After years of frustrating ambiguity, President Obama has clearly committed to a complete withdrawal of all US troops in less than three years.
Speaking to the Marines in North Carolina, Obama finally clarified that the proposed "residual force" of 50,000 or more will be a "transitional" one, departing one year after combat operations end on August 31, 2010. That position is consistent with the terms negotiated by the Iraqi government in the final days of the Bush Administration, in what the Iraqi side notably called the "withdrawal agreement."
Even Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid were left confused by the initial announcement, questioning whether leaving 50,000 residual troops was really a withdrawal. Obama cleared that up with Friday's speech.
In perspective, the Iraq war was wrong and illegitimate every day it was fought, and should have ended sooner. Some wanted "out now," some wanted twelve months, some eighteen. The generals in Iraq may still want to stay indefinitely.
But a phased withdrawal is tolerable -- and there's not much a movement can do about it -- if combat casualties steadily decline and all troops are heading for the exit. By agreeing to the Iraqi pact with Bush, Obama found a basis for rapidly removing the transitional troops as well. Before Friday, he remained deliberately unclear on the subject, leaving the spectre of a long counterinsurgency war like those in Central America.
This is a clear victory for those in the peace movement who supported Obama as the first anti-war candidate with a chance to become president.
The media will not acknowledge the role of the peace movement, nor will some on the Left. It will have to be explained as part of the legacy of our times. It will have to be defended against the hawks, because things can go wrong in Iraq in a hurry.
And it's a lesson that should fortify many as they take on the long wars ahead.