As welcome as the pullout of combat troops from Iraq is, Tuesday's withdrawal doesn't end the deep U.S. involvement in a nation still beset with terrorist violence, poisoned by corrupt politics and inadequately protected by Iraqi military and police.
The 50,000 American military troops remaining there until the end of 2011 will be vulnerable to attack by terrorists, even if they're not defined as "combat" troops. Suicide bombings are a way of life there. And the full pullout date of late 2011 still is fluid and open to revision if the country slips back into chaos and Iraqis request a standby U.S. military mission of several thousand.
Wisely, the Obama administration has not heralded this week's troop withdrawal as "Mission Accomplished," the words uttered by President George W. Bush on the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln to prematurely signal the end of combat operations in Iraq in May 2003, when there were seven years, hundreds of lives, thousands of U.S. wounded and tens of billions of dollars in costs yet to come.
Therefore, in view of how the war in Iraq continued well after the Bush declaration, Americans should not be lulled into false impressions that Iraq is now a nightmare behind us.
We know this much already:
( The State Department will spend tens of billions of more dollars hiring 7,000 contract security personnel, buying tanks and helicopters and assuming some duties once carried out by U.S. troops.
( The Iraqi government is paralyzed by politics, and thus not fully capable of quickly delivering needed services to Iraqis who've become accustomed to the U.S. military's quick-fix efficiency.
Any prolonged, costly U.S. presence is bound to have severe political consequences for President Obama and the 2012 presidential election. Voters understandably will tire of more lost lives and more billions of dollars spent in Iraq, even as the war in Afghanistan grows bloodier, costlier and more drawn out. Afghan politicians talk of asking that U.S. troops remain until 2020.
( Ironically, Obama may be immunized against any major political attacks simply because Republicans are fierce supporters of both the Iraq and Afghanistan operations.
( Once again, the United States learns the truth of the caution—it's easier to get into a war than to get out.
Americans also learned the hard way that U.S. troops were not welcomed as liberators when they attacked Iraq in 2003 and neither could oil-rich Iraq pay for a war that cost 4,400 lives, 32,000 wounded and nearly $1 trillion.