NEW YORK – For nearly a decade, American foreign policy has been dominated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. As 2011 begins, with 50,000 US soldiers still in Iraq and another 100,000 in Afghanistan, it may not look like that era is coming to an end. But it is.
Iraq, the second most expensive “war of choice” (after Vietnam) in American history, is for the United States reaching a level of effort that will no longer absorb substantial military and economic resources or garner significant domestic political attention. All US troops are due to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.
Even if, as seems likely, several thousand soldiers remain, the number will be small and their role limited to advising and training Iraqi military and police forces and conducting missions against terrorists. Eight years, 4,300 lost American lives, and more than a trillion dollars later, it will be, for better or worse, mostly Iraqis who determine their country’s future.
The initial performance of an Iraq run by Iraqis is less than encouraging. To be sure, there have been a number of relatively fair elections, political life is active, and the economy is growing. But Iraqi leaders’ difficulty in forming a government following last spring’s elections bodes poorly.