December 27, 2011

Betrayals - Obama and the withdrawal from Iraq

As President Barack Obama promised, all American forces withdrew from Iraq prior to the end of December 2011. That fulfilled the letter of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) negotiated between Baghdad and Washington in 2008. The Iraqi prime minister at the time was Nuri al-Maliki, who remains in that position.

When the deal was struck, then-President George Bush and Prime Minister al-Maliki envisioned that the security situation at the end of 2011 would dictate whether the agreement would be modified to retain a number of American forces in country. Then-Secretary of Defense Bob Gates estimated that "tens of thousands" of troops would likely be necessary to maintain security, even after the end of 2011.

As late as fall of 2011, Iraqi and American leaders were discussing how to keep a small number of American troops in Iraq after the December 31 deadline. Military leaders of both countries realized that although the Iraqi military and security forces have improved markedly since 2008, they were not capable of maintaining adequate security throughout the country. Even Democrat Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta was in favor of a continued troop presence after the end of this year.

It was the political leadership of both countries that failed the Iraqi people. Granted, the issue that precluded the signing of a modification of the SOFA - immunity for American forces in the country - is an important one and a key factor in virtually all of our similar agreements worldwide. Negotiators on both sides were of the opinion that some accommodation could be reached to allow some American troops to remain to lessen the chance of a spike in violence as the bulk of U.S. forces departed Iraq.

In its rush to get out of Iraq regardless of the security realities on the ground, the Obama Administration pulled the plug on the negotiations and played the "deer in the headlights" card - blaming the Iraqis and claiming that it could do nothing to break the impasse. What the Administration did was run for the exit and abandon the Iraqi people to a new round of sectarian violence - exactly what many Middle East specialists, including this one, predicted.

Of course, there were internal Iraqi politics involved. The Sadrists under namesake Muqtada al-Sadr, toeing the Iranian line, refused to accept any American presence. Iranian influence over the future of U.S. troop presence in Iraq? Yes, Iran, the same nation President Obama has decided to deal with through "outreach?" I guess after the success of his outreach policy in dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue - oh, wait, Iran is on the verge of developing a nuclear weapon. It is plain to see how that effort is working.

Betrayal of the American electorate
What the Administration did flies in face of campaign/transition-team promises - it is a betrayal of the trust placed in the President by the American electorate. Here are the words from the Obama-Biden transition team - it makes interesting reading: (my highlights)

The Obama-Biden Plan

Barack Obama and Joe Biden will responsibly end the war in Iraq so that we can renew our military strength, dedicate more resources to the fight against the Taliban and al Qaeda in Afghanistan, and invest in our economy at home. The Obama-Biden plan will help us succeed in Iraq by transitioning to Iraqi control of their country.

Judgment You Can Trust

In 2002, Obama had the judgment and courage to speak out against going to war, and to warn of "an occupation of undetermined length, with undetermined costs, and undetermined consequences." He and Joe Biden are fully committed to ending the war in Iraq. *

A Responsible, Phased Withdrawal

Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe we must be as careful getting out of Iraq as we were careless getting in. Immediately upon taking office, Obama will give his Secretary of Defense and military commanders a new mission in Iraq: ending the war. The removal of our troops will be responsible and phased, directed by military commanders on the ground and done in consultation with the Iraqi government. Military experts believe we can safely redeploy combat brigades from Iraq at a pace of 1 to 2 brigades a month -- which would remove all of them in 16 months. That would be the summer of 2010 -- more than 7 years after the war began.
Under the Obama-Biden plan, a residual force will remain in Iraq and in the region to conduct targeted counter-terrorism missions against al Qaeda in Iraq and protect American diplomatic and civilian personnel. They will not build permanent bases in Iraq, but will continue efforts to train and support the Iraqi security forces as long as Iraqi leaders move toward political reconciliation and away from sectarianism.

Encouraging Political Accommodation

Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe that the U.S. must apply pressure on the Iraqi government to work toward real political accommodation. There is no military solution to Iraq’s political differences. Now is the time to press Iraq’s leaders to take responsibility for their future and to invest their oil revenues in their own reconstruction.
Obama and Biden's plan will help create lasting stability in Iraq. A phased withdrawal will encourage Iraqis to take the lead in securing their own country and making political compromises, while the responsible pace of redeployment called for by the Obama-Biden plan offers more than enough time for Iraqi leaders to get their own house in order. As our forces redeploy, Obama and Biden will make sure we engage representatives from all levels of Iraqi society -- in and out of government -- to forge compromises on oil revenue sharing, the equitable provision of services, federalism, the status of disputed territories, new elections, aid to displaced Iraqis, and the reform of Iraqi security forces.

Surging Diplomacy

Barack Obama and Joe Biden will launch an aggressive diplomatic effort to reach a comprehensive compact on the stability of Iraq and the region. This effort will include all of Iraq’s neighbors -- including Iran and Syria, as suggested by the bi-partisan Iraq Study Group Report. This compact will aim to secure Iraq’s borders; keep neighboring countries from meddling inside Iraq; isolate al Qaeda; support reconciliation among Iraq’s sectarian groups; and provide financial support for Iraq’s reconstruction and development.

Preventing Humanitarian Crisis

Barack Obama and Joe Biden believe that America has both a moral obligation and a responsibility for security that demands we confront Iraq’s humanitarian crisis -- more than five million Iraqis are refugees or are displaced inside their own country. Obama and Biden will form an international working group to address this crisis. They will provide at least $2 billion to expand services to Iraqi refugees in neighboring countries, and ensure that Iraqis inside their own country can find sanctuary. Obama and Biden will also work with Iraqi authorities and the international community to hold accountable the perpetrators of potential war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. They will reserve the right to intervene militarily, with our international partners, to suppress potential genocidal violence within Iraq.

The Status-of-Forces Agreement

Obama and Biden believe it is vital that a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) be reached so our troops have the legal protections and immunities they need. Any SOFA should be subject to Congressional review to ensure it has bipartisan support here at home.
* This fails to mention that then-Senator Joe Biden voted for the Iraq War resolution in 2002. He was for it before he was against it, I guess. If we were relying on Biden's votes on Iraq policy, Saddam Husayn would still be in Kuwait.

At the top of the transition team page - - there is a quote from then President-Elect Obama, "Today we begin in earnest the work of making sure that the world we leave our children is just a little bit better than the one we inhabit today."

How about the world he has just left for Iraqi children?

Betrayal of America's armed forces
The United States deployed hundreds of thousands of its sons and daughters to remove Saddam Husayn and the Ba'th Party. They did that, quite effectively, in a matter of weeks. Granted, the execution of the war after Coalition Provisional Authority chief Jerry Bremer disbanded the Iraqi armed forces was abysmal and led to a prolonged insurgency that took thousands of lives unnecessarily. However, by 2007 and 2008, the "Anbar Awakening" and the troop surge had tamped the violence down and the country was beginning to function.

Then, two things happened - one was bad, the other was catastrophic. In 2008, the United States and Iraq signed the SOFA agreement that scheduled American troop withdrawals from the cities by June 2009, and from the country at the end of 2011. A key military principle is not telling the enemy your plans and timetable.

When the Obama Administration walked away from talks with the Iraqis, it pounded the final nail in the coffin for Iraqi security. The date certain timetables simply told the still-alive but badly hurt al-Qa'idah in Iraq (AQI) - as well as the Sadrists under Muqtada al-Sadr - to regain relevance in Iraq, simply wait out the Americans. Lull them into a false sense of security, let them leave, then make your move.

Just days after the last American troops left the country, AQI set off a series of bombs, primarily targeting Shi'a facilities. AQI and other Sunni insurgents are putting the Shi'a-dominated Iraqi government of Nuri al-Maliki on notice that they will not accept heavy-handed treatment by the Shi'a majority in the country (60 percent of Iraq is Shi'a). The group referred to itself as the Ministry of War in the Islamic State of Iraq. It hopes to reignite the civil war it started in 2006.

For this, we suffered 4,400 dead and 32,000 wounded? The failure to reach an agreement by which American forces remain to assist Iraqi forces in maintaining security is a disgrace - it betrays the memory of our fallen and wounded. Handing things over to the Iraqis prematurely is reminiscent of the Administration's ludicrous concept of "leading from behind."

Betrayal of the Iraqi people
Not only have we betrayed the memory of our fallen, we have betrayed the trust of the Iraqi people who depended on the presence of American forces to keep a lid on sectarian violence. Iraqis, both Sunnis and Shi'a (not to mention the Kurds) are bewildered that the Americans just packed up and left.

Iraqis tend to be the most xenophobic of the Arabs. Most of the population wanted American troops to leave the country, but realized that those troops were the key to the uneasy stability in the country. They were correct, as we have seen.

American troop presence also kept a rein on the Shi'a government of Nuri al-Maliki. No sooner had the troops departed then al-Maliki began a series of political moves designed to consolidate his power. The Sunni vice president has been accused by the prime minister of operating death squads, al-Maliki has told the Sunnis he will not accept a proposal for a Sunni autonomous regime (although it is allowed under the Iraqi constitution), and threatened Shi'a political rivals with loss of powerful positions.

Who is going to stop him? Maybe we can ask him to cease and desist. That tactic worked well in securing the return of a top secret American drone from Iran - oh, wait, that failed.

Betrayal of the Mujahidin-e Khalq (MEK)
There is one more group being betrayed that we should not overlook. The MEK is a group of Iranians who have been in Iraq for decades. During the Saddam era, they conducted operations at the behest of the Iraqi dictator, mostly against Iranian regime targets. They are believed to have been involved on an attack on American diplomats, for which they were labeled as a terrorist organization by the State Department.

After the fall of Saddam Husayn, they agreed to lay down their arms and remain at Camp Ashraf under U.S. protection. When American troops withdrew from the cities, they abandoned Camp Ashraf to the Iraqis, who immediately attacked the now defenseless group.

Caving to Iranian pressure, the Iraqis told the MEK they must leave Camp Ashraf and Iraq. The U.S. brokered a deal whereby they will move to an abandoned American military base temporarily pending resettlement. However, they cannot come to the United States as long as they remain on the terrorism list.

The group was instrumental in providing critical intelligence on the Iranian nuclear program. For that, they are abandoned and betrayed by the Obama Administration. The President can fix this with the stroke of a pen. I am waiting for him to do the right thing.

Bottom line
The premature withdrawal from Iraq based on political expedience ostensibly fulfills a campaign commitment by the President - ostensibly because the actual promise was to "responsibly end the war in Iraq." What Mr. Obama has done is to make a run for the exit, regardless of the death and chaos we leave behind.

Rhetoric and speeches to the contrary, this will come back to haunt us. Although the President is too young to remember another war, Biden should - can he spell F-A-L-L-O-F-S-A-I-G-O-N?

Unless the President realizes that his actions should go beyond the next election and corrects his Iraq policy, they constitute betrayals on a variety of levels.