The guidelines stipulated in the security pact signed Monday in Baghdad, including the provision that U.S. troops be removed from Iraqi cities within six months, are consistent with broader U.S. security objectives as well as with the wishes of the American and Iraqi peoples.
Success in Iraq was never certain. It depended, in part, on the amount of effort Americans were willing to exert in the endeavor, but also on a number of factors beyond U.S. control. War advocates never seriously contemplated the price; they merely asserted on the eve of war that the costs of inaction outweighed the costs of action.
For a time, the American public went along. Six years later, a solid majority disagrees. In poll after poll, Americans say the costs already paid far exceed whatever benefit will be derived from the war.
If America itself were threatened by the possibility of renewed large-scale violence in Iraq, there would be no discussion: The U.S. would simply invest what was necessary. But Iraq always was, and still is, a war of choice. The U.S. should choose to terminate the mission and refocus its attention — and, where appropriate, its still-strong military — on the enemies who struck on 9/11.
That the choice is clear does not mean the choice is easy. The consequences of a U.S. withdrawal may be difficult, particularly if political reconciliation collapses and there is renewed civil war. But as it stands now, it is American personnel — troops and diplomats, and also private contractors — who are exposed to these risks. The time has long since come for the burden to shift to the Iraqis.
The basic strategic calculus for the U.S. is clear: It should not be willing to indefinitely underwrite the costs of ensuring security in Iraq, especially since the Iraqi people have clearly communicated their desire to regain full control over their country. The incoming administration should adhere to the Baghdad agreement and reduce — and, in short order, eliminate — the U.S. military presence, as the pact stipulates and as President-elect Barack Obama has promised.