With his announcement that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of the year, President Barack Obama has had a series of foreign policy achievements that have garnered praise from most Americans. But not from many leading Republicans.
President Obama's troop withdrawal announcement was the final step in fulfilling a promise he made when he ran for president in 2008. The eight-year-old Iraq War has cost nearly $800 billion, and, most importantly, the lives of more than 4,400 U.S. servicemen and countless Iraqi civilians. In making his announcement, the president said, "There will be some difficult days ahead for Iraq, and the United States will continue to have an interest in an Iraq that is stable, secure and self-reliant.”
Republican presidential candidates immediately denounced the president's decision. Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney said, in a written statement, “President Obama’s astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women.” He continued, “The unavoidable question is whether this decision is the result of a naked political calculation or simply sheer ineptitude in negotiations with the Iraqi government." The Obama campaign was quick to provide a pointed response, “Mitt Romney’s foreign policy experience is limited to his work as a finance executive shipping American jobs overseas.”
Since taking office, President Obama has focused on ridding the world of terrorists. In May 2011 the president bagged public enemy number one when a Special Forces unit killed Osama Bin Laden, the leader of Al Qaeda and the architect of the World Trade Center terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. Subsequently, terrorist leader Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in Yemen by a U.S. predator drone attack. In all some two-dozen terrorists have been killed since President Obama took office.
Earlier this week, Libyan freedom fighters captured and killed their country's former leader, Muammar Gaddafi. Gaddafi was a tyrannical dictator who had ruthlessly ruled his country for four decades. He was also responsible for the 1988 downing of Pan Am 103 over Scotland, which resulted in 270 deaths. The president, working closely with NATO allies, provided air support to the freedom fighters. Because of this the president was accused by neo-cons of "leading from behind" in Libya, but the results are undeniable.
For decades Republicans claimed to be the strongest party when it comes to national security. Yet, the administration of President George W. Bush found itself the victim of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil when nearly 3000 people were killed in a series of plane hijackings. U.S. intelligence had information about a possible attack but the government failed to connect the dots.
In response, President Bush authorized an invasion of Iraq and the U.S. Congress supported him. U.S. intelligence had claimed Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and their leader, Saddam Hussein, would use them. The CIA also claimed that Hussein had links to Al Qaeda, the terrorist group responsible for 9/11. All of those claims proved to be false. That and President Bush's inconsistent strategy in Afghanistan, where American troops had also invaded because that is where Al Qaeda was based, led to a protracted war.
When elected, President Obama intensified U.S. focus on Afghanistan while looking for a way to end America's military commitment to Iraq. The Iraq withdrawal is based on a timetable originally established by President Bush.
Iraq is in a very precarious state. Iran is meddling. The Kurds in the north are revolting. The Sunni minority, which controlled the country under Hussein, is on the decline. No longer is Iraq a hedge against Iran's ambitions as it had been while Hussein ran the country. Nonetheless, the United States will maintain a strong diplomatic presence, and thousands of the American contract workers will continue to support Iraq. But Iraq's future is uncertain.
The United States can no longer afford to be the world's policeman. And President Obama has altered how the country conducts national security in a way that reflects the realities of the twenty-first century.
While he will receive praise for killing terrorists and keeping his campaign promises on Iraq and Afghanistan, the 2012 election will be decided solely on the state of the U.S. economy. As a result President Obama will be in the fight of his life.