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The End of an Era — Obama Salutes End to Major Combat Mission in Iraq

The End of an Era -- Obama Salutes End to Major Combat Mission in Iraq

The war in Iraq has been conspicuously absent from headlines over the past year, but President Obama’s high-profile speech on Monday reflects an administration eager to win hearts and minds at home.

“As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end,” Mr. Obama told a somber gathering of the Disabled American Veterans. “Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by Aug. 31, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end. And that is exactly what we are doing, as promised and on schedule.”

Clearly, we’ve hit an emotional milestone in Iraq. The end is in sight. Major combat is over and the troops are coming home. And we can expect many more of these talks, with appearances planned throughout the month by the president, Vice President Biden and other senior administration officials as they wax eloquent on Obama’s steadfast commitment to ending the war.

With congressional elections fast approaching, this is one achievement the White House hopes to celebrate. But don’t expect a ticker-tape parade. While Obama eschewed “Mission Accomplished” rubbish in favor of a solemn observance of sacrifice and success, he should know that after seven years these words may fall on deaf ears.

There will be no victory in Iraq.

Although the conflict has been shoved to the back of our collective conscience with attention turned to Afghanistan and the “good war” gone bad, we are left with a sense of reflection tinged with regret. It is impossible to forget that we are leaving behind an Iraqi government that is hopelessly deadlocked and ultimately unprepared to manage the country’s first peaceful transfer of power since the Brits pulled up stakes in the ‘40s. What happens next is unclear.

What is certain is that some 4400 American servicemen and women won’t be coming home to their families. Thousands more have been battered and broken, both physically and mentally, by their experience in combat. I won’t guess at the number of innocent Iraqi lives that have been lost.

And we’ve yet to bleed our last drop of blood or treasure in Iraq. The transitional force of 50,000 troops will remain charged with an indistinct mission to train and advise Iraqi security forces, protect U.S. civilians, manage the chain of supplies and equipment out of Iraq and conduct counterterrorism operations. Nearly all American troops will have left the country by the end of 2011, yet Obama’s words marking an end to our mission “as promised and on schedule” triggered an abrupt uptick in sectarian violence.

But, Obama is making the right decision to stick to the timeline established by the Status of Forces Agreement. There is nothing U.S. forces can do to smooth political tensions or end the current stalemate. More likely,they will end their combat mission without an Iraqi government in place. The power still won’t work. Clean water still won’t flow. The streets will be less safe.

In their absence, however, Iraq will become an ever more fertile playground for foreign interests, domestic strongmen and sectarian splinter groups. Such a shame we’ve so little to show for the effort…yet strangely, sadly fitting. 



Reid Smith

Reid Smith has worked as a research associate specializing on U.S. policy in the Middle East and as a political speechwriter. He is currently a doctoral student and graduate associate with the University of Delaware's Department of Political Science and International Relations. He blogs and writes for The American Spectator.