PRESIDENT Obama announced his plan for reducing U.S. troop levels in Iraq over the next 34 months, and unfortunately it is slower than he had suggested during the campaign.
It will, however, fulfill his promise to end the six-year-old war. He had said withdrawal would be completed within 16 months after he took office, which would be May, 2010.
The latest plan would remove 65 percent to 75 percent of the 142,000 troops in Iraq by August, 2010, 19 months after his inauguration. That would leave up to 50,000 in a training and advisory role until December, 2011.
Mr. Obama is trying to achieve an orderly withdrawal that will not leave Iraq in an embarrassing state of disorder. There are significant perils in his plan. He has said that circumstances on the ground could modify his schedule.
That leaves the Iraqis plenty of room to stir up trouble that U.S. military leaders could then cite as a reason for staying in larger numbers, dragging out the withdrawal.
Leaving 35,000 to 50,000 troops behind to train Iraqi security forces presents another potential problem. If circumstances grow more dangerous, those forces could become, in effect, hostages. What happens if Iraq returns to previous levels of disorder and the American training forces there ask for another surge in U.S. troop levels to keep them safe?
Financial burden is another matter. The Iraq war costs the United States about $10 billion a month. Any reduction in U.S. troop levels should reduce the drain on the Treasury, a critical necessity during America s dire economic straits. A reduction to zero would realize the greatest savings, but withdrawal down to 50,000 would in principle save only 65 percent of the cost.
As Mr. Obama has said, the United States should not have invaded Iraq in the first place. There was no strategic basis for the war and subsequent occupation. The United States already has spent more than enough blood and money on Iraq, and it is now time to end the involvement. That s the reason, after all, that many Americans voted for Mr. Obama.
Withdrawing most U.S. forces from Iraq over the next 18 months, while tens of thousand remain for another 16 months, does not fill the bill. America needs to pull its forces entirely, and as soon as possible. It is well time for the Iraqis to begin managing their own security.