Mike Hanna is on point, as usual:
The United States took an important step yesterday toward leaving Iraq by moving combat troops out of Iraqi population centers in anticipation of the June 30 deadline specified in the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA).
This redeployment has focused attention on Iraq’s current security situation and triggered stepped-up efforts by insurgents to undermine the symbolic importance of the transition, by launching attacks generally aimed at Shiite civilians. It has also provided fodder for those in the United States who wish to delay withdrawal.
However, looking at Iraq solely through the prism of short-term security trends clouds thinking about how the United States can best prepare for its exit from the country. It also obscures the enduring and fundamental disputes that undermine long-term prospects for stability. The United States should instead continue the transition toward diplomacy with modest goals and a focus on facilitating dialogue and negotiations on the most intractable issues facing Iraqis: governance, territory, and resources.
Make no mistake, Iraq is not on a self-correcting path to tranquility. It is likely to see a near-term increase in baseline levels of violence, and varying levels of violence for years to come.
But the logical case for withdrawal remains unchanged, starting with the binding obligation to withdraw on a fixed timetable as part of the SOFA negotiated by the Bush administration. More broadly, our expanding commitments in Afghanistan and the impact of the current economic downturn have added urgency to the need to rebalance the U.S. military posture.
Delaying withdrawals because of recent bombings would have given insurgents veto power over U.S. actions. More perilously, it would have conceded a key strategic goal of the ongoing insurgency by undercutting the legitimacy of the Iraqi government as sovereign over Iraqi territory. It would also have undermined U.S. credibility in the region at a time when the Obama administration is seeking buy-in and support for its ambitious regional agenda from partners in the Arab world.
Iraq’s security gains remain fragile and reversible. But although withdrawal entails risks, there is no credible alternative. As President Obama clearly stated when announcing his timeline for troop withdrawals, "The most important decisions that have to be made about Iraq’s future must now be made by Iraqis." Unfortunately, the improved security and accompanying degree of normalcy that has returned to many areas of the country has allowed complacency and overconfidence to set in among Iraqi political actors, frustrating significant political progress.
As Hanna noted, the case for withdrawal remains unchanged. An uptick in violence is, sadly, almost certainly inevitable (and in the present case, that uptick preceded the actual troop withdrawal, which should tell us something). In some sense, warring factions are waiting out the American presence (and some keep fighting with us there). On the other hand, it would be pointless to bankrupt ourselves (and break our army, and hamstring our posture, etc.) in pursuit of that interminable standoff.
More importantly, the only actors that can bring lasting peace post-US bulwark are the various Iraqi factions with grievances and competing interests, and sooner or later, those parties will have to resolve their conflicts, whether or not we stay another five to ten years in the middle. Oh, and the Iraqi people want us out sooner regardless, which is kind of important (even if there is eventually some accommodation for military support via a much smaller residual force down the road).