Writing in the WSJ yesterday, Max Boot bewails our president’s insufficient engagement with the Iraqi government on the status of US forces remaining in theater after the 2011 draw-down deadline negotiated by his predecessor:
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.
Stuff and nonsense, believes Michael Totten, writing in The New Republic:
Iraq is a completely different country today (than in 2006). Al Qaeda in Iraq scarcely even exists anymore. No militia, either Sunni or Shia, controls territory or has its own “capital” anywhere. Baghdad’s government is not going to fall, no matter how much Tehran tries to undermine it. No one will be able to claim even implausibly that Americans were driven out of Iraq under fire. Nor can anyone plausibly say the United States lost. The enemies of the United States and Iraq’s elected government have either been vanquished, forced to give up the gun, or driven into the shadows…
Iraq just isn’t as dangerous anymore, not to itself and not to others. If Iran tries to destabilize it with terror militias again, Iraq will fight back. And the Iraqis know how to fight back effectively now after so many years of American training. If Iran actually tries to invade with conventional forces—a spectacularly unlikely event, but one never knows in that part of the world—odds are excellent that the American military would respond to the breach of international law and sovereignty by again joining the fight alongside the Iraqi military.
Iraq has been gearing up to stand on its own for years. President Obama merely decided the time would come sooner rather than later. A Republican president would have eventually made the same decision even if it might have taken a little bit longer. Few Americans are in the mood for any more nation-building or babysitting. Iraqis, for their part, are tired of being built-up and babysat by Americans. Some kind of withdrawal and disengagement has been a long time coming for those reasons alone. A substantial number of American officials were persuaded that sticking around in Iraq to prevent a catastrophe was probably wise as long as we’d leave when a howling abyss no longer yawned at everyone’s feet. For better or for worse, that time has arrived.
One of these two worthies is almost certainly right. A great deal hangs in the balance.