Last Friday, US President Barack Obama announced that “the long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year,” marking the conclusion of a nearly 9-year war that cost the U.S more than 4,400 lives, more than 33,000 injured servicemen and servicewomen, and upwards of one trillion dollars. As the approximately 45,000 American troops in Iraq begin their phased withdrawal, many questions remain, primary of which is whether Iraq is in fact “safe, stable, and self-reliant,” as the White House claims, or whether a war-torn society, governed by a fractured and frail government, can resist and overcome the challenges that lie ahead. And lurking in the shadows is Shiite Iran. As described this past July by then-Joint Chiefs Chairman US Adm. Mike Mullen, "Iran is playing an out-sized role [in Iraq].” The departure of US forces from Iraq stands to further empower Tehran’s mullahs, as another roadblock to their pursuit of nuclear weapons and Middle East hegemony will soon be removed.
AN END TO THE IRAQ WAR? ONLY FOR THE U.S.
Washington Post, October 22, 2011
“The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year,” President Obama announced [last] Friday afternoon. That will be true only for American soldiers. Iraqi insurgents, including al-Qaeda, continue to wage war against the country’s fragile democratic government; Iran sponsors its own militias and has been accelerating its effort to dominate its neighbour.… And a tense standoff goes on between ethnic Kurdish and Iraqi government forces in northern Iraq—where Turkey has just launched its own armed incursion.
It could be, as White House officials argued, that the government of Nouri al-Maliki and its armed forces can manage all these threats without help or training from American soldiers, who have already played a secondary role since the end of combat operations last year. But Mr. Obama’s decision to carry out a complete withdrawal sharply increases the risk that painfully won security gains in Iraq will come undone; that Iran will be handed a crucial strategic advantage in its regional cold war with the United States; and that a potentially invaluable U.S. alliance with an emerging Iraqi democracy will wither.
Mr. Obama portrayed the complete pullout of the 43,000 remaining U.S. forces as the product of “full agreement” with Mr. Maliki, whom he invited to Washington in December to work on a future partnership. In fact, both governments were internally divided. The majority of Iraqi leaders sought a continued U.S. troop presence as a check on Iran and a guarantor of a strong alliance—just like other American allies in the Persian Gulf. But Mr. Maliki found it hard to face down the Iranian-backed party in his government; he eventually brokered a bad compromise under which Iraq proposed that U.S. training forces remain but be denied the legal immunity the Pentagon insists on elsewhere in the world.
That gave Mr. Obama a ready reason to side with White House advisers who had argued against a stay-on force all along. U.S. military commanders, with an eye on Iran, had planned for a troop contingent of up to 18,000. But civilian aides argued that U.S. and Iraqi security forces have demonstrated the ability to maintain control even as U.S. forces have pulled back.… Washington, they say, has the means to maintain influence through its arms sales to Iraq and the trainers who will accompany them—not to mention a U.S. embassy that will be among the largest in the world.
The next year or two will show whether that calculation is correct. In the meantime Mr. Obama will surely boast on the campaign trail, as he did at the White House, that he has fulfilled his 2008 pledge “to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end.” End it will, for Americans if not for Iraqis; as for “responsible,” count us among the doubters.
SNATCHING DEFEAT FROM THE JAWS OF VICTORY IN IRAQ
FrontPage, October 24, 2011
President Obama has announced that all U.S. troops will leave Iraq by the end of the year, with the exception of 160 soldiers to guard the embassy. The premature withdrawal will force the Iraqi leadership into Iran’s arms, bringing the regime closer to its dream of creating a Shiite crescent to destroy Israel. And in a shrewd political maneuver, President Obama took credit for the “success” and left out the inconvenient fact that the timeline he followed was signed under President Bush.
The administration is deceitfully saying that this was the plan all along when that is demonstrably false. The U.S. pressured the Iraqis to come to an agreement on extending the U.S. stay into 2012, and almost every Iraqi political party approved. General Lloyd Austin asked that 14-18,000 troops remain; a number that did not make President Obama happy. The number was reduced to 10,000, earning the support of Secretary of State Clinton. That, too, was too much for President Obama. It fell to 3-4,000, raising significant concern about whether it’d be enough. Now, it has been announced that all of the remaining 39,000 troops will come home by Christmas.…
Left behind will be 5,000 security contractors for the State Department and 9,500 for the Defense Department. Thousands of more American contractors will stay for logistical support. Also staying in Iraq will be Iran’s proxies like Moqtada al-Sadr, who vowed to target every single U.S. soldier remaining in Iraq next year. Let’s hope he doesn’t view the contractors as legitimate targets, because the U.S. won’t have the forces on the ground to fight his forces. Other Iranian-backed militias like Kaitab Hezbollah, Asaib Ahl al-Haq and the Promised Day Brigade will also still be around, and will outnumber the Americans.
It is true that the final decision to carry out a complete withdrawal was based on the Iraqi refusal to grant immunity to American soldiers. Prime Minister al-Maliki wanted to grant them immunity, but it was politically impossible because the Sadrists could bring down his government. The U.S. was defeated politically by al-Sadr, but it didn’t have to be that way.
The U.S. could have put the soldiers on the payroll of the U.S. embassy, automatically granting them diplomatic immunity, instead of seeking the approval of the Iraqi parliament. The issue would have been separated from the negotiations. Additionally, the U.S. failed to reach out to other Iraqi political parties and figures, such as Iyad Allawi, a secular Shiite opposed to Iran, whose support could have allowed al-Maliki to approve immunity. There was already bad blood between Allawi and the Obama Administration. After Allawi won the elections in 2010, he complained that the U.S. wasn’t supporting his attempts to form a government because it wanted to appease Iran.…
There is a direct correlation between U.S. strength and Iraqi willingness to stand up to its enemies. When the security situation was at its worst in 2006, the majority of Iraqis wanted U.S. forces to depart. Once the surge began, al-Maliki took on the Iranian-supported militias. Moqtada al-Sadr fled to Iran. The Iraqis looked upon the U.S. presence more favorably as the country stabilized. This summer, when Iran escalated attacks on American forces, the U.S. said it would not stand for it and would take action. The Iraqis privately confronted Iran, and the attacks sharply and quickly fell. On the other hand, when the U.S. declined to back Iraq in its confrontation with Syria in 2009, [Iraq] decided to mend its ties with the Assad regime. The Iraqi government is now taking Assad’s side as he tries to crush the uprising against him.
If Iran dominates Iraq, the regime (especially Ahmadinejad) will view it as the fulfillment of prophecy and a vindication of its End Times-based worldview, as expressed in its documentary, “The Coming is Upon Us.” Iraq plays a central role in Shiite Islamic prophecy. A senior Hezbollah official in Lebanon was not coy about what will follow a U.S. withdrawal from Iraq. A “Shiite crescent” will form, bringing together 100 million people against Israel. Hundreds of thousands of “martyrs” will die and Israel will use nuclear weapons, but the Jewish state will be destroyed. There were two things stopping this, he said: The U.S. presence in Iraq and the potential overthrow of Bashar Assad in Syria. The U.S. withdrawal removes these two barriers.
Secretary of State Clinton warns Iran to not interpret the withdrawal as U.S. weakness. She points out that the U.S. still has bases and allies in the region. However, Turkey is far from a reliable ally now. Egypt, Yemen and Jordan are threatened with Muslim Brotherhood takeovers, which the Iranian regime also views as the fulfillment of prophecy. Qatar has moved into the Islamist camp, and Iran has the capability to massively retaliate against pro-American Arab regimes. Even if the pro-American Arab governments stand by the U.S. now, Iran will essentially have a border with Israel if it dominates Iraq and if a war commences, these states will be politically forced to side with Iran.…
Iraq has made immense progress since the days of Saddam Hussein and since its near-collapse in 2006. The security forces have improved in their ability to protect the country, and nearly 5,000 American soldiers have lost their lives to get Iraq to this point. If Iran steers the direction of Iraq, then it will have gone a long way in creating its Shiite crescent and the U.S. will have paid the cost for it to happen.
HOW THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION BUNGLED
THE IRAQ WITHDRAWAL NEGOTIATIONS
Foreign Policy, October 21, 2011
The Obama administration is claiming it always intended to withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of this year, in line with the president’s announcement [last Friday], but in fact several parts of the administration appeared to try hard to negotiate a deal for thousands of troops to remain—and failed.…
Deputy National Security Advisors Denis McDonough and Tony Blinken said in a White House briefing that this was always the plan. “What we were looking for was an Iraq that was secure, stable, and self reliant, and that’s what we got here, so there’s no question that was a success,” said McDonough, who traveled to Iraq last week.
But what about the extensive negotiations the administration has been engaged in for months, regarding U.S. offers to leave thousands of uniformed soldiers in Iraq past the deadline? It has been well reported that those negotiations, led by U.S. Ambassador James Jeffrey, Army Gen. Lloyd Austin, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, and White House official Brett McGurk, had been stalled over the U.S. demand that the remaining troops receive immunity from Iraqi courts.
“What the president preferred was for the best relationship for the United States and Iraq going forward. That’s exactly what we have now,” McDonough said, barely acknowledging the administration’s intensive negotiations. “We talked about immunities, there’s no question about that.… But the bottom line is that the decision you heard the president talk about today is reflective of his view and the prime minister’s view of the kind of relationship we want to have going forward. That relationship is a normal relationship,” he said.
Of course, the U.S.-Iraqi relationship is anything but normal.… “Iraq is not a normal country, the security environment is not normal, the embassy is not a normal embassy,” said Marisa Cochrane Sullivan, managing director at the Institute for the Study of War, who traveled to Iraq this summer and has been sounding the alarm about what she saw as the mishandling of the negotiations ever since.…
Sullivan was one of 40 conservative foreign policy professionals who wrote to Obama in September to warn that even a residual force of 4,000 troops would “leave the country more vulnerable to internal and external threats, thus imperiling the hard-fought gains in security and governance made in recent years at significant cost to the United States.” She said that the administration’s negotiating strategy was flawed for a number of reasons: it failed to take into account Iraqi politics, failed to reach out to a broad enough group of Iraqi political leaders, and sent contradictory messages on the troop extension throughout the process. “From the beginning, the talks unfolded in a way where they largely driven by domestic political concerns, both in Washington and Baghdad. Both sides let politics drive the process, rather than security concerns,” said Sullivan.…
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon(R-CA) echoed those sentiments in a statement and expressed skepticism that Iraq is as “safe, stable, and self reliant” as the White House claims. “Multiple experts have testified before my committee that the Iraqis still lack important capacities in their ability to maintain their internal stability and territorial integrity,” McKeon said. “These shortcomings could reverse the decade of hard work and sacrifice both countries have endured to build a free Iraq.…”
IRAQ WITHDRAWAL, A GIFT TO IRAN
National Review, October 24, 2011
If the Iranians pride themselves on playing chess while we play checkers, they never could have expected us to walk away from the board.
But that’s our next move in Iraq. President Obama announced [last] Friday that all of the roughly 40,000 U.S. troops will leave the country by the end of the year. We are thus handing the Iranians a goal they have sought for years—to remove us from Iraq entirely so they can better influence the country for their ends. It once seemed that Iraq could be a strategic ally and base for our influence in the Middle East; it now may become both those things for our foremost enemy in the region.
The Iranians must think they either are very lucky or—more likely very good. The announcement of our total withdrawal comes just weeks after the revelation of an Iranian plot to execute the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. on our soil. It comes as Iran’s key Arab ally, the Assad regime in Syria, is rocked by a revolt. Just as Tehran’s dangerousness is put in stark relief and as events in Syria threaten to deal it a strategic setback, it gets this windfall.
The Obama administration is talking out of both sides of its mouth on Iraq. On the one hand, it says the total withdrawal is the blessed advent of one of President Obama’s most cherished campaign promises, proof of how committed he’s always been to ending the Iraq War. On the other, it says on background that this is all the Iraqis’ fault, that we wanted to maintain troops on the ground after 2011 but the Iraqis wouldn’t budge. It appears that the first factor played into the second—the administration’s lack of commitment to Iraq was the crucial backdrop to its poor handling of inherently difficult negotiations with the Iraqis.
To continue to maintain troops in Iraq after the expiration of the current deal for our presence at the end of the year, we needed the Iraqis to agree to give our troops immunity. This is obviously always a sensitive issue. And negotiations with the Iraqis over almost anything tend to drag out to the breaking point. None of this should have necessarily deep-sixed a deal, given how many top Iraqi leaders say privately that they want to keep American forces in the country. The Obama administration foolishly insisted that the Iraqi Council of Representatives endorse an immunity deal, a political impossibility. But it’s hard to believe that if the administration truly wanted to make a deal happen it couldn’t have worked something out with enough patience and ingenuity.
Instead, President Obama took to the podium on Friday for a snap announcement of the end of the war.…
Our pullout is a bonanza for Tehran. Its militias were already active in Iraq. Now, it can use Iraq for bases for its proxy forces to spread its tentacles in the rest of the Persian Gulf. Independent ayotollahs in Iraq will have an incentive to keep their heads down. Political decisions of the Iranian-influenced Shiite bloc running the country are sure to begin to tilt more and more Iran’s way. Our diplomatic leverage will diminish, even as we maintain our largest embassy in the world in Baghdad. The Iranians will crow in Iraq and throughout the region that they were right that the Americans would eventually leave.
We expended a great deal of blood and treasure to topple Saddam Hussein, and then to establish enough order so that George W. Bush’s successor would only have to consolidate our gains. President Obama is careless enough to risk throwing it all away, and shameless enough to call it success.
Michael A. Walsh
NY Post, October 24, 2011
President Obama’s decision to withdraw all US troops from Iraq means that, after nearly nine years of one of our most divisive wars, which cost more than 4,000 American lives and hundreds of billions of dollars, all our forces will be coming home by year’s end.
The wisdom of the complete pullout will be hotly debated, but what’s not in question is the valor, skill and sheer decency of the American troops. No matter how the Middle East turns out, they should come home to a hero’s welcome—and the unconditional thanks of a grateful nation.
In the decade since 9/11, American fighting forces have distinguished themselves once more as one of the finest in the world. Operating under battlefield rules of engagement that would have hamstrung their World War II and Vietnam-era counterparts, their every action monitored by military lawyers, parsed by an ideologically hostile media and lampooned by Hollywood, they shattered an unscrupulous and ruthless foe who ignored the laws of war in pursuit of its murderous ideology.
They also developed and perfected a new kind of modern warfare, with new weapons, tactics and a whole new way of thinking about special forces. The massed tank battles of Desert Storm, which drove Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait in 1991, may well be the last the world ever sees.
In their place have come electronic warfare, drones, body armor and sniper rifles that can kill an enemy a mile and a half away. Special Forces—once the “tip of the spear”—have become the spear itself; it was the Navy SEALs and the crack helicopter unit, the 110th SOAR, who took out Osama bin Laden.
Our forces dispatched Saddam with ease and wrapped up the first phase of combat within weeks of the 2003 invasion. When the Bush administration made the near-fatal mistake of confusing the rout of Saddam with victory, they rallied through the fog of war and hung tough until the 2007 Surge finally brought the restive country under control.…
Our all-volunteer armed forces have distinguished themselves time and again in the face of relentless provocations and cowardly attacks.… Despite the animosity from the elites on the home front, especially in the run-up to the 2004 election, our forces persisted. One of the reasons there has not been a successful al Qaeda operation in America…is that al Qaeda was destroyed as an effective fighting force in Iraq.…
It’s a bittersweet victory, to be sure. The Iraqis can’t wait to see us go, and there’s plenty of worry about what comes next there. Yet nothing can diminish what our troops have achieved or tarnish what they have done—and only a lack of national will can stop them from doing it again when destiny calls.