Last week, President Barack Obama declared that the US military had concluded its combat role in Iraq. It was a bitter milestone seven years after US troops marched into Baghdad hoping to reshape the Middle East.
Obama's predecessor, George W. Bush, staked his legacy on his decision to topple the Iraqi regime. Bush argued that the invasion would encourage democratic reform in the region and ultimately strengthen American interests and security. But the Middle East is more unstable and combustible than it was when US forces invaded Iraq in March 2003. Iraq did not become a beacon of democracy, nor did it create a domino effect that toppled other dictatorial regimes. Instead, the war has unleashed a new wave of sectarian hatred and upset the Persian Gulf's strategic balance, helping Iran consolidate its role as the dominant regional power.
Obama tried to shift America's attention to its weak economy and other domestic issues, even as 50,000 soldiers remain in Iraq. (Those troops will train and advise the Iraqi military, and provide backup when necessary.) “We have sent our young men and women to make enormous sacrifices in Iraq, and spent vast resources abroad at a time of tight budgets at home,” Obama said in an address from the Oval Office. “Now, it's time to turn the page.”