"This is worse than a crime, it's a blunder," said French statesman Charles M. de Talleyrand. The statement sums up President Obama's approach to Iraq.
In a nationally televised address from the Oval Office on Tuesday, Mr. Obama announced the official end of "combat operations". He argued that with the withdrawal of the last combat brigade, he had fulfilled his campaign pledge to wind down the war.
"Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country. This was my pledge to the American people as a candidate for this office," Mr. Obama said. "Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility." He added: "Now, it is time to turn the page."
No, it isn't. Mr. Obama may want desperately to close this "chapter," but he cannot because the war is not over.
There are still 50,000 U.S. troops who will remain until the end of 2011. They will conduct special-operations missions along with training and assisting Iraqi security forces to confront the continuing insurgency. In fact, terrorist violence is increasing. Bombs continue to detonate, killing dozens of civilians almost on a daily basis. Iraq threatens to break up along ethnic and religious lines should U.S. forces leave completely. The country remains in political gridlock, with no effective new government since elections earlier this year. The situation is fragile and precarious.
Now is the wrong time for America to be pulling out. Mr. Obama is snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
Mr. Obama opposed the invasion from the outset. His antiwar liberalism was pivotal to winning the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. He repeatedly used Hillary Clinton's initial support for the war against her during the primaries. Iraq was the issue that propelled him to the top. Hence, Mr. Obama has never cared for the war - its mission, purpose and larger objectives. For him it is George W. Bush's war.
Hence, Mr. Obama is not walking, but running to the exit. He has let it be known publicly that America will be abandoning Iraq after 2011. This will be one of the greatest strategic blunders of our time - a colossal squandering of the sacrifices made by U.S. troops.
Contrary to leftist propaganda, the war in Iraq was both just and necessary. The 2003 decision by Mr. Bush to topple Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein significantly advanced U.S. national security interests. Saddam presided over a totalitarian regime that posed a clear and present danger to the international community. His list of crimes was long and ghastly. The Butcher of Baghdad slaughtered more than a million of his own citizens. He invaded two of Iraq's neighbors, Iran and Kuwait. He amassed his army on the border of Saudi Arabia, threatening to exert a stranglehold upon the region's oil supply. He used biological and chemical weapons on the Kurds. He funded Islamist terrorist groups across the region. He allowed al-Qaida-affiliated training camps to be established in Iraq. And he had an advanced nuclear weapons program.
The establishment media has repeated the mantra that no weapons of mass destruction were found; however, they have deliberately ignored the U.S. military's discovery of highly enriched uranium at several sites across the country. In the summer of 2006, this weapons-grade uranium was shipped out of Iraq to Canada and eventually to the United States. Washington rightly feared it would fall into the hands of Islamist insurgents, who would seek to sell it on the international nuclear black market. As the sanctions regime of the 1990s slowly crumbled, it was only a matter of time before Saddam acquired the nuclear bomb. The evidence is overwhelming and irrefutable.
No responsible president, in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and with America engaged in a life-and-death struggle against global jihad, should - or could - have allowed the Iraqi tyrant to remain in power. The Middle East and, most important, America are safer in a world without Saddam.
Moreover, the U.S.-led invasion helped establish a pivotal pro-American ally. Iraq is not only a fledgling democracy, but a model of liberal, pluralist governance in a region dominated by backward Arab autocracies. The path has been shown toward a viable third-way between theocratic extremism and secular authoritarianism: a fusion of constitutional self-rule with Muslim tradition. If democratic Islamic institutions can take root in the sands of Mesopotamia, they will spread. This is why neighboring dictatorships, such as Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia, are desperately trying to derail Iraq's noble project. Their long-oppressed peoples will seek to emulate what the Iraqis have acquired - control of their own destiny.
The Iraqis know that their future and that of the wider Muslim world is at stake. This is why they continue to pay a terrible price for their allegiance to a new federal constitutional system. It is the road out of the Arab darkness. Yet, instead of fostering this nascent, fragile process, the Obama administration essentially has turned its back on Iraq.
This is the opposite of what Mr. Bush did. In the face of overwhelming hostility in Congress and public opinion, Mr. Bush - at the height of the insurgency - doubled down on the war effort. In early 2007, he supported a troop surge. The addition of 20,000 troops, combined with a muscular counterinsurgency strategy, turned the tide of the conflict. Al Qaeda was smashed; the remnant Ba'athists became demoralized; and foreign Islamic fighters were killed in record numbers. The war was, for all intents and purposes, won.
All that remained was the political and diplomatic endgame. Mr. Obama inherited a winning hand. He failed, however, to consolidate those hard-won gains. Rather, he disengaged. He quickly - almost recklessly - drew down the U.S. troop presence. He refused to order his diplomats to wield behind-the-scenes influence to resolve Iraq's political stalemate. He did nothing to bolster Iraq's transition toward democracy and stability. His top priority has been to get out as quickly as possible - regardless of the consequences.
Most important, Mr. Obama failed to forge a lasting security and political partnership with Baghdad. If all U.S. troops leave Iraq by next year, the precious sacrifices will have been in vain. Just as America stationed tens of thousands of soldiers for decades in Germany, Japan and South Korea following major wars, it must do so again today.
A long-term U.S. military presence will preserve Iraq's young democracy. It also will enable America to project its power in an area of vital national interests. Military bases in Iraq would serve as a strategic deterrent against Iran's nuclear adventurism and Syria's growing belligerence. Moreover, U.S. air power and special-operations forces could strike Islamist groups, such as al Qaeda, the Taliban, Hamas and Hezbollah, at will. Iraq would become a key launching pad in waging the war on terror. In short, rather than rushing out, Mr. Obama should be negotiating to make sure that 10,000 to 20,000 U.S. troops remain behind to preserve American regional hegemony. It would mark a permanent victory for Mr. Bush's freedom agenda.
That is why Mr. Obama will not do it. He is the anti-Bush; a self-styled liberal transnationalist who believes in appeasement and multilateralism. His goal is not to augment U.S. power, but to reduce it. Hence, he is slowly frittering away the remarkable gains - paid for in precious blood and treasure - in order to placate his antiwar base. More than 4,000 Americans have died in Iraq, and 35,000 have been wounded. Nearly $750 billion has been spent. These enormous sacrifices were made for victory - a liberated Iraq that is fully inside the Western orbit and a major partner in the war against Islamofascism. They were not done to serve Mr. Obama's anti-American progressive agenda.
Jeffrey T. Kuhner is a columnist for The Washington Times and president of the Edmund Burke Institute, a Washington think tank. He is the daily host of "The Kuhner Show" on WTNT 570-AM (www.talk570.com) from 5 to 7 p.m.
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