The Truth About the Status of Forces Agreement

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SoFA was always meant and expected to be renegotiated upon, when Bush had originally signed it in October of 2008; and its’ been argued that if the Obama Administration had pushed hard for it (they lacked true interest and will, having sent Biden and a JV team of negotiators shortly before the SoFA deadline for troop withdrawal kicked into effect), they could have successfully kept a troop presence in Iraq (with immunity from Iraqi courts) for our national security interests and that of the Iraqi government, as well as exercise a continued muscular influence and guidance over Maliki, who needed it. It’s what the Bush Administration did.

This is a lengthy blogpost, mostly because it’s a collection of relevant links and blockquotes to counter-argue the belief by Bush critics that it’s because of Obama’s predecessor that ISIS was created; and that one of the conditions that made it possible was SoFA- another Bush blame.

The assertion that President Obama’s hands were tied and he was forced to abide by the conditions of the SoFA on account of President Bush is baloney. The Administration did try to negotiate- but too little, too late; and frankly, I don’t believe President Obama’s heart was truly into it. In my humble opinion for what it’s worth, Iraq is merely a distraction from his focus on the domestic front.

The claim that Iraqis wanted us out is also not quite the whole story. A number of officials have stated that, off the record, Iraqi politicians may not have boldly stated it publicly, but a number of Iraqis wanted U.S. forces to remain in Iraq for the sake of security and stability.

Marc Thiessen

Then Hillary Rodham Clinton declared during the book tour for her memoir that Obama’s “failure” to arm and train Free Syrian Army rebels “left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.”

Now comes Leon Panetta with a new memoir, “Worthy Fights,” in which he lays responsibility for the withdrawal of U.S. forces and the rise of the Islamic State where it belongs — directly at Obama’s feet.

Panetta writes that he warned Obama of the danger of withdrawing all U.S. troops from Iraq: “My fear, as I voiced to the President and others was that if the country split apart or slid back into the violence that we’d seen in the years immediately following the U.S. invasion, it could become a new haven for terrorists to plot attacks against the U.S.” But when he and Obama’s military commanders recommended keeping 24,000 troops, “the President’s team at the White House pushed back, and the differences occasionally became heated.” The White House, Panetta says, was “so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.” Now, “the ISIS offensive in 2014 greatly increases the risk that Iraq will become al-Qaeda’s next safe haven. That is exactly what it had in Afghanistan pre-9/11.”

Leon Panetta’s Worthy Fights, page 392-4:

When President Obama announced the end of our combat mission in August 2010, he’d acknowledged that we would maintain troops for a while. As he put it, “Going forward, a transitional force of U.S. troops will remain in Iraq with a different mission: advising and assisting Iraq’s security forces; supporting Iraqi troops in targeted counterterrorism missions; and protecting our civilians. Consistent with our agreement with the Iraqi government, all U.S. troops will leave by the end of next year.” Now that the deadline was upon us, however, it was clear to me- and many others- that withdrawing all our forces would endanger the fragile stability then barely holding Iraq together.

~~~

We had leverage.

~~~

My fear, as I voiced to the president and others, was that if the country split apart or slid back into the pervasive violence that we’d experienced in the years immediately following the U.S. invasion,it could become a new haven for terrorists to plot attacks against the United States. Iraqi’s stability thus, in my view, was not only ini raqS’ interest but ours. With that in mind, I privately and publicly advocated leaving behind a residual force that could provide training and security for Iraq’s military.

Michele Flournoy did her best to press that position, which reflected not just my views but also those of the military commanders in the region and the Joint Chiefs. But the president’s team at the White House pushed back, and the differences occasionally became heated. Flournoy argued our case, and those on our side of the debate viewed the White House as so eager to rid itself of Iraq that it was willing to withdraw rather than lock in arrangements that would preserve our influence and interests.

We debated with Maliki even as we debated among ourselves, with time running out. The clock wound down in December, and Ash Carter continued to argue our case, extending the deadline for the Iraqis to act, hoping that we might pull out a last-minute agreement and recognizing that once our forces left it would be essentially impossible for them to turn around and return. To my frustration, the White House coordinated the negotiations but never really led them. Officials there seemed content to endorse an agreement if State and Defense could reach one, but without the president’s active advocacy, Mailiki was allowed to slip away. The deal never materialized. To this day, I believe that a small, focused U.S. troop presence in Iraq could have effectively advised the Iraqi military on how to deal with Al Qaeda’s resurgence and the sectarian violence that has engulfed the country.

Over the course of the following two and a half years, the situation in Iraq slowly deteriorated.

Also on page 392 in Panetta’s book, is the following observation:

Privately, the various leadership factions in Iraq all confided that they wanted some U.S. forces to remain as a bulwark against sectarian violence. But none were willing to take that position publicly,

One of the excuses given by those defending President Obama’s failure to renegotiate the SoFA is that the Iraqis wanted us out. But there have been a number of officials who have made mention that in private confidence, Iraqis and Iraqi officials expressed the desire for U.S. forces to remain in Iraq for the sake of security.

May 4, 2007 in WaPo, foreign minister Zebari wrote:

Last weekend a traffic jam several miles long snaked out of the Mansour district in western Baghdad. The delay stemmed not from a car bomb closing the road but from a queue to enter the city’s central amusement park. The line became so long some families left their cars and walked to enjoy picnics, fairground rides and soccer, the Iraqi national obsession.

Across the city, restaurants are slowly filling and shops are reopening. The streets are busy. Iraqis are not cowering indoors. The appalling death tolls from suicide attacks are often high because of crowding at markets. These days you are as likely to hear complaints about traffic congestion as about the security situation. Across Baghdad there is a cacophony of sirens from ambulances, firefighters and police providing public services. You cannot even escape the curse of traffic wardens ticketing illegally parked cars.

These small but significant snippets of normality are overshadowed by acts of gross violence, which fuel the opinion of some that Iraq is in a downward spiral. The Iraqi people are indeed suffering tremendous hardships and making grave sacrifices — but daily life goes on for 7 million Baghdadis struggling to take back their capital and country.

~~~

So why should the world remain engaged in Iraq?

There is no denying the difficulties Iraq faces, and no amount of good news can obscure the demons of terrorism and sectarianism that have risen in my country. But there is too much at stake to risk failure, and everything to gain by helping us protect our hard-won democratic achievements and emerge as a stable, self-sustaining country.

~~~

Contrary to popular belief, most government ministries are located outside the Green Zone, and employees drive to work every day despite death threats and attacks on colleagues and families. We government ministers are always at risk of assassination. When a suicide bomber attacked parliament last month, the legislators sat in defiance in an extraordinary session the following day. I am particularly inspired by the commitment of the young diplomats in the Foreign Ministry, a diverse mix of Sunni, Shiite, Christian, Arab and Kurdish men and women who serve their country without subscribing to religious or sectarian divisions.

Iraqis are standing up every day, and we persevere because there is no other option. We will not surrender our country to terrorists. They have failed to cripple the elected government, and they have failed to intimidate us into submission. Iraqis reject their vision of a future whose hallmarks are bloodshed and hatred.

Those calling for withdrawal may think it is the least painful option, but its benefits would be short-lived. The fate of the region and the world is linked with ours. Leaving a broken Iraq in the Middle East would offer international terrorism a haven and ensure a legacy of chaos for future generations. Furthermore, the sacrifices of all the young men and women who stood up here would have been in vain.

Iraqis, for all our determination and courage, cannot succeed alone.

Premature withdrawal from a fragile Iraq that had just gotten over the hemorrhaging and slowly begun to heal made it vulnerable once again to the diseased violence that had inflicted it during the 4 years that succeeded the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to oust Saddam.

The downward, spiraling reversal of fortunes in Iraq was predictable….and preventable. A number of pundits warned of what may happen if we abandoned Iraq, prematurely.

When Megyn Kelly’s revival of a prescient warning that President Bush gave in 2007 made its rounds last September, the liberal response was:

1) We shouldn’t have been there [Iraq] in the first place
2) Bush signed SoFA and the Iraqis wanted us out, so current PotUS was powerless to do anything but throw his hands up in the air and play presidential bystander.

On point 2, I seem to recall reading that President Obama wanted President Bush to delay signing the SoFA. Ah, yes:

July 14, 2008: Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama meets with Maliki during his tour of the region. In a subsequent interview with Der Spiegel Magazine, Maliki is quoted as supporting Obama’s 16‐month withdrawal plan; 69 soon after the article is released, however, Maliki distances himself from perceptions that he is actively endorsing Obama. Another article discusses the possibility that during his visit Obama asked Iraqi negotiators to delay any security agreement until after the elections and a new administration was in place.

Here’s the original article by Amir Taheri:

WHILE campaigning in public for a speedy withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, Sen. Barack Obama has tried in private to persuade Iraqi leaders to delay an agreement on a draw-down of the American military presence.

According to Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari, Obama made his demand for delay a key theme of his discussions with Iraqi leaders in Baghdad in July.

“He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington,” Zebari said in an interview.

~~~

Obama has made many contradictory statements with regard to Iraq. His latest position is that US combat troops should be out by 2010. Yet his effort to delay an agreement would make that withdrawal deadline impossible to meet.

Supposing he wins, Obama’s administration wouldn’t be fully operational before February – and naming a new ambassador to Baghdad and forming a new negotiation team might take longer still.

By then, Iraq will be in the throes of its own campaign season. Judging by the past two elections, forming a new coalition government may then take three months. So the Iraqi negotiating team might not be in place until next June.

Then, judging by how long the current talks have taken, restarting the process from scratch would leave the two sides needing at least six months to come up with a draft accord. That puts us at May 2010 for when the draft might be submitted to the Iraqi parliament – which might well need another six months to pass it into law.

Thus, the 2010 deadline fixed by Obama is a meaningless concept, thrown in as a sop to his anti-war base.

Oh, my….this next part:

Iraqi leaders are divided over the US election. Iraqi President Jalal Talabani (whose party is a member of the Socialist International) sees Obama as “a man of the Left” – who, once elected, might change his opposition to Iraq’s liberation. Indeed, say Talabani’s advisers, a President Obama might be tempted to appropriate the victory that America has already won in Iraq by claiming that his intervention transformed failure into success.

Maliki’s advisers have persuaded him that Obama will win – but the prime minister worries about the senator’s “political debt to the anti-war lobby” – which is determined to transform Iraq into a disaster to prove that toppling Saddam Hussein was “the biggest strategic blunder in US history.”

Other prominent Iraqi leaders, such as Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi and Kurdish regional President Massoud Barzani, believe that Sen. John McCain would show “a more realistic approach to Iraqi issues.”

Obama has given Iraqis the impression that he doesn’t want Iraq to appear anything like a success, let alone a victory, for America. The reason? He fears that the perception of US victory there might revive the Bush Doctrine of “pre-emptive” war – that is, removing a threat before it strikes at America.

Hmm, returning back to the allegation that Senator Obama was interfering with the SoFA negotiations….I seem to recall a couple of months back when a few Republican lawmakers led by Tom Cotton were being pilloried as traitors for penning a letter and “interfering” on the President’s Iran Nuclear negotiations.

Of course the fact that President Bush ended up being the one in office to sign the Status of Forces Agreement didn’t stop President Obama from riding the coattails and take credit for “ending the war in Iraq” and “bringing the troops home” when he had nothing to do with the arrangements in the deal negotiated before his watch.

To be fair though, the allegation of Senator Obama’s interference in September of 2008 is unconfirmed; and the senator denied the accusation:

WASHINGTON – Barack Obama said yesterday he didn’t urge Iraq to hold up an agreement with the Bush administration over the status of US troops serving in Iraq.

“Obama has never urged a delay in negotiations, nor has he urged a delay in immediately beginning a responsible drawdown of our combat brigades,” said Wendy Morigi, an Obama spokeswoman in response to a column in yesterday’s Post.

Morigi cited “outright distortions” in an column by Amir Taheri, but the Obama camp did not specifically dispute any of the quotes in the piece.

The article quoted Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari in an interview saying Obama said it might be better to delay an agreement.

“He asked why we were not prepared to delay an agreement until after the US elections and the formation of a new administration in Washington,” Zebari said.

Zebari said Obama wanted congressional approval of a deal, and said it was better not to have the agreement negotiated while the administration was in a “state of weakness and political confusion.”

John McCain’s senior adviser, Randy Scheunemann, called Obama’s statements “an egregious act of political interference by a presidential candidate seeking political advantage overseas,” citing the “possibility” that Obama tried to undermine negotiations.

It does sound like something of the sort may have been insinuated by the presidential hopeful, based upon this.

It’s a bit of political excuse making on the part of Obama defenders to claim that SoFA made it impossible for President Obama to do anything other than to abide by the Agreement and withdraw troops from Iraq. He (and they) blame Bush for it in 2014-5; while having taken credit in 2011-2013. If the 2008 SoFA was binding and non-negotiable to being updated, then why did President Obama bother to try in the summer of 2011?

It was always the expectation that a renegotiation by the next administration would occur:

Former President George W. Bush’s administration signed an agreement in 2008 to withdraw all troops from Iraq by the end of 2011, but policymakers in that administration always expected that agreement to be renegotiated to allow for an extension beyond that deadline, former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told The Cable.

When President Barack Obama announced on Oct. 21 that he would withdraw all U.S. troops from Iraq by Dec. 31, his top advisors contended that since the Bush administration had signed the 2008 Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), both administrations believed that all troops should be withdrawn by the end of the year. This was part of the Obama administration’s drive to de-emphasize their failed negotiations to renegotiate that agreement and frame the withdrawal as the fulfillment of a campaign promise to end the Iraq war.

~~~

Rice, speaking with The Cable to promote her new book No Higher Honor, said today that when the Bush administration signed the agreement, it was understood by both the U.S. and Iraqi governments that there would be follow-up negotiations aimed at extending the deadline — a step that would be in both the U.S. and Iraqi interest.

“There was an expectation that we would negotiate something that looked like a residual force for our training with the Iraqis,” Rice said. “Everybody believed it would be better if there was some kind of residual force.”

Rice said the Iraqi government, despite SOFA’s Jan. 2012 end date, was not only open to a new agreement that would include an extension for U.S. troops, but expected that a new agreement would eventually be signed.

Max Boot linked in a most wanted in Oct 2011:

Friday afternoon is a traditional time to bury bad news, so at 12:49 p.m. on Oct. 21 President Obama strode into the White House briefing room to “report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year—after nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.” He acted as though this represented a triumph, but it was really a defeat. The U.S. had tried to extend the presence of our troops past Dec. 31. Why did we fail?

The popular explanation is that the Iraqis refused to provide legal immunity for U.S. troops if they are accused of breaking Iraq’s laws. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki himself said: “When the Americans asked for immunity, the Iraqi side answered that it was not possible. The discussions over the number of trainers and the place of training stopped. Now that the issue of immunity was decided and that no immunity to be given, the withdrawal has started.”

But Mr. Maliki and other Iraqi political figures expressed exactly the same reservations about immunity in 2008 during the negotiation of the last Status of Forces Agreement. Indeed those concerns were more acute at the time because there were so many more U.S. personnel in Iraq—nearly 150,000, compared with fewer than 50,000 today. So why was it possible for the Bush administration to reach a deal with the Iraqis but not for the Obama administration?

Quite simply it was a matter of will: President Bush really wanted to get a deal done, whereas Mr. Obama did not. Mr. Bush spoke weekly with Mr. Maliki by video teleconference. Mr. Obama had not spoken with Mr. Maliki for months before calling him in late October to announce the end of negotiations. Mr. Obama and his senior aides did not even bother to meet with Iraqi officials at the United Nations General Assembly in September.

The administration didn’t even open talks on renewing the Status of Forces Agreement until this summer, a few months before U.S. troops would have to start shuttering their remaining bases to pull out by Dec. 31. The previous agreement, in 2008, took a year to negotiate.

The recent negotiations were jinxed from the start by the insistence of State Department and Pentagon lawyers that any immunity provisions be ratified by the Iraqi parliament—something that the U.S. hadn’t insisted on in 2008 and that would be almost impossible to get today. In many other countries, including throughout the Arab world, U.S. personnel operate under a Memorandum of Understanding that doesn’t require parliamentary ratification. Why not in Iraq? Mr. Obama could have chosen to override the lawyers’ excessive demands, but he didn’t.

Another point that Obama defenders use to excuse failure to renegotiate SoFA is the idea that the Obama Administration tried, but the Iraqis would not budge on the immunity issue for our troops; and a vote left up to parliament would never pass.

Peter Feaver at Shadow Government back in November 2014 questioned whether an Iraqi parliamentary vote on troop immunity was truly at issue:

a successful negotiation would have strengthened the U.S.-Iraq partnership, giving the United States more leverage over Maliki and thus helping dissuade his more pernicious choices. Certainly Maliki was better behaved when U.S. troops were in country than he was when he was left alone. And the troops would have greatly improved our intelligence picture, and thus the warning of the rise of the Islamic State (IS), and probably would have improved the initial Iraqi efforts to block IS’s advance.

However you come down on the counterfactual, it is clear that the Obama administration now believes that 3,000 troops can make a difference.

All of this is important, but there is another disturbing question left hanging by the current immunity situation. How much of the original rationale for giving up on a stay-behind force was driven by the immunity issue and how much was driven by political considerations related to Obama’s reelection campaign? As things played out in 2011, it fit a convenient presidential narrative that Obama would end our wars and bring our troops home. Campaign strategists could spin this “Obama-ended-the-war” story to help the president win re-election. Well, the war in Iraq has not ended (actually, it never did for the Iraqis) and our troops are back in the country — but without the immunity protections Obama claimed were essential.

So the question remains: Why have President Obama and his advisors changed their minds on the necessity of having immunity for our troops?

Marisa Cochrane Sullivan

was one of 40 conservative foreign policy professionals who wrote to Obama in September to warn that even a residual force of 4,000 troops would “leave the country more vulnerable to internal and external threats, thus imperiling the hard-fought gains in security and governance made in recent years at significant cost to the United States.”

She said that the administration’s negotiating strategy was flawed for a number of reasons: it failed to take into account Iraqi politics, failed to reach out to a broad enough group of Iraqi political leaders, and sent contradictory messages on the troop extension throughout the process.

“From the beginning, the talks unfolded in a way where they largely driven by domestic political concerns, both in Washington and Baghdad. Both sides let politics drive the process, rather than security concerns,” said Sullivan.

As recently as August, Maliki’s office was discussing allowing 8,000 to 20,000 U.S. troops to remain until next year, Iraqi Ambassador Samir Sumaida’ie said in an interview with The Cable. He told us that there was widespread support in Iraq for such an extension, but the Obama administration was demanding that immunity for U.S. troops be endorsed by the Iraqi Council of Representatives, which was never really possible.

Administration sources and Hill staffers also tell The Cable that the demand that the troop immunity go through the Council of Representatives was a decision made by the State Department lawyers and there were other options available to the administration, such as putting the remaining troops on the embassy’s diplomatic rolls, which would automatically give them immunity.

“An obvious fix for troop immunity is to put them all on the diplomatic list; that’s done by notification to the Iraqi foreign ministry,” said one former senior Hill staffer. “If State says that this requires a treaty or a specific agreement by the Iraqi parliament as opposed to a statement by the Iraqi foreign ministry, it has its head up its ass.”

~~~

“There was a misunderstanding of how negotiations were unfolding in Iraq. The negotiations got started in earnest far too late.”

“The actions don’t match the words here,” said Sullivan. “It’s in the administration’s interest to make this look not like they failed to reach an agreement and that they fulfilled a campaign promise. But it was very clear that Panetta and [former Defense Secretary Robert] Gates wanted an agreement.”

So what’s the consequence of the failed negotiations? One consequence could be a security vacuum in Iraq that will be filled by Iran.

~~~

“Multiple experts have testified before my committee that the Iraqis still lack important capacities in their ability to maintain their internal stability and territorial integrity,” McKeon said. “These shortcomings could reverse the decade of hard work and sacrifice both countries have endured to build a free Iraq.”

Follow up interview by Josh Rogin with Condoleeza Rice in November 2011:

FP: The immunity that you negotiated did not go through the Iraqi parliament, right? That was an executive-to-executive agreement right?

CR: Exactly. I don’t know enough to know whether or not that option was available, but it would have been a preferable option.… I think it would have been preferable to have trainers, but you need to maintain a military-to-military relationship in any case.

FP: And just to be clear, there was an expectation that there would be renegotiation for another extension that was understood by both sides?

CR: We certainly understood that the Iraqis reserved that option, and everybody believed that option was going to be exercised.

Dexter Filkins in the New Yorker:

—it seems possible that, if Obama had pushed Maliki harder, the United States could have retained a small force of soldiers there in noncombat roles. More than a few Americans and Iraqis told me this. They blame Obama for not trying harder. “You just had this policy vacuum and this apathy,” Michael Barbero, the commander of American forces in Iraq in 2011, told me, describing the Obama White House.

Barbero on CNN with Wolf Blitzer

BLITZER: You were on active duty in Iraq, 2010, 2011 when they were trying to negotiate that Status of Forces –

BARBERO: Right.

BLITZER: — Agreement that would have left a residual force, 5,000 or 10,000 U.S. troops, but you couldn’t get immunity from Nuri al Maliki’s government. Take us behind the scenes, clarify, who’s right, John McCain or Jay Carney, in this debate.

BARBERO: Well, in the summer of 2010, prepared a briefing, I was responsible for Iraqi security forces, and took it to all the Iraqi leaders, Maliki, the other Shia leaders, the Sunnis, the Kurds, and said here is going to be the status of your security forces, what they cannot do, what they will be able to do, when we’re schedule to leave. And to a man they said, well, general, you must stay. And my response was, you must make it easy for us. So I think Maliki did not make it easy for us and we did not try hard enough. So it’s a — both views. I think it could have been done though.

BLITZER: Because the U.S. — the Pentagon position was, 5,000 to 10,000 U.S. troops staying –

BARBERO: Right.

BLITZER: For an indefinite amount of time.

BARBERO: Right.

BLITZER: But you wanted immunity from prosecution as part of the status of forces agreement. What happened then because the White House says Nuri al Maliki wouldn’t give that immunity to any residual U.S. force.

BARBERO: I think we could have worked it and kept it from going through the parliament. I think we could have – we have immunity today, it didn’t go through the parliament. So I think it could have been worked if we had tried harder.

BLITZER: You don’t think the administration tried hard enough to get it?

BARBERO: I don’t think so.

BLITZER: That’s the McCain position, that could have been done but the White House didn’t want it to be done. They wanted all U.S. troops.

BARBERO: I don’t think we tried hard enough.

BLITZER: You think it was – it was definitely doable.

BARBERO: I think it was.

BLITZER: There was another argument that the Pentagon wanted 5,000 to 10,000 U.S. troops to remain.

BARBERO: Right.

BLITZER: The White House said maybe 1,000 or 2,000 for a year and the Iraqis said well that’s not good enough.

BARBERO: Right. No, and –

BLITZER: Was – is that true?

BARBERO: That is true. And we wanted them pulled back on these training sites where we’re fielding military equipment to train the Iraqi, not in any kind of combat role at all.

Barbero isn’t the only military commander who has expressed the belief that we could have and should have kept a force presence in Iraq.

Shadow Government, Dec 13, 2011:

The Obama administration is attempting to cast the Iraq war as a triumph of the president’s vision for American foreign policy. As a candidate, he promised to bring this war to an end, and as president he’s done so. It also conveniently fits into the Obama campaign’s general narrative that President Obama inherited problems of Herculean magnitude.

But, in fact, the Iraq war was on a glide path to conclusion at the end of the Bush administration: the increased troop commitment of the surge and its accompanying counterinsurgency tactics had succeeded in breaking the dynamic of insurgent success; it had concluded the Strategic Framework Agreement with Iraq that the Obama administration is now taking such credit for.

What remained to be done when the Obama administration took office was implementing the agreement in ways that strengthened the practices and institutions of democracy in Iraq, incentivized non-sectarian political cooperation, continued confidence-building measures (especially along the Kurdish fault lines), reassured Iraq both of their sovereignty and our continuing involvement, and fostered support for Iraq among U.S. allies in the region.

What the Obama administration achieved instead is a faster end to U.S. military involvement in Iraq, but one that undercut the political objectives it remains in American interest to attain. Iraqis may achieve those things despite our policies, but they are not achieving them because of our policies. On that President Obama deserves to be held account.

The administration claimed it was committed to a “responsible withdrawal” from Iraq. But their policies of establishing deadlines unconnected to the progress of our war aims, inattention to political developments within Iraq, and unwillingness to acknowledge he increasing repressiveness of the Maliki government have shown the administration’s emphasis on withdrawal rather than responsibility.

~~~

If no troops in Iraq is the metric for success, then President Obama has led us to success in the Iraq war. But if capitalizing on the gains won by our military to nurture an Iraq that is more than a Shi-ia autocracy leaning toward Iran, President Obama has merely conceded our political aims in order to get our troops out.

Of course, what is more important than “what if” questions for hypothetical answers about “Was Iraq a mistake?” “If you knew then what you know now ….?” is the very real-time question: What is our president doing today to stop ISIS?

Was December of 2011 his “mission accomplished” moment?

Bush has been out of office for 6 years. Syria. Isis. Iraq today…these are all happening on Obama’s watch .

ISIS- that JV Team of junior jihadis- that’s on him. Not Bush.

This is not a failure of Bush leadership: It’s 100% Obama:

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce made the stunning revelation in a congressional hearing last week that Iraq had been urgently requesting drone support against the Islamic State since August 2013 and that those requests were repeatedly turned down.

Obama officials have publicly claimed that Iraq requested air support only in May of this year, after Islamic State had already taken Fallujah and was marching on Mosul. That is untrue. And it is Royce’s version of events that is borne out by the public record. On Aug. 17, 2013, in a little-noticed story entitled “Iraq Open to U.S. Drone Strikes on Terrorists,” Bloomberg News reported that Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari was in Washington “seeking U.S. advisers, air surveillance or even drone strikes” and that “the top Iraqi diplomat’s comments are the first time he has publicly raised the possibility of working with the U.S. on anti-terrorist drone strikes.”

Marc Thiessen’s current column:

Jeb Bush’s fumbled answer on Iraq is so troubling because the controversy is so unnecessary. The only people in the United States obsessed with re-litigating the 2003 decision to invade Iraq are on the left. Most Americans are far more concerned about what the next president is going to do about Iraq today.

64 Responses to “The Truth About the Status of Forces Agreement”

  1. 51

    Lean6

    @Wordsmith:

    We have 30,000 troops or more in South Korea still 65 years or so after the war.

    When you put it that way, I think it makes President Obama’s handling of ISIS appear almost masterful. We’re not the only ones who own this problem anymore.

  2. 52

    Bill

    @Lean6:

    I think it’s all too convenient and overly simplistic to say that the surge cleared out the insurgents or secured Iraq.

    Well, we certainly would not want to deal in overly simplistic statements, would we? Statements such as, “Bush lied, people died”, etc?

    The situation was somewhat simple, though. The surge had defeated the insurgency and supporting the Sunnis brought about the Anwar Awakening. What was needed was continuity but, instead, the Iraqis (and the rest of the world) saw vaccilation, indecision, incompetence and abandonment of allies. Without US support in the face of a growing terror onslaught, those that would have depended on US backing look elsewhere. Iran, perhaps.

    In the vacuum everyone warned about, created by Obama’s abandonment of Iraq, ISIS sees the way open to dominance.

    It’s a shame that we sent the message abroad that it was ok to deal with our President that way.

    Somehow Bush was able to forge alliances and strike deals while the left called him stupid, a war profiteer, demaded a schedule to pull forces out with every vote and declared the war lost. Wouldn’t have helped the conduct of the war if Democrats could learn to act like adults, or is this something that is only required when an incompetent liberal is in office?

    No one forced or tricked Obama to draw his idiotic “red line” in Syria. Having established it, who recommended Obama run away from it when Assad ignored it? Obama does his own damage and everything he can to make himself look weak and timid. No one else is to blame. That, too, is painfully simple.

    After 23 years, i’m personally retired. But, yes I do believe that we will be standing watch in Iraq for many years to come.

    Bush made it clear that the war on terror was going to last decades. Obama didn’t seem to want to honor that schedule, either and has been declaring, unilaterally, that the war on terror was won since 2010.

    Obama never seems to have a problem breaking campaign promises; he just wanted to get out of Iraq and concentrate on important issues like making sure there is no shortage of racism or keeping the global warming scam alive. His regard of the military is all to clear when you compare how he completely ignored the death of the American hero, Chris Kyle while holding a Rose Garden ceremony to celebrate the return of a traiterous deserter, Bergdahl. Anything that supports US strength and security he disregards while whatever weakens us and represents oppostion to our interests is celebrated.

    We can only hope we can survive two more years of this madness.

  3. 53

    wordsmith

    Ryan Crocker (interviewed by OIF-critic Thomas Ricks):

    Was the current situation in Iraq inevitable?

    No. Actions have consequences to the 60th order and beyond. The consequences of what we set in motion were beyond imagination. But inaction also has consequences. Our inaction since 2011 — and I mean political inaction more than military — leads us to today. The two things I learned in the Middle East over 40 years are 1) be careful what you get into, and 2) be just as careful what you propose to get out of – you don’t end a war by withdrawing from the battlefield. You just give the ground to your enemies — IS and Iran.

  4. 54

    wordsmith

    A mission accomplished moment for President Obama October 21, 2011:

    Remarks by the President on Ending the War in Iraq
    James S. Brady Press Briefing Room

    CORRECTION: “Now, even as we remove our last troops from Iraq, we’re beginning to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, where we’ve begun a transition to Afghan security and leadership.”
    12:49 P.M. EDT

    THE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everybody. As a candidate for President, I pledged to bring the war in Iraq to a responsible end — for the sake of our national security and to strengthen American leadership around the world. After taking office, I announced a new strategy that would end our combat mission in Iraq and remove all of our troops by the end of 2011.

    For you see, this was President Obama claiming credit for SoFA before he was against blaming Bush for it.

    As Commander-in-Chief, ensuring the success of this strategy has been one of my highest national security priorities. Last year, I announced the end to our combat mission in Iraq. And to date, we’ve removed more than 100,000 troops. Iraqis have taken full responsibility for their country’s security.

    A few hours ago I spoke with Iraqi Prime Minister Maliki. I reaffirmed that the United States keeps its commitments. He spoke of the determination of the Iraqi people to forge their own future. We are in full agreement about how to move forward.

    So today, I can report that, as promised, the rest of our troops in Iraq will come home by the end of the year. After nearly nine years, America’s war in Iraq will be over.

    Over the next two months, our troops in Iraq — tens of thousands of them — will pack up their gear and board convoys for the journey home. The last American soldier[s] will cross the border out of Iraq with their heads held high, proud of their success, and knowing that the American people stand united in our support for our troops. That is how America’s military efforts in Iraq will end.

    But even as we mark this important milestone, we’re also moving into a new phase in the relationship between the United States and Iraq. As of January 1st, and in keeping with our Strategic Framework Agreement with Iraq, it will be a normal relationship between sovereign nations, an equal partnership based on mutual interests and mutual respect.

    In today’s conversation, Prime Minister Maliki and I agreed that a meeting of the Higher Coordinating Committee of the Strategic Framework Agreement will convene in the coming weeks. And I invited the Prime Minister to come to the White House in December, as we plan for all the important work that we have to do together. This will be a strong and enduring partnership. With our diplomats and civilian advisors in the lead, we’ll help Iraqis strengthen institutions that are just, representative and accountable. We’ll build new ties of trade and of commerce, culture and education, that unleash the potential of the Iraqi people. We’ll partner with an Iraq that contributes to regional security and peace, just as we insist that other nations respect Iraq’s sovereignty.

    As I told Prime Minister Maliki, we will continue discussions on how we might help Iraq train and equip its forces — again, just as we offer training and assistance to countries around the world. After all, there will be some difficult days ahead for Iraq, and the United States will continue to have an interest in an Iraq that is stable, secure and self-reliant. Just as Iraqis have persevered through war, I’m confident that they can build a future worthy of their history as a cradle of civilization.

    Here at home, the coming months will be another season of homecomings. Across America, our servicemen and women will be reunited with their families. Today, I can say that our troops in Iraq will definitely be home for the holidays.

    This December will be a time to reflect on all that we’ve been though in this war. I’ll join the American people in paying tribute to the more than 1 million Americans who have served in Iraq. We’ll honor our many wounded warriors and the nearly 4,500 American patriots — and their Iraqi and coalition partners — who gave their lives to this effort.

    And finally, I would note that the end of war in Iraq reflects a larger transition. The tide of war is receding. The drawdown in Iraq allowed us to refocus our fight against al Qaeda and achieve major victories against its leadership — including Osama bin Laden. Now, even as we remove our last troops from Iraq, we’re beginning to bring our troops home from Afghanistan, where we’ve begun a transition to Afghan security and leadership. When I took office, roughly 180,000 troops were deployed in both these wars. And by the end of this year that number will be cut in half, and make no mistake: It will continue to go down.

    Meanwhile, yesterday marked the definitive end of the Qaddafi regime in Libya. And there, too, our military played a critical role in shaping a situation on the ground in which the Libyan people can build their own future. Today, NATO is working to bring this successful mission to a close.

    So to sum up, the United States is moving forward from a position of strength. The long war in Iraq will come to an end by the end of this year. The transition in Afghanistan is moving forward, and our troops are finally coming home. As they do, fewer deployments and more time training will help keep our military the very best in the world. And as we welcome home our newest veterans, we’ll never stop working to give them and their families the care, the benefits and the opportunities that they have earned.

    This includes enlisting our veterans in the greatest challenge that we now face as a nation — creating opportunity and jobs in this country. Because after a decade of war, the nation that we need to build — and the nation that we will build — is our own; an America that sees its economic strength restored just as we’ve restored our leadership around the globe.

    Thank you very much.

    END

    VP Biden in Feb 2010:

    “I am very optimistic about Iraq. I think it’s gonna be one of the great achievements of this administration. You’re gonna see 90,000 American troops come marchin’ home by the end of the summer. You’re gonna see a stable government in Iraq that is actually movin’ toward a representative government. I’ve been there 17 times now. I go about every two months, three months. I know every one of the major players in all the segments of that society. It’s impressed me. I’ve been impressed, how they have been deciding to use the political process, rather than guns, to settle their differences.”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLteUGkvpOc

  5. 56

    wordsmith

    Good article by H.A. Goodman in The Hill with counterpoints (nothing really new here- just a collection).

    Even if all these points were conceded (and there’s no reason to do so), it remains that the JV team was given grounds to flourish that I believe could have been stymied early on- nipped in the bud.

    As a friend wrote me:

    The Iraqi government requested US aid back in Oct-Dec 2013f again a rising ISIS… which they called “AQ” back then.

    http://www.military.com/daily-news/2013/10/31/iraqi-pm-us-aid-needed-to-battle-al-qaida.htmlhttp://www.military.com/daily-news/2013/10/31/iraqi-pm-us-aid-needed-to-battle-al-qaida.html

    http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/10/iraq-appeal-more-us-military-aid-20131030225431170998.html

    Obama refused…. ignoring them for a year. Airstrikes did not begin until Nov 2014… that’s five months after ISIS seized control of Saddam’s al Muthanna chem weapons facility in June of 2014, and regained territory, murdering so many. The US was aware that ISIS got control of that facility, but that’s also the same time they were busy giving another face palm “no”

    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/12/world/middleeast/iraq-asked-us-for-airstrikes-on-militants-officials-say.html

    My friend also sent this tidbit and link to The Cable:

    The Iraqis… even the majority in Parliament… wanted residual troops to remain. However the largest issue wasn’t really immunity but the fact that Obama’s legal department demanded Parliamentary approval gave them them the ability to use their approval as a political football for other issues, most especially jockeying for better committee appointments and power sharing from the minority.

    http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/08/25/iraqi_ambassador_we_will_request_us_troop_extension_in_our_own_sweet_time

    If the troop deal with the United States is put before parliament, that would give Maliki’s opponents an opportunity to open up a Pandora’s Box of unrelated issues, said Sumaida’ie.

    “Even if they need to go through the COR, the numbers are there to support it, but unfortunately this issue is used as a political football to achieve other aims and this might be held hostage to other political issues and considerations,” he said.

  6. 57

    Wordsmith

    editor

    Emma Sky on Iraq after the Surge:

    In my mind, the biggest mistake made by the Obama administration was actually in 2010, not upholding the election results. It’s a very, very close election. Very close election. To everybody’s surprise, it was actually won by the party called Iraqia [ph] headed by Ayad Allawi, and this party was campaigning on a nonsectarian — no to sectarian platform. People want to get rid of religious parties, people want to put sectarians behind to build an Iraq for all Iraqis. This party won two more votes than Nouri al-Maliki. Maliki couldn’t believe the results. All his advisors have told him that, “You’re going to win. You’re going to win big.” When the results came in, he was just in shock. He blamed the international community for tampering with the results, he demanded a recount, he started to use debuffication to try and disqualify the Iraqian [ph] leaders, and this went on and on and on for months, and there was a big dispute within the US system which I described in the book, between those who wanted to uphold the election results and give the winning block, Iraqia, the right to have first go at trying to form the government, and those who said look, “Maliki, he’s our guy. I belong to that former group that thought give the winning block the right to have first go in trying to form the government. I didn’t think Ayad Allawi was going to be able to do it himself as Prime Minister, but I thought that negotiation was really important.

    Gideon Rose: We give it to Maliki, walked away, and he then destroyed Iraq?

    Emma Sky: Well, this is kind of what happens. This is when the Iranian steps in. The Iranians — they’re influence had really gone down during the surge. America was seen as the big player. The Iranians saw this opportunity and they tried to get all the Shia together to support Maliki, but the Shia were coming together, but they would not going to have Maliki as prime minister. In the end, the Iranians went to Lebanese Hezbollah and got Lebanese Hezbollah to pressure the Sadrist to support Maliki. Maliki had really gone off to the Sadrists during the surge, and the Sadrists were like, “Over our dead body,” but with Iranian pressure …

    Gideon Rose: Quite literally often.

    Emma Sky: Quite literally — with Iranian pressure, with Lebanese Hezbollah helping out, they pressure the Sadrists and they said, “Look, support Maliki as prime minister, we will ensure no US troops will remain in Iraq after 2011.” That is what happened. The Iranians brokered the deal, and the price was always going to be no US troops. Maliki, second term, determined to go after all his rivals. First of all, he goes off to the Iraqia leaders, accuses them of terrorism. Then he started to round up masses of Sunni’s, put them in jail. All of these people being held not knowing why they were being held. Sunni starts to feel more alienated, more grievances, which ends up in this mass protests across Iraq, demanding an end to this discrimination. Unfortunately again, Maliki doesn’t respond to those through negotiations. He sends in the security forces and a few of the demonstrators are killed. 50 killed in Hawijah, and it just boils and boils and boils.

    Gideon Rose: We’re not there to keep things in order, we’re not pushing Maliki to be nicer, and at that point, then ISIS emerges and takes over the — eventually, the Sunni areas who go with them because they’re disgusted with the Maliki government.

    Emma Sky: Exactly.

  7. 59

    John

    It was always meant to have not been real??? It was just sort of a fake that Bush
    signed ?
    And I would agree with you no one on the right wants to bring up that failure of the Iraq war

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