Myths vs. Facts on Iraq
Last Friday’s announcement by President Obama that all US troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year marks an important closure. As NSN Senior Adviser and former Commanding General of the Coalition Military Assistance Training Team (CMATT) in Iraq Major General Paul Eaton, US Army (Ret) said in response: “His decision honors the commitments of the United States: to a sovereign Iraqi nation, to the brave American troops and diplomats who have served for almost a decade and to the American people… Hundreds of thousands of dedicated Americans have served our country in Iraq, and nearly four thousand five hundred people have given their lives to support Iraq’s transition to a sovereign democratic nation. Today we thank and honor these men and women and mark a promise kept to Iraqis, to Americans and to the values they serve.”
The decision came after months of inconclusive negotiations, mixed signals from the Iraqi government, and ultimately Iraq’s refusal to grant U.S. troops the standard immunities in place wherever U.S., forces are stationed around the globe. The decision is broadly supported by the American people, and the attacks on it are thus surprising – and based, as was the case with the decision to go to war in the first place, on myths rather than facts.
Myth: President Obama’s decision is based on political calculations. The Hill Reports that, “Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday that key foreign policy decisions by the Obama administration are being made for political reasons. ‘I would argue Iraq and Afghanistan is being run out of Chicago, not Washington, in terms of decisions,’ Graham said on Fox News Sunday. Graham criticized President Obama for planning to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of this year.”[Lindsey Graham via the Hill, 10/23/11]
Reality: This was an agreement negotiated under the George W. Bush administration. Secretary Clinton explained over the weekend, “[L]et’s put this into some context here. President Obama has said from the beginning that combat troops would leave by the end of this year. That should not surprise anyone. But it’s equally important to remember that this deadline was set by the Bush administration. So it’s been a bipartisan commitment, but it was on President Obama’s watch to show the leadership to be able to fulfill the commitment. So we are now going to have a security relationship with Iraq for training and support of their military, similar to what we have around the world from Jordan to Colombia. We will have military trainers and support personnel on the ground at Embassy Baghdad. We will be training Iraqis on using the military equipment that they are buying from the United States, and we think that this is the kind of mature relationship that is very common. So I believe that we are looking to fulfill what it is that the Iraqis requested and that we’re prepared to provide.” [Hillary Clinton via NBC, 10/23/11]
Myth: The U.S. drawdown is creating a vacuum for Iran. Neoconservative commentator Frederick Kagan asserted that, “This retreat will have great costs for the United States… How can we claim to be taking a firm line against Iran while giving Tehran the single most important demand it has pursued for years — the complete withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq?” [Frederick Kagan via USA Today, 10/23/11]
Reality: The U.S. will maintain a strong presence in the region. The Washington Post’s Walter Pincus writes, “By Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s count, that’s 23,000 American troops in Kuwait, 7,500 in Qatar, 5,000 in Bahrain and nearly 3,000 in the United Arab Emirates. ‘We have about 40,000 troops in that region … along with a large number of troops in other countries as well, along with the fact that we have 100,000 troops in Afghanistan,” Panetta said Sunday during a trip to Bali. ‘We will always have a force that will be present and that will deal with any threats from Iran.’ Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, asked on CNN’s State of the Union about her fears that Iran might try to increase its presence in Iraq, said ‘we have bases in neighboring countries, we have our NATO ally in Turkey, we have a lot of presence in that region.’ ‘So no one, most particularly Iran, should miscalculate about our continuing commitment to and with the Iraqis going forward,’ she said.” [Leon Panetta and Hillary Clinton via Washington Post, 10/24/11]
Myth: The Obama administration was out-negotiated. On ABC’s “This Week” Senator John McCain said, “Well, I think it’s a serious mistake. And there was never really serious negotiations between the administration and the Iraqis. They could have clearly made an arrangement for U.S. troops.” [John McCain via ABC, 10/23/11]
Reality: U.S. stood by its bottom lines: that Iraqis lead on their own security, and U.S. troops will not be there without standard immunity protections. As Major General Paul Eaton said: “The United States has provided opportunities for Iraqis to ask for an American troop presence beyond the date agreed to by President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Nouri al Maliki in 2008. They have not asked for that. It would be inappropriate to keep troops without Iraqi legal immunity for our servicemembers.” [Paul Eaton, 10/22/11]
Myth: There was a failure to provide an orderly transition. In response to President Obama’s announcement, presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said, “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.” [Mitt Romney, 10/24/11]
Reality: Uniformed military has supported timeline and prepared accordingly for years. Former commanding general in Iraq and current Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno said in 2009 that the military was prepared for the end of operations in 2011. CNN reports: “Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, said Sunday he believes U.S. troops will be out of the country by the end of 2011. On CNN’s ‘State of the Union,’ chief national correspondent John King asked Odierno to rate his confidence, on a scale of 1 to 10, that U.S. troops would be out by the end of the timeline agreed by the U.S. and Iraqi governments. ‘As you ask me today, I believe it’s a 10 — that we will be gone by 2011,’ Odierno responded.” [General Ray Odierno via CNN, 4/12/09]
What We’re Reading
Tunisian authorities counted votes in the first free election in the nation’s history, with early signs that a once-banned moderate Islamist party is leading in the country that unleashed uprisings across the Arab world.
Robert S. Ford, the American ambassador to Damascus who has played a high-profile role in responding to the uprising there, has left the country after receiving “credible threats against his personal safety,” embassy officials said.
Libya’s new leaders declared their nation “liberated,” paving the way for elections and a constitution that the revolutionary government says will put the country on a path to its first representative democracy.
Days after he stood with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and accused Pakistan of harboring his country’s enemies, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan said this weekend that his country would support Pakistan if it ever went to war with the United States.
Foreign military forces have joined the offensive against the Shabab militant group in Somalia, as Kenyan troops advanced toward the rebel stronghold of Kismayu.
Saudi Arabia is preparing for the funeral of Crown Prince Sultan as attention inside the kingdom and abroad turns to his successor and the likely appointment of a new defense minister.
European leaders yet again put off the tough decisions needed to respond to the debt crisis.
Hundreds of rescue workers worked through the night attempting to dig out survivors after a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit eastern Turkey, leveling dozens of buildings and killing hundreds.
A Chinese leader is urging North Korea to improve its strained ties with the United States as U.S. and North Korean diplomats prepare to talk about restarting nuclear disarmament negotiations.
Commentary of the Day
Los Angeles Times editorializes that civilian courts are the right place for terrorism trials.
Christopher Dickey interviews Condoleezza Rice about her time in the Bush Administration.
Jonathan Steele writes that the Iraq war is finally over and it marks a complete neocon defeat.
Elizabeth Dickinson asks whether Tunisia’s new democracy can bridge the Islamist-secular divide.