As our military draws down, our dedicated civilians … are heading into the lead to support Iraq as it strengthens its government, resolves political disputes, resettles those displaced by war, and builds ties with the region and the world.
That quotation is from none other than President Barack Obama himself, as he spoke directly to the American people on national television about the formal end of the American combat mission in Iraq. Most of that speech was dedicated to the achievements that Iraq has made as a country over the past four years: credible elections, diminished sectarian violence, a weakening of Al Qaeda, and the growing excitement among Iraqis about finally taking absolute control over their internal affairs. But a substantial piece of the speech was also what strategists would call Washington’s “blueprint” for Iraq over the next three to five years. And not surprisingly, much of this blueprint will go directly to the State Department’s portfolio.
So why after all of the bombast associated with the official termination of America’s combat role — and after millions of people tuned into Obama’s nationwide address — is the United States Congress considering cuts in the State Department’s Iraq budget? Is it political necessity, considering the weak recovery at home, or is there another reason? Are the United States simply trying to forget that the “misadventure” in Iraq ever happened?
For the sake of the American troops that have fought and perhaps died in the war, we should hope that the latter assumption is just that — an assumption. But judging from the direction that Congress is taking, Iraq doesn’t seem to be that much of a concern compared to other issues on the government’s agenda anymore.
To be fair, Congress has yet to cut spending on civilian operations in Iraq, at least in an official capacity. The Senate has only suggested that American contributions may be lowered, and that the Iraqis should take on more responsibility for the costs of postwar programs. Nothing has been acted upon as far as concrete legislation. But at the same time, the Senate Armed Services Committee — at least from Chairman Carl Levin’s perspective — has already decreased the Pentagon’s request for an additional $2 billion for Iraqi training. Not a good sign.
There is a growing disillusionment among some senior government officials now that the war in Iraq is over and done with. Apathy is starting to brew over Iraq’s future. “Let the Iraqis take care of it. It’s their country. Americans are tired of footing the bill.” These criticisms are understandable. Yet criticisms aside, simply walking away by refusing to build upon the military’s successes would be detrimental to Iraqi development. It would also be a slap in the face to those who invested so much in the mission.