Time For Troops To Come Home

Today, I sent a letter to President Obama, cosigned by 4,700 Americans, including 1,700 Veterans, calling on him to abide by our Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Iraq, which sets a deadline of the end of this year for US troops to come home from Iraq. But, for different reasons, I could have written him a similar letter on Afghanistan.

First, there's Iraq. I was moved to write this letter, because over the course of twelve days (June 6th-June 18th), nine American service members were killed in action in Iraq -- a significant increase in American deaths for that short of a period. In comparison, two Americans were lost in combat in Iraq in all of May. As we approach the date of our withdrawal, as stated in SOFA, most observers believe that Prime Minister Maliki will request an extension of a United States presence in his country. The recent increase in violence against Americans underscores the absolute importance of abiding by SOFA, and leaving Iraq completely by the end of the year.

What has become abundantly clear is that as long as Americans are in Iraq, they will be a target. Should we stay in Iraq past our deadline, there is no reason to believe that violent attacks won't further increase, leading to more American deaths. The United States will then be forced to either endure the attacks or send in more troops to protect our forces.

There is simply no outcome from staying past the SOFA deadline that is acceptable or desirable. Therefore, we called upon President Obama to abide by that deadline, and affirm to Prime Minister Maliki that United States troops will be completely out of the country by year's end.

And yet, most believe that President Obama will keep troops in Iraq. For what policy? There's very little so few troops can do to make any significant difference in Iraq's future. It seems to me, at least, that the president is trying to shield himself from those who would attack him for "abandoning" Iraq, without getting "sucked into" Iraq again. The result is a confused policy, if it indeed is the route he goes.

On Afghanistan, many believe that President Obama will announce a reduction of 10,000 of our troops sent in as part of the "surge" there. That's just one-third of the surge troops, and even if all surge troops are called home, it will leave 70,000 Americans in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. This policy makes very little sense -- continuing a policy in Afghanistan that makes little sense.

When President Obama announced the surge of troops, it was clearly a compromise plan. On one hand, he sent in a huge number of forces to execute a counter-insurgency strategy, which involves securing the populace, and giving room for the government to get established in all areas within its borders. On the other hand, he didn't send in as many troops as military leaders said they needed, and announced there would be a deadline for the mission, which defeats the whole purpose of the strategy. He tried to make everyone happy, by giving them a little of what they wanted. The result was a jumbled and mixed up plan.

His reduction of troops is more than General Petraeus wants, further hamstringing the military's ability to execute a counter-insurgency strategy. On the other hand, the reduction is far less robust than those who favor a more limited mission or complete pull-out want. The result, again, is a confused policy that makes very little sense.

War can't be strategized on compromise, trying to make everyone happy. Neither can the end to a war. Our goals must be clear, and laid out in metrics. Our plans must be decisive. Our decision to end our involvement must be firm. Right now, in both Iraq and Afghanistan, we're seeing none of that.

It is time for the president to lead. In Iraq, he must tell Prime Minister Maliki that we are leaving, no matter what. In Afghanistan, with so few strategic gains since we first went in ten years ago, it is time for the president to tell the military he commands that we have spent enough blood and treasure. He must set a clear policy -- a new mission in the region, limited to making sure we can continue to hit al Qaeda when needed. But our days of nation building there are behind us.