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SOFA and Success in Iraq

Michael Gerson has written a noteworthy column in today’s Washington Post.

Focused on the landmark Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which will be headed for a final reading in the Iraqi parliament next week, Gerson points out that the success of the so-called “surge” has paved the way for an orderly withdrawal of U.S. combat forces. While the withdrawal deadlines are not ideal, it may turn out that they are not terribly problematic, thanks to the enormous progress we’ve seen in Iraq over the last 22 months. (In addition, both sides are free to renegotiate the agreement when it expires in three years.)

The SOFA, and the fractious debate in Iraq on it, is a reminder that a nation that was ruled by a dictator of almost unfathomable cruelty is now free and self-governing. A country that, a little more than five years ago, was an implacable enemy of America is now its ally. Once considered a terrorist state, Iraq is the place that gave birth to the “Anbar Awakening,” which, with the help of the United States, has decimated jihadists in the battlefield of their choosing. And Iraqis, whose future once seemed as dark as the night, now have reason to hope.

It is quite an extraordinary and moving thing to witness. It is also a significant, and perhaps even a historic, achievement for the national security of the United States, for the larger struggle against Islamic militancy, and for the cause of liberation and human dignity.

These achievements can still be undone; the SOFA might be voted down in parliament next week and the security and political progress that’s been made could be reversed by unwise actions. The future of Iraq increasingly rests with the people of Iraq. But that is as it ought to be. And given everything the Iraqi people have experienced in recent decades and recent years, they have acted admirably and with courage.

The Iraq war itself remains unpopular in America; after stockpiles of WMD were not found and the occupation phase of the war was badly mismanaged for several years, it was inevitable that public support for it would crater and never recover. Nevertheless, a war that a few years ago appeared destined for failure is now something quite different. As Gerson writes, “A war that once seemed likely to end in a panic of helicopters fleeing the American embassy now seems destined to conclude as the result of a parliamentary process. . . . The cost of this success has been high for America, and some may argue it has not been worth the price. But it is still a success.”

That judgment sounds contrarian and off-key today. But it is, in fact, an accurate reflection of reality. Much later than he had hoped, at a cost much higher than he expected, with far more mistakes than he ever should have allowed to happen, George W. Bush has presided over a successful war. And that is something that, in the dwindling days of his presidency, he can take sober satisfaction in.