Don't Blame Obama for ISIS
Let's explore the main argument from a Lowy Institute author about denying the president's role in the near-collapse of the Iraqi state--now more than 6 years after he took the oath of office:
What is often overlooked is that US troops left Iraq according to the timetable Bush himself had negotiated with Maliki. In late 2008, Bush had signed a Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi Government that set a deadline for the removal of all US troops by the end of 2011. By keeping a residual military force for three years following his election, Obama honoured Bush's commitment. ...
Although Washington was prepared to leave some 3000 trainers, the various figures in Maliki's ruling coalition (such as Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr) firmly rejected the offer to extend the mandate. Baghdad also refused to grant any US trainers the legal immunity from local prosecution that usually defines Status of Forces agreements in nations where US forces are based.
Let's see, President Obama didn't need to keep troops in Iraq after 2011 because that's what Bush wanted? And President Obama's efforts to keep troops in Iraq after 2011 were thwarted by the Iraqis?
I know I'm woefully deficient in nuance, but if the Bush plan all along was to leave Iraq at the end of 2011, why did the Obama negotiate at all to stay?
The fact is, it was always the intent to keep American troops in Iraq to cement our gains--just as we've done in Germany, Japan, Italy, and South Korea. That's why President Obama negotiated with the Iraqis. But he negotiated half-heartedly in a way designed to offer Maliki too little to resist Iranian influence.
Rather than anger Iran but have too few Americans to really matter to cope with that anger, Maliki refused to grant us the protections we needed. President Obama got what he wanted--as the author reminds us--the complete withdrawal from Iraq.
As I've noted before, to believe President Obama tried very hard to stay in Iraq, you have to believe he tried to get something the complete opposite of what he campaigned on; and which he boasted about after we left--our complete withdrawal from Iraq and "responsibly ending" the Iraq War.
In a related argument, the author denies our withdrawal enabled Iran's influence in Iraq:
It is disingenuous to say, as many neoconservatives contend, that Iran's strategic advance in Iraq is simply due to the President's failure to deploy ground troops to fight Sunni jihadists during the past year. The truth is, Tehran's presence in Baghdad was already evident before the US pullout in 2011. General Qasem Soleimani, commander of the Revolutionary Guards Quds Brigade, spearheaded Iran's political and military involvement in Iraq a decade ago. Tehran also helped secure Maliki's presidency in 2006.
Iran's strengthened hand in Iraq has less to do with Obama's withdrawal and more to do with what preceded his presidency. After all, it was the invasion in 2003 and subsequent democratic elections that allowed the majority Shiites, long repressed by Sunni leaders, to gain power for the first time in Arab history.
Let's unpack that.
First, the "neocon" term is just a dog whistle term for the left (and some isolationists on the right) that means Iraq War supporters with a suspiciously Jewish sounding name (dual loyalties anyone?).
All "neo-cons" means is "new conservatives." This is from the Cold War when some liberals wised up to the evil of Soviet Communism and became conservative to resist the USSR. That's it. So I have little respect for people who toss around this term in this context.
On Iran's influence, I don't restrict it to the last year--although the last year has accelerated Iran's push for influence.
In fact, based on Shia common religion, Iran has long had influence in Iraq. This was a major reason that Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in 1980 as revolutionary Iran penetrated Shia society in southern Iraq. Bombs were going off even back then. And Saddam feared his largely Shia troops might not fight very hard for him when he did attack Iran. So this is nothing new.
And if Maliki was a tool of Iran as early as 2006, why did the Obama administration engineer Maliki's win in 2010 despite his second place finish?
[UPDATE: I forgot: And why did Maliki take on the Iranian-supported Sadrists in the Charge of the Knights operation in 2008?]
Finally, if the reason for sectarian divisions is the 2003 invasion that overthrew the minority Sunni Arab government of Saddam, why did Saddam fear Iranian influence over his Shias in 1980?
And is the author suggesting that the proper response would have been to support a Sunni Arab dictatorship--a kinder and gentler Saddam?--to keep the Shias and Sunni Kurds down?
Really? Does that mean that defeating Japan and Germany in World War II was a mistake because of the chaos and danger unleashed by creating power vacuums where they once stood?
Was it a mistake to defeat Hitler because it paved the way for a lengthy, costly, and bloody Cold War?
Was it a mistake to defeat Japan because it led to a revolution in China and bloody Maoist rule and a war on the Korean peninsula in the wake of the "stability" we removed from Korea by defeating Japan?
Sure, that seems kind of silly. But if you said yes to both, you could get tenure and insist that George W. Bush is at fault for the current crisis in Iraq[']
Yes, Iran had influence in Iraq. That predates either Bush and Obama. And jihadis predated all three as well.
But long before Iraq went belly up, I was calling for our presence and support to allow the fledgling Iraqi democracy to hunt down Sunni resistance and Iranian influence largely beaten down in 2007 and 2008 during the Surge offensives. It is indisputable that President Obama inherited a relatively quiet and hopeful Iraq.
And yes, President Obama blew these victories by prematurely leaving Iraq. It is surely possible that the Iraqi state would have broken down at some point anyway even if we stayed. But we never tried.
And now we are back in Iraq--long after it was brutally apparent we are needed--with a lot of ground to cover to regain what we lost.
The defense of President Obama on this issue is farcical. The buck stops here and now--as was always obvious.
UPDATE: Iran is still making gains in Iraq by exploiting our refusal to effectively help Iraq now:
American aerial reconnaissance over Iraq regularly notes more Iranian military vehicles entering Iraq. The Americans believe that there have been several hundred Iranian M-60s and T-72 tanks and other armored vehicles operating with the Shia militias inside Iraq. There have also been a lot of Iranian truck mounted rocket launchers. The tanks and rocket launchers are supposed to have Iraqi crews but in fact most of the Iranian rocket launchers and armored vehicles are operated by Iranians as part of their efforts to support pro-Iranian Iraqi Shia militias. The Americans tolerate this as long as the Iraqi government does, especially since the Americans don’t want to send in troops to help the Iraqi army. While the Iraqis appreciate the Iranian help, they make it clear that the majority of Iraqi Shia do not want to become part of Iran and that Western and Arab allies of Iraq will join the fight against any Iranian moves to take control of Iraq. Not everyone believes this will dissuade the Iranians from making an attempt to annex Iraq. [emphasis added]
Iran penetrates Iraq partly because we go along with it.
As an aside, the post reports allegations that Iran has extorted $10 billion dollars from Iraq as partial payment for Iran's intervention in Iraq. That's nice.
A lot of Lebanese aren't happy with Iran-backed Hezbollah. So what the majority of Iraqi Shia want may not matter of pro-Iran Shias are armed well enough.