For years, many lamented that the U.S. decision to invade Iraq detracted from our focus on Afghanistan and made Operation Enduring Freedom America's forgotten war. Now, with a false declaration that combat operations are over in Iraq, what is now Operation New Dawn has ironically become a forgotten war.
Yet, we need no further reminder than the spike in violence and American deaths in Iraq to remind us that we are still very much at war in Iraq. Fifteen Americans died in Iraq in June, making it the deadliest period there for American troops in two years. Still very much lost in the back pages of America's newspapers is news that American forces might stay in Iraq well past our agreed upon deadline of the end of this year. That is about to change.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid -- the president's top ally in the Senate -- came out forcefully today against a continued American presence in Iraq, which most observers believe President Obama is for. Senator Reid said, according to the Associated Press, "As Iraq becomes increasingly capable, it is time for our own troops to return home by the end of the year and for these precious resources to be directed elsewhere. There is no question that the United States must continue to provide support for the Iraqis as they progress, but now is the time for our military mission to come to a close."
The effect of Senator Reid's statement on the debate cannot be understated. What had seemed to be a non-issue to many is now a debate with the leader of the president's own party in the Senate issuing the president a strong warning. Reid's words open the door for other Democrats to come out against our troops staying in Iraq past our Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) deadline.
What has become abundantly clear is that as long as Americans are in Iraq, they will be a target. Should we stay in Iraq past our deadline, there is no reason to believe that violent attacks won't further increase, leading to more American deaths. The United States will then be forced to either endure the attacks or send in more troops to protect our forces. There is simply no outcome from staying past the SOFA deadline that is acceptable or desirable.
Senator Harry Reid has just done our nation and our troops a service by forcing a debate on the length of American presence in Iraq. Thus far, there has been little to no discussion regarding US policy in Iraq should Prime Minister Maliki request that American forces stay past the current deadline set by the Status of Forces Agreement. We must have this debate now so that we can strategically decide American policy based on our long term objectives and allow military leaders sufficient time to plan. Our troops and citizens deserve this debate.