It is hard to know which is worse: the irresponsibility of a complete withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq or the sheer dishonesty with which it was presented. For now I will focus on the latter.
Josh Rogin explains that the president simply lied when he explained that the withdrawal was the successful culmination of his Iraq policy. In fact it was borne of necessity as a result of the administration’s inept negotiations:
The Obama administration is claiming it always intended to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of this year, in line with the president’s announcement today, but in fact several parts of the administration appeared to try hard to negotiate a deal for thousands of troops to remain — and failed. . . .
Deputy National Security Advisers Denis McDonough and Tony Blinken said in a White House briefing that this was always the plan.
“What we were looking for was an Iraq that was secure, stable and self-reliant, and that’s what we got here, so there’s no question that was a success,” said McDonough, who traveled to Iraq last week.
But what about the extensive negotiations the administration has been engaged in for months, regarding U.S. offers to leave thousands of uniformed soldiers in Iraq past the deadline? It has been well reported that those negotiations, led by U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and White House official Brett McGurk, had been stalled over the U.S. demand that the remaining troops receive immunity from Iraqi courts. . . .
For more evidence that the administration actually wanted to extend the troop presence in Iraq, despite today’s words by Obama and McDonough, one only has to look at the statements of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta.
Marisa Cochrane Sullivan, managing director at the Institute for the Study of War, told Rogin:
“[I]t failed to take into account Iraqi politics, failed to reach out to a broad enough group of Iraqi political leaders and sent contradictory messages on the troop extension throughout the process.
“From the beginning, the talks unfolded in a way where they largely driven by domestic political concerns, both in Washington and Baghdad. Both sides let politics drive the process, rather than security concerns. . . .”
This is not, of course, the first time the president has constructed exit timetables without a military rationale. His initial surge in Afghanistan set an artificial deadline to begin troop draw-downs. This was followed by a farcical troop-reduction schedule that brought the remainder of the surge troops home just before the 2012 election. But his Iraq maneuver is even worse; he misrepresented that this was exactly how it had been planned, rather than the consequence of bungled diplomacy.
As I pointed out on Friday, Mitt Romney and Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) issued strong statements condemning the president’s decision. Texas Gov. Rick Perry also added his voice. (It read in part: “America’s commitment to the future of Iraq is important to U.S. national security interests and should not be influenced by politics. Despite the great achievements of the U.S. military and the Iraqi people, there remain real threats to our shared interests, especially from Iran. The United States must remain a firm and steadfast ally for Iraq, maintaining an ongoing diplomatic, economic and military to military partnership with this emerging democratic ally in the Middle East.”) Rick Santorum’s spokesman e-mailed me a similar reaction, focusing on the Iranian threat. (“I have deep concerns about the conditions left behind. My longtime concern about Iran’s growing influence in Iraq is coming to fruition, and that ultimately hurts America and our allies. Iran’s influence and the potential creation of an Iranian puppet state in Iraq will have disastrous consequences in the Middle East and around the globe.”)
Once again we see how critical a commander in chief is to the successful creation and implementation of national security policy. But that doesn’t mean Congress is powerless. It should immediately commence oversight hearings and call all of the appropriate witnesses, including former defense secretary Robert Gates, Panetta and the negotiating team that had been dispatched to Iraq. And one more figure, I think, would be required: Gen. David Petraeus.
It might be interesting to get his assessment of the Iraqi security situation from his current vantage point at the CIA. But the main reason for calling him would be to get a valuable assessment from the most knowledgable person on the planet about the security requirements in Iraq, the level of troops required and the expectation of the military that we would have an ongoing presence. His great achievement, and America’s victory, hang in the balance. And, if he should find himself just a wee bit disgusted with the conduct of the administration, he can always resign. I hear there is an election heating up. Petraeus-Ryan? Petraeus-Rubio?