The Iraqis describe U.S. Embassy officials in Baghdad as obsessed with bringing an end to the large-scale U.S. troop presence in Iraq. They believe the embassy’s single-mindedness has often left the United States veering from crisis to crisis here. Some U.S. military officers and Western analysts have also criticized what they see as a failure to think beyond the planned drawdown to 50,000 noncombat troops by the end of August. The lack of focus may leave an opening for Iraq’s neighbor and the United States’ rival — Iran.
The greater attention being focused on Afghanistan — while necessary and commendable — risks exacerbating the risks in Iraq. Iraq has made considerable progress in recent years, but as a recent string of violent attacks, and the continuing failure to form a government since the March 7 election, make clear, Iraq is not yet stable enough that it can flourish on its own without substantial help from the United States. Yet the Obama administration appears to be focused on withdrawal as its top priority; certainly there is scant public comment from the administration about any plan to build a long-term strategic relationship with Iraq.
The president should realize that the gains of recent years can still be lost, and that preserving what so many American personnel — military and civilian alike — have sacrificed so much to achieve will require sustained, high-level attention.