Ending the war in Iraq

ENDING THE WAR IN IRAQ…. It’s going to take some time, but President Obama is bringing the war in Iraq to an end.

In his remarks at Camp Lejeune, N.C., Mr. Obama said, “Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end.

“As we carry out this drawdown, my highest priority will be the safety and security of our troops and civilians in Iraq,” he said. “We will proceed carefully, and I will consult closely with my military commanders on the ground and with the Iraqi government. There will surely be difficult periods and tactical adjustments. But our enemies should be left with no doubt: this plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners, and to succeed.”

He added: “Under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011. We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned.”

After August 2010, a residual force (35,000 to 50,000 troops) — the administration refers to them as a “transition force” — would remain in Iraq “to advise and train Iraqi security forces, conduct discrete counterterrorism missions and protect American civilian and military personnel working in the country.” The number of U.S. troops in Iraq would then fall to zero by the end of 2011.

As we discussed the other day, military commanders and national security advisers differed on strategies, and responded to the president’s request with a series of alternatives. The 16-month withdrawal process was weighed against a 23-month timeline. As Obama is often inclined to do, he reportedly chose a 19-month strategy as a compromise. The result is a withdrawal timeline that reportedly satisfies the concerns “of all of Mr. Obama’s national security team,” including the Pentagon, the Joint Chiefs, and Gens. David Petraeus and Ray Odierno.

What’s more, after years of passionate opposition to any kind of withdrawal timeline, Republican lawmakers appear to support the Obama policy, which the president presented to lawmakers at a White House meeting last night. John McCain, for example, called the president’s plan “reasonable” (though he credited George W. Bush for making it possible). John Boehner also extended his tacit support.

And with that, as Spencer Ackerman explained, “The Iraq debate is over.”

Well, at least the debate as we’ve seen it in the halls of Congress in recent years. Several Democratic leaders have voiced strong concerns about the size of the “transition force.” What’s more, for all of the success in reducing violence in Iraq, long-term political progress remains elusive, and will have to be a high priority for the administration.

Still, Obama has outlined the beginning of the end. It’s about time.