Despite the "end" of U.S. combat in Iraq -- as announced by President Obama yesterday -- significant challenges remain in the country including terrorism, economic development, broader security and governance. Since its founding in 2007, the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) has been a leading voice on U.S. policy toward Iraq and on how to care for Iraq war veterans. CNAS continues to develop and promote pragmatic analysis to help shape and elevate the national debate.
CNAS Expert Commentary on Iraq:
John Nagl, President: "In Iraq, the United States is continuing a responsible transition of authority from its soldiers to Iraqi security forces. Violence has not disappeared and political progress remains agonizingly slow but the Iraqi Army and police are increasingly capable, requiring advisors and American airpower to support their boots on the ground. A similar effort to train and build the Afghan National Army and police forces began in earnest only last year. Those emerging Afghan forces will in time assume responsibility for their own security; getting to that point will be no easier in Afghanistan than it was in Iraq, but it can be done."
Lieutenant General David Barno, USA (Ret.), Senior Advisor and Senior Fellow: "President Obama was right to highlight the unique milestone approaching in our long struggle in Iraq. As we change our mission there at the end of this month from combat operations to one of supporting and training Iraqi forces, we should remind ourselves that our success in Iraq holds both lessons and cautions for the very tough fight we face today in Afghanistan. Most notably, where population centered COIN worked in Iraq, it did so for underlying reasons that may well require a closer evaluation in Afghanistan. But at the end of the day, just as in Iraq, the enemy in Afghanistan must be defeated if we are to gain the leverage required to achieve our policy objectives and successfully transition to a mission training and supporting Afghans. That day is unlikely to arrive if the Taliban remain unbroken and continue to grow stronger every year."
Patrick Cronin, Senior Advisor and Senior Director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program: "Iraq remains a high priority for the United States, but by ending America's front-line combat mission there, the Obama Administration seeks a more sustainable and less direct role for the United States. Moving forward, the United States must vigorously appraise the costs -- which have been over 700 billion dollars in Iraq -- and the benefits of military engagement and resist the urge to be a global enforcer unless our national security is directly threatened. The United States can ill afford to prosecute the Iraq and Afghan wars in perpetuity." (See Restraint: Recalibrating American Strategy, June 2010)
Tom Ricks, Senior Fellow: "The most important line in President Obama's speech was, 'The hard truth is we have not seen the end of American sacrifice in Iraq.' But he should have explored that more, because I don't think Americans understand how much longer we will be involved there. On the upside, at least he didn't deliver this 'mission accomplished' speech on an aircraft carrier."
Richard Fontaine, Senior Fellow: "The President spoke yesterday about the end of combat in Iraq, but in fact the mission there continues. The truth is that after seven years of extraordinary effort, we are not yet at the end. In September, the United States will still have 50,000 troops in the country, tens of thousands of contractors, 94 bases, and the world's biggest embassy. Though the combat phase will have ended, American troops will continue to carry out counterterrorist operations. And though the Status of Forces agreement requires all U.S. forces to withdraw by the end of 2011, that pact is likely to be renegotiated. Now is the time for us to convert our remaining influence into diplomatic capital. The administration should engage vigorously to urge a settlement to the ongoing political stalemate on terms that best suit the Iraqi people and American interests."
Andrew Exum, Fellow: "America's decision to invade Iraq will be remembered as one of the costliest errors in U.S. history. I served in Iraq, in 2003, in between deployments to Afghanistan. The mess in which we find ourselves in Central Asia today is not unrelated to the decision to devote so many resources to an unnecessary war in the Persian Gulf at the expense of the war that began after the September 11 attacks. But despite earlier missteps, Presidents Bush and Obama have acted wisely since 2006 in responsibly bringing U.S. combat operations in Iraq to an end. The difficult challenge for the United States going forward will be to support Iraq's nascent democratic processes while ensuring Iraq's armed forces continue to develop into cohesive fighting organizations capable of protecting Iraq's territory and institutions."
Brian Burton, Bacevich Fellow: "President Obama's speech does not mark an 'end' to conflict and instability in Iraq any more than his predecessor's infamous 'Mission Accomplished' speech more than seven years ago. Many significant challenges remain, including the dispute between the Baghdad government and the Kurdistan Regional Government over who controls Kirkuk; the failure to pass a law delineating how the country's oil revenues will be shared; and now the seemingly interminable problem of forming a new government after a close-run election. Iraq also still struggles to provide basic services like electricity to its people, and its oil infrastructure is so decrepit that it will be years before its economic potential is realized. But these are not military problems, nor are they problems for which the United States can impose solutions. For all of Iraq's issues, a major deterioration in the security situation is not one of them. Keeping any number of troops there for a longer period of time is not going to solve Iraq's governance crisis or provide better services." (Published in The New York Times, August 2, 2010)
Will Rogers, Research Assistant: "Serious infrastructure challenges abound in Iraq, including that one in four Iraqis do not have access to safe drinking water. Other resource issues such as reliable access to electricity continue to undermine long-term development and exacerbate existing social and political grievances. With an ongoing political stalemate that has left the government in limbo and unable or un—to address these issues, much of the work could fall on the shoulders of the thousands of contractors, civilian corps and embassy staff left in the country -- and they need to be prepared."