Walter Russell Mead: Mission Sort of Accomplished in Iraq

Roundup: Historians' Take

Walter Russell Mead is the Henry Kissinger senior fellow for US foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World. He also writes a blog for the American Interest.

In one of the Bush Administration’s most infamous moments, President Bush boarded an aircraft carrier under a giant “Mission Accomplished” banner just as the serious problems in Iraq were beginning to emerge. Eight years later, Vice President Biden has visited Iraq to deliver a much more subdued speech with the same message — America has largely achieved its goals in Iraq, and is now preparing to leave. From the Wall Street Journal:

“The real way people gain influence other than through force is having an influence on the institutions, the formation of the institutions and the function of the institutions,” Mr. Biden said in an interview during his flight from Baghdad to Iraq’s Kurdish region in the north. “And that’s the U.S.” [...]

To keep Iran’s clout in check and maintain the U.S.’s influence in the absence of a troop presence, the Obama administration is preparing to make a push to ensure American institutions and expertise are available in postwar Iraq, said Mr. Biden, who spent three days in Iraq this week.

The Iraq War was unhappy, but it was no Vietnam. A new and at least somewhat democratic country has emerged out of the ashes of despotism and the chaos of civil war. Biden himself was among those who believed this day would never come, and urged that the United States partition Iraq into three independent countries, but events have proven him wrong. President Bush got many things wrong about the Iraq War, but he got one thing right: once in, we had to press on. Does anybody remember all the panicky declarations by leading politicians and prominent ex-officials that the war was lost, utterly lost, and we had no choice but to make an inglorious run for the exits?..

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