Six years and two months after former President Bush stood under the infamous "Mission Accomplished" banner atop the U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln and announced the end of major combat operations in Iraq, United States combat troops have removed themselves from Iraq's urban areas into more secure and remote bases of operations. It is from these posts where our brave men and women are now slated to conduct limited operations to keep major transportation avenues free from insurgent obstruction and to provide assistance to Iraqi security forces -- should it be requested by the Iraqis themselves. Gone are the days of major U.S. led combat operations that are not first approved and probably directed by Iraq's leadership.
Most Americans can reasonably agree that President Bush's May 1, 2003 declaration was premature and in error; however, what is getting lost in the always politicized debate over Iraq is the fact that the end of major combat operations is now actually upon us. While this monumental moment comes several years later than anticipated or promised by the Bush Administration, credit must be given to the former administration for its willingness to stay the course and find the military and political solutions necessary to reach this historic accomplishment. General Petraeus and the now-famous "surge" helped put our troops in a position to accomplish their mission with the numbers, equipment and strategy necessary to overcome a once-vibrant insurgency that had the support of much of Iraq's Sunni populace.
But for the most part, this historic military and political milestone has gone unnoticed -- instead being overshadowed by the recent flurry of celebrity deaths, political scandals and the recent start of a major U.S. offensive in Afghanistan. Hiding under this cover are the naysayers -- those severe critics of the former administration's inability to calm Iraq's violence and political chaos after the announced cessation of U.S. combat operations. After years of public verbal flogging of former President Bush these critics are now silent -- unwilling to acknowledge that perhaps the former administration belatedly got it right.While many of these critics have ample ammunition at their disposal to debate the merits of the original war strategy itself, none can doubt that the aim of neutralizing the insurgency, ensuring free and fair elections, and removing U.S. combat troops as the leading security provider has been reached.
Regardless of one's view on the rationale for the war itself, we can all agree that our men and women of the armed forces and their counterparts in various other government agencies have served with distinction and done a remarkable job in turning some of the world's most unstable and dangerous cities and provinces into a more unified nation that is now stable enough to govern and secure itself. Unfortunately, the cost has been high -- with over 4,000 American deaths and a stunning 30,000 plus wounded.
The road ahead for Iraq will remain turbulent, as the pursuit of freedom so often is. The future of Iraq is now in its own hands -- a fate yearned for by millions of oppressed peoples across the globe. This is in sharp contrast to the many critics at home who want to continue to focus on banners and poorly-timed speeches of the past. Lost in this shuffle is a story of an infant democracy in the Middle East that continues to go largely unnoticed.