President Obama has always displayed a penchant for passing blame onto his predecessor, George W. Bush.
The strategy was most evident during the recession and subsequent weak recovery, the responsibility for which somehow lay at the feet of Bush. It was a cynical, albeit effective, strategy especially since none of the president’s costly policies were working. But the “blame Bush” refrain quickly grew stale with an electorate that was desperate for answers, not finger pointing.
But now the White House has resurrected the strategy following the brutal offensive launched by ISIS militants. During a press conference following the decision to engage in airstrikes against terrorist forces outside the Kurdish city of Erbil, Obama was asked whether he had any second thoughts about his decision to pull all the ground troops out of Iraq.
“What I just find interesting is the degree to which this issue keeps on coming up, as if this was my decision,” Obama retorted. “Under the previous administration, we had turned over the country to a sovereign, democratically elected Iraqi government. . . And the Iraqi government, based on political considerations, in part because Iraqis were tired of a U.S. occupation, declined to provide us [assurance that our personnel would be immune from Iraqi-prosecution.”
This argument strains credulity. Not only did President Obama fail to truly pursue an agreement with Iraq, he openly bragged about it on the campaign.
Dexter Filkins reported for The New Yorker:
President Obama, too, was ambivalent about retaining even a small force in Iraq. For several months, American officials told me, they were unable to answer basic questions in meetings with Iraqis—like how many troops they wanted to leave behind—because the Administration had not decided. “We got no guidance from the White House,” Jeffrey told me. “We didn’t know where the President was. Maliki kept saying, ‘I don’t know what I have to sell.’ ” At one meeting, Maliki said that he was willing to sign an executive agreement granting the soldiers permission to stay, if he didn’t have to persuade the parliament to accept immunity. The Obama Administration quickly rejected the idea. “The American attitude was: Let’s get out of here as quickly as possible,” Sami al-Askari, the Iraqi member of parliament, said.
If you’re left questioning whether you can trust the word of an Iraqi government official over the word of the President of the United States, well Obama lent credence to the story in a heated debate between Mitt Romney during the presidential elections
“With regards to Iraq, you and I agreed, I believe, that there should be a status of forces agreement,” Romney told Obama in a debate in Florida.
“That’s not true,” Obama interjected.
“Oh, you didn’t want a status of forces agreement?” Romney asked.
No,” Obama said. “What I would not have done is left 10,000 troops in Iraq that would tie us down. That certainly would not help us in the Middle East.”
The fact is that President Obama was elected in part because he ran as an anti-war candidate who would pull troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. Voters were certainly ready to see the troops home. The problem was that the fledgling democracies in the Middle East were not, which created a power vacuum that was easily filled by Islamic extremists.
But Obama either didn’t know the ideological and military realities on the ground in Iraq, or he didn’t care. He had promised to end the war in Iraq and daggummit he was going to check that box! The excitement was almost palpable during a 2011 press conference when he announced the troops were coming home.
“The last American soldier 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,” Obama said. “That is how America’s military efforts in Iraq will end.”
Actually, we now know that it’s also why America’s military efforts in Iraq would be needed again just three short years later.