President Obama's announcement today that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the end of 2011 marks the end of a military engagement that has helped define an American foreign policy of Middle East for years.
The war has cost the lives of 4,482 American service members, seen tens of thousands wounded, and cost almost three quarters of a trillion dollars.
Here is a look at what the final drawdown means for the military, for President Obama and for the United States.
|Martha Raddatz on the Military|
The military sees this drawdown as success, certainly, because it went through the worst of times. The men and women who have served in Iraq, and still in Afghanistan, over and over and over -- I know many people who have done three, four, five, seven deployments -- have missed so many holidays. For those who have served in Iraq, this is indeed a huge moment -- a moment when they know they will be going home to their families.
But that still leaves the war in Afghanistan and the drawdown there. That will take many more years. It is not planned until the end of 2014, a date that many in the military think could slip further.
The military has been stretched very thin to fight these two wars. In Iraq there were some very dark times in 2006 and at the beginning of 2007 before President Bush sent in surge forces. At that time, it was iffy what direction that war in Iraq would go.
Since the 2007 surge, the military has realized it had to take the initiative to try to do something different in Iraq. Counter insurgency was really started there. Counter insurgency was relied on heavily, trying to help the population, trying to secure the population, trying to win over the hearts and minds. And that counter-insurgency has become the model in Afghanistan, too.
|Jake Tapper on President Obama|
This announcement belies the fact that President Obama originally planned to keep American troops in Iraq beyond this year.
The president and others in his administration had been negotiating with the Iraqis, who wanted U.S. troops to stay, but they would not give immunity to those U.S. troops. The talks broke down, and President Obama made the decision he would abide by an agreement originally drawn up by the Bush administration with the Iraqi government to have a complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops to zero by the end of this year.
Officials are saying there will be a very robust American diplomatic presence in Iraq, but U.S. troops will be gone. This also fulfills one of the president's key campaign promises.
President Obama is in office, in many ways, because of the Iraq war. From very early on in the campaign he called the war in Iraq a "dumb war." President Obama was able to distinguish himself from his campaign rivals in the 2007-2008 Democratic primaries -- Hillary Clinton, John Edwards, etc. -- by saying that he never would have voted to go to war in Iraq. This is a war he opposed from the beginning. That's how he caught the attention of so many Iowa liberal Democrats, and that's why his campaign caught fire early on, so this is the true fulfillment of one of his central campaign promises.
Now the president and advisers in the White House hope that this will be seen as a political plus by the American people. They'll point to the drawing down of these wars and the smaller footprint, less expensive foreign policy operations, and the victories when it comes to the killings of Osama bin Laden, American-born Yemeni terrorist Anwar al Awlaki and Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.
But obviously, they know with high unemployment, jobs still will be the central focus of the American people and foreign policy successes will be seen as a campaign plus.
|Christiane Amanpour on U.S. Withdrawal from Iraq|
Analysts are already saying this is good news for Iran. No more combat troops in Iraq is very good news for them. It is not such good news for Iraq's Sunni minority.
Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki, wanted a number of U.S. troops to stay, but he could not get a vote through his parliament. He knows there is still work to be done in Iraq, which is still a very unstable country.
Case in point: today's announcement comes on the very same day that Turkey has invaded Northern Iraq, saying it will send 10,000 troops to hunt the PKK, a Kurdish group Turkey labels as terrorist. Turkey is now considering creating a buffer zone in Northern Iraq.
In the US, and around the world, some are worried that what progress has been made over the past 8 years may quickly evaporate.
Furthermore, my sources are telling me President Obama may raise the prospect of an accelerated withdrawal from Afghanistan as well, ahead of the 2014 deadline. And by no means is that war over either; Afghanistan is certainly not a stable country, at this point.
It's no coincidence that this announcement, which had been telegraphed last week, came a day after the killing of Gadhafi in Libya . That happened with air power alone. Obviously, the administration thinks it can go forward with mainly drone strikes in Iraq and Afghanistan, the kind of new military method it has employed so well, rather than having boots on the ground.