You’ve got to hand it to President Obama. To be able to look the camera square in the eye and declare that retreat from Iraq is victory, failure is success, and emboldening an implacable enemy is in our national interest, is a feat worthy of a snake oil salesman.
What the president is selling, however, is a far more potent and deadly poison: the nonsensical belief that the vital interests of America should be subsumed to the nebulous doctrine that Iraq — and by extension the rest of the Middle East — will be a better, more secure place without American troops. This, despite ample evidence that the influence of Iran will be unchecked in what is still a nascent democracy, struggling with divisions and factions that leave it particularly vulnerable to the machinations of the mullahs in Tehran.
In short, the president thought it more important to keep a campaign promise than protect the hard-fought gains of our military, ignoring facts on the ground and even the private pleas from Iraqi leaders in the process.
Now those hollow words and sentiments spoken by the president at a snap news conference called last Friday are going to be put to the test by history. And one needn’t be an expert to envision how, in going against the advice of his generals on the ground (something he railed against President Bush for doing during the 2008 presidential campaign) to maintain a strong US military presence in Iraq, the president’s blunder will lead to an unmitigated disaster to US strategic interests in the region.
Unnecessarily, the president has elevated Iranian prestige to new heights, cheering Tehran’s allies in Syria and Turkey who see any retreat by America in the Middle East as a boon to their hegemonic designs. And while Saudi Arabian ambivalence toward the Shia majority government in Iraq is hard to miss, the Saudis nevertheless fear Iranian designs on their oil fields, and the large Shia minority that inhabits that area of the kingdom. Other Sunni-majority Gulf states look with equal trepidation on an emboldened Iran. The retreat of American troops from Iraq is as much a disaster for them — even if they would never admit it publicly — as it is for the Iraqi people.
An independent Iraq will not survive the president’s perfidy — a betrayal of those who fought, those who died, and those who worked so long to build a civil society shattered by war and sectarian conflict. It is breathtaking in its totality. With one stroke, the administration has assured an enemy who will almost certainly possess nuclear weapons in the near future, a base from which its terrorist proxies will be able to operate. The Iraqi government, which already has demonstrated it can’t — or won’t — resist Iranian interference in its internal affairs, will now achieve full satellite status; an appendage of Iranian policy no more independent than a Medieval vassal state.
The question that we should be asking is how serious was the president in his negotiations with Baghdad to keep a sizable force to train the Iraqi army, and help protect the country from being overwhelmed by the Iranians? According to Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy’s Cable blog, a deal was to be had on the touchy subject of immunity for our soldiers from the capriciousness of the Iraqi justice system, but the administration bungled the negotiations. Rogin quotes Marisa Cochrane Sullivan, managing director at the Institute for the Study of War, as saying, “From the beginning, the talks unfolded in a way where they [were] largely driven by domestic political concerns, both in Washington and Baghdad. Both sides let politics drive the process, rather than security concerns,” she said.
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