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Heeding Iraq’s Reality

It is heartening to read that, according to administration leaks, “Even after August 2010, as many as 50,000 of the 142,000 troops now in Iraq would remain, including some combat units reassigned as ‘Advisory Training Brigades’ or ‘Advisory Assistance Brigades.’”

That mitigates somewhat the risks of President Obama’s forthcoming pullout pledge. Still, while the Obama decision is not as bad as it could have been, it’s nevertheless a risk we don’t need to run. What imperative is there exactly to announce now that most U.S. combat troops will leave Iraq by August 2010? Iraqis aren’t clamoring for that. Under the terms of the security deal they approved with the U.S., our forces can remain until the end of 2011. Nor do I see many Americans, aside from the moveon.org crowd, clamoring for pullout in 2010. Obama might figure he has to maintain his campaign pledge to “end the war,” but if is willing to extend his 16-month pullout timetable by three months, why not by more?

The reasons to avoid a rush for the exits are compellingly outlined by Mike O’Hanlon and Ken Pollack in a typically incisive op-ed reporting on their recent trip to Iraq. They note that many challenges still remain to be resolved — from holding another round of national elections to dealing with growing Arab-Kurd hostility in northern Iraq. In light of all this, they write, “while President Obama’s apparent decision to withdraw the bulk of American troops by August 2010 is not necessarily a mistake, it cannot be carried out rigidly. If all continues to go well, it should be eminently feasible; if not, the administration will have to show the strategic wisdom to slow down as needed to deal with problems.”

It’s hard to argue with that. We can only hope that in foreign policy Obama will display more pragmatism and moderation than he has so far displayed in the domestic realm.


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