Baghdad’s Gone Missing…

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The debate over Iraq’s future – hopeful, according to the Obama Administration, hopeless, according to its critics – has begun in earnest. It was kicked off by the Administration’s recent decision that all U.S. troops will be home for the holidays. The White House blames Iraq’s parliament, which has refused to grant U.S. troops the standard immunity from local prosecution they get from host governments around the world when they are based away from home (U.S. troublemakers in uniform overseas are dealt with under the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice).

Critics insist if the Administration had put more muscle into the fight, it could have keep thousands of U.S. troops in Iraq into 2012 to maintain stability and keep an eye on neighboring Iran. Maybe, maybe not, according to folks inside the U.S. government. Early volleys in the “who lost Iraq” debate – reminiscent of the “who lost China” spit-fest 60 years ago – have been lobbed in recent days.

Over at the Weekly Standard, Frederick Kagan, Kimberly Kagan and Marisa Cochran Sullivan maintain the U.S. “abandonment”  – after eight bloody and costly years — of Iraq offers succor to “two dramatic challenges to the security of the American homeland” – terrorism and a nuclear Iran.

America will pay a high price for defeat in Iraq…The United States will also pay a high moral price for this retreat…Iran will be strengthened in the region, and Iraq’s traditional tensions with its Arab neighbors will suit Tehran’s policies…Now that President Obama has perfected so many of the analogies between Vietnam and Iraq, we may well come to wish that Iraq, like Vietnam, were ultimately a sideshow. But Iraq is much more vital to our national security than Vietnam ever was.

Tell that to the 58,267 Americans who died there.

Just like clockwork, the Administration lets the New York Times know that it’s planning to leave a big force in Iraq’s ‘hood to keep an eye on troublemakers in Tehran, Baghdad and elsewhere.

According to the lead story in Sunday’s paper:

“Back to the future” is how Maj. Gen. Karl R. Horst, Central Command’s chief of staff, described planning for a new posture in the Gulf. He said the command was focusing on smaller but highly capable deployments and training partnerships with regional militaries. “We are kind of thinking of going back to the way it was before we had a big ‘boots on the ground’ presence,” General Horst said. “I think it is healthy. I think it is efficient. I think it is practical.”

Mr. Obama and his senior national security advisers have sought to reassure allies and answer critics, including many Republicans, that the United States will not abandon its commitments in the Persian Gulf even as it winds down the war in Iraq and looks ahead to doing the same in Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

The betting here is that thousands of U.S. troops in Kuwait and elsewhere around the Gulf will keep the lid on any Iraq explosion – at least until after next year’s U.S. presidential election.