On Friday, President Barack Obama shocked the U.S.--and the world--by announcing that at year's end, U.S. combat forces will depart Iraq, caping an eight year long war. His decision was heralded by some and attacked by others.
The Iraq War, launched in March 2003, has been one of the most divisive policy decisions in recent memory. Hundreds of billions have been spent. Some say wasted; well, I say wasted--and others, surely, agree. No need to recount the Iraqi episodes of political contention; all of the events are in the historical record and easily searchable, either in your individual memory or Google. If you are bored, do a Google search for "Iraq War."
WSJ.com, in their reporting of Obama's announcement, noted that the war "divided the country, transformed the military and left an enduring mark on American history." All of this is true. And many books will be published discussing the Iraq War's placement in American history. Fine. But where does this decision leave the political landscape--the presidential political landscape, that is?
President Obama, perhaps preemptively responding to the charge that his decision was "politically motivated,"stated in his press conference that a goal of his 2008 presidential campaign had been to remove U.S. troops stationed in Iraq by the end of 2011 and that he was able to report that the goal can, and will, be kept. It is important to remember, too, that President Bush had desired troop removal by the end of 2011. Bush's "Status of Forces Agreement" is worthy of some reference. The contentious war, started by a Repub, that cost some $700 billion and took the lives of 4,400 troops, is being completed by a Dem. History will judge the war and its participants. But will it be exacting in its judgment?
For all of those hawkish Americans, concerned about foreign policy, President Obama has been a Titan: he initiated drone attacks in Pakistan, beefed up our presence in Afghanistan, assassinated bin-Laden (and seized his body), supported the protestors in Egypt, supported the rebels in Libya, assassinated Anwar al-Awlaki (a U.S. citizen, btw), and "presided" over the slow and arduous process of troop withdrawal in Iraq. It is an impressive listing for those war, violence, and bloodshed loving Americans.
Obama's decision helps to secure, for his campaign, additional support from those hardline Dems for whom the Iraq War was a chief concern; this group has been largely critical of Obama's foreign policy and its military interludes. I am sure that some moderates, also, will be attracted to Obama's decision; no doubt they will view it as Obama possessing the ability to conclude a bloody and divisive military endeavor. A sort of badge of honor, I'm guessing. But, for others, Obama's decision reveals weakness and a fundamental inability to govern.
One particular GOP presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, was a shark that sensed blood in the water and went for maximum political return. Shortly after Obama's press conference, Romney issued an indignant press release stating, "President Obama's astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women." Wow. The gloves come off and caustic political rhetoric rears its head. Nice! It is a wonderful response because it aims at political capitalization. Romney is positioning himself to inherit the mantle of "National Security Conservative." Gov. Romney is utilizing this opportunity to not only beef up his "conservative credentials" against the other candidates but, also, to set himself apart from Obama and the latter's "astonishing failure."
Romney can go in several directions. He could claim that Iraq is not ready for the withdrawal (i.e., it is a premature withdrawal); he could also claim that Obama's inability to negotiate a U.S. military presence there beyond January 1 (as some DOD officials wanted) reveals his weakness and inability to negotiate. And, of course, Romney--or any other GOP candidate, for that matter--could say that a withdrawal by the end of 2011 is politically motivated, pure and simple--regardless of what Obama says. The truth can be lost amidst the political rhetoric and critical campaign ads.
Let the excitement continue, and let the lies fly!