Monday, October 24, 2011

Did Obama “Fail” in Iraq?

Republican presidential candidates are reacting to Obama’s announcement of a total Iraq troop withdrawal by year’s end about the way you’d expect. Tanya Somanader has helpfully compiled some reactions:
“Mitt Romney called it an ‘astonishing failure to secure an orderly transition,’ wondering whether ‘naked political calculation or simply sheer ineptitude’ was behind it. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) called it a ‘complete failure,’ while Jon Huntsman downgraded it to a ‘mistake.’ Yesterday on CBS’s Face the Nation, candidate Rick Santorum joined the ‘scathing’ peanut gallery by telling host Bob Schieffer that Obama essentially ‘lost the war in Iraq’ . . .”
The less said about Santorum’s bit about “los[ing] the war in Iraq” the better. And I have no idea in what respect Huntsman thinks Obama was mistaken. But “failure” (however “complete” Bachmann thinks it is) seems fair inasmuch as the Obama administration has always claimed that it preferred leaving somewhere between three and ten thousand troops in Iraq past this year, but couldn’t manage to pull it off.

Yet, if it’s an “astonishing” failure by Romney's standards it's only because he's easily astonished. After all, George W. Bush’s administration tried to negotiate a Status of Forces agreement with the al-Maliki government providing for a troop presence beyond 2011 in 2008 with exactly the same result. I guess it wasn’t foolish to hope that the Iraqi government would change its mind after al-Maliki's political coalition sorted itself out. But the idea that only Obama’s “sheer ineptitude” kept that from happening is preposterous.

If Obama’s Iraq policy is a failure, it's less a matter of not measuring up to Republican standards than his own. He’s the guy who came to the White House talking about “engagement” and “smart diplomacy.” Nearly three years into his presidency he has shockingly little to show for it.

Think of the last two one-term presidents. At roughly the same stage of their presidencies Jimmy Carter was closing in on the Camp David Accords and George H.W. Bush had already assembled the international coalition that would expel Saddam from Kuwait and purportedly lay the foundation for a new world order. Obama has a strategically superfluous arms agreement with the Russians and the out-and-out fiction that he, the French and the British were executing a UN resolution in Libya. An amended Status of Forces  Agreement with Iraq is one more diplomatic success that Obama doesn’t have.  No wonder he's suddenly pretending that he never sought it.

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