Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Yes, we are staying in Iraq, and fooling some of the people

The more I consider it, the more I think President Obama’s Camp Lejeune speech last Friday was about how to stay in Iraq for a while, not about how to get out. I think he is doing the right thing, or at least the least wrong thing in a misbegotten war.   But I don’t ...

The more I consider it, the more I think President Obama's Camp Lejeune speech last Friday was about how to stay in Iraq for a while, not about how to get out. I think he is doing the right thing, or at least the least wrong thing in a misbegotten war.

 

But I don't think he has been clear about what he is doing. Let me say this almost as plainly as I can. You can label it a non-combat force. You can call it the Jayash al-Barack or the Mahdi Mouseketeers if you like. But there are going to be two combat brigades at the core of that post-2010 American force in Iraq, plus a substantial Special Operations force executing combat counterterror missions. And those bombs that hit American convoys sure feel like combat, especially when the flash of the explosion is followed by RPG and machine gun fire, even if the soldiers inside the Humvees are told they are on a non-combat mission. 

The more I consider it, the more I think President Obama’s Camp Lejeune speech last Friday was about how to stay in Iraq for a while, not about how to get out. I think he is doing the right thing, or at least the least wrong thing in a misbegotten war.

 

But I don’t think he has been clear about what he is doing. Let me say this almost as plainly as I can. You can label it a non-combat force. You can call it the Jayash al-Barack or the Mahdi Mouseketeers if you like. But there are going to be two combat brigades at the core of that post-2010 American force in Iraq, plus a substantial Special Operations force executing combat counterterror missions. And those bombs that hit American convoys sure feel like combat, especially when the flash of the explosion is followed by RPG and machine gun fire, even if the soldiers inside the Humvees are told they are on a non-combat mission. 

What’s more, the planned troop reductions won’t really happen in a big way until sometime in 2010, so Iraq can get through its national elections. (And a memo to everyone who is counting on the SOFA to bail us out of Iraq: Guys, that was about getting Iraq through 2009, not about what happens in 2011.) 

Let me say this even more plainly: Our participation in this war ends not when one president hangs a "Mission Accomplished" banner or when another president declares that combat has ended, but when American troops stop being killed there. I asked a military official at the White House on Friday if American troops will stop dying in Iraq in August 2010, and he said no, that will go on. One reason this war has been such a bitter experience at home is that people feel that the White House has misled them, especially because its previous occupant was so consistently overoptimistic. 

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1
Tag: Iraq

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