Max describes at some length just how badly the White House fumbled the Status of Forces Agreement negotiations that would have enabled our forces to stay in Iraq. The sticking point was the Iraqis’ refusal to grant legal immunity to U.S. forces, which Max points out was nothing new. Bahgdad had raised similar objections during the 2008 SOFA negotiations under President Bush, and the Bush administration had managed to persuade the Iraqis to grant immunity.
Bluntly put, one of two things is true. Either the Obama administration did not want to keep our troops stationed in Iraq or it was unable to prevail upon the Iraqis to grant immunity as the Bush administration had. If it’s the former, then the president and his staff dismissed the concerns of our military commanders and strategists, all of whom insisted we must maintain a military presence in the country, and instead chose to leave Iraq to the tender mercies of the Iranian mullahs. If it’s the latter, then the Obama administration is – by definition – orders of magnitude less diplomatically competent than the Bush administration. The fiasco certainly speaks poorly of the White House’s gratingly self-professed Smart Power.
There doesn’t really seem to be a third option. Either they wouldn’t or they couldn’t. The Bush administration wanted to and did.
As to what the actual answer is, there are obviously arguments on both sides. But it seems like the public evidence leans toward incompetence, inasmuch as there’s a pile of statements showing the White House tried to secure a SOFA and a pattern of Iraqi behavior showing utter disregard for other parts of the administration’s regional policy. The Obama administration simply got steamrolled by Iraq, just like they’ve been steamrolled in other forums.
Now the rest of the world is rushing to fill the vacuum we’re leaving behind.
Turkey is establishing a permanent military presence in Iraq, part of a broader and deliberate campaign to bring portions of the country under its control. Iran doesn’t really need to send in troops to physically occupy Iraqi territory, given that the same IRGC agents who tried to orchestrate the Washington, D.C., assassination of Saudi Ambassador Adel al Jubeir also run anti-U.S. military operations in Iraq. There are even reports that Hamas is getting involved on the ground. Only we’re leaving with our tails between our legs.
Obama and the rest of the foreign policy left spent a decade insisting the war in Iraq was a failure. Now they’re going to make sure of it.