Politics & Policy

Iraq: A Failure of Diplomacy

President Obama doesn’t seem to care if our efforts there go to waste.

The Iraqis kicked us out. After investing hundreds of billions of dollars and sacrificing over 4,000 American servicemen and women (and tens of thousands of more Iraqi soldiers and civilians), the Obama administration finally gave up. President Obama had opposed the war, and his team couldn’t be bothered to flex the diplomatic muscle necessary to ensure all our efforts there hadn’t gone to waste.

You get the sense that the administration won’t even care too much if Iraq unravels — they’ll still be able to pat themselves on the back for the positions they took in 2003. We may be witnessing a kind of I-told-you-so diplomacy, concerned more with past-score settling and domestic politics than with what’s best for the United States and the Middle East. When it came time to work out a deal to allow a stabilizing force of American troops to stay, Obama reportedly wouldn’t even pick up the phone. According to phone logs released by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, Obama called Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki twice this year — once on February 13, and once just over a week ago to tell al-Maliki that U.S. troops would be gone by the end of the year.    

To me, it’s almost a crime for the commander-in-chief to ignore diplomacy when we have troops posted in harm’s way. It was clear as soon as it took office that the Obama administration had abandoned Iraq. On my last trip there, about a year ago, I met with State Department officials who worried that as the war stopped getting attention in Washington, it would mean the State Department mission would not get the funds it needed. Sure enough, that’s what’s happened. State’s grander ambitions for a more robust presence — which would have included training Iraqi security forces — had to be scaled back as well. As the Washington Post reports, we’ll be going from a $50 billion–a–year budget in 2011 for the military to a $6 billion–a–year budget for the embassy in 2012. Yet they are going to be expected to do many of the same activities.

I’m concerned — no, convinced — that we’re setting the State Department up for failure. Its presence in Iraq will be just big enough to be a big target, yet not big enough to have much influence or ability to respond to the fast-changing environment. Much of the country will be essentially off limits, which is likely to add to the already isolated living conditions for personnel posted in Baghdad. Without the funds, what exactly are we expecting our diplomats to do? Without the support of the U.S. military, even the most basic of capacity-building activities are likely to end in failure. And, with the White House so clearly signaling that Iraq isn’t a priority, our diplomats are going to have a hard time convincing Maliki that they have a friend in Washington. Though Baghdad’s ties with Tehran are often over-hyped, there’s no longer any reason for Maliki to even pretend that we are going to make a better ally than Iran.

On a personal level, I feel for the Iraqis who had worked for us. We promised them we were in it for the long haul, and it’s heartbreaking to see us violate those promises. During the worst of the fighting, one of my Iraqi friends would joke that once things got better, I’d finally be able to come over to his family’s house in Sadr City for dinner. When I was in Iraq last year, this visit was still out of the question. Now, with our presence there diminished, our standing ruined, our promises broken — with an empowered Iran and an abandoned Iraq — it will certainly be a long time, if it happens in my lifetime, before any American can spend a casual evening in Sadr City.

— Elise Jordan is a New York–based writer and commentator. She served as a director for communications in the National Security Council in 2008–09 and was a speechwriter for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Elise JordanElise Jordan is a journalist, political speechwriter, and commentator. She served as a director for communications in the National Security Council in 2008 and 2009.


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