President Obama's Secretary of Defense Panetta at the time argues that President Obama was a passive figure in the talks between America and Iraq before December 2011 who didn't try to get a status of forces agreement (SOFA) with Prime Minister Maliki to allow our troops to stay in Iraq:
"Those on our side viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests," he said in excerpts of the book released by Time Magazine.
He writes that his views were shared by other military commanders in the region and the Joint Chiefs of Staff but he believes that the Commander-in-Chief could have done more.
"Officials there seemed content to endorse an agreement if State and Defense could reach one, but without the President's active advocacy, al-Maliki was allowed to slip away. The deal never materialized," writes Panetta.
President Obama told CBS's "60 Minutes" that former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki had "squandered" the opportunity to be a thriving democracy with a strong military because he "was much more interested in consolidating his Shia base and very suspicious of the Sunnis and the Kurds" than creating a united government.
Remember, President Obama got exactly what he always said he wanted--to exit Iraq completely. To argue that he really wanted an agreement is nonsense.
If our negotiators had managed to come to an agreement with Iraq, I imagine President Obama would have signed it. But our president did not try to use our power to get that agreement.
Yes, Maliki shares some blame. As do the nationalists (or sectarianists) in Iraq who wrongly believed we weren't needed (or who believed we would get in the way of their sectarian interests).
But it isn't fair to say that Maliki squandered his opportunity to create a united government. To call Maliki a sectarian advocate is to ignore that in spring 2008 he ordered the "Charge of the Knights" operation around Basra to clean out pro-Iranian Shia militias.
The fact is, by offering a mere 10,000 troops (and later just 3,000), which was fewer than the 24,000 our military wanted to keep (which is darned close to the 25,000 I advocated at the time), President Obama did not offer Maliki enough protection to risk angering the Iranians.
If we were going to half-heartedly (as our president's indifference and small troop offer showed) remain in Iraq while an intensely interested Iran remained next door, why wouldn't Maliki resort to Shia sectarian policies as a matter of survival? That's not squandering an opportunity. That's taking the only opportunity open to him.
The only way Maliki could continue to resist Iranian pressure and sectarian pressures internally was with a large enough American counter-weight behind him. President Obama refused to provide that.
If he had, we could have had the Maliki of 2008 who was secure enough to take on Shia fanatics and work with Kurds and Sunni Arabs (regardless of his true feelings about them).
Instead we got a sectarian Maliki who let loyalty and corruption rather than effectiveness guide his military policies, which led to a hollow military in the north that collapsed when fanatical warriors attacked them at the head of what was essentially a regional Sunni Arab revolt against Maliki, which continues to make gains even as it loses ground in other places:
Islamic State seized the town of Kubaisa two days after the fall of the nearby town of Hit as the group sought to consolidate control in towns west of Anbar’s capital Ramadi.
The fall of Kubaisa jeopardizes the strategic Ain al-Asad military base, which allows Iraqi forces to send troops and supplies to defend the Haditha dam further west where a small number of Sunni tribes and government forces are fending off Islamic State forces.
So we have passively watched the rise of ISIL. And a president who made opposition to fighting in Iraq the foundation of his run for the presidency finds himself fighting our current war in Iraq and in Syria. Which is kind of funny in a perverse sort of way considering how eager President Obama was to wash his hand of Iraq. Fate is a harsh mistress, indeed.
I know Maliki is the designated fall guy for the administration and a lot of conservatives, too, but we had a large role in creating the environment that transformed a "good" Maliki into a "bad" Maliki.
So President Obama and Prime Minister Maliki have something in common: neither was a master of their fate.