Obama's Iraq plan is best to ensure calm withdrawal


POSTED: Tuesday, March 03, 2009

President Obama has given specifics of a campaign promise to withdraw troops from Iraq after receiving advice from military commanders. The sound plan envisions withdrawal to take slightly longer than he had suggested to avoid chaos — too long to satisfy some of the war's critics, including U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, but too soon for the war's most feverish supporters.

Like Abercrombie, Obama opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and their concerns have been proven. Iraq had nothing to do with the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on America and possessed no weapons of mass destruction that the Bush administration wrongly claimed made it a threat to America.

During last year's campaign, Obama pledged to withdraw all U.S. combat troops from Iraq within 16 months after taking command. The plan that he announced last week would take three months longer, stretching to August of next year, and would leave 35,000 to 50,000 “;transitional forces”; by the end of 2011 to train and advise Iraqi security forces, hunt terrorist cells and protect civilian and military personnel.

Abercrombie, one of Obama's most ardent supporters, maintains that the withdrawal could be “;done faster”; and should not include the requisite that Iraq be assured “;some kind of stable democracy”; before a withdrawal. The country eventually will opt for a government of its choosing, but that reality should not allow a premature abandonment of the country by U.S. troops, igniting a turbulent insurgency that Iraqi forces are ill equipped to quell.

Those are the considerations Obama obviously made in reviewing the situation with military leaders who best know the situation. “;We will complete this transition to Iraqi responsibility, and we will bring our troops home with the honor that they have earned,”; the president said.

That contrasts with the plan of Sen. John McCain, last year's Republican presidential nominee, for as many as 50,000 U.S. troops to remain in Iraq for years or decades. Such a military presence was justified in South Korea to discourage an attack from the North, but the situations are not the same. McCain now calls Obama's plan “;reasonable.”;

Abercrombie also questioned Obama's plan to add 17,000 troops to the 38,000 now deployed in Afghanistan, alongside 32,000 NATO troops. He said he believes the U.S. is “;trying to figure out whether we should stay or go. I think we should go.”;

That would be a mistake. After little more than a month in office, Obama has embarked on a dialogue between special envoy Richard C. Holbrooke and top officials of Afghanistan and Pakistan. The 9/11 attack was launched from this region — not Iraq — and it should be the focus of continued U.S. attention, including military presence, until that threat has been eliminated.