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Obama’s Abandonment of Iraq

Today is the day when Democrats are touting at their convention all of President Obama’s foreign policy achievements. Iraq will be mentioned frequently but only in the context of “ending the war.” Of the endgame in Iraq, little will be said—and for good reason: By not achieving an accord to keep U.S. troops in Iraq past 2011 (for want of will on his own part, I would argue), President Obama has effectively abandoned this country where the U.S.—with the support of Obama’s own secretary of state and convention speaker John Kerry, among other Democratic heavyweights—made such a heavy commitment over the course of the past decade.

In The Daily Beast, Eli Lake speaks with one of those we left behind —Sheikh Ahamd Abu Risha, brother of the slain sheikh who started the Anbar Awakening that turned Sunnis against Al Qaeda and helped the U.S. to avert a looming defeat. Four years ago candidate Obama visited Iraq and told Abu Risha and other tribal leaders that the U.S. would never leave them in the lurch. Lake writes:

“President Obama said he would not forget all the sacrifices that were made,” he said. “Now we look back at that meeting and we think it was political propaganda. What he said, we don’t see it happening”….

He said U.S. military leaders assured him he would receive regular visits from senior figures and diplomats to discuss the relationship that began in Anbar back in 2006 and 2007. “There is no contact right now,” he said. “They don’t visit at all. Ever since the United States withdrew, we haven’t gotten anyone to visit.”

Why the lack of contact? Lake quotes Jim Jeffrey, the last US ambassador in Baghdad (a position currently unfilled), as follows:

Jeffrey, who left his post as ambassador at the end of May, said the meetings have not yet happened because without the U.S. military in Iraq it’s difficult for U.S. officials to travel to Anbar. “We have every intention of maintaining contact with the awakening and other people,” Jeffrey said. “We had several meetings after the military completed its withdrawal with tribal sheikhs from the greater Baghdad area, but it’s been hard to get people out to Anbar because of the security situation.”

No surprise, that lack of contact and travel; it was precisely what numerous observers, including me, expected would happen when U.S. troops would pull out. But State Department and administration spokesmen spent years assuring anyone who would listen that even with the troops gone, a mega-embassy relying on some 15,000 contractors could continue to carry on vital missions. Now the falsity of those claims has been starkly revealed: U.S. diplomats, devoid of military support for transportation, find it hard to get out of their own embassy in the old Green Zone, thus leaving the old Awakening leaders to find for themselves even as Prime Minister Maliki’s increasingly sectarian security forces increasingly persecute high-profile Sunnis including Vice President Tariq al Hashemi.

Having pulled our troops out, Obama has taken American influence out of Iraq too, giving the Iranians and their proxies a free hand. Thus, despite U.S. protests, the Maliki government is apparently allowing Iranian aircraft to overfly its air space to provide aid to the murderous Assad regime in Syria. The U.S. pullout has had other parlous consequences including allowing Al Qaeda in Iraq, once on the verge of annihilation, to stage a resurgence and to carry out fresh waves of bombings this year.

Iraq is not a geopolitical disaster, at least not yet; it is managing to muddle through in many years and even to increase oil production. But it is hard to avoid a sinking feeling that the Awakening leaders and our other allies in Iraq will not fare well in the years ahead in a country that is turning increasingly authoritarian under a hard-line Shiite leader. They have been abandoned just like the Hungarians, South Vietnamese, and other friends of America over the years. That is a part of the president’s record you won’t hear about at the convention.


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