The President announced yesterday that the United States will withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of the year. This ends months of speculation on U.S. troop levels in Iraq beyond 2011 and confirms the Associated Press reports from last week of a total withdrawal.
I wrote an Op-Ed for the Wall Street Journal last month entitled “We’ve Won in Iraq So Let’s Leave” and an editorial for FoxNews.com last week calling for just this outcome. In these I argued it was time the United States declare victory in Iraq and shift precious military resources to the highest priority mission in Afghanistan. Despite the hope of many U.S. military commanders to keep a large U.S. force in Iraq beyond 2011, the decision to withdraw all forces appears to have been based on the Iraqi Parliament’s refusal to grant immunity in Iraqi courts to U.S. military forces. This, in effect, is Iraq politely telling us that it’s time to go. They are confident enough to stand on their own. And while different than we might have originally envisioned, I would argue that this is, in fact, what victory looks like.
But while I applaud the decision to withdraw all U.S. Forces, I offer harsh criticism of the President for the following reasons outlined below.
President Obama said that U.S. troops could leave Iraq “with their heads held high, proud of their success and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops.” But never was there an acknowledgement of the extraordinary security gains that were achieved in Iraq when many insisted that Iraq was lost. The U.S. Servicemen and women who fought in Iraq through the darkest days of the war--when almost no one thought America could reverse the radically deteriorating security situation – smashed the insurgency and achieved a radical reduction in violence levels at tremendous cost and personal sacrifice. The insurgents, too, know full well that they were soundly defeated; so much so, that the local populace turned on them and joined with U.S and Iraqi Security Forces. It’s important the American people know and appreciate the spectacular successes that we achieved in Iraq from 2006-2008. It was not without tremendous cost. Thousands of U.S. personnel made the ultimate sacrifice and many more were gravely wounded. Their lives, and the lives of their loved ones, are forever changed. Our victory in Iraq is a tribute to them and all Americans should be proud at this spectacular success. It is equally important that the global jihadist movement is forced to confront and accept their defeat in Iraq.
Yet, the President acknowledged none of these “successes.” There was no declaration of victory. Because declaring victory would mean that President Obama would have to admit that he was wrong on Iraq. He was wrong in advocating retreat when all was going badly. He was wrong in saying the surge would not work. He was wrong in insisting that victory could never be achieved. And so there will be no victory declared.
The announcement for a total withdrawal, said President Obama, fulfills his campaign promise to end the war, and the press gives him credit for “accelerating” the U.S. draw down. But the timeline for withdrawal for U.S. Forces in December 2011 precisely corresponds with the security agreement negotiated with Iraq in November 2008 under the Bush Administration. President Obama is simply carrying out the plan as laid out by is often-criticized predecessor.
The Commander-in-Chief promised American Forces in Iraq will be home for the holidays. But the announcement of the exact timetable for withdrawal puts those U.S. forces at a distinct tactical disadvantage as they depart—a major concern for U.S. commanders on the ground in Iraq. There are staggering numbers of armored vehicles, weapons, communications gear and heavy equipment to transport and only limited routes out of Iraq. This makes it easier for U.S. forces to be targeted by insurgents as they withdraw through chokepoints, especially in Southern Iraq as they transit toward Kuwait.
The President declared yesterday that with the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and impending drawdown in Afghanistan, “the tide of war is receding.” But to even the most novice student of history, America’s enemies are at move in the world like never before in the last half-century. Despite a string of successes against Al Qaeda, the ability of the U.S. to deter our enemies has plummeted to a new low not seen since the Carter Administration. Iran pursues the development of nuclear weapons unabated, without fear of U.S. preemptive military action , and promises to fulfill its dreams to wipe Israel off the map and destroy the United States. Many cling to the hope that the “Arab Spring” will usher in democracy and freedom to the Arab world. But it could alternatively boost the Muslim Brotherhood to power and usher in a new era of radical Islam in once fairly secular nations; this would almost certainly derail the fragile peace between Israel and its neighbors and bring war to the Middle East. China has ramped up production of the tools of power projection including aircraft carriers and stealth aircraft. And Vladimir Putin has vowed to reestablish Russia’s once unprecedented military might.
And this applies to non-state actors as well. U.S. Federal agents are gunned down by Mexican drug cartels with no fear of retribution. Teenage Somali pirates kidnap and often murder U.S. and Western European hostages despite billion-dollar U.S. and NATO warships “monitoring” the situation close by with firepower beyond any in history. All this while the United States slashes its defense budget to an unprecedented degree, and many politicians cry for even more drastic cuts in defense.
Our enemies do not fear American military might because they recognize that our leaders lack the will to use that force against them or even declare victory when we win. A strong United States is imperative for the peace and stability of the world. And this is integral to deter our enemies and prevent future wars. But the perceived weakness of the Obama Administration in the eyes of our enemies only serves to ensure that we will, in all likelihood, fight additional and perhaps far more costly wars again in the near future.
Leif Babin is a former Navy SEAL officer who served three tours in Iraq, earning a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart.
Leif Babin is a former Navy SEAL officer who served three tours in Iraq, earning a Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart. He is the co-founder of Echelon Front LLC, a consulting firm specializing in leadership development, team building and crisis management.