President Obama’s failure to leave any U.S. troops in Iraq has had cataclysmic ramifications. This is not just some minor mistake. It is a dereliction of duty and a failure of judgement, done in part for political motives, that will kill Americans.
In his upcoming memoir, Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace, former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta makes the highly damning charge that the White House resisted advice from all quarters of the U.S. military that U.S. forces remain in Iraq to help keep the country together, and that the White House then failed to make a serious effort to negotiate a troop presence with the Iraqis.
Panetta is highly credible. He was not just one of the few experienced adults in the Obama administration. He is a Democrat and a former Democratic politician who served as a member of the House.
Obama recently blamed Maliki for the failure to maintain a U.S. troop presence. Panetta’s book highlights the disingenuousness of this claim, showing that Maliki could have been budged but the White House failed to act. Further proof of Obama’s insincerity – and a buttressing of Panetta’s claim – has already been provided by the fact that Obama actually campaigned on the full removal of troops from Iraq, portraying it as a success.
From an excerpt of the book, carried by Time magazine. The moment Panetta is describing comes at the end of 2011, when the final U.S. troops were withdrawn. I’ve bolded some key phrases.
Now that the deadline was upon us, however, it was clear to me—and many others—that withdrawing all our forces would endanger the fragile stability then barely holding Iraq together.
We had leverage. We could, for instance, have threatened to withdraw reconstruction aid to Iraq if al-Maliki would not support some sort of continued U.S. military presence. My fear, as I voiced to the President and others, was that if the country split apart or slid back into the violence that we’d seen in the years immediately following the U.S. invasion, it could become a new haven for terrorists to plot attacks against the U.S. Iraq’s stability was not only in Iraq’s interest but also in ours. I privately and publicly advocated for a residual force that could provide training and security for Iraq’s military.
Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy did her best to press that position, which reflected not just my views but also those of the military commanders in the region and the Joint Chiefs. But the President’s team at the White House pushed back, and the differences occasionally became heated. Flournoy argued our case, and those on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.
We debated with al-Maliki even as we debated among ourselves, with time running out. The clock wound down in December, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Ash Carter continued to argue our case, extending the deadline for the Iraqis to act, hoping that we might pull out a last-minute agreement and recognizing that once our forces left, it would be essentially impossible for them to turn around and return. To my frustration, the White House coordinated the negotiations but never really led them. Officials there seemed content to endorse an agreement if State and Defense could reach one, but without the President’s active advocacy, al-Maliki was allowed to slip away. The deal never materialized. To this day, I believe that a small U.S. troop presence in Iraq could have effectively advised the Iraqi military on how to deal with al-Qaeda’s resurgence and the sectarian violence that has engulfed the country.
One thing Panetta doesn’t mention here is that Obama was also offering only a token force of a few thousand troops, not enough to make it worth it for Maliki to spend the political capital to keep U.S. forces in the country. The military want 10,000-15,000 in country.
Megan Kelly tried to get at the insufficient offer during an interview with State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki last night.
Here’s their spirited exchange. I have to say, I usually don’t let myself get too frustrated with press secretaries, since I know it’s their job to burnish the facts, shall we say. But watching Ms. Psaki smugly sit there denying all culpability while her boss’s policies have led to incalculable consequences is a lot to take.
We will be living with this debacle, which resulted directly in the rise of ISIS, for years to come.
And some of us will be dying from it.