Donald Trump laid blame for the Islamic State’s rise at Hillary Clinton’s feet, repeating his argument that the 2011 troop withdrawal from Iraq – when she was secretary of state – set the conditions for the extremist group’s rise. Clinton countered tonight by saying the decision to make a military exit from Iraq was made by President George W. Bush.
So who’s right about the U.S. exit from Iraq?
They each are in certain ways. In 2008, after extensive negotiations, President Bush and Iraqi leaders finalized a comprehensive Status of Forces Agreement, which set a path for curtailing the long U.S. military presence and gradually handing the Iraqi government more responsibility for its own security. As part of the agreement, the Bush administration agreed to remove all combat troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.
After Obama took over in 2009, many U.S. officials, like many in Baghdad, wanted to strike a new arrangement that would leave a residual force to help Iraq face ongoing security challenges. Both sides abandoned efforts to strike a deal in October 2011, when it became clear that the Iraqi political leaders would not accept the Obama administration’s conditions regarding legal protections for remaining U.S. soldiers. At the time, many political observers believed that outcome suited the White House, where many leaders were eager to leave the messy conflict started by Obama’s predecessor in the past.
Several months later, on Dec. 15, 2011, Obama’s then-Defense Secretary Leon Panetta visited Baghdad to officially lower the flag on the U.S. mission there.