This is NOT the “end of the war in Iraq”

I was pleased when I heard, on the radio yesterday, President Obama saying this at Fort Bragg:

As your Commander-in-Chief, I can tell you that it will indeed be a part of history. Those last American troops will move south on desert sands, and then they will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high. One of the most extraordinary chapters in the history of the American military will come to an end. Iraq’s future will be in the hands of its people. America’s war in Iraq will be over.

I appreciated it because he said “America’s war in Iraq will be over.” At another point in the speech, he referred to the “end of our combat mission,” which was even better, and emphasized that what was happening was that responsibility was being handed over to Iraqi forces.

I was grateful that he had not said this was “the end of the war.” (I was also gratified that he, only slightly grudgingly, spoke of the troops accomplishment: “we’re leaving behind a sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government that was elected by its people.” Something that, of course, we would not have done had Mr. Obama had his way.)

This was, unfortunately, about the only place where I would be so gratified. Elsewhere in the speech, he said “end of the war” over and over and over again. But I don’t blame the president. The news media were worse:

And on and on. Among those I saw in a quick survey, only NPR got it right, in a headline that said “Iraq Mission Ends.”

Maybe I’m the only one who cares. But I became hypersensitized to the matter over all these years of antiwar folks saying “end the war,” when what they meant was that they wanted the U.S. forces to withdraw. Which is an entirely different thing.

The “end of the war in Iraq” is either something that happened several years in the past (the interpretation I prefer), or, more ominously, has yet to occur. There are a number of ways that you can speak, legitimately, of “the end of the Iraq war:”

  • You can say it ended with the fall of Baghdad in the spring of 2003, as that was when “war” in the Clausewitzian sense of armies clashing on battlefields with battle lines, and the control of a government at stake.
  • You can say it ended with the Surge, which settled down the various insurgencies that erupted after the fall of Baghdad, leading most people speaking of a “war” continuing to that point.
  • You can say it never ended, because Iraq’s security is far from that, say, of a Switzerland.

But in that last case — if you believe the “war” has continued up to this point — then withdrawing U.S. forces most assuredly does not “end” that war. In fact, it’s hard to imagine anything more likely to make fighting flare back up dramatically.

I hope that doesn’t happen. I hope that President Obama (and Bush before him) are right in their projection that things are sufficiently stable for Iraq to deal with the security vacuum created by a U.S. departure. I don’t know whether they are or not.

But I know this: Speaking of what is happening this month as “the end of the war” is highly inaccurate.

16 thoughts on “This is NOT the “end of the war in Iraq”

  1. Steven Davis

    Give Iran 2 years and they’ll be invading Iraq and this whole thing will start over. Iran is just holding off until we’re out to pounce on Iraq.

  2. bud’s hard to imagine anything more likely to make fighting flare back up dramatically.

    Fighting never stopped. At least actions that involved guns, bombs and the various implements of war. It seems likely that the Iraqi people will figure out a way forward without us. Maybe there will be some coalition with the Iranians. The two nations have certain common interests so there is no reason to fear something like that. There is certainly no reason to rant and rave and get your panties all wadded up the way John McCain did the other day in his childish rant about the troop withdrawal. Whatever happens should be without American military involvement. It’s not needed, wanted nor is it helpful. Once we establish our bonafides as a non-military intermediary. Thankfully this sad and frankly disgusting chapter in American history is drawing to a close. And the world will be a better place.

  3. Phillip

    If you say that this does not represent “the end of the war,” (and I wouldn’t disagree with that), then you have to acknowledge that this means by definition that a “sovereign, stable, and self-reliant Iraq” is still a pretty shaky proposition even at this point. So, A) you can’t cite it as a definitive counter-answer to what would have existed had “Mr. Obama had his way,” since it’s still in considerable doubt; B) given the course of other events in recent years, it’s impossible to say with certainty what WOULD eventually have happened had we continued a policy of containment with Saddam, i.e., what would have happened “if Mr. Obama had his way,” and C) if you want to still go ahead (in spite of insisting that the war is not over) and claim full American credit for a supposedly “stable” Iraq against “Mr.Obama’s…way,” then you have to also at least acknowledge that “had Mr. Obama had his way,” we would have 4500 fewer American military killed as well as at least 100,000 fewer Iraqi civilian deaths. No one can know with certainty what would have happened “had Mr. Obama had his way,” it’s pure speculation. We didn’t choose that path, so we (and the people of Iraq and that region) have to live with the consequences of the path we did choose.

  4. Steve Gordy

    It’s a bit rich to be worrying about what Iran will do now, given that the Iranians feared Saddam Hussein more than anything and we took him off the board. I’d say its 50-50 that the Maliki government in Iraq makes a deal with them in the next couple of years.

  5. bud

    Perhaps in a year or two we can serve in some capacity as a benevolent benefactor by helping these people get moving forward. Now is not the time but perhaps we can somehow assist in some way to bring this ravaged country into the modern world. Not sure how but it would be something without a military component.

  6. Dave C

    It occurs to me that the one thing I’ve NOT heard about our nine-year hitch in Iraq is how our national or world interests were ultimately served. After all, we spent nearly a trillion dollars and nearly 3500 U.S. soldiers gave their lives. It HAD to be for something.

    Did we help bring stability to that part of the world? No, I don’t think so.

    Is the world energy (oil) situation somehow improved? Apparently not.

    Did we find the weapons of mass destruction that we were sure existed? Definitely not.

    Is anyone ‘safer’ from Al-Quaida or other extremists than we were nine years ago? Probably not.

    Did our involvement at least generate a boom economy in the U.S. like, say, WWII? Um. Nope.

    Did we unseat a clearly evil man from power? Well, OK, I’ll concede that point, but only if cost was no object.

    No, I’m afraid that much like Viet Nam, we stumbled blindly into a conflict largely of our own making that we could only ‘win’ by eventually declaring victory and leaving…but gaining precious little of benefit for us or the world we live in.

    I still don’t know why we went there in the first place. Whether this war is ‘ended’ feels almost trivial.

  7. Steven Davis

    Steve – This region of the word has been at war with each other since before Christ, I don’t think us taking out one man is going to change that. There’s always one more of these crazy bastards to step up and take his place. The only thing that will fix this problem involves a nuclear device. I say just let them fight it out and the last one standing wins. In just a few more years we’ll have enough oil and gas produced locally to put them on the back burner and let them sell their oil to China.

  8. Doug Ross


    It’s two pretty simple equations – if you are broke, you can’t spend even more money defending other countries. And if you consider your nation to be a Christian nation, you can’t advocate killing anyone, anytime.

    Gotta keep inventing enemies in order to keep the money flowing to the defense contractors.

    We’ve spent trillions of dollars and killed tens of thousands of people because 20 zealots were able to bring boxcuttters onto airplanes.


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