At a press conference today, President Obama set the record straight on the Republican claim that the current crisis in Iraq was his fault because he didn’t leave combat troops in the country. Obama called the entire Republican analysis “bogus and wrong.”
Q Mr. President, do you have any second thoughts about pulling all ground troops out of Iraq? And does it give you pause as the U.S. — is it doing the same thing in Afghanistan?
THE PRESIDENT: What I just find interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up, as if this was my decision. Under the previous administration, we had turned over the country to a sovereign, democratically elected Iraqi government. In order for us to maintain troops in Iraq, we needed the invitation of the Iraqi government and we needed assurances that our personnel would be immune from prosecution if, for example, they were protecting themselves and ended up getting in a firefight with Iraqis, that they wouldn’t be hauled before an Iraqi judicial system.
And the Iraqi government, based on its political considerations, in part because Iraqis were tired of a U.S. occupation, declined to provide us those assurances. And on that basis, we left. We had offered to leave additional troops. So when you hear people say, do you regret, Mr. President, not leaving more troops, that presupposes that I would have overridden this sovereign government that we had turned the keys back over to and said, you know what, you’re democratic, you’re sovereign, except if I decide that it’s good for you to keep 10,000 or 15,000 or 25,000 Marines in your country, you don’t have a choice — which would have kind of run contrary to the entire argument we were making about turning over the country back to Iraqis, an argument not just made by me, but made by the previous administration.
So let’s just be clear: The reason that we did not have a follow-on force in Iraq was because the Iraqis were — a majority of Iraqis did not want U.S. troops there, and politically they could not pass the kind of laws that would be required to protect our troops in Iraq.
Having said all that, if in fact the Iraqi government behaved the way it did over the last five, six years, where it failed to pass legislation that would reincorporate Sunnis and give them a sense of ownership; if it had targeted certain Sunni leaders and jailed them; if it had alienated some of the Sunni tribes that we had brought back in during the so-called Awakening that helped us turn the tide in 2006 — if they had done all those things and we had had troops there, the country wouldn’t be holding together either. The only difference would be we’d have a bunch of troops on the ground that would be vulnerable. And however many troops we had, we would have to now be reinforcing, I’d have to be protecting them, and we’d have a much bigger job. And probably, we would end up having to go up again in terms of the number of grounds troops to make sure that those forces were not vulnerable.
So that entire analysis is bogus and is wrong. But it gets frequently peddled around here by folks who oftentimes are trying to defend previous policies that they themselves made.
As soon as President Obama announced the airstrikes and humanitarian mission, the Republican criticism began with accusing the president of causing this problem by not leaving combat troops in Iraq. President Obama was correct. The Iraqi government no longer wanted U.S. troops in their country.
Time magazine described the Iraqis’ desire to get the U.S. troops out, “But ending the U.S. troop presence in Iraq was an overwhelmingly popular demand among Iraqis, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki appears to have been unwilling to take the political risk of extending it. While he was inclined to see a small number of American soldiers stay behind to continue mentoring Iraqi forces, the likes of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, on whose support Maliki’s ruling coalition depends, were having none of it. Even the Obama Administration’s plan to keep some 3,000 trainers behind failed because the Iraqis were unwilling to grant them the legal immunity from local prosecution that is common to SOF agreements in most countries where U.S. forces are based.”
When the Iraqi government refuse to grant U.S. troops immunity from local prosecution, that was a deal breaker.
A big point that Republicans overlook is that it was George W. Bush who signed the Status of Forces Agreement that set the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in motion. When President Bush signed the agreement in December of 2008, he said, “We’re also signing a Security Agreement, sometimes called a Status of Forces Agreement. The agreement provides American troops and Defense Department officials with authorizations and protections to continue supporting Iraq’s democracy once the U.N. mandate expires at the end of this year. This agreement respects the sovereignty and the authority of Iraq’s democracy. The agreement lays out a framework for the withdrawal of American forces in Iraq — a withdrawal that is possible because of the success of the surge.”
The Republican plan, to the extent that there was one, always involved keeping a lid on the conflicts inside Iraq with U.S. combat troops for as long as it takes. The problem was that the Iraqis wanted the troops out, and the American people wanted the troops home. The Bush administration was trying to clean up their legacy by signing the Status of Forces Agreement.
The instability in Iraq was caused by the Bush decision to launch a war of choice. Republicans can’t pass off their own failed war in Iraq on Obama. It is interesting that the same Republican Party that claims to love freedom is so willing to violate the freedom of the Iraqi people by forcing combat troops on them.
The inescapable truth for Republicans is that President Obama is still cleaning up after Bush’s failed war.
Mr. Easley is the managing editor. He is also a White House Press Pool and a Congressional correspondent for PoliticusUSA. Jason has a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science. His graduate work focused on public policy, with a specialization in social reform movements.
Awards and Professional Memberships
Member of the Society of Professional Journalists and The American Political Science Association