The orderly withdrawal is a far cry from the testosterone-fueled push across the berm separating Kuwait and Iraq, when Marines and soldiers pushed north in the 2003 invasion, battling Saddam Hussein’s army while sleeping on the hoods of their vehicles and eating prepackaged meals.
“I think it’s probably more challenging leaving, responsibly drawing down, than it is getting here, because you just have to figure out where everything is and getting it out of here. Are there enough airplanes, ships, containers, and do we have enough time to do that and meet the president’s mandate?” said Col. David F. Demartino, who is responsible for infrastructure and support services at Balad, which is home to 25,000 troops and civilians.
The last time I was in Iraq, in July 2009, there were still 130,000 service members in Iraq. From the very narrow standpoint of logistics and operations, an on-time reduction to 50,000 at the end of this month is quite an achievement.
And yet. Any other way you measure it — morally, strategically, internationally — numbers of US troops deployed don’t really mean much. To the extent that (1) a withdrawal removes a catalyst for violence over there, great. But to the extent that (2) it puts gangs and other armed factions in control of Iraq’s future – and (3) it whets the growing American appetite for isolationism, both on the left and the right — man, it sucks. Truth is, America’s pullout probably does all three.
I’m planning to have a couple of posts up at MoJo in the coming weeks about what the US leaves behind in Iraq. But you can get a sneak peek from the Brookings Institution, whose incredible Iraq index (PDF) is updated monthly with the good, the bad, and the statistically significant. One of the best resources out there for the curious observer, it’s jammed with amazing facts that never seem to make the cut in most newspapers’ front-page meetings. Julian Assange, eat your heart out.