National Security Network

Memo: Talking Points on the End of the Iraq War

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Press Release 9 December 2011

Iraq Iraq


To: Interested Parties

From: Heather Hurlburt and Jacob Stokes, National Security Network

Date: December 9, 2011

Subject: Talking Points on the End of the Iraq War

Talking Points

The Iraq war is over. After nearly a decade of combat, as President Obama has said, “the tide of war is receding.” From roughly 147,000 troops when the president took office, no troops will be based in Iraq after the end of the year. This week the military will mark the end with a ceremony, case its colors in Baghdad and return them to the U.S. The Iraq war is done.

It’s time to honor those who served. Our troops have made immense sacrifices and fought bravely and with honor to bring an end to the Iraq war -- one that leaves Iraq fully-sovereign, a democracy and a U.S. partner. We welcome them home.

The president kept his promise to end the Iraq war. From then-Illinois state Senator Barack Obama’s speech denouncing the war back in 2002 until the current day, the president has articulated the case for ending the war. Growing numbers of bipartisan national security advocates – and the American people – did the same. As a candidate for president, he promised to bring our troops home. Now, we can see that President Obama has kept his promise to the American people.

Ending the Iraq war is part of a rebalancing of American national security to focus on Asia, fighting terror and rebuilding our economy. The wars of the last 10 years have consumed vast resources. The Iraq war cost more than $800 billion in direct spending and will add up to $3 trillion when downstream costs are included. As the war ends, it’s time to focus on renewing American economic strength, focusing on the fight against terror and shifting our attention towards Asia.

Answers to Frequently Asked Questions

Is this a victory? Why won’t you use the word victory? This is the Iraqi people’s victory – they held their country together and emerged democratic and fully-sovereign. It would not have taken place without the sacrifice of Americans.

Was it worth it? [Note:  A CBS poll last month showed that 67% of Americans do not believe the war was worth it. Those who opposed the war may wish to preface this answer with, well, I opposed this war.] What the American people need to know is that American troops and civilians fought and sacrificed with Iraqis to achieve the outcome we have today – a fully-sovereign and democratic Iraq that will be a partner with the U.S. going forward. And don’t forget that, as we’ve drawn down in Iraq, we’ve been able to shift our resources elsewhere and achieve our most significant victories against al Qaeda.

The U.S. isn’t really leaving. What about negotiations for troops to remain in place as trainers? After December there will be no U.S. troops permanently based in Iraq. There will be attaches at the Embassy and a Foreign Military Sales office, as we have in many countries. Military personnel may come to Iraq for training or to conduct joint exercises, as we do with dozens of countries around the world. Then they will leave again.

This administration doesn’t deserve credit – this is an agreement negotiated by the Bush administration. It’s worth remembering that many in the national security community -- many advocates, activists and members of Congress, including then-Senator Obama -- advocated a timeline for withdrawal long before the Bush administration negotiated one. Years of pressure from those groups were a significant part of the reason the Status of Forces Agreement that established a timeline was negotiated in 2008. President Obama and his team sped up the timetable. Recently, by contrast, high-level Bush administration officials have admitted they never intended to keep to what they negotiated and planned instead to re-open it.

Can the Iraqis manage without us? Iraq is not a perfect place. No one expects that. The challenges that remain, including sectarian violence, can best be solved by Iraqis hammering out their political problems, not by U.S. troops. And it’s worth noting, as Army Lt. General Frank Helmick recently did, that levels of violence in Iraq are at their lowest levels since 2003.

Doesn’t this empower Iran to cause trouble, if not secretly control the government? It’s important not to over-hype Iran’s influence. Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki has recently undertaken a litany of actions to counter Iran. Remember that the two countries fought a 10-year war. The Iranians know, as well, that the United States is watching their actions closely – and withdrawing U.S. troops actually takes away easy targets for Iran-backed groups and gives Washington a freer hand. In addition, the U.S. keeps some 40,000 troops in the region.