Out Of Iraq – Finally

After nearly ten years, at least a trillion dollars spent (wasted?), and uncounted lives changed forever if not outright ruined or in fact snuffed out, we are apparently out of Iraq, as of Christmas, this year:

image of news clips for Obama's announcement of troops exiting Iraq
News collage by Newseum via Daily Kos

I don’t even know what to feel at such a late date. On the one hand, whew: it’s finally OVER. And yes, Barack Obama did what George W. Bush could not, in many, many years of his Presidency. Congratulations to Mr. Obama for doing what needed to be done. It’s also been quite funny indeed watching both conservative media and the GOP Presidential hopefuls spin, spin, spin (or ignore, ignore, ignore) the continued policy successes of the Obama administration, even as they try to keep painting him with the traditional GOP brush used for Democrats on foreign policy: weak and ineffective (with just a whiff of anti-Americanism). So there’s that, I guess.

But I can’t help but think of all those lives ruined, money wasted, opportunity squandered – both in Iraq and especially here at home – and it appears I’m not the only one. When I read articles like this one (and there were plenty of them this weekend), I wonder if those quantifiable losses I mentioned, of lives, money and opportunity, are the ONLY measurable things to come from our nearly decade-long boondoggle in Iraq:

Iraq’s security problems come in three layers. Some challenges, like the absence of a national air defense and the need for better defense intelligence, are issues of national military preparedness that are resolvable with hardware purchases and training, given enough time. Iraq already has purchased one squadron of F-16s and is expected to order a second.

On top of the military inadequacy is a set of tough political issues, principally the disputes between Kurds and Sunnis over who will control places like Kirkuk, a dispute that has proved so complex that the U.S. military has been called on to manage periodic flare-ups of violence.

Then there is the potential threat from outside in a region where memories are still bitter over Iraq’s role as bullyboy under Saddam Hussein and his wars against Iran and Kuwait.

For the United States, Saudi Arabia and Israel, the biggest threat to Iraq comes from Iran. The giant Shiite Muslim nation, which uses its clout regularly with the friendly Shiite-led government in Baghdad, sustained hundreds of thousands of casualties in its eight-year conflict with Saddam’s Iraq. No one can deny that Iran has a legitimate interest in Iraq being a good neighbor.

The above is, of course, all speculative. The article itself notes that it’s also possible that Iraq could pull itself together and become that “beacon of democracy in the region” which was always held out as one of the goals of the war, even before the US-led invasion. But the reason this article was printed is because the speculation that things might not work out in such a rosy fashion is a likely-enough scenario that it’s worth pointing out the cautions today, in a way that the press failed to do in the original run-up to the Iraq war.

It remains to be seen what will happen in Iraq. But what was made clear with President Obama’s announcement of troop withdrawal is that American ability to influence the outcome will be, after this December, once again reduced to diplomacy from afar — because the U.S. citizenry will not be eager to respond to calls from Washington to mount another military excursion to Iraq. And so, nearly ten years later, the outlook in Iraq remains essentially what it was before George W. Bush’s excellent adventure: uncertain, and possibly dangerous to U.S. interests.

Which is why the announcement of the end of our troop presence in Iraq filled me with such mixed feelings. And why I’ll leave the last word to Attila the Stockbroker and Barnstormer. An ugly, ignominious chapter in our nation’s history which should never have happened in the first place is over. YAY…I guess. All that remains is this: