Today, in a near-unanimous vote, the Iraqi cabinet approved a security agreement that will keep American forces in Iraq through the end of 2011. The Iraqi parliament is likely to pass the agreement before the assembly goes into recess November 24.
What does this mean for the incoming American administration? What happens to the claim that Barack Obama’s drawdown plan was consonant with the hopes of the Iraqi leadership? The agreement calls for American troops to be in Iraq for three more years. That’s 36 months – more than twice the length of time Obama has proposed troops stay in the country.
Nevertheless, President Obama will heed the new reality.
There is far too much resting on the successful fulfillment of this agreement for Obama to defy it. For starters, it is a watershed moment for American-Iraqi relations and Iraqi sovereignty. At last, all the talk about American strings controlling the actions of a puppet regime can be retired. We went in; we didn’t leave; and we respected the wishes of the new regime. Any scoffing at the legitimacy of Iraq’s constitutional government is a thing of the past. It’s very important for Iraq that its neighbors see a burgeoning Arab democracy negotiating seriously and competently with Washington. It is further evidence of the possibilities engendered by consensual government. Tearing up a cooperative agreement so delicately arrived at would go down as a diplomatic and geopolitical travesty for the Obama administration — proving, as it would, that America’s talk of freedom and democracy is piffle.
Also, as fighting intensifies in Afghanistan and Pakistan, any backsliding into lawlessness in Iraq would be seen, rightly, as America’s inability to defeat jihadists and provide security for new Muslim allies. We cannot afford to look like the weak horse while going up against Taliban and al Qaeda fighters, and hoping to recruit partners among the Afghan population. This goes doubly for what may await us in Iran. If Obama is serious about the military option there, then Iraq must remain a stable object lesson in American military success. Iraq must also remain free of Iranian meddling. The mullahs look to buy time for their own nuclear program by distracting us next door. A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces would open the gates for Iranian special groups to try and inflict chaos again.
The agreement provides an opportunity for our next president to put his best assets to work. With masterly oratory and measured resolve, he can sell his commitment to certain withdrawal at the end of 2011 as fulfillment of his campaign promise to “end” the war during his administration. Disgruntled liberals may rail him for not sticking to his 16-month drawdown plan, but no triumphal hawk should exploit the situation by gloating about Obama’s shift. If you believe in the rightness of the cause, there’s no sense in trying to humiliate the president for coming around to what you feel is just. As long as President Obama doesn’t commit foreign policy suicide by pulling out too soon and war advocates don’t revel in playing gotcha, staying the course and finishing the job under the incoming administration could go a long way in furthering America’s interests in the Middle East, and boosting our pride at home.