The war in Iraq is not over.
The president must make that clear tonight. Though planned combat operations are done, every single one of the 50,000 remaining troops is a combat troop. There's a reason that convoys are called "combat patrols." There could still be casualties. Whether our troops engage in combat will be decided on the ground in Iraq, not in Washington, DC.
Additionally, the war within Iraq still rages on. There is no stable government. There is no long-term settlement among Iraq's factions on issues such as oil-revenue sharing. We are all pleased that the president stuck to the Status of Forces Agreement negotiated by the past administration, and the removal of thousands and thousands of Americans is a good development. But, by no means is this war over.
One need look no further than Somalia and Beirut for what happened at what were supposed to just be peacekeeping operations to know that there are no guarantees. Heck, one need look no further than the last declaration of major combat operations being over and "mission accomplished." The point is, the president cannot and should not use this as a "victory speech," no matter what his pollsters tell him. Should he do so, it's very likely to blow up in his face.
Additionally, the president should look to Iraq for lessons that can be applied to Afghanistan -- a war he will surely note was put on the back-burner because of Iraq. While the Iraq surge was a tactical success because American troops are the best in the world, it still is not a strategic success. The surge was never complemented by a surge in diplomatic and political armies, and as such, we just were keeping the cork on the bottle. As attacks mount in Iraq among warring factions absent American forces, that lesson has become all too clear.
The president has made his decision to ramp up troop levels in Afghanistan far past what he promised during the campaign. Many veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq disagreed -- favoring a more limited counter-terror operation. But, now that the decision has been made, the president must ensure that the Afghanistan surge is not a military one alone. Unless a non-corrupt and stable government with the confidence of the Afghan people is put into place, there can never be real success in Afghanistan.
The purpose of writing all of this isn't to minimize the accomplishments of this administration when it comes to keeping their timeline for moving troops out of Iraq. Nor is it to be a 'Debbie Downer.' It's my sincere hope -- as it is all of ours -- that Iraq stabilizes and we can fully remove our troops. And, of course, all Iraq and Afghanistan veterans stand with the rest of America in wanting to see success in Afghanistan.
But, where the previous administration continually blew smoke and painted rosy pictures regarding the wars, this president must deal honestly with the American people. Only by doing so -- by being straight about the challenges we still face -- can the American people be prepared for the tough road ahead.