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How Will We Leave Afghanistan and Iraq?

One passage jumped out at me from President Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly. Much of the speech was filled by commendable expressions of support for the Arab Spring; I was cheered, in particular, to see him include condemnation, however brief, of Iranian human rights violations. But what jumped out at me was what he said about our own commitment in Iraq and Afghanistan:

At the end of this year, America’s military operation in Iraq will be over. We will have a normal relationship with a sovereign nation that is a member of the community of nations. That equal partnership will be strengthened by our support for Iraq– for its government and Security Forces; for its people and their aspirations.

As we end the war in Iraq, the United States and our coalition partners have begun a transition in Afghanistan. Between now and 2014, an increasingly capable Afghan government and Security Forces will step forward to take responsibility for the future of their country. As they do, we are drawing down our own forces, while building an enduring partnership with the Afghan people.

So let there be no doubt: the tide of war is receding.  When I took office, roughly 180,000 Americans were serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the end of this year, that number will be cut in half, and it will continue to decline.

This is critical to the sovereignty of Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the strength of the United States as we build our nation at home.

That’s it. Notice what’s missing? Any talk about what kind of end-state we would like to see in Iraq or Afghanistan. Nothing about preserving democracy against its enemies. Nothing about upholding human rights as he vowed to do in other parts of the Middle East. He did mention his desire for an “equal
partnership” with Iraq but also spoke of having a “normal relationship” with it–whatever that means. How can we have a “normal relationship” with a country where thousands of Americans have sacrificed life and limb in order to defeat our enemies? Do we have a “normal relationship” with South Korea, Germany,
and Japan–the same kind of relationship we have with Bolivia and Burkina Faso? Hardly. We have a “special relationship” with such lands, but Obama did not say that or anything close to it.

He did mention the desirability of an “enduring partnership with the Afghan people” (slightly warmer than our “equal partnership” with Iraq), but he put his emphasis there, as in Iraq, on the imperative to withdraw our forces. His proudest boast is not that he will leave Afghanistan and Iraq as free and stable countries–but that he will leave, period. Unfortunately, in both cases the latter goal (leaving) is not compatible with the former (creating peace and stability). It is amazing the president still has not figured that out–or maybe he has and simply doesn’t care.