U.S. Withdrawal Came at Exactly the Right Time
The withdrawal demonstrated to the people of Iraq and their neighbors that democracy works
January 23, 2012
The U.S. withdrawal from Iraq at the end of 2011 came at exactly the right time. It will have benefits for us and for the Iraqis.
The U.S. benefits fall into four areas.
First, by ending its military mission in Iraq, the U.S. will be able to reduce total defense spending, which in real terms is higher than at any time since World War II. Ending the war in Iraq will save close to $100 billion a year. This will be an important step in dealing with our massive fiscal debt, which Admiral Mike Mullen, the recently departed chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, argued is the greatest threat to our national security.
Second, by living up to the agreement that President Bush signed in December 2008, the U.S. will enhance its standing in the Arab and Muslim world. By keeping our word we will undermine the narrative promulgated by groups like al Qaeda that we are an imperialist occupying power, like the Europeans who previously wreaked such havoc in the Muslim world.
Third, it will relieve the strain on our ground forces, who have been deployed numerous times since 9/11; this will allow them to have sufficient time at home to get their lives together and develop the skills needed for dealing with future threats.
Fourth, the withdrawal will help us in the coming negotiations with the Taliban on ending the war in Afghanistan. If we pressured the Iraqis to allow us to undo our agreement with that country, it would have been difficult for Afghans to trust any agreement we might make with them.
The Iraqis will also reap the benefits. First, had we forced Maliki to renegotiate the 2008 agreement, his governing coalition would have fallen apart. Maliki would have lost the support of radical cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, and likely lost his majority hold in the parliament.
Second, the withdrawal demonstrated to the people of Iraq and their neighbors that democracy works. Even if Maliki wanted us to stay, he knew that the parliament would not have approved it as long as the American troops had immunity from prosecution.
Third, our military departure will give the Iraqis the incentive to make the political and economic compromises necessary to create a viable state that balances the interests of the Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds.
Whether they will do that or not is up to them. We have done all that we can and all that we should.