19 months and counting

Our view: Obama schedule for Iraq pullout is longer but should avoid past mistakes

March 04, 2009

The closer Barack Obama got to the White House, the more apparent it became that his position on a U.S. pullout from Iraq would have to shift. As the junior senator from Illinois, Mr. Obama opposed the war from the get-go, which set him apart from many of his Democratic presidential challengers. But over time, the candidate emphasized that he would end the war "responsibly." That was the out he left himself as the next commander in chief, a position from which he can appease supporters and opponents. He appears to have done that with his Iraq withdrawal plan.

The plan to withdraw most of the 150,000 U.S. troops in Iraq is longer than what many war opponents would prefer - 19 months rather than 16. But it's reasonable and, more important, it starts the clock on a pullout. The president's plan also shows the willingness of Mr. Obama, who has no military experience, to compromise and defer to the expertise of his commanders, some of whom sought a gradual withdrawal to preserve security gains achieved during the surge strategy.

The president's decision, announced before a crowd of service men and women at Camp Lejeune, N.C., also left him room to act prudently should the situation in Iraq change for the worse, with a renewal of sectarian violence or an upsurge in insurgent attacks. In less than five weeks on the job, Mr. Obama has fulfilled his campaign commitment to begin a drawdown of U.S. troops, a decision tempered by logistics and politics. At the same time, he has recognized that a stable Iraq, in whatever form it takes, is integral to stability in the region.

Rushing U.S. troops out of Iraq to fight the war in Afghanistan would threaten both missions.

We opposed the war from the start because the case for U.S. involvement hadn't been made, strategically or responsibly. If an end to U.S. combat forces in Iraq requires a more measured response, it suggests a decision made responsibly, not cavalierly.

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