It wasn't bad enough that the casus belli for the Bush administration to invade that country proved false. It also took away the focus of our military into going after the nerve center of those attacks, which was in Afghanistan.
Now in less than two months, that national nightmare will finally conclude, as all U.S. troops will withdraw from Iraq by December 31. Although President Obama is getting praise from his supporters for maintaining a campaign pledge, the fact of the matter is it was the George W. Bush administration who signed the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government that set this withdrawal up a full three years ago.
But conservatives, such as the Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer, argue that President Obama simply didn't argue loud enough in trying to negotiate an agreement that would give legal immunity to a limited number of troops that would stay after December 31.
In his >op-ed today, Krauthammer bashes Obama, but ignores a small fact - the majority of the Iraqi people are through with the U.S. involvement, and would like us to leave.
Now obviously not everybody feels that way, but even if those elements in the Iraqi government did want a U.S. presence to remain, they might have been able to do something proactive about the immunity clause - but they didn't.
Krauthammer, like John McCain before him, also argues that he knows if the Obama administration really wanted to get a deal done, they could have. Heck, George Bush was able to swing that, the conservative columnist writes.
For a moment, let's forget domestic considerations - both for Iraq and for the U.S. (where a just published Gallup survey indicates that 75 percent of Americans support the Obama administration's decision).
Conservatives are also up in arms about how Iran might fill a vacuum and take control of Iraq - this is a big concern that you read and hear about, ignoring the fact that if this was such an overwhelming concern, perhaps we could have avoided this scenario by never invading Iraq in the first place (you may recall how the U.S. "tilted" towards Iraq during their 8-year-war with Iran in the 80's. Saddam wasn't so horrible then, of course).
And then there's this from Krauthammer:
The second failure was the SOFA itself. U.S. commanders recommended nearly 20,000 troops, considerably fewer than our 28,500 in Korea, 40,000 in Japan and 54,000 in Germany. The president rejected those proposals, choosing instead a level of 3,000 to 5,000 troops.
Does anyone have a good answer why we have 54,000 troops in Germany? Didn't the Cold War end 20 years ago? 40,000 troops in Japan. Why? And with so much concern about federal spending, and trying to find a way to deal with the growing deficit due to programs like Medicare and Medicaid, what about the fact that we assume it's just the way things are supposed to be to care and house and feed thousands of troops overseas.
But don't take my word for any of this. Obviously, the editors at the Post thought Krauthammer's column needed a counterpoint, and paid Brett McGurk to write an op-ed in the same paper today opposing the Obama bashing. McGurk is hardly a partisan, as he worked on the national security staffs of Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, and also served as a senior adviser to three U.S. ambassadors in Baghdad.
McGurk addresses all of Krauthammer's worries authoritatively, such as the notion that Obama really could have gotten an agreement with the Iraq's, if he just tried a little harder:
The decision to complete our withdrawal was not the result of a failed negotiation but rather the byproduct of an independent Iraq that has an open political system and a 325-member parliament, whose proceedings are televised daily. U.S. and Iraqi legal experts determined that any new accord required parliamentary approval to ensure U.S. troops would be immune from Iraqi laws. No bloc in parliament other than the Kurds supported that requirement.
That's right - Iraq is actually exercising a little sovereignty. You know, the thing that the neo-cons said what the war was all about - let them stand up so we can stand down, and all that jazz.
But what about Iran? Again, Brett McGurk:
To be sure, Iran retains great influence in Baghdad. But so do we. Over the course of our talks this summer, the Iraqi government quietly dismantled Iranian-backed militia groups in Maysan province, on the Iranian border. It sent messages to Tehran that any attack on U.S. forces would be considered an attack on the Iraqi state. It completed the purchase of 18 F-16s, becoming the world’s ninth-largest purchaser of U.S. military equipment — and the fourth-largest in the region behind Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. These are the building blocks of a real defense partnership, and they do not require the basing of U.S. troops.
In addition, and against the heavy lobbying of Tehran, Iraq invited international oil firms to help develop its infrastructure. The oil is now flowing. Daily production is about to top 3 million barrels for the first time in decades. Within two years, Iraq is projected to surpass Iran’s daily exports — and within five years to double its total production.
The argument that we should keep troops in Iraq to balance Iran never resonated with Iraqis, most of whom do not wish to be drawn into a conflict between the United States and Iran. Nor was it clear that a small residual force would have deterred Iran. It may well have had the opposite effect: fueling recruitment to Iranian-backed extremist groups.
Rest assured, you'll be reading and hearing more carping about the Iraq withdrawal as it nears New Years. Don't believe all of it. Could Iran end up being destructive? Yes, and everybody will be watching that. But it's not an excuse to keep 20,000 more troops in the region, as Krauthammer suggests, based on what the Generals want. The Generals would also keep us in Afghanistan for another decade if not longer, too. That doesn't make Obama wrong for not obeying everything they suggest.