Associated Press’ standards editor Tom Kent says the war in Iraq is not over. Jim Romenesko posted a memo Kent distributed to AP staffers this week, instructing them not to “uncritically repeat suggestions” that the war in Iraq is over. Even though President Obama announced “the end of our combat mission in Iraq” on Tuesday, Kent says that “the situation on the ground in Iraq is no different today than it has been for some months.”
Kent’s right. As he points out, Iraqi security forces are still fighting Sunni and Al Qaeda insurgencies. The AP reports that the 50,000 American troops that remain in Iraq—which include some 4,500 members of the special forces—continue to be involved in combat operations. And we continue to provide Iraqi troops air and other forms of military support. More accurate, Kent says, would be to say that we have ended our “major combat role” in Iraq.
George Packer, who has reported extensively from Iraq, makes essentially the same point in his New Yorker blog. He calls the supposed end of our combat mission in Iraq “a date that will live in oblivion” because nothing there has really changed:
The fifty thousand troops who will remain in Iraq until the end of next year will still be combat troops in everything but name, because they will be aiding one side in an active war zone. The proclaimed end of Operation Iraqi Freedom has little or nothing to do with the military and political situation in Iraq, which is why Iraqis were barely aware when the last U.S. combat brigade crossed into Kuwait a few days ago.
President Obama’s announcement is, Packer says, “a meaningless milestone, constructed almost entirely out of thin air.”
President Obama’s speech was little more than an attempt to reframe the situation in Iraq before the midterm elections. Obama can now say that he has—technically, at least—ended the war in Iraq on schedule, just as he promised. There may be some value in declaring the war over and symbolically advancing the process of turning over the situation in Iraq to the Iraqis. But for all we have accomplished in Iraq—and we have accomplished much, even if the war has been at best a very mixed bag both for us and for the Iraqis—there still is a situation in Iraq. And there are still American troops there, putting their lives on the line. We can’t forget about them now.