The United States has waged drone warfare in the greater Middle East and North Africa for the better part of two decades under the aegis of four consecutive presidents. Now, strikes conducted by small drones controlled by Iran-linked militias are an increasingly pressing threat to U.S. troops in Iraq — so much so that an unnamed official with the U.S.-led coalition there described them to The Washington Post as “the military mission’s biggest concern” in the country.
If that’s the case, the drone threat should be more than a concern. It should be one more reason to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq immediately. The militias will not be able to use drones to harm American forces in battle in Iraq if we have no forces in battle in Iraq.
These drones are not the only reason to end this military intervention — far from it. The U.S. war in Iraq began under false pretenses and has been floundering, bloody and costly, for nearly 20 years. Launched as a regime change project, it morphed into counterterrorism and counterinsurgency to address the violent chaos U.S.-forced regime change invited, and now seems primarily concerned with fighting Islamic State stragglers and containing Iran. These are open-ended missions, and with them as our “goal,” the United States will still be at war in Iraq at least another decade hence.
That was true during the Trump administration, and nothing has changed in this regard since President BidenJoe BidenCapitol fencing starts coming down after 'Justice for J6' rally Senate parliamentarian nixes Democrats' immigration plan Biden pushes back at Democrats on taxes MORE took office. The new administration says “the American-Iraqi relationship is in a new honeymoon period following Biden’s inauguration,” the Post drones report observes. Likewise, CENTCOM commander Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie claimed in April the Iraqi government wants to prolong the U.S. occupation, “They want us to stay,” he said. “They need us to continue the fight against ISIS.”
Baghdad disagrees on both counts. “Iraqi military officials have voiced frustration that they feel like a junior partner in a relationship largely centered on reducing Iranian influence in the region,” the Post reports, and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi indicated in March he wants a new session of U.S.-Iraq strategic dialogues to end the U.S. war in Iraq. At previous talks, “[w]e achieved in a very short period what weapons failed to achieve,” he said then, “In a matter of months, we succeeded in reducing the size of U.S. combat forces in Iraq by 60 percent.” Now, he wants to “discuss the redeployment of [U.S.] forces outside of Iraq” entirely. This isn’t talking about honeymoon but divorce.
Leaving Iraq makes sense for the Biden administration, for all the arguments Biden himself deployed explaining his (dubious) end to the war in Afghanistan equally apply to Iraq — the chief difference being that the Iraq invasion happened on far less defensible grounds. In his speech about Afghanistan, Biden argued the Afghan people should be accorded the right to self-govern without foreign meddling. He said he’s concluded “more and endless American military force could not create or sustain a durable Afghan government.” He denounced “the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence” with unjustified expectations of improvement on our past record of intervention. And he noted effective counter-terror operations don’t require “keeping thousands of troops grounded and concentrated in just one country at a cost of billions each year.”
All that is true of Iraq, too. Iraqis deserve self-determination. Endless American military force won’t create a durable Iraqi government. Further extending our military presence in Iraq won’t have better results than the past 18 years of various strategies, surges and strikes. And insofar as any real threats to the U.S. arise in Iraq, forestalling them does not require permanent occupation. On the contrary, the lesson of the drones story is that ending this occupation would in many ways increase our security.
If Washington forces them to stay, no doubt U.S. troops will figure out a way to deal with the drones — but they shouldn’t have to do that. Our forces should not be kept in harm’s way in a perpetual conflict which is not supported by the American people and does not contribute to U.S. security. It is time to bring them home.
Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities, contributing editor at The Week, and columnist at Christianity Today. Her writing has also appeared at CNN, NBC, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and Defense One, among other outlets.