As Americans focus on the wisdom of the decision by President Barack Obama to escalate involvement in the 7-year-old war in Afghanistan, it is easy to forget that there has been no reduction in either the troop level or cost of the war in Iraq.
About 140,000 U.S. forces are still there, as many as when Mr. Obama came to office in January, in spite of his campaign pledge to withdraw them. The war is still costing an estimated $2 billion per week. That may seem minuscule in the face of the federal money that has been poured into Wall Street and other banks and financial institutions, but it is still a healthy sum, particularly in light of the increasing demands of Obama administration efforts to save the economy.
In Iraq itself, the government of Prime Minister Nouri Kamal al-Maliki sounds feistier by the day. On the one hand, he is playing the role that Washington might like him to play, demonstrating Iraq's increasing independence and apparent ability to be left home alone. That position is partly for the benefit of those who might still try to make the argument that America has to stay in Iraq because otherwise it will fall into a new cycle of bloody, post-occupation violence.
It is important to remember that whenever the United States withdraws its troops from Iraq, the contending forces - the Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds, the secularists, the Islamists - will have it out to see who emerges on top. The bone of contention will be Iraq's oil wealth, its only major resource. The Sunnis ruled Iraq from independence in 1932 to the U.S. invasion in 2003. There is no reason to believe, in spite of the Shiites' 60 percent majority, that the Sunnis will acquiesce to rule by the Shiites after the Americans have left or have reduced their forces to a less prominent level. Mechanisms of democracy may be in place, but belief in the system is almost entirely absent even after six years of U.S. rhetoric.
From the American point of view it is definitely time to mount horses and get out of Dodge. The Afghanistan war was the right war in 2001 (whether it is now is another question). The Iraq war was the wrong one for the United States to pursue in 2003 and remains so six years later.
Mr. Obama said he would begin to withdraw U.S. forces and end it. The United States does not need a base or bases in the Middle East. It has lots of them already - in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Djibouti. Americans should begin to see an orderly, systematic pullout of forces from Iraq; Mr. Obama has promised a first 12,000 by fall.
The correct posture of the United States, based on manpower and resources, will have been achieved when the last of the 140,000 are out and Iraq is left to the Iraqis to sort out.