I largely agree with Max Boot’s post from Friday evening. Hezbollah operative Ali Musa Daqduq’s release from an Iraqi prison and apparent return to Lebanon is a rebuff for President Barack Obama. Certainly, his release is a sign of Iranian pressure on both Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki personally and on Iraq in general. While it’s easy to blame Maliki, with American forces withdrawn and so little ability to counter Iranian pressure, his options were limited. Certainly, he might have extradited Daqduq, but having been thrown to the Iranian wolves, doing so might have engendered a response Maliki feared more than Joe Biden’s bluster. For what it’s worth, the Prime Minister’s Office released a statement here explaining its decision.
Let me say that I hope there is a Predator with Daqduq’s name on it. If a targeted assassination happens to take out his known associates, all the better. Let’s hope that the intelligence community has the ability to track Daqduq, and that Obama has the wherewithal to order such a strike. The alternative would be waiting around until, with tongue firmly in cheek, Islamist mobs again become enraged at a YouTube video and spontaneously conduct a man-made disaster.
Rather than wring hands with outrage at Maliki—any Iraqi prime minister in the same position would likely make the same decision, even Ayad Allawi—the question that the American audience and someone in Congress should ask is why, if the United States wanted to try Daqduq for terrorism and murder, they would not just keep him in the first place. That is certainly a quip I heard from Maliki’s inner circle last month in Baghdad. State Department and Pentagon lawyers might fall over themselves talking about the letter of law and process, but by doing so they lost track of the greater American interest for an artificial and debatable intellectual point.
When lawyers lose perspective and a sense of scale, American national security suffers. Iraq didn’t want to be caught in the middle. Had we simply kept Daqduq, as we should have, they would have shrugged their shoulders and told their Iranian neighbors that he was no longer Iraq’s problem. There is, of course, a certain hypocrisy as well when the Americans urge the Iraqis to cast aside their own judicial process, however flawed it might have been, when the Americans could have resolved the situation just as easily. The simple fact is this: President Obama, Secretary of State Clinton, and Secretary of Defense Panetta had a choice: Keep Daqduq or let him go. They chose the latter, just as much as Maliki did. And for that, they are just as culpable as the Iraqi leader.