Barack Obama’s current overseas trip has put the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan back in the forefront of the presidential race. Obama’s trip, as well the sudden shift in statements from The White House and John McCain regarding Iraq and Afghan policy made me revisit a column I wrote last April regarding General David Petraeus’ progress report to Congress on the effectiveness of the troop surge in Iraq.

Since the 30,000 U.S. troops were added to Iraq’s battlefields last year, the bloodshed, carnage and mayhem that characterized life in the country since the war began has eased since the extra Yankee manpower entered the country. That is fact, not hyperbole.

The numbers speak for themselves: Tuesday, General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, said this before Congress: “Violent incidents are at its lowest points since 2005, and … civilian deaths due to violence has been reduced severely.” Additionally, tens of thousands more Iraqi police forces are trained and ready to patrol the country, and also, Petraeus said, the surge has allowed for Iraq to start making real, tangible political progress.

Thus, Petraeus recommended to Congress that the U.S. suspend its scheduled troop drawdowns from Iraq after July for a 45-day pause to assess when reductions should be made. In other words, Petraeus asked for more time for the surge to work.

But that is time America can’t afford.  The reality is that two weeks ago, The Joint Chiefs of Staff told President Bush that the war’s mounting strain on troops has diminished the Pentagon’s ability to fight two conflicts at the same time, once considered the measure of American military fitness since the start of the Cold War.

Aside from the cost of American blood, there is the matter of the war’s actual cost in American treasure. Unfortunately, the only thing the war has accomplished clearly is giving American taxpayers sticker shock – the war has cost a whopping $600 billion in borrowed money, which adds to the national debt, which currently stands at $9.4 trillion dollars and counting. That, along with the mortgage crisis, a paucity of jobs and the worst economic slowdown since the recession of 1992 and it is clear that America simply can’t afford a cradle-to-grave rebuilding of Iraq.

In America’s current shape, success can only be defined as whatever prevents Iraq from descending into chaos. It is undeniable that in its current shape, America can’t foot the bill to rebuild a foreign country thousands of miles of way when, domestically, the oil is sky high and the U.S. dollar is ground low.

So if the war hawks really think the Iraq picture is so rosy now, then now is the time to Iraqi-itize the war and give the country to the Iraqi people. If things are getting better, and the surge is succeeding in giving the Iraqi people some breathing room to politically coalesce and begin to get their act together, then wouldn’t a troop withdrawal seem sensible?

A question for those who are hawkish on Iraq: if America can’t leave when Iraq is improving, or can’t leave when Iraq worsens, then when will America be able to leave? Tell us something that President Bush never clarified to us: exactly what is the definition of American success in Iraq?

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