The Washington Post

In Iraq, safer doesn’t mean safe

No U.S. troops died in Iraq in August. Indeed, no U.S. troops have died in Iraq since July 17.

Of course, on a personal level each fatality is an important story. On the larger political level, my sense is that these statistics are generally underplayed — I think they very much contribute to defining the political constraints on policy going forward. On Iraq, that means that if it turns out to be relatively safe for Americans to stay there, then the choice of whether to keep a (relative) handful of troops there after this year becomes a lower-stakes decision.

As far as domestic politics goes, no one cares that U.S. troops remain in Korea or Germany. The same would be true of Iraq if indeed casualties are very rare. Yes, passionate antiwar activists would be dismayed if President Obama commits to leaving a small force there instead of following through on leaving by the end of this year, but most people won’t.

Given that Iraq remains a violent place, however, the risk of a month like June (15 U.S. deaths) remains high, and that probably matters more than the August success. Just in terms of domestic politics, Obama’s safest course remains getting as far out of Iraq as possible.


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