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07 May 2013

Iraq: Obama Turns A Win Into A Loss

By Walter Russell Mead

The Obama administration hoped it could walk away from Iraq without consequences. Unfortunately, this has been far from the case. Nouri al-Maliki’s ever closer ties with Iran have pushed him to support Assad in Syria despite Assad’s earlier support for Sunni and Baathist insurgents in Iraq. At home, Maliki has stoked sectarianism by purging Sunnis from his government and edging right up to open revolt with the Kurds in the north. Things are coming to a head.

The FT‘s editorial page sounds a grave warning:

'The US and its allies, discredited by their blundering in Iraq, have little margin for manoeuvre – and Jalal Talabani, the Iraqi Kurd president they relied on to referee the sectarian jostle, has been felled by a stroke. But they had better concentrate their residual influence to prevent the dissolution of Iraq. At a time when Syria also risks break-up, even the smallest possibility of a cross-border Sunni jihadist emirate linking western Iraq with eastern Syria should be treated as a strategic nightmare.

Iraq could very conceivably get as violent as in Syria itself, opening a major new front in the fierce religious war smoldering all across the fertile crescent. Strategic nightmare is right.'

SoRo:  And, while people like Brayam(ing At The Moon) try to dodge questions about Benghazi by making arguments such as the following:

'Perhaps but [Benghazi] fails to impress in comparison to Iraq. Thousands of Americans KIA, tens of thousands more severely wounded and crippled, and for what- to remake Iraq as a Shiite, satellite nation under the wing of Iran? Under rising levels of sectarian violence, Iraq is now poised to descend into a failed state where al Qaeda operates with relative freedom. 

-bayam on May 6, 2013 at 6:19 PM

They overlook the fact that the US-Iraq Project has been under new management for the last four-plus years.  They also fail to acknowledge or even recognise the failures in Iraq that have occurred under the Obama Administration.  For example (per that extreme right-wing rag, The New York Times):

''All American forces were to leave Iraq by the end of 2011, the departure date set in an agreement signed by President George W. Bush and Mr. Maliki in 2008. Even so, Mr. Obama left the door open to keeping troops in Iraq to train Iraqi forces if an agreement could be negotiated.

Convening a videoconference on Oct. 6, 2010, Mr. Biden and top American officials reviewed the options. The vice president favored a plan that would keep Mr. Maliki as prime minister, but which involved installing his main rival, Mr. Allawi, leader of the Iraqiya bloc, near the top of the pyramid. To make way for Mr. Allawi, Mr. Biden suggested that Mr. Talabani, an ethnic Kurd, be shifted from the presidency and given another position. “Let’s make him foreign minister,” Mr. Biden said, according to the notes of the meeting.

“Thanks a lot, Joe,” Mrs. Clinton said, noting that Mr. Biden had cast the Foreign Ministry as a consolation prize.

Mr. Biden also predicted that the Americans could work out a deal with a government led by Mr. Maliki. “Maliki wants us to stick around because he does not see a future in Iraq otherwise,” Mr. Biden said. I'LL BET YOU MY VICE-PRESIDENCY MALIKI WILL EXTEND THE SOFA,” he added, he added, referring to the Status of Forces Agreement the Obama administration hoped to negotiate.

James B. Steinberg, the deputy secretary of state, questioned whether Mr. Biden’s plan would make the already inefficient Iraqi government more dysfunctional.

Admiral Mullen sent a classified letter to Mr. Donilon that recommended keeping 16,000 troops.

The attempt by Mr. Obama and his senior aides to fashion an extraordinary power-sharing arrangement between Mr. Maliki and Mr. Allawi never materialized.  

'Neither did an agreement that would have kept a small American force in Iraq to train the Iraqi military and patrol the country's skies.


In the end, Biden's plan was rebuffed by the Iraqis and the SOFA was not extended…OF COURSE.

Also, they cite, as bayam did in the above post, Tom Ricks without disclosing his own conflict of interest.  As Mediaite explained:

'...cites author Tom Ricks, who made waves after accusing Fox News of hyping the Benghazi story on a Fox News program, who has taken to the pages of his Foreign Policy Magazine column to refute one whistleblower who insists that American air assets could have responded to the second attack on a Benghazi safe house on the night of the attack. Ricks also insisted in his infamous Fox News appearance that the claims of a cover-up in the Benghazi story “aren’t going to stop [U.N. Ambassador] Susan Rice from being Secretary of State.” While Toensing conflict of interest raises red flags for Drum, Ricks’ political allegiances and obvious motive to save face do not appear to serve as reason for Drum to be skeptical of him.

Beyond Ricks’ own conflict of interest, CBS News’ Sharyl Attkisson‘s reporting has indicated that The deputy of slain U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens has told congressional investigators that a team of Special Forces prepared to fly from Tripoli to Benghazi during the Sept. 11, 2012 attacks was forbidden from doing so by U.S. Special Operations Command South Africa. 

Make no mistake, the narrative that clears the Obama administration from culpability in the failure to save American lives in Benghazi is collapsing.

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, as the saying goes. Those on the right who would leap to the worst conclusions about the White House’s complacency in the attack on the Benghazi consulate cannot yet point to a smoking gun to support those claims. However, the kneejerk instincts of left-leaning partisans to impart malicious motives to those alleging a cover-up of the details of the Benghazi attack are now grasping at straws. Their politically-motivated objective — the destruction of the credibility of Obama’s opponents in an election year – has been laid bare.'

Yeah, that's a disinterested, nonpartisan, truth-teller. 


From David Breyer at The Daily Caller:

In December 2011, President Obama withdrew all U.S. troops from Iraq after failing to negotiate a new Status of Forces Agreement with the fledgling democracy. Many military advisers, government officials, and Iraqi leaders opposed Obama’s decision, fearing it would diminish America’s influence in Iraq, destabilize the country, and damage America’s interests in the region. In the past year, many of these fears have come to fruition.

President Obama’s decision was irresponsible, and motivated largely by politics. Obama opposed the Iraq war from day one, and wanted a political victory to bandy about on the campaign trail.

By withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq, he could boast, as he did repeatedly, that he had ended the war. Vice President Biden recently gave a telling interview to the New York Times Magazine, where he gushed about telling the president, “Thank you for giving me the chance to end this goddamn war.

This quote is the epitome of the Obama administration’s policy: passion and politics over careful and strategic thinking.
Like Obama, Biden opposed the war from the beginning, opposed the surge (Biden’s bold idea was to partition the country), and wanted to wash his hands of Iraq, regardless of the consequences. Unfortunately, the Obama administration did this by undermining eight years of progress in Iraq, and harming America’s interests in the region.

Immediately after the U.S. withdrawal, Prime Minister Maliki moved quickly to consolidate power and stifle dissent. He began to crack down on Sunni and Kurdish leaders, dissident Shiites, and opposition groups. He ordered the arrests of scores of people on dubious charges, including Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi. Thousands of Maliki’s opponents are in jail, and tens of thousands are in the streets protesting his authoritarian tactics. Meanwhile, terror attacks by al-Qaida affiliates — which are trying to capitalize on this sectarian strife — are on the rise. The situation was much better in December 2011; Iraq is clearly on a downward trajectory and is on a dangerous precipice of sectarian conflict.

Iraq is also causing other headaches for the United States. Recent reports indicate that Iraqi airspace may have been used to ship weapons to Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria (a claim that Iraq denies). And Iraq has been cultivating stronger ties with Iran, undermining the efforts of America and its Arab partners to isolate Tehran until it abandons its nuclear weapons program.

Would Prime Minister Maliki have been bold enough to take all of these actions if there was still a sizable contingent of U.S. forces in Iraq? Probably not. And would Iraq’s Sunnis and Kurds, who are demanding fair treatment and equality under the law, have felt emboldened by the presence of U.S. forces? Probably so.

Why, then, did Obama barely lift a finger to maintain a U.S. troop presence in Iraq? Because he was making policy based on his political promises and beliefs, not the situation on the ground.

Between August and December 2011, only three U.S. service members in Iraq were killed by hostile fire (one in September and two in November). These deaths cannot be taken for granted. But they show how rare violence against U.S. forces had become. And if Obama had only left a small contingent of U.S. forces with a limited training and supervisory mission, this casualty figure may have dropped to zero.

To many Americans, this would have been an acceptable situation. U.S. troops would have been safe, and would have served as a stabilizing influence, just as they did in post-war Japan and Germany. And the money we would have spent on such a force would have been well worth it, given that the alternative was losing eight years of progress in Iraq (progress that came at the expense of 4,000 American lives and a trillion dollars).

Still, Obama decided to withdraw all U.S. troops. The president claimed he tried to negotiate a new Status of Forces Agreement, but that the Iraqis were intransigent. This argument was discredited by Max Boot’s persuasive piece in the Wall Street Journal in October 2011, and by many others since. Even the New York Times published a story undermining Obama’s claim he made a wholehearted effort to negotiate an agreement.

In that same New York Times article, an Obama administration official was quoted as saying, “Stability in Iraq did not depend on the presence of U.S. forces.The facts on the ground tell a different story.

For the Obama administration, it was more important to end the “goddamn war” in Iraq than to protect the hard-won gains made during the eight years of that bloody, heartbreaking war. Obama is now facing a similar decision on Afghanistan. One can only hope that this time he makes a more responsible decision, based not on politics but on policy. But judging from his inaugural promise that “a decade of war is coming to an end,” Obama appears headed toward another strategic blunder.

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