For G.O.P Saying Goodbye to Iraq Is Hard to Do

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Eight years into a grueling, dispiriting conflict that has torn a nation asunder, with countrymen attacking countrymen as traitors, the end seems almost incomprehensible. War used to be so much simpler in American politics. Back in 2004, there were the good guys (i.e. Republicans who wanted to invade Iraq, aided at first by cowering Democrats who would go on to make it their signature electoral issue) and then the bad guys (anyone who opposed the Iraq war.) But when President Obama announced Friday that all U.S. troops would come home from Iraq by the holidays, Republicans were not sure where to stand.

Mitt Romney the leading "serious" Republican candidate for the nomination blasted the decision. He condemned Obama's announcement that all troops in Iraq would be home for the holidays this year, calling it either "naked political calculation or simple sheer ineptitude." His fierce press release continues, "President Obama’s astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women." Of course, just last June, he was running on a peace platform, saying in a debate, "Our troops shouldn't go off and try and fight a war of independence for another nation." Of course, that was about Afghanistan, which was the good war, until it became the bad war when it looked like we weren't winning. 

Michele Bachmann, just in the most recent primary debate, only a couple of days ago, criticized Obama for sending troops to Uganda, thereby sticking soldiers in "a fourth conflict in a foreign land." She really emphasized the word fourth. But apparently she did not mean that emphasis to indicate that she wanted the guys out of any of the other three foreign lands. She apparently meant it to mean that "three was the perfect number," because on Friday she issued a statement saying, "It represents the complete failure of President Obama to secure an agreement with Iraq for our troops to remain there to preserve the peace and demonstrates how far our foreign policy leadership has fallen ... In every case where the United States has liberated a people from dictatorial rule, we have kept troops in that country to ensure a peaceful transition and to protect fragile growing democracies."
Herman Cain, who most recently ducked the entire Iraq debate by insisting he doesn't know what a neoconservative is, told NBC's Andrew Rafferty, "Whether or not its the right thing to do, I would consult with the commanders." Then, apparently thinking it over a bit, he continued, "I believe our time there was worth it ... But I would not have announced this big draw down, tell the enemy so they are going to basically position themselves."
It should be noted that not all of the Republican candidates agree that full withdrawal is a bad thing. Former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson, who's been able to get into just a few Republican debates, tweeted, "Troops out of Iraq by the holidays -- Good news, but LONG overdue." Ron Paul, who earned boos in one primary debate by saying American foreign policy encouraged terrorists to attack us, was skeptical that Obama was for real about pulling out. He told NBC's Anthony Terrell, "I bet the Embassy doesn't close down."
But on Capitol Hill, many Republican lawmakers were just as upset by the announcement. Sen. John McCain called the withdrawal "a harmful and sad setback." He continued, "this decision will be viewed as a strategic victory for our enemies in the Middle East, especially the Iranian regime, which has worked relentlessly to ensure a full withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq. ... I am confident that no U.S. commander of any stature who has served in Iraq recommended the course of action that has now been taken." When criticizing Obama's position, the default explanation seems to be: we should do what top military officials want. But a core American principle is civilian control of the military. McCain's close ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, was a little more hopeful, saying, "I hope I am wrong and the President is right, but I fear this decision has set in motion events that will come back to haunt our country." Further down the wait-and-see scale is House Speaker John Boehner, who said:
"We must never forget the sacrifice of those who’ve served and all who will soon be making the journey home. And we owe it to them to continue engaging with the Iraqi government in a way that ensures our hard-fought gains translate into long-term success. While I’m concerned that a full withdrawal could jeopardize those gains, I’m hopeful that both countries will work together to guarantee that a free and democratic Iraq remains a strong and stable partner for the United States in the Middle East."
Rep. Buck McKeon, who chairs the House armed services committee, said the same thing:
"I remain concerned that this full withdrawal of US forces will make that road tougher than it needs to be. Multiple experts have testified before my committee that the Iraqis still lack important capacities in their ability to maintain their internal stability and territorial integrity. These shortcomings could reverse the decade of hard work and sacrifice both countries have endured to build a free Iraq."


But of course, when it was their turn to listen to the generals, Republicans were less inclined to do so. After Gen. Eric K. Shinseki told Congress in 2003 we'd need "several hundred thousand soldiers" to keep Iraq stable after the invasion, neonconservatives Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz condemned his calculations. Since the quick capture of Baghdad in 2003, the Republican Party has watched the growing unpopularity of the Iraq war cost it the complete control of the White House and both houses of Congress, as well as their long-standing polling advantage on national security. With that uncomfortable history, you might expect that the Republican Party would be happy to have the Iraq war in its rearview mirror.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.