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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Obama inherited victory in Iraq

Political cartoon by Mike Lester
This may come as a shock to you, but the timetable for withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq was decided during the Bush administration with the signing of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) by U.S. and Iraq officials on Nov. 16, 2008. The Iraqi parliament signed SOFA on Nov. 27, 2008.

And before you look at that Nov. 16 date and think to yourself, "Well yeah... Obama had just won the 2008 election and Bush was preempting the inevitable," note that the time table agreement had been in negotiations since 2007. Further, Iraqi leaders backed the agreement only after reassurances from President-elect Obama that his administration would not try to change the accord negotiated by the Bush administration - so it's not as if Obama was simply unaware that he would be piggy backing off of President Bush's diplomatic success.

President George W. Bush said of the Iraqi parliamentary vote in a statement on Nov. 27, 2008, “Today’s vote affirms the growth of Iraq’s democracy and increasing ability to secure itself.  Two years ago this day seemed unlikely – but the success of the surge and the courage of the Iraqi people set the conditions for these two agreements to be negotiated and approved by the Iraqi Parliament.”

Naturally, Obama has since claimed credit for both the withdraw time table (he had nothing to do with setting) and the Iraq War victory (brought about by the troop surge both he and Vice President Biden opposed a few years ago - only to approve a larger surge of their own in Afghanistan).

In addition to opposing the surge that won the war in Iraq, Democrats also made a concerted effort to cite the war's cost as their primary reason for opposing our efforts there - apparently forgetting that a significant portion of their party voted to go to war in the first place. Ironically, Congressional Budget Office numbers recently showed that the total cost of the eight-year war in Iraq was less than the stimulus bill passed by the Democratic-led Congress in 2009.

Indeed, I've also noted the oft-exaggerated whining about the impact of war spending on the national debt.

Meanwhile, "Relative to the size of the economy, this year's deficit is expected to be the second largest shortfall in the past 65 years; 9.1 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), exceeded only by last year's deficit of 9.9 percent of GDP," the CBO wrote.

Yet, the number of Americans receiving food stamps reached a record 41.8 million in July as the jobless rate hovers near a 27-year high.

It seems quite obvious that America has very little to show for the excessive cost of Obama's "stimulus." But what did we get from the Iraq war?

Well, to answer that question, you first have to recall why we went to war in Iraq in the first place - which may be difficult given the past decade of Liberal obfuscation.

To put it succinctly, Saddam Hussein repeatedly violated 16 United Nations Security Council Resolutions designed to ensure that Iraq didn't pose a threat to international peace and security. In addition to these repeated violations, he tried, over the course of a decade, to circumvent UN economic sanctions against Iraq.  To quote the Bush White House administration's casus belli directly:
"Specifically, Saddam Hussein was required to, among other things: allow international weapons inspectors to oversee the destruction of his weapons of mass destruction; not develop new weapons of mass destruction; destroy all of his ballistic missiles with a range greater than 150 kilometers; stop support for terrorism and prevent terrorist organizations from operating within Iraq; help account for missing Kuwaitis and other individuals; return stolen Kuwaiti property and bear financial liability for damage from the Gulf War; and he was required to end his repression of the Iraqi people."

Saddam Hussein repeatedly violated these resolutions and others, and there was a very real, very legitimate  international concern about the status of Iraq's WMD programs.

With very little fanfare, coalition forces have uncovered hundreds of chemical weapons (which are, for some unknown reason, no longer considered WMDs by those on the Left - but they were before the term became politicized) since the Iraq invasion began in early 2003. And that's to say nothing of the serious allegations that Iraq snuck its WMDs into Syria shortly before invasion - a fact that will undoubtedly make itself known whenever Syria destabilizes like the rest of the tyrannical governments in the area and chooses to bomb its own people...

How this has all been lost from political discourse is baffling to say the least.

In addition to the original reasons for going to war in Iraq, we must also evaluate our reasons for staying - the most obvious of which was to prevent a power vacuum through which terrorism and/or radicalism might regain a foothold in the region, thus negating the point of invading in the first place.  Indeed, even today, roughly 60% of Iraqis contend that their country is/was not ready for a U.S. withdraw.

So, as we evaluate the cost ($709 billion for military and related activities) and benefits of the eight-year war in Iraq, it is necessary to resist the Left's attempts to revise recent history for political expediency. I won't here attempt to argue whether or not the cost (both in American lives and treasure) has been worth the benefits wrought; but I do want to note that the more than 4,420 U.S. Soldiers who have given their life in Iraq for the cause did not die in vain - as the Left would have you believe.

Yet, the question remains: have we achieved victory in Iraq?  What would victory even look like?

The nonpartisan Brookings Institution offers some of the details (via Front Page Magazine):
  • Insurgent attacks are down in every province, with some provinces reporting zero monthly attacks.
  • With 34 of its 42 leaders killed or captured, al Qaeda in Mesopotamia has been eviscerated.
  • At the height of Iraq’s postwar war, 904 Americans were killed in a single year (2007). So far in 2010, 39 have died—56 percent of them in non-hostile incidents.
  • Iraqi civilian deaths are down from a ghastly monthly toll of nearly 4,000 in 2006 to 137.
  • Attacks against U.S. and Iraqi troops are down from 1,800 per week to a couple dozen per week, and mortar attacks have virtually ceased.
  • Some 83,000 Iraqis, many of them former insurgents, have joined the Sons of Iraq to become part of the solution.
  • There are now 664,000 Iraqi security forces trained and standing their posts.
  • With the troops leading the way, the U.S. has built 140 new hospitals and health care centers, a new electrical grid, an expanded water-delivery system and scores of schools free from Baathist indoctrination.
  • There were 833,000 telephone subscribers in Saddam’s Iraq; there are 20.8 million today—19.5 million of them cellular. There were 4,500 Internet users under Saddam; there are 1.6 million today.
  • Almost six in 10—58 percent—of Iraqis say things are good or quite good; 84 percent say security is good in their area; 78 percent say crime protection is good in their area; 74 percent say freedom of movement is good in their area; 59 percent feel very safe in their neighborhood; 61 percent have confidence in the Iraqi government; 64 percent want Iraq to remain a democracy.
  • Iraq rates fourth in the region in political freedom, just behind Israel, Lebanon and Morocco.
  • Iraq’s GDP has grown from $20 billion in 2002 to $60.9 billion.
  • Iraq is producing 2.41 million barrels of oil per day (almost at pre-2003 levels) and exporting 1.88 million barrels per day (above pre-2003 levels).

The cost of the Iraq war has been immense - there is no denying that.  But the world is a safer, better place for our efforts there, and anyone who contends that the results of the war have been negligible is either ignorant or disingenuous.

And if lives lost are the measure by which we evaluate the true cost of war, I should point out (for the sake of perspective) that we’ve lost more Soldiers in Afghanistan under Obama than we did during Bush’s entire two terms.

So, even as Obama announces the "end of the Iraq War" (while at the same time once again erroneously blaming war costs for his own failed economic policies' impact on the deficit), belief that our role in Iraq has concluded is unfounded - with about six brigades of 50,000 U.S. troops expected to remain, advise and assist Iraqi forces.  These remaining U.S. forces are still very much in the fight for Iraq's security and stability.

Given all this, it's not surprising that Obama's approval rating on Iraq has dropped 16 points to 41%.

What's bothersome, from a Conservative perspective, is that Republicans have run away from the Iraq war in an effort to distance themselves from President Bush's unpopularity (never mind the fact that George W. Bush's favorability rating (45%) is now higher than Obama's job approval (43%)).  Why?  Has the GOP abandoned the Iraq debate out of intellectual laziness or political expediency? The answer remains unclear.

What remains clear, however, is that President Barack Obama inherited victory in Iraq from the George W. Bush administration. So, despite Joe Biden's claims that Iraq is one of Obama's "great achievements," nothing could be further from the truth.

The war in Iraq was won in spite of Obama and Liberals of his ilk, not because of them.

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