The Irrelevance of Iraq

While traveling in Turkey this morning, Defense Secretary Robert Gates suggested that Iraq troop withdrawal could be accelerated. Some 5,000 American troops could come home because violence levels in the country were generally down and Iraqi security forces were doing well on their own. Two brigades, or about 10,000 troops, are to be withdrawn from Iraq by this year and Gates said it was possible one more brigade, or 5,000 troops, could come home, too. What's amazing is how little this orderly withdrawal seems to be benefiting the Obama administration. Of course, with an economy still in turmoil and a renewed commitment to Afghanistan and a push for universal health care, the fate of 5,000 troops coming home early is bound to get lost in the shuffle. Still, this is a case where the administration is doing what it said it would do and it's all going pretty well--not withstanding the spasms of violence that continue to plague Iraq.

It's as if Iraq is fading quickly from national memory. Yes, "The Hurt Locker," the documentary about Iraq bomb detonators, gets rave reviews and the plight of Iraq War veterans remains an important issue. But as an issue of national attention Iraq has fallen off the radar in a way one couldn't have imagined in 2006, when it dominated the mid-term election and helped set the stage for the Obama victory in the following election cycle. Now Iraq feels increasingly irrelevant in electoral life. Obama wasn't asked about it at his last two press conferences.

Wars have tended to upend American life in ways large and small. World War I popularized the cigarette and the wristwatch--and sped the migration of African Americans north and expanded America's role in the world. Vietnam cracked the social order. But it's hard to see what social impact the Iraq war will have had on America now that it's not even much of a topic of conversation.

Let me say, I realize that for the families of those in Iraq and those involved in prosecuting the war, Iraq remains the central focus of their lives. I just mean as a country, Iraq has largely faded from view as Secretary Gates's comments remind us this morning.

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Matthew Cooper is a managing editor (White House) for National Journal.

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