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How Obama Lost Iraq and Allowed ISIS to Bloom

President Obama is playing his customary Blame Bush card, trying to heave the Iraq catastrophe, featuring the ISIS caliphate, onto his predecessor.

“ISIL is a direct outgrowth of al Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion,” Obama said in an interview with VICE News released Monday. “Which is an example of unintended consequences. Which is why we should generally aim before we shoot.”

I suppose, if you try hard enough, you can find a way to blame the British or the Ottomans for ISIS. But the fact is that Obama was handed a stable Iraq by George W. Bush, who had real reasons to go into country, including what everyone thought was accurate intelligence that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

A piece in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs by Rick Brennan, a senior civilian adviser to the U.S. military in Iraq from 2006 through the end of 2011, lays out exactly what happened. It makes several things clear:

  • The failure of the Iraqis to secure their country absent U.S. troops was predicted;
  • Obama did not seek to keep nearly the number of U.S. troops in Iraq his commanders requested;
  • The excuse that a status of forces agreement was not reached because U.S. troops would have been subject to Iraqi law is a canard. In fact, U.S. forces operating in Iraq today have less legal protection than they would have under a deal Obama could have struck in 2011 with then-Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki.

Let’s walk through the argument together.

The 2008 agreements negotiated by the Bush administration with the Iraqis called for U.S. troops to leave Iraq by the end of 2011. The deal was the best Bush could get at the time and was always intended to be renegotiated, which is exactly what Obama was supposedly trying to do.

Military planners believed about 24,000 troops would need to remain in Iraq to maintain the peace, which had been achieved with enormous U.S. blood and treasure, and to continue to prepare Iraq to secure the the place on its own.

Otherwise, disaster would engulf the country. Al Qaeda in Iraq, which had been defeated, was nevertheless licking its wounds in Syria and rebranding itself. It could return. Withdrawal by the United States would also provide an opening for Iran in Iraq.

Brennan writes:

The military planners’ scorecard made one thing perfectly clear: by 2011, enough information was available to conclude that absent a significant U.S. military presence, within a few years, the situation in Iraq was likely to deteriorate — perhaps irreversibly.

The Iraqi military, for example, was still three to five years away from being able to independently sustain the gains made during the past four years.

All of this turned out to be correct. ISIS was not specifically seen, though with substantial U.S. troops in Iraq, it likely would have been noticed:

Had a residual U.S. force stayed in Iraq after 2011, the United States would have had far greater insight into the growing threat posed by ISIS and could have helped the Iraqis stop the group from taking so much territory. Instead, ISIS’ march across northern Iraq took Washington almost completely by surprise.

Obama was having none of it.

In April (2011), Obama directed (U.S. forces in Iraq commander General Lloyd) Austin to develop a plan that would result in a residual force of just 8,000 to 10,000 troops and to identify the missions that a force of that size could realistically accomplish.

In August, according to (then-U.S. ambassador to Iraq James) Jeffrey, Obama informed him that he was free to start negotiations with the Iraqis to keep 5,000 U.S. service members in Iraq: 3,500 combat troops who would be stationed on yearlong tours of duty and 1,500 special operations forces who would rotate in and out every four months.

As we know, Obama reached no deal for a continued U.S. troop presence. The president blamed the prospect of Iraqi legal purview over U.S. forces serving in the country.

Let’s talk about this.

Few realize that this would have simply maintained the status quo, which Bush had felt worth the risk when compared to squandering all our gains:

Washington had to drop its insistence that U.S. forces enjoy complete immunity from Iraqi law. Instead, in somewhat ambiguous terms, the agreement gave Iraqi authorities legal jurisdiction over cases in which U.S. service members were accused of committing serious, premeditated felonies while off duty and away from U.S. facilities.

In his memoir, Duty, published earlier this year, former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates revealed that Pentagon lawyers (during Bush’s negotiations with Iraq) strongly opposed the compromise. But Gates explains that he believed it was worth the risk if it meant that U.S. forces could stay in Iraq past 2008. Commanders in the field were also comfortable with the compromise; after all, since members of the U.S. armed forces are on duty 24 hours a day and are not permitted to leave their bases unless on a mission, there was little chance that an American marine or soldier would ever wind up in the hands of Iraqi authorities.

Here’s how the end game played out for Obama on the issue:

In early September (2011), U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns visited Iraq to press Maliki on both those issues. According to a former administration official familiar with what happened during the meeting, Maliki told Burns that although he could likely persuade Iraq’s parliament to request a residual force, anyone who believed that the parliament would approve a status-of-forces agreement that included complete immunity did not understand Iraqi politics. Instead, Maliki proposed signing an executive memorandum granting immunity without the need to gain parliamentary approval. White House lawyers rejected that offer, arguing that for any such agreement to be legally binding, it would have to be formally ratified by the Iraqi parliament.

In early October, as Maliki had predicted, the parliament approved the request for an extended U.S. military presence but declined to grant legal immunity to U.S. military personnel. Later that month, Obama told Maliki that all U.S. troops would leave Iraq by the end of 2011, in fulfillment of the terms of the agreement signed by the Bush administration in 2008.

The compromise offered by Maliki, Brennan writes, would have involved some risk for American service members. But not unacceptable risk:

In the nearly three years since Bush had agreed to a similar compromise, no U.S. service member or civilian official stationed in Iraq had been charged with violating an Iraqi law.

As noted above, U.S. commanders were comfortable with the legal exposure negotiated by Bush. And let’s be honest. Would the Iraqis really risk ending U.S. assistance by imprisoning a U.S. service member? And is the risk of imprisonment in Iraq really worse than the risk of death, which is implicit in any U.S. deployment?

If you want to understand how disingenuous this all was, note what Brennan writes:

It is also worth pointing out that the U.S. military personnel stationed in Iraq today count on a promise of immunity backed only by a diplomatic note signed by the Iraqi foreign minister — an assurance even less solid than the one Maliki offered (and Obama rejected) in 2011.

Get it? With catastrophe imminent by 2014, Obama actually took a lesser deal on immunity. So how big a issue would this have been in 2011 if Obama had been able to wrap his mind around the awesomeness of mistake he was making then?

Obama fist bump troops

If Obama was so concerned about reaching a deal to keep troops in Iraq, why did he make their complete withdrawal into a celebration, using the “I ended the war” claim as a central plank of his reelection campaign. This provides clear proof that Obama wasn’t serious about the negotiations to begin with.

In one of the bravest moves by a commander in chief in U.S. history, Bush ignored all the conventional wisdom and, with his faith in the skill and bravery of our armed forces, ordered the surge in Iraq that won the war.

Obama turned around and lost the war. Those are the facts that Obama, and all of us, now have to live with.

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27 Responses to How Obama Lost Iraq and Allowed ISIS to Bloom

  1. Not only did he manage to almost willfully squander an expensive victory, this pile of quivering pond scum now has the temerity to condescendingly blame it all on George Bush. The concepts of honor and bravery simply don’t exist in Obama’s world. Lying, cheating, conniving and blaming rule his days. I just pray we can endure to the point of finally pushing him out the door.

    • Yes, DMcG, Honor, and Bravery.
      Not so much.
      I would also add integrity.
      Lying, cheating, conniving, and blaming, rule his days.

      Well said.

      • Add threatening bully! His pond scum America-hater handlers orchestrate the demise of our USA… I think not much comes from little 0, just those who illegally placed this ninny as the leader of our once great country. Given 0’s total incompetence in discussing a topic without reading from his prompters, I think his IQ is around that of Garfield, always seeking the food thinking he’s really getting away with the stunt.
        These past six years have done horrendous damage. 0 could have left enough troops in Iraq to squelch ISIS before they grew & became a terror force. Butt, no, it was all about !Him! & how peaceful & loving he is to the total idiots who voted in this rockstar pos.

  2. Thank you Keith for this accurate and concise rebuttal of Obama’s latest attempt to blame GWB for his own failures.
    The man has no shame, he is controlled by his narcissist personality disorder, everything is about his own adoration and glorification.

    Everything he has done and said makes sense if viewed through the lens of his personality disorder.

  3. Well done.
    IMO, MrO has a point, but as usual it’s off the mark. The real culprit is PresBushSr.
    We had the Iraqis on the ropes, we could have finished Saddam, we were there, winning and for reasons unclear all of our troops were pulled out.
    2001 was the year we could have stopped everything, could have secured a peaceful future for the MiddleEast.

  4. Excellent commentary, Keith.

    One thing I distinctly remember at the time was Malaki expressing complete disbelief that Obama refused to negotiate the terms of disengagement. When confronted years later, Obama just shrugged his shoulders and said something about the Iraqi Parliament being the ‘decider’. Shocking, shocking!

    It should Also be noted that Gen. Petraeus led the successful Iraqi surge, only to be thrown under the bus by Obama after he unearthed the ‘affair’ between Petraeus and his biographer.

    It’s also interesting that Obama appointed ‘retired’ Gen. Allen to lead the ISIS offensive after he was caught up in the Petraeus scandal with the ‘other other woman’, Jill Kelly, with whom he exchanged 30,000 personal emails. He was scheduled to take over as the Commander of Nato, but the scandal forced him into retirement.

    Hoping that Petraeus will write a book after Obama leaves. What does he have to lose at this point? His reputation?

    • P.S. It just occurred to me that the reason Obama appointed the ‘retired’ Republican Gen. Allen to head the ISIS offensive in Iraq is to ensure that a DEM military leader will not be at risk of a beheading. Color me cynical.

  5. This all seems so obvious even BIDEN could have figured it out! I do have one point of disagreement with the article. “Obama turned around and lost the war. Those are the facts that Obama, and all of us, now have to live with”. WE do have to live with those facts, but Obama doesn’t. I’m sure it hasn’t escaped your notice that liberals often have a completely different set of “facts” than the rest of us..

    • And sadly, liberals will believe and agree with Barry’s take on this, as the MSM slavishly repeats and supports his bullshit.

    • Never in my life did I think that enemies of ours were laughing at us.
      Well maybe laughing one second, but still afraid, and kept in their place.
      Never in my life did I feel that citizens and leaders of other Countries were asking each other, Why won’t the citizens and election officials wake up and put a stop to this?

  6. BTW who was Secretary of State during this time ?? I thought that the SOS negotiates treaties and such , I mean between cocktail parties and such . Who was that person ?? And where are they now ?

  7. Keith, you’ve nailed this Status of Forces agreement story right on the head. I remember reading, when ll this was going on, a newspaper article from India (on line) in which Maliki was interviewed about the failure of obtaining a Status of Forces agreement with the US. Maliki was very clear that HE wanted such an agreement based on the usual conditions, but that every time he accepted the conditions of the agreement, Biden would make more demands, ridiculous demands. Finally, according to Maliki,, it was obvious to him that the US did not really want a Status of Forces agreement at all. Biden’s mission, he believed, was to make sure US demands would be impossible to agree to. Obama wanted out at any cost. And so here we are at it in Iraq again.

    • I heard earlier today that two of the people running against Bibi, had teamed up. One would serve for two years, than the other for the final two. One of them chose to drop the other.
      I apologize for not noting the names. I was driving at the time.

  8. I just turned on the news to hear that Pswaki said: State Dept. reviewed the file. Do not have record of her signing the form. (Separation Statement)
    She threw the comment that Powell and Rice did not sign one either.