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Tilting at Windmills

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August 19, 2010

OPERATION IRAQI FREEDOM COMES TO AN END.... It is not a "Mission Accomplished" moment, and it'd be an irresponsible exaggeration to suggest the war in Iraq is "over."

But as the last American combat soldiers head home from Iraq -- two weeks early -- and Operation Iraqi Freedom comes to a formal end, there's ample reason to be pleased with a milestone that, for a long while, seemed like it would never arrive.

The 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which left Iraq this week, was the final U.S. combat brigade to be pulled out of the country, fulfilling the Obama administration's pledge to end the U.S. combat mission by the end of August. About 50,000 U.S. troops will remain in Iraq, mainly as a training force. [...]

Shortly before midnight Saturday, a group of infantrymen boarded Stryker fighting vehicles, left an increasingly sparse base behind and began scanning the sides of a desolate highway for bombs. For many veterans, including some who made the same trip in the opposite direction years ago under fire, it was a fitting way to exit. [...]

By the end of this month, the United States will have six brigades in Iraq, by far its smallest footprint since the 2003 invasion. Those that remain are conventional combat brigades reconfigured slightly and rebranded "advise and assist brigades." The primary mission of those units and the roughly 4,500 U.S. special operations forces that will stay behind will be to train Iraqi troops. Under a bilateral agreement, all U.S. troops must be out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011.

There's still, obviously, a precarious environment on the ground. Iraqi politicians are still struggling badly to form a government; deadly violence is not uncommon; and no one is quite sure what will unfold in the absence of U.S. combat brigades. With tens of thousands of troops, and many more private contractors, still in Iraq, anyone who thinks this is "over" is mistaken.

But it's hard not to feel some satisfaction about today's milestone anyway. As recently as March -- just five months ago -- there were more than 140,000 U.S. troops in Iraq, many of them serving multiple tours. This morning, there are 50,000, and none of them is serving in a combat capacity.

In, say, 2006, this point seemed all but unreachable.

"The really big picture that we have seen in Iraq over the last year and a half to two years is this: the number of violent incidents is significantly down, the competence of Iraqi security forces is significantly up, and politics has emerged as the basic way of doing business in Iraq," said Antony Blinken, the national security adviser to Vice President Biden. "If that trend continues, and I acknowledge it is an 'if,' that creates a much better context for dealing with the very significant and serious problems that remain in Iraq."

Cheers to that.

Steve Benen 8:00 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (30)

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"This morning, there are 50,000, and none of them is serving in a combat capacity."

Inquiring patriots ask: Who will be the FIRST soldier to die for a failed cause?

Posted by: DAY on August 19, 2010 at 8:02 AM | PERMALINK

Plus how many mercenaries?

Posted by: uzza on August 19, 2010 at 8:12 AM | PERMALINK

Angry/disillusioned leftwingers should stop for a moment and contemplate what the American involvement in Iraq would have looked like in the 19th month of a McCain administration. Not a pretty sight.

Posted by: Basilisc on August 19, 2010 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

This amongst the tidal wave of nausea produced by the disinformation cycle . The unease over the intractable Afghanistan civil war , the fake Christmas war now joining the war against white America . The results of a years worth of drumbeats against Muslims not so coincidently supporting an increasing view that the president is a Muslim .
So , ummm , yeah it is hard to forget the horror of the best Americans being called traitors by the worst humans who happened to be American born . Their treason ? Discussing , or attempting , rationally the ridiculous claims of the Supreme Court Presidency concerning sexed up , trumped up , phonied , nonexistent WOMD , and double plus good Saddam Hussein was a noo noo .
All forgotten now ...

Posted by: FRP on August 19, 2010 at 8:13 AM | PERMALINK

It is time we got out, what did we achieve?
We killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqi's who never did a thing to us - I suppose that means they will never ever allow a christian church there again!

Posted by: js on August 19, 2010 at 8:19 AM | PERMALINK

Credit where it's due: this was Obama's signature policy position (one of his few differences with Clinton) and he's following through as promised. I've been disappointed with him on a whole host of other issues, and I'll no doubt be angry about something else later today (though actually Obama has been good lately; Reid OTOH...), but if he follows through on this and the withdrawal from Afghanistan, I'll even vote for him in the 2012 Dem primary.

Posted by: Tom Allen on August 19, 2010 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

Minutes after the last troops leave that country there will be civil war, in large part, sponsored by Iran who came out the best on this whole deal. Iran and the oil companies that is...Nauseating.

Perhaps @Day had it a little wrong. It should probably read "Who will be the LAST soldier to die for Standard Oil".

Posted by: stevio on August 19, 2010 at 8:23 AM | PERMALINK

Do they have a government yet?

Posted by: Jose Padilla on August 19, 2010 at 8:29 AM | PERMALINK

How long will it be before we hear accusations that Obama has cut and run?

Posted by: davidp on August 19, 2010 at 8:31 AM | PERMALINK

davidp, I was thinking the same thing. 3...2...1...

Posted by: pol on August 19, 2010 at 8:35 AM | PERMALINK

It is a very sad chapter in our nation's history to think we allowed President Bush, Vice President Cheney, Sec. of Defense Rumsfeld, and Karl Rove to hoodwink us into thinking the election of war would bring peace and stability to Iraq.

War did not bring peace!

What a decade this first has been here in the early 21st century. On the eve of 9/11/10, our combat troops are leaving Iraq - hurray for this moment! Now Afghanistan - while in the midst of fighting al Qaeda, who was the real enemy to us American people, our men and women in uniform were diverted to Iraq under false pretenses where they faced dire circumstances made worse because of stop-gap orders! Because we, here, were fed almost constant one-sided information about how "we had to fight them over there so we won't have to fight them here," the level of fear and loathing spiked nation-wide.

Our troops' enslavement to Iraq and our enslavement to fear did not bring freedom!

The question now becomes, just how strong are the ignorant in our nation after two presidential terms where policy seemed to promote strength through ignorance?

My heart and appreciation goes out to our men and women in uniform. Let us not think for a moment these men and women are now out of harm's way for many will be destined to serve in Afghanistan in the immediate future.

Let us never forget "preemptive war" as a national policy is a discredit to our name and heritage, a disaster once implemented, and a brain child of the discredited politicians mentioned above!

And may we never again be fooled by Orwellian politics! -Kevo

Posted by: kevo on August 19, 2010 at 8:36 AM | PERMALINK

Well if I am going to dream I would enjoy such a dream that left Orwellian dissemblers hemming and hawing in the ridicule they are welcome to .

Posted by: FRP on August 19, 2010 at 8:43 AM | PERMALINK

So a heart-wrenching waste.

The mightiest military ever devised used to wipe an ancient culture off the map. Trillions of dollars set ablaze. Countless innocent lives ended.

And for what? A once sovereign nation in tatters. Osama Bin Laden lives free. Everybody hates the U.S.

And gas is still $2.75 a gallon.

Worst of all, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are still not in prison.

Posted by: chrenson on August 19, 2010 at 8:45 AM | PERMALINK

What Kevo said = perfect.

Posted by: chrenson on August 19, 2010 at 8:48 AM | PERMALINK

I'm wondering if Bush will find a Fedex package on his porch this morning with the "Mission Accomplished" banner and a used flight suit in it.

Posted by: Diane Rodriguez on August 19, 2010 at 9:13 AM | PERMALINK

But remember, Obama is just like Bush! [/snark]

Posted by: Gregory on August 19, 2010 at 9:20 AM | PERMALINK

Nice that the Brass came in on this project two weeks early. It's more symbolic than real, but in an election season during a time when non-mosque mosques, death panels, and mama grizzly politicians are treated like real things it will help create a positive image. Good for the military too. My thanks to them. Good work.

Posted by: dennisS on August 19, 2010 at 9:27 AM | PERMALINK

As Chrenson relates, along with the sovereign nation in tatters, OBL free, and our huge loss of standing in the world, don't forget that this was a huge win for:

--oil companies
--mercenary outfits, and their now 'indispensable' role now in most anything

And all of the above who got literal truckloads of hard cash with no strings and no oversight. "Now where did I put that $6 billion? Oh well."

These were the designated beneficiaries before we even set foot in Iraq. They made out like bandits on the blood, sweat, and tears of Soldiers, Airmen, Marines, and Sailors who only ever wanted to serve their country and were instead used as pawns in the looting of our and Iraq's treasures.

Posted by: terraformer on August 19, 2010 at 9:28 AM | PERMALINK

The question I most want the answer to right now is: "How many contractors/ mercenaries are left in Iraq right now?" This is especially important given Afghanistan's decision to kick them all out of the country over the next couple of months.

Posted by: kiweagle on August 19, 2010 at 10:03 AM | PERMALINK

Did anybody else notice that FOX News did almost no reporting on this? MSNBC had a live broadcast, so did CNN, but FOX just showed O'Reilly and Hannitay shows

Posted by: amoxy on August 19, 2010 at 10:31 AM | PERMALINK

"it's hard not to feel some satisfaction about today's milestone anyway."

Sorry, I can't feel any satisfaction at all.
What a terrible waste of life and billions of dollars that could have been better spent in thousands of ways.
I just can't get no satisfaction from that.

Posted by: Joe on August 19, 2010 at 10:50 AM | PERMALINK

But remember, Obama is just like Bush! [/snark]

How very snarky. Yes, flushing money and lives down the toilet in Afghanistan (i.e. the 'double-down') in an effort that is bound to fail across the board is very different from doing the same in Iraq (plus, American involvement in Iraq will go on for decades).

If the Democratic cadres that post here are chastising those 'idealistic' people that say/said the war in Iraq was wrong and so is the war in Afghanistan, fine, I know the Democratic party, in the main, begs to differ.

Posted by: shroup on August 19, 2010 at 10:55 AM | PERMALINK

I have no idea where you were in 2003, shroup, or what you were saying about the invasion of Iraq, but President Obama was at an anti-war rally speaking publicly against the invasion.

Your denigration of his strong efforts to bring our young men and women home and out of harm's way shows your supposed "idealism" to be nothing more than a load of smug self-righteous crap.

Posted by: cr on August 19, 2010 at 12:09 PM | PERMALINK

But remember, Obama is just like Bush! [/snark]

Exactly how different is this withdrawal timeline from Bush's late-term withdrawal timeline?

Posted by: Holden Pattern on August 19, 2010 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Your denigration of his strong efforts to bring our young men and women home and out of harm's way shows your supposed "idealism" to be nothing more than a load of smug self-righteous crap.

If you think it relevant, I was in Chicago.

It doesn't bother me than you think it 'self-righteous' of me not to be sanguine about 50,000 troops remaining in Iraq especially coupled with the massive escalation (or is it a 'surge'?) of the pointless war in Afghanistan. I am also more than disappointed that this president increased the already absurd Bush Pentagon budget. Insult me again for that. I await either some sort of response that either boils down to "he's doing the best with what he has" (then you and I may have different expectations as to our concept of 'best') or the standard come-back of McCain would be worse (i.e. being punched in the face is better than being punched in the nutz). Or maybe you'll surprise me.

Posted by: shroup on August 19, 2010 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

Exactly how different is this withdrawal timeline from Bush's late-term withdrawal timeline?

Bush had no intention of withdrawing from Iraq during his Presidency -- the theory being, of course, that history's ultimate judgment of failure in Iraq couldn't be pinned on him.

Obama is different in actually withdrawing from Iraq during his presidency.

As for Afghanistan, one obvious difference is that al-Qaeda -- which, unlike Iraq, actually attacked us -- operated there, and their Taliban allies still do. I don't pretend to have the answers to Afghanistan, but there is and always was a national security interest in that war that never was in Iraq. Just because the reasons for invading and occupying iraq were bogus doesn't mean the same is true of Afghanistan.

Posted by: Gregory on August 19, 2010 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

Exactly how different is this withdrawal timeline from Bush's late-term withdrawal timeline?

Posted by: Holden Pattern on August 19, 2010 at 12:14 PM

Which Bush withdrawal timeline was that? The withdrawal timeline Bush specifically and repeatedly objected to through at least late summer of 2008?

Oh yes, the withdrawal timeline George Bush was finally forced to accept as part of the SOFA renewal in October 2008. The withdrawal timeline that then leading presidential candidate Barack Obama had been arguing for throughout the 2008 campaign. The withdrawal that Barack Obama's opponents in both the primary and general election campaigns had argued against. The withdrawal timeline that might not have been agreed to if Barack Obama hadn't changed the terms of the debate.

Posted by: tanstaafl on August 19, 2010 at 2:52 PM | PERMALINK

shroup: So you aren't blasé about the 50k still there. I would bet that most people here agree on that. So what, exactly, is your point? Does that somehow invalidate the claim that this is still a major milestone? And in any case, do you think that the logistics of moving a force as big as the Iraqi occupation is as simple and just having them all go to the nearest airport? This isn't what we want, but it's still pretty damn good.

As for Afghanistan, that's always been "the good war" (note: I put that in scare quotes for a reason), and Obama was always on the record saying that he was going to focus on it and ramp things up there. It's a bit late to act outraged by it.

Posted by: Shade Tail on August 19, 2010 at 3:28 PM | PERMALINK

So what, exactly, is your point? Does that somehow invalidate the claim that this is still a major milestone?

I guess my point is that the US is still the major military power in an occupied country. Iraq is a low-intensity war and we are the major player in that struggle. We control all airpower, have 50K military advisors (oh, whoops, that was Vietnam, I mean 'trainers') and have doubled the strength of our mercenary force or 'contractors'. A great deal of the rhetoric on Iraq is somewhat different than it was in Vietnam in that instead of declare victory and go home (Vietnamization of the war) we are declaring withdrawal and staying in a re-branded effort. I do in fact understand the logistical implications of large-scale troop withdrawal. Do you concede that at least some of this isn't on the level? How big of an army is this 50,000 group training and who is the force opposing this army? Am I to assume for example, that whatever force the Iraqi army faces is at least something several times larger than 50,000 men under arms? I would doubt that this is the case. I posit that the troops are there as part of a contingency plan. If I am right, then this is all political window dressing. If I am wrong, then those 50,000 troops + mercenaries are there to train and advise the new Iraqi army and will not be used as a military occupation force that tries to determine the future of Iraq.

For what it's worth, I've been outraged by Afghanistan for a very long time. I am not disillusioned because I never entertained that particular illusion. If you would have asked as the time, I would have told you that I didn't think candidate Obama had it right in that respect. Yes, if I got paid, I'd be part of the 'professional Left'. Unfortunately, I'm just a guy, like so many, with an opinion.

Posted by: shroup on August 19, 2010 at 4:19 PM | PERMALINK

For me, it's possible to be pleased at the news that combat troops are being withdrawn from Iraq, and at the same time unhappy that Obama has ramped up efforts in Afghanistan.

Like others on this thread, I was against going into Afghanistan the way we did. I knew that it wouldn't work out. It was the wrong approach. I don't have any exact answers to that situation, and I agree that there is more justification for doing SOMETHING in Afghanistan (none for Iraq), I never believed that a whole-scale invasion with huge combat units was the way to go.

I could see sending in an international group of special forces comprised of Seals, Rangers, and that type, and being sure that it was international, to infiltrate, pick off chief Taliban people, and work with locals on building schools, clinics, etc. I don't know if this would work, though, but it's obvious that huge conventional Army units, etc., aren't working.

But, for today at least, I celebrate that we ARE getting out of Iraq, and I give Obama credit for that.

Posted by: Wolfdaughter on August 19, 2010 at 5:58 PM | PERMALINK



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