The departure of the last combat brigade from Iraq is full of symbolic weight.
1. President Obama, to his credit, dropped the nonsense from his candidacy about promising withdrawal by March 2008 and stuck to the Bush-Petraeus plan.
2. While there is violence in Iraq (as there is in Pakistan and in many nations of the Arab Middle East), the surge worked, broke the back of the resistance, and allowed some sort of consensual government to survive.
3. We are reminded by the departure that the campaign-constructed “bad” war in Iraq become okay in late 2008, while the okay war in Afghanistan turned bad, something candidate “Let me at ’em in Afghanistan” Obama probably never anticipated, as his post-campaign surprise seems to suggest.
4. We should remember that while the surge coincided with a booming economy, the departure is taking place against the backdrop of a deep recession, and borrowed money is now as big a consideration as grand strategy (e.g., it will be difficult to ever reinsert the troops at their former levels should the terrorists return) . . .
5. . . . but the 50,000-something troops left in Iraq are not weaponless, and with air support can in extremis aid the Iraqi security forces.
6. If the calm holds, George Bush will be seen in a rather different light than when he left in January 2009, not just because Iraq miraculously has functioned under a constitutional system for years now, but because we have seen how different governance is from perpetual campaigning. In the latter, the rhetorical choices are always good and bad, rather than bad and worse, as is the case when one must be responsible for consequences. In short, despite all the “war is lost,” the “surge is not working,” and the “General Betray Us,” Bush’s persistence paid off — and now Joe Biden, of erstwhile “trisect Iraq” fame, thinks that Iraq could be one of the Obama’s administration’s “greatest achievements.” We’ve come a long way from that September 2007 Senate grilling of Petraeus when President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Secretary of State Clinton all weighed in with false knowledge.