Reuters reports today that President Obama has admitted the U.S. will be pulling all of its troops out of Iraq by year’s end. The fact that the United States will not retain any security presence in Iraq, not even a few thousand trainers to develop relationships with and strengthen the Iraqi military, is quite disturbing. The White House has tried to sell it as a fulfillment of Obama’s promise to withdraw troops on schedule, but it actually represents a disappointing end to purportedly promising negotiations about keeping a presence in Iraq.
In August of this year, in an interview with Stars and Stripes, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta claimed that an agreement had been reached with the Iraqi government to keep thousands of troops in Iraq through 2012, to train Iraqi security forces.
This September, when it appeared that only a few thousand troops would remain into 2012, Fox News reported that “senior commanders are said to be livid at the decision. . . . Commanders said they could possibly make that work ‘in extremis,’ in other words, meaning they would be pushing it to make that number work security-wise and manpower-wise.”
Asked whether the plan was indeed to drop levels so dramatically and leave so few troops, press secretary Jay Carney said, “No.”
As recently as Saturday, a Pentagon spokesman, in an interview with the Associated Press, claimed that negotiations to keep more troops into 2012 were still ongoing, and no decision had been reached.
The president concluded today’s briefing with the wan promise that “we will continue discussions on how we might help Iraq train and equip its forces — again, just as we offer training and assistance to countries around the world.”
While this is hardly the most inspiring commitment to a nation which was intended to become our staunch democratic Middle Eastern ally, it should be noted that this is not the Obama administration’s own decision — and probably isn’t for lack of effort, either. The Iraqi parliament refused to continue legal immunity for U.S. troops, beyond the couple hundred or so who would remain as diplomatic security. Without such a concession, the U.S. had little choice but to abide by the existing Status of Forces Agreement ratified under the Bush administration and by the Iraqi government — mandating withdrawal by December 2011. It seems that the Obama administration’s prodigious reputation for negotiation and diplomacy has failed, again, to protect the security interests of America and her allies.