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The End of OIF

4/2 SBCT rides out.

The 4th Stryker Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division, which left Iraq this week, was the final U.S. combat brigade to be pulled out of the country....

"Operation Iraqi Freedom ends on your watch!" exclaimed Col. John Norris, the head of the brigade.

"Hooah!" the soldiers roared, using an Army battle cry.

Shortly before midnight Saturday, a group of infantrymen boarded Stryker fighting vehicles, left an increasingly sparse base behind and began scanning the sides of a desolate highway for bombs. For many veterans, including some who made the same trip in the opposite direction years ago under fire, it was a fitting way to exit.

"They're leaving as heroes," Norris said of his soldiers. "I want them to walk home with pride in their hearts."

They are heroes.  The advise and assist brigades, and the strong Special Operations contingent, remain behind for a time.  It's a strange war that ends this way; but as Clausewitz said, war is the continuation of politics by other means.  We're moving from war to a very tense political environment.  That's more or less what we should expect.  What comes next?  Either compromise arises that allows tensions to ramp down, so that the political takes over from the war; or it goes the other way, and war blooms anew from the failure of politics.

At some point we were going to have to run this risk.  It's a shame that we couldn't do more to tamp down the political conflicts before we got here.  Still, the administration has a contingency plan.

As the United States military prepares to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, the Obama administration is planning a remarkable civilian effort, buttressed by a small army of contractors, to fill the void.
I've read that poem.  Mostly, of course, they'll be the same guys who were there before in other uniforms; this time, in the service of diplomats instead of generals.  This time no one will call them heroes, and when they leave, or when they die, no one will notice.