Now that the final brigade of American “combat troops” has left Iraq, analysts who supported the initial attack on the Middle Eastern country told The Daily Caller that it is still too early to tell whether the military campaign they argued for has been a success, but said they were “pleasantly surprised” by the outcome to date.
Violence has dropped dramatically since the heaviest days of fighting in the mid 2000s. So far, 4,415 servicemen and women have died.
While most of the 50,000 combat troops still left in the region are equipped for combat, they will now focus mainly on advising and aiding the local forces and will play peacekeeping roles as the violence subsides.
“I think we can be relatively satisfied with what the United States achieved and in what we enabled the Iraqis to achieve in terms of establishing their sovereignty,” said Tim Sullivan, research fellow and program manager at the Center for Defense Studies at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI). “What we have is a relatively stable secure nascent democracy that has the potential to serve as a long term strategic partner for the United States in what is a vital and often volatile region of the world.”
AEI, a Washington-based think tank that heavily influenced the Bush administration’s handling of the war, is largely responsible for the “surge” strategy in 2006, in which the United States heavily increased troop levels in the region. While scholars continue to debate the strategy’s effectiveness, the level of violence has dropped dramatically over the past 18 months.
Other analysts said that while the current environment in Iraq may not be exactly what they envisioned seven years ago, the troop withdrawals are a sign that progress has been made.
“The way we envisioned this has changed a lot over the years but I think it is certainly a pretty impressive achievement of the surge that we’re at a place where our military commanders feel secure enough to reduce troop levels by two thirds,” said John Tabin, a contributor to The American Spectator magazine who writes extensively about foreign policy. “I was cautiously optimistic [about the surge] but I’m pleasantly surprised by this outcome.”
But can it hold? That largely depends on what happens with Iran, they said. If Iraq’s eastern neighbor chooses to engage the new government militarily, then much of what the United States and Iraq have worked toward could be put in major jeopardy. Whether or not the entire enterprise was worth the loss of blood and treasure rests on future interactions with Iran.
“Stability is dependent on Iran’s behavior,” said Herbert London, president of the Hudson Institute, a research institution that focuses on global affairs. “Will Iran work with [Iraq Prime Minister Nouri] al-Maliki and create stability in the country or is Iran trying to dominate Iraq? If so, then the war would have to be described as a failure.”
As for now, they said, history needs a bit more time to determine the wisdom of the invasion.
“If in a couple decades Iraq is a democracy and a relatively peaceful anchor of Middle Eastern order in which American interests remain prime, then yes it will be a success,” Tabin said. “If in ten years, Iraq is an Iranian vassal, then no it won’t have been worth it.
“We can call this some sort of victory, but it’s a fragile one.”