Released quietly over the weekend was the news that talks between US and Iraqi officials have broken down leading to a near-complete withdrawal of American forces from Iraq by the end of the year. While there is a chance that this is part of a typical Arab negotiating ploy–threaten to walk away from the deal in order to gain a positional advantage–if in fact this is the end of US involvement, it is a good thing for both countries.
I spent two tours in Iraq: the first during the Surge and through the Charge of the Knights offensive and the second a year later during the turnover of authority to Iraqi officials. The changes I saw during both tours were immense. As a result of the Surge, US casualties dropped significantly; by May of 2008 there were days at a time without American deaths. When I returned the second time, there were weeks and months at a time without US combat casuaties. (For a contemporary take on the changing security situation in Iraq, read this.)
I left Iraq the last time on election day, March 3, 2010, with much the same attitude that I had when I left Germany on September 5, 1995. I knew both times that the US had accomplished its mission in both countries and that I would never be back in either nation in uniform again.
Of course, today I’m back with US forces in Germany. While I’m here at US European Command, a higher headquarters that has a regional planning focus, there are still three ground maneuver brigades and roughly 40,000 American forces in Germany more than twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Quite frankly, it is preposterous that US ground forcess occupy German soil long after there is any threat to Germany.
While Iraq is not nearly as stable as Germany, it is far more stable than most prognosticators would have predicted just a few short years ago. In short, just as in Germany, our work in Iraq is done. The rest is up to the Iraqis. They are as capable governmentally and militarily as they can get with our assistance. So it is a good thing if American forces depart the country sooner than later.
Now if we could just get ground forces out of Germany where our work is done (and Italy, and Japan, and South Korea) . . .
*Note, these opinions are mine alone, and do not reflect the position of DoD or of EUCOM, where thousands of American military and retired military expats love their American taxpayer-supported European lifestyle.
UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn for the link. While you’re here, please take a look around.