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Juan Cole: Did Obama Win the Iraq War?

Roundup: Historians' Take




[Juan Cole is President of the Global Americana Institute]

President Barack Hussein Obama was inaugurated a year ago, and this is a good time to review his major foreign policy success.

It is, of course, important that he has repaired the reputation of the US in much of the world and replenished the stock of 'soft power' that has been so important a part of US success and leadership. His approval ratings in Western Europe and even in Saudi Arabia were in the 80s and 90s this summer. Veteran journalist Tom Fenton confirms that he remains enormously popular in Europe, and that the public there understands that he could not turn US policy around on a dime.

But Obama's biggest practical foreign policy success has been in keeping to his withdrawal timetable in Iraq. Most observers have paid too little attention to this, among his most important decisions. When he became president, his top generals, including Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Ray Odierno, reportedly came to him and attempted to convince him to modify the withdrawal timeline adopted by the Iraqi parliament as part of the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated shortly before he took office. They did not want US troops to cease patrolling independently in mid-June 2009. They did not want to get all combat troops out by summer 2010. They wanted to finesse the agreement. Reclassify combat troops under some other heading, they said....

Most Americans do not realize that US troops seldom patrol or engage in combat in Iraq anymore, accounting for why none were killed in hostile action in December. The total number of US troops in Iraq has fallen from a maximum of 160,000 during the Bush administration's 'surge' to about 110,000. After the early March parliamentary elections, another big withdrawal will begin, bringing then number down to 50,000 or so non-combat troops by September 1.

Critics of Obama often charge him with failing to end the Iraq War. But there is no longer an Iraq War. There are US bases in a country where indigenous forces are still fighting a set of low-intensity struggles, with little US involvement. Obama is having his troops leave exactly as quickly as the Iraqi parliament asked him to. Most US troops in Iraq seem mainly to be in the moving business now, shipping out 1.5 million pieces of equipment....

Not only will the US drawdown in Iraq greatly improve the image of the US in the Arab world and allow for more cooperation with Arab countries, but it will probably help US-Turkish relations, as well. Turks often blame the US for backing Iraqi Kurds and allowing a resurgence in Kurdish terrorism via the Kurdish Workers Party (PKK), to some 5,000 of whose fighters Iraqi Kurdistan has given safe harbor. The US will soon be out of that picture, and Turks and Kurds will have to pursue their relations on a bilateral basis.

Obama was handed a series of catastrophes. He has done better in handling some than others. But his decision on Iraq was the right one, the one that allows the US to depart with dignity, and allows Iraqis to work out their own internal problems. It is in this sense that Obama won the Iraq War.

Read entire article at Informed Comment (Blog)

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Jules R. Benjamin - 1/21/2010

Juan Cole says Obama is getting us out of Iraq. I agree. But not with "dignity." As I do, Juan knows where all the bodies are buried.