The Obama Administration’s Foreign Policy Disasters (Iraq Edition)

by Pejman Yousefzadeh on September 23, 2012

Be sure to read this very revealing story on how the Obama administration–which claims to have done a good job on foreign policy, don’tcha know–utterly botched the withdrawal from Iraq:

In the case of Iraq, the American goal has been to leave a stable and representative government, avoid a power vacuum that neighboring states and terrorists could exploit and maintain sufficient influence so that Iraq would be a partner or, at a minimum, not an opponent in the Middle East.

But the Obama administration has fallen frustratingly short of some of those objectives.

The attempt by Mr. Obama and his senior aides to fashion an extraordinary power-sharing arrangement between Mr. Maliki and Mr. Allawi never materialized. Neither did an agreement that would have kept a small American force in Iraq to train the Iraqi military and patrol the country’s skies. A plan to use American civilians to train the Iraqi police has been severely cut back. The result is an Iraq that is less stable domestically and less reliable internationally than the United States had envisioned.

The story of these efforts has received little attention in a nation weary of the conflict in Iraq, and administration officials have rarely talked about them. This account is based on interviews with many of the principals, in Washington and Baghdad.

White House officials portray their exit strategy as a success, asserting that the number of civilian fatalities in Iraq is low compared with 2006, when the war was at its height. Politics, not violence, has become the principal means for Iraqis to resolve their differences, they say. “Recent news coverage of Iraq would suggest that as our troops departed, American influence went with them and our administration shifted its focus away from Iraq,” Antony Blinken, the national security adviser to Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., said in a speech in March. “The fact is, our engagements have increased.”

To many Iraqis, the United States’ influence is greatly diminished. “American policy is very weak,” observed Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff to Massoud Barzani, the president of the semiautonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq. “It is not clear to us how they have defined their interests in Iraq,” Mr. Hussein said. “They are picking events and reacting on the basis of events. That is the policy.”

The story reveals that the administration overestimated their ability to keep troops in Iraq by extending the SOFA (status of forces agreement) negotiated by the Bush administration. Vice President Biden “bet” his vice presidency on the proposition that the SOFA would be extended, which means he ought to have resigned by now. Additionally, we learn that recommendations by Admiral Mike Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to keep 16,000 troops in Iraq were vetoed for political reasons (the White House wanted to boast about withdrawing the forces in advance of this year’s elections), and that National Security Advisor Thomas Donilon was irate at the suggestion that 16,000 troops remain; after all, how dare Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates give their best national security advice to the president when that advice may have interfered with Barack Obama’s ability to win re-election. Eventually, even that number was shrunk to “a continuous presence of about 3,500 troops, a rotating force of up to 1,500 and half a dozen F-16’s,” before the decision was made to simply pull out all American troops. And as we recall, the SOFA was not extended and the troops were withdrawn–despite an administration desire to keep some kind of presence in Iraq–in part because neither President Obama nor Vice President Biden could be bothered to call up their counterparts in Iraq and urge them to extend the troop presence by ensuring immunity for American soldiers.

The results?

Without American forces to train and assist Iraqi commandos, the insurgent group Al Qaeda in Iraq is still active in Iraq and is increasingly involved in Syria. With no American aircraft to patrol Iraqi airspace, Iraq has become a corridor for Iranian flights of military supplies to Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria, American officials say. It is also a potential avenue for an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear installations, something the White House is laboring to avoid.

Heckuva job, Obama administration. And this is a group that knows how to handle foreign policy challenges?

  • Really?

    “in part because neither President Obama nor Vice President Biden could be bothered to call up their counterparts in Iraq and urge them to extend the troop presence by ensuring immunity for American soldiers.” Wow you sure do have some amazing contacts that you know who the Pres. calls, on second thought you sound fat.

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