Jonah Goldberg
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And so it ends. The United States is leaving Iraq.

I'm solidly in the camp that sees this as a strategic blunder. Iraqi democracy is fragile and Iran's desire to undermine it is strong. Also, announcing our withdrawal is a weird way to respond to a foiled Iranian plot to commit an act of war in the U.S. capital. Obviously, I hope I'm wrong and President Obama's not frittering away our enormous sacrifices in Iraq out of domestic political concerns and diplomatic ineptitude.

Still, there's an upside. Obama's decision to leave Iraq should deal a staggering blow to America's critics at home and abroad.

After all, what kind of empire does this sort of thing?

Critics of U.S. foreign policy have long caterwauled about American "empire." The term is used as an epithet by both the isolationist left and right, as a more coldly descriptive term by such mainstream thinkers as Niall Ferguson and Lawrence Kaplan, and with celebratory enthusiasm by some foreign policy neoconservatives like Max Boot.

The charge in recent times has centered on the Middle East, specifically Iraq.

The problem is, contemporary America isn't an empire, at least not in any conventional or traditional sense.

Your typical empire invades countries to seize their resources, impose political control and levy taxes. That was true of every empire from the ancient Romans to the Brits and the Soviets.

That was never the case with Iraq. For all the blood-for-oil nonsense, if America wanted Iraq's oil it could have saved a lot of blood and simply bought it. Saddam Hussein would have been happy to cut a deal if we only lifted our sanctions. Indeed, the U.S. oil industry never lobbied for an invasion, but it did lobby for an end to sanctions. We never levied taxes in Iraq either. Indeed, we're left holding the tab for the liberation.

And we most certainly are not in political control of Iraq. If we were, we wouldn't have acquiesced to the Iraqi government's desire for us to leave. Did Caesar ever cave to the popular will of Gaul?

Some partisans will undoubtedly say that the key difference is that Barack H. Obama, and not George W. Bush, is president.

But this lame objection leaves out the fact that Obama acceded to a timeline drafted by the Bush administration. Moreover, Obama has moved closer to Bush than anybody could have predicted.

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Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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