Conspicuously absent from the steady stream of lawmaker statements marking the end of the controversial Iraq war were any variations of one word: Victory.
In fact, many lawmakers well-versed on all things national security refrained from declaring the conflict a strategic success for Washington.
The closest most lawmakers came to words like "victory" and "success" were carefully worded homages to the U.S. troops who are leaving behind — for the moment, at least — what appears to be a fledgling representative government in Baghdad.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), who had supported bringing most American troops out this year, merely saluted U.S. troops in a statement. He did not weigh in on the strategic ramifications for Washington.
Armed Services ranking member Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) credited American troops with doing “a tremendous job protecting U.S. national security and supporting the Iraqi people as they seek to establish a stable, prosperous nation.” He called the Iraq conflict “a long, difficult conflict,” and said the Middle East nation faces “tough times ahead.”
Smith, an ally of the Obama White House on most national security issues, used most of his statement to praise the president.
“I am pleased to see that President Obama has followed through on his pledge to responsibly redeploy United States combat forces from Iraq by the end of the year,” Smith said. “Over the last few years, we have witnessed the removal of multiple terrorist leaders, including Osama bin Laden and the disposal of a tyrant in Libya. The concluding of this conflict continues to build on the administration’s foreign policy successes and I look forward to continuing to work with the administration as we work to ensure U.S. national security. ”
McKeon used part of his remarks to hit the president for removing U.S. forces too quickly.
“I would not have conducted our withdrawal in this manner. I believe it is too precipitous, and calculated on a political and not a strategic time line,” McKeon said. “I believe that President Obama should have engaged President [Nouri al]-Maliki earlier and been willing to heed our commanders’ recommendations concerning the size and need for a credible U.S. force. I believe this could have been accomplished.”
Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee chairman, issued a statement that featured a few opening lines about the significance of the end of the Iraq conflict. He then abruptly turned to another, but related, topic.
“Still, we have troops deployed in Afghanistan and around the globe continuing the fight against oppression and tyranny. These same troops arriving home today may very well be called upon to once again participate in the Global War on Terror,” Turner said. “We must be mindful that their service and sacrifice does not end on this day, but becomes all the more vital to the safety of our nation.”
A reluctance to drop words like victory and success when discussing the U.S. experience in Iraq is not limited to the east end of Pennsylvania Ave. President Obama and other White House officials also found other ways to summarize how things went for Washington over the war’s nine years.
During a Wednesday speech at Fort Bragg, N.C., Obama dubbed the conclusion of the U.S. military effort there "an extraordinary achievement" — but not a win.
Obama congratulated U.S. military members for leaving behind a “stable, sovereign” Iraq.
“This is an extraordinary achievement nearly nine years in the making,” Obama said. “Your will proved stronger than the terror of those who tried to break it.”
Obama, who vowed to end the Iraq war as a presidential candidate, noted its “heavy costs.”
“There is something profound about the end of a war that has lasted so long,” Obama said. “Since then, our efforts in Iraq have taken many twists and turns. It was the source of great controversy here at home ... but there was one constant: Your patriotism, your commitment to fulfill your mission, your abiding commitment to one another ... that did not waiver.”
The last American troops left Iraq on Sunday morning, but the U.S. has vowed to continue to assist the country.
The White House has said the nearly decade-old war cost nearly $1 trillion; the Congressional Research Service has put the tab at just over $800 billion. Around 30,000 U.S. troops were wounded and nearly 4,500 died, according to the White House.
Ned Parker of the Council on Foreign Relations said on a Friday conference call that it is too soon to declare the Iraq experience a strategic success or failure for the United States.
“What happens now,” without a U.S. military presence holding together a fragile peace, “will determine if Iraq is viewed as a success strategically,” Parker said.
With the last U.S. troops out, the U.S. State Department is taking over the American effort in the country. But some government watchdogs question whether the diplomatic agency is up for the many challenges it faces in Iraq.
The post-military U.S. presence there “will reportedly include four major diplomatic centers and some 15,000 personnel,” according to Danielle Brian, Project On Government Oversight executive director. “It’s expected to cost about $3.8 billion for the first year alone.”
Brian raised concerns about State Department plans to “more than double its reliance on private security contractors.”
The State Department’s spotty batting average for managing contractors is “reason for concern,” Brian said. “After the White House finishes with [its] celebration, we hope it wastes no time in focusing on the need to improve its game when it comes to oversight of the contractors we are leaving behind.”