Aaron's Real Opinions:

The War is Over
Iraqis Solve America's Political Dilemma by Aaron Harber
July 19, 2008 - Print Article

Part 1: Wake Up! - We Won The War!

One of the most fascinating aspects of the War in Iraq is the disconnect between (a) the rhetoric on both sides (simplistically put, pro-war versus anti-war contingents) in the United States, as the presidential campaign is being waged, and (b) what actually is happening in Iraq.

In reality, the War is over. America has won (or won as much as we're going to win) and it is now time to head home. The battling sides have failed to even acknowledge the fact we began "going home" several months ago as the extra troops from the Surge began heading back (albeit in chronological order based on assignment lengths). In essence, the American presence peaked and then our gradual withdrawal began. And the reality is, with the exception of a very brief multi-six-week period of reassessment, the withdrawal will continue.

Despite the American-centric nature of the debate within the United States - almost solely focused on what we should or should not do - while our own debate rages, the War in Iraq is being resolved by the people of Iraq and its federal government. And Americans would be surprised to find these same people - and not the United States - are defining what the U.S. role should be.

In 2007 and 2008, the United States and Iraq were engaged in extensive negotiations for a long-term security pact which would define the role of the U.S. military in Iraq for years to come but negotiations collapsed. At one point, the U.S. expected the Iraqis to acquiesce to almost any American demand in exchange for the protection we offered. U.S. negotiators, however, found a different set of positions from the Iraqis.

The reality today is the Iraqi people not only want U.S. troops out of their country but believe they can take care of their own security needs. Hopefully, their assessment of their readiness is accurate.

The reason for this confidence on the part of Iraqi leaders can be attributed to the success of American military operations in Iraq. U.S. troops have done an extraordinary job training the Iraqi military. And the success of the Surge gave the Iraqi government the time it needed not only to become stabilized but to gather the resources necessary to begin offenses against the remaining insurgents.

It is true some Iraqi political groups are calling for the immediate departure of American troops so these groups can play a greater role politically and militarily in Iraq. Many of these groups seek to destabilize Iraq. But the combination of those, albeit with differing motivations, who want us to leave, create a large majority of opinion which now dominates the debate and the decision-making process.

Perhaps the greatest change is the confidence exuded today by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. It is genuine and has been demonstrated on the ground, militarily, several times in the past several months. While not always successful at first, the Prime Minister has been relentless in his effort to root lawlessness from within his nation. Most noticeable has been the progressively less visible and less important role U.S. troops have played in each successive Iraqi military operation in 2008.

While U.S. experts may not be as sanguine about the level of preparedness of the Iraqi military, the decision about what the Iraqi military can do ultimately belongs to the Iraqi government - not us. And that government has made it clear it believes it is nearly ready to "go it alone."

That is great news for Iraq and for the United States. It is wonderful news for our troops and for our overtaxed military. But what it means politically back in the United States is what is most fascinating because the truth is the War is over.

Part 2: The Political Implications Of The War's End.

The debate about the role of the United States in Iraq has been raging for years and was the center point of the Democratic primary election contest, with candidates arguing who was against the War "the most" and who would get us out the fastest. Even the Republicans became embroiled at times in the debate - with John McCain breaking ranks and making it clear he was a staunch supporter of the U.S. effort in Iraq despite its unpopularity.

Ironically, the War in Iraq may not matter in the November General Election. The War is over and the role of the United States is being defined by the country it is in - not by American voters, the Pentagon, the President or anyone else.

With the primary election season over and many electoral decisions having been made by voters concerned about the War, they now are finding there is little to debate. In fact, the debate about the War in Iraq has been quickly reduced to differences which border on minutia.

Senator Barack Obama wants the U.S. to withdraw in 16 months. He is likely to find the logistics of the process and the need for time to make an orderly withdrawal could extend that timetable but even in the worst case scenario, that would not be more than 24 month (i.e., two years). That's only an extra eight months than he may have desired. But that extra time is likely to ensure the competency of the Iraqi military.

Obama's plan would reduce the stress on the U.S. military, whose troops have performed extraordinarily under difficult and demanding circumstances (especially related to those who had to serve multiple tours, some of which were extended to 1¼ years apiece).

Senator John McCain was castigated for saying it was possible the U.S. would have a military presence in Iraq for up to 100 years - referencing the fact we already have had troops stationed in Europe and South Korea for the better part of a century. His statement was reasonable, however, when understood in the context he made it - i.e., the U.S. should be willing to play a peacemaking role in the Middle East with part of that function including troops based in Iraq.

McCain is oriented towards removing troops based on when certain objectives are achieved. If troop withdrawals are based on milestones rather than artificial timetables, McCain's approach makes sense. But the reality is Iraq's leadership is not going to give him that option. Rather, they are telling us they want U.S. troops out as soon as possible and they are the ones who will set the milestones. It is their country and the United States would look awful if we were to try to dictate any other timetable. We will be consulted but Iraq, as a sovereign nation with a government we have argued is legitimate, will have the last say.

Given the desires of the Iraqi people and their leadership, McCain likely would face a maximum timetable of approximately 24 months - the same as Barack Obama. Thus, in the end, it may not matter who is elected President as far as Iraq is concerned because we will be departing that country at approximately the same time, regardless of this November's results.

The exercise of this decision-making power by Iraq only serves to further prove it, indeed, is a sovereign power not under the control of the United States. Will the road be rocky for the Iraqis? Yes, it likely will be very difficult. There will be setbacks. But it is their country and they have the right to make these decisions - even if they are mistaken or we don't always agree with them.

Hopefully, the United States will be there to lend a hand (although not primarily in a military role) to Iraq. If we assist with their economic development efforts, the final chapter could be a win/win for all concerned. That, too, will be a decision left to the Iraqis.

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