Commentary: As U.S. troops pull back in Iraq, wars' toll falls now on Obama

McClatchy columnist Joseph L. Galloway. (Chuck Kennedy/MCT)
McClatchy columnist Joseph L. Galloway. (Chuck Kennedy/MCT) MCT

The American military withdrew to their bases outside the cities in Iraq this past week to thunderous cheers, marching bands and fireworks from the ever-grateful and always xenophobic Iraqi citizenry.

The move — dictated by the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the long-gone Bush Administration — effectively means an end to the American war in Iraq even if not a single American soldier or Marine actually leaves the country.

From here on out the Iraqi Army takes the lead in defending Iraq, even though it can't do the job without continuing support from American artillery, armor, transport and medical evacuation helicopters.

Iraqis celebrated the American departure from the heart of their cities and towns as the beginning of the end of more than six years of foreign occupation. Americans hardly noticed, preoccupied as they were with the deaths of Michael Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Ed McMahon.

Insurgents marked the American pullback by setting off a wave of car bombs that slaughtered hundreds of their fellow citizens in the streets and markets of several of those cities — and roadside bombs and mines claimed several more American lives to add to the U.S. toll of more than 4,300 killed and more than 34,000 wounded.

By the end of 2011 — eight long years since George W. Bush began his war of choice in Iraq — all American combat troops must be gone, leaving an unknown number of support and training troops to continue helping the Iraqi security forces for an unknown period of time.

As one of Mr. Bush's wars began at long last to wind down, the other one in Afghanistan was ratcheting up in intensity under command of the new President, Barack Obama.

More than 4,000 U.S. Marines launched the first major ground offensive — an audacious push into Taliban-controlled districts in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan — since President Obama ordered some 30,000 more American troops into Afghanistan.

The U.S.-led offensive was billed as the biggest undertaken in Afghanistan since the overthrow of the Taliban government in 2001. The Marines were planning to clear the territory and then set up a string of outposts to control it in advance of the August 20 presidential elections.

Pakistan said it had moved troops along the border to block Taliban forces attempting to flee from the American offensive.

Conspicuously absent from the Marine operation were Air Force and Navy bombing strikes that have in the past created a storm of anti-American sentiment among the population in contested areas. Primary fire support came from the Marines' own Cobra helicopter gunships firing rockets and machine guns under direct control of the ground forces.

The question in Afghanistan is whether the American buildup and new offensive tactics amount to too little, too late.

The White House said this week that although commanders were asking for additional U.S. reinforcements in Afghanistan, a decision had been made that no more troops would be sent there this year.

The question in Iraq is whether the Iraqi security forces are really ready to take the lead in defending their country — and the answer is not really. Not as long as 130,000 American troops still have their boots planted firmly on Iraqi soil.

For much of the past decade these two wars belonged to George W. Bush, and the many failures and few successes likewise belonged to him. Now both wars belong indelibly to Barack Obama, and all the expenditures of lives and national treasure likewise begin to be added to his account.

We can do no more than watch and wait and hope for an end to the war in Iraq, which we should never have fought in the first place, and for an end to the war in Afghanistan. where we have stumbled from near-victory to near-defeat over the last eight years.

We've thrown more than a trillion dollars down those rat holes already, and who knows how many more will follow them before someone in charge is ready to say: Enough already!


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