AS THE end of 2011 approached, the Obama administration appeared positioned to have presided over three definitive foreign-policy outcomes in the broader Middle East for which it could claim substantial credit. The death of Osama bin Laden, while not bringing the war against al-Qaeda to an end, surely closed an important chapter in the long-term struggle against militant Islam. Others will rise to take bin Laden’s place at the top of the al-Qaeda hierarchy, but his death leaves a void in that organization that will be hard to fill.
The death of Muammar el-Qaddafi similarly brings to a close the sometimes odd but almost always violent struggle between the United States and Libya. Washington played an important role in Qaddafi’s downfall and thus helped set the stage for the transition that will follow. Libya may or may not move toward democracy, but at least it is free of one of the world’s most mercurial, brutal and enduring dictators.
Finally, the withdrawal of U.S. combat troops from Iraq looks to bring about a new stage in the nearly ten-year war. There is already a healthy debate about the purposes, costs and outcomes of this war, one which helped bankrupt our treasury in pursuit of objectives that even the Bush administration had trouble defining. But with that chapter’s conclusion, 2012 will usher in an opportunity for Iraq to make its own way, absent American forces on the ground.