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We Have Lost in Iraq, and We Should Leave

Dan Caldwell, an Iraq war veteran and a senior adviser for Concerned Veterans of America, has written an important article calling for full U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in recognition of the fact that keeping American troops there serves no real purpose except to make them targets:

Today, American troops remain in Iraq with no clear purpose. ISIS’ territorial caliphate is destroyed, and the remaining ISIS fighters pose a greater threat to Iranian interests than American ones. The Iraqi parliament recently called for our withdrawal. Our continued support of Iraqi security forces could lead to Iranian-aligned groups receiving American arms and equipment, including ones likely responsible for recent attacks against Americans.

Leaving our troops in Iraq only makes them easy targets for Sunni jihadis or Iranian proxies seeking to harm American forces. President Donald Trump should withdraw all our forces from the country, a move supported by nearly 70 percent of Americans.

I am proud of my service in Iraq, and regardless of the necessity of the war, we should honor the sacrifice of those who served admirably under difficult circumstances. But like most veterans of the conflict, I believe the Iraq War was a mistake with catastrophic implications for the country we swore to defend. Now, 17 years after the war began, it’s time to finally correct this mistake and bring our troops home.

The U.S. could withdraw from Iraq tomorrow and U.S. vital interests would not suffer in the least. Americans are still fighting and dying in Iraq for the sake of a muddled policy whose supporters can’t decide if the main adversary is ISIS or Iran. Most Iraqis don’t want our forces there any longer, and most Americans don’t want them to stay, either. Americans shouldn’t be risking their lives for the anti-Iranian ideological fantasies of hard-liners in Washington. There is no excuse for keeping them in harm’s way when no American security interests are being served.

There is great resistance in Washington to ending any of our foreign wars because bringing them to an unsatisfactory conclusion means admitting that we lost. Well, we lost, and we lost a long time ago. Delaying the inevitable withdrawal doesn’t prevent that defeat, but it does doom some soldiers and Marines to being injured or killed in a failed war. The beginning of wisdom comes from understanding that there was nothing in these wars for the U.S. to win. As Caldwell says, the “Iraq War was lost when the Marines pulled down Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad in April 2003.” The war’s “success” was the root of its own costly failure because a war for regime change in Iraq was never in the American interest.

The U.S. has spent the better part of two decades trying to pretend that there was something to salvage from the debacle, but it is time for that to end. The U.S. has no vital interests at stake in Iraq today just as it had none in 2003. We have lost in Iraq, and we should leave.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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