Withdrawal from Iraq: Remembering the Quaker’s Colonel

Earlier this month, long time FPIF senior analyst, Col. Dan Smith (Ret.) passed away. Dan worked at the Friends Committee for National Legislation and the Center for Defense Information after 26 years of military service which ranged from the war in Vietnam to the Gulf War in Iraq.

It’s fitting to think about Dan today as President Obama makes his official speech marking the end of combat operations in Iraq. Dan wrote more than 70 articles for FPIF and blogged regularly at The Quaker’s Colonel on the Iraq War.

With 50,000 troops still on the ground inside Iraq, and many military brass and diplomats arguing that the final withdrawal date of December 2011 should be pushed back, the war is anything but over.

Pundits and politicians, such as John Boehner are focusing on the narrow issue of if the surge worked. Lost in the mix is the question of how we got into war in the first place, what the effects have been on our military readiness, and what has been the true economic, political and human toll to the United States and more importantly Iraq. Juan Cole has a must-read speech that Obama should give tonight where he touches on many of these critical issues.

Looking forward, Anne Applebaum writing in The Washington Post argues that despite the debate over the “success” of the war, it’s too soon to know the result. Applebaum is sadly wrong here—we do know the answers. Dan was writing about them before the war even began: we are weakened in our ability to organize coalitions, influence the Middle East, and have largely failed to care for our veterans. If things get better for Iraq, it will largely be in spite of the war, not because of it.

Dan wrote about many of the speeches President Bush gave on Iraq. He often chided Bush for declaring success where there was none. In reaction to a speech given at the Pentagon by Bush in 2005, he wrote:

Even the most casual review of the past five years substantiates the opinion of the majority of Americans that Bush administration claims of victory in Iraq are false. They don’t pass the sight, sound or scent tests – which is to say they don’t look like a duck, quack like a duck, or smell like a duck.

So why is the president still calling it a duck by giving victory speeches?

Obama will be careful not to declare victory tonight but he’ll likely be using the speech as a marker of progress and as a strong signal that it’s time to move on. I’m pretty sure Dan would argue that still doesn’t pass the sight, sound or scent tests.

I’ll be thinking of him when I’m listening.