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A Crimson Stain on the Obama Presidency

On the matter of the Obama administration’s announcement that all of our roughly 40,000 troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year, a few thoughts:

1. Liberals who opposed the war and hated President Bush are now defending President Obama’s decision by arguing that the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), signed during the Bush presidency, set the end of 2011 as the official end of American involvement in Iraq. To gain a deeper understanding of matters, let’s turn to the New York Times , hardly a pro-Bush media outlet, on this matter: “At the end of the Bush administration, when the Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, was negotiated, setting 2011 as the end of the United States’ military role, officials had said the deadline was set for political reasons, to put a symbolic end to the occupation and establish Iraq’s sovereignty. But there was an understanding, a senior official here [in Baghdad] said, that a sizeable American force would stay in Iraq beyond that date.” The Times went on to report, “Through the summer, American officials continued to assume that the agreement would be amended, and Mr. Obama was willing to support a continued military presence.”

2. The U.S. commander in Iraq, General Lloyd Austin, had requested that as many as 18,000 troops remain in Iraq. But as was the case in Afghanistan, America’s community-organizer-in-chief overruled his military advisers.

3. There are multiple, compelling reasons General Austin wanted nearly 20,000 troops to remain in Iraq, including reducing Iran’s influence in Iraq; keeping the different factions in Iraq from violently turning on each other; maintaining American leverage on the government in Baghdad and within the region; and ensuring that
al-Qaeda doesn’t once again set its roots in Iraq.

Iraq remains a fragile nation and militarily vulnerable (including lacking air and naval power and intelligence assets). There are reasons Iraqi leaders said privately they wanted America to maintain a military presence in Iraq. John Burns, the Pulitzer-Prize-winning foreign correspondent who spent five years in Iraq, told Hugh Hewitt about his reaction to the Obama announcement: “It’s a sense of foreboding for Iraq, because I have very little confidence that the center can hold there without the tripwire that American troops represent. They were and remain, until December the 31st, the final guarantor of a constitutional process, flawed as it may be, in Iraq. When they’re gone, I think all bets are off.”

When asked by Hewitt if he sees a potential for the return of the 2006 civil war, Burns said this: “I do. I do see that potential. I just noticed … that one of the Iraqi groups, insurgent groups, al Qaeda-linked groups, is claiming that they killed 60 people in Baghdad in the last ten days. The tempo of atrocities is on the rise again. And I think a lot of guns have been holstered, waiting for Americans to go.”

The guns are about to be unholstered.

4. Negotiating with the Iraqi leadership isn’t easy, as anyone who has dealt with them can tell you. But the Obama administration made diplomatic error after diplomatic error over the issue of granting immunity to American troops. The administration “misread Iraqi politics and the Iraqi public,” in the words of the Times, and forced the Iraqis to take a public stand on a deeply contentious and divisive issue. The administration’s diplomacy was so inept, in fact, that one can reasonably conclude the White House half wanted this whole effort to fail so Obama could simply wash his hands of a war he never supported in the first place.

5. Even if one was a critic of the war at its outset, as Barack Obama was, we are where we are. The war has been waged, the money has been spent, the lives have been lost. Those are the awful consequences of war, both the justified and the unjustified ones. The burning question facing the Obama administration was whether it would
parley the sacrifices of America into a strategic advantage for us. Would we strengthen our position by having
helped to establish, and maintain a presence in, a relatively stable, self-governing Arab nation that was a strategic ally? The answer was delivered to us last Friday, in words that (stunningly) took pride in an American defeat. I can’t recall an American president taking such delight in such a disturbing turn of events for our nation’s security interests.

It would take a book, not a blog post, to chart the massive missteps and errors and missed opportunities of the Obama presidency. But I would wager that when we look back, events will lead us to conclude Obama’s role in losing the Iraq war (and not only the Iraq war) will rank very high among them. I hope I am wrong. But if I am right, then the fact that two difficult wars, in which successful outcomes were possible, were lost — in large measure for partisan political gain, in order to help secure his re-election — will leave a crimson stain on the Obama presidency.



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