After President Obama announced that all U.S. troops would be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of the year, his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, tried to assure the world that the U.S. was not abandoning Iraq:
“As we open this new chapter in a relationship with a sovereign Iraq, to the Iraqis we say: America is with you as you take your next steps in your journey to secure your democracy,” Mrs. Clinton told reporters in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. “And to the countries in the region, especially Iraq’s neighbors, we want to emphasize that America will stand with our allies and friends, including Iraq, in defense of our security and interests.”
Her words ring hollow because no amount of diplomatic activity can replace the stabilizing function that U.S. troops could perform.
In any case U.S. diplomatic activity in post-2011 Iraq is going to be a lot less than it’s cracked up to be, with the New York Times noting that plans to open consulates in Mosul and Kirkuk–the two biggest cities in northern Iraq — have been shelved. Training programs for the Iraqi police and army are also being scaled back. That will leave the U.S. with only two consulates, in Basra and Erbil, and the embassy in Baghdad. But the ability of our diplomats to move around or stay in touch with developments on the ground will be severely limited because there will be no military personnel to support them. Security contractors cannot fully fill the gap. The result will be that the U.S. will lose intelligence and influence in Iraq while our enemies in Iran will gain at our expense.
What message does that send? Surely not that “America will stand with our allies and friends.” Rather it suggests that President Obama is willing to sacrifice allies and friends in order to enhance his prospects of reelection–so that he can face voters by claiming to have fulfilled his campaign pledge to “end the war.” (As if one side can unilaterally declare a war to be at an end.)
Afghanistan, watch out: This important ally (which I am now visiting) could be next, with President Obama likely to order an ever steeper troop reduction next year than the one he announced a few months ago.