Trying to rewrite history … again
Even the Washington Post has a problem swallowing the latest Obama attempt at rewriting history (with the usual motive of passing off the blame to someone or something else). As usual, Obama is trying to have it both ways while waving away his culpability in the problems and deaths now taking place in Iraq:
President Obama surprised a few people during a news conference Thursday by claiming that the 2011 decision to withdraw all U.S. forces from Iraq, a politically popular move on the eve of an election year, was made entirely by his Iraqi counterpart. The implication ran counter to a number of claims that Obama has made in the past, most notably during a tight campaign season two years ago, when he suggested that it was his decision to leave Iraq and end an unpopular war.
His remarks, coming as an Islamist insurgency seizes territory across northern Iraq and threatens the central government, recalled key moments in his reelection race when he called his opponent hopelessly out of step with Middle East realities for wanting to keep U.S. forces in the still-fragile country America had invaded nearly a decade earlier.
In the 2012 campaign’s stretch, Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney met inside the performing arts center of Lynn University for the last of three presidential debates. The race remained close, and in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2012, attacks on the U.S. diplomatic mission and CIA-run annex in Benghazi, Libya, the Romney team saw foreign policy as an area of potential vulnerability for the incumbent. The debate focused on the issue.
For much of that election year, Obama had included a line of celebration in his standard stump speech, one that among an electorate exhausted by more than a decade of war always drew a rousing applause: “Four years ago, I promised to end the war in Iraq,” Obama proclaimed in Bowling Green, Ohio, in September 2012, and did nearly every day after until the election. “We did.”
For Obama, who four years earlier had distinguished himself from Democratic rival Hillary Rodham Clinton through his opposition to the war in Iraq, the fact he had withdrawn all U.S. forces from the country was a problem solved and a political chip to be cashed in come November.
It was also a way to once again draw contrasts with Romney, who criticized Obama for failing to secure a so-called status of forces agreement with the Iraqi government. The agreement would have granted immunity from Iraqi prosecution to all U.S. troops in country after 2011. Reaching such a deal — a political risk for Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki — would have allowed a contingent of several thousand U.S. troops to remain, largely to help with training and specific counter-terrorism operations.
“With regards to Iraq, you and I agreed, I believe, that there should be a status of forces agreement,” Romney told Obama as the two convened on the Lynn University campus in Boca Raton, Fla., that October evening. “That’s not true,” Obama interjected. “Oh, you didn’t want a status of forces agreement?” Romney asked as an argument ensued. “No,” Obama said. “What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.”
On Thursday, Obama addressed reporters in the White House Briefing Room about Iraq’s latest crisis. “Do you wish you had left a residual force in Iraq? Any regrets about that decision in 2011?” a reporter asked. “Well, keep in mind that wasn’t a decision made by me,” Obama said. “That was a decision made by the Iraqi government.”
While the last statement is technically true, it’s because the Obama administration had engineered it to be that way. They knew full well how all of our other Status of Forces Agreements were done and deliberately included conditions and a step that was unnecessary that all but guaranteed rejection by the Iraqi government.
Here’s a little history of the time (written in October of 2011):
Quite simply it was a matter of will: President Bush really wanted to get a deal done, whereas Mr. Obama did not. Mr. Bush spoke weekly with Mr. Maliki by video teleconference. Mr. Obama had not spoken with Mr. Maliki for months before calling him in late October to announce the end of negotiations. Mr. Obama and his senior aides did not even bother to meet with Iraqi officials at the United Nations General Assembly in September.
The administration didn’t even open talks on renewing the Status of Forces Agreement until this summer, a few months before U.S. troops would have to start shuttering their remaining bases to pull out by Dec. 31. The previous agreement, in 2008, took a year to negotiate.
The recent negotiations were jinxed from the start by the insistence of State Department and Pentagon lawyers that any immunity provisions be ratified by the Iraqi parliament—something that the U.S. hadn’t insisted on in 2008 and that would be almost impossible to get today. In many other countries, including throughout the Arab world, U.S. personnel operate under a Memorandum of Understanding that doesn’t require parliamentary ratification. Why not in Iraq? Mr. Obama could have chosen to override the lawyers’ excessive demands, but he didn’t.
He also undercut his own negotiating team by regularly bragging—in political speeches delivered while talks were ongoing—of his plans to “end” the “war in Iraq.” Even more damaging was his August decision to commit only 3,000 to 5,000 troops to a possible mission in Iraq post-2011. This was far below the number judged necessary by our military commanders. They had asked for nearly 20,000 personnel to carry out counterterrorist operations, support American diplomats, and provide training and support to the Iraqi security forces. That figure was whittled down by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to 10,000, which they judged to be the absolute minimum needed.
The Iraqis knew about these estimates: U.S. military commanders had communicated them directly to Iraqi leaders. Prime Minister Maliki was said (by those who had talked to him) to privately support such a troop commitment, and almost all Iraqi political leaders—representing every major faction except for the rabidly anti-American Sadrists—assented on Aug. 2 to opening negotiations on that basis.
When the White House then said it would consent to no more than 5,000 troops—a number that may not even have been able to adequately defend itself, much less carry out other missions—the Iraqis understandably figured that the U.S. wasn’t serious about a continued commitment. Iraqi political leaders may have been willing to risk a domestic backlash to support a substantial commitment of 10,000 or more troops. They were not willing to stick their necks out for such a puny force. Hence the breakdown of talks.
So the talks on SOFA broke down giving Obama a reason to “end the war” and to blame the breakdown on Iraq and Iraq’s government. Perfect.
And now we see the result. He has someone to blame the problem on even as the history of how and why what happened happened seems to be lost in the mist. This was a deliberately staged and engineered outcome. By making an unacceptable offer and requiring other than the leadership of Iraq to endorse the deal, they knew it would fail. And that means the usual … another of our allies thrown under the bus. Yes, Maliki isn’t any bargain. And yes, he’s done as poor a job with Iraq as Obama has done in America. But there are two people that should be under the bus, and we all know who the second one is.
Don’t let him rewrite this bit of history to his advantage.