How the Obama administration bungled Iraq

**Posted by Phineas

Your Obama foreign policy team

That’s really the only way to describe it. According to Foreign Policy, as reported by Threat Matrix, The Iraqis wanted a renewed Status of Forces Agreement that would have allowed for 10,000-20,000 US troops to remain in Iraq as a stabilizing force. Of course they did; over the course of our intervention there, Iraqi factions had learned to trust our military as honest brokers who kept their word, while they wouldn’t trust each other as far as they could spit.

But they couldn’t go on public record wanting that agreement, because that would offend Iraqi Arab pride by making them look like colonial stooges of Washington, so they suggested it be done informally, by executive agreement, rather than a formal, public vote of parliament.

And Team Smart Power –that’s the Obama Administration for those of you playing along at home– said “no:”

[Former US Ambassador to Iraq Jim] Jeffrey didn’t necessarily support the larger troop footprint envisioned by military leaders at the time, which reportedly ranged from 8,000 to 16,000 to 24,000 troops, depending on the military official. But he said he firmly believed that troops in Iraq past 2011 were needed and wanted by the Iraqi government.

Jeffrey was a key player on both the Washington and Baghdad sides of the 2011 negotiations that were meant to agree on a follow on force to extend the Bush administration’s Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) after it was set to expire last December. Those negotiations ultimately failed. The White House has said the Iraqis refused to grant immunity for U.S. troops in Iraq after 2011 and submit a new SOFA through their own parliament, two things the United States needed to extend the troops’ mission.

Jeffrey said that he and Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki personally discussed the idea of extending the U.S. troop presence in Iraq via an executive agreement, which would not have to go through the Iraqi parliament.

Later Jeffrey asserts that the Iraqis themselves demanded the agreement go through their own parliament, but this may have been a bit of face-saving and chest-thumping after they realized negotiations were breaking down. As Bill Ardolino at Threat Matrix points out:

Simply put, while a number of Iraqi political leaders may have privately wished for continued American involvement to serve as a buffer and broker between both domestic rivals and neighboring regimes, far fewer were willing to support this position in a public, contentious debate. No one wants to be regarded as an American stooge in the prideful arena of Iraqi politics. Backing parliamentarians into a corner by demanding public ratification doomed a new SOFA to failure.

And with that failure we lost not only a base from which to confront the Iranian fascists and to build a pro-Western, constitutional, and reasonably democratic bulwark for the ever-skittish Arabs to the west and south, but we are at serious risk of losing everything we won from 2003 to 2008, when the Surge broke the back of al Qaeda in Iraq and brought the recalcitrant Anbar tribes over to our side.

I’m sure that, had we been willing to work with informal arrangements, such as an Executive Agreement, the immunity issue could have been worked out. Nothing on paper, just an understanding that any American soldier committing a crime in Iraq would be taken by Iraqi police to the nearest base and released, where we’d promptly put him in custody and deal with him our way. And maybe the deal would have had a couple of “sweeteners” in it for the relevant Iraqi ministers. Nothing that hasn’t been done before in the long history of diplomacy and couldn’t be done again. Meanwhile, our guys would have been there as a moderating, dampening force, just as we were in Japan and Germany after World War II.

But, instead, the Hundred Acre Wood School of Foreign Policy wanted everything made public and formal. I’m willing to bet my Obamaphone they didn’t bother to consult anyone from the prior administration (or, if they did, it was perfunctory) who had been dealing with the Iraqis for years and who knew the “lie of the land” and could warn them not to put Maliki and his people on the spot. No, they were too clever and sophisticated to need to do anything like that.

So, thanks to the Smartest Administration Ever, we’re left holding…. bupkis.

Heckuva way to honor our soldiers’ sacrifices, isn’t it?

(Crossposted at Public Secrets)

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