On Friday Oct. 21, President Barack Obama announced that all United States troops would be pulled out of Iraq by Dec. 31, 2011. From the point of view of a conflict-weary, economically-stricken nation, this announcement indicates a much-needed substantive action our government can take to help us now, but negotiations and planning need to continue so that Iraqi safety over the long run is maintained as a goal.
Some see this as a purely political move by the president as an election year approaches. I am not about to say that political calculations played no part in influencing Obama's decision to make this announcement but to view it as merely reducible to such reasoning missed a big part of the picture – namely, our nation's currently fatigued condition. The question should be asked, why is this a "politically" advantageous position for the president to take?
It's advantageous because the American public is tired of being spread across the globe. People want their mothers, fathers, wives, husbands, children, brothers and sisters to come home. People want to keep billions of dollars a month here in America rather than overseas.
Why? It's been a decade since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 and we've been experiencing something like a recession for almost four years now. Strictly from a domestic point of view, it's time for American troops to come home. Yes, it would appeal to people's feelings relating to political frustrations, but these are real feelings and frustrations of real people who live with them every day. And so, to reduce a decision which listens to these feelings and frustrations as being "purely political" demeans the gesture and fails to capture the real gravity of the reasons behind the politics.
Of course, this is an issue which involves two countries, not just one, and to evaluate Obama's decision from exclusively a domestic standpoint would be intellectually dishonest – just as to evaluate it without considering domestic feelings and sentiments would be.
Earlier this year, the administration did say that they wanted to keep a "residual" force in Iraq of up to 5,000 troops. Even after the president's announcement there are still those like GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney who reasonably think that it would be in Iraq's best interest and ours to keep some troops in the country after 2011 – despite the agreement to which former President George W. Bush came with the Iraqis during his term.
The thinking is that the Iraqi armed forces are not yet sufficiently trained and prepared to keep order in their country after U.S. troops leave. There are members of the Iraqi Parliament – like Sami al-Askari – who agree with this evaluation. Because of this, there ought to be measures in place to maintain a military relationship with Iraq after our troops have left which allows the U.S. to continue to help train Iraqi troops. Do we need 5,000 troops for that? I honestly don't know enough to say. But for now, our troops need to come home.
As we complete that task, though, it is imperative that we remain in close discussions with the Iraqi government so that as the new year approaches we have a concrete plan in place to move our military relationship into a completely new era of assisted Iraqi autonomy.