The President Should Declare Victory in Iraq

This is important for history. Wars don’t just “end.” They are won or lost. And history, as they say, is written by the winners.  This is one scenario where we should actually encourage President Obama to make the perception a reality. There is a particular worry, however, and that is Obama’s unbecoming tendency to make everything about him. Consider his speech to Disabled American Veterans:

As a candidate for president, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end.  Shortly after taking office, I announced our new strategy… And I made it clear that by August 31, 2010, America’s combat mission would end.  And that is exactly what we are doing -- as promised and on schedule.

… By the end of this month, we’ll have brought more than 90,000 of our troops home from Iraq since I took office -- more than 90,000 have come home.

This is just a sample, but you get the drift: “I pledged,” “I announced,” “I made clear,” “Since I took office,” “What we’re doing, as promised and on schedule.” It’s all about him. It’s all about his setting and then subsequently meeting his own expectations -- and us acknowledging that and appreciating him for it. He’s talking about a war where thousands of people have died.

The balance of the Middle East hinges on its outcome. And Obama can’t get over himself. It’s very un-presidential. Every time Obama talks about the second Gulf War, he reminds us that Iraq was an unnecessary “war of choice,” whereas his war, the good war in Afghanistan, is the war of “necessity.” This is very tedious statesmanship. In any hypothetical victory speech, Obama would be wise to put aside this kind of politicking.

The commander of Iraq’s military recently said U.S. forces need to stay in Iraq another decade. “If I were asked about the withdrawal,” Gen. Babaker Shawkat Zebari told the BBC, “I would say to politicians: the U.S. army must stay until the Iraqi army is fully ready in 2020.” The idea that the Iraqis won’t be “ready” to protect themselves for another decade is simply preposterous. Such sentiments may have generated sympathy three, four, or five years ago. But not today.

The U.S. military has given the Iraqis a chance to be free. Donald Rumsfeld would use a paternalistic analogy: the Iraqis were learning how to ride a bicycle without training wheels, and we were guiding them with one hand on the seat. Eventually we would let go of the seat and they would either balance themselves and ride, or fall. If they fell, we would be there to help them up.  But we couldn’t ride the bike for them. We should stand with Iraq in solidarity, but should not encourage our new allies to remain entirely dependent on us.