For strategic and electoral reasons, the Obama administration tries to describe its troop withdrawal as something that must be seen as a success in the war that he inherited from George W. Bush (who spoke of victory carelessly, by the way). On Wednesday, in Fort Bragg, Mr. Obama welcomed back the American soldiers who returned from Iraq to symbolize the end of almost nine years of military presence, a war that never created the same emotional impact in the American society as the Vietnam war did. On Thursday, the American flag was removed in Baghdad and the military mission in Iraq ended, two weeks before the deadline in the Iraq agreement.
Obama wants to define his actions as a "responsible withdrawal" that will result in the complete transfer of sovereignty to the Iraqi government of Nouri al-Maliki and the solidifying of an alliance. It would be a message to Americans and to the world that Obama, as a candidate who was against the war and now as the president in office, knew how to end it.
But things are not as they appear to be. Obama is more concerned with the withdrawal itself than with the responsibility. The credit for a relative level of stabilization must be given to Mr. Bush, with his decision to increase troops at the end of his mandate and the success of his counter-insurgency tactics. It is the truth, after an invasion under false pretense over Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, which led to the fall of the tyrant in a move that benefited their neighbor Iran, Iraq's biggest rival.
And now the destabilizing scenario is visible. It would be hard for Americans to keep their troops in Iraq after the withdrawal of combat troops. Maliki's government is not an ally as Obama defines. The efforts of Maliki, a Shiite, are to bring peace to Americans and Iraqis alike; they both have a strong influence in the country, where there's a rise of Shiite power, an end to Sunni control and autonomy for Kurds. The sectarian violence may explode again without the American presence, perhaps to the extent of a large scale civil war. All that in a country marked by a fragile security policy and economy and several regional "vultures" hovering around.
Besides Iran, we have the Sunni monarchies, led by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, that violate Iraqi sovereignty by attacking the Kurdish insurgency. Mr. Obama insists that the war is over. He said that "the Iraqi war will soon belong to history." To Mr. Obama, a candidate for re-election, the war is over. But the conflict has entered a new phase for Iraqis and their neighbors.