There is no better example of the trouble wrought by President Obama and Hillary Clinton’s policy of retreat and retrenchment than the sight of Secretary of State John Kerry pleading with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to stop arming the Iranian axis.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testifies in January before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on the Benghazi attack. (Linda Davidson / The Washington Post)

Cliff May of the Foundation for Defense of Democracy explains: “The Iraqis are caught between a rock and a not-so-hard place. The rock is Iran, a powerful and ruthless neighbor who makes offers that are dangerous to refuse. The not-so-hard place, I’m afraid, is the U.S., beginning the moment we pulled out our troops.” He adds: “Remember that Iraq still has no air force – and American warplanes no longer patrol over Iraq.”

The Post reports:

Iraq is helping to shore up the besieged regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by allowing Iranian arms and fighters to cross into Syria from Iraq, Secretary of State John F. Kerry charged Sunday.

During an unannounced trip to Baghdad, Kerry lobbied Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for greater scrutiny of flights that cross Iraq. He appeared to make little headway with Maliki, a Shiite with long-standing ties to Iran and little inclination to do U.S. bidding 10 years after the American invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.

Maliki is a prickly leader whose relations with U.S. officials have grown more strained since the departure of American forces and the re-emergence of widespread sectarian violence in Iraq. Maliki’s consolidation of power worries his U.S. backers. His dealings with Shiite Iran worry them more.

But it didn’t worry them enough, it seems, to have figured out how to leave a stabilizing force in Iraq. And the notion that the U.S. can “end wars” merely by bringing all our troops home has been proven once again to be utter folly. We leave; Iran’s reach extends. And another battlefield, Syria, grows ever more bloody and jihadist-friendly. John Bolton, the former ambassador to the United Nations, e-mails me, “If ever proof were needed that ‘ending’ the war in Iraq and being content to withdraw our forces was not something to boast about, Kerry’s visit proves it.”

In all the talk about whether the Iraq war was “worth it,” there has been little discussion of the president’s role in frittering away the impressive gains achieved by the surge and the diplomatic efforts by Ambassador Ryan Crocker. May observes, “Imagine that the U.S. had pulled out of West Germany in the late 1940s. Would Bonn have been able to stand up to Soviet bullying?”

The question remains what we do now. A senior Senate adviser acknowledges, “There is no doubt we have a huge problem with the Iraqi government giving the Iranians safe overflight passage, but the truth is we lost a considerable amount of leverage when the president prematurely removed the U.S. presence.” However, he advises that “we do have some leverage left and we should use it — starting with holding up arms and F-16 sales until we see an Iraqi government that sides with the West and not with the Iran-Assad axis of tyranny.” Or, I guess we could send Kerry to whine publicly, confirming how feckless is this administration.

Jennifer Rubin writes the Right Turn blog for The Post, offering reported opinion from a conservative perspective.