This (past) week's syndicated column:
The last hot meal to be served at Camp Victory, the largest of 505 military bases once operated by the United States in Iraq, was a Thanksgiving dinner on Nov. 20. Cooks served more than 2,000 pounds of turkey and more than 3,000 pounds of mashed potatoes to 6,000-plus military personnel.
Doing the dishes this time also meant shutting down the kitchen. That's because Camp Victory, one of only 10 U.S. bases still in operation, will be closed soon. According to the agreement signed in 2008 by President George W. Bush and implemented by President Barack Obama, the U.S. military in Iraq is coming home.
Praises be. So what if the U.S. withdrawal comes only after Obama was unable to convince Iraq to extend its welcome under tenable conditions? I'll take it, and give thanks. I am very sorry Camp Victory troops are on cold rations until they finally return stateside next month, but I am thankful to be able to see the day when they will have left Iraq – taking all of their Christian religious posters and symbols from base chapels with them, according to the New York Times.
This withdrawal will mark the end of a misguided misadventure to convert, in a zealously secular and even philo-Islamic way, a member of the Islamic world to the ways of the West. Despite the courage, dedication and sacrifice of American and allied troops, despite the so-called surge, despite the endless (and endlessly expensive) attempts to win Iraqi "hearts and minds," it was a flop.
The top American spokesman in Iraq, Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, can spin all he wants – "It's not about winning or losing but making significant progress" – but this eight-year "counterinsurgency" didn't work. It was a failure – unless, of course, you're Iran. To borrow from the great Winston Churchill, also unenthralled with the British misadventure in Iraq in the year 1922, we have been paying billions of dollars "for the privilege of living on an ungrateful volcano out of which we are in no circumstances to get anything worth having."
In Afghanistan, meanwhile, no preparations for departure are so clearly evident. For the time being, the U.S. military's per diem costs – an estimated $350 million just to get U.S. forces fed and in the field every day – are still effectively open-ended. In fact, Afghan President Hamid Karzai has just presided over a gathering of the clans, a "loya jirga" assembly of some 2,000 Afghans, who have produced a list of conditions for a continuing American presence.
Here, culled from different news sources, is a list of the loya jirga's conditions: 1) no more immunity from Afghan law for U.S. forces; 2) no more night raids by U.S. forces; 3) no more "arbitrary" detention of Afghan suspects; 4) no more U.S. detention centers; 5) transfer Afghan detainees to Afghan detention centers; 6) a capped 10-year limit to any pact with the United States; 7) Afghans must lead all security missions after 2014; 8) the United States should commit to training role and "support"; 9) no more U.S.-run "parallel" structures to handle contracting and other matters; rather, America should support Afghan institutions; and 10) no U.S. attacks on neighbors from Afghan soil.
Can you say "rent-a-cop"?
No wonder Karzai is so enthused. "I absolutely agree with it," Karzai said of the loya jirga's list of terms, as McClatchy Newspapers reported. "We would never allow any foreign country to use our soil for causing harm to our neighbors," he added. Love thy non-infidel neighbors, Iran and Pakistan – the default-affinity that is a basic stumbling block to U.S.-Afghan alliance.
But still Karzai wants more. "The U.S. wants military installations from us. We will give those to them. But we have conditions for this. We will benefit from this. Our soldiers will be trained. Our police will be trained. We will benefit from their money."
It's one thing for yet another "ungrateful volcano" to scheme so, cold and numb to the blood and sacrifice of tens of thousands of Americans, even in this season of Thanksgiving. What I want to know is why we put up with it.