The GOP Candidates and Iraq

If ignorance is indeed bliss, the GOP candidates for president in 2012 demonstrated that they must be the most contented lot in the world after their pronouncements about President Obama’s announcement this past week that the United States would end all military operations in Iraq by the end of the year. The stupendous ignorance of the facts demonstrated by the GOP field regarding how and why this ending will occur is breathtaking; it is also a sobering reminder of what foreign policy might look like should one of them somehow become commander-in-chief. Of that latter prospect, only the most ardent neo-conservative could possibly take take solace in the prospect.

What was the collective accusation? It was that somehow Obama had acted in a way that somehow would cause the United States to quit the field in Iraq, thereby submitting the United States and the region and world to great potential peril, since we will no longer be able to maintain some semblance of control there when all our troops (other than the Marines guarding the embassy) are gone–in time for the holidays, according to the administration.

That statement, which is of course a composite, has four distinct parts, two of which are clearly false or misleading, and two of which are arguable. Let’s look at each.

1. It was an action by Obama that has caused this situation. This assertion is, of course, necessary to blame the White House for something–which of course is the partisan putpose anyway–and it is patently false. The reason the U.S. will leave Iraq at the end of the year is because the Iraqis want us out. This is hardly a revelation, and it has been enshrined in an agreement signed by President Bush with the Iraqi government in December 2008 that called for withdrawal by the end of this year. The al-Malaki government views this requirement as a bedrock of their mandate, and it has been a condition and date that has existed–and been publicly known–for over three years.

The only way that treaty obligation could have been modified or moderated was through the negotiation of a new agreement with the Iraqis to allow some number of Americans to stay after the end of the year. The U.S. has indeed been trying to do so to allow a token force to stay behind, but those negotiations foundered on a critical provision of the Status of Force Agreement (SOFA) that would have been necessary to extend the American presence: a provision that American forces be exempted from prosecution of alleged offenses under Iraqi law (a standard item of SOFAs the U.S. has with foreign governments). THE IRAQIS REFUSED TO ACCEPT THIS STIPULATION, and this is why the U.S. is leaving. There were probably two reasons for the Iraqi position: 1) they wanted us to leave, and knew this would force us out, and 2) given the track record of some Americans on the scene, they did not trust us enough to make the concession (think Abu Ghraib). We are leaving because we could not conclude a successful SOFA, and there is no SOFA because the Iraqis refused to negotiated one. Period. End of story.

If one wants to blame the president for this, all one can argue (much too subtle for the current GOP field) is that the Obama administration, which also wants out of Iraq, did not try as hard as they might have to force the Iraqis to relent. That is at least arguable, although to be accepted, two additional elements are needed: proof the Obama people dragged their feet and evidence that a more assertive advocacy would have made a difference. The first is possible; the latter fantasy.

2. The U.S. action will leave American interests at peril. Specifically, the argument goes that an Iraq without an American presence will be subject to pressure from Iran and will be driven into the arms of Iran. This outcome is at least arguable on a number of grounds, and one can accept the notion that the postwar environment will leave Iran the clear winner in the American war against Iraq. What is very misleading about this assertion, however, is the idea that the U.S. decision to honor its treaty promises is the cause of this outcome. Iranian increased influence was probably the inevitable outcome of overthrowing Iran’s greatest single obstacles in the region, Saddam Hussein, and was cemented by by our eight year occupation. Iran is equally likely to benefit regardless of when the U.S. leaves; to blame it on honoring Bush’s commitment is pure demagogery.

3.  A continuing American presence would help stabilize the situation in Iraq, and their removal reduces the U.S. ability to influence the situation. Exactly how the retention of 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq is supposed to stabilize anything is not clear,except in the symbolism of their presence and the implied threat (a very hollow one) that they could be reinforced if need be by sending more back. It is true that American influence will wane somewhat with all our presence there, but it is pretty hard to contend that we have much influence there anymore anyway. For a sliver of evidence, how successful were we in keeping al-Maliki from endorsing the continuing rule of Bashar al-Assad in Syria?

4. If we are gone, who will protect the American contractors and aid workers left behind? This is a serious question, because the answer is the Iraqis will have to do so. If they want whatever goodies we are dispensing, they will do so; if getting rid of all the Americans is what they really want, they will not. One can only hope all the remaining Americans in the country are keeping packed bags under their beds. Having said that, 5,000 Americans in garrison are probably not much better equipped to protect and extract those Americans from danger than Marines or special forces on duty on ships in the Persian Gulf.

One need not be a particular supporter on Obama foreign policy to see that the withering criticism of his Iraq announcement was uncalled for, unfair, and displayed considerable ignorance on the part of those who made it. Up until now, the GOP  field has been remarkably quiet on foreign policy matters, and one can certainly see why in this cacophony of ignorance. If there is a bottom line to this sorry episode, it is a question: would anyone really like turning over America’s relations with the world to any of these bozos?  

 

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