Archive for Saturday, November 5, 2011

End of Iraq War was bungled by Obama

November 5, 2011


Barack Obama was a principled opponent of the Iraq War from its beginning. But when he became president in January 2009, he was handed a war that was won. The surge had succeeded. Al-Qaida in Iraq had been routed, driven to humiliating defeat by an Anbar Awakening of Sunnis fighting side-by-side with the infidel Americans. Even more remarkably, the Shiite militias had been taken down, with American backing, by the forces of Shiite Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. They crushed the Sadr militias from Basra to Sadr City.

Al-Qaida decimated. A Shiite prime minister taking a decisively nationalist line. Iraqi Sunnis ready to integrate into a new national government. U.S. casualties at their lowest ebb in the entire war. Elections approaching. Obama was left with but a single task: Negotiate a new status-of-forces agreement (SOFA) to reinforce these gains and create a strategic partnership with the Arab world’s only democracy.

He blew it. Negotiations, such as they were, finally collapsed last month. There is no agreement, no partnership. As of Dec. 31, the American military presence in Iraq will be liquidated.

And it’s not as if that deadline snuck up on Obama. He had three years to prepare for it. Everyone involved, Iraqi and American, knew that the 2008 SOFA calling for full U.S. withdrawal was meant to be renegotiated. And all major parties but one (the Sadr faction) had an interest in some residual stabilizing U.S. force, like the postwar deployments in Japan, Germany and Korea.

Three years, two abject failures. The first was the administration’s inability, at the height of American post-surge power, to broker a centrist nationalist coalition governed by the major blocs — one predominantly Shiite (Maliki’s), one predominantly Sunni (Ayad Allawi’s), one Kurdish — that among them won a large majority (69 percent) of seats in the 2010 election.

Vice President Joe Biden was given the job. He failed utterly. The government ended up effectively being run by a narrow sectarian coalition where the balance of power is held by the relatively small (12 percent) Iranian-client Sadr faction.

The second failure was the SOFA itself. The military 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.

A deployment so risibly small would have to expend all its energies simply protecting itself — the fate of our tragic, missionless 1982 Lebanon deployment — with no real capability to train the Iraqis, build their U.S.-equipped air force, mediate ethnic disputes (as we have successfully done, for example, between local Arabs and Kurds), operate surveillance and special-ops bases, and establish the kind of close military-to-military relations that undergird our strongest alliances.

The Obama proposal was an unmistakable signal of unseriousness. It became clear that he simply wanted out, leaving any Iraqi foolish enough to maintain a pro-American orientation exposed to Iranian influence, now unopposed and potentially lethal. Message received. Just this past week, Massoud Barzani, leader of the Kurds — for two decades the staunchest of U.S. allies — visited Tehran to bend a knee to both President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It didn’t have to be this way. Our friends did not have to be left out in the cold to seek Iranian protection. Three years and a won war had given Obama the opportunity to establish a lasting strategic alliance with the Arab world’s second most important power.

He failed, though he hardly tried very hard. The excuse is Iraqi refusal to grant legal immunity to U.S. forces. But the Bush administration encountered the same problem, and overcame it. Obama had little desire to. Indeed, he portrays the evacuation as a success, the fulfillment of a campaign promise.

But surely the obligation to defend the security and the interests of the nation supersede personal vindication. Obama opposed the war, but when he became commander in chief the terrible price had already been paid in blood and treasure. His obligation was to make something of that sacrifice, to secure the strategic gains that sacrifice had already achieved.

He did not, failing at precisely what this administration so flatters itself for doing so well: diplomacy. After years of allegedly clumsy brutish force, Obama was to usher in an era of not hard power, not soft power, but smart power.

Which turns out in Iraq to be ... no power. Years from now we will be asking not “Who lost Iraq?” — that already is clear — but “Why?”

— Charles Krauthammer is a columnist for Washington Post Writers Group. His email is


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 1 month ago

Oh those neocons-- they never tire of creating alternate realties out of thin air, do they?

Getaroom 6 years, 1 month ago

Pinched up old sour puss Krauthammer speaks ill of Obama again.... and it's_just_math too? Imagine the surprise! At least they are consistent, for better or worse, and usually the later. Understandably so for ....math, his Digital Video Recorder is set to only record Faux News before he sets off for his multimillion $ salaried job? I mean it must be so the way he goes on and on about the Occupy groups. Surely he rests comfortably in the 1%ers club. Still voting for Cain ...math? That's fine we need losers for their to be winners, but too bad all the Repubs are losers. Well, not really too bad.
Interesting how the LJW ownership keeps sending sour puss K a paycheck isn't it? But then what would we have to argue about if not for trying to polish what can't be polished.

Jonathan Fox 6 years, 1 month ago

How about addressing the issue at hand instead of blindly bashing a author and commentor. Your intelligence would be much more visible to readers if you critiqued the article as apposed to rhetoric against people.

Kendall Simmons 6 years, 1 month ago

Apparently Krauthammer doesn't grasp that "democracy" means, among other things, that a country can decide for themselves that they don't want their invaders to maintain troops there after the war is over, regardless of what that other country wants. Or that, like it or not, another country doesn't get to "broker" the results of their elections.

He also obviously doesn't grasp the fallacy of making decisions in order "to make something" of previous sacrifices. Those sacrifices have already been made. That price has already been paid. Nothing can undo that. Nothing can make up for it. Those particular sacrifices have already been made in vain, and more sacrifice will not change a single thing about it. Krauthammer should know better.

Jonathan Fox 6 years, 1 month ago

It's not a fallacy to want to gain from the actions of something lost. Krauthammer doesn't state that a sacrifice wasn't made, he voices that he wants something to be gained from those actions. All wars are faught for something to be gained. Who are you to say otherwise.

akuna 6 years, 1 month ago

"...he was handed a war that was won."

Puff puff give, man. I'll smoke what he's smoking.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 1 month ago

Good luck to the Iraqis. They are going to need it. They made their bed; they can sleep in it. I still wonder when they will get the oil going and 'pay us back' for our expensive adventure in nation-building.

Abdu Omar 6 years, 1 month ago

No Paul, we made their bed and they have to sleep in it! There was no reason to invade this country except that Bush wanted to. Against many peoples' desires, he bombed the hell out of Baghdad and destroyed many of their treasures. We did we get from this escapade? Nothing but 4500 dead soldiers and marines. This was America's biggest folley and the actions of Obama were because his hands were tied with agreements Bush had already made. We lost lives and treasure for absolutely nothing. Woe to George Bush and may he still be tried for crimes against humanity.

Paul R Getto 6 years, 1 month ago

WS: I spoke too briefly and apologize. We never should have invaded and occupied Iraq. I agree with that. It's the dumbest thing America has ever done. My "bed" comment was directed towards their refusal to protect our troops from liability if we stayed a bit longer. I am glad we are leaving but, sadly, Obama will continue the BUSHCO practice of 'contractors' who will continue to rip off the American taxpayer. And, I do hope to see GW, the Dark Lord and perhaps others in the dock at the Hague someday. Not holding my breath, but there is no statutory limit on war crimes.

jaywalker 6 years, 1 month ago

'There was no reason to invade this country except that Bush wanted to. '

Has to be leader for dumbest line of the day.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 1 month ago

So you're saying he didn't want to invade? Did Cheney and Rummy make him do it?

jaywalker 6 years, 1 month ago

Bozo, if there was any chance you could participate in a rational discussion on the matter, I'd be happy to oblige. But we both know that can't possibly happen. I'll simply suggest you read Rice's "No Higher Honor"; it's an opposing viewpoint; don't be afraid.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 1 month ago

I've heard enough of the self-serving crap that Rice has to offer, thank you.

jaywalker 6 years, 1 month ago

Self-serving? Then you don't know jack about the woman. But that's exactly the kind of response I expected from someone unwilling to function with an open mind.

beatrice 6 years, 1 month ago

Well, good thing President Bush didn't have to concern himself with possibly bungling the end of the Iraq war.

Mission Accomplished Folks!

jhawkinsf 6 years, 1 month ago

What would have happened had we not invaded Iraq and overthrown Saddam Hussein? I have no idea, but a brief look at history suggests that it wouldn't have been good. Given Saddam's invasion of Kuwait and then trying to unify opposition (by launching missiles into Israel) to the coalition that had assembled to force his exit. Given the ecological nightmare he created when he retreated (setting oilfields on fire). Given the war he began with Iran (estimates are a million in causalities). Given the gassing of the Kurds. Given the treatment of his own people (reports of his sons raping women randomly).
The way the removal of Saddam Hussein was conducted was a disaster for the U.S. It was badly conceived and badly managed. The loss of life all around is the most tragic thing of all. We should never forget that. But is Iraq better off now that Saddam Hussein is gone and he can't conduct Iraq's affairs in the same way he did prior to our invasion? I'd have to say, maybe.

jafs 6 years, 1 month ago

That's a strong maybe there.

And, of course, the Iraq people seem to want us gone now.

I agree, of course, that the whole thing was very badly conceived and executed - we should do much, much better if we're going to do anything like that.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 1 month ago

The end rarely justifies the means, especially when the means entailed hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis, millions of refugees, and a country that has become essentially ungovernable, and therefore susceptible to the ascension of a new, but not necessarily improved, dictator.

And while the invasion of Kuwait was reprehensible for so many reasons, it was to a very large extent brought on by the policies of the oligarchs who run that country (as well as those in Saudi Arabia and other gulf states) who were glad to use Saddam for proxy wars against his and their Shia citizens in their own countries, as well as those in Iran. All the first Gulf War really did was put back in place a rather repressive regime that had no compunction about working with Saddam as long as he was doing their bidding.

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