was achieved. Remember, things didn’t turn out the way FDR planned either. He said all the troops would be out of Europe in two years.
Here is what we don’t know. How much longer will U.S. troops need to stay there? The fact that the “combat” troops are gone does not mean that the mission is done or that U.S. troops won’t see some kinds of combat. While troops don’t and should not remain permanently in Iraq, they will obviously need to stay longer than one or two more years. Withdrawing U.S. forces too fast would jeopardize progress. Freedom may lose its momentum. Everything is contingent on events on the ground. There cannot even be serious discussions about the long-term U.S. presence until after an Iraqi government is formed.
John Negroponte at Foreign Policy:
Having landed in Baghdad as U.S. ambassador to Iraq at the end of June 2004, I find it a truly remarkable and positive accomplishment that we are able to look to the day not too far off when Iraqi security forces will be able to assume full and complete responsibility for their country’s security. At the time of my arrival, Iraqi security forces were, for all practical purposes, nonexistent. There was, for example, only one — yes, one — Iraqi army battalion and it was composed of various ethnic and sectarian elements. Today, there are some 600,000 Iraqi security forces and important strides have been made toward giving Iraq’s security organizations a national rather than partisan character. This is no small achievement; it has taken seven years to accomplish and only after some false starts and perilous moments.
In the wake of the Samarra Mosque bombing in 2006 and the ensuing sectarian strife, those of us concerned with Iraq could not have imagined the dramatic reversal of fortunes that would occur in the ensuing two years — the death of al Qaeda in Iraq leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the liberation of Basra by the Iraqi army, and the extension of the government’s authority to the country as a whole. By 2008, these improvements had given the government of Iraq the necessary self-assurance to negotiate the withdrawal arrangements that are now being implemented.
But can Iraq really remain stable once U.S. troops have completely withdrawn? While there are no guarantees, the prospects for Iraq’s security and stability beyond 2011 look as good or better than they have at any time in the recent past. The Iraqi army now has close to 200 trained combat battalions, a formidable increase from the somber days when I arrived in 2004, and they are spread throughout the country. The specter of sectarianism poisoning the ranks of Iraqi military and police forces remains the single most serious threat to be guarded against. But progress since the 2007 surge in nurturing the army and police as truly national institutions has been encouraging. Vigilance and political maturity will be needed to ensure that this positive trend continues.
Conn Carroll at Heritage
Max Boot at The Wall Street Journal:
Americans can take pride in how Iraq has developed. But have we truly “won” the war? That is a hard question to answer.
Opponents of the war effort—including Barack Obama and Joe Biden—once had an interest in saying that the war was unwinnable. Now they claim that we should sit back, relax and prepare for a smooth on-time departure. If only.
Iraq has made tremendous strides, but it still has a long way to go. Violence has fallen more than 90% since 2006. Al Qaeda in Iraq has lost most of its leadership. The Jaish al Mahdi, Moqtada al-Sadr’s militia, has been silenced. But this uneasy peace is still broken by too many acts of terrorism. One still reads headlines like this one, from earlier this week: “61 Killed in Bomb Attack on Iraqi Army Recruits.” Baghdad is considerably safer than it once was but is still more dangerous than Kabul, where I’ve also visited recently. Iraq had clean elections in March but still has no new government. Investors are holding off committing funds, the Iranians are licking their chops, and various militias are nervously fingering the triggers of their AK-47s.
Iraq’s future is still to be determined: Will it continue on the path of prosperity and democracy? Will it emerge as a key American ally in the Middle East? Or will it regress into civil war or dictatorship? U.S. forces still have a vital mission: to ensure that a newly sobered Iraq does not fall off the wagon and once again imbibe the deadly brew of ethno-sectarian violence.
The primary remaining military mission is to continue providing support to the Iraqi security forces. There are now 440,000 Iraqi police and 220,000 Iraqi soldiers, but they still lack the capacity to defend their own borders. The U.S. plans to deliver M-1 tanks and F-16 fighters to Iraq, but it will be many years before the Iraqis can operate such sophisticated weapons systems on their own. In the meantime they cannot even control their own air space; that will remain the job of American personnel. The U.S. Navy will continue to safeguard Iraq’s main oil export terminal near the southern city of Basra.
The remaining political mission is even more important—to reassure all sides in Iraq’s fractious politics that their opponents will not resort to the car bomb or the powerdrill-through-the-temple to get their way. Iraq is still recovering from the trauma of internecine bloodletting—as are, for example, Bosnia and Kosovo. In Bosnia it has been 15 years since the guns went silent; in Kosovo 11 years. In both places thousands of foreign troops remain to safeguard a fragile peace.
It would be the height of hubris—the kind once displayed by George W. Bush’s prematurely proclaimed “Mission Accomplished”—to suggest that Iraq, a country of more than 25 million, needs less help in its post-conflict transition than did the micro-states of the former Yugoslavia.
The last combat troops are out and now 50,000, er, “advisors” remain. It’s not the end of the war, in other words, but as a not-so-grim milestone for a lot of guys who are no longer in harm’s way, it’s a moment worth celebrating. Rather than waste your time by blathering at you, let me give you some reading and viewing material. Watch the two clips below from NBC, which, to its credit, did a bang-up job in covering the occasion. And note well Col. Jack Jacobs’s reminiscence about being sent to Vietnam after combat had supposedly ended there too. The fighting isn’t over yet; the question is who’ll be doing it from now on. And the NYT has an answer sure to please liberals of all stripes: “Mercenaries.”
To protect the civilians in a country that is still home to insurgents with Al Qaeda and Iranian-backed militias, the State Department is planning to more than double its private security guards, up to about 7,000, according to administration officials who disclosed new details of the plan. Defending five fortified compounds across the country, the security contractors would operate radars to warn of enemy rocket attacks, search for roadside bombs, fly reconnaissance drones and even staff quick reaction forces to come to the aid of civilians in distress, the officials said…
The department’s plans to rely on 6,000 to 7,000 security contractors, who are also expected to form “quick reaction forces” to rescue civilians in trouble, is a sensitive issue, given Iraqi fury about shootings of civilians by American private guards in recent years. Administration officials said that security contractors would have no special immunity and would be required to register with the Iraqi government. In addition, one of the State Department’s regional security officers, agents who oversee security at diplomatic outposts, will be required to approve and accompany every civilian convoy, providing additional oversight.
It’s the State Department’s show now, on an “unprecedented” scale for such a dangerous area. But can they run it with so few troops left in the country if the electoral stalemate between Maliki’s and Allawi’s factions blows up? (Ryan Crocker: “Our timetables are getting out ahead of Iraqi reality.”) That’s the story you want to read if you’re interested in the “what now?” angle. If you’re looking for something more human, i.e. troop reactions on finally getting to leave, MSNBC’s and WaPo’s pieces are the way to go.
UPDATE: James Joyner
Andrew Berdy at Tom Ricks place at Foreign Policy
Chris Bodenner at Andrew Sullivan’s place
UPDATE #2: Max Fisher at The Atlantic with another round-up