HKS’ Meghan O’Sullivan makes case for continued U.S. engagement in Iraq

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The United States is ending its combat mission in Iraq, but the U.S. will remain involved in helping the country transition to a stable and peaceful democracy. That was the message delivered by President Obama in a nationwide address August 31.

“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,” the president told the American people. “Through this remarkable chapter in the history of the United States and Iraq, we have met our responsibility. Now, it’s time to turn the page.”

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began on March 20, 2003. At one point more than 250,000 coalition forces were stationed in Iraq although fewer than 50,000 American soldiers remain. Meghan O’Sullivan, Harvard Kennedy School Kirkpatrick Professor of the Practice of International Affairs, who served as special assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser for Iraq and Afghanistan from 2004 to 2007, says a hasty retreat from Iraq would undermine U.S. long-term interests.

“Despite the fact that many Americans might want to see the end of U.S. involvement in Iraq, U.S. interests in Iraq are substantial and the prospects for success in that country are still significantly uncertain enough that continued U.S. engagement is an imperative,” she says.