[Mr. Boot is a senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.]
Secretary of Defense Bob Gates was in Iraq early this month urging Iraqi leaders to decide whether they want U.S. forces to stay beyond Dec. 31. "If there is to be a presence, to help with some of the areas where [the Iraqis] still need help," he said, "we're open to that possibility. But they have to ask."
This is a small, belated, but welcome step in the right direction. Until now the Obama administration has taken a hands-off attitude in Iraq, giving every indication that it would be fine with a complete pullout of the 50,000 U.S. troops currently in the country. This would presumably allow the president to make good on his 2008 campaign pledge to "end the war"—although U.S. troops aren't engaged in much of a war at the moment.
They are primarily involved in training, assisting and advising Iraqi forces, conducting counterterrorism missions, and serving as a buffer force to reassure all sides in Iraq's fractious politics that their opponents will not resort to force to achieve their ends. The reassurance provided by U.S. forces is important, given that violence continues to be perpetrated by Sunni and Shiite extremist groups, including al Qaeda in Iraq, whose premature obituary has been written more than once...