When President Obama addresses the nation Tuesday night to mark the close of U.S. combat operations in Iraq, he will fulfill a major campaign promise. Even ahead of his Sept. 1 time line, he achieved a key milestone in a military mission begun by his predecessor seven years ago.
It's a bittersweet moment for Americans. More than 4,400 troops have been killed and many billions spent on regime change and quelling sectarian and al-Qaeda violence. Still, the drawdown of combat troops is a forward-looking development.
Closing one theater of war while another heats up - U.S. troop levels are expected to reach 100,000 in Afghanistan by the end of the year - lessens the acute strain on the U.S. military. The Obama Administration can rightly take credit for its Iraq troop withdrawal.
When the remaining troops, just below 50,000, head home at the end of 2011, we can celebrate the end of a bad chapter in American history. Yet heralding "mission accomplished" anytime soon in the fractured region, where suicide bombings and attacks against Iraqi security forces are commonplace, may be a stretch.
Almost six months after Iraqis went to the polls, their leading political factions have yet to form a government. The destruction continues in a dangerous power vacuum. President Obama's definition of success in Iraq sounds good, but it's a far cry from reality in a country historically rooted in territorial disputes.
In a speech at the U.S. Military Academy this year, Mr. Obama envisioned "a democratic Iraq that is sovereign and stable and self-reliant." He pledged the U.S. commitment to Iraq would endure even as troops depart. But that portrayal and that prediction may be unconvincing and unrealistic, especially with the rising demands of war in Afghanistan.
For now, the nation wants to hear from its commander in chief during his prime-time remarks that Iraq is his war to exit - and quickly.
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