I recently heard the leader of the Democratic National Committee list the end of the war in Iraq as one of President Obama's major achievements. Lets take an inventory.
-The war cost the United States some 4500 killed, 32,000 wounded and over $1 trillion. (For comparison, the Vietnam War cost some 58,000 Americans killed and 350,000 wounded, more than ten times as many.) Iraqi suffering was much greater. There is room to argue about the war's genesis, but there is little doubt that the world is better off without Saddam Hussein - his invasion of Iran in 1980 led to a war which cost at least 500,000 lives; his invasion of Kuwait in 1990 led to our first Gulf War; his retribution against the Kurds and Iraqi Shiites led to his eventual execution. George W Bush's "surge" in 2007, achieved its military and political objectives of a unified country with an elected government and a commitment to withdraw US combat forces by the end of 2011.
- There were options as to how the end of American involvement would be handled. President Obama's approach has been consistent with his broader approach to the Middle East - not attempting to influence the direction of local political or military developments - Iran in 2009; Libya in 2011; Egypt in 2011; Yemen; Palestine; Syria.
-- While it may have been possible to retain a small military presence in a training role and to mediate between the Sunnis, the Shiites, and the Kurds, Obama did not seek that role.
-- Rather than move remaining high profile prisoners to Guantanamo he chose to turn them over to the Iraqis, with the likelihood that the Shiites will be released.
-- Hillary's State Department will have the world's largest embassy in Baghdad to oversee some police training and watch the regional politics.
-- Understanding the new Iraqi order, Exxon Mobil has decided to explore in the semi-independent Kurdistan with the likelihood that they will be expelled from the major Iraqi oil fields.
-- The December 20 ceremony to welcome home the colors and the final troops was attended by President Obama and Vice President Biden had little fanfare and no hint of "mission accomplished."
In the first week after the American withdrawal events have gone predictably badly:
- The Shiite president Malaki has issued an arrest warrant for the Sunni Vice President who is hiding in Kurdistan. So much for the balanced government that Gen. Petreus had forged.
- The Iranians have demonstrated their ascendancy - in response to western sanctions against their nuclear program, but also as a demonstration to their neighbors - staging major war games in the Persian Gulf, and threatening to close the Straights of Hormuz through which one third of the world's oil exports pass if a US aircraft carrier reenters the Gulf.
And, per Representative Wasserman Schultz, this is one of Obama's great achievements.
bill bowen - 1/6/12