Petty Officer 2nd Class Ted Green/U.S. Navy
The end of American military presence in Iraq is not the end of Iraq or the end of America’s interests in Iraq. The worst manifestation of the Vietnam complex that has informed so many decisions about American policy in Iraq is the inherent conviction that Iraq will disappear into the dustbin of history once America leaves, as Vietnam did. The differences, however, are so stark as to defy any comparison. Iraq continues to occupy vital geostrategic terrain in an area of central concern to the United States. It is the second-largest potential oil-producing state. It sits astride the Sunni-Shi’a divide in the Arab world (and hosts the most important Shi’a shrines anywhere in the world). It has the largest land border with Iran of any state and can make or break any sanctions regime the U.S. and its allies attempt to impose on Iran. American policy toward Iraq, in other words, continues to be of central importance to American policy, period.
We can use the occasion of the withdrawal of the last US forces to relitigate the decision to invade in 2003, the way the war was conducted after that, or the most recent decision to withdraw. But what really matters–and what should be occupying our attention, but is not–is what our policy will be going forward. ”End this war” was never a policy, still less a strategy. The President has accomplished that campaign promise. Now he must face an even harder question: What is our strategy for pursuing and achieving our vital national security interests and objectives in Iraq in the absence of a military presence? So far, the silence from the White House on that issue–apart from bromides about economic activities and friendship–has been deafening.