Recently, several news organizations (e.g., New York Times, July 31) reported that Col. Timothy Reese had submitted a secret report taking account of increasing Iraqi resentment of the US presence there, noting that Iraqi security forces still have major deficiencies, but concluding nevertheless that the continuing presence of the American forces would not be helpful in addressing those deficiencies. Characterizing US forces as guests who have overstayed their welcome, Reese recommended that we accelerate our withdrawal.
The immediate response to the leak, from US headquarters in Baghdad, from the Pentagon, and from the White House, was to deny that Reese’s leaked report represented US policy. But this is silly, in view of President Obama’s strong condemnation of the Iraq War during the campaign, and the urgent need to shift resources from Iraq to Afghanistan, where Obama has opted to escalate the US commitment.
The Iraqi government has made it quite clear that it wants US troops out: Prime Minister Maliki insisted on a firm deadline for withdrawal in his negotiations with President Bush, even when Bush clearly wanted an open-ended military presence there. Obama has accepted the terms of the Status of Forces Agreement, which calls for US withdrawal in 2010.
So, what’s not to like? The more we insist on staying when we’re clearly not wanted, the more we reinforce the widely held Iraqi suspicion that we really intend a long-term, colonial-style occupation. The more we stand behind the Iraqi government, the more it will be perceived as our puppet. The more we insist on continuing a combat role, the less the Iraqi military will need to get itself into shape. If we stay because it’s the only way to assure a friendly government in Baghdad, that would amount to an admission of failure of the entire intervention in that country, since the invasion of 2003.
Obama, rather than repudiating Col. Reese, ought to thank him — and Prime Minister Maliki — for clearing the path to the exit.
As Napoleon is reputed to have said, you can do many things with bayonets, except sit on them.