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October 25, 2011

Tell Me Now If You Want Me to Stay; It Don't Matter, 'Cause I'd Stay Here Anyway
Posted by Eric Martin


My colleague Michael Cohen wrote a piece rightly taking Republican lawmakers to task for criticizing the recent decision by President Obama to remove all troops from Iraq by year's end.  What renders the GOP critique of Obama hollow and tendentious is that it's not really Obama's decision at all.

By way of background, the Bush administration negotiated a form of a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with the sovereign Iraqi government whereby the United States agreed to withdraw all troops by the end of 2011. While many in the United States expected this SOFA to be extended, a funny thing happened along the way: The Iraqi government did not agree to extend immunity to US troops going forward, effectively scuttling any extension of the SOFA. 

Despite what our preferred policy outcomes might be, a continued US presence in Iraq is not a popular position amongst Iraqi lawmakers/voters.  Simply put, Maliki lacks the political support to push for such an agreement (assuming that he would even prefer to keep US forces in country for a longer period and would be willing to expend political capital in pursuit of such a policy).

Since Obama could not (in his right mind) agree to keep troops in Iraq without immunity, and since the Iraqi government has established its terms, Obama has no viable option other than to remove US forces as per the terms of the Bush administration's SOFA.

Nevertheless, the usually fair-minded James Joyner chides Cohen for his rebuttal to Obama's critics on this issue. 

While there are no doubt many Republicans looking for any excuse to condemn Obama for foreign policy weakness, there's an actual policy dispute here. Retired General Jack Keane...declares, "We won the war in Iraq, and we're now losing the peace." He continues, "We should be staying there to strengthen that democracy, to let them get the kind of political gains they need to get and keep the Iranians away from strangling that country. That should be our objective, and we are walking away from that objective."

Keane claims that current US commander in Iraq, General Lloyd Austin, wanted at least 15,000 troops for 2012 and preferred 25,000. [emphasis added]

But here's the thing: there isn't actually any "policy dispute" here. Regardless of what anyone thinks we "should be" doing and regardless of how many troops a military commander might "want" to remain in Iraq, the choice is not Obama's to make. Hence, no dispute.

That is, unless the policy dispute is whether Obama should usurp and/or topple the Maliki government and either keep troops in Iraq under a hostile posture vis-a-vis the Iraqi government, or install a more pliable regime in its place - one that would green light a continued US troop presence. But if that is the dispute, let's have out with a debate on the merits and parameters, instead of vague complaints about Obama's lack of omnipotence.

Joyner continues his basless critique of Cohen:

But Cohen paints with too broad a brush in applying that critique to Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, die-hard American Greatness conservatives who truly believe that Americans can reshape the region and the world if we simply give it enough time, troops, and willpower. Cohen points out that these men have been staunch advocates for the democratization of Iraq and sees hypocrisy in now chiding Obama for not working harder to defy the will of the Iraqi people. But support for democracy doesn't necessarily mean liking the policy outcomes that come from it. By that logic, McCain shouldn't express any opinions about US foreign policy at all on the basis that the American electorate preferred Obama over him in 2008. [emphasis added]

That analogy doesn't really hold, however.  To more accurately maintain the corollary, McCain can certainly continue to express opinions on US policy under the Obama administration, but he shouldn't seek to topple the US government or flagrantly disobey its sovereignty/laws. That's kind of a big difference.

In fact, the analogy would be apt if these GOP figures and military leaders were criticizing the Iraqi government's decision not to renew the SOFA. After all, support for democracy doesn't necessarily mean liking the policy outcomes that come from it.  But one should recognize which party is responsible for those policy outcomes, and which isn't.

(Photo Credit: Christian Science Monitor)


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Amazing. I like this article!

Great article!

1. There was no SOFA. There were a Strategic (withdrawal) Agreement and a Strategic Framework Agreement.

2. Obama/Biden were complicit in this agreement in 2008. Even though they are actually treaties the constitution was not followed. There were no senate hearings, Obama/Biden saw to that. Not involving the senate back then brings on senate criticism now, which is sweet justice.

If Iraq agreed, the US military would stay but only if they had a SOFA. The US does not station (non-occupation) troops in any country w/o a SOFA. That "immunity" verbiage is a smokescreen, just as the "SOFA" was.

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Even though they are actually treaties the constitution was not followed. There were no senate hearings, Obama/Biden saw to that.

thanks for your good post.

Summit meetings like next week's G-20 in Cannes are something of a mixed bag for world leaders. Conventional wisdom holds that summits are politicians' cat nip--a chance to bask in their status and commiserate with peers. Of course there are also substantive policy matters on the docket, and the challenge of producing results worthy of all the fuss.

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