While the debate over whether or not we should have invaded Iraq plagued the Bush Administration, it shifted for the Obama administration: When and how should the United States leave Iraq? In the midst of pressure from both sides, President Obama answered that question when the last troops left Iraq in December of 2011.
Proponents for remaining in Iraq have argued that U.S. troops left an unfinished job. Though the financial cost is large, they say, there are many other areas of spending that can afford to be cut in order to ensure the proper conditions for Iraq's future success. In fact, the argument goes, the Iraq War was actually a rather small percentage of the U.S. deficit. Moreover, some warn that the U.S. is leaving a vulnerable Iraq right next door to Iran, one of America’s -- and Iraq's -- key adversaries. Rather, U.S. exit strategy should be centered on leaving a stable democratic government in place. Not only is this necessary to protect against Iran, but with the U.S. military gone, many believe there is a strong likelihood of the reemergence of extremist groups vying for political power. This creates the possibility of ruining strong U.S.-Iraq diplomatic relations in the future. Finally, those inclinced to keep U.S. military in Iraq express concern that U.S. departure may result in a less stable Middle East on the whole. Already facing political revolutions in Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Syria and even Saudi Arabia, further instability in the region could prove to be costly on an international scale.
On the other side, many of President Obama's supporters point to the fact that popular support for the war in America had been quickly diminishing. Some also agree that withdrawal should have been done long ago, calling to mind the reasons the 8+ year undeclared war was started in the first place.
Critics of the war have long questioned the original grounds for military escalation, namely that Saddam Hussein and his government were in possession of weapons of mass destruction. This, some say, made the war unjustified and unnecessary. Moreover, Saddam was executed in 2006, yet troops stayed in Iraq for five more years. Opponents of the war also argue against the idea of “nation building” in countries like Iraq. Rather than focus on establishing democracy abroad, American resources should focus on America, they maintain. Furthermore, they argue, Iraqi instability may take decades to resolve. And no matter how stable Iraq might be in the future, some level of instability is inevitable upon U.S. departure. Critics also point to financing the war, arguing that it is economically unviable for the United States to maintain a strong troop presence for an extended period of time.
To be sure, there are also plenty of arguments that fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. For instance, some believe that the United States should plan to be in Iraq for a much longer period, though in a reduced capacity. This type of involvement would save the United States billions of dollars and bring a large number of troops safely home, while also showing the determination and patience to help Iraq and its people through this difficult transition period. Additionally, proponents of this middle ground advocate a tiered withdrawal over a longer period of time.
The debate should not be taken lightly even though the decision has been made and the war is over. Over the next several years the world will watch Iraq as it gets back on its feet. In spite of this perpetual debate -- a debate that will likely be had for years to come -- all sides hope for a safe, free and prosperous Iraq in the future.