Following President Obama's lunchtime announcement that [nearly] all American troops will exit Iraq by years end, Mitt Romney campaign issued the following statement:
President Obama's astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition in Iraq has unnecessarily put at risk the victories that were won through the blood and sacrifice of thousands of American men and women. The unavoidable question is whether this decision is the result of a naked political calculation or simply sheer ineptitude in negotiations with the Iraqi government. The American people deserve to hear the recommendations that were made by our military commanders in Iraq.
To answer Mr. Romney's two part question about our exit from Iraq, I suggest that the move is absolutely political, but it's also compulsory. We have run out of options in Iraq, but make no mistake, American troops are leaving because the Iraqis don't want us there.
First of all, the politics of the matter. President Obama owed it to his political base to end the war effort. To do so, he needs only follow the roadmap outlined the Status of Forces Agreement mapped out by President Bush in 2008. It was not a coincidence that the words "as promised" were dealt into his speech today.
As far as our "sheer ineptitude," I think Mr. Romney's frustration with the profile of our exit demonstrates a misplaced presumption that the United States could maintain an insufficient troop presence to prevent a catastrophic collapse of state.
After all these years, one remarkably simple lesson escapes him. We cannot continue fighting what our presence makes inevitable. We cannot prevent civil war, state failure, or safe haven for terror by providing tinder for all of the above - unless this country is ready and willing to dramatically augment the shape and stature of its Mesopotamian military presence. I do not believe it is. Perhaps more importantly, the Iraqis are similarly disobliged.
John Tabin is absolutely correct. The Obama administration envisioned a continued presence in Iraq that was considerably more robust than what we'll be left with, and it was unable to negotiate terms. However, had we stayed in force , it's a safe bet that radical anti-American cleric Muqtada al-Sadr's bloc would have abandoned President Nouri al-Maliki's fragile ruling coalition. The parliament would have collapsed into a political melee and the flimsy bureaucracy would have followed. This would have proven a strategic nightmare - particularly the ill-equipped and insufficient American troops left to pick up the pieces.
Regardless of whether America troops remains in the country, violence will increase and people will die. Just as well American soldiers and Marines do not remain as fodder, if we no longer have the stomach to conduct a proactive counter-insurgency.
This is the reality facing us in Iraq. In an odd way, the aftermath of America's troop withdrawal already exists. They Iraqis perpetrated and endured a bloodbath, and their state survived civil war...but barely. One doubts things could get worse than they've already been, unless America stays to prevent what it actually prolongs.
Update: This post has been edited to expand on an earlier version and add links. 11:44 a.m.
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