After eight and a half years of war in Iraq, President Obama has announced that our military will be out of Iraq by Dec 31, except for security forces guarding our diplomats, and the possibility of a yet-to-be-negotiated deployment of trainers for the Iraqi security forces. The US is leaving the field with zero clarity about why we were there, or what we accomplished, and for that reason the main message of Iraq may be lost. That message is that Iraq was a mistake.

In the State Department I once worked for a Republican appointee, Robert Kimmitt who was Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs in the George H.W. Bush Administration during the Gulf war. Behind his desk he had an artillery shell from the war in Vietnam, where he had served on active duty. I can’t quote him, but clearly he did not think Vietnam was a mistake. War was noble. Victory was possible.

We may never know what the real reasons for Iraq invasion were, certainly not the manufactured Weapons of Mass Destruction (to be fair, Saddam would have liked to have been manufacturing them) or setting Iraq as a beacon of democracy in the Middle East. At least three months before the invasion the press virtually shut down talking about the war. The military had determined the US must invade by March before the weather got too hot. This tends to support the idea that the most likely reason for the war was a Cheney-led drive to prove that the US was the single power hegemon that could do as it wished and, quite explicitly in the case of Iraq, cheaply. Iraq was a test.

With this murky history, Republicans will hardly have to make an effort to blame Obama for anything that goes wrong, there will be such a large grab bag of unprovables. The Washington Post editorial October 23 started in on manufacturing the framework by highlighting “risks” of Obama’s decision. “Iran will be handed a crucial strategic advantage.” “A potentially invaluable U.S. alliance with an emerging Iraqi democracy will wither.” Almost anything that moves in the region could be used to “prove” those two points.

However, cheer up. For one, Iraq isn’t lost; it will be an oil rich country struggling with sectarian and regional splits within recognizably democratic institutions. It’s neighbor Iran will be the country that is weak and isolated from the international community. Second, the ignorance of the Republican base may save Obama from a “who lost Iraq” charge. Obama’s record in killing al Qaida leaders will block the charge that he is “weak”. And for the rest, the Republicans, and the country more generally have lost interest.