‘That’s it, the war is over’

We knew the last U.S. military convoy would be leaving Iraq this month, but for security reasons, we didn’t know exactly when that might happen. It turns out, the end came last night.

The last American troops crossed the border from Iraq into Kuwait early Sunday, ending the U.S. military presence there after nearly nine years.

As the last convoy left Iraq at daybreak Sunday, soldiers whooped, bumped fists and embraced each other in a burst of joy and relief, The Associated Press reported.

NBC News’ Richard Engel tweeted from the border: “The gate to #iraq is closed. Soldier just told me, ‘that’s it, the war is over.'”

There is, of course, no shortage of caveats. The war is over and the American military bases have been turned over to the Iraqis, but there’s still a massive U.S. embassy in Baghdad, which will be home to a fairly significant number (estimates vary) of private security contractors. What’s more, Iraq remains a dangerous place — violence is nowhere near as common or widespread as it was a few years ago, but the fact that we didn’t announce exactly when U.S. convoys were leaving until they were already in Kuwait is a reminder of the precarious conditions.

For security reasons, the last soldiers made no time for goodbyes to Iraqis with whom they had become acquainted. To keep details of the final trip secret from insurgents, interpreters for the last unit to leave the base called local tribal sheiks and government leaders on Saturday morning and conveyed that business would go on as usual, not letting on that all the Americans would soon be gone.

Many troops wondered how the Iraqis, whom they had worked closely with and trained over the past year, would react when they awoke on Sunday to find that the remaining American troops on the base had left without saying anything. […]

Fearing that insurgents would try to attack the last Americans leaving the country, the military treated all convoys like combat missions. As the armored vehicles drove through the desert, Marine, Navy and Army helicopters and planes flew overhead scanning the ground for insurgents and preparing to respond if the convoys were attacked.

The caveats notwithstanding, it’s hard to see this outcome as anything but heartening. This tragic mistake was a disaster for the ages, and nothing can change that now, but as of this morning, we can at least say it’s over. Many of us have been waiting a very long time to see American servicemen and women come home from Iraq, and now, that dream is a reality.

As for the politics, the New York Times noted in passing today that the war’s conclusion “marks a political triumph for President Obama.” I think that’s true — he vowed to end the war and bring the troops home, and Obama’s kept his promise. Republicans clearly aren’t happy with the developments, but the American mainstream appears to be siding heavily with the president.

But as we talked about the other day, it also seems clear that the political impact of this appears muted.

If you’d told me in 2006 or 2007 that a Democratic president would, less than three years after taking office, bring all the U.S. troops home from Iraq and bring a war to its conclusion, I would have expected it to be a huge deal, with a major bump in the polls, and pockets of national celebrations. This was, after all, the dominant issue in American politics for several years.

But the nation’s political priorities have changed dramatically in a fairly brief period of time, in large part because of the economic crash in 2008. And as a result, President Obama likely won’t receive any political boost at all, no matter how significant the development.