Since World War II, American political leaders have shown themselves to be much better at starting wars than ending them satisfactorily. For example, the last two years of the Korean War, from July 1951 to July 1953, resulted in very little change on the ground but thousands of dead and wounded soldiers and Marines, because the negotiators could not agree on how the North Korean and Chinese prisoners of war would be repatriated. Similarly, negotiations in Vietnam went on for almost five years and also resulted in tens of thousands of additional American casualties while the U.S. sought to find a face-saving way out of a conflict that had already been lost.
But in Iraq, the U.S. government got lucky. While many of those who got us involved in that mindless, needless war in the first place wanted us to maintain a military presence there indefinitely, Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki left us no choice. While President Barack Obama may claim credit for ending American involvement in the war in Iraq, the real credit should go to the Iraqis who essentially kicked us out. In late 2008, when the U.N. mandate authorizing the American occupation ended, President George W. Bush, who adamantly opposed setting a date for American withdrawal, was forced to sign an agreement with al-Maliki that stipulated two things. First, he agreed that within six months all American troops would withdraw to their bases and go out on missions only when requested by, or with the permission of, the Iraqis. Second, al-Maliki insisted that all American troops had to be withdrawn completely within three years — that is, by the end of 2011.This article was originally published in Politico.