Throughout the summer and autumn, as talks on a continued U.S. military presence in Iraq foundered, President Barack Obama and his point man on Iraq, Vice President Joe Biden, remained aloof from the process, not even phoning top Iraqi officials to help reach a deal, according to logs released by the U.S. Embassy here.
The omission is an unusual one, given the high priority that U.S. officials had given to achieving an agreement for some sort of residual U.S. presence in Iraq after the Dec. 31 pullout deadline set in a 2008 pact between the two countries. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and other senior Pentagon officials spoke often about the need for an agreement in a pivotal country in a volatile region and insisted talks were continuing up until Friday, when Obama announced that all U.S. troops would be coming home before the end of December.
A listing of direct conversations provided by the embassy — drawn, the embassy said, from the White House website — indicates that Obama had no direct contact with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki between Feb. 13, when he telephoned the prime minister, until Friday, when he called al-Maliki to tell him U.S. troops would be withdrawn by Dec. 31.
Also absent for nearly the entire year was Biden. According to the official listing, Biden telephoned al-Maliki on Dec. 21, the day al-Maliki formed a new government, and visited here Jan. 18, but had no direct contact after that date, according to the official listing.
U.S. Embassy officials, asked in July whether Biden was coming to help secure the deal, which military officers said needed to be concluded by July 31 for planning purposes, said the vice president was too busy trying to end the donnybrook in Congress over raising the national debt ceiling to visit Iraq.
On Tuesday, a White House spokesman, Tommy Vietor, denied that Obama and Biden had not talked to al-Maliki during the negotiations. But he did not respond to a request for the dates of conversations between the president and al-Maliki.
“The VP talked to senior Iraqi leaders multiple times during that period of time,” Vietor wrote in an email. “The president also engaged with Iraqi leaders. Your story is totally wrong.”
Iraqi government spokesman Tahseen al Shaikhli said he could not explain the lack of contact between al-Maliki and top-level Americans.
“You’ll have to ask (Obama) why he didn’t intervene before this, or call before this,” he said.
And somehow, we are supposed to believe that the departure from Iraq is entirely in line with Administration aims, and represents a triumph for Team Obama? Or that misleading and hackish efforts to distract from the issues by the likes of Andrew Sullivan should be allowed to disguise the degree to which the Administration has made a mess of things in Iraq?