The American Withdrawal from Iraq – the Debate

Published on International Affairs Forum, by Dr. Erik Lindell, Sept 24, 2014.

The “who lost Iraq” blame game has begun in earnest. Conservatives have attacked the Obama Administration for withdrawing all U.S. forces from Iraq at the end of 2011. It was premature, they argue, and contend that the current mess in Iraq, with the terrorist group ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) now taking control of Mosul and other cities in Northern Iraq, is attributable to this disastrous decision by the President.[1] With no American troops left after 2011 the political leverage of the U.S. diminished accordingly, leaving free -for- all sectarian clashes in its wake. Senator John McCain has been the most vocal critic of the President on this point, even claiming that the war had been “won” until the Obama Administration foolishly pulled all the troops out.  

The President’s supporters, on the other hand, point out that the Obama Administration’s hands were tied politically, as the withdrawal timetable was set by the Security Agreement signed by President Bush with the Maliki Government in 2008. President Obama tried to negotiate a new agreement that would have left a residual military force, they continue, but neither the Maliki government nor the Iraqi parliament would agree to legal immunity for American troops. This was the deal breaker as neither the U.S. military nor the Obama Administration was willing to leave American troops in Iraq without legal protection from the politicized Iraqi judicial system … //

… Finally, whatever transpires in Iraq as the war with ISIS heats up, it is safe to say that the failure of the Obama Administration to secure a SOFA with Iraq in 2011 will, in the long term, amount to little more than a footnote in the history of America’s ill-conceived intervention in Iraq. The attempt by the critics of the Obama Administration to elevate the strategic significance of this failed diplomatic initiative, and to find in it the seeds of Iraq’s current disintegration, is both exaggerated and politically self-serving. For the current problems in Iraq are due to the failure of the Maliki regime to share power with the Sunnis combined with the civil war in neighboring Syria that spilled into Iraq. The Maliki Government, in turn, created fertile political soil for ISIS to take root among disaffected Iraqi Sunnis. A SOFA and a residual U.S. troop presence would hardly have been sufficient to alter this unfortunate course of events … //

… (full text and notes)).

(Erik Lindell is a Political Scientist (Ph.D. in International Relations) and former academic, having taught at several colleges and universities in New York State, both full time and as an adjunct. He currently performs freelance writing and research).

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