You’ve got to hand it to President Obama. To be able to look the camera square in the eye and declare that retreat from Iraq is victory, failure is success, and emboldening an implacable enemy is in our national interest, is a feat worthy of a snake oil salesman.
What the president is selling, however, is a far more potent and deadly poison: the nonsensical belief that the vital interests of America should be subsumed to the nebulous doctrine that Iraq – and by extension the rest of the Middle East – will be a better, more secure place without American troops. This, despite ample evidence that the influence of Iran will be unchecked in what is still a nascent democracy, struggling with divisions and factions that leave it particularly vulnerable to the machinations of the mullahs in Tehran.
In short, the president thought it more important to keep a campaign promise than protect the hard-fought gains of our military, ignoring facts on the ground and even the private pleas from Iraqi leaders in the process.
Now those hollow words and sentiments spoken by the president at a snap news conference called last Friday are going to be put to the test by history. And one needn’t be an expert to envision how, in going against the advice of his generals on the ground (something he railed against President Bush for doing during the 2008 presidential campaign) to maintain a strong US military presence in Iraq, the president’s blunder will lead to an unmitigated disaster to US strategic interests in the region.
Unnecessarily, the president has elevated Iranian prestige to new heights, cheering Tehran’s allies in Syria and Turkey who see any retreat by America in the Middle East as a boon to their hegemonic designs. And while Saudi Arabian ambivalence toward the Shia majority government in Iraq is hard to miss, the Saudis nevertheless fear Iranian designs on their oil fields, and the large Shia minority that inhabits that area of the kingdom. Other Sunni-majority Gulf states look with equal trepidation on an emboldened Iran. The retreat of American troops from Iraq is as much a disaster for them – even if they would never admit it publicly – as it is for the Iraqi people.
An independent Iraq will not survive the president’s perfidy – a betrayal of those who fought, those who died, and those who worked so long to build a civil society shattered by war and sectarian conflict. It is breathtaking in its totality. With one stroke, the administration has assured an enemy who will almost certainly possess nuclear weapons in the near future, a base from which its terrorist proxies will be able to operate. The Iraqi government, which already has demonstrated it can’t – or won’t – resist Iranian interference in its internal affairs, will now achieve full satellite status; an appendage of Iranian policy no more independent than a Medieval vassal state.
The question that we should be asking is how serious was the president in his negotiations with Baghdad to keep a sizable force to train the Iraqi army, and help protect the country from being overwhelmed by the Iranians? According to Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy’s Cable blog, a deal was to be had on the touchy subject of immunity for our soldiers from the capriciousness of the Iraqi justice system, but the administration bungled the negotiations. Rogin quotes Marisa Cochrane Sullivan, managing director at the Institute for the Study of War, as saying, “From the beginning, the talks unfolded in a way where they [were] largely driven by domestic political concerns, both in Washington and Baghdad. Both sides let politics drive the process, rather than security concerns,” she said.
In the president’s case, those domestic political concerns were centered on an angry left-wing base, which has demonstrated a mixed reaction to the news of American withdrawal from Iraq. In a column appearing in The Nation, radical leftist Tom Hayden celebrated the retreat, claiming: “the US pullout will allow President Obama to keep an important promise, and the Iraqi government to defend its sovereign power.” Just how it is going to do that, Hayden neglects to inform us. Every one of Iraq’s neighbors have a far stronger, more organized, and better equipped military.
Hayden also couldn’t resist a parting shot at the military:
But if the withdrawal is completed on schedule, there could be a ceremony in Baghdad far different from the one once envisioned by President Bush when he announced that the mission was accomplished. Who knows—the American forces may even get the red carpet treatment as they leave for home.
Leftist Spencer Ackerman criticized the fact that there will be approximately 5,500 State Department and military security contractors left in Iraq after the pullout. Predictably, Ackerman believes that the contractors should not protect themselves. After several high profile incidents where contractors were attacked and Iraqi civilians were caught in the crossfire, Ackerman writes, “Whether the Iraqi people will have protection from the contractors that the State Department commands is a different question. And whatever you call their operations, the Obama administration hopes that you won’t be so rude as to call it ‘war.’”
Meanwhile, GOP candidates for president expressed universal opposition to the Obama administration’s pullout. “We’ve lost the battle in Iraq with the Iraqi government,” former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum said on “Face the Nation.” “We’ve lost this sphere of influence that we had,” he added.
Rep. Michele Bachmann was outraged at Iraqi’s lack of gratitude. “We are there as the nation that liberated these people,” she said. “And that’s the thanks that the United States is getting? After 4,400 lives were expended and over $800 billion? And so on the way out, we are being kicked out of the country? I think this is absolutely outrageous.”
Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney questions whether the decision was driven purely by politics and added, “President Obama’s astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women.”
The bottom line is if there had been a will, then a way could have been found to keep a strong force in Iraq to deter Iran, police the border that Turkey has recently been violating with impunity in order to get at Kurds who are carrying out terrorist attacks, and be on hand in case sectarian tensions flare again.
But the president chose political expediency over American security interests. It may prove to be a popular decision with many voters who had long ago tired of our commitment to Iraqi security. But what it will mean to the Iraqi people and the elements in Iraqi society who wish to live independently of the Iranian theocracy, will be an entirely different matter.
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