Alex Massie answers the claim that the U.S. should have continued to have a large military presence in Iraq:
What is victory anyway? We know that, in many ways, it has not been achieved in Iraq. But if the Americans could not win in nine years of fighting and occupation then why should anyone presume they might suddenly prevail after ten or eleven years?
In the end, Douglas’s argument falls back on the neoconservative belief that the United States can achieve anything if only it decides to want it badly enough. This is a lovely thought undermined by only one, small, detail: it isn’t true. You can believe in Mechanised Ponies of Heroic Willpower all you want but they still aren’t enough.
As for foreign policy and the election: well, just five percent of voters thought it the most important issue influencing their vote and Obama won those votes 56-33. Staying in Iraq would have done Obama much more damage than leaving. You may think that regrettable and that’s fine. It don’t change either the military or the political facts.
The more important point is that staying in Iraq longer would have done the United States more damage than leaving. If the Iraqi government has a closer relationship with Iran and Syria than most Americans would like, that is not a product of overly hasty withdrawal. It is a product of the invasion and subsequent empowerment of Maliki and his allies. When the Iraqi government doesn’t do what Washington wants and cultivates closer ties with Tehran, this is a reminder that regime change in Iraq was a huge strategic blunder on the part of the U.S. and our allies that was entirely foreseeable and one which some opponents of the invasion predicted in advance. It’s worth bearing in mind that the same hawks that think the U.S. must remain in Iraq forever to blunt Iranian influence didn’t believe that Iran would benefit from Hussein’s overthrow. That ought to give us reason enough to ignore their policy recommendations and their assessments of what will hurt Iran in the region.
It apparently can’t be repeated often enough that if the U.S. had kept a large military presence in Iraq beyond the end of 2011, U.S. forces would have become the targets of new insurgent attacks. If advocates of a prolonged U.S. presence in Iraq had had their way, more Americans would very likely have been killed in Iraq over the last ten months to no clear benefit to the U.S. or anyone else. It is more than likely that a renewed insurgency against American forces would have also caused the deaths of even more Iraqis than the current violence has caused.