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Cost of Political Posturing in Iraq

Cost of Political Posturing in Iraq

President Obama’s withdrawal for American troops from Iraq was the result of political calculations; not strategic thinking.

At the end of October the New York Times hailed President Obama’s foreign policy as “pragmatic,” while largely ignoring the consequences.

The two month old article was written by the White House reporter, but a recent article written from Beirut, Power Vacuum in Middle East Lifts Militants paints a somewhat less flattering picture of the administration’s foreign policy.

For the first time since the American troop withdrawal of 2011, fighters from a Qaeda affiliate have recaptured Iraqi territory. In the past few days they have seized parts of the two biggest cities in Anbar Province, where the government, which the fighters revile as a tool of Shiite Iran, struggles to maintain a semblance of authority.

Lebanon has seen two deadly car bombs, including one that killed a senior political figure and American ally.

In Syria, the tempo of violence has increased, with hundreds of civilians killed by bombs dropped indiscriminately on houses and markets.

Linking all this mayhem is an increasingly naked appeal to the atavistic loyalties of clan and sect. Foreign powers’ imposing agendas on the region, and the police-state tactics of Arab despots, had never allowed communities to work out their long-simmering enmities. But these divides, largely benign during times of peace, have grown steadily more toxic since the Iranian revolution of 1979. The events of recent years have accelerated the trend, as foreign invasions and the recent round of Arab uprisings left the state weak, borders blurred, and people resorting to older loyalties for safety.

I find it interesting that the reporters here trace the schisms of the Middle East to the Iranian revolution; the regime that the Obama administration has, in fact, has turned to for help. There’s one country I mean to focus on here. Later the article reports:

For all the attention paid to Syria over the past three years, Iraq’s slow disintegration also offers a vivid glimpse of the region’s bloody sectarian dynamic. In March 2012, Anthony Blinken, who is now President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, gave a speech echoing the White House’s rosy view of Iraq’s prospects after the withdrawal of American forces.

Iraq, Mr. Blinken said, was “less violent, more democratic and more prosperous” than “at any time in recent history.”

But the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, was already pursuing an aggressive campaign against Sunni political figures that infuriated Iraq’s Sunni minority. Those sectarian policies and the absence of American ground and air forces gave Al Qaeda in Iraq, a local Sunni insurgency that had become a spent force, a golden opportunity to rebuild its reputation as a champion of the Sunnis both in Iraq and in neighboring Syria. Violence in Iraq grew steadily over the following year.

Note the qualification here “after the withdrawal of American forces.”

Max Boot observes in lamenting Iraq’s Squandered Opportunity:

There was nothing inevitable about the resurgence of al-Qaeda in Iraq. If the U.S. had kept troops in Iraq after 2011 and if Prime Minister Maliki had pursued more inclusive policies toward the Sunnis, AQI would have remained defeated, in all likelihood.

While Boot directs most of his criticism at Maliki, he is clear that the precipitous withdrawal of American troops played a role in undermining Iraq’s security.

Charles Krauthammer was more explicit Who Lost Iraq?

U.S. commanders recommended nearly 20,000 troops, considerably fewer than our 28,500 in Korea, 40,000 in Japan and 54,000 in Germany. The president rejected those proposals, choosing instead a level of 3,000 to 5,000 troops.

In other words the administration rejected the military’s advice and now Iraq (and the greater Middle East) is paying the price.

The forthcoming book from former Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates sheds some light on President Obama’s thinking.

Yesterday, in PJTatler, Bryan Preston quoted a passage from the book.

“Hillary told the president that her opposition to the [2007] surge in Iraq had been political because she was facing him in the Iowa primary. . . . The president conceded vaguely that opposition to the Iraq surge had been political. To hear the two of them making these admissions, and in front of me, was as surprising as it was dismaying.”

Preston rightly observes:

The same cavalier attitude is playing out again, as Islamists sweep the Middle East and Iraq falls apart thanks to Obama’s premature retreat from the country, and he allows anti-war politics coupled with his own tilt toward some Islamist factions to drive his moves. Obama’s whole approach to the war against al Qaeda has been to claim victory while sounding retreat.

[Photo: Department of Defense / YouTube ]


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See, the truth is, that Obama just straight up doesn’t care about Al Qaeda or terrorism.

He looks at the War on Terror as something tiresome that he has to pay lip service to every now and then to placate the stupid warmongering rednecks.

His strategy in Iraq AND Afghanistan has been political from day one. He doesn’t care about defeating Al-Qaeda, and he certainly doesn’t care about Iraq now that he’s thrown them to the wolves.

He was planning to just immediately withdraw all troops because in his liberal echo chamber, he thought WAR FOR OIL = BAD. Then he suddenly realized Afghanistan had a lot of support, and you could literally watch him flounder around and essentially thinking, “Wait, what worked in Iraq. I think it was ‘Surge’, right? Well I’ll just throw some troops at the problem, call it a ‘Surge’, and the stupid warmongers will be happy. I’ll just wait until after I get re-elected to pull everybody. Not like we’re actually accomplishing anything, right?”

You may not agree with Bush’s decision to invade Iraq, but you can at least be sure that he THOUGHT he was doing the right thing and taking the fight to the terrorists.

Obama, on the other hand, wasted the blood of thousands of our military because it made him look good.

Part of the reason why we didn’t keep forces in Iraq was that the U.S. and Iraq couldn’t agree on a “Status of Forces” agreement. As I recall (not having the relevant articles in front of me), part of the problem was that Iraq wanted our troops to be held responsible in their courts for any crimes committed while in Iraq, whereas (as is typical in South Korea and Germany) we wanted our troops to be held accountable in a US military court if they committed a crime.

One can understand that our military didn’t quite trust the Iraqi legal system.

We might have been able to get this done with some sort of compromise. However, Champ wanted us out of Iraq completely (as Mr. Gerstman and commenter Olinser above note), and al-Maliki wanted a free hand to go after the Sunnis. If one considers much of al-Maliki’s political party to be hat-in-hand with the Iranians, it all begins to make sense.

So now Iraq is unraveling. Miss us yet?

    David Gerstman in reply to stevewhitemd. | January 8, 2014 at 11:49 am

    stevewhitemd I do recall the legal point that you mentioned, but there may be more. From what I’ve read, Biden was credited with botching the negotiations. Here’s Max Boot:
    The U.S. lost most of its leverage to do that when it foolishly pulled its troops out of Iraq at the end of 2011 after the failure of halfhearted negotiations overseen by Vice President Joe Biden .

      I also think that Maliki’s demand for US troops to be bound by Iraqi laws was a bargaining chip, but Obama and Biden weren’t interested in negotiating, and hence used that as an excuse to pull out.

      stevewhitemd in reply to David Gerstman. | January 8, 2014 at 4:38 pm

      David, thanks for the reply (feel free to call me Steve), and to DougV. I did a little reading and yes, Maliki was pushing for that demand as part of the Status Agreement, which we wouldn’t do. Still not clear to me whether it was a ‘red line’ for our military or whether it was a useful excuse for us not to go further in the negotiations — perhaps some of each?

      I do think a President Bush, McCain or Romney would have worked out a reasonable compromise, or found a way to get Maliki to bend.

    Obama sending Biden to negotiate the SOFA is clear indication of how much he wanted one.

It’s almost as if this administration is completely clueless about foreign policy, and is stubbornly clinging to the naivete that those who do not make decisions can afford to cultivate. I mean, you can be all “Iraq is an illegal war” when you’re just a junior Senator from Illinois and nobody listens to or holds you accountable for your child-like wailing, but when you’re president and your policy choices carry life-and-death ramifications, you’re supposed to consider the consequences of your actions. That’s called “growing in office”, and unlike the SCOTUS variety, is probably desirable.

Henry Hawkins | January 8, 2014 at 12:14 pm

Not to minimize the cynicism and ineptitudes of the Obama administration, but it is a given that political considerations supercede all others with this bunch. We could reframe the subtitle thus:

“President Obama’s _______________ (fill in the blank) was the result of political calculations; not strategic thinking.”

2nd Ammendment Mother | January 8, 2014 at 4:54 pm

Seems like this is what should follow Gates quotes:
“In total, 2,144 U.S. military personnel have given their lives fighting in and around Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

1,575 of the U.S. military personnel who have sacrificed their lives in this cause were killed during the presidency of Barack Obama. That means 73 percent of the casualties in the Afghan War have happened on Barack Obama’s watch. Under President George W. Bush, from 2001 until Jan. 20, 2009, 569 U.S. military personnel were killed in and around Afghanistan fighting in Operation Enduring Freedom.”

BannedbytheGuardian | January 8, 2014 at 6:36 pm

Try not to get blinded by the term “surge” which was only part of the ISG (Iraqui Study Group’s ) recommendations.

whilst many nations were dragged into Iraq most did infrastructure /liason /peacekeeping efforts in the majority of Iraq that was more benign. USA had Bagdhad & Britain had Basra.

Nobody else would go into Bagdhad before or after the Insurrection of 2006 hence only USA increased its numbers. other nations were pulling out even then because their roatation was finished or they just got out ? felt their job was finished which in mos cases with a peaceful locale it was..

There were other measures taken eg the Belfast style physical separation of Sunni /Shiite districts in Bagdhad. Also the Sunni ‘tribes ‘ were bribed with weapons & money to lay off. This they did temporarily bcause with weapons they were in a better position to defend themselves against rogue (& state ) militias.

IMO the rot really began with Gordon Bremer who sacked every Ba’aathist & the entire army . better handled at this junction is like what could have been in the US civil war.

Occupation powers really need to be smart & mostly they are . we have come through worse wars & not relapsed.