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Don’t risk setbacks in Iraq

No issue was more important to the candidacy of Barack Obama than the war in Iraq.

Obama was alone among the major Democratic and Republican presidential candidates in consistently opposing the U.S. operation to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein. And his pledge to remove combat troops from Iraq within 16 months of taking office resonated strongly with the American people.

Making decisions as commander in chief is far different from making promises on the campaign trail. National interests are far more important than partisan political interests.

Which is why President Obama shouldn’t be concerned about the criticism he is catching from some anti-war activists about the fine print in his recently announced Iraq policy.

That policy, created in consultation with military leaders, will largely remove combat troops over 19 months, not 16 months. The pace of withdrawal will be far slower than the one or two combat brigades per month candidate Obama had pledged.

A 50,000-man residual force will remain in Iraq beyond Aug. 31, 2010, far larger than opponents had expected. While that force may not technically consist of any combat brigades, it’s clear that a contingent that big will have combat capability.

Obama’s plan wisely takes into account the delicate security situation in Iraq. A precipitous withdrawal could squander the hard-won gains of soldiers and Marines over the last two years that have given Iraqi leaders and institutions breathing room to build their own political and security institutions.

In the end, Obama’s plan is largely consistent with the spirit of his campaign pledges and the Status of Forces Agreement hammered out last year by Iraqi and American negotiators. The agreement requires all U.S. forces to leave Iraq by the end of 2011.

A decent end to the American intervention in Iraq is now within sight. It would be a foolish and costly mistake to allow the rhetoric of a candidate to hamper a president and jeopardize a positive outcome.

-San Antonio Express-News