ACCORDING TO PLAN IN IRAQ…. Given the political environment, it’s not surprising that President Obama seems anxious to tout good news. Late last week, that meant traveling to Michigan to point to the success of his rescue of the American auto industry. This morning, it meant noting significant progress on what was once the biggest issue on the political landscape.
Nearly eight years after he denounced what he called a “dumb war” in Iraq and nearly two years after he won the White House promising to end it, President Obama marked the formal conclusion of the combat mission in a country still finding its way in a new era.
“As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end,” Mr. Obama told a convention of Disabled American Veterans in Atlanta on Monday. “Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy for Iraq and for a transition to full Iraqi responsibility. And I made it clear that by August 31, 2010, America’s combat mission in Iraq would end. And that is exactly what we are doing — as promised and on schedule.”
By the end of this month, the American force in Iraq will have shrunk to just 50,000 troops, from 144,000. The remaining “advise and assist” brigades will officially focus on supporting and training Iraqi security forces, protecting American personnel and facilities and mounting counterterrorism operations. Those 50,000 troops are due to leave by the end of 2011.
It would be a stretch to characterize conditions in Iraq as terrific. Indeed, the political disputes in Baghdad are hardening: “Nearly five months after disputed parliamentary elections, leading Iraqi politicians say they have all but abandoned hope of resolving an impasse over forming a new government before fall. The protracted stalemate is a scenario U.S. officials have long dreaded.”
It’s no doubt why the president avoided any kind of message today that could be interpreted as “mission accomplished.” But just three days after the president took a victory lap on one success story, there was reason for Obama to take some pride in his Iraq policy — he’s doing what he said he’d do.
Some critics have said Mr. Obama ought to slow the drawdown to make sure insurgents cannot take advantage of the current political confusion.
But White House officials said they believed it was safe to stick to the original timetable because the caretaker government had proved effective at maintaining security despite the political stalemate. Moreover, they noted that the 50,000 American troops that would remain constituted a powerful force in their own right, capable of handling various contingencies.
Just as an aside, note that Obama delivered his remarks at the convention of the Disabled American Veterans. George W. Bush had been invited to address the DAV convention every year of his presidency, but he declined all eight times, at least in part because he preferred not to work in August.
This seems at least as interesting as the “snub” of the Boy Scouts.