It is becoming tiresome to keep pointing to fresh atrocities in Iraq as a reason why U.S. troops cannot afford to leave at the end of this year. But lack of originality does not make any observation any less true; in fact the most unoriginal ideas are often the most accurate. So I call attention to the 42 attacks across Iraq on Monday that killed at least 89 people, most of them probably the work of Al Qaeda in Iraq, the terrorist group that never quite seems to go away. Nor is Al Qaeda in Iraq alone; Shiite groups such as Kataib Hezbollah (an Iranian proxy) continue to gain strength too.
While all this is happening, U.S. troops are preparing to leave. As we enter the fall, exiting Iraq will become their top mission. It is doubtful that they will be asked to return in large numbers after they leave. But will any request arrive before then? Perhaps but it looks increasingly unlikely. The Obama administration did not wake up to the need to push for a troop extension until well into this year — and even then the strongest proponent appeared to be Bob Gates, who has since left the Pentagon. Given how long Iraqi politicos typically take to make any decision — remember the 10-month deadlock last year over forming a government? — it is no surprise that the government is deadlocked over its response. Prime Minister Maliki has indicated he is sympathetic to keeping American troops around but he wants political cover from other political factions. As he waits, the clock ticks down.
I was recently asked, after a speech, if the decision to invade Iraq was a terrible blunder. I replied it was too soon to tell. Immediately after the downfall of Saddam Hussein, President Bush’s decision to topple him looked like a great idea. A few years later, after unremitting guerrilla warfare and terrorism, it looked like a disaster. But then the surge reversed perceptions once again and gave us a chance to salvation a decent outcome. It would be a tragedy if we blow that chance and the nay saying of the Iraq War critics is vindicated by a complete American withdrawal followed by a disastrous resumption of fighting.