By the time I got to Iraq in July 2007, the surge operations had utterly defeated the insurgency in Anbar province, Baghdad and most of the surrounding environs, and most of the Shiite heartland; and the Kurdish areas remained at peace. Basra remained restive (the central government of Iraq would take care of that the following year), but the only major pockets of resistance were in Diyala province and in the far north around Mosul. In most of Iraq, American casualties had dropped to levels commensurate with peacetime activities and attacks on coalition forces had virtually vanished.
In the course of 2008, these gains were consolidated with elections that returned strong victories for pro-American, anti-Iranian, and anti–al Qaeda parties in Iraq, and were further consolidated with the strategic-framework agreements negotiated by the Bush administration.
It was President Bush who ended the war in Iraq — by winning it. For Obama to claim that he ended the war in Iraq by bringing the troops home is as ridiculous as if he claimed credit for ending World War II by bringing troops home from Germany and Japan.
All Obama ended in Iraq was our position of strategic influence there, a priceless position gained after a horrifying sacrifice. Just imagine what the fate of Germany and Japan (and of democracy) might have been if we had abandoned those countries’ nascent democratic institutions at the start of the Cold War? We learned in the years after World War I that democracies are most vulnerable to subversion and demagoguery when they are youngest. It was the long-term presence of U.S. troops that allowed stable institutions of democratic politics and flourishing commerce to sink deep roots in Japan, South Korea, Germany, and elsewhere on the periphery of the free world. A long-term presence in Iraq would have allowed us to do much the same, standing as bulwark against Iranian influence and guiding Iraq to a role of democratic leadership in a part of the world that desperately needs modern democracy to succeed.
Instead Obama utterly neglected Iraq, and made no effort to maintain the strategic position that the Bush administration bequeathed to him. As elsewhere in the Middle East, the Obama administration has merely presided over the erosion of American influence, leaving us far less able to safeguard our most vital interests, or ensure the future peace and prosperity of the Middle East.
And that’s a “responsible end” to the war in Iraq? Please.